Thursday, August 30, 2012

And a door opens

Sometimes all it really takes is asking the right question the right way to get the right answer. You'd think I'd know this by now! Gabe is very particular about how I ask him things, especially new things. He'll offer up everything he knows to try to get what he thinks I'm looking for (he lives to please, he really does) and I can't get mad because he's trying...I just haven't been asking in a language he understands.

My lesson this Sunday opened up a new door for us, one I've been struggling to open for quite a while.

Turns out, I was asking not only too much, but not asking quite right. Once I asked the question in a way he understood, you could see him think "Oh! That's what you want! Okay! You got it."

We have lateral movement! Yes! And it didn't take him long to figure it out...I think it took ME longer to ask the question most effectively.

See, I've been dropping my hip, which drops my shoulder, which puts me in a funky unbalanced position which, in turn, puts him in a funky, unbalanced position and he would kind of wiggle around like a snake: Haunches over here, body over there, head and neck somewhere else completely. Never quite achieving sideways.

All it took was me sitting straight, squeezing with my outside leg, using a shift in my body weight that's a lot like sliding sideways (his body mirrors mine!) while opening the inside rein and leg (turns out I was inadvertantly blocking with those, too), look in the direction I wanted to go and BAM! There he went, right over like it was no thing.

Granted, BAM! is a whole lot more little movement than big, a foot at a time (and I was expecting way too much sideways when I first started asking), but he has definitely figured it out. I learned too that I do have to look in the direction I want to go, not straight ahead, something I didn't realize I wasn't doing until it was pointed out. He taught me that fast...I was asking asking asking the right way with my leg and body and he wasn't getting it...and Cindy (my instructor) caught it fast as she walked behind us watching what I was doing. "Hey! Where are you looking?" Oh crap. Yeah, not looking where I wanted him to go! Turn my head, apply the aids, and over he went. And people think riding is just sitting there letting the horse do all the work!

When I rode again last night we worked on lateral movement (as well as impulsion, rhythm and rounding) and he got it. He might be getting it TOO much, I'd give the aids and he'd fly over sideways...not precisely what I want, but we'll work on tuning that, too. We want to keep it slow, a step or two at a time so he doesn't end up on the forehand or popping a shoulder or leaning too much to become unbalanced. Slowly but surely, we'll get there!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A day at Bramblewood Acres

Where, oh, where has all the good grass gone? Under the hummingbird feeder and chimes, of course!
Chickens? What chickens? Oh! Those chickens.

I have no idea how she climbed aboard Gabe. I looked out to check on him, and there she was. Just chillin'.
She said his rump was comfy. I guess it was. She took a nap while he was out grazing. He is such a different horse than he was 6 months ago. My big, goofy gelding is growing up!
Kahlua, weed eating around the fence for me. See, ponies ARE useful! A goat ate most of his tail, so, we trimmed it to it's most even length. And, we roached his awful, dry, mostly rubbed out mane. It's coming back in much softer and more healthy.
He doesn't have the cutest pony head on the planet, but he sure is a sweetie.
Montana, filling out nicely. He has been much easier to train than I thought he would be. So quiet, level-headed and smart. He's learning fast and so smooth to ride!
The elusive unicorn captured by the fair maiden. Does it count that she lassoed him?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer summed up

Wow. Where do I start? We have had a busy, busy and sometimes very frustrating summer.

We've been in a lingering drought and spent most of the summer trying to survive and keep all the critters as cool as possible in the crazy heat. Surprisingly, there was only one day we opted not to ride due to heat, and that was a 110-degree day. Absolutely miserable. Jaquie and I bathed our horses instead, and, of course, probably ended up more soaked than they did!

In July we had a lesson with one of my friends, who also happens to be a former jockey (she gets the TB brain!) and one of the best, most understandable instructors I've ever ridden with. Gabe picked up the rounding into the contact concept fairly quickly and has been eager to take the contact and round up beautifully into it for every ride since then, even out on trails. Yay Gabe! His topline is really developing nicely and riding him rounded and in contact is heavenly. You know that comparison where it should feel like you have a pair of silk threads in your hands when they are rounded and receptive? Yeah. It's like that. He gets sooo light, and feels like I'm operating a finely tuned Lamborghini rather than trying to lug around a freight train.  Amazing stuff, that contact and roundness.

The herd has grown. I went from three of my own (Gabe, Chief and Calypso), to a total of six four-legged hay burners on the farm. Teddy is Jaquie's, he's been around for a few months and is Gabe's bested friend ever.

Then, we added Montana, a 3-year-old pinto/walker cross for my fiancee'. (Oh, yeah, I got engaged, too! See, busy summer!) Montana is still green but about as quiet and calm as a been-there, done-that veteran. I've been working him regularly, basic trail knowledge, quietness and steady calm is my goal with him. He's learning FAST, is difficult to get rattled and has the smoothest gaits I believe I've ever sat. He did have an initial issue with getting very, very upset if I didn't anything unusual in the saddle, like wiggle around, flap my arms, swing my legs or pat him on the butt. A couple of sessions of just riding like a fool fixed that. I'm pretty sure Jaquie thought I was having seizures while riding him to desensitize him to random movements...hehe! But he got over it. He'll be a perfect trail horse for my man.

Finally,  Jaquie and I added a "project pony," Kahlua, to the herd. We picked up a young (2 rising 3 years) Welsh gelding, a medium-sized pony, for next to nothing. Our goal: Take this completely green and basically unbroke pony, train, show and eventually sell him. He is cute, loves the heck out of people and is willing and quick to learn. We'd like to cross train him on just about everything we can think of (English, hunter/jumper, driving, western and trail) and turn him into a safe little bombproof kid's pony. We'll see how it goes. So far, it's moving right along. Kayleigh rode him over the weekend and had fun on him. He's still really, really green so he's sticky on turning and transitions because he's still learning, but nothing seems to rattle him, yet.

Six horses. In a drought year when hay is already higher than I've ever seen it in my life. I must be crazy. We're making it work, though. We found a reliable hay provider who has very, very reasonable prices and will cut to our needs. My last provider kept falling through, failed more than once, and we decided we just can't keep trying to depend on an unreliable provider, especially not this year when we have six mouths to feed.  Just having a reliable provider is a HUGE weight off my shoulders. I was stressing pretty hard about where the hay was going to come from this year. It didn't help that the horses couldn't be on the pastures at all due to the drought and the completely dead fields. It's a good thing we started buying/storing hay early this year or we'd be in a world of hurt.

We added another paddock, moved a run-in to the new paddock and made the arena much bigger. Jaquie and I also built a jump course (yay! So much fun!) and have been taking a LOT of long, wonderful trail rides. Gabe is a completely different animal than he was six months ago. It's like he got over the juvenile, immature aspect and has finally matured into the horse I knew he could be. I love it. We can just plod along on the trails, completely loose reined, go past cows, plunk through creeks and go down steep banks and he never says "Nope! Not today." We've even had a few really, really nice, controlled (mostly!) gallops, which are always thrilling.

It's amazing what a little age and a lot of wet saddle pads will do. Highly advised. :P

The well has gone dry a few times and we've had to order water to refill it. Hopefully we'll get some good, drenching, long-lasting rain soon and bring that water table back up so the well can start refilling reliably on it's own.

My garden pretty much shriveled up and died. It was either water the garden or water the horses. Horses came first. Kind of a bummer since it started out the season looking AWESOME. I did get quite a few things canned and frozen, but not nearly the quantity I had hoped/expected.