Saturday, July 14, 2007

Trailered to new trails

This was a another biggie for me—a threshold. Rebecca has been asking me if I wanted to go someplace off property to ride. Since I hesitated she added, "that is if Jeepers would load." Oh I told her the issue was not Jeepers getting on a trailer, she did that fine, the issue was my confidence in being able to handle the horse who got off the trailer. I told her I needed more time on the trails at the barn to build my confidence. And the Level 2 Clinic showed me how to do that.

So on the auspicious day of Friday July 13 I agreed to go to Rocky Woods the next day, just a 15 minute trailer ride away. I got to the barn at 7:30, after having agreed to meet Rebecca at 9:00. Wanted time to play with Jeeps before asking her to get on the trailer. It took just a few minutes of playing the 7 games before I got on. She was soft and listening and all I had to do was lift the reins and she stopped and stood. That's the important part I have learned, the standing still. I rode her up the path to the indoor and we grazed along the way.

By the time Rebecca shows up and gets the trailer hooked up and open we are ready to go. Two horses, two horse trailer and we're off. It was a quick ride to the parking lot. I had left Jeeps' saddle on, as that is how Rebecca does it with her horse Patrick. She now tells me that it is easiest to bridle the horses before unloading. I have decided I'll use the snaffle bridle with the rope reins as opposed to going out in the halter/hackamore. When Jeeps comes down the ramp she starts to really look around. No grass patch to convince her that this was a friendly place. She has her head up high, not a good place for a horse that usually assumes the Western Pleasure headset. So I unhook one side of the reins from the bit and ask her for Ss and disengaging hind end and almost immediately I have her back with me! What a boost for my confidence.

Before we leave the parking lot Rebecca gets a map of the trails. I know she had been over here before and assumed she knew the trails. Now I find out she had followed someone else LOL! She hands me the map saying, "Jeeps stands still when you stop so it will be easier for you to read the map." Hmmm how interesting.

Mount up and we have a great walk in new woods. Meet several dogs along the way, but the people were responsible and had their dogs in hand. Or arms as with the little black puppy. We come to an intersection and Rebecca asks me to check the map. So I unfold it and look. And look and squint and hold it close and away, "I don't have my reading glasses with me—can't see the numbers (marked intersections) or the trail names!" After staring at the map, I finally can figure out where we are and where we might want to go. Onward! I check the map occasionally and then I drop it—"Hey Rebecca do you think we still need the map?" YES! Okay I hop off Jeeps, pick it up and find a rock to mount back up. This place is very user friendly with lots of mounting rocks all along the trail.

I am relaxed as we ride. I keep a loose rein. This is awesome, wonderful, a new adventure without angst. Is this possible? The ride is over, load the horses back into the trailer and head for home. I'm already thinking about when can we do this again?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Back on track.

I gave Jeepers Thursday off. Friday only played on the ground. Bugs awful. Hard for both of us to focus. So I didn't push it.

Today was meeting Vivian to go out on the trails. So I got to the barn early. Jeeps was eating breakfast with her girl friends but lifted her head to me. After grooming we played in the ring. She was quiet and a bit more focused. Did put your nose on with success today. Driving hind end is looking pretty good. Driving front is a problem. So I broke it down and used my hands - one of face, one on shoulder - and asked for only one step over. Will build on this. When I mounted she was not in her big walking mode and quickly and quietly bent to a stop and when I lifted both reins for back up she was soft and listening.

On the trails I lifted a rein and she stopped. Way to go! Did "short" trail which entails a patch of bushwhacking. She was soft and quiet. Saw two Fisher Cats climb a huge tree. Wow!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

She doesn't love me!

July 4th! Thought I'd give Jeeps the day off. Drove over to just hand graze. Got my red Parelli halter and lead and walked to her paddock. She has her nose in a large pile of hay along with her two buddies, Dreamy and Jaz. Jeepers looks up at me when I open the gate, see the halter and turns and trots away to the water trough. She drinks and then walks into the open shed with her rear end toward me.
Guess she didn't even want to see me today! Did I do too much yesterday? Drop halter and go sit on a rock. I tell her I am not going to DO anything. She doesn't move. I go get a handful of hay and offer it to her. She turns around and slowly approaches and takes it. When she finishes she turns back into the shed, back towards me. I sit quietly. Finally I go and get her and her buddies (who have finished off all the hay) several more flakes. I toss them on the ground and Jeepers walks to join her herd and eat.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Taking the time it takes.

