Saturday, March 31, 2012


I don't have very much time before I head off to the stable on this beautiful, sunny Spring day in Mallorca, but I did finally manage to upload the videos from last weekend so here they are!

Starbuck playing with the new Parelli Big Green Ball:

Me riding Starbuck last Saturday:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bratty Bratty Brat Brat

Starbuck's been a nasty little brat for the past two days.  Yesterday, she didn't want me to put salve on a little scrape she had on her face and kept running off, and on Tuesday she even kicked out at me in her paddock (luckily her aim was off) when I made her hustle a little.  I know she's in heat, that her best friend has been sick and that the weather's changing, but you'd think she'd give me a little break.  After all, I've had to get up an hour early every day due to daylight savings' time, work three 10 hour days this week where I missed going to see her at lunch and could only go to the stable in the evening, my favorite barn kitty was bitten by a dog and needed some serious wound treatment, I've been superbusy with and on top of everything I've got the world's worst and longest case of PMS this month.  So here I was hoping that she would be the bright spot in a murky week, and she let me down.  I've been going over and over this all in my head all week, worrying about her "backsliding" and starting to question her recent progress.

Until today, I thought, "wait a minute"...

There's so much talk in Natural Horsemanship (and other training philosophies for that matter) about "putting the relationship first".  We work so hard on making sure that our horses are happy and trusting little followers and that we confidently fill their every need.  But a relationship is about so much more than being a leader.  According to the almighty Google, a relationship is "The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected."  That bears repeating.  A relationship is the state of being connected.  If one of us is emotionally distant due to stress, hormones or tiredness, the connection weakens and the relationship suffers.  Especially with an animal as imitative as a horse who we specifically train to take their emotional cues from us (head down, breathe deep, relax girl...) and who is going through her own hormonal changes.

How many times have I snapped at my husband for no good reason and he's graciously let it slide?  But every now and then both of us are in a bad mood at the same time, and this is when we have to be really careful not to get in a stupid argument.  If what I truly want with Starbuck is a friendship, a meaningful relationship where we are both willing partners, then I have to have the same consideration for her.  I can't expect to come stomping into the barn throwing stuff around and rushing to do everything and hope for her to be thrilled to see me.  As Carolyn Resnick so aptly puts it, I need to remember that this is a courtship.  Just as I always manage a pleasant greeting to my husband no matter how stressed out I am, I need to manage a pleasant demeanor which encourages Starbuck want to be around me, or prepare myself to accept whatever she's prepared to give back.

This is by no means an excuse for her kicking out at me which I promptly roundpenned out of her (she had a lot of excess energy she needed to work off anyway and we were able to practice her canter), I still think she was trying to assume the lead and that it's something I need to keep a close eye on.  But I'm 100% sure that if I had been slightly more pleasant and focussed on her instead of complaining about my workweek to my barnmates when trying to put the salve on (or put her halter on first so she couldn't get away in the first place), she wouldn't have run off, I wouldn't have had to hustle her and she wouldn't have gotten defensive.  An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.  And the next time I get "nasty little brat" responses, I need to make sure I'm not making "nasty little brat" requests.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


My inner little horsecrazy girl came out today in a major way and I just had to write a little about it...

I rode Starbuck both yesterday and today after fairly short groundwork sessions beforehand (well, about 20 minutes which is short for me).  We rode both times in the big arena and both times with a fair amount of folks in the arena including a jumping class yesterday and some girls practicing jumps on their own today.  So she's really learning to focus on me and my requests instead of whatever the other horses are doing or anything scary outside the arena.  It helps that with her winter coat, I think she's too hot to want to misbehave very actively.

Yesterday she was majorly in heat, and I mean full on embarrassing, slutty (sorry peeps but that's the way it is), rump swinging, flehmen facey, butt tucky, pee-drippy heat.  And there were not one but two stallions in the arena with us, and every time one of them passed she let loose a little squeal.  But no bucks, no rearing, no sidesteps, it just never escalated beyond that - just a little squeal and tension and then two seconds later a release and she'd walk on.  So I steered her away from the stallions and that was that, we even walked all the way around the arena a couple of times with horses cantering right by us.  I think I was more nervous than she was, she did so well!
Today she was less slutty but one of her friends was in the arena and she kept wanting to go play... but again, we steered away and I tried to keep her busy with lots of circles, cloverleaves, serpentines, transitions, etc... which worked like a charm.  It really does keep her mind off monsters or playmates and get her focussing on me!  She did so well I decided to up the anty and ride her at the top of the arena for the first time.

