Friday, November 13, 2009

Summer goes so fast

It's November already and I've completely failed to keep up on my blogging. This is what happens when riding is more fun than blogging about riding. But now that the weather has forced me to spend more time playing and less time riding I will blog more.

I just picked up a book...

Friday, August 14, 2009

August is half over

I just realized last night that I have been pretty good at posting at least once a month since I started this. For some reason though, now that I'm doing more (riding Sati) I'm inclined to post less. Odd that.

Well, not really. See I'd rather ride than type so....

However, here's a quicky for you. I bought the western saddle I mentioned in the last post. I'm still lusting after that pretty English but I'll wait for now. So I've been working Sati in the arena more.

That's all you get for now though. I'm taking off for a backpacking trip to Glacier tonight and I have a paper to finish! I promise pictures and details in a week (or three).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finding a saddle

I've ridden Sati 4 times now in a few different saddles. We don't do more than about 10 minutes but I mount and dismount several times. She's great!! In fact she's much better under saddle than she is on the far anyhow. It's as if she was just waiting for work she thought would be more fun.

Anyhow, neither of the saddles I own fit her. Ketah is wide backed, but not excessively. She's got a pretty easy to fit Quarter horse type of back with nice high withers and a slope down her ribs. Sati is not so simple. Not uncommonly for Arabians she is nearly barrel shaped. Her back is wide enough (but she's not fat) to land an airplane on and she's still going to grow and change. In fact over the next couple years, especially as we ride more, she will fill out a great deal of muscle. Her shoulders, neck and back muscles will all change. So I'm in a bit of a quandry.

You see, she needs to be ridden in order for her to properly develop these muscles. However, if I ride her in a poorly fitting saddle it will be uncomfortable (or even painful) for her. She could learn to really dislike being ridden, and even develop her muscles incorrectly. So she needs a saddle that fits, but a saddle that fits now may not fit in a few years.

There are limited options for a horse with a back like hers, especially in english saddles (which I prefer). The Arabian Saddle Company makes saddles especially for wide backed Arabs, and they are really nice ones. I almost bought one off of ebay, but it had the wrong size seat for me. They are very expesive though. at least for a rider like me, people who do a lot of competing will spend several thousands on a saddle. I have never spent more than a few hundred! I found Duett saddles which are designed for wide backed horses like Icelandics. Somewhat less expensive (but still more than I've ever spent). Then there are western saddles.

Circle Y and Tucker both make saddles for Arabians and they're pretty nice. I wouldn't mind a Tucker Endurance saddle, but I don't like using that sort of saddle for arena training. I feel as if I have less contact with the horse. Of course, that's just a general problem for me with western saddles. Plus, I just don't want to spend that kind of money on a western saddle. I'm pretty biased, but I could get a brand new Cordura/Abetta Arabian saddle (mom uses on her little Arab) for about $400-500.

Last weekend I had a lady who breeds Icelandics and sells Duett saddles come out and do a fitting on Sati. Sati was wonderful! She was a good girl while we saddled and unsaddled her, sometimes cinching her up sometimes not. We cinched up about 4 or 5 saddles and I rode her in 4 of them, 2 or 3 were dressage saddles and one was a trail saddle (sort of all-purpose but designed more for trail riding). I really liked the trail saddle. It was very comfortable, and fairly light. Also seemed to fit her the best and she moved really well in it. Did nice turns in both directions which is difficult for her sometimes.

My barn manager also came across a nice Saddle King western saddle with an extra wide Arab tree and skirts (the back of the skirting is rounded in order to not hit her hips). It seems to fit her, though I wonder a little about the fit near her shoulders as she grows and changes. It's been many years since I regularly rode in a western saddle and back then I didn't pay any attention to the saddle fit! So I'm going to try it on her and ride her in it again and pay close attention to how well she moves in it.

So what are the pros and cons?

