Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More videos...

Last Sunday I was lucky enough to ride Starbuck again, first we did some longeing in the big arena where she was super super obedient, focused and relaxed.  Afterwards, for something new I spread out a big blue tarp on the ground in the roundpen so we could practice riding over it (she's actually supercool with this kind of thing, we've done work with the tarp before and she had no problem with it then either).

She walked and trotted over it calmly while free-longeing, but once I mounted up she decided she needed to destroy the tarp a little by pawing at it before we could ride over it ;p  At any rate, in the end we walked and trotted over it without any trouble - I was so proud of her and people kept saying how impressive it was and how much she trusted me (and in fact a few tried it with their grown-up horses afterwards and weren't so successful).  I know that there are other things which scare her more and which would be a better test of her trust, but I also know that I need to introduce challenges to her a little at a time, so I'm happy to pat myself on my back a little for this.
She did so well and was so laid back about all of it that I asked my friend Ivón to help us by longeing Starbuck with me on her back in the big arena.  That way I figured that both Starbuck and I could build up our confidence about riding there, and if she wasn't worried we could unsnap the longe line and ride a little without "help" from the ground.  And it worked!  She wasn't worried at all, didn't spook even a little and we were able to walk and trot around the non-scary side of the arena without any trouble whatsoever.  
At the end of our ride Ivón had to leave so we enlisted Virginia to walk us around the entire arena - even beside the scary tiger house - so Starbuck would get used to it.  And once again, she didn't skip a beat (this for me is really test of her trust)!  It was a short ride but she did so well that I wanted to reward her while we were ahead, so after the lap around the arena I untacked her, gave her a quick leg and belly shower (if you didn't notice it was warm enough for me to be wearing a t-shirt so imagine her in her winter coat) and prepared her a big bucket of savoury bran mash before cleaning out her paddock and making her an even bigger and fluffier bed of straw in her stall.

Once again, a marvellous day thanks to my fabulous filly Starbuck!

Saturday, February 25, 2012


After a pretty solid week of Starbuck doing really good groundwork and the sun shining long enough to dry out the footing in the roundpen, I finally was ready to ride her again today!  So before lunch I took her out to longe for a little while on the scary side of the arena and work on her spooking, then after lunch I ran out to saddle her up for a little ride.  At first I was supernervous - I hadn't ridden her in so long and at first she was NOT happy about it, but my friend Virginia reminded me to do my breathing exercises (breathe in three counts, breathe out six counts) and relax my upper body and we both started enjoying the ride.  We worked on turns with some coaching from my friends - I've been pulling my hand too far away from her neck which overflexes her and leads her to stop midway through the turn so a little advice helped us out a lot.
After about 10 minutes in walk, I pulled out my crop, took up a little more contact and asked her politely for trot (fully expecting to need to have to use heavy side-kicking and the crop to get her to do so).  And what do you know?  She went right into a nice trot without even having to kick her once!  At first she was a little rebellious about staying with it and even tried a couple of bounces, but nothing serious and she quieted down really quickly.  I'd much rather she rebel in a controlled environment sooner rather than later, and figure out fast that it doesn't tend to get her what she wants.

One of the things Virginia suggested was for me to just THINK about her hindquarters while I was trotting to see if we could get some of her weight off her shoulders, which I'm pretty sure I could feel working (although with all this thinking about hindquarters I forgot to think about where we were going and the circle turned into a pear!).  But it was super interesting nonetheless.

After all that, we just did some work around cones, doing some cloverleaf patterns, walk to stop transitions and finally a little rein-back.  All in all a really nice ride and in the end I feel like the past month hasn't been wasted after all.  And to reward her when our ride had ended, Virginia and I took Starbuck and Coco on a grazing walk where we ran into some supercute goats!  Starbuck was great on the walk too, she didn't freak out or act up at all.  I can't believe my luck today and know she won't always be this way, but I feel renewed faith in my abilities as a trainer.

The video is only for folks who are really interested in our progress or superbored, but I hope you enjoy the goat photos!

Thanks girl for a wonderful day!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Starbuck and I had a very good groundwork session today-- the footing in the roundpen was finally more or less dry and it was a bright sunny day (albeit super windy).  But most of all we just had a really solid connection today. I've been working on using non-verbal cues for transitions (using first my focus, then body language, then stepping up the body language and finally accompanying the body language with a verbal cue if none of the above works).  The idea is that instead of her having to learn to speak my language, I try to "speak" hers.  Today I didn't have to use any words at all, she was tuned in enough to me to follow my lead!

