Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Solo Conditioning Miles

Saturday morning Q and I headed out on a conditioning ride. I had no idea how the ride would go and told Q from the beginning, "Today's ride will be considered a success if we can find the trailhead access point." This would be the first true solo conditioning ride I had on Q since bringing her back into full work and I didn't want success to be marked by speed, time, miles, or her behavior. Making our definition of success a destination and allowing ample time to reach it seemed a much fairer goal which would leave lots of room for other successes along the way!

To achieve the goal, we had to navigate out of the farm neighborhood, traverse low-travel paved roads, cross a river, and find our way through a maze of gravel roads in a housing development before ending at a trail head within the development. Why go through all of this trouble to find the trailhead? Because once I reach this trailhead I can create loops of 20 and 30 miles or more! Not to mention these trails are some of the least traveled, have easy footing (barefoot friendly), and afford some freaking gorgeous views of Canaan Valley.

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It took a bit of exploration to find our way to known areas from the bridle paths around the farm and adjacent farms, but we did it with minimal fuss and only two spooks from Q. Once we were underway and AWAY from "home", she settled a lot. She was still looky, as she is prone to being, but her motor was definitely powering us forward. Which was great.

The section of paved road we traveled was no issue, and I managed to find my way to the trail head after only a handful of wrong turns/dead ends on the gravel roads. Fortunately, one of the dead ends resulted in a big shortcut back to the river crossing I didn't know about! Travel time straight back to the farm from the trail head using the newly discovered shortcut was 45 minutes. It's a long time to merely gain access to trails, but it didn't feel that long at all! It's a gorgeous trek and adds some mileage to our workouts - always a good thing for endurance conditioning because short loops are easy to find/create while long ones really take some creative thought.

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Overall, Q was a very good girl for her first ride back. We ended up being out for 2 hours and 5 minutes and covered 12 miles. That doesn't suck. Not one bit. I was so thrilled with her forward motor, even if she was a looky-loo. She's currently barefoot, and tackled the gravel roads like a champ. She was definitely not a big fan of them toward the end, but she still powered forward with a big trot when I asked with no fuss. Additionally, I could tell she was thinking through things and didn't spook at nearly as many things as she once did. When she did spook, the vast majority of these spooks were honest and easy to ride.

One particular spook in the beginning before we were truly "away" from home really pissed me off, but I quickly (literally in seconds) got over it. Hard truth: This horse just ISN'T good near home unless we're in a closed in space with walls - like an arena. This is not new news to me - she's been this way since I brought her home in 2012, but it's still something I have a hard time swallowing because Griffin and Stan are so GOOD at home (which greatly facilitates home workouts where we don't have access to an arena). But hey, I'm anal-retentive and love a neat, tidy space and some people are very opposite. Everyone is different and horses have differences, too.

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In an effort to make the most of accepting Q's differences, I resolved that I would work harder to set her up for success. This means no home workouts under saddle unless we have an arena and being patient with her when I knowingly present her with situations I know aren't her forte. She's a much different ride from Stan and Griffin and I owe it to her to treat her as such and adjust my expectations, as well. She has so much potential and the gains we've made in the past 9 months outshine our past troubles with ease. I want to make sure the good continues to overwhelm our time together.

Since the weekend ride, I've gotten Q out for one more solo conditioning ride. My new mindset firmly in place, we headed out to tackle 5 miles and one hella-steep climb. Q had been on the trail before, but it's been two years! She was a huge looky-loo heading out, snorting and blowing a lot, but beyond these theatrics, she was very good. I pushed her forward and kept her feet moving and was very impressed without cautious and foot-perfect she was through some very tricky areas. I praised her endlessly throughout the ride.

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The climb was hard on her which pleased me as she has seemed unaffected by things I've thrown at her during other rides. The terrain (and incessant deer flies) kept her mind and body busy and definitely eliminated any spooking she may have considered for a large majority of the ride. She only spooked hard once after the climb as her heart rate returned to a lower point and allowed her mind and body the ability to fuss more. I couldn't help but laugh at her and say, "Well, you're recovered from the climb, I see!" See, unlike her past spooking, her recent spooks are so much easier to ride - she's taking me with her instead of ducking out from underneath me! This is huge.

