The last few days I've been focusing greatly on the broodmare - let's just call her Lyb.
Tuesday, we started with catching. She was still quite shy, but, when I let her know that I am not chasing her, but rather following her, copying her movements and ceasing any pressure as soon as she looked at me or even stopped, she let me come closer and was okay with being haltered. To continue, we left the paddock and she was reminded that it is possible to stand still by my side, not prance around as soon as the herd is behind her. She caught up the idea sooner than the last time and we were ready to go to our training field, where a girl was lunging her horse and a yearling was running loose - something that can worry Lyb a lot. To get to the field, we had to cross a large puddle, which she was very afraid of at first and jumped over it, when asked to cross, but, crossing it repeatedly with the approach-retreat method, soon helped her to cross it in a nervous trot, then - a nervous walk, and finally in a calm walk, with head lowered and licking&chewing, noticeably relaxed.
In the field, she handled being around fast moving horses surprisingly well. Apart from a couple of spooks, during which she tried to bolt in-hand, but now stops quickly when her face meets the pressure of halter, rather than exploding in a canter around me, that was our starting point a few sessions earlier. She also had one panic attack when a bike rider suddenly emerged from behind a huge hedge, and tried to run over me blindly, but I managed to block this move and back her up fast. We worked on walking, stopping and backing up in sync, disengaging her fore- and hindquarters, de-spooking to whips and touch all over her body, lowering her head and, finally, lifting her legs.
I still didn't bother her hind legs, feeling that she needs to gain more trust in me, before I put any pressure to this zone, but I ran a rope down and around her front legs and started lifting them. After lifting them with the rope, she was quick to let me lift and hold her left fore with my hand, but was still reluctant to let me hold her right fore. As her hooves were in dramatic state, it was clearly uncomfortable for her to stand only on her left fore. I was content with the success, however, and I didn't want to put too much pressure on her, so we finished the session. My main goal is to lead her to relaxation and trust in people, because, as for now, she'd rather be on her own - however, she is slowly opening up.
Wednesday I went for Lyb in the paddock where she was standing farther away from the other horses, watching my gelding and his buddy play under two huge willow trees. Although I had intended to catch Lyb, instead of it I climbed a willow tree and watched the boys play and, finally, joined them, running with Snickers, playing tag, grooming and petting him, and the two boys were very eager to participate. In process, I noticed how Lyb is creeping closer with a very curious look in her eyes - she really looked surprised to see that horses can actually choose to be and have fun with humans! It felt just right for this moment, so I approached her and showed the halter, asked for permission to put it on her. She hesitated a second, looked once more at the two boys, who were standing relaxed right behind me, and then lowered her head, letting me halter her so easily as never before. What a great gift!
Together we then went outside the paddock and stayed in a patch of grass close to it, so that she could see the herd and be more relaxed, as I wanted to work with her legs in as calm an environment as possible. Lyb seemed as a different horse. She was much, much calmer than on Tuesday, we progressed greatly in backing up, coming up to me, yielding her quarters, lowering her head and despooking. She read my body language with great sensitivity and finally was tuning into me, without her attention running wildly to anything that was happening around instead. When we progressed to working with her legs, I could lift her left fore with no effort at all and used my whip to imitate rasping and hoof cleaning. She was as calm as a pudding during that! The right fore was more resistant, but still better, and I finally went over to her hind legs. The violent kicker I had met when we first started working was gone. I lifted both hinds with the rope and she just held them up - a little nervous, but trying to trust and relax.
Her owner wanted to groom her in her box stall after that, but I was called back to her after a moment, as the mare had grown anxious without the herd, was pacing in her stall and her owner couldn't put a halter on. I entered, backed her up whenever she wanted to run me over in her herdbound reactions, and finally she settled down, exhaled, lowered her head and let me halter her. Which means I'll have to train her owner in haltering her as well.
