Monday, January 30, 2012


It's NOT this warm here right now btw, this is a photo from last summer.

Tried out the new lead rope today.  Starbuck's just starting to go into heat and was a megabrat, and I'm about to start my period and am a megabitch so it was kind of like clash of the clumsy hormonal titans.  At first she did great while we were in the aisles and she was near her buddies but as soon as we got into the parking lot (full of some mildly scary stuff and has good footing so my choice for leading lessons lately) she started acting up. Not just spooking (which there was a fair amount of) and running past me but also lots of dancy prancy stuff, head tossing and bolting in the direction of her friend Coco.  She reminded me of a certain bratty adolescent who used to throw temper tantrums when her parents wouldn't let me... oops, I mean her... go to rock concerts and I realized yet again why I prefer 4 legged children to the 2 legged ones.

I got really pissed off and kept at it until she gave some semblance of being under control, cueing her backward every time she rushed past me-- I think we must have walked half a mile backwards all in all.  And all the time what really bothered me was thinking that if she's going to completely ignore me either way I might as well use a lead rope which is less severe.  But it's the first time I used that rope, it was cold and windy and sunny, she's going into heat, I wasn't in a particularly zen frame of mind... so many reasons for things to go to hell in a handbasket.

So I'll try again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.  And bit by bit she'll get better, and if not at least at some point she'll stop being a teenager.  Right, Mom and Dad?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rainy Day

OK, I know I've been kind of lax on the blog front lately but I've had the flu, that's a good excuse, right?  I actually think that I was a little too productive for a few weeks there and now I have a little writing hangover, so I'm going to keep it short for a few posts.  Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that for the past few days we've had some really rainy weather-- too muddy and slippery to do much work.  So I've pretty much just been doing some tack cleaning and hanging out in the bar where there's a wood burning stove and they make you thick spanish hot chocolate for a euro.

Both yesterday and today Virginia and I have walked Starbuck and Coco out to a newly cleared field so they could get out of their paddocks and get a little exercise-- yesterday we just set them loose and let them run and graze but today I longed Starbuck a little while Coco was grazing nearby to remind her that it's not always playtime when the two of them are together... at first she was pretty rebellious but a few changes of direction had her licking her lips and dropping her head and at that point I stopped her and let her go play with her friend.

Marina the barn owner has lent me a new lead line, it's the one recommended for young horses by Linda Tellington-Jones-- it's like a chain lead to be used over the nose but with a thin rope instead of a chain.  We'll see how it goes, I think I need to stop worrying about possibly hurting her and more about stepping up and being a confident leader.

Anyhow here are some random photos from today:

Barn kitty napping between my alfalfa and my hay- nice and dry under the plastic sheeting :-)

Another cute shot of bar kitty with Starbuck getting a little wet while she eats her mid-morning snack.

And another one... Cute!

It's kind of hard to tell but that's SNOW on the Tramuntana mountains- first time I've seen snow here in Mallorca!

This is the kind of food we eat at my stable-- lobster stew.  Not bad for 8€, huh?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Clinic Part 2

Sorry guys but I've been pretty fluey for the past few days so aside from trying to edit the more than 200 minutes of video I took at the clinic the other day (still not done!!!) and work on my mystery project I haven't done much else.  Since I haven't finished the video of the last part of the clinic where everyone but me did ridden exercises, this post is going to be kind of wee.

First I'll include the Yoga for Riding video, the subtitles are in Spanish for the benefit of the folks at my stable but I'll include a translation in English below.  The exercises are designed to improve your coordination, flexibility and balance and "train" your body to allow independent movement of one part without influencing the rest.  The idea is to do the exercises for a few minutes before every ride to loosen yourself up and not let  your stiffness or imbalance get in the way of your horse's movement.

  1. Rotate shoulders foreward and backward.
  2. Rotate the left shoulder forward and the right shoulder backward (then repeat on the other side).
  3. Move head slowly up and down, then left and right.
  4. Lift your leg and rotate it from the hip: first with your eyes open, then with your eyes closed.  Take note of which side is easier to work on the other one.
  5. Balance on one leg: first with your eyes open, then closed.
  6. Step forward in slow-motion with your eyes closed.
  7. Rotate your hips while keeping the rest of your body absolutely still.
  8. Windmills- rotate your torso left and right while swinging your arms.
  9. Write the alphabet in the air with one hand and the numbers from 1-10 in the air with the other.
  10. Now do the same while rotating your leg from the hip!
I've also made a video with some of the best moments of the roundpen session.  I've tried to include a little of both the horse's usual handler and Henry working with each and every horse in the workshop and there were a lot of fascinating moments, so it's almost 30 minutes long.  But if you're even a little interested I highly recommend watching all of it or even just skipping forward every few minutes since the horses, their reactions, their handlers and Henry's work with them are so incredibly unique.  A few examples are Starbuck who's a spoiled baby green 3 year old, former international show horse Gladys who was then used as a brood mare for several years and only recently brought back to the world of riding, and a few 20-something year old lesson geldings finally getting a chance to find their own personality with a private owner / leasor as well as some feisty younger mares with dominance issues (just a hint-- they're the ones wearing pink).
It was really a great experience since we were able to observe each of the horse's reactions and get some real insight into how the horse communicates its feelings, worries and desires.  It was also a great chance to soak up some of Henry's natural animal magnetism and try to assimilate some of the techniques he uses- mostly just being peaceful and not "expecting" anything while very clearly maintaining a leadership position, allowing the horse to decide when and how to respond to him and taking the time the horse needs instead of keeping a "human" schedule.  