Our mutual trust in one another is really growing. I'd told Q during the OD 100 that if she made it clear to me after the ride that endurance wasn't the job she wanted, I'd find a new discipline for her. I don't know that I could call Q "eager" to go out and work, but I do get the sense that she is enjoying the work and having a job again. She's thinking about the task at hand, fretting less about other things along the way, and tuning in to me to make sure things are okay. As a result, I find myself looking forward to riding her and truly having FUN when I do. It's a very welcome change and one I intend to hold onto and improve upon.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

My Plans Sprung a Leak

For me, competing my horses in any discipline is a fine balance of time and finances. Having horses is a luxury in and of itself. Competing them? Even more so. I'm not someone who is driven purely by competition, fortunately, but I do enjoy using it as a test of our current training. And it's so fun to get out there with other horse people and enjoy the community horses create!

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To offset the text, have some pretty photos from recent WV adventures.
Guadineer Knob, Cheat Mountain

Originally, I'd hoped to get to some of the spring twilight eventing trials at Loch Moy this year. But then my year was slow to start due to weather, work, and life responsibilities and I crossed them off one at a time.

I made lemonade with the lemons I was given, though, and fit in two centered riding lessons! Not quite as fun as Loch Moy, but definitely some great building blocks for us. The things we worked on during those lessons will do nothing but improve our dressage work and all other undersaddle work in the future.

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Sunrise over Canaan Valley State Park

So, I shrugged off the botched start to my year and looked forward to more twilight eventing through the summer. Moving the horses resulted in crossing off the June option, but I wasn't upset about that. The trade of having the horses closer to home was well worth it! After all, more time to ride would = a better turnout at a later event.

Except, well, then shit got real.

The day I was moving the horses was rainy AF. It was a bother at the time but a hidden blessing in that I was able to observe that my truck had some sort of fluid leak. Nothing crazy, but just enough to set a sheen to the puddle where I parked as I loaded everything. It had been in the shop for an oil change, new wiper fluid reservoir, and *surprise* new alternator the week before, so I figured they just didn't screw everything back in re: oil change. The computer didn't read any errors, so I moved the horses without issue and resolved to take the truck in the following week to have it looked at and have them fix another new issue: no matter what the setting, the blower only delivered heat.

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Coberly Sods grazing allotments on Bickle Knob, Monongahela Nat'l Forest looking toward Elkins

You see where this is going, I'm sure. My ideas of a quick, simple fix for my truck were quickly dashed when the mechanic called me to say he was fairly certain I had a rear main seal leak - a leak with some pretty serious ramifications if not addressed immediately. Additionally, some of my wiring for the air system was all sorts of boggled and likely fried and contributing to the other minor electrical issues I'd chalked up to being "old age" in my 2003 vehicle.

As the electrical issue requires a bit more diagnostics, he didn't have much to add about that problem re: cost estimate, but he did note that if indeed my rear main seal is leaking (he's following up with a few more diagnostics to be 110% sure), that will require removal of the transmission in order to fix. Cue much anxiety and gnashing of teeth on my part as he shared the cost estimate for all of the labor.

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Canaan Valley; site of future XC jumps

And so, all of my hopes and dreams of summer trials, and quite possibly fall trials, have been dashed. Because horses are a balance of time and finances and my finances are sorely exhausted. My annual competition budget has basically been spent on the truck used to reach said competitions. Womp, womp, womp.

C'est la vie. I can't change the situation. However, I can put efforts toward upping my side hustle so I can build a meager fund for some competitions later in the year. Until then, you can find Griffin and I having imaginary competitions in the dressage "field" and on our soon-to-be XC course (photos once I finish setting it up!) while Q and I travel competition distances for free on our local trails.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Fussbucket, Powder Keg, & Ho-Hum

As I knew it would, the move has had quite an effect on the behavior of my horses. They've transitioned from life as members of a herd of 10 horses on 28 acres to life as a herd of 3 on rotating 1-2 acre paddocks. This fall, they'll be introduced into a new herd, but for the summer, their world is much different than they once knew. The result has brought some of my least favorite behavioral traits into the limelight during undersaddle work - at least for 2/3 of them. I've taken to calling each horse a different nickname of late, each suited to their behavior.