Duett Companion Trail (English)

  • Length fits great
  • Width across her back is good. No bridging.
  • Fits across the shoulders as well, there's a bit of width to grow into.
  • Seat was very comfortable for me. Felt balanced and secure. Very similar to my beloved endurance saddle. It has a wide, flat seat.
  • As she gains muscle and changes I can have the saddle restuffed ("reflocked") to fit her.
  • Sati seemed very comfortable in the saddle. She did nice turns in both directions and seemed fairly balanced herself. Which probably is a result of how balanced I felt.
  • It's leather. The leather is gorgeous, but I get nervous about using a leather saddle in the Northwest. Yes, if you care for it well then it's ok for it to get wet. Just have to bring it home to dry, condition it well and protect it with a beeswax product. But, it will also get scratched on the trail too. The trails here are so narrow that I've had holes poked in my riding tights by branches and thorns. Think what it might do to a nice saddle.
  • It's expensive, to me anyhow. $1400 new and I can't find a used one.

Saddle King (Western)

(I don't have a picture of this one)
  • Length fits nicely.
  • Width across her back looked great. Again, I didn't see any bridging.
  • Fits across her shoulders, but I'm going to take a closer look. I'm a little concerned that there's no width for her to grow into.
  • Seat is very comfortable for a western saddle. It's fairly new and better padded than older westerns are.
  • I need to try it again, but Sati seemed comfortable in it.
  • It's only $500 (slightly used).
  • Honestly, I don't like western saddles as much. I dislike the horn when trail riding (it's hard not to poke yourself when you duck) though it is useful for hanging things on.
  • I'm not sure I can train her in the arena as effectively as I'd like. I don't feel as if I have enough contact. That may just be a result of riding english mostly exclusively for the last 10 years or so. Last time I rode western regularly I knew a lot less about my seat and leg contact.
So I'm just not sure what to do. One option is buy the cheaper western saddle, use it for a few years while she develops and buy a more expensive (english saddle) for her later. I can train her properly in either saddle I'm sure. Maybe that's the way to go. Though that Duett is awfully nice...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Easy up, easy down...

Thought I'd get on Sati again yesterday. I longed her so she'd be calmer, and she was fine. But I was overconfident. I'd already forgotten how different she is from Ketah, just in her build. I stepped into the stirrup (after preparing her), found myself off balance, compensated and...

went right over her back.

She is so little! I'll get used to it, but in the meantime I have to remember to be more aware of her size. She's nearly the same height, but she's shorter backed and about 200lbs smaller. Makes a big difference.

Lucky for me (or I hope due to good training) she was pretty unconcerned. I startled her, but she just took a couple steps away and waited for me to get back up. On the other hand, I have a nice bruise on my hip from throwing myself over her.

However, we rode for about 5 minutes and she was great. We just did some circles around the arena to get the idea of yielding to my aids. I stopped when I heard the rain start because I didn't want her to freak about the sound of it hitting the metal roof. It was smart, but she didn't care one bit.

I'll wait a day or two to heal up and we'll do some more. Slowly.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Mount up!

Since shortly after I brought the young one home all of her lessons have been in preparation for what most horses ultimately do. Riding. Though I've not been good about blogging each week (though really, did you need to hear that she did more circles...again?) we have worked on each of the lessons I wrote about.
  1. Longing nicely. This is still a work in progress. Today we had some disucssions about it. However, at this point I think it's more a question of boredom. She knows what she should do, and just lets me know she doesn't feel like it.

  2. Saddling. She's been ok with this from day one. It no longer really fazes her, though she's still a little less keen on having the girth tightned. Ketah is too though, so as long as it's not a big deal (biting, kicking, bucking) I'm happy with it.

  3. Accepting a bit. This is pretty much done. She's fine with me bridling her, she no longer constantly mouths the bit. She even gives to it...some.

  4. Working on the long lines. This is really the hardest part for both of us. I've never done this work with a horse before so I'm sure I confuse her. She's doing very well though. I can ask her to walk-trot-walk, whoa and turn. What we don't do well is go in a straight line. I think that will be easier when I'm in the saddle and can use my legs too.

Along with all of these lessons I have been doing one other thing. Nearly every time we work, I take her into the small arena and ask her to stand while I lean over her back, rub her everywhere I can reach, stand up (on a block) at her side as if I were mounting, and just generally desensitize her to the whole process.

At first (months ago) she was a little - very little - weirded out by me leaning over her. She would sometimes take a few steps away. That was it though. She has never once got really upset. I have had to force myself to take this part slowly. It's tempting to just throw your leg over and sit there! What else did I get this pretty girl for if not to ride?! Pushing her too fast would have made training more difficult though. Horses need time to mature emotionally and mentally too and she was very much a baby when I got her. She still is, but she's matured quite a bit.

