Monday, July 21, 2014

On a Roll

We have really been making progress the past week or so, and I want to share our successes.  In our lessons, Starbuck is much more responsive and although my leg aids are still not as light as I'd like, I find that after warming up I can use much less leg than I had to a month ago.  She's also starting to give to the bit and round out a little from time to time - for now we just have fleeting moments of her moving correctly but if I can nurture them and not screw things up they'll get longer and longer until she realizes that it's really in her best interest to lower her head, flex her poll, round her back and reach forward with her hind legs rather than to run around with her head in the air, her back hollowed out and her legs all strung out.  She's also been behaving exceptionally, very little spooking and only a few bucks and those mostly only when I use the whip which tells me I need to be softer with the whip anyway.  And what's most rewarding is that she really seems a lot more focused and motivated - I don't know if this is her realizing that I'm trying hard to make her life easier and she's returning the favor, or if it's the transitions or the trail riding or what, but it's noticeable enough for even Marina to comment on it.

One annoying habit of hers which I've been puzzling over is her falling out, especially going to the left.  This, much like the dull on the leg thing, also only started when I began working her on a contact and after several sessions of just being frustrated and trying to pull / push her back into place with legs and reins I finally decided that it was more of a balance / straightness problem than an obedience problem (without being able to throw her head up in the air, she has to figure out new ways to balance herself, and if one foot pushes harder than the other it's normal for her to go sideways).  So I tried a different solution - weighting my inside stirrup when she starts drifting out through her shoulder - and it works wonders!  It's also a good reminder to keep myself centered and pay attention to my center of gravity since I tend to slouch this way and that if I'm not careful.
Here's something fun - I actually recorded an entire lesson on video thanks to my husband's recent acquisition of an open-source "GoPro"-style camera (one of these really light-weight cameras with attachments so you can wear it around) - if you're interested in at least seeing what it's like to ride Starbuck you can check out the videos here.

Her bugbites are also much better than a few months ago - I think a combination of the blanket + mask, thrice-weekly baths with the new shampoo (chlorhexidine and aloe vera instead of just chlorhexidine) my vet recommended and an herbal anti-itch cream which I bought at the tack shop are finally paying off.  She still has some bald spots, but a lot less than before, hardly any of them with the skin broken, and she's not as obsessive about rubbing herself on the tying posts and whatnot.  I also changed her bedding from hay to pressed wood pellets, which expand, turn into powder and clump together like kitty litter as they're exposed to moisture.  This not only makes mucking out her paddock a lot quicker, but it also makes it possible to remove almost all traces of poop and pee from her bed (not to mention semi-decayed hay) which means less flies and hopefully less fly bites.  Here are some pictures, already I'm reaping the benefits of the 10-minute muck-out and with any luck her bites will get even better.

And last but not least, we've been trail riding fools lately!  Last Saturday after our morning lesson there was only one student for the next class so José Luis (the kid who helps out around the stable) took him out for a trail ride, and me and my friend Mar went with.  Sidebar - isn't the name "Mar" (which means "Sea" in Spanish) a wonderful name for a girl, especially one born on an island?  I love it.  Anyhow it went really well on the way out, but on the way back it seems like Starbuck got her second wind and went a little crazy with the passing cars.  No harm done except for some really freaked out drivers, but it definitely made me decide to use the butterfly bit for outings, at least until she's more consistent.  Then I was supposed to go on a trail ride with my German friend René on Sunday but had a hangover, so agreed to go with him on Tuesday after work.  This one was much better - Starbuck's best friend Coco came along for the first 20 minutes or so but then turned around and went home, so we got to work on (and survived!) some separation anxiety there, then I was really proud of her for going over some brightly painted speed bumps that René's horse Rodrigo balked at.  And we even went down a rocky streambed for about 200 feet before deciding it was going to be a pain in the ass and heading back, but just getting up and down the steep bank to the streambed was a challenge to be overcome.  She behaved really well on this one and even though we were on unfamiliar roads with narrow streets with stone walls and barking dogs on either side and cars and bikes passing and she was nervous, was able to overcome her instincts and stay under control.  I need to remember that it's better when I push her just a liiiiitle bit beyond what I know 100% she can do since it builds both our confidence.
But yesterday was the cherry on top of my trail riding sundae - we went on a longer 2 1/2 hour route (the same one we did a few weeks ago) and not only did she hardly spook at all even with cars speeding past us at 55 miles per hour at some points and rabbits and partridges exploding out of the brush at our feet, but we even did a nice controlled canter several times and were nearly as comfortable leaving the way as we were following René and Rodrigo.  We did a little hillwork too - at the far point of the trail ride there are some lovely hills with different inclines from pretty flat to extremely steep which are also handily covered by tall pines and dotted with blackberry patches, so we went up and down a few times just to show ourselves we could.  We're also getting pretty good at moving sideways to get to ripe blackberries and carob beans - which is good practice for the upcoming fig season.
So I'm really enjoying our progress and hoping that the inevitable setback, when it comes, won't be too disastrous.  But mostly I'm just grateful to her for all she's giving me and trying really hard not to screw it all up.

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