Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Shawl

Just finished the Baltic Blossoms shawl by Evelyn Clark. Lovely quick knit and it came out beautiful (if I say so myself!).

As usual, photographing red yarn is very difficult! But the blocking pic came out okay. Will have to get some outside shots.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day Five

Day five was really fun. Things were definitely starting to come together. Callas was standing at the hitching rail like an old trail horse. Shad was pretty much snoozing on the high line.

We decided to work on getting Callas more comfortable in the round pen under tack. She was much better than yesterday, but as I moved her back and forth between trot/walk to get her a little more settled before she cantered, she was still a little tense. I kind of felt like she was "waiting for the other shoe to fall" and finally just asked her to canter even though I wasn't quite happy with how the trot transitions looked. She moved right up into the canter like butter and offered a beautiful easy relaxed canter. Hmmm. Interesting.

I asked her back down to the trot and she hollowed and tensed a little. I talked to Kathleen about it some and she suggested moving her back and forth between a biggish trot and a smaller trot vs switching gaits entirely. So we did that for a little while. The days are running together a little in my mind, so I don't remember which day we talked about it, but we had talked earlier about Shadow going to the zoned out place in the trot. Kathleen noted that wild horses do their traveling in a long trot and that place is an easy place for horses to go, so it's important to break it up and keep their attention. As I worked with Callas at the trot, I realized that I wanted to use just a hint of that zoned out feeling to help her get more comfortable at the trot. She got really good at moving up and back at the trot. We finished up by tieing a lariat on each side of the saddle so that she could feel something funny bumping her sides. She tensed up a teeny bit, but quickly relaxed again. She rocked! Great way to finish the week with Callas!

Shad felt much better after his session with the chiro. We walked and trotted and cantered and he was nice and easy going throughout. Forgot to mention on one of our earlier rides, we had talked about how he tends to travel bent right in both directions. I have already done the "stick a spur in ribs" thing and the "hold him in a shape" thing in the past and they don't help much . Kathleen had suggested that I lift the left rein to my left shoulder and hold it until I get a try at a left shape, then release, and that had worked really nicely. As we warmed up, I needed to do that less and less, which was pretty neat. Because I work alone so much of time, Shad isn't really used to working with other horses in the ring. Hilary was riding Tuesday and every time we got near them, Shad would tense up just a little in his whole body. I used the same idea to soften that brace and that also went away really quickly. We never did get to jumping, which was one of the things that I wanted to do, but between his separation anxiety and the body work that needed to get done, I am still very content with what we accomplished. We did trot over ground poles a bunch and he was totally cool with that and I have some ideas about how I want to try to get the jumping working. Have to wait for the ground to thaw up here anyhow. I was fussing about how cold it was in SC, but it is WAY colder here!

There were a couple of little epiphanies that were pretty cool.

Standards & Leading. Both of my horses had gotten to have quite a push when leading. At home, it hadn't been a huge issue because there wasn't that escalation with a strange place and wanting to get back to the buddies, but it was there. I realized as the week went on that I have been nagging at them, instead of being crystal clear about how I want them to lead. I found out that when they were troubled, it was taking a full minute or more to get their attention back to me for more than a passing glance. I raised my standard – if they got distracted and started coming over top of me, I sent them back with the rope and then asked them to look at me by popping their attention off what ever it was they were looking at. It was amazing how hard it was for either of them to just focus on me instead of everything else. But both of them were very similar about this - when they did LOOK at me, their eye softened, and they dropped their heads and waited for me. By Friday, they were both pretty solid and it only took a moment to get them back if I lost them. Lesson was not to let the little distractions grow into a big brace.

On Friday, as I was shifting Callas between a big trot and a smaller trot, she
broke back to the walk. Almost without thinking, I pushed her back up to the
trot. For the first time, instead of thinking "oops, I made a mistake", I
thought "that was a little too much draw". It's maybe a small distinction, but
for me, it was a big shift in perspective. Kathleen talks a lot about
"information gathering" which IMO is a really good way to approach working with
horses. For me, being able to say "that didn't work quite like I expected" is
going to be a much more beneficial approach to riding and training than "oops, I
made a mistake"

All in all, it was a really wonderful week. Kathleen was so great to work with
and Hilary, my co-student, was a peach. Although I didn't write about her
sessions, it was so beneficial to watch her work and to watch her feel and
timing (which were already pretty nice) get even more precise as the week went
on. Highly recommend a week with Kathleen if you can manage it!

