Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Sorry guys, this is an old post (from December 9th or so) which I wrote and forgot to post.  But I definitely want to post it to remember the exercises so here goes:

Yesterday (well actually about 18 days ago) was a bank holiday in Spain (immaculate conception day, if you can believe that) and since we had hardly any classes last week due to rain, Marina ignored her no-class-on-Mondays rule and gave a regular riding lesson in the morning and a groundwork agility lesson in the afternoon.  I was too busy flying back from Madrid (a nice trip by the way) to go to the regular lesson but I did make it to the groundwork lesson, and boy am I glad I did - we had a great time and I really got some good advice from Marina to put into practice.

We started out with a little longeing to warm up, and then Marina put us to work on a sort of obstacle course she had put together - we had to stay at any of the "stations" long enough to get the horse to go through it correctly, then move on to another one.  If any of the "stations" got to be easy, we had to up the difficulty level by standing farther away from the horse, or doing it in trot rather than walk.

Here's a diagram of the different stations, the smiley face is the person and the green arrows are where the horse is supposed to go.  Below the diagram is a brief description of each station - all of them were to do in both directions.

1 - Two tires about 3 feet apart inside a square formed by four jump poles (maybe 8 - 9 feet long each).  The person stayed outside the square, the horse inside.  The horse had to make a complete circuit of the square without stepping outside, then change direction through the two tires.  This was incredibly difficult, we only did it well like 3 times.

2 - This was a larger, partially open square made of the blue and yellow cushion-like training bars with two cones placed in each corner.  The person was inside the square, and the horse had to go around the square between the bars and cones, without stepping outside.

3 - This was a simple low crossrails jump using two tires as the standards.

4 - Parallel jump poles in an "L" shape.  The horse had to go between the two poles without stepping outside, with the person outside the poles.  Starbuck and I even did it backwards a few times.

5 - Three pairs of cones for the horse to walk between, with the person walking alongside.  This was really easy until I tried to get farther (like 3 - 4 feet) away from Starbuck, then it was much harder to get her to go through the cones.

6 - Ground poles to go over in a circle.  Using only my dressage whip and not having a longe whip, it was difficult to keep her at a trot, but we ended up figuring it out.

7 - This is a solid "wall" made out of plywood in an elongated pyramid shape for the horses to jump in a circle.

8 - Two tires about 6 feet apart.  The person stood back about 6 feet away from them and had to send the horse in a figure eight between and around the two tires.  We've done this before so it wasn't impossible, but she would still "skip" a tire every now and then.

The main thing I took away from the lesson was that instead of just "ignoring" incorrect responses and trying again, Marina suggests I try really hard to stop Starbuck before she does the wrong thing and re-set it up so she can do the right one.  For instance, going around the figure eight tires, I often have the problem where I "undersend" and she doesn't quite make it around one on one side.  Until now, I've always simply let her finish and then try harder the next time.  But Marina says that if I see she's going to "miss" a tire, I should stop her, back her up if I need to and re-send her - repeating all of this until she does it right.  And I could definitely tell she was thinking about it and trying to work it out when she finally made it through and I was reminded of an article I read way back when I started working with her, about replacing the flight response with a problem-solving mindset so the horse gets in the habit of thinking before it reacts.  I don't remember who wrote it, but it's definitely something to keep in mind when working with Starbuck.

Marina also recommended that instead of just doing 10 minutes of walk to warm up before ridden lessons, I work on some of these exercises to warm up and get Starbuck focused on me.  I think this is a fabulous idea and am going to try to remember to do it!

Here and here are two Facebook videos of the lesson (sorry if the visibility's limited, a friend of mine made it), I definitely hope we do more like this in the future.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Too busy to write

I've been really busy with non-horsey stuff (Thanksgiving anyone?) these past weeks and haven't been posting much, on the other hand there hasn't been a whole lot I've wanted to write about on the horse front.  But here's a brief (well, as brief as I can be) summary just to keep things recorded:

Uneven trot thing - doing much better, although there have been a few times she's once again been kind of stiff and uneven especially when starting out a ride.  Transitions seem to work really well loosening her up.  Also been doing a lot of turns on the haunches.