I should explain here, sand in the Balearics is a surprisingly difficult commodity to come by (for environmental reasons) but my stable's arena is HUGE.  Like maybe 100 yards square.  So only half of the arena has sand put down and this is the half that's used for lessons.  The other half is basically red clay dirt with some scrubby plants and is mostly only used by folks who want to get away from the lessons - the footing's not as good and there are some menacing orange trees and carniverous horse-eating sparrows, but it's completely rideable.  I wasn't sure how Starbuck would do there and at first she was a little pissed that I wouldn't let her eat the scrubby plants, but then she took it all in stride and walked and trotted there like she'd been doing it all along.

I really think I'll be able to take her out on a trail ride before too long, she's coming along so well, and since the top of the arena is much less arena-like (lined with orange trees and birds flitting about and plants everywhere and the mountains in the background) I had so much fun riding there today... that was my little girl moment!  I've had a HUGE smile plastered across my face ever since...  I have videos to upload too, of the big green Parelli ball and of our ride yesterday, but I left the videocamera in the car so I'll have to post them tomorrow.  On my way home I decided to stop to watch the sun set on this first day of European daylight savings time... what a weekend!

Friday, March 23, 2012

This week...

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been busy busy busy with my newest horsey iniciative lately -, which is a Craigslist type classified ads site specifically for horse stuff in the Balearic Islands.  My friends Belén, Ivón, Virginia and I hope that it proves useful to folks here and if we get really lucky we might even make back what we've spent on it so far in publicity.  Apart from free ads, it has an equestrian map of the Balearics, a forum, a photo gallery, an equine contacts (veterinarians, farriers, etc...) page and of course a blog (featuring exclusive translations of the fabulous Lorraine Jennings' School Your Horse articles, no less!).
So needless to say I haven't had a lot of time for this blog, but I at least wanted to record our progress this week.  Especially since the farrier Xisco came yesterday and far from having to leave one hoof undone like the last time, actually complimented me on her training and was able to finish her trim in just about 30 minutes this time!  But I was able to see how much better she responds to me than to others, so I'll have to bribe some of the kids at the stable into working with her every now and then so she respects all humans and not just me.  Luckily they're pretty easy to convince.  Anyhow he says her hoovsies are superhealthy and fast-growing and that I don't need to worry about anything until I start riding her outside the stableyard pretty regularly.

And today we played with the big green Parelli ball again (videos are on the way!), as long as I have her on line she chases, rolls, kicks and trys to bite it although as soon as I unsnapped the lead rope she booked it towards the grassy side of the arena and completely lost interest.  But I'm trying to work on establishing a "roll it" cue and her topline is incredible when she chases the ball - nice and rounded.  I think it's just a question of practice...
Rewinding back in time, we had a couple of rainy days at the beginning of the week and I've been crazy at work besides, so didn't do much during the week, but on Sunday we had a absolutely cowboy-fugly longeing session.  I don't know if she could feel the rain coming or if it was equine PMS (oh, yeah, she's in heat AGAIN) or what, but she was way spooky and crazy - rearing, bucking and bolting all over the place for a long time before I finally got her halfway focussed and even then I was too scaredy to ride her.  Which I'm not sure if it's a good thing and a sign of my maturity and responsability or just a sign of me being a scaredy cat.  Jury's still out.

But last Saturday we had a lovely and solid groundwork session in the big arena and then I rode her in the roundpen and she was so very very good... we'll see if I'm so lucky tomorrow.  The good news is that the bad days are fewer and farther between, and the good days are becoming the rule instead of the exception.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Photo Shoot

Thanks to my husband the fabulous photographer who came with me to the stable today, we have yet more fabulous pictures!  Today Starbuck and I did about 45 minutes of groundwork and then I rode her for maybe 20 minutes in the roundpen since there were a bunch of beginners in the big arena, working a lot more on her trot today and on her keeping a steady walk.  She's really doing very well and I think we'll try a little canter any day now...

I'm superbusy with a side project ( which I'll write more about at some point but is currently hogging my blog time... Anyhow in the meanwhile I hope you enjoy the photos!

This is her putting her own halter on by the way...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

General silliness

Thanks to my friend Belén for these fabulous photos of me and Starbuck... wait for it... "horsing around".  Sorry, couldn't resist!

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I'm pretty sure that Starbuck's still not ready to gallop with me riding her and I'm not in any hurry, but I feel like we've really achieved a lot as far as walk-trot-steer, ride in roundpen, ride in big arena goes and wanted to do something different today.  I hadn't ridden any horse bareback since I was a teenager but have been wanting to try it with Starbuck for a while now, especially since it'd be a way to squeeze some quicky riding in at lunchtime during the work week, and decided that if she was amenable today that I'd give it a shot.