Day Four

Did a little round pen work with Shad this am. He was delightful! Very easy, soft and responsive. The slightest change in focus from my core would bring him up or down. The draw in to me still isn't as soft as I would like, but it was way better. The chiro arrived around ten and I had her look at him. She found him to be very locked up in his right hip/sacrum and very rigid along his whole back. There was a nit of "stuff" in his left hock but she thought that was compensation for the right side issues. She gave me a couple of things to do with him that she thought would be helpful.

Before she got there I had jumped on in the western saddle and was trying the stirrups Kathleen uses on one of her saddles. They are offset and were super comfy. I think I will probably get a set. I don't remember the name of the gal who makes them. Maybe Kathleen will chime in. It
was funny because the saddle is new and I was a little bummed because I wasn't really liking how it felt, but once I changed out the stirrups, it felt way better! Sort of an interesting aside - the chiro arrived while I was still riding in the western saddle and observed that I had a dressage seat. Pretty good eye!

At this point, Callas is an old hand on the high line. She has spent several hours there each day and is pretty happy to stand quietly with an infreqent whinny for Shad, so she graduated from the high line to the hitching rack today. She did get herself turned around on the wrong side of the rack - didn't quite work out like she had planned as there were bushes and pine trees on that side and they were poking her in the behind. She couldn't figure out how to get back around and was getting a little worried, but one of the other folks there went over and re-situated her. She was quite steady after that, perking up a little when people or horses went by, but no hollering at all. It was neat to see how she took the lesson from the high line and applied it to the hitching rail.

One of the other things I had been talking about with Kathleen was my feeling of reluctance to ride (and specifically canter) Callas. Since she had gotten so anxious Wednesday when I tacked her up after the round pen work, today I wanted to look at how she did with tacking up - specifically bridling in this case because I didn't have any funny vibe on the saddling stuff like I did with bridling. So we took her in the round pen again because she was feeling pretty comfy in there and just checked in. She was a bit distracted at first, but came back pretty quickly.

Kathleen observed that she would really like to see her come in ok from the git-go, but that would probably come with a bit more consistent work, especially since she was settling so quickly and offering some big tries. Then we worked on bridling. She showed a bit of a brace when I went to bridle her, so Kathleen took her for a few minutes and played around with how she felt. She suggested that I ask Callas to curl her head around towards me but to be sure that I keep
that soft. If I have her curled around but still bracey it doesn't do any good.

Then we popped the Western saddle on and I sent her back out in the round pen. She was a little tense and bracey in the walk and trot but clean broke in two when I asked her to canter. I was a little bit "deer in the headlights" - it wasn't totally unexpected, but I am in awe of how that mare can buck! Kathleen reminded me to keep asking for canter and finally after a couple of circuits bucking around, she finally leveled out into a try at the canter. Kathleen said to notice her breathing. She was gulping and gasping for air. One of the things we waiting for was nice rhythmic breaths. It took a little while for her to settle and then she had another little blow up shortly after we switched sides. Kathleen observed that she really understands her job now in
the round pen without tack, so the next step is to help her get more comfortable
wearing tack. She got so that she could transition between all three gaits
pretty respectably. She was trying really hard, so that was cool to see.

Day Three

Today we started with Callas in the round pen and Shad on the high line. He was still agitated but a little steadier and not calling so much. By the time we finished with Callas, he had gotten to where he could stop his feet completely and just hang out a little, so that was pretty cool.