Since we hadn't done all that much riding on Monday, I arranged to meet Rebecca for an afternoon trail ride. Okay today I was going to do ground work and riding PNH tasks before going out on the trails. After I had groomed and tacked her up, saddle nice and loose we walked to the ring. Jeepers was displaying the same high energy that she had in the indoor at the clinic. Hmmm, how interesting. Glad I was taking the time to work with her before mounting up and going out. Circle game was a bust, she would not even back up and stand still for a send. So worked on the half circle along the fence into sideways. Great way to get her attention. Work on driving the hind quarters - just like at the clinic, driving the front. Now backup and finally circling game. Switched to the 22 foot line. Bigger circle. Asked for trot. Nice transition. Asked for walk. From clinic asked with just the slightest movement of rope. No reaction. A little more movement. No reaction. She is on auto polite. Had to go to a phase 4 rope movement. But as I writing this maybe I could try pointing the stick in front of her and see if that will get her attention. So we worked on up and down transitions and finally change of direction. Not working so went to work on S's and then a bit of Falling Leaf. Wow I have all these different things I can do. Worked on getting two eyes and not settling for less than. Slowly she gave me more and more focus.

So I got on her. Back to the big walk - lots of energy again like on Sunday at the clinic. Thinking once again, thank heavens I am taking the time now before doing out on the trails. Lots of bending to a stop. Lifting reins for back up. Practiced lifting ribs and circling. My using a long focus. Getting lighter and lighter and after a while she began to listen and get soft and stop when I just lifted the reins. Spent about 45 minutes and then went out on the trails with a quiet listening horse.
Which was a good thing because of the flies she keep shaking her head and shook most of the way off her ear protectors. As I reach forward to get them back on, my sunglasses fell off. She stood quietly. I hopped off, got my glasses and took off her ears things. Walked her over to a mound of earth, to use as a mounting block and all this time she was calm and waiting. Got back on and continued our ride. So soft so quiet. Hmmm, how intereting.

Level 2 Clinic with Christi Rains

I think its Tuesday, yep says so on the upper right hand corner of my computer along with the time. Two days of getting up at 5:30 then spending all day watching, listening, and thinking– gee sounds like school. I’m wiped out. And still have a yearning to spend more time with Jeepers. If I could only get the energy to get dressed and drive over to the barn. See a real advantage to being able to just walk out the door and hang out with her if she was here.

This Level 2 Clinic was a first for me in so many ways. The first Parelli clinic I have every attended with Jeeps. The first time I took Jeeps somewhere – basically the only time she was loaded on a trailer in the last 8 years was to move to another barn. Okay not quite true, lets think a moment – two horse shows (neither one a great time), she was a massage volunteer once (but she never settled), and one day at Dressage Camp (sort of okay except for stall time, again never settled). Through all of this she willingly loads. Thank god that has never been an issue. First time we went somewhere for two days. I did take her home each night. Based on past experiences where she would not settle in a new stall I thought it best to bring her home and let her spend her evening and night with her girl friends. Didn’t consider the added stress for me in early rise time and coordinating with Mary who was doing the trailering. Ah, our horses come first.

Oh and there was my getting involved with the clinic beforehand to help make it happen. Can’t just seem to go to a clinic, seem to need to get involved. Originally was going to take place at Apple Knoll, just 10 minutes from where Jeepers is boarded. This made the whole adventure seem doable to me. Removed one of my primary concerns of trailering her a long distance and having to board her overnight. Seemed like it was an offering to me that the clinic was so close. But the clinic didn’t fill and was close to being cancelled. So I called the coordinator and suggested Cedar Brook, a place I have been promoting shows at where the cost was much less. I arranged for the clinic to be held there. Now Cedar Brook is about 45 minutes from Jeepers barn, but maybe the clinic could go on and not get cancelled.

Sunday – first day of clinic. Up at 5:30 to deal with last minute things and to the barn to groom Jeeps for her debut. Beautiful day, cool clear crisp, almost fall like. I’m working on keeping my anxiety in check so I keep busy. Jeeps is eating hay with her girls so I take my grooming brushes with me to her paddock and groom her while she is eating. Don’t want to cut her breakfast short. The coordinator, Heather, due to trailing issues, had brought her mare Sierra over last night and is joining Jeeps for the ride to the clinic. She goes on, then its my turn to load Jeeps. She walks right on. What a girl!

We are running a bit late and Mary seems to be driving slowly. Its okay its okay I keep telling myself. Breath swing breath swing (chant I used to use when trail riding). Finally pull into Cedar Brook. Everyone, okay there are only 5 other people in the clinic besides me, is already there with their horses.

Now my past experience with Jeepers is that she unloads and then sticks her head way way up in the air and neighs, whinnys, screams, snorts, spins around looking for her friends. Today she unloads spies clover right beside the trailer and drops her head and proceeds to eat. Huh? So I let her graze quietly for a while, nod to others and then walk her calmly to the barn and put her in her stall. Okay that is the factual account of what happened. Emotionally? I am standing leaning on Jeeps in a new environment as she is grazing in the sun. I am overwhelmed and crying. As I am walking toward the barn the realization that I at a Parelli clinic WITH Jeepers is overwhelming and I am sobbing. We have crossed an enormous threshold.

