Friday, September 21, 2012

On Canter Cues and Horseshoes

This week I feel like Starbuck and I are really starting to consolidate our progress.  I rode her on Tuesday and Thursday and was able to canter both days and notice that she's starting to last longer at a trot without breaking gait to a walk, without me using as much leg.  This is something I really need to work on as a rider, somehow at some point it became second nature for me to squeeze with my calves with every down beat at a posting trot.  So I'm trying to re-train myself to only use the "squeeze" on the up beat (when the aid can actually affect the inner hind leg as well as encourage her to breathe deeper) and to not use any leg pressure at all unless Starbuck breaks gait (which for now is pretty much every 5 strides).

On Tuesday we were able to canter two full circles in each direction (woooooooo!) without breaking gait and she sure does have a nice little canter!  I'm surprised at how comfortable she is both at a seated trot as well as at the canter, but I guess partly that's a by-product of her being backed by me.  I'll have to wait and see if everyone else agrees with me.  Then yesterday I decided to try to solidify the canter cue a little more, so we did about 10 canter transitions with just a few canter strides after each one.  She still hasn't gotten it 100% down yet, I think she now recognizes the aids since as soon as my outside leg goes back and my inside leg puts on a little pressure she gets a little excited and starts moving faster, but it still takes some serious convincing for her to actually break into canter.  Marina tells me that this is normal youngster lack of coordination and that I'm on the right track, so I plan to try to keep alternating a day of steady canter work where we try to keep going as long as possible with another day of canter transitions with just a few strides.

I really hope to be able to take a short trail ride one of these days since I think she's ready for it and would really enjoy being out and about, but I'm kind of at the mercy of my barn mates for that since I don't want to go by myself the first couple of times (there aren't any trails I can go on without having to use paved roads, and I would like to have other horses around the first time she has to deal with traffic).  We'll see if I get lucky this weekend, I sure wish more people at my stable went on trail rides.  There are a couple of fenced in orange groves and fields nearby, so if no one wants to come along with us I may just give riding around alone in those a try (in a worst case scenario if she gets scared and bolts, she can't run across any highways).

I talked to my farrier yesterday and he'll come by next week to give her a trim, but I have to make a decision soon about whether I want to shoe her or try to go mostly barefoot using EasyBoots (I like the new Trail model so far) for long rides.  I'm really hesitant to shoe her if I can avoid it, especially since she's got such strong, healthy and shapely hooves.  On the one hand, it would be so simple just to call the farrier once every month and a half and not have to worry about putting on the boots or them rubbing around the fetlock or wearing out or being too tight before a trim and too loose after a trim or whatever.  They are a pretty hefty investment (more than 100€ for just the front pair, and for really long rides I'd need all four) considering I don't know how well they're going to work or how long they're going to last.  And on top of everything, my farrier thinks that with corrective shoeing we can work on her toeing out much more effectively than with the trims (he'd be earning the same amount no matter what since we trim monthly, so I tend to trust his motives).  But on the flip side, if the boots don't work out I can always shoe her and that's that, whereas if the shoes screw up her hooves or mess with her gaits or whatever, there's a serious transition period from when you take the shoes off until when she can be ridden barefoot again.  Also, my farrier charges 30€ to shoe the front two hooves, so in 5 months I'll have spent the same amount as I would on the boots, which should last at least a year.  And I'm pretty much convinced that it's all around healthier for the horse if they're left barefoot.

Well, I guess that's pretty much it for now, except I also wanted to include our lesson plans for the past few days to keep track of what we're working on so here goes.  I know I'm not being 100% faithful to our "training plan" but I'm having a hard time not riding when I really feel like it :)  Any suggestions or critiques are welcome!