I also have been accompanying her when roundpenning by walking about 4 feet away from her as she goes around the pen - the first few times we tried it she freaked out a little and didn't like me so close to her while she was working.  I think she must have seen it as micromanaging at first, but she's now realized that it's just something we do sometimes and today did really well.  At first she tried to veer away from the fence towards me, but I flicked the string of my whip at her shoulder a few times and she got the picture.  She did so well we even escalated to changing reins across the round pen while maintaining speed and rhythm.  All of this interspersed with lots of breaks where we worked on standing tied, pivots on the hind- and forequarters and the "come here" cue.

Anyhow the best part of the session was at the very end when I gave her a long, long rubdown complete with a face massage to reward her for such a fabulous job.  At the end, I gave her a hug and pressed my face against her neck and realized that I could hear her heart beating.  It was slow, much slower than I would expect.  Maybe because she's so big?  Anyhow it completely mesmerized me and I just let my whole being tune into her being, the sound of her heart beating and her breath whooshing through her throat and the smell and feel of her coat against my face and the weight of her jaw resting on top of my head.

An amazing moment I hope I never forget and can often repeat.

For all those science geeks out there, here are some links on the equine heart:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Random Conformation Pics

My little girl is growing-- she's getting wider and heavier and starting to really develop some muscle, so when I saw her standing almost square on Sunday (albeit a little underneath herself) I decided to snap some conformation shots.

Then when I saw the fantastic offer on Fugly for horse portraits yesterday, I got her all purtied up with a Spanish braid and took some headshots as well:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

To Treat or Not to Treat...

During the past three weeks when Starbuck and I haven't been able to do much training, I've been thinking a lot about motivation.  We've been doing lots of fun stuff like grazing walks, letting her loose with her friends to run in a nearby field, equine massage and I've also been giving her extra rations of hay and alfalfa to keep her calories up for those cold winter nights.  One of the things I've done ever since the beginning with her is to hold the halter up but wait for her to take the responsibility for putting it on and lately she takes less time than ever to  stop mouthing it and stick her nose into it.

So this week when it finally dried out enough to do a little work, I decided to try something which I've never done before- start using treats to reinforce her training.  Lots of trainers I respect- Julie Goodnight is one- reject the idea of giving treats as a habit which undermines the human's "herd position" since apparently the horse can view it as "taking" the food from the person.  In the beginning way back in August I tried using treats to teach Starbuck to lift her hooves, but she got so pushy I swore off them and have been a little strict about not hand feeding her anything ever since then.

But there are also plenty of trainers, for example Linda Tellington Jones- who use treats both to reward a horse for performing a certain action or to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, overriding the "fight or flight" instinct.  And I feel like I've done a fairly good job (although we still need to work on it) of establishing  respect for my space, so I figured I might as well give it a try and see how it went.

To make sure she doesn't get pushy, what I'm rewarding her with treats for at the moment is ground-tying.  So I tell her to "wait" and put my hand up in a "stop" gesture, then walk off.  If she keeps all four feet on the ground the whole time, she gets a couple of carrot rounds, a handful of grain or I cue to her that she can graze on a particularly lush patch of grass.  It took about an hour for her to get the picture and not just follow me around but after that it seems to be working pretty well!  She's definitely more focused on me when we're working and is obviously way happier to see me-- today she downright whinnied at me when she saw me coming.  We'll see how it goes and I'll keep you posted...

Read more about treating:

Friday, February 17, 2012


I've only ever seen Starbuck lying down once, when she had a tummyache, so when my friend Belén sent me these oh-so-cute pics this morning I just had to share-- check out that lower lip!  Who wouldn't want to lie down and take a nap in this gorgeous sun after so many rainy days?!

Save a spot for me girl, I'll be there soon!!!

What's the cutest thing you've ever seen a horse do?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What do YOU think?

So I got inspired by Snarky Rider's recent postings of some equestrian-themed versions of the "What My Friends Think I Do" meme and decided to make one for Starbuck... I had fun doing it and hope you enjoy it.