Christi talks for a bit about her journey thru the program. Shares how she raced through things and had to go back to Level 1 building blocks when she found herself stuck on somethings in Level 2 and again in Level 3. Then we did simulations – riding position, rein feel, hollow vs rounded back – on the ground down on our knees, on each other and on the barrel. Doing these under her direction was really informative. Got a very good feel for how it feels to be a horse and be jammed by rider, got a good feel for what it is I do that effects what Jeeps does.

Then we got our horses. Started with backup and transistions at backup. Bring your energy up – walk in place swinging carrot stick, walk forward and if the horse doesn’t move they bump into the stick. She even showed running toward the horse more energy and they should increase their backup. Well Jeeps was not impressed. I think she was asleep! I’d get one step, maybe. Christi came over and got her to back up maybe 5 steps. Said, well she is an old horse (I had mentioned she was 25) so she would not ask for much more. I watch the others, Helen with her TB, Torri with her out of control QH, Becky has a 2 year old kite on a string, Heather (Level 2 graduate working on Level 3) has a very turned in 7 year-old, Sandy with a rescued Morgan. At least I could see how it was supposed to look.

We did drive the hindquarters 181 degrees. Keep the front feet still. Jeeps was still blowing me off, sleep walking. I took a little time now to see if I could get her engaged. I did a draw and then ran backwards. Finally she perked up and trotted to me. Did this a few more times and then went back to driving the hind end. At first she would walk forward and then around. Had to get front end to stop and only hind end moving. Release is where they learn. Important message for me. Did drive the front end 361 degrees, with back feet not moving or within a hoola hoop sized circle. Took more effort. Needed to be more rhythmic and Christi helped us here. And finally got Jeeps doing this nicely.

And then circling game. Because there were six of us in a chain set up large size dressage ring – which various of the youngsters would step into the chains and get excited – we were all working with our 12 foot lines. Asking for snappy departs. We then switched to 22 and one at a time walked the circle down the entire length of the ring which had all sorts of obstacles. Young ones were delightful to watch – so much energy high jinks surprises. Great for me to see. When we did it, quieter and much more dignified ; -) Was not getting a good send and Christi wanted me to touch Jeeps with the savvy string. Of course I kept missing her. She had said to me earlier that I was in the nagging stages, that I was not fulfilling my promise. And here is the very interesting thing – she said you don’t have to hit them hard – just a touch with the string is okay. And I finally was able to connect and Jeeps did a very nice depart! Whoppee!!! I now had a horse trotting and everyone was surprised to see that she was a nice mover LOL! Even Christi commented on how nice her trot was! Jeeps has fooled everyone initially into thinking she was a dull slow moving OLD mare. She was showing herself now.

We broke for lunch and afterwards spent the afternoon in the indoor, horses saddled. Started off with doing whatever games we wanted to get our horses moving and focused. Christi had us doing half circle against the wall and then asking for sideways. Keep it rhythmic Jamie. More drive hind end, drive front end. Jeeps was very up, nervous coming into the indoor. I was not sure about getting on her. Doing all the ground work got her listening and calmer. When we mounted she got into walking mode. Her trail riding big walk. And walk and walk and walk she did. Casual rein. Stay on the rail. Jeeps wanted to walk out either of the end big doors. Hard for me to drop into casual rein. Bend to stop – lift, stroke rein, close finger 1, 2,3, hand to thigh. Christi said to anchor your hand and then when they release they reward themselves. Jeeps would bend, soften, and then walk on. We did 9 step back ups. Long focus (helps to keep it straignt) Had resistance – okay opposition reflex. Lift rein, slide down close fingers. Slow down, everything done slowly. I was struggling with her. Christi had me slow things down. Lift higher and be lighter and Jeepers got lighter and lighter and lighter! As the afternoon wore on it took less and less from me to get her to do listen. And then she would walk on. What was interesting was that Christi was fine with her not being able to just stand. Didn’t make a big deal out it. We were accomplishing the various tasks. Jeeps would get soft and stop, bend or back up….and then walk on.

We did an exercise – leap frog – walked along the wall, turn into wall by disengaging hindend. Couple of steps of sideways then back up off wall and halt. Next horse would walk in front of you and then turn to wall and back up.

Final exercise was figure eight at trot. There were only 3 of us riding in the ring, me, Helen and Heather. The others with young or handful horses were going to work after us. So one would ride and the other two were the centers of the circle. Jeepers’ trot was just too big for me. So I did this at the walk. Challenge to get circle as opposed to amoeboid shapes. Helen (dressage rider) did great a trot and even cantered with simple change of lead. Christi explained how to go from casual rein to both hands, reach down for bend for transition to trot and then you are in position for correct lead canter. If on right lead canter casual rein in right hand, left hand on reins and slides down – slows horse to trot (changing bend) and then you have left hand forward and right back for correct body position for left canter. Really great to see this in action. Heather western rider was incredible with her horse. I sat and watched. Jeeps was getting better, finally, about standing.