  • Warm up (walk, trot in circles) (10 minutes)
  • Walk, halt, back, walk transitions (5 minutes)
  • Conditioning trot work all around arena (10 minutes)
  • Walk, trot, walk transitions (5 minutes)
  • Turn on the forehand, leg yield along arena wall (5 minutes)
  • Canter 2 full circles in each direction (5 minutes)
  • Joined up with group lesson for trotting over cavalletti (10 minutes)
  • Walk around stableyard (10 minutes)


  • Warm up (10 minutes)
  • Halt - Walk - Trot transitions (5 minutes)
  • Trot - Walk - Halt - Back transitions (5 minutes)
  • Perfect posture on a perfect circle, walk (10 minutes)
  • Perfect posture on a perfect circle, trot (10 minutes)
  • Trot - Canter transitions (10 minutes)
  • Follow focus on loose rein, trot (5 minutes)
  • Follow focus on loose rein, walk (5 minutes)


  • Warm up (10 minutes)
  • Conditioning trot work all around arena (15 minutes)
  • Turn on forehand facing a traffic cone (5 minutes)
  • Canter 3 full circles in each direction (10 minutes)
  • Back - Halt - Walk transitions (5 minutes)
  • Leg yield along arena wall (5 minutes)
  • Walk around stableyard (10 minutes)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dr. Jekyll and Little Miss Hyde

This was certainly a weekend of ups and downs with Starbuck.  First things first, I de-wormed her on Friday - I just wanted to get that out of the way so in two or three months when I go into panic mode thinking that I haven't dewormed her in an entire year I can come back and see this post and calm down a little.  It's getting to be time to trim her hooves as well, I guess I'll call Xisco this week.  And next month the dentist is coming, I've already spoken to her so she'll set aside some time on her tour of Mallorca for us.  OK, got all the health and hygiene out of the way for now.

Friday was one of our worst days since the very beginning when Starbuck was just learning how to work on the longe line.  It was just chilly enough for me to put on a long-sleeved shirt and windy but bright and sunny - peak weather conditions for horse friskiness.  There was a jump class going on when we walked into the arena and we had to work on the scary side next to the bar and the tiger cave underneath.  Needless to say, every slight movement or sound in that area set Starbuck off on a genuinely inspired acrobatic routine of bucks, rears, jumps, spins and earth-rending gallops.  After a few tense yet spectacular minutes she finally started to settle down and I at least got her to walk half the circle on the easy side but she was still trotting on the scary side with her head way up in the air and hanging outside the circle, ears pointed at anything but me.  I admit, it was not one of our best moments and I was starting to get a little frustrated, but just as I have many many times in the past, I was asking her for transitions and changes of speed which tend to gradually get her attention back on me, even if it does take a while.

All of a sudden, I hear one of the guys at the stable shouting "She's not paying any attention to you" at me and at first I just kind of grunted to acknowledge him since this was something I was already pretty clued in to.  But he decided to keep going and shouted out "Unless you can get her attention 100% on you, you're not going to get anywhere with her!".  I am not proud of the heated argument I then proceded to engage in within earshot of everyone at the stable, but this guy is constantly criticizing others and noone ever challenges him (he is a BIG guy), plus I don't particularly agree with his style of horsemanship - since he's a big guy he tends to try to impose himself physically on horses which doesn't work so much for us short roly-poly types, not to mention that I want a relationship of affection and respect with my horse, not fear and respect.  I basically told him but that I already knew what he was telling me, that at the moment I wasn't able to get 100% attention from her but that I was working on gaining it bit by bit with transitions and that although I knew his "advice" was well meant, I was finding it more frustrating than anything else.  Which seems perfectly reasonable in print, but probably sounds a little combative when someone's shouting it at you.

Since he kept on harping on and I was getting madder and madder, I told him "You're probably right, since I can't get 100% attention from her than I won't get anything done" and walked out of the arena to cool off.  So Starbuck and I walked around the stable a couple of times until she was less panicked and I was less angry, then we went back, made our peace with this guy and proceded to work on the longe as well as we could until she was so tired that she finally relaxed.  I hate working her in tension and she was so sweaty and tired at the end but I guess sometimes you just have to let them get it all out.   At least this guy didn't make any more "suggestions", I know he means well but I respond much better to concrete suggestions like "Move the shoulder holding the whip further forward" or "Give her short tugs on the longe line" rather than nebulous criticisms which I'm already aware of.