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Fussbucket /ˈfəsˌbəkət/ noun - a horse who fusses, frets, and worries about where her friends are at all times in such a way that she is frequently startled by inane daily happenings like fence posts, blades of grass, and mud. Origin: Appalachian English translation of "fussbudget"

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A surprise to no one, Q is more of a fussbucket than she's been in some time. Working on-property near Stan and Griffin is going to be absolutely impossible to do with the hope of achieving anything worthwhile. The one ride we had there cemented that for me as she stared longingly at them the whole time, would only bend her body in their direction, and even called to them twice (something she's never resorted to before).

She's always been this way re: friends and work ethic. When we had trail access from the old barn, I knew it would take us about a mile before she'd start to settle and pay more mind to me/the task at hand than fussing about where her friends were. I had a very brief mental break as I rode her (at the walk with many walk-halt and rein-back transitions and attempts at changes in bend) the other night irrationally thinking I would have to give up on her forever because no matter what I try she always acts this way. But then I reined myself in (quite quickly!) and remembered how fun she was when we did the ride with Dan and Lauren a week ago - leading for a far majority of the ride and only spooking very mildly once or twice.

I may not be able to work her undersaddle on-property this summer, but that isn't the end of the world. I'm not giving up on riding her on the property, but at this moment, I know it would result in fights that will setback our progress and if I'm picking battles, this isn't the one where I care to play my hand. There are plenty of nearby trails to work on and it wouldn't kill either of us to spend some time on groundwork. All is going to be fine. This is just an adjustment period and we'll work through it.

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Powder Keg /ˈpoudər ˌkeɡ/ noun - a horse so full of energy that the tiniest brush of your leg will set him off and make you realize that halt to canter transitions are the simplest things for him; a horse who takes great offense to "real work" and insists constantly on hopping in place squealing


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This shithead has too much energy and not enough outlets. He was the main instigator of all play and shenanigans in his old herd. He utilized the space better than the others, running, bucking, and showing off in an attempt to get the other horses to play. If they wouldn't he'd goad them into it by nipping them or humping up his back feigning a barrel kick in their general direction. 

Now he's left with only Q and Stan, who aren't very playful, in a much smaller space than he's accustomed. And I'm left with a horse who has an abundance of energy when I choose to ride.

As with the Q issue, it definitely isn't the end of the world, but criminy is it an adjustment. I've lunged him some pre-ride to get the willies out, but I still had a powder keg under me when we began working. So I put him to work, going through a handful of the exercises we practiced during our recent lessons. Move your feet, use your body, and do it correctly. 

Except, well, Grif has Opinions, yes with a capital "O", about the work quite frequently. He'll squeal, grunt, get light in the front end and the hind end, and my personal favorite (read: biggest annoyance) feign falling over dramatically in which he giraffes his head and nose as high as he can while his left side falls out from underneath you as he flings himself about leaving the rider with the sensation that he's going to crash down on his side until he "catches" himself at the last second and stays upright. It's about as fun as it sounds and exceptionally unnerving.

So, um, yeah. We're working through this. I'm not quite sure what combination of things in my toolbox it's going to take yet, but I'm far from running out of ideas. Worst case, I'll trot his sassy ass across the road and make him climb a 1,000-foot incline and see how he feels after that! (Though he'll probably just get fitter and stronger with his shenanigans. lol) 

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Ho-Hum /ˌhōˈhəm/ noun - a horse who is lackadaisical about every day life, who is generally pleased with (and bored with) the world around him; generally a pleasure to be around. See also: bombproof, plod-along, ol' reliable


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And then there's Stanley. My ol' reliable. He could care less about this change in his life. He gets a daily mash, is herd boss again, has a mare, and the temperatures are cooler with a near-constant breeze. He's happy as a clam and not upset at all about the goings-on around him. 

I keep thinking I should ride him/work him more, but then I ask myself why? He's happy, healthy, and there is no doubt anywhere in my being that he's going to be perfect when he is ridden again. It's just how he is. We have no competition goals and to keep him truly fit, he'd need ridden a minimum of 5 days a week - and I don't have that time at the moment! (And likely won't for awhile.)