I'll try to finish the video of the "ridden" part of the clinic today or tomorrow and upload it before the week is over :-)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Clinic Part 1

Today Starbuck and I attended our very first clinic!  Held at my stable and given by "horse listener" Henry Sandkhule, the one-day class focused on improving communication between human and horse and was attended by 8 kids and adults.  I of course recorded about 17 hours of video which I'll attempt to fuse into a nice "best of" medley, but I wanted to share a little about our experience here.
We started bright and early with a chat about herd dynamics, then some deep breathing exercises and stretching.  Then we moved outside and worked on our flexibility, balance and coordination-- just imagine 8 people all teetering on one leg while moving the other in circles, writing the alphabet with our right hand and numbers from one to ten with our left in the air!  But it was a great way to recognize just how difficult it is to have truly independent aids and also to loosen ourselves up for the day.

The first horse escaped at the end of the roundpen session and ran all the way back home (she and her owner are from another stable down the road), which pretty much set the stage for what promised to be a crazy but interesting day.  For almost all of us, Henry first observed the handler's interaction with the horse, then stepped in to the roundpen to work with the horse himself and finally worked with both of them either giving some one on one coaching or even giving them a leg up to ride bareback and only using the halter.

But when it was my turn, he just gave me some coaching from afar, asking me to walk alongside Starbuck on a smaller circle instead of staying in the middle of the roundpen and to not use any vocal aids.  Which was really hard!  The idea is to use your energy to transmit your wishes to your horse, then body language if the energy doesn't get your idea across.  Starbuck did pretty well but Henry commented that she was clearly testing me, attempting to get away with less work and that I shouldn't let her get away with so much.  It was definitely what I needed to hear, I'm so afraid of screwing up and traumatizing her that sometimes I'm not the leader she deserves.  
It was a shame that I didn't get to see him working with her, but it was certainly good for my ego to know that our communication was good enough that he didn't feel the need to step in.  This is getting longer than I expected so I'm going to split it up into two parts, but I do want to mention how impressive his connection with each horse was, every single one of them visibly relaxed after just a few minutes with him.  Lots of lip-licking, neck stretching and long sighs... a real pleasure to see, especially with some of the horses which are particularly stressed-out!

More tomorrow...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Photos

As promised last week, this post focuses on Starbuck's thoroughbred background, with some pretty photos of some of my favorite hall of famers, enjoy!

To learn more about thoroughbred racing without your head exploding, I also recommend a few great blogs:

Havre de Grace

Davona Dale



Northern Dancer


Man O' War


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shameless Publicity and Inner Peace

When I was a teenager I remember hiking up Stone Mountain (the one in North Carolina) with my dad and him telling me that he would take that moment-- being up on top of the mountain breathing in the fresh clean air and watching the hawks circle above the beautiful patchworked landscape-- and savour it, bringing it back into his conciousness during the week at the office and using it to dispel moments of stress or boredom.  When you're a teenager such things seem wierd and cheesy-- you're too busy concentrating on the moment (is my hair ok? do I look fat? is she calling me stupid?) to think about anything else.  But more and more I've come to learn from the lesson my dad unwittingly gave me years ago and when I'm in a particularly beautiful or peaceful place I'll attempt to take in as many details as I can to be able to call up the sensation of being there at will.

One of these places which always inspires a feeling of inner peace and wonder at the beauty of our planet and the life which inhabits it is the Sierra de Gredos mountain range and foothills in central Spain.  It may not be as majestic as the Himalayas, as rugged as the Rockies or as picturesque as the Alps, but its understated yellow-dotted meadows with babbling brooks running through, its green-grey peaks often dusted with snow and its honest-to-goodness subsistence farmland and olive groves give it an element of absolute authenticity which makes one feel privileged to be permitted to take part in.  Its towns are charming, rustic and display many historical elements from centuries past, but you'll find few "reconstructions" catering to tourists.  Far more common are 200 year old private houses whose owners invite you in for sangría, medieval cathedrals still in use or half-ruined castles standing guard over the stoplights and subdivisions of modern life.
So what does this have to do with horses?  I've been lucky enough to discover a wonderful stable (Gredos Ecuestre) in the heart of this incredible countryside whose cheerful and caring owner, Gabriel, specialises in showing both outsiders and locals the hidden treats Gredos has to offer.  With the healthiest, happiest and most spirited herd of horses I've ever seen and always accompanied by midday tapas and sips from a shared wineskin, Gaby leads his groups through a surprising array of landscapes, over crystal clear rivers, along sandy creekbeds, up and down rocky mountainsides and through fairytale forests, ending nearly always with a shared picnic with his family back at the stable.  I've been on many routes with Gaby now, not least of which was a 5 day trek along the Camino de Santiago from O' Cebreiro to Santiago de Compostela, however when I need inspiration or inner peace I always bring up the feeling of riding through Gredos in good company (both human and equine).