Well, today I did all our usual ground work. Including asking her to trot over poles on the ground (helps her learn to pick up her feet), and work on the long lines (moving foward, stopping, turning). Then I took her into the small indoor arena. It was one of those rare days that there were other people around so I decided today we'd take the next step. I prepared her by standing on the mounting block as usual and putting weight in the stirrup, pulling the saddle back and forth and then just draping myself over her. As usual she didn't pay any attention, but stood nicely anyhow.

So I stepped up and over and there we were! She wasn't in the least concerned, just a little off balance. I asked her (leg pressure) to move forward, when she didn't I added voice command (she's learned this from ground work) and she walked forward! I let her for a few steps, then asked her to stop. I asked her to walk for a second time, without voice command and she did it right away (yikes she's smart!). I let her walk for a while. Asked her to stop, got down. Got back up and then quit. She'd been great and it's best to end on a good note.

Now I'm really going to have to work to not push her too fast. This is going to be so much fun!!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Trail work continues

Just like people, horses need a change of scenery sometimes. Since Sati will be a trail horse (and who knows, maybe even a CTR horse) at least a third of our time is spent doing work on the trail.

On the trail with Ketah

While Ketah is not the most patient horse to pony Sati with, she is a very experience trail horse and there is almost no obstacle she can't or won't handle with no fuss -- mud is her only exception, which is unfortunate here. So each time we take Sati with us I make sure she has to deal with some new obstacle. Navigating around large logs, going down and up hills, through mud (she does better than Ketah at this) over branches and past noisy waterfalls. She has handled everything very well. It's clear that she likes to think her way through a problem rather than rush it (Ketah) or run away from it. If Ketah gives her the time she not only manages every obstacle, she is also very careful how she places her feet.

Thus far her speediness and habit of falling in the arena has not translated to the trail.

Water crossing

One of the many obstacles a horse must learn to deal with in the Northwest is water. Not just puddles, but rivers, lakes and the ocean. After all, this has to be the coolest part of living near the ocean:
North Cannon BeachFigure 1: North Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast. There is a lot of horseback riding to be done on the Oregon coast. There are B&B's where you can take your horse and sleep in comfort then go for gorgeous rides like this!

A couple weeks ago I decided it was time to introduce her to our local creek. It's just wide enough that a horse can't jump it, can be up to their knees and is fairly fast moving. To get to it you have to go down a small hill and to get out you have to go up a steep hill. Ketah has no problem with water (anymore) so she hopped right in, and being her usual impatient self, argued with me about waiting for the baby. I won and I let Sati sniff her way down to the creek.

Like most horses when face with a water crossing she was clearly nervous about getting near it. But when Sati is permitted to drop her head and sniff things she's much more willing to get close to them so I just waited. When she seemed to have sniffed enough I asked Ketah to move on a few more steps. Sati looked at the water very hard (it might eat her) then plunged right in! Not only did she plunge in, she put her entire muzzle (past her nostrils) under water and started playing! She did this several times before I led her across. When I asked her to cross it again she did the same thing. I nearly fell out of my saddle laughing. Ketah plays in the water by pawing it, which can also be a signal that she wants to roll, and sometimes will splash with her muzzle but she has never put her entire muzzle under water! In fact I have never seen any other horse I've ridden with do this, though I'm sure there are others.

I can't wait to see if she does it the next time.

On her own

Attached as Sati is to Ketah, and as horses are social creatures by nature, it is very important that I start getting her used to the idea of going out alone now. Since she can't yet be ridden we go for walks through the neighborhood.

On this note there isn't much to say. Sati doesn't care that she is leaving Ketah behind so far. She gets excited by horses on the other side of a fence right next to her, and we have to discuss proper behavior under the circumstances (this includes not rushing ahead, stepping on me, jumping into my space or running circles around me). But she mostly doesn't care about vehicles now, though it will be some time before I feel comfortable asking her to continue walking while they pass her. She is just a baby and unpredictable still.