But Saturday was such a phenomenal day for us that I decided that if we have to have a day like Friday every now and then, it's absolutely worth it!  She was a little tired and sore after her highjinks, but I was careful not to ask for too much and to stay off her back and she seemed like a completely different horse.  I've found her to be getting a little lazy to my leg cues (which is 100% my fault as a rider) so we worked on lots of keeping the same rhythm at a trot with no leg whatsoever as well as trotting over cavaletti.  She even seemed so cool that I tried out trotting over some tiny cross-rails and not only did she do it perfectly but she loved it!  We were also able to canter calmly and correctly in both directions both Saturday and Sunday, which brought a huge smile to my face.  She gave a little buck on one of the canter transitions, but then did several more without any bucking at all.

As a special bonus, on Saturday we were able to walk all around the stable yard in varying directions (there was a particular stand of trees which was way scarier coming at it from the left than when we passed it on the right) and even through the parking lot, and all of this by ourselves, without any other braver and more experienced horses leading the way.  She's actually very easy to calm down when she spooks out in the open and is so curious that once she's lost her fear she goes right up to whatever freaked her out to sniff it.

Sunday started out fairly disastrous - Starbuck freaked out when the dogs started barking at her and ran right into me, knocking me onto the ground.  Man am I sore today, especially since both hips are bruised and I sleep on my side, so every time I moved the littlest bit in bed I felt it.  So I backed her up about 20 steps, giving her a couple of energetic whacks with the end of the lead rope when she got lazy and then walked briskly around the parking lot until her attention was back on me and she had calmed down.  And once again, after saddling her and taking her out to the arena, she was completely changed - calm and focussed.  I guess I get mood swings when it's my "time of the month" too.

At any rate, our ride went so well and she was so tuned in that as we finished up and were cooling down I asked my friend Ivón if she wanted to give Starbuck a test drive, which she did and it went fine.  She only walked around the arena for a while and didn't even ask for trot, but it was the first time Starbuck was actively ridden by anyone other than me and she really behaved very well, listening attentively to Ivón's aids and not trying any funny business.  Ivón and I have made plans for her to start riding her every so often, next time I'm going to let her get a feel for Starbuck's trot while longeing her and then I think they'll be good to go.  I think it'll be really positive for Starbuck to get experience with other riders and hope to enlist some more volunteers soon.

Does anyone have any pointers (or war stories) on "sharing" your horse with other riders?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Training Plan

Just checking in - yesterday had an interesting group lesson with Starbuck where she had a couple of gnarly spooks but I didn't fall off and we didn't trample anyone to death so yay us!  We did back up into another student and her horse, who is luckily a very laid-back guy who doesn't mind young fillies bumping into him.  The student was a little more worried but no harm, no foul, right?  At any rate by halfway through the lesson Starbuck was finally working very well, stretching forward and down and giving me a nice rhythmic trot as long as I posted, although she seemed a little sore when I went for a seated trot.

We also got not one but TWO nice solid canter departs in both directions and ended the lesson with a ride around the stableyard with the rest of the students, even past (with a little coaxing) the scary place where there is a rain tank, a gigantic pile of debris and a door which leads nowhere.  So I'm very pleased all in all with our progress and think that what we need now is just mileage and consistency.

So with that in mind and to try to make sure things stay interesting and productive for both of us since I tend to find myself at a loss for things to do once I'm up in the saddle, I've come up with a kind of a training schedule to try to follow for at least a couple of weeks.  Let's see how it goes:

  • Monday: Short roundpen session (head down, stay / come) and rest of day off
  • Tuesday: Group lesson
  • Wednesday: Jump lesson Sarah, Day off Starbuck
  • Thursday: Resistance training - walk with no leg, consistent trot with minimal leg, seat building (two-point, standing, seated, every-other-posting)
  • Friday: Longeing and in-hand work, short ride at end
  • Saturday:  Dressage or reining patterns, lateral work, transitions, cavaletti and tiny cross-rails
  • Sunday: Some kind of hack out and about, even if it's just around the stableyard.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Back to Business