At any rate, a while back Gaby sent a preview of some of this year's routes to me and I want to share them here, I highly recommend any and all of them and am more than happy to answer any questions you might have about travel plans, accommodations, the horses / facilities / skill level required or whatever.  You can contact Gaby for the prices but they're more or less in line with what you'd pay just about anywhere else in the region.  I'm saving up for the Full Moon Over Gredos ride myself and my big goal for Starbuck is to be able to take her on the Camino de Santiago with Gaby and friends next year...  He'll also "handcraft" a route for you based on your interests and group size if none of these work into your schedule.

Horseback riding through the wetlands of Doñana National Park and in the picturesque village of El Rocío.
Days 2, 3, 4 and 5

3 day ride through Mediterranean pasture land and oak forests, following the ancient paths and roads which Viriato used in his struggle against Roman domination of Iberia. Sierra de San Vicente (Toledo).
Days 17, 18 and 19

Festive weekend filled with cookies, lemonade, ice-cold beer and great paths for galloping!
Days 26 and 27

First of several stages in order to travel by horseback from La Parra to Fisterre (the very end of the Camino de Santiago whose Latin name means “End of the World”). This year we’ll ride as far as Zamora.
Days 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9

We’ll ride up the Sierra de Gredos by moonlight yet again this year and enjoy a night camped out under the stars.
Days 2, 3 and 4

New territories await our discovery along the banks of the Alberche river.
Days 12, 13 and 14

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lazy Day Photos

Yesterday we had a lazy day at the barn at lunchtime, these bi-weekly pilates classes are really kicking my ass.  So Virginia and I just set the two girls loose in a makeshift paddock and let them graze for a while and I felt inspired to take some pictures... so here goes!

This is my tack "flocker" (fake locker) made of a plastic trunk someone threw away which I stood on one side and keep closed with some hooks and a hair tie-- on Sunday I was feelin' handy and organized it with some more hooks, some plastic boxes and a nasty old board with some tetanus nails sticking out of it for a shelf to put my shoes and helmet on.  I think it's turned out real nice as we say in the South and all in all it's cost me about 8 euros.  Score!

Here's Starbuck looking particularly fuzzy next to her fabulous shed!

Grazing with the daisies...

Checkin' out the sights-- it's so nice to be able to put up a makeshift paddock with electrical tape wherever there are a few conveniently placed trees... even if we don't connect the tape to any current they still respect it as long as you don't leave them for more than a couple of hours.  This is one of the things I love about this barn is how laid back they are about stuff like this as long as everyone more or less respects everyone else.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Training Vid Tuesday

Two days later, I find that I'm still dealing with the aftershocks to my self-confidence and concience after our spooky ride on Sunday.  I've watched the video a few times and think that she's actually a lot calmer and behaved a lot better than I was giving her credit for, but I have a nagging unease which won't let me quite look forward to our next big-arena ride and am sure that my tension will be evident to her as soon as I climb into the saddle.  When reading stories from other trainers one of the phrases that stands out to me is "holes in their training" or "incomplete foundations", and I think that the spooking thing is just that-- something I should have focused more on from the start but just basically ignored, hoping she'd "grow out of it".  So I think that before I retry a ride in the big arena, I need to go back to basics and work up from there, not only to fill in these holes in her foundations but also to build my own confidence so I can be the fearless leader she deserves.

With this in mind, for the next couple of weeks we're going to go through some lengthly desensitizing sessions as well as drilling some under saddle exercises in the roundpen; here are some examples of things I hope will help us set up the building blocks for confidence and control while riding in an open space:

  • Run up and rub
  • Sack out with plastic bag while in motion (moving backwards, forwards and while longeing)
  • Sack out with something noisy (shaking a can with beans, set my ringtone to loud, etc...) 
  • Work on "spook in place" on scary side: Walk toward the house, rest and rub when she relaxes facing the house.  Longe for at least three circles when she spooks.  
  • End sessions grazing on the scary side only.
  • Drill simple patterns from saddle in roundpen (circle, figure eights, turn on hind- and forequarters, rein-back, walk with lateral flexion).
  • Ride over cavalletti in the roundpen.
  • Ride in roundpen with plastic bag on end of stick, sack out from saddle.

While I feel good about this plan, I also don't want the roundpen to be a crutch for us, so I also need to research some strategies for how to reassure and control Starbuck when we go back into the arena.  Enter today's training video featuring Clinton Anderson (yeah, yeah, I know, but you have to admit he's got some good ideas and is a great communicator) on how to handle a spooky horse under saddle.  He first refers to really getting your horse sacked out which I covered above and then talks about redirecting your horse's "spook" energy by moving her feet purposefully.  The idea is that every time she spooks, she gets a good ten minutes of serpentines, rein-backs, circles, and other exercises, with the final result being that she stops looking for things to spook at and starts striving to not give you any excuses for the extra workout.  One of the reasons I want to drill those patterns in the roundpen is so Starbuck can recognize the cues when I need to repeat them in the big arena.  I'm also going to ride with some cones or markers set in a triangle pattern which I think will make do cloverleafs, circles, eights, etc... much easier for ditsy ole me to remember to do.