In general, I find Callas to be a much easier horse for me to work with in the round pen than Shadow. She started off pretty energized though – trotting off as soon as I asked her to start working. I offered her a draw to get her to come back down, but I still needed to move in front of her to get the down transition at first. Kathleen talked about deciding how many steps was she
allowed to take before I upped the ante. "The standard" was something we talked about a lot over the course of the week. What was my standard here? – I said I wanted her to transition right away and Kathleen asked "is that realistic?" Umm, no – at least not right yet, so I decided that she could have three steps after I asked and then I would ask her down by moving in front of her. After a couple of times, "moving in front of her" was just raising a hand and shortly after that, she was transitioning down off of the draw that we had worked with on Shad the day before. Interestingly enough, by the end of the week, "right away" was happening pretty consistently.

Actually drawing Shad had remained very difficult for me – it was pretty slow and there was still a lot of push, so we had finished the day before when he had offered a soft try with his shoulders and waited for direction. With Callas, the draw was much easier. I had taught her to come in a little hard on the draw, so we smoothed that out a little by working the draw ever so slowly.
Instead of a big step back and away, Kathleen had me take steady, slow lateral steps towards her tail. This made a huge difference and Callas got really sweet in the draw.

The other thing that she was doing was kind of hopping into the up transitions. They were just a little tense. I thought about being a little softer with a little less push up and we worked back and forth on those for a bit until they smoothed out as well. Callas was beginning to really stretch out and drop her head at both the trot and the canter and was in a really relaxed frame of mind.

After we wrapped up in the round pen, I decided that I would go ahead and get on and ride her around the ring a little while Hilary worked in the RP. She remained totally chilled out while I led her to the rig and was okay with me tossing my English saddle up, but when I went to bridle her, she got a little tense. I remember thinking that "maybe this is something we can work on tomorrow". I went ahead and got on and she was really really tense and looky-loo. I trail-rode her all over the place last summer and we had done some ring work, but I have been afraid to canter her. She has an athletic and extravagant buck that this old dame does not want to experience! So in the ring on Wednesday, I really felt that tight back. I rode her just a little, getting to a little better spot before I stepped off. As I was untacking, Kathleen drifted up and asked "how did that feel?" My thought was "totally sucky", but I said "Kind of tense" and told Kathleen about how she started winding up as soon as I put the bridle on. We agreed to work on that the next day.

Rode Shad in the afternoon. The ride started out pretty similar to the first day. A big hard walk and a fair amount of push into the bridle. I was able to catch it more quickly and get a deep enough bend to get his mind back, so he settled much more quickly. (Just writing about this, I realized that I changed my standard – how many steps of hard walk would I allow? – and got quite a bit more consistent with him) He was able to stop and stand more calmly and for longer periods of time. I didn't trot him the first day because he was so wound up. I am not worried about him doing anything stupid, because he "behaves" even when he's worried, but I didn't think it would help his mind at all. Today, I thought he was in a much better frame of mind, so went off and did some trot work. He took a couple of funny steps behind and we agreed to have the chiropractor look at him the next day. He has been doing it at home intermittently as well, and my regular vet couldn't find anything, so definitely worth a try.

As we were working on "whoa and stand still", Kathleen asked me if I ever just let him stand on a loose rein. "Hunh? He's not a loose rein?" I didn't even realize that I was holding him in place, so I dropped my reins and he left. I turned him until he stopped again and let go of the reins. Moved off. Hmmmm – had I built a big old push into my horse at the halt or what? After a couple more times, he stood quietly on a loose rein while we talked.

Frankly, the real work in the ring was on my timing and feel and my ability to help Shad get more steady without holding him up. I suspect (ha!) that part of the reason Shad has such a big push in the RP is the amount of push I have built into him under saddle. The nice thing is that they (and we) can learn new ways of doing things!

Day Two

In the am, we put Callas on the high line and then I went and got Shad so that we could work in the round pen. It was interesting (though I guess not surprising) to find that he had a pretty hard push in the round pen. When I asked him to move off, he went pretty freely and willingly, but when I asked him to come back with a little soft draw, it was as if I was speaking a different
language. He pretty quickly went to a zoned out trot with his head tipped to the outside and Kathleen had me make sure I made a big enough move to get his attention and get the transition.

Once I had done that a few times, his attention shifted and he began cutting the ring and focusing pretty intently on the side of the pen where Callas was tied. This was kind of interesting because it suggested to me that I was not very meaningful to Shadow. He started out kind of saying "uh huh" like you do to someone who is chattering away about nothing and then finally tuned me out entirely.