I've seen Clinton Anderson use the Jeffrey's Method to gentle a horse on one of his DVDs - you jump up and down next to the horse until she's cool with what you're doing, then jump on her back and lay across her back on your stomach for a second, then do it again for a little longer and a little longer... until finally she's completely calm and you can straddle her.  So I got the jumping up and down part pretty much covered, then lay across her back for a second, but I think I got blinded by the goal because I forgot to "warm her up" to the idea and tried to hop right up and straddle her way before she was comfortable with the idea.  It's funny, I think I knew I was going to fall off since right before disaster struck I actually remembered to take my cell phone out of my pocket...  It was stupid - too soon, too clumsy and without any help.  Luckily it was a good fall and I was able to get right back up, I'm not even sore this evening.

Luckily my friend Virginia showed up to see if I was OK and very generously offered to help out, so she held Starbuck while I gave it another try.  I still did it too fast, I should have lain across her back and "rubbed" her with my foot before I got all the way on, and she spooked a little, but I was able to stay on (no easy feat, I'm pretty proud of myself) and finally we ended up doing a little pony ride around the roundpen with Virginia's help for about 5 minutes.  She calmed down and in the end was perfectly fine with it, and since for now I want her to associate me riding bareback as being something easy and pleasant I decided to reward her by cutting it short, taking the bridle off and leading her to a particularly lush patch of grass to graze.

I have to say, it was the most amazing feeling.  She's so fit that it's really comfortable (albeit hard to stay on!) and I could feel every little muscle in her back moving and could tell she was really tuned into me too.  Today I was too nervous and tired (only got about 4 hours of sleep last night) to be able to relax and focus on it, but I think it's the kind of thing which could be almost meditative.  Definitely something I can't wait to do more of and I think it's what I really need to improve my balance and seat, as well as possibly our communication.

Anyhow here's the video, the most exciting moments are at about 3:25 and 6:35 :P

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tack Locker!

I finally found a second-hand cabinet which was deep enough for my saddle to fit into for only 30€ and the guy selling it was even willing to bring it to the stable!  So they delivered it today and Mario, the Portuguese handyman at my barn, helped me attach the saddle rack and a couple of hooks for bridles, halters, etc... I'm superpleased with it - there's room for absolutely everything and I won't need to wedge my saddle under the shelf in the corner of the tack room anymore!  Just need to bring a padlock tomorrow and I'll be set!

In other news, Virginia's and my Parelli big green ball arrived and we've been slowly getting Coco and Starbuck used to it... so you can look forward to the videos soon!  Also today I started supplementing Starbuck's midday grain ration with paprika to see if her coat stays darker - hope it works!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dressage followup

I thought this was so funny and just had to share... in Spain offices will often supply an annual medical checkup for their employees - basic bloodwork, vision, hearing and vitals check along with the doctor's advice for keeping your work environment as healthy and safe as possible, you know, all that having good posture, getting up and stretching once an hour, staying hydrated kind of stuff...

Anyhow today I had mine and the doctor after looking at my spine and posture said the following to me:

  • You tend to keep your arms straight to get to the mouse and keyboard - try bending them at a 90º angle and you won't have as much shoulder tension.
  • You're also hollowing your back and sticking out your butt too much, standing and sitting this way causes lower back pain.
Sound familiar?  It's almost word-for-word what Daniela told me in my dressage clinic on Sunday... These ladies have me pegged!  Apparently my riding posture and my office posture are similar, which is actually great if you think about it because I'll be able to "practice" a correct riding posture all day long :-)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


As you may have seen in earlier posts, I once upon a time took dressage lessons, and it's certainly something I want to incorporate into Starbuck's training once we have a good solid walk-trot-canter-halt going on.  So when the folks at my stable announced that we were going to start having monthly dressage clinics with my friend Virginia's dressage teacher Daniela (yeah, the girl who sold me my saddle), I was really excited.  But I had a little problem - Starbuck and I are still working on walking in a straight line and turning more or less on my cues and the clinic was going to be dedicated to making the perfect circle.

So I asked Marina if I could borrow a grown up horse for the clinic and we decided on Compay, the gelding I used to ride in my lessons before I acquired Starbuck.  I have a real soft spot for this horse although he can certainly be challenging to ride - he was ridden far too hard with double reins and a heavy hand at some point in his training before Marina bought him and he can be extremely nervous about contact with the bit.  He also falls a bit out of balance when he canters which often leads to him swinging his head around and trying to run away.  But he tries really hard, has a sweet disposition and is lovely to ride when he's not freaking out.

We started the clinic sitting indian-style in the arena talking about circles and Daniela gave us a little booklet with some visual aids to get us thinking about straightness, impulsion and "curvature" (not sure if this is a real word- whatever the horse does when he curves his neck slightly to look to the interior of the circle).  Then we were split into groups of four or five where we worked on 20, 15 and 10 meter circles as well as a couple of figures of eight, with Dani coaching us the whole time.