Once we get out to the trailhead where there are no other horses as distractions, she settles right in to paying attention to where she puts her feet, how to get around obstacles and me. In fact, she seems to enjoy this so much that when I invite her to graze in a field just past the trailhead she isn't interested for several minutes. She isnt' nervous, just too busy looking around.

Final notes

It's probably good I don't have a saddle for her yet. Every opportunity, whether at the barn or on the trail (without Ketah) I work on getting Sati used to the idea of a person above her and weight on her back. Since there is no saddle I ask her to stand still while I lay across her back from either side and rub her all over. The first few times she a little nervous. She would walk a few steps away from the mounting block or log. I would just lead her back and do it again, asking her to stand while I did so. Now, most of the time, she just stands and mostly ignores me.

I think we will start arena work by the end of this summer. I need a saddle, but that's a topic for a whole other post!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Basic training

Ok, so some time back I attempted to start working Sati on long lines. We were both confused. I had read a couple of books that purported to discuss the how-to's but didn't so I was making it up. She of course failed to read any of her homework...

Well, when we tried to walk on the long lines poor Sati just got confused and would stop or back up. I decided to take a break and go back to a part of the training I understood better, longing. With a saddle, bridle and occasionally side reins (for contact NOT setting her head) I longed her and taught her walk, trot and whoa on voice command. Well, I taught her to do walk-trot-whoa. I apparently didn't teach her to walk-trot-walk reliably, but that will come. Anyhow, I did this to reinforce the voice commands she already knew, but not well enough.

Having gotten the longing down reasonably well we went back to long lines. This time I started by walking alongside with just my dressage whip (the longing whip is too long) and just asked her to walk and turn almost as if I were leading her. That helped a great deal. Anytime she got confused I could reinforce my commands with gestures she already knew. Turning could include me pointing in the direction I wanted her to move, walking could include me leaning forward to walk. In other words she could read my body language clearly. As she became more confident of my signals with the reins I slowly moved further away from her so she moved in a circle around me on the lines.

That worked great the first time. Until we tried trotting. Sati decided she didn't want to turn the direction I wanted and threw a jumping, bucking and running fit. I let go of the lines and she took off around the arena a few times. Head up, tail up and running full bore she is very pretty! I was of course concerned that she would hurt herself. She is still a baby enough to not have a clear idea of where her legs are at all times or when to put on the brakes. It's funny, I recall Ketah even at this age always being very balanced and aware of herself. Sati, on the other hand, has managed to fall more than once while running like a maniac. This makes me nervous...

Anyhow, I eventually got her to calm down and we tried again. This time she clearly felt that what she'd done before was a Good Thing. So she threw a fit almost immediately. We disagreed on her interpretation of Good Things, and this time I held onto the reins and...she fell. Score 1-1.

We walked a few more minutes and quit.

The following week we longed then started long lining the same way. This time when she threw a fit and I disciplined her she immediately quit. Clearly taking a fall was the necessary lesson. We have continued to work since then on turning both to the left and to the right. She may not like it, but she will do it without trying to take off.

I really hope she gets over the falling thing though. I don't look forward to those bruises.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just when you think they're trained

Just when you think you know your horse well, say after 20 years of riding together, she goes and proves you can't be complacent.

I've been meaning to get long reins for my trail bridle for some time. Trails around here are just wide enough for walking single file whether on or off your horse. Sometimes you have to get down and lead them over or around obstacles, and even occasionally send them ahead of you. Long reins would be super useful then. However, I didn't really like how heavy they would be on Ketah's mouth.

Well, Ketah forced the issue yesterday. I took her and Sati out for a short trail ride. Ketah kind of hates this because Sati is a poke. Or, more accurately she's very very careful about where she steps while Ketah likes to rush everything. I much prefer the careful walking, but Ketah is Ketah and I've only managed to slow her down a bit (and she's 23 years old, I take small victories). So Ketah was rushing and I figured I could let Sati follow us. She's done it before. I tied her rope around her neck and let her go. But this time she decided to graze on some moss instead of following Ketah. So I went back (literally, Ketah had to back down the trail, nowhere to turn around). I got down and reached back to untie Sati. I couldn't quite reach and Ketah usually stands quietly if I'm not on her back. So I let go to reach the 6 inches back for the rope and Ketah took her opportunity to leave.