Kathleen asked if I minded if she worked with Shad for a few minutes. (She always asks – I won't mention it again). She pointed out how he had gone from mildly paying attention to me to basically blowing me off (my words) and then she took ownership of the side of the ring next to Callas by keeping him moving but on the far side of the ring, turning him at about the halfway point each time. The first couple of time she turned him back pretty strongly because he would push so hard against direction, but shortly she was able to be much softer. Shad gradually withdrew his attention from the outside of the ring and began to think about what was happening inside. He tipped an ear in and his mouth got much softer.

I came back in and was able to get a little better work done. The idea was to move away from needing to move in front of him and block a push (he's got a pretty big push) in order to get a down transition and to be able to stay behind him and generate a draw for a softer more balanced down transition. It got so that I could move him up with a little energetic chi push from my belly and bring him back by moving that feeling back behind his tail and turning it into a
pull. Pretty cool stuff!

Interestingly enough, when Shad had started really drifting off to Callas, I had started kinda sorta thinking that maybe I ought to not let him dwell on that side of the ring. Another example where my thought & observation were correct, but where I hadn't acted on it in a timely way. It's not only the horses who were learning stuff.

We talked a little bit about Shad's habit of doing things a couple of times and then declaring "I'm done" instead of taking direction. We also talked about the fact that although he will go and will stop and had a kind of marginal draw, he tended to do it all either with a hard feeling or with a big push in it. I need to give myself permission to say that doing it with a hard feeling isn't up to
standard and asking for "it" with a softer feel is perfectly okay. I tend to get worried about correcting for the feel and thinking that the horse will misunderstand and go completely off on a wrong tangent.

Kathleen really pointed that out when she was round penning Shad. She had asked for a draw and he came around and came in really hard and pushing. She backed him off and he spun around and trotted off. I asked her about it and she said not to be afraid to let him know that the feeling wasn't right and that he would try something different the next time. Sure enough, the next time she asked for a draw, he cocked an ear and came in with a much softer feel. She noted that he had just made a huge try & gave him a big release and some petting time for that.

We broke for lunch and I put Shad up and Callas out in the field with the other horses. Callas was still running and hollering in the field, but with much less intensity and she kept breaking off and watching the other horses. Shad, on the other hand, was working pretty hard in his paddock, running and hollering, trotting and hollering and walking and hollering.

After lunch, I told Kathleen that I thought Shad would also benefit from learning to tie. Callas was already much calmer on the highline and I thought Shad would really benefit from learning to keep his feet a little quieter. I wish we had put him out with the gelding herd, but he had back shoes on, so we didn't really consider it. Hind sight is 20-20, but if I had thought about it,
we could have just pulled the shoes and put him out. Too bad, because I think it would have been really good for him.

We did much the same preparatory work with him that we did with Callas. What was fascinating was how each horse handled the input. Where Callas kind of flung herself around, Shadow moved pretty slowly. As with me in the round penning, he did the first couple of direction changes somewhat willingly although not very fluidly. But after humoring Kathleen for a couple of times,
he then started to really push. He would get to the wall of the round pen and then push himself forward a few steps. Kathleen had been talking about his push during the round penning and it was pretty amazing to see how strong it really was. When he stepped over and got his right side against the wall, he pushed onto the wall so hard that he wouldn't come off – in retrospect, he was trying to keep her in his left eye – something we saw a couple of days later when I was
practicing turning him in the round pen. In this case, Kathleen saw that the flag was not the right tool (because he was completely ignoring it) and went and got a rope to give him a little clearer direction. Once she was sure that he wouldn't get himself in trouble, we put him on the highline. Much like Callas, he walked pretty steadily and hollered occasionally.

It's interesting to see how horses use movement as a way of blowing of steam or working things out. It's interesting stuff. My take on it after the week session is that watching both horses loose and worried is that they just spun themselves up more and more. The highline gave them the
opportunity to move, but they had to think about their feet enough that it grounded them a little. By the end of the weekend both horses were standing quietly and relaxed on the high line, and Callas had gotten pretty quiet out in the field with other horses to occupy her attention and stabilize her, but Shad was never able to get really quiet in the paddock when he was by himself.