Wow, I can't believe it's been nearly two months since I last checked in here!  Between my frustration with Starbuck's lameness and injuries (more on that in a minute), my determination to spend every waking moment at the stable once she was better and my husband giving me a Kindle as an anniversary gift, I think I've cracked open my laptop maybe 5 times in all that time.  Anyhow I'm back and though I imagine I'll be a little more sporadic in my updates than before I owe it to myself and to Starbuck to keep up our journal.  So here's a brief re-cap of what we've been up to.

After several weeks of on-again off-again lameness, Starbuck finally seemed to be somewhat recovered so one fine day I tacked her up and took her out to the arena to longe her with her saddle and bridle on in hopes of riding her that day or the next.  After a few minutes of longeing I could see that she was moving really well and I brought her in to the middle of the circle for a rest and a head rub.  So she was standing there resting, then she put her head down to rub her leg with her muzzle, then she stepped in a loop of the longe line and before I could get her foot out of the loop something happened to majorly spook her (who knows what), her head went up and away she ran.  Since her leg was caught in the line I had to let her go and pray for the best, but the arena gate was open and she ended up running all the way to her paddock, where I found her grazing nervously.  But when I checked her out I saw that at some point the bit had gotten pulled against her cheek, giving her a nasty cut about an inch from the bars of her mouth.  And when I opened her mouth to take her bridle off I saw that the bit had also ripped nearly halfway through her tongue.

I can't even begin to tell you how bad I felt.  Here I have this creature who I'm trying to build up a foundation of trust with and the very equipment I'm using not only brings discomfort and pain, but actual injury.  I felt like I wasn't worthy of the responsability of even having a horse, not to mention training one.  I wrapped my arms around her neck and sobbed my apologies into her mane.  I came back to reality when she started nuzzling my pockets looking for cookies and realized that as serious as the problem was, she seemed to be holding it together better than I was.  So I wiped my face and called the vet, who calmed me down by telling me it wasn't an uncommon injury or even a particularly serious one and that the mouth heals much more quickly than other parts of the body, then prescribed a change in diet (no grain or anything with small particles which could get stuck in the wound) and daily rinses with medicated mouthwash until the wound closed.

So Starbuck was on soaked pellet food, straight up straw without any seed heads, alfalfa and bran mashes and had the best-smelling breath at the stable for a month (the vet was right, she healed up way faster than I expected).  She also got a good two weeks more of rest before I even tried to longe her again, so I spent lots of time grooming her and taking lessons on some of Marina's horses.  Finally, I got rid of the bit in lieu of a hackamore and worked her from the ground for about a week before saddling her up and seeing whether she would let me ride her for the first time in two months.  And guess what?  It took a few minutes to review the basic cues and aids and I could definitely tell that she'd lost some conditioning, but she didn't act up at all and even seemed to be happy to have me riding her again.  I honestly think she missed having a routine and being able to work off some steam without having to go into panic mode to do so.

Anyhow about two weeks have gone by since that first ride and I'm starting to think that Starbuck made some kind of seminal change over her "summer vacation".  She's calmer, more focused, more relaxed and overall tends to behave like a total professional both on the ground and under saddle.  Since we've been back on track, we've ridden in the wind and rain, started working trotting poles into almost every class, habitually ride on the scary side of the arena, are starting some lateral work (leg yielding along the arena wall) and have even gotten to canter (on purpose) a couple of times.  We've only had one "electrical" day brought on by some sudden chilly and windy weather, but even then her spooks were highly controllable and I was more worried about her posture (that head kept going up) than me falling off.  I know we'll still have our bad moments, but I think we've scaled another plateau - one where I feel safe riding her no matter what the weather or her mood is like and where we can work on figuring out a training routine which is enjoyable and productive for both of us.

So here's to giving your horse (and yourself) a break every now and then, to bitless bridles and to more conscious groundwork.  And maybe to writing just a little more often.