Sunday, second day was another quiet just walk on the trailer. Morning was more simulations. Pulling and how it gives the horse power. Releasing one rein and how the horse disengages hind end. Change of direction on the circle (2 people horses) and drawing them in. Change of direction – walk back until you get two eyes. Draw- cock head looking at hind end and spiral out to circle – so that you are basically walking out to get infront of them on the circle. Easy to watch and then confusing when in the simulation. Really a great opportunity to get the muscle memory and mind memory really understanding and figuring it out. Spent a lot of time doing this. Lots of laughter and confusion. Lots of moments realizing how I confuse Jeepers. Simulations as horse (on hands and knees) and rider on circles – lifting your ribs and horse flexs with you. Also how some horses have ribs stuck to one side and we tend to sit in the hollow that is caused. And if we shift our weight to the high side how this immediately straightens out the horse! Hmmm, how interesting. How amazing.

We then got our horses and tried this with them. Realized I was not getting both her eyes (no right eye) before asking for change. Also I was backing up and not moving forward and driving her soon enough so she was coming into my space and driving me backwards more. Christi came to help me and saw immediately that Jeeps was not giving her right eye. Stopped everyone and talked about this. Said needed to do more work from the right side and needed to fix this before continuing on working on change of direction. Drive hind end to get the eye, lead from right side, saddle, groom all sorts of things from right side. She then went to help Helen who had a question and immediately said her horse was not giving her his right eye. And then Torri’s horse same thing. Interesting.

Christi said the draw was as important as the send. And needed good draw for change of direction.

Second day is going fast. Another beautiful day. Lunch and move to the indoor again for afternoon. Sideways without a wall and leading by the foot. Simulations before we got our horses on how it feels. How important it is to watch for the slightest release, sift of weight and to release. Again as it has been for both days – importance of release. And how quick it needs to be. Worked with our horses on leading by foot. Jeeps was again feeling anxious about the indoor and other horses so I worked on yesterday’s game of half circle and sideways. More energy from me (to match hers) and more focus. Watch position in relation to drive line and be more aware and faster in anticipating what she is doing and going to do. Driving hind end without stepping forward was much better and driving front end was beginning to work better also. Proper position. More energy. More focus.

Mounted, not much time left before Mary was coming to pick Jeeps up. Having done the ground work, well when I got on Jeeps I asked for bend and stops and backups. Didn’t take much and after a few of each she was willing to just stand. Today I could sit on my quietly standing horse and listen to Christi. This was huge!!!! Christi had us work on circling – bending our ribs. Lift outside elbow to lift the ribs. Don’t collapse on inside just raise outside. I found had to isolate body parts, not allow seat to shift completely, keep it moving and lift my ribs. This gets the horse to step under themselves with inside hind. Round soft and lifted. Directing Jeeps nose to the inside, lifting my outside ribs and looking long focus on the circle (not immediately down or down toward the center) I had a nice round horse! Way to go Jeeps!

It’s over. Sigh. Glad I sat down to write this out. As I was remembering what we did yesterday, Sunday’s details came better into focus. I want to continue on this journey. But I am realizing it has to be on my own schedule. The chat/study group is out. They are moving too fast. The focus seems to be on assessing and the journey is getting lost. We were asked what our goals were for the clinic and I said working my way thru Level 2 and assessing. I’ve realized that is not my goal. My goal is to develop my relationship with Jeeps, be able to have more and more fun with her. To build both of our emotional fitnesses. I also realized the importance of spending the time doing my groundwork before I get on her and go out on the trails. I realize how lucky I have been. But that I need to do this before I get on. She showed me this with her walking in the indoor. This is how she moves out on the trail. I had great difficulty stopping in the indoor. Have the same out on the trail. I need to, oh god here I go quoting Pat, “Take the time it takes.” It’s about journey, the complete journey – not the immediate task. I’m going out on the trails with Rebecca later today. I will get there early enough to do ground work with Jeeps and even some riding before. I see the immediate challenge of adhering to this and not get caught up in the immediacy of “lets go for a trail ride….” Hmm how interesting.

On the practical side what did I get from the clinic? Persistence. Proper position. When things are not working, step back and think what can I change. Breaking things down into smaller pieces. And another P precision. Not accepting parts. Like two eyes disengagement. Two eyes before I ask for the send. I need to ask and get her attention and focus and do what is necessary before working on anything. The importance of release. That even though its called play there is a lot of work involved and I need to commit myself to it. Oh boy!