She started out just walking with me holding her tail and Sati's lead saying "Ketah whoa!". She ignored me. There is no way on these trails to scramble past a moving horse on the trail to catch her. So that's all I could do.

Then she started trotting. I gave up and let her go.

Sati and I walked for a minute or two and Sati suddenly realized Ketah had left her so she started having a fit, prancing and whinnying. I was just about to call my barn owner and ask him to watch for Ketah at the trailhead so that she wouldn't cross the street when I hear Ketah whinny back to Sati.

She comes running back up the trail to stop right in front of me, scaring Sati since you can't see more than 20 feet (or less) ahead of you. I hopped back up, holding Sati's lead and we headed home. I purchased a new bridle for Ketah. This one incorporates a halter. From now on I will ride with the additional security of a long lead rope so she can't do that to me again.

Figure 1: Australian Outrider combination Bridle-Halter

When Sati starts trail riding she will get one of these too. I'm not trusting ground-tying when I can't reach my reins again. At least these have the additional plus that I can drop the bit out of my horse's mouth without taking the entire thing off. Nice when stopping for lunch.

Oh, I realize I lack pictures too often. I will try to get a few this weekend. Mom is coming to visit and we're supposed to go riding together!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Well, I suck

See, I have a couple of problems with this blog.

1) I find it difficult to believe that anyone really cares to read it. Partly because I'm trying to keep it fairly narrowly focused, but since the people (person) it's most targeted at talk to me often they hear it at least twice.

2) Though I can think while training or riding "ooh, this would be funny to blog about" it becomes much less funny when I try to talk about it without pictures - and it's hard to take pictures of those moments when you're actually in the middle of dealing with them. Or I have it all laid out in my head what to say and...(see #3)

3) I can't count. Oh wait, that's a different problem. This is actually the worst one. I work on a computer 8-10 hours a day at least 5 days a week (sometimes more). So much so, that my home computer (the one that's actually mine, not the 5 others that aren't) is almost never turned on. I think it may have forgotten how. I have to admit, it's hard to come home after a fun, tiring day of riding and blog about it. It's even harder to do it days later when I come home from work and still have more work to do. I know people do it, I read some really cool science blogs written by incredibly busy people.

However, that said I do have some fun little stories to share and I'll try to get back here later. Maybe I'll take a tip from one of the funniest science bloggers I read and spice it up some with silly pics. We'll see. For now, you may have to wait. I'm in the middle of yet another big grant writing push with my boss and it's really hard to want to write when I'm doing that.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring in the Northwest

It's here! I have bulbs coming up in my garden, my lawn already needs to be mowed, the frogs are frantically serenading each other and the weather can't decide if it wants to rain/snow/hail/be sunny. Oh, and the horses are shedding madly. Yep, it's spring alright.

Yesterday was one of the nicer days of the entire week. It rained a bit and was cloudy with some beautiful sunbreaks. Still not getting above 50, but that's better than being down in the 30's. It had rained most of the week and I didn't feel like fighting Ketah and the mud (either of which alone is bad enough) so thought I'd do some training.

I brought Sati out and brushed her. We're still working on letting me brush the backs of her hind legs but she's getting better. She's also just on grass hay now and not making such a mess of herself (despite passionate affirmations to the contrary, alfalfa is not really that great). I also picked up all four feet. She still wants to be a putz about the hind feet, but not nearly so much. It's not a fight anymore, I just pay close attention because she may decide to dance and fall down.

This day I put all of her tack on, grabbed the long lines and headed for the round pen. Aside from not making the same mistake twice, there was another horse in the arena who is poorly trained and several young girls who have gotten dragged by him before. I prefer not to take silly chances with my young one. After a few circles without lines, and some bucking and kicking I asked her to whoa. That lesson she does very well. I put the lines on her and we started doing some circles at the walk. This is all about learning how to handle the bit. I know it was confusing the first couple circles. Towards the end of the lesson she was walking the circle and changing direction relatively well. She has a tendency right now to get confused and stop when I ask her to go in a specific direction, especially if she really wanted to go the other way. Despite that we did 10 or 15 minutes of this, then I let her off the lines and reminded her of her basic manners. Which did involve a lesson in not stopping at the fence nearest Ketah or kicking in my general direction when I asked her to move...Afterwards I made her stand, tied while I worked Ketah in the arena for a bit. That drives her nuts, she was sweaty by the time we finished.