I do plan to get him acquainted with a few friends in short order, though! They'll keep him busy and help get his fitness back to a respectable place. All I want for him is to be fit enough to conquer our trails at a trot with a few canter bursts. He loves fast trail riding like that and I want nothing more than for him to be fit enough to enjoy it. 

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What nicknames/terms do you use to describe your horse's behaviors and mannerisms? Do you find that these traits present themselves more in times of change/stress or are they present all the time?

Monday, June 4, 2018

At Long Last

The horses are officially residing in Canaan.

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Their original herd, all bunched together minus Jean Luc when I picked up the "first load" of the day.
(3 horses + 2 horse trailer = 2 trips)

My commute to see them has shrunk from 50 minutes to a mere 10.

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It's as if they were having a "goodbye" powwow.

Riding will no longer be limited to evenings after work between 5 and 6:30pm Monday through Thursday.

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Grif and Q became "load one" after volunteering themselves (aka, walking to me quicker than Stan did lol)

Trails are accessible with little effort straight from the barn again, even more exist within a 5-10 minute trailer ride, and I have a field for my jumps on site (and a pond! - water complex possibilities pending...).

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A very, very bittersweet farewell to this beautiful place we've called home for 6 years

I have ample riding friends who will not only keep me motivated to get out and put in conditioning miles, but who will also help me to keep all three horses fighting fit.

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Reunited in their new pasture

And I even have an indoor to work in during the winters/inclement weather!

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Listening to their new "normal"

Things will change when winter arrives, but the horses will have stalls for inclement weather (a very good thing in Canaan) and will have grain added to their diets 2x a day - a welcome addition for those winter months.

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Enjoying mealtime together, another new normal

Early morning rides on the weekends before diving into other adventures later in the day is going to be such a pleasant return to "normal" for me.

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I've missed the ease of fitting in a quick ride before heading out to mountain bike, rock climb, or whatever else I may occupy my time with.

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In fact, I fit in a short training ride Sunday AM with Dan and Lauren (& Taiga)!

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Only 4.5 miles, but we did it in 45 minutes with >1,000 feet of elevation gain!

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A quick and hardy 1,050-foot, 2-mile climb. Q led for nearly half of it!

And then (!!) I had time to come home, complete hours of house chores, take a 2-mile run, and later, a 1-mile walk (the things you do to guarantee a tired husky puppy - this topped her out at 7.5 miles for the day).

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I look forward to many more rides like this

It feels so damn good to be able to fit in horse time AND accomplish so many other things.

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Post-ride ladies.

Words cannot even capture how over-the-moon excited I am to finally have them home...life feels utterly complete.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Centered Riding Lesson #2

Another great lesson with loads of improvement and progress - despite me only practicing things maybe twice in the two week period between lessons. D'oh!

Right from the start, the lesson began building on the former one. As a part of warmup, C had me work on the circles we'd done two weeks prior. The concept on inside leg to outside rein and getting Grif's inside leg to reach up and under his body was one my brain and body were a lot more comfortable with this go around. C had (surprisingly to me) nothing but praise for us.

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Warm-up circle trotting
Most surprisingly awesome thing about this photo and every other image in this post excepting the final one? They aren't cherry-picked screenshots! They're incredibly zoomed in, but they're all photos Lauren's mom nabbed with my phone. I can't believe this is a horse I trained and that I'm the one riding.

We quickly moved from repeated circles in one direction to working on a figure-8, changing our bend from one direction to the other. They felt good and C praised us accordingly, then had us perform the same exercise in the trot where we continued to find success. I was a bit surprised we'd done so well with so little practice between lessons, but I chalked it up to my frequent mental review of the work we'd done and a much better comfort through my body as I asked Griffin for things. I'm a firm believer that our horses are capable of anything - the trick is asking and guiding them correctly. Griffin has proved my point for me countless times through our years together, constantly excelling in all of our endeavors.