Lyb was then lead outside, when one of our trimmers appeared and offered to try and do her hooves. Lyb seemed very calm again so I agreed to try. And this was our great New Years' miracle - Lyb let ALL of her hooves be lifted, including the hinds, and let ALL of them be trimmed! Her face changed expressions from tense to surprised that humans are really not hurting her and are letting her to balance herself, if needed, and from surprised to greatly relieved, as much of the pain she was suffering in her deformed hooves was finally lifted. Her owner was crying and hugging Lyb and me as well, and I was near tears myself - such a sign of trust from a severely frightful horse! Her hooves were trimmed the first time in SIX years, as she was too hard to handle because of her kicking, and now, only after for sessions or so, she can finally walk without pain! What a great way to begin this year. I will certainly continue working with Lyb and am excited on her future progress.
Of course, I had my share of fun with Snickers these days as well. :)
On Tuesday we accompanied a friend of mine and her gelding - one of Snicks' buddies - on a trail ride. This gelding is now recovering from a tendon injury and has been finally given the green light to start carrying a rider on light rides again. I rode Snicks bareback, the weather was lovely and we had a splendid time. The gelding was a little nervous, so we went first and, although we hadn't been on trail rides with other horses for a while, Snickers acted very well, though I could feel him being full of beans and wanting to let some steam off. Both horses had a couple of minor spooks, which they handled well, and Snicks agreed to jump a ditch with me...although doing that in saddle might had been a better idea, as I weren't particularly graceful during this jump. We also trotted in two short and slow distances, as the other gelding has been working at a walk for a while now and the rider felt he was ready for his first trot in many moons' time. I enjoyed being bareback, as I feel how it has helped me to improve my balance and "stickability".
On Wednesday, I finally decided to have a ride in my new saddle, which is a Passier jumping one - very comfy, puts me in a good position and fits Snickers well. Followed by another rider and her mount, we found an unused field with a flat surface (others had frozen clumps of mud from riding in them, as the temperatures were beyond zero) and used it as an arena. Snickers was great after not being under a saddle for over a month - the saddle clearly fits him well, as his movements were noticeably more free and active even without an extensive warmup, he didn't rush in the canter and I worked on my general seat and balance, remembering what I had been taught in my last lesson with my Dressage trainer. We didn't ride for too long, though, 15mins at the max, as I am intending to bring Snicks back in to work slowly. Looking forwards to a ride this weekend!
Worked with Lyb again over the weekend. She's my favorite among the horses I'm working with (except for Snicks, of course), as I feel she is the one who needs help and reassuring the most. On Saturday, it was raining all the time and, although I tried filming our session, the record is of no use - very blurry because of the rain. But Lyb was acting very nice. She is growing progressively calmer and, looking at her now, you couldn't imagine the nervous, kicking mess she used to be just five sessions ago. She's still a little fidgety and may bolt in-hand if suddenly spooked by something moving fast in her direction, but that's a far cry of how she used to act when we met. We are now working over different arrangements of ground poles at the walk and trot, working on a good stop and back up, gait changes while lunging and on our general de-spooking routine.
As for Snickers, due to the rainfall on Saturday, we did some groundwork as well. I concentrated on precision at a faster pace and we used the ground pole arrangements a lot. We did lots of side passing, shoulder-in direction changes on the lunge, and went through some of our tricks - bowing, laying down, sitting and rearing. As Snicks has grown a little herd bound with two of his best buddies, as they spend the nights together in one shelter/paddock and we go on walks together rather often, I did lot of the groundwork in a field not far from the barn, but concealed from the sight of other horses by a high hedge. Snicks was a little grumpy for this at first and tried leaning home, but settled down soon.
On Sunday, I got to ride him at last and had a small lesson by my friend, who also happens to be a riding instructor. My new saddle is tremendously comfortable! So glad I found it. We kept the lesson rather short, as Snickers was out of work for two months, but it was great none the less. Although I am struggling with my position after this long break as well, and my worst habits (stiff, straight hands and leg slipping forwards) were coming to life again, Snickers was clearly very pleased with his saddle and moved much, much more free than he did before even after long warm-up. We worked just a bit on rhythm, impulsion and stretching.