Today was threatening to storm all day. Dark clouds and wind. However, by 3:00 it still hadn't rained and I didn't feel like working anymore so I thought I could do a new lesson with the young one. A very important lesson for a would-be trail horse. Going out alone. Horses are, by nature, herd animals and they are prey as well. This means that instinctually they seek safety in other horses. One of the things we humans require of our domesticated horses, is to learn to be alone. They should depend on just themselves and their rider on the trail.

Thus far Sati has been away from the barn only when I pony her from Ketah. So she has always had a calm, older horse to make her feel safe. This time I asked her to walk by herself, on a slighty stormy looking day with quite a bit of wind (waiting for perfect weather is pointless here). We didn't get very far really. Down the long driveway and maybe two blocks through the neighborhood. Everything was a little scary, horse running at the fence to see her, a fence making noise in the wind, a car driving by. She wasn't perfect by any stretch. There was quite a bit of dancing and balking. But I remember Ketah at this age. If anything Sati was relying on me more, which is great.

I had planned on doing a loop that she's been on with Ketah before. But with her being slightly freaked out and this being her first time, we turned around and went back. Dancing and balking the whole way. But she was trying very hard to listen to me. She gets lots of points for that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Still here

But not much to tell. I just spent the last two weeks in frantic grant writing mode. This is good for me to learn...but hard to do so quickly. We finished last Thursday and I rode last Friday, which was the only sunny day we have had in the last 7 days now. Ketah and I had a great time! I decided not to take Sati, I know Ketah gets sick of her and I thought a real ride would be best for us both. I was right. We spent about 3 or 4 hours riding, found some new trails, got lost, and still managed to get home.

I was relaxed enough after that to work Sati too. This was mostly in the nature of reminding her of what she already knew. So I put on all the gear and we started doing a little bit of ground driving in the newly fenced arena. I probably shouldn't have done that, I was just a little too excited. I think the arena was too big for her, though we did manage to walk around a bit. But she also managed to get scared and bolt. I got her back under control and decided the round pen was a better idea. Rather than stress her out further I just put her in the round pen and asked her to do a few circles (no long lines) and then quit. For all of that, she was still pretty calm and happy afterwards.

Maybe this weekend we can do some more. We'll see though, between crazy spring weather and a paper I should've written two months ago we may not get a chance.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Smart horses rock!

Let me start by saying that this was a pretty awful weekend for all sorts of reasons. Thursday my boss very energetically (he does everything as if he's had 10 cups of coffee and that's probably not far off) declared that we were going to drop everything to write a 30 page grant in 2 weeks! While 30 pages is not much for a grant (especially for the money we hope to get out of it) 2 weeks is crazy short time to do it in. And of course while it's nice to assume we can drop everything...I can't. There's a meeting I must host starting Thursday through Saturday, interviewees coming that I can't just put off (how rude would that be??) and we started a new employee today. It's crazy.

So my poor horses are going to get the short end of the stick (along with my SO of course, but he's more understanding). I decided that this weekend I *must* work with them because next weekend might be out.

It's cloudy and cool. Sati hasn't been worked in over a week, that's my bad, and Ketah is uninterested in me. Figured the young one needed the work more and boy did she. First we had apparently reverted about leading nicely. She was jumping and balking and threatening to rear. My answer is to make her do circles which helps to a point.

I finally get her tied up and I'm cleaning her and she hasn't calmed down at all. She wants to dance and swing at the end of the rope. As usual the backs of her hind legs are dirty and I'm working towards them. She's all twitchy and as soon as I hit some of the dried stuff stuck to her hair she kicks.

This is bad behavior. She's about 750 pounds after all.

I go back to working over her entire body and approach her legs again and now she wants to swing her butt in my direction and kick out. At this point she hasn't actually tried to point and kick, instead she's sort of body checking me. However...

This is very bad behavior and we have to correct it.

So for the next 30 minutes we go rounds with no clear winner. For future reference you should never do this. I was already in a poor mood when we started and you really can't win a fight like this with a horse but I got myself into it and I had to get out without losing fully.