Anyhow enjoy the video and happy training!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Maybe I ought to start out with a little bit of my history with horses.  I've been in love with horses since as long as I can remember and as a kid, my parents were kind and generous enough to scrape together the extra cash to give me and my sister have riding lessons once a week.  I never got very good but rode a lot of different horses both in the ring training for English pleasure and on trail rides through the woods and fields of North Carolina.  I stopped riding when I went away to college and had to start paying my way in life and except for the odd trail ride when on vacation had pretty much filed it under "To do when I am rich".
About two and a half years ago, I was going through a very stressful time at work and had tried several different "extra curricular" activities in the hopes of  getting my anxiety down to normal levels when I remembered that I loved riding and was spending just enough money to pay for lessons on long lunches, spa treatments and other de-stressing activities.  So I started taking dressage lessons once a week with a very low-key teacher-- lots of fun and I felt like I had gotten right back into the swing of things, but I didn't improve my riding very much at all.  After going on an all-day trail ride with the incredible folks at Gredos Ecuestre, I felt inspired to dedicate a little more time and effort to riding, so I started looking for a horse to lease, which I found under the care of Fernando Arias Somalo.  Nadine was a lovely and sweet KWPN who was way to good for me and Fernando was quick to let me know my limitations.  For the 4 months that I rode with him I worked harder and learned more about riding than I had in my entire life with horses-- think endless laps at a trot without stirrups, balancing in the stirrups while standing straight up at the trot, cantering on the longe with no hands, etc...
Then I came to Mallorca where I found my current stable, Equitec Balear.  The owner Marina is a great coach of riders, knowing exactly how and when to give a tactful critique, but what I like most about her is that she designs her classes around her horses; inventing exercises which will help overcome conformational defects or strengthen a previous injury.  I rode with her for about 6 months before I acquired Starbuck in August.  So the long and the short of it is that I'm by no means a great equestrienne-- I have balance and posture problems, I depend too much on my hands for stability and I by no means have acquired a truly independent seat.
Where all this is going is that when I decided to train Starbuck I knew I was taking on a huge task and I wasn't 100% sure I was up to it, but I had so much interest and enthusiasm I just pretty much threw myself into it and we made a lot of progress very quickly (OK, much slower than a professional trainer but to me it's seemed fast).  It was a lot of fun investigating different NH strategies, planning training sessions and seeing how she reacted to different exercises and as I read more and tried out different things, I started to feel like a bit of an expert-- I had put into practice the theories I had learned and it was working!
But today I realized that it's not just about good intentions and theory and paying attention to what I'm doing, I also need to know how to RIDE!  In the roundpen it's easy, she's super calm and all whoa.  But in the big arena, she has room to move freely, which is great, but she also feels freer to act up a little.  Oh, and there's all this scary stuff like the house with the invisible tiger cages and all the jump standards and cones and poles and people coming in and out of the tack room... so she freaks out, then I freak out even though I try deep breathing exercises and letting all the tension drain out of my body, and it all goes to hell in a handbasket.

Today for instance, I was worried about her bucking so when she had a fairly big spook I pulled her head up and held on way too hard to the reins, which I know must have really hurt her mouth.  Poor girl!  And to make things worse my friend Miguel gave me a little on-the-spot coaching on the subject of not pulling her head into an inverted position and I was too stressed and freaked to be able to accept his advice graciously and actually tried to justify it.  So I'm thinking I might ask Marina for a couple of classes just so she can keep me from doing too much harm, at any rate there's a NH clinic at my barn next week which I'll definitely go to.  Anyhow here's the video; I give myself major kudos on not falling off but need to be able to stabilize myself without hurting her.  I'm going to try tying a ribbon to her mane to remember to grab mane instead of reins...

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Today was a fabulous day for us!  After a solid midday training session yesterday where we were able to hang out on the scary side of the arena at the end and some roundpen groundwork this morning, I rode Starbuck again and she did great, no bucking at all-- phew, what a relief!!!  She did put her head down a couple of times (I pulled it right back up) and she does a lot of head tossing, but I think that as soon as she figures out that it doesn't get her anything she'll stop doing it... she's phased in and out of a lot of bad habits that way.  For instance, she used to obsessively scratch herself on the tying post shifting her weight back and forth, every time I saw her doing it I would very calmly ask her to back up, then scratch her neck when she backed and stopped doing it.  Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat... after about a month of this she just stopped doing it.