Although I know I'm not a great rider, bear with me - I just want to show how much better Snicks is moving in his new saddle and after visits of the masseuse, as well as daily stretches and massaging - his hind legs are finally coming into action and his back has started working:
On Tuesday and yesterday, I had to come after work, when it was already dark, so I stuck mostly to groundwork, and also some target training. I liked yesterday most, as I concentrated more on how I use my focus and energy, and Snickers agreed to back up and side pass with no tack, vocal or body cues at all. It was a feeling of a great connection. I also hopped on him bareback and only with the rope halter on, lead line in one of my hands, and we went for a quick stroll around some of the fields. Snickers was very tuned into me, very forwards going as well, and I loved to be able to steer him just with my seat and intention, considering we were leaving the barn alone in a pitch black environment.
On Saturday Snicks had a visit by his masseuse, who uses the Masterson method. I am very impressed. Snicks has had three of these visits and, combining the results with the fact I continuously work on massaging and stretching him, he has become visibly more relaxed and supple. He now needs a less extensive warm-up, is a joy for the trimmer (previously was a bit hard to trim front hooves as his shoulders were stiff and it was uncomfortable for him to keep a leg up for too long), and, when you touch the pressure points right, he lifts up all the muscles in his back easily like a cat. The masseuse was very content with his results as well and we agreed that he doesn't need the monthly visits any more, until I start riding harder in spring. Yay! :)
We went for a walk in-hand afterwards, as he had to stretch in his freshly massaged muscles and joints, and were accompanied by one of his best buddies and his owner. The walk was very nice, both horses behaved well, but the weather was terrible - snowing and raining at the same time, mud was everywhere... In a field not far from the barn I decided to set Snickers at liberty and he started to frolic around at a joyful canter and would have stayed by our side, but the other horse got too excited, fearing that Snickers might plan to bolt home, and ripped the lead line out of his owners' hands. Naturally, when THAT happened, both boys bolted home for sure. Fortunately, that was a short run and Snicks had his reflective halter on, so at least they were safe. We caught them by their night paddock and walked them off, during which it started raining heavily, so we decided just to call it a day.
On Sunday, I wanted to work with Lyb, but she was in the farthest corner of our very muddy paddock and one of my boots had started leaking water a little, so I settled for an easier catch - the nervous gelding, who was munching on hay just by the gates. I hadn't had the chance to work with him for a while, so we had to start a few things fresh again, but he was being a very good boy and soon let me touch him all over and responded to groundwork basics again. I then introduced him to responding to lateral pressure in the rope halter, to accepting ropes stretching over and around his hind legs (and to spinning out of being wrapped in a rope), and, finally, introduced him to the very basics of ground driving - accepting me by his ribs while I steered him in the rope halter. We worked a little on going straight, turning right and left, and stopping, after which I felt it was enough for him this day.
I had planned to ride Snicks, but the ground was yucky and slippery, so I settled with lunging him (my boy wasn't too enthusiastic about this and had to be encouraged to move out more a lot), after which we went for an in-hand walk again, accompanied with the same company as the day before. We walked together for a very short distance, though, after which we separated - our companions went home, whereas we walked on. Snickers enjoyed jumping over some ditches, having a sip from the pond and going to look at cars passing by the fence of the Botanical garden, and for a while he didn't even notice that his buddy had gone missing. When he did notice that, we were already very far away from the barn and he got a little nervous, planted his feet for a second and started neighing so loud it was heard even at the barn, but after a little reminder to move on he was again a very good boy and stayed connected, although, when we got closer to home again, he tried suggesting that we should make a shortcut or two. He forgot about home altogether when we found a heap of apples left out for the deer, though.
I liked this walk a lot and hope that it will serve as a trust builder for longer "alone time" trail rides in the future, as he tends to be a bit fresher and antsy in those, if we go without company after a longer break.
Everything has been frozen over with very little snow, so the winter paddock looks like quite a legbreaker - lots of frozen, lumpy mud by the gates and the feeding area. :( I hope it snows soon...
I visited Snicks on Tuesday and first I demonstrated Red to a possible leaser, as the last one broke the contract and the owner of Red is now looking for a new one. As she is abroad, I'm helping out. The potential leaser happened to be an acquaintance of mine from times I used to go to the barn I bought Snicks from. She took a very nasty, injuring fall from her horse a year or so ago, and since then