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Satisfied with our level of work, C had me use her as the center and asked me to spiral inward on a circle at the trot using the same concepts we'd just done. I'm quite familiar with this exercise, as it's one I've been practicing for years at home. We began on a ~10 meter circle traveling to the right and spiraled in to C as small as we could be while keeping balance and a steady forward rhythm. To me, it felt like Griffin's haunches were drifting out and away from his body, much like a drifting racecar on a dirt track. C laughed at my comparison and comment and told me that no, he was actually bending beautifully and reaching with his inside hind. Photographic evidence supports her claim more than mine (and this is why I'm pursuing lessons with knowledgeable eyes on the ground)!

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Yeah, that hind end isn't drifting away like my mind thought it was. Guess I'm just not used to what things are supposed to feel like, haha

I have to admit, riding him through the exercise did feel very nice to the right. While initially my brain wanted to categorize his hind end as drifting, I realized once I worked the exercise to the left that it really, truly wasn't. Because to the left, we've got issues. It's most definitely Griffin's weak side. To combat the difficulties on his weak side, Grif threw his shoulder out, hollowed his back and sped up, or tried to slow down to a walk. And because two (or more) wrongs clearly make a right (that's how it works, right? lol), I combated his issues by developing a rogue right hand and throwing away my outside rein. I could feel myself doing it, but it was like someone else took control of my body for a bit as my elbow straightened and my hand reached toward Griffin's ears.

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C repeatedly reminded me to keep my elbow at my side and make my outside rein a "wall" to prevent Griffin throwing or popping his shoulder out. As I resolved one of Griffin's attempts to escape working on his weak side, he then began to curl behind the bit. To counter, C had me all but drop my inside rein, riding completely on inside leg to outside rein. We got some good moments from this, but I definitely need to practice more and help Griffin build strength and muscle memory on this side.

Far from perfect, but hey, it's a start!

From the spiraling exercise, we moved into the leg yielding exercise with the three cones in a line. C instructed us to ride straight toward the cones and yield left and right to go around them as needed, always focusing on staying straight. As we began the exercise at the walk, Grif was moving off my leg, but just walking, not crossing and reaching with his legs. I shortened my reins a little and really pushed him forward into the contact before asking again. Griffin crossed in front but not behind. So C recommended that I really exaggerate how far back my leg was to better encourage him to use his hind end. Boom. We had it.

A few lovely steps at the trot. Wish I had more footage of our other passes to compare.

We received much praise once we put things together. We then moved the exercise into a trot, and focused on making it the slowest trot we could. Shockingly, we did even better at the trot! But only when I focused on keeping the trot nice and slow. If I let it become faster, Griffin would throw his shoulder out and hollow his back (inevitably because I was throwing my aids away). Slow right now is good while we piece this together. Big takeaway was that I could really FEEL his hind end working correctly in this exercise; knowing what that feeling is is huge.

One of the changes

From here, the lesson moved to our work on flying changes. These definitely still need work, but we did make progress. C told me to focus on keeping the canter much slower, had me keep my inside leg more forward than I tend to, reminded me to use my body to indicate our direction (with shoulders and hips), and had me note when his front end was coming up. Paying mind to these things helped me piece together how to ask for a change in bend/flying change. Almost immediately, we had two or three really nice flying changes (I'm judging from C's exuberant praise lol) and a couple others where he would change in front but not behind. C thinks he's going to lock onto doing this automatically with just a little more practice.

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Ultimately, right now, Griffin needs one trot stride, or merely me thinking about doing a trot stride and instead half-halting, to have success with changes. This is absolutely not surprising and totally expected. Also, Griffin is definitely weaker on his left lead, more often picking up the wrong lead in that direction. Once again, this certainly isn't surprising considering the issues we had traveling left in our trot circles earlier. More than anything, I'm grateful to understand what we're capable of and what our limitations are for the moment. Even more so, I understand how I need to use my body better and to ask for the change of bend/change of lead which is only going to help us improve.

A simple change

Toward the end of the canter work, Grif was frustrated and I really had to pick my moment to end on carefully. The physical work from the lesson came no where near what he is capable of and he wasn't sweating much at all, so I'm not very convinced he was physically beat so much as just mentally overwhelmed - and that's totally okay! His brain was just DONE with me and the work I'd asked of him. Despite this, he was still a very good boy and I was able to find a lot of humor in his opinionated "this is HARD" moments.