I also took up a light contact on the reins at the walk for the first time today-- I could tell she was 100% comfortable and balanced carrying me so I decided to up the anty just a little bit.  It didn't even phase her, she just kept on truckin'!  I was also able to get a nice trot for two full circles to the right... the left is a lot harder for her and we needed some help from Virginia, but we ended up getting our two full circles to the left too.  So, we've got a good solid walk where she tracks up and I don't have to nag her (much) and the beginnings of a nice trot, she steers and bends nicely without me getting heavy on the reins, our one rein stop is absolutely solid and she stands still while mounting and when I ask her to... what more could I ask?

Oh, yeah, I can ask her to rein-back!  Since I think this is an important exercize even for starting a horse and I finally feel that she's got the forward motion idea down pat, I figured that we could give it a try.  Here's what I did-- I'm writing down the steps because it worked so well, she figured it out in like a minute!
  1. Walk her up to the edge of the roundpen facing the fence so she can't go forward.
  2. Shift my weight slightly behind my seatbones.
  3. Take up a light contact and close my hands on the reins one after the other putting light intermittent pressure on the bars of her mouth.
  4. Squeeze my calves against her sides, then give a little kick, then give rythmic squeezes until she takes one little step back.
  5. RELEASE ALL PRESSURE IMMEDIATELY AND GIVE HER A LONG PAUSE (slightly longer than you were asking her to back up) AND GOOD NECK RUB!
  6. Repeat a few times until she does it without having to kick and then stop while you're ahead!
You can see it all in the video, it's really long (sorry) so if you just want to see the rein-back, fast forward to minute 24:45.  I'm trying to record a couple of training sessions every week and I'm uploading them to my Youtube channel, I think I'll really appreciate having them in a couple of years.

Oh yeah, I also got a photo of the scar I mentioned in the Origins post a couple of days ago, if anyone's interested in seeing it (it's to the right of my hand, she's superfurry right now so sorry if you can't see it well):

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Photos

Today instead of looking for a specific photographer I've decided to celebrate Starbuck's heritage by showcasing some photos of the little known Zweibrücker breed.  I'll start with a photo of her and then the others so we can compare ;-)

Next week I'll try to remember to find some photos of illustrious Thoroughbreds...

This is my sweet girl... one of these days I'll have to dress her up like a show horse and take some fancy photos

Thursday, January 12, 2012


OK, OK, this isn't really Starbuck, but it's what I like to think she looked like as a foal... X)

Today when I went out to the stable Marina (the stable owner) called me over to meet some people who were loading a pickup truck and it turned out that they were the folks who bred Starbuck (or Partiture, as she was named at birth)!  I was excited to meet them and learn a little more about her history.  Turns out she's NOT a Hanoverian / Anglo-Arab mix after all but in fact a Zweibrücker / Thoroughbred blend... At any rate very similar breeds, but her mother (the Zweibrücker) apparently had a heavier, old-style body type so they said she would probably grow a fair amount more.  Zweibrückers are a lesser known German warmblood which boast Hanoverians, Holsteiners, Trakehners, Anglo-Arabs, Thoroughbreds and German Draft horses as common ancestors.  The Wikipedia article has the following tidbit which I found to ring particularly true: "The head is dry, expressive, and aesthetically appealing though need not have out of the ordinary refinement."

I asked about the huge L-shaped scar Starbuck has on her left buttock (sorry I don't have a photo, I'll try to remember to take one tomorrow) and it happened when she was about four months old but they don't know how she got it, she was just gashed open one morning when they got to the barn.  Since the stitches wouldn't hold and it kept opening when she would run around, they had to put her in a little paddock and had her wound cleaned and rebandaged every day.  This explains why even before she started her training she was so absolutely cool with being rubbed all over by humans and I think made my job a lot easier at the beginning!  I remember being impressed and surprised by how people friendly she was when I first met her and now it all makes sense.  They've promised to look for a photo of her mother and some papers which might have her breeding details, I'd be pleased as pie to get more details about my baby girl and see what her parents were like!

Anyhow I let her have some play time with Coco in the arena today, I got a great video of them running and playing.  And at the end when they were all tuckered out we led them together to the "scary" side so they could bravely eat grass together next to the dreaded invisible tiger cages (in other words where she freaked out and fell the other day)... at first she was real jumpy and ran away every time anything made a noise, but then I started causing the noises myself (throwing rocks at bushes and whatnot) and she calmed down a lot.  My plan for the next few days is to work in the middle of the arena and then try to rest in the scary spots, hopefully with patience and practice she can overcome this fear and come to trust me just a little bit more.

I also noticed that she does a lovely trot with lots of suspension in one part of the arena where there's a fair amount of vegetation, this Saturday I might check the footing and do a little longeing there if Marina approves.  More or less the same principal as cavalletti... getting her to lift her legs and use her muscles differently.  Definitely don't want to overdo it, maybe just a couple of circles in walk and trot.  We'll see how it goes...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Training Vid Tuesday

Since Starbuck learned how to buck me off on Sunday I decided that today's training video should deal with just that-- it never hurts to be prepared just in case she decides to try to make a habit of playing rodeo.  This is obviously classic young horse stuff and the idea is that as soon as they figure out that it doesn't get the desired results, they stop doing it.  But a lot of greenies get nervous or tetchy about certain things (especially transitioning into canter) and keep bucking from time to time, which is the case of the horse in the video.