Lucky for me my sister called and we talked for a while. Good for me, you should really step away from these sorts of situations when you can't deal with them. Good for Sati because I made Sati stand tied up by herself the entire time. This is also good for her as she hates being without Ketah. When I got off the phone I started working her on the line in circles. We had to have a few reminders about “whoa” and not trying to run over the top of me, but she remembered pretty quick. After that I brushed her and put her back in her pen.

I had decided that I really needed to go for a trail ride today. Sati was to go with Ketah and I because I finally had a pair of boots for her front feet. I started cleaning her up and she stood quietly if a little twitchy even while I brushed the backs of her legs and picked her feet. Score 1 for smart horses! Once she was cleaned up I saddled Ketah and got ready to head out. Unfortunately for me the day was shaping up to be stormy.

Rain is uncomfortable, but we can deal with it. Wind however...In Colorado it's annoying and sometimes impossible to ride in. Here high wind can be very dangerous because the trees are all very close, very tall and don't have very deep roots. Branches and whole trees come down very quickly and easily. By the time the wind had died down it was sprinkling. I headed out and hoped it would stop raining. We hadn't made it 30 minutes out (just past the trail head really) and we were all soaked. Ketah was being a total pain, but I think Sati was having a lot of fun. She was thinking her way through all of the obstacles very carefully. Better than Ketah in fact. We went over some sandbags (Ketah jumped, Sati stepped over), around a large log and through a narrow gate.

I asked Ketah to trot then canter. Sati kept up the whole time in a trot! That girl has legs! Finally tired of dealing with Ketah's stubborness we turned to go back. Back at the barn Sati continued to stand (mostly) quietly at the tie rail and let me brush her all over again. So on the balance, I'd say the weekend was a good one for training! Sati is going to be a great trail horse. She likes to think her way through things instead of running away.

I really can't wait to ride her.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Birthday gift

This post is specifically for you mom!  In case anyone else is looking and doesn't know what it is, for my birthday mom sent me an Arabian show halter.  Usually the horse is well groomed, trimmed and not in their full winter coat when being photographed with these on, but I didn't want to wait for summer.  I promise prettier pictures come summer (she won't look like such a goat in a few months).  Maybe then I'll learn how to make her stretch out like all those Arabians in the magazines :)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Teaching herself

Last weekend we took the next big steps to riding.

Lately I have made a point of completely tacking up Sati for work. It makes her slow down and think (which is great when she's in a crazy mood). She has absolutely no problem with the saddle, though neither of my saddles or girths fit her. She is getting used to the bridle still. The last few times I've worked with her I put the saddle and bridle (with reins) on and ask her to move in circles on a free longe around me. She's great. We don't quite have walk/trot on command but she stops and reverses on command even when she starts getting a little nutty.
Since Sati seems to have quit worrying at the bit quite so much (she's holding it in her mouth on her own) I decided last weekend we would add a new dimension. Saturday I tacked her up and asked her to move out. Then I stopped her and added side reins! Before you ask, no I did not put them on in an effort to "set her head" she'll get that idea later. I put them on, fairly loose, so that she could get the feel of some pressure on the bit when she's moving. An unanticipated benefit is that she bumped her mouth when she tossed her head and she did it only twice. Again I asked her to move around me, with side reins, on a free longe. Again, she did great. At first she held her head high as she has been. But within a few minutes she started dropping it down as that is clearly more comfortable (and that is the point) even with loose side reins. By the end she put her nose to the ground.  She'll have a beautiful topline when she starts collecting.

On Sunday we did the same thing again. This time after doing a few circles with side reins I moved them up a notch (this is still really loose, they would be far too loose on Ketah for instance who is bigger but knows how to carry herself). Sati had no issues, not even chewing the bit she moved out, no head tossing and even started dropping her head to bring her poll almost level with her back. Even better she started stretching out underneath herself. I think she was figuring out how to engage her hindquarters herself! Yay!!

So I decided to give ground driving a short try. I took the side reins off and put the long lines on. We just did a couple of circles at the walk but it was enough for her to get the idea. As usual with her, give her something to think about and she's all business. It seems to be only at the tie rail that we have arguments, I'm waiting for her to grow out of that.

