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!