Lindsay Forkun of LFE Equestrian uses Natural Horsemanship techniques to break this horse's habit of bucking when cantering.  The idea is to first get a good solid canter without bucking while doing groundwork, then with a rider start out cantering for just a few strides and giving him a rest when he canters without bucking.  Since horses are conditioned reponse animals who learn by repetition, increasing the amount of strides bit by bit but allowing him the reward of resting after doing it well gets the horse to "practice" cantering without bucking, instead of "practicing" endless boring laps at the canter with intermittent bucks thrown in.   In other words, making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy.

Hopefully Starbuck won't turn into a bucking bronc and thus I won't need to school it out of her, but I'm glad to have this elegant new trick in my arsenal anyway.  Also, a freebie I really enjoyed finding in this video is the "you can eat grass now" cue which I plan to teach Starbuck at some point... at the moment I've only got the "you CAN'T eat grass now" cue which only works about 70% of the time and I'd much rather she didn't try to graze on her own initiative.  But you gotta start somewhere, right?

And now for a something completely different:
This is just a random "training journal" note I wanted to record... While training during lunchtime today on the "scary" side of the arena near where the stable managers obviously keep ravenous yet invisible lions, tigers and bears, Starbuck freaked out, whirled around in her habitual spooky circle and slipped, falling smack down on her hips.  We had been doing some leading work up and down the side and when she finally relaxed a little I decided to let her graze along the fence line as a reward.  But something off to the side made a little noise and she absolutely panicked.  Since this happened when she was doing something she actually wanted to do (grazing) I guess the spooks are 100% real and not played up or a behavioural issue, I only hope that somehow she can come to trust me as her leader and realize that when she's with me she's not in danger.

She limped a little afterward and the first time I asked her to trot after the fall seemed like she was about to collapse on the leg which was under her when she fell, but then we walked around a little more and by the time I could ask stable owner Marina about it she was moving pretty well both at the walk and the trot.  So I hosed her down with cold water (it was pretty warm today and she was real sweaty from being so nervous) and gave her a little massage, but I'm going to go see her tonight to see how she's doing and give her some bute if she's stiff or swollen-- hopefully tomorrow she'll be fine but if not I'll call the vet.

I guess it's normal for young horses to be clumsy but I hope she grows out of this slipping and falling stuff or learns that these crazy sudden movements aren't all they cracked up to be, before she breaks something or I have a heart attack.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Success!  We rode in the big arena today without Starbuck running off and freaking out-- I knew she'd be fine!  I did however have a slight lapse of judgement by asking my friend Virginia to ride her mare Coco with us.  Since we set these two mares loose in the arena from time to time to play, I think Starbuck just naturally thought that this was play time too.  So she started kind of biting at Coco's butt, I pulled her head away, she got pissed, things escalated and she started bucking, I mean SERIOUSLY bucking.  I was able to stay in the saddle for the first couple but in the end I realized things were going south, saw my moment and bailed off to the side before she could throw me between her ears.  Luckily I fell extremely well and was able to get right up and hop right back on-- I may not be a great rider but I sure have a lot of experience falling off!

Thanks to Virginia, who reminded me that I can use one rein to pull her into a circle which disengages the hindquarters and takes away her power to buck, I was able to stay in the saddle for the next round of crow-hops and Starbuck learned a valuable lesson: bucking doesn't get her out of having to work.  After those two brief rebellions, she calmed right down and did fine.  I can tell she feels a lot less constricted in the big arena, her strides were much bigger and freer and just the fact that she was confident enough to buck with me on top of her tells me she's feeling stronger and more balanced carrying my weight.  Also she didn't seem to have any urge to run around like a chicken with her head cut off and responded really well to the reins so I feel confident about riding her in the big arena from now on.  

Here's the video of the entire ride, it's too bad that most of the rodeo action is either off-camera or blocked by other horses, but you get the general idea.  I chickened out trying to get her to trot, so after a couple of strides I gave her a break.  Next time I'll be sure to have my crop with me so I'm not teaching her to ignore my leg cues.

Just a note to remember for next time: I dewormed Starbuck today too with Eqvalan Duo, I think that this next time I'll wait 3 months and use a less powerful wormer.  I'd also like to do a fecal analysis, when the vet comes to vaccinate her I'll ask her about it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Today I had planned to ride Starbuck in the big arena since up to now the previous six rides have been in the roundpen.  My idea was to work a little first to "get the fresh out" then buddy up with Virginia and Coco so that Starbuck could kind of follow Coco around at first, then branch out a little on her own.  But when we got to the tying posts, there were a bunch of people tacking up for a lesson including a fair amount of first-timers and I just didn't feel comfortable taking her out-- I didn't want her going all rodeo and spooking one of the lesson horses.