To keep her engaged and thinking we've also started other ground work.  I've started asking her to step over and around obstacles.  The first one was three railroad ties laid in a row about a horse length apart.  She had to stop and look at them once and then I could lead and  her over them with very little issue.  Of course, having done it a couple of times she became secure enough to start being silly about it.  Jumping, rushing and avoiding just because.  But she's doing it and that's the important part.  After all, she will be a trail horse and you need to know how to do this sort of thing!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Choosing a Bit

It's been a difficult couple of weeks to spend with the horses. After the snow and ice we had several days of heavy rain leading to flooding. Thankfully the property the girls are on didn't flood much, but it hasn't made for very nice riding weather. Despite that I haven't been idle. I've made sure that Sati didn't forget how to be polite though she would like to argue that point. She still doesn't like having her hind feet picked up, but we understand each other better now and when I reprimand her she doesn't throw a fit. She also moves nicely in a circle (most of the time) in both directions, stops on a dime (that will be fun in the saddle) and changes direction well.

She's had a saddle on her back several times now, and she doesn't much care. The next step then is a bit! I can't start ground driving her until she's taking a bit. So I did a lot of homework. After all, it's been many years since I picked out bits for Ketah and I'm not sure I knew much about it then either. I've also changed some of my preconceptions about bits. Curbs aren't as severe as I thought and snaffles aren't necessarily as nice either.

It's best with a young horse to start with a very mild bit and as Sati has shown herself to be fairly sensitive it's even more important not to shock or hurt her. I was going to start with a basic snaffle bit. Maybe an eggbutt. Until I started doing more research. The basics are simple enough, a bit works either by direct pressure (the rider has constant contact with the horse's mouth) or via leverage (all shanked bits work this way). There is more though, a bit puts pressure on the lips, tongue and bars as well.

The snaffle bit that I always think of is the single-jointed snaffle. It's a relatively mild bit in that there are no twisted wires or protruding parts that could injure a horse's mouth. It works by applying pressure to the tongue, lips, and bars with a "nutcracker" action. Turns out this is not the most mild snaffle for starting a young horse. Considering that Ketah has probably taught me to have "heavy" hands and I'm going to need to retrain myself while Sati learns I wanted to start even milder.

Most people rate a bit called a "mullen mouth" as the mildest bit. Usually it's made of rubber or a half-moon of metal. It places even pressure across the bars, tongue and lips. However, I haven't used a bit that wasn't jointed in many years and since I do eventually want her to go in a snaffle I decided against the mullen mouth.

I finally decided to use a double-jointed snaffle. Not exactly a French Link (very mild) because it looks too much like a very severe bit called a Dr.Bristol and I can't identify it by sight so I can't be sure of what I'm buying despite it's labeling. Instead I bought an oval link snaffle. It's a double jointed bit so the "nutcracker" action of the single jointed snaffle on the tongue is significantly less and it's fatter than my basic loose ring snaffle making it milder than the basic snaffle.

Two days ago I put this bit in her mouth for the first time. She was so easy! I put some molasses on it because unlike my other mare she loves sweet foods. Initially I tied it to her halter and let her mouth it for a while. After I was pretty sure she'd sucked all the molasses off I attached it to her bridle, added more molasses and bridled her. Then I turned her loose in the round pen. She was mouthing it lots, but she didn't get her tongue over the bit. She had this look of "what the hell" and kept coming to me to take it off. I let her do that for about 10 minutes and then I took it off.

Today I took it one step further. Again, using molasses, I bridled her. This time I put the bridle on over her rope halter. I let her mouth it for a few minutes, then I took her out the to arena and asked her to move in circles around me as I usually would. I could tell she was paying more attention to me than to the hunk of metal in her mouth when she would quit mouthing the bit to do what I asked. We did just a few circles to make her think about it and then I took it off. She was more than willing to play with it even after that though. That's got to be a good sign!

The step after this will be ground driving. I have to teach myself how to do that though. Lucky for me I have an old mare who will forgive my mistakes. I ground drove Ketah for a few minutes today to get the hang of it. I'll want to do that a few more times before I try to start Sati, but Ketah was great. After driving for a bit we did some arena work and she was happy and collected and moving out...She looks like a young horse when she does that. I think we'll have a good summer!