Monday, February 10, 2014

The Snow Can't Stop Me

After a total flop in January with my goals for the horses, I'm off to a strong start in February! I've already worked the horses 3 times (trying to meet a goal of a minimum of 10 sessions) and I've been out even more. I would have been up to 4 sessions with Griffin if I hadn't had a mishap with my phone when I dropped it in the boiling water I was using to prep mashes (don't worry, in these temperatures its WAY cool before it gets to them after soaking!) I had to hurry off to AT&T to start the insurance phone replacement process and couldn't work him that night. At least both horses got a nice meal and were blanketed before a bout of cooler wet weather.

(Aside: I'm blanketing my horses through temps <30F and/or wet winter weather this year - a first for me! I've never blanketed horses before; most people around here don't. However, both my horses have partial clip jobs and both - especially Griffin - have been shivering on days when I've gone out to see them whene the weather wetted their coats significantly. The way we've had to split their field up this year has drastically changed how they're able to get out of the wind. Last year they had access to woods, trees, and more elevation breaks that helped them to stay out of the elements and break the wind. This year they have access to none of that! They've got free-choice hay all the time, but as far as escaping the elements? A few elevation breaks and a small place behind a neighbors wood pile and building that border part of the field. The valley they're in is windier than other places around here due to it's east-west configuration - you've seen the windmills in my photos! They're placed where they are for a reason! I'd much rather have my animals use their calories to maintain weight this winter than to maintain their temperature through each weather event. They're in midweight waterproof blankets, nothing overly extreme. Its enough to boost them through though. I've yet to find them anywhere near sweaty beneath them. Its definitely more of a pain to blanket, but its worth it to me to not have them drop a significant amount of weight through the winter. Especially a winter such as this that has been consistently colder than previous winters!)

I made it out every day of my weekend to see the horses: Friday, Saturday and Sunday! Friday I was a bit pokey leaving my house, so I only had time to prep and feed them their mashes before hustling to the mountain for an afternoon/evening of patrolling.

Can't get any cuter....
Saturday morning I had a request to go visit the horses from a visiting out-of-town friend that I was happy to oblige. For once, someone didn't want to go out just to ride. I got to actually work my horses much as I would have had I been alone: I lunged Griffin for 20-25 minutes with side reins on the flat and over ground poles, and I lunged Q for 20 minutes, then rode her around bareback.

It was fun to narrate and teach a bit about what I do and why I'm doing it with my horses. This kind of demonstration always brings out the huge differences between my two horses that allows people to realize that every horse isn't the same. They're individuals complete with their own set of strengths and weaknesses.

On the lunge in side reins, Griffin demonstrates how overtly sensitive he is to pressure on his mouth. With the side reins on the loosest setting, he does all he can to keep slack in them. Once moving, he'll reach into the contact some, but not more than he has to. Q, on the other hand, will fight that contact on her mouth from the side reins for 5-10 minutes before she'll reach into it. However, under saddle she is the opposite!

Both sessions were great for Griffin and Q. Very positive aspects to both!

A still-shot from the video. My knee was wrapped to support it after tweaking
it skiing a week or so ago. Precautionary measure.
After the lunging and riding sessions in the barnyard, I also demonstrated Griffin's expertise with at liberty work in the round pen inside, as well as the work Q and I have been doing bareback and bridleless. I had a bit of an epiphany with the bridleless work when I realized that I couldn't get her to respond well without the neck rope. I noticed that without the neck rope, I was sitting and riding differently; with the neck rope, I sat as I normally would and my cues were all the same. I have to have some sort of crutch for my hands so that the rest of my body doesn't evaporate into nonsensical communication that Q cannot comprehend. Interesting...interesting...

: : : : :

Sunday afternoon I headed out for some horse time. Snow was imminent, but I figured I'd make the best of it.

I chaperoned K as she worked with Tempest some. Green + Green hasn't made black and blue yet, but it's certainly becoming more and more of a challenge as time goes on. She's learning the ground work that I learned when I started hanging out at Dee's barn; the big difference is that she doesn't already have over a decade of experience with horses. The jargon involved with explanations doesn't hit home for her as it did with me. The subtle things that I notice and look for from a horse's body language and in my own movements isn't obvious to her at all. I'm worried more and more that I'm not the right person to help her out at all.

I'm going to start filming her when we are out there together and I'm helping her. The riding especially, and probably ground sessions, too. That way she has something to go back and review. She'll have my narration coupled with a visual of herself that may help some things click better - that kind of thing always helps me immensely.