So after doing some leading work on the "scary" side of the arena, we rode in the roundpen which was fine... nothing wrong with getting just a little better at upward transitions and steering before riding her in a more open area!  Anyhow I can really see our progress which is fantastic-- we were able to maintain a decent walk and transition into trot, first after tapping her shoulder with the crop and then with just leg pressure.  We also achieved two whole circles in trot in each direction, yay!  Here's the video:

On a more philosophical note, I'm really trying to keep in mind what I read on Carolyn Resnick's blog about how to approach training:
"Expecting performance is what ruins a good horse. With every response that a horse offers, he will build upon it until it becomes a habit to perform or behave in that way. A horse builds behaviors bit by bit, day by day and ride by ride. On the days he falls backwards the horse should not be pushed. The simple rule to follow is, always accept what your horse offers even if you have to start at the beginning. Evolution will advance the horse’s training because of the consistency of day by day. Each day I start out by putting my focus on finding the connection and willingness before I ask anything from the horse. What I see often between trainers and the horse, when the halter is being put on, is that neither is paying attention to the other and no time is taken for the greeting ceremony. The greeting ceremony is important. It allows for the magnetic connection to bring you together with your horse. It also gives the time needed for you and your horse to give full attention to your leadership and to bring the herding behavior out in the horse to glue to you.......Here is a tip that you might want to develop when relating to a horse that is ill at ease. When a horse is not connected with you and does not want to be, when he is agitated, unhappy or fearful do not allow this energy to reside in you. Then intentionally create the energy you want the horse to have inside yourself. Feel this new energy deep within you, and this will cause a horse to connect with you and begin to relax. I have used this all my life and it works wonders…"

So far this is working surprisingly well, I mean I'm not surprised it works but by how quickly and completely just keeping this in mind has improved my relationship with Starbuck.  I've really seen how when she gets jittery if I just take a deep breath and relax myself, she picks right up on it and relaxes along with me.  Her spooking is definitely something we still need to work on, especially with the number of kids without any idea about horses running around the stableyard, but I'm really pleased to see that I have that kind of influence on her.  Which makes me think, when I get nervous what kind of energy she picks up on...

Anyhow I'm going to read up on John Lyon's "spook in place" method tonight and I think hobble training will be replaced by spook in place training for the next week or so.  Stay tuned!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Photos

Today I discovered Tamás Németh, a photographer from Hungary who has some really beautiful work.  Here are some photos from an album I really enjoyed called "Understand them", it reminds me so much of those days where I just walk around and watch the horses interact with each other and try to figure out why they do what they do...  I've really enjoyed looking through them and hope you do too!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Peanut Gallery

  • "You're gonna ride THAT?!?"
  • "When are you going to stop spoiling her with all this groundwork and make her 'earn her keep'?" 
  • "Don't let her run around like that-- make her stand still"
  • "She'd lift her hoof better if you used treats"
  • "You should be cantering, jumping, sidepassing, rein-backing, ${fill in the blank-ing} her by now"
  • "Don't let her put her head down when you're leading her"
  • "Whack her on the nose if she gets ahead of you"
  • "Whack her with the whip if she acts up under saddle"
  • "Whack her on her chest if she won't back up"

...and the list goes on...

I try to be impervious and optimistic and zen-- in other words a natural "herd leader"-- when things go wrong.  I figure that if I'm jumping around, waving my whip and yelling, there's no way Starbuck's going to calm down enough to pay attention to what I want.  Don't get me wrong-- while I have no problem at all cranking up the pressure with a well-placed swat if I see those hindquarters swing my way or if my more subtle cues are being completely ignored, I strive to be judicious and calm and never let anything get me riled in front of Starbuck.  But when she's acting up (as I may point out, even professionally-trained 3 year olds tend to do from time to time) and just about anyone other than my instructor criticizes her behaviour or gives well-meant but unwanted advice, I have to admit I get my back up.

Often this ends with me pretending I haven't heard or understood whatever was said (one of the perks of being a foreigner) and if I'm already in a bad mood or feeling frustrated I have a bad habit of biting the speaker's head off.  I really need to work on changing both of these reactions though, since I'm lucky enough to be at a barn where my mostly-successful attempts to train a crazy-green horse have been not only allowed and indulged but encouraged at every step by wonderful and caring friends and every one of these comments have been made with the best of intentions.  I also need to remember that I've learned so much from trying different things out and seeing what doesn't work for Starbuck and I.  But the real reason I need to stop telling myself to "just ignore them" is that on the few occasions when I've kept myself under control, my civil and reasonable reply has made for some really valuable discussions about different styles of horsemanship.

So what started out as a "bitch-post" has morphed into the following idea: If we could all get off our high horses and use these moments to have some truly soul-searchingly honest conversations about the training or riding methods that have worked for us as well as why we reject or suggest certain techniques, keeping an open mind and not trashing other people's perspectives in the process, I think the equestrian world would be a much better place.  And this starts with listening to everyone, no matter how much experience or technique or money they have and no matter how "harsh" their criticism or "useless" their advice seems to be.  If you decide to go with your initial instinct, no harm is done.  But when we listen to others and consequently start an exchange, you open the door to a whole new world of possibilities.