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Shhh, don't tell him this isn't a real buck. #opinions

I'm so pleased with what we're accomplishing so far through these lessons. I'm not quite sure when we'll make it up for another, but I'm hopeful there will be one or two next month when C returns from vacation. She messaged me following our lesson last night to share how much fun she's having teaching Lauren and I - so sweet! We're having an equal amount of time being taught, so it works well.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Natural Horsemanship Clinic/Lesson

A little backstory: Our regional riding club has decided to provide bimonthly lessons with a local natural horsemanship clinician to club members at a very reduced price during the summer months this year. The club consists largely of recreational trail riders with a sprinkling of individuals who regularly compete in various disciplines. We put on several fundraising events, donate to local equestrian programs, support local youth, put on one endurance ride, and organize a series of single and multi-day trail ride events across the state and surrounding states.

Mike, the trainer, is a fellow club member who has been training horses professionally for years. He's got an incredibly soft hand and natural manner with horses; he reminds me very much of his big-name role models, Bill and Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt. He isn't gimmicky, just a quiet, understanding advocate and teacher for the animal he's working with in that moment. 

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Around half of the participants for the evening

Turnout for the first lesson was outstanding! I was really impressed - we had around 12 riders and 8 auditors. I think the club will be gaining some new members purely because of the perk of these lessons!

Mike, had us begin the evening on the ground with our horses tacked, but still in their halters. He introduced himself to those he didn't know, discussed some of his background, and then gave a small demo about how he starts any session with his horses - on the ground with some work in hand before any saddle time. He is a firm believer that if one doesn't practice perfection in groundwork, the work under saddle will be lacking.

He demonstrated how he lunges his horses, looking for bend through their ribcage and an inner eye tuned into him, not the outside environment. He noted that he always looks for any irregularities with the horse's movement that could preclude work for the day. All of this was pretty run-of-the-mill.

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Mike demonstrating concepts

Mike had us practice this with our own horses, providing tips and guidance for those who had trouble as needed. He then asked us to see how light of pressure we could use on the horses halter to get them to respond, focusing on one step at a time forward and backward. His directions during this included various safe-handling tips (where and how to position your hand on the halter, how to hold the lead, where to position your body, etc.) to help prevent injury to the handler if the horse were to spook for any reason.

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From there, he demonstrated a few more in-hand practices to help warm the horse's hind end up, more or less having them perform rollbacks in-hand at the walk. Throughout this exercise and those preceding it, Mike always recommended that we be firm in not letting the horse walk into our space unless explicitly asked to do so. We should have "control" of their feet at all times and if we ask them to stop a few feet from us, the horse should do so and remain there until asked to move elsewhere. While good training, this also helps guarantee safety for the human if the horse were to react and spook to an outside stimuli. (Mike has been working with a lot of mustangs of late, so safety is always first on his mind.)

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This Nevada mustang was the goofiest fellow with his drafty legs, big head, and relatively small body that tied everything together

For myself, none of these concepts were anything new as I've practiced and worked on this type of groundwork with my horses for years. However, it was a great tune-up for Q and I; mostly though, it was really nice to get her off-property for an activity that was so low-key compared to what we normally do! It was also neat to see other folks who haven't practiced these concepts as often transform their communication with their horses and listen to the impressed remarks of the auditors as they observed.

After about 45 minutes of groundwork concepts, Mike gave a bridling demo for us to consider (his method facilitates keeping control of the horses head at all times, something he's modified through his work with mustangs), and then asked us to mount up.

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This was the part of the evening I was most eager for. I have a huge amount of respect for Mike and what he does with horses even though my own interests with horses lie in a different realm. Mike's got a great understanding of the animals and does such a great job breaking things down into pieces for them to learn. While we do things in different ways, I know that much of what we work on to meet our end goals is the same, we just explain the concepts differently.

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She was SO relaxed this whole evening

I smiled as Mike began discussing the importance of knowing where the horse's feet are at all times, in and out of the saddle. He noted that truly talented riders can tell you when each foot leaves and touches the ground again. So many folks in non-English disciplines (most local folks around here) scoff at this as English-dressagey-voodoo-nonsense, and I had to suppress my grin as a predominantly western trainer noted its importance.