One thing that she started doing yesterday that absolutely perplexed me because she never did it with Q during our lessons this past fall was jerking on Tempest's face when he wouldn't listen. I attached a set of my long climbing rope reins that I use on the trail to his halter. She's so unsteady with her hands that I figured this would be most fair to Tempest. After riding him, I know how sensitive he is to his rider's requests - I'm really happy I made this decision after watching K yesterday. Several times as I was asking her to halt Tempest (we were doing lots of walk-halt-walk-inside circle-reverse-halt-walk exercises to keep his attention on her and improve the quality of her communication through aids) she'd release the rein pressure only to apply one more swift *jerk*. Each time I asked her, "Why are you doing that? Do you realize that you are? Do you realize how that feels for him? What if he had a bit in his mouth? It would probably not feel very good at all! You've got to be aware of things like that. That's how horses turn sour to riders." I'm pretty certain that was part of what was on film, so hopefully she'll be able to see and recognize why I was saying those things.

She did tell me that she's hoping to go to a horse camp in the southern part of the state with Tempest for a week this summer. I told her I thought that was a really, really wonderful idea. I told her the more instruction she could receive from a variety of people, the better she would become! I encouraged all I could for her to go. I hope it happens! It would be so good for them.

Pressure on my mouth is HOT LAVA. DO NOT TOUCH!
Side reins on loosest setting. I'd *just* clipped them in place after he'd had
a warm up...this was his response. Silly, silly boy.
And no, he didn't work hard enough to sweat a ton; he had the cooler on to
help dry off before I put his other sheet on.
Once K headed for home, I worked Griffin for 30 minutes at the trot in side reins.

He was more forward today for the first time in a week. I don't know if his mood was just better, if his digestion was happier, the weather was more ideal for him, or if he's just built strength to where things are becoming easier - but he was better about moving out. I did change his bit from a single jointed snaffle to a French-link, so perhaps that made him happier, too? Hard to say as I currently only have n=1. More tests will need to occur...

As you can observe in the photo, I've clipped the side reins higher to better mimic a rider's hand position. I'm trying to mix things up and incorporate tips and suggestions as they're given: position of side reins, bit, etc. I didn't grow up around this kind of thing, so I'm learning as I go! I still am a 2+ hour drive from anyone qualified to be able to give me lessons in any discipline that isn't cow horse related! Its something I lament quite often; lessons from a qualified trainer would benefit me so much.

After I'd finished with Griffin, Q and I headed out for a trail nearly white-out snow conditions. Lovely!

This photo was taken within 15 seconds of
stepping out of the barn into the snow.
It was really coming down!
I wanted to try for 5 miles, but it didn't happen. Instead we did a fast 3.5 miles on a little loop through the woods. Basically, anything that wasn't a downhill we cantered.


The wind coupled with the blinding snow (I wore clear safety glasses so I could see through the mess) really helped Q. Everything was either dark or white. No in between. Ergo, fewer strange-looking monsters to balk at. The gusting wind blowing through the trees and thrusting snowflakes her face also limited the attention she could pay to both auditory and visual things that may have otherwise alarmed her. In fact, my only complaint about her on this ride was her downward transitions. Me saying a quiet, "Easy" or "Whoa" led to her SLAMMING on the brakes with gusto. This slammed my pelvic bone forcefully into the saddle a time or two. Not. Pleasant.

Overall though, a SUPER blast. Zooming through the woods, dipping and dodging branches and limbs as we raced along the twists and turns. She knew where all of the frozen puddles were, too, and jumped them all in turn without losing pace. As her body tilted left and right to wind around the branches, I felt as if I was racing on a motorcycle around a track. It was so. much. fun.

We ended up doing 3.5 miles at 5.5 mph average pace. Not shabby. I'll take it with all of the crazy weather we endured. AND Q drank beautifully for only a 3.5-mile jaunt! She stopped at a puddle in the middle of the ride and had a dozen swigs, and stopped a second time at the creek on the way home to guzzle another dozen or more swigs. I hope this continues through this season!

So, yes, I am indeed off to a much better start of things in February than I was in January as far as goals go with the horses! Roaching Griffin's mane has really lit a fire under my ass to improve his muscling since I notice so much more of his lack of it now! ;-)

Enjoy a wealth of photos!

Still practicing his "hot lava" impression re: pressure on his mouth - note the slack in the side reins.
Houston, we have dapples. Prepare for full launch of dapples in T-minus 2 months.
Griffin tooties in the snow.
Modeling his roached mane.
Kenai eating poop. Oh, and Griffin.
Fine, Griffin, we'll be stoic instead.
My crew and I.
A series of still shots from the video; you may or may not see the video. It requires lots
of editing because there is a lot of nonsensical down time. My laziness with video editing
likely means the video will never surface.
I loooove them.
Q-bert is much better at selfies
So much snow in her ears!
White out conditions. Not even a quarter-mile visibility!
om nom nom nom nom nom; she is in LOVE with mashes

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