Day One

We decided that Callas would benefit by learning to stand tied and learning to
stand tied on the high line is the first step for that work.

We started in the round pen so that we could check out how well she could move
her feet. Kathleen had me stand outside the round pen with the lead rope wrapped
twice around a round pen upright. If she set back hard I was supposed to let go
but otherwise hold steady. With the rope wrapped around the post, the horse can
give herself a perfect release. The instant she gives the rope gives.
Kathleen used the flag and started asking Callas to move from side to side. Callas
was pretty dramatic at first and had a hard time keeping her mind in the pen and had a
hard time moving from side to side and switching eyes. Once she was moving
pretty proficiently from side to side, we took her over to the high line.

It wasn't set up for big warmbloods so she had to learn one additional skill-how to drop her head a bit and get below the cross beam. Then we tied her there (with a special knot I don't remember the name of) and stood back to watch and make sure that she could get turned around, could get herself untangled if the rope wrapped around her ears (she has BIG ears!) - and then we let her be. She spent the rest of the morning circling and screaming for Shad.

Callas is a bit of a cribber-she doesn't do it much at home, but she was getting into the paddock fence, so we decided that she could go out into a pasture with different fencing. There was also a herd out there for her to interact with so at lunchtime we put her out there. It was pretty fascinating-she ran back and forth on the fenceline screaming for Shad while all the other horses just stood and looked at her like she was a lunatic.

The other gal who is studying here this week (Hilary) went into the round pen and started working with Tuesday, one of Kathleen's horses. He is a nice little QH/Perch cross. Hilary was doing some neat work with him and it's a real benefit to be able to watch some one else. I won't be talking about her work much or this would start to turn into a novel! Meanwhile Shad was alone in the paddock running and screaming for Callas.

In the afternoon, we checked the western saddle for fit on Shad and Kathleen gave it the thumbs up. She would have liked to seen a little more flare at the shoulders but it was okay. So I climbed aboard and rode him.

Shad was having a hard time keeping his attention in the ring and he was doing what I call a hard walk. He was walking because he knew he was supposed to be, but his inside was sure not much about walking. Kathleen had me turn him in a circle when he got hard until he softened and then we staightened into a release. I needed to work on getting in more quickly and decisively when I felt him start to get bothered. I also tend to not ask for an intense enough turn to get his mind back.

So we worked on that until he got quite a bit softer, then I started asking him for a whoa. He pushed really hard into the whoa, got really heavy and once stopped couldn't keep his feet still for more than a few seconds. We returned to the lesson of the circle and the lesson for me to get in there faster so that a small bother didn't get any bigger (it's a toughie that one!). We worked on this quite a bit until Shad offered some good quiet moments and then stopped with that.

Both pones were reunited in their paddock (I picked up a cribbing collar for Callas at lunchtime) and we all had a well deserved rest!

Pre-Day One with Kathleen Lindley

Pre-Day One

Headed down to SC to work with Kathleen Lindley for a week long session. I
brought Headed down to SC to work with Kathleen for a week. I brought Shadow, my
11 yo QH and Callas, a (young) 6 yo Westphalian mare.

Arrived in SC after a long hard haul from Va. It was really windy and I was
below speed almost all the way, so wound up arriving after dark. Pones unloaded
quietly, explored their paddock, then took a good long drink and settled in to
munching their hay. It wasn't that cold so I left blankets off.

Sunday am I came out to a very cold morning and shivering horses so I tossed their blankets on and gave them more hay. Sunday was planned as a kind of chill out day so I just pulled
Shad out in the afternoon for a brief ride. He was a little anxious but got a bit better feel as we worked so I was pretty pleased. The ring is adjacent to our assigned paddock and the whole time we were riding Callas was zooming around the paddock in a highly anxious state

Finally it all got to be too much for her and she jumped out of the paddock (smashing the top rail in two). She was a little high but was actually pretty easy to catch since I had what she wanted--Shadow!

We had already planned to talk about my goals for the week at dinner on Sunday night and at least one task was crystal clear-we need to work on separation anxiety!