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Being a good girl

To help teach this concept, he invited us to watch the front left shoulder (our inside shoulder as we traveled counter clockwise). He discussed how we would know when the leg was leaving the ground based on the shoulder's movement and then had each of us tell him when that foot was leaving the ground as we walked past him in turn.

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Practicing lightness asking for one step at a time backward then forward

After teaching this point, he had us feel for the movement of the horse's barrel, inward, outward, inward, outward as they walked. He discussed proper EQ for the seat and legs and had us utilize this to speed the horse up and down at the walk by encouraging them to step more through (move with their motion to encourage the barrel to swing more indicating a larger stride) or take smaller, slower, abbreviated steps (sit down "harder" and use your legs to discourage their barrel from swinging so much indicating slower steps).

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The lighting got pretty freaking gorgeous toward the later half of the evening

From there, it was deja vu for me from my previous night's lesson on Griffin but with slightly different instruction. Mike discussed how to "apply leg" and had us do so in the same manner C had to encourage the horse to be more through with the hind end going around a small circle. I giggled a lot as I realized what Mike was having us do. Lauren and her mom were in the audience (her dad was riding) and I grinned at her as I passed, "Gee, wonder where we've heard this before?!" To which she smiled big in return and said, "I know, right?"

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That dust wasn't fun to inhale, but boy did it improve photos!

The rest of the evening focused on us getting the horses to move off leg properly, engaging that inside hind more. All of Mike's instructions were different from C's had been, but the end concept was always the same. In fact, by the end of the evening, he noted, "Now, I know I've thrown a lot at you, but what you've all accomplished tonight is getting that hind end to come under the horse and work more thoroughly and correctly."

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Mike is so good about making eye contact as much as possible as he explains things

I wish I could reiterate Mike's directions back to you because it was so interesting to see how they paralleled what I'm more accustom to hearing, but honestly, I can't. As he taught in his way, my brain was busy actively drawing parallels and translating what he said into a direction that I could better implement. So very much of it was identical to what I'd worked on with C the night before!

Q is a much different ride than Grif was though - which I expected. I also wasn't wearing my tall boots and spurs as I had been the previous evening. I definitely need to wear them for the next time I practice this stuff with Q! She currently takes a LOT more leg than Griffin and to have that tiny little spur to encourage her to listen would really go a long way in this teaching process.

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Lauren's dad

The big takeaway for me this night was turning on the haunches. For some reason, this just doesn't click for my brain. I have learned various ways  to implement it and each makes logical sense, but when it comes to putting pen to paper and actually executing the movement, my body and brain do not connect.

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Pausing a moment for photos. She was such a good girl all evening

Mike's instructions were to turn the horse to the inside (coming off the wall) a for a quarter turn, then halt them and rock them back on their haunches (the beginning ask for a backward step) to unweight the front end, and then open your inside rein more to invite the inside shoulder/foreleg to step over to initiate the first step of a turn on the haunches.

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Mike and the sunflare

Per the usual for me, this made sense, but I could. not. execute. it. Mike finally asked if anyone was having trouble and I immediately raised my hand. He coached me through each move, and while I was incredibly skeptical it would work even with his focused help, I actually did it! Well, Q did it. I praised her immensely, Mike walked me through it twice more, I praised her, and called it a night.

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Q's very uncertain ear as another horse walked into her bubble

While the vast majority of what he went over for the first lesson was review for me, it was still a fun experience to attend the lesson. I really like Mike's teaching style and loved making the parallels between his manner of explanation and that which I am more accustomed to; it was so cool to see how he incorporates what I often coin "dressage-based concepts" into his work that is most certainly not dressage as most view it.

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Still in the process of shedding, but looking pretty good coming out of winter (our spring grass just came in for true last week!)

I will likely not attend many - if any - of these lessons for the remainder of the summer due to a variety of scheduling reasons (primarily because Thursdays are our locals mountain bike group ride and I hate to miss it, but also due to some other reasons I'll share in coming weeks), but I'm glad I could get to the first one! It was a great experience for Q and I to have together and it was so very cool to see the parallels from my centered riding/dressage-focused instruction the night before. It goes to show that this kind of foundational work is so important no matter your riding goals!