It was much harder than I thought it would be- I'm really out of shape after so many months without riding regularly- and Compay and I had a little bit of a trainwreck when we first tried to canter to the left.  But after seeing the video I don't think I did TOO badly and we had a lovely little canter to the right with even a little collection.  It was funny, Daniela said afterward that she could see the moment about 10 minutes into the class when I changed from "filly-seat" to regular seat.  Anyway here's the video of some of the most instructive moments of the class (it really lasted about 30 minutes but I figure I need to start making these shorter).

And here are Daniela's notes (she was good enough to write them down for us in our little booklet):

  • Seat: Be careful, don't stick your butt out or you'll hurt your back.
  • Hands: Keep about a 90º angle to your elbows, if you stretch your arms out the contact will be harsh.
  • Very good attitude and curvature of your horse.

Friday, March 2, 2012


You ever have one of those "Aha" moments with your horse?  I mean where you observe or hear or read something which really leads you to reconsider even your most ingrained habits?  I read the following on Carolyn Resnick's blog this morning which made me really think about training Starbuck in a whole new way.  For those of you unfamiliar with her methods, Carolyn is a proponent of what you could call "Naturist" Natural Horsemanship - naked (no tack, halter, lines, etc...) liberty training is a big part of her method, thus truly allowing the horse to choose whether she wants to accept you as her leader or just walk away.
"When people use tack they can reprimand a horse easier and because of that they do. However, if a horse is at liberty, the horse is able to get away easier when reprimanded, and when he does, he loses interest in that person. Because of this freedom at liberty, the person stays away from reprimanding the horse in order to keep from losing their connection."
--Carolyn Resnick
How many times have I read "Praise your horse when she does what you want her to, ignore her when she doesn't" and that almost all "punishments" are futile?  I have no problem whatsoever in upping my taps with the whip to a whack when Starbuck is ignoring me, letting her barge right into my waving crop in front of her nose when leading or using the leather popper on my rope to protect my personal space, but I really strive never to yell at her or hit her after she's done something "wrong".  I much prefer to just make her work a little harder (backing up and leading forward several times, turning tight circles or yielding her hindquarters right and left) afterwards to get her mind off whatever caused her "misbehaviour" and make her think twice about it the next time.  But it's true - having the rope tying her to me makes it all to easy to give a sharp tug on her halter or yell at her a little when she makes a mistake.

So seeing as how we had such gorgeous weather at lunchtime today, I had a bag full of carrot rounds and I wanted to try something different and fun, I decided to give some liberty work with Starbuck a try.  We started out with a longe line just so she'd get the idea that this was in fact work and that I had treats to give her when she did the right thing, doing a few laps in walk and trot and then doing a little ground tying as well as working on our "back up" and "come here girl" cues.  But after about 15 minutes I manned up and unsnapped the lead rope, leaving it in the sand and waiting to see if she'd just high-tail it towards the grass on the edges of the arena.

And she didn't - she stayed right with me just looking at me asking me what we were going to do next!  At first I just walked around with her following beside me, seeing if she'd stop and back up with me.  She did so well at that that I stopped her and gave her a little rest as well as some rubbing and a carrot round.  I then tried sending her out on a circle like I do in the roundpen.  The first three or four times she went superwide and wandered off, so I adjusted my body language but especially my focus on her and my energy to be able to regain and maintain her attention.  And what do you know if she didn't come back and start walking circles (well, ok, maybe more like ovals or pears) around me at liberty!

We changed direction a couple of times with no problems so I decided to up the difficulty and started jogging a little bit.  She broke right into trot and made her circle a little bit bigger, but stayed tuned in always coming back to me - we ended up cavorting up and down the arena together, changing speed, distance and direction fluently using only my body language.  At one point when she got a little too excited for my comfort zone, I was even able to stop her in her tracks by just inclining my head a little in the direction of her hindquarters.  During the 20 or so minutes we were playing, I stopped every few minutes to give her a rest and a carrot round.

At first she was a little confused and confounded by this new dynamic, but I think the sheer joy that I was feeling must have transferred over to her because she ended up having a good time too, and we even drew a bit of an audience since we started just when lunch was ending and lots of folks had the day off today (yesterday was a regional holiday).  At the very end Marina said what a good job I was doing and that it had been lots of fun to watch and I let Starbuck graze while we were talking, but when it was time to go and I walked away she stayed on the side of the arena grazing.  So Marina told me to call her, which I did, then Marina shuffled her feet which startled Starbuck and she came running right to me, stopped when she reached me and stood still while I snapped the rope back on her halter.  It was a glorious way to spend my lunch break and I feel like we're really taking our relationship to the next level.

Next time I do this I'll try to get some video or at least some photos, but I'll leave you with some amazing footage of Carolyn doing her thing - hopefully some day Starbuck and I can have this kind of connection and finesse!