Behavior - she's once again starting to oscillate between almost completely dead to my leg aids and needing to be pushed every stride or absolutely electric, spooking and running away with me every few minutes.  I'm hoping this is one of those "two steps back before the big step forward" things, and the truth is that the other day we had a ride where she was pretty electric and just barely controllable at first but with just the right guidance was much more fun to ride than usual as I didn't have to push her constantly.  So maybe it's a matter of me becoming comfortable with her kicking it up a notch.

It's been a rainy week and she's hurt her hoof (see more below) so she had a couple of days off, then yesterday when I took her out to the parking lot to lunge a bit she had a spook and shouldered me off the path.  I'm pretty bummed that this is something that keeps happening - granted it hardly ever happens any more and when it does she doesn't actually run me over like she used to, but she's still not beyond shoving me aside and I'm painfully aware that this is evidence of her lack of trust and respect for me.  Anyhow I've been thinking about it and I think that my response when she does this is inappropriate and may be in fact making things worse - I tend to get aggravated, make myself larger and get her focussed on me (in hopes she won't run me over) in a fairly aggressive way, jerking at the lead rope, tapping her with my stick and reprimanding her or even giving a quick "Hey!" shout.  But if I think about it rationally, a whisper would probably do as well (or better) as a shout, and the truth is I can't expect her to trust me if my response to her being scared is effectively scaring her more.  So next time, I'm planning to try to keep my body language as non-threatening and neutral as possible and talk to her calmly, reassuring her there's nothing to be afraid of.  Whatever happens it will be a learning experience.

Dentist - so the equine dentist came over from Barcelona on her yearly visit and everything was more or less fine.  A few points but nothing to write home about.  Starbuck behaved nicely (the sedation helps) and it went much faster than expected.  Sandra Fortuny's my dentist, she's more expensive than just having the vet float their teeth but I really like her and think she does a really good job, plus she's really good and patient with the horsies.  She studied (she's actually a qualified equine surgeon) for a while in the US and did her residency at the animal hospital near Aqueduct race tracks.

New boo boos - her new bald spot is healing nicely and starting to have a thin layer of fur, and she has less fly-scratchy scabs than she does in the dead of summer, but she still has them.  And it's not surprising, as there are still a fair amount of flies.  I lent my fly mask to a friend whose horse has eye issues, but I'm thinking I may have to keep the fly mask on her year-round.  She's the scabbiest on her cheeks where she scratches herself with her hind hoof.  And what blog post would be complete without a new wound?  When I went to clean out her feet on Monday I noticed she was missing a chunk of her front left hoof and frog where I'm guessing she stepped on herself with one of the studs on her horseshoes.  It wasn't bleeding and didn't seem to hurt her when I probed it and cleaned it out, so I wasn't too worried but I checked with my vet and she recommended bandaging it with gauze and disinfectant for at least two days so that's what I've been doing.  After four days of bandaging she isn't lame at all and the wound has grown noticeably smaller so today I just cleaned it but didn't put a bandage on her and we'll see how it goes - she'll have a rest this weekend since I'm going to Madrid.

OK, I think that's all for now.  All in all we're making progress, I'm just going through a phase where I'm feeling very doubtful and inquisitive about what we're doing and where we're going, and especially about our relationship.  We're still at a level where I have to ask / nag / demand and I wonder how much of this is her, and how much of it is me (pretty sure it's nearly all me).  I know there's a better way to do things, and having just finished reading Alois Podjasky's "My Horses, My Teachers" I'm really motivated to try to find it.  But right now I'm completely at a loss as to how to motivate her in more positive ways - I'm getting better at this but she's just not the kind of horse that responds much to cuddles.  Anyhow it's simply yet another daily reminder of the mindblowing amount of things I still have to learn about horses.

Got to remember my mantra - Try different things.