By the way I didn't end up doing it because I'm feeling more or less charitable towards Starbuck today, but this was a serious contender for the "What she is" pic (thanks to the Oatmeal for the giggles):

The anatomy of a horse

What about YOUR horse?

Sunday, February 12, 2012


I realized the other day that I hadn't ridden in like three weeks because of the rain and snow, and I haven't been able to do much training with Starbuck either since the arena's been so soggy.  So I decided to take advantage of the crappy weather to do lots of bodywork with her, using the different techniques in my new Tellington Jones book.  I think that this is good for our relationship as she starts to see me as someone who can make her feel better, it's leading me to get to know her better, and above all rubbing on a warm fuzzy animal in her straw-lined stall is way more comfortable than running around the barnyard dodging puddles.

We've also been inadvertently working on leading since what we've done more than anything else is leading her to different fields and paddocks so she could at least stretch her legs and socialize with her horsey friends and wouldn't be so stir crazy when I could start working with her again.  So we've gone to the top of the barnyard, to the orange groves accross the street, to the field down the road, to the parking lot... you get the picture.  I've started carrying a short crop with me when we walk anywhere and I think both that and all this "practice" is making all the difference-- she's only run past me once in the past few days and today we led up and down the scary side of the arena several times without any problem!

The other change in our training is that I decided to start hand-feeding her treats every now and then, mainly when working on things like ground-tying and lowering her head, or after a particularly successful exercize.  I'm glad I spent time without using treats at first, but I think using them now may help motivate her and keep her more focused on me.  We'll see how it goes, if she gets pushy I'll have to re-think it.  But both yesterday and today she did really well and was much less bratty than she's been lately, it was really a pleasure to work with her and we learned something new-- trotting alongside me while I jog without getting ahead of me.

All the photos below are just because I'm so proud of how pretty her hooves are and want to make a record of it, so I can keep track of any changes.

Front hooves, side view:

Hind hooves, side view:

Front right hoof:
Left front hoof:
Right rear hoof:
Left rear hoof:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More Snow!

Forget Friday's post-- yesterday we woke up to a thick white blanket of snow covering Palma and yet more still coming down!  Worried that it would melt as the morning went on, I hurried to get dressed and drove (carefully) out to the stable only to find that it was snowing even harder there!  After helping Marina and Javi fix some fencing which had gone down with the weight of the snow, laying down a fresh layer of nice fluffy hay in Starbuck's shed and making sure she was warm and dry under her blanket, I took a bunch of photos.

In the end two of the other owners Virginia and Selina took their horses Coco and Monty out to the big vacant lot, but seeing as how even the grown up horses were freaking out and prancing around with the snow everywhere, I didn't want to have a battle of wills on wet, slippery terrain.  So Starbuck stayed in her paddock much to my dismay and envy when I saw how happy the others were running around in the snow... still, with her limpiness the other day and not being used to her plus-sized blanket and my clumsiness I think it was the right decision.  Anyhow here are some of the photos, you can check out the rest on Facebook (even if you don't have a FB account).

Anyone who thinks I might be overstating my clumsiness just take a look at this graceful stance...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Photo Friday: It snowed!

I promise!  I was at the stable at lunchtime as usual and it was raining pretty hard for Mallorca (that means more than 10 raindrops a minute) and was chilly-- I sure was glad to have put Starbuck's blanket on yesterday.    Anyhow I was topping off the straw in her stall so she'd have a nice soft warm bed tonight and giving her a little extra hay to keep her busy and all of a sudden my jacket started making noise.  Except it wasn't my jacket but the SNOW falling on it... little white juicy sleety flakes of it.

I grinned ear-to-ear (I always claim to hate snow but when it first starts falling I feel like a giddy kid) and called out to Starbuck to come out and play, but she just huddled further into her shed.  So I took a picture of her butt through the snow (which is of course completely invisible in the photo-- the snow I mean, not her butt) and then walked around to the front of her shed to take another one.  While I debated sending a text message to Marina who was on her lunch break to come out and play, it stopped snowing and started just raining again.  So it snowed for like a minute and a half, but hey, I was there to enjoy it with my baby girl!

Since I was pretty bored, I took some more photos of her and her roommate Meline, here goes.  Doesn't she look nice and toasty with her blankie? (thanks Virginia!!!)