And if you get really lucky, you might just find that you've been decieving yourself and really do have a problem which you can now fix before it becomes even worse, or your response to a piece of "advice" or "critique" just might make someone else reconsider a long-held but ultimately mistaken belief.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Ah, the first few days of the new year... time to mull over what we've been doing wrong (or right!) for the last 12 months before and plan how to make the next 12 as fantastic as possible.  This year, I have high hopes for saving enough to buy a car which can pull a horse trailer and as always losing a little weight: nothing too ambitious, just to where I feel slightly less dumpy.  Let's say 15 pounds-- that shouldn't be too hard right?  Obviously it ain't easy or I would have done it last year, and the year before, and the year before that.... but at any rate it seems manageable.  So along with what I'm sure are millions of other women out there, I'm starting the New Year with a diet-and-exercise program, and what better exercise for a rider than Pilates?

My reasons for starting Pilates classes are to improve my posture by correcting my tendency to slump to one side, strengthen my stomach and back muscles to reduce stiffness and pain and along with cutting some calories and walking a mile to and from the classes two days a week, lose some weight and just generally feel better.  But in my first class yesterday I found an unexpected additional benefit!

I've been to a couple of Pilates classes in the past in different centers and thought I knew more or less what to expect-- kind of like yoga postures with more rhythm and resistance.  But I was pleasantly surprised by this instructor, she went over the basic postures with me in a completely new way.  What really got me thinking was when she broke it down for me by explaining that I needed to stabilize my core by allowing it to support the movements of the rest of my body but not allowing the core itself to move.  This sounded strangely familiar-- what's an independent seat if not that?  Finding your center of gravity and staying there but without blocking the natural movement of your hips, knees, ankles, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, etc...

If my hypothesis is correct, perhaps Pilates will allow me to improve not just my posture and muscle tone while riding, but improve my overall balance, the independence of my aids and finally give me the skills I need to keep my damn hands (or legs, or shoulders, or whatever) still even when I momentarily lose my balance when riding!  I'll let you know how it goes, in the meanwhile here are some really interesting resources on the benefits of Pilates for riders:

Training Vid Tuesday

Lately I've been having some trouble with Starbuck getting all worked up and squirrelly, especially around the tying posts and the "scary" side of the arena.  For instance, for two days in a row she's gone completely crazy when I was grooming her and then the walk from the tying posts to wherever we'll be working in the arena is adventurous to say the least.  She no longer barges into me or tries to run over me (yay!!!) but she still prances around in a circle and won't stay in leading position at all, getting ahead of me and swinging her hindquarters around and whatnot.  So I've been rereading everything from my Resources page on teaching your green horse to lead and looking for new tactics.

My mentor Marina (and John Lyons for that matter) say that this is normal for a young horse, that they'll do well for a few weeks or months, then get worse, then get better, then go not so bad and only after all that will they finally internalize a skill or cue 100%.  So I guess she's just on the downside of her overall learning curve-- that and we've had a lovely, windy, sunny and crisp winter so far-- just the kind of weather which makes even the retired 30 year old lesson horses kick up their heels.  

Anyhow I found this video from reining trainer Jodi Wilson which I liked due to its somewhat novel premise: you teach your horse to lead backwards with her head down and in line with the human's shoulder, then start taking a few steps forward.  I especially like it because of the importance it places on your horse's posture when it backs up so that it doesn't turn into a flight response or cause your horse to hollow out his back which can lead to soreness and bad habits under saddle.  Hope you enjoy it, I'm going to give it a try by working around the arena towards the scary side!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year

Happy New Year everyone!  Today was a beautiful day and a terrific start to the new year, for the second year in a row I woke up with a minimal hangover and the weather was fabulous-- about 65º F and sunny-- I had to take off my sweatshirt and roll up my sleeves after a little while!

Since Starbuck was so good yesterday and I rode her a little longer than I had planned to I decided to give her a break and get some cleaning done-- my tack has been getting a little grimey lately.  I also think scrubbing things by hand in a bucket is good for the soul every now and then, especially if you can do it on a lovely sunny day while watching hawks soar over the Sierra de Tramuntana!  So I cleaned all my brushes, two halters, some rags, summer gloves, leg protectors and my half chaps as well as Starbuck's water buckets and the brushbox, then I mucked out her stall and paddock, hiding some carrots in the fresh straw of her bedding.  It took longer than I thought so afterwards I had to rush home lugging a plastic bag with my bridle and other extraneous leather bits to grease this evening, but all in all it was a highly productive day!
Back home my husband and I welcomed the new year with a southern (american) tradition: Hoppin' john!  This is a dish of rice and black-eyed peas (since this is Spain I spiced 'em up with some Chorizo), along with greens (traditionally collard or turnip greens but we compromised with kale) and cooked carrot rounds.  Each food symbolizes a wish for the coming year: rice is for love, the peas are for health, the carrots are for coins and the greens are for paper money.  I'm not a huge bean fan but I sure cleaned my plate anyway!
Here's hoping the new year brings all this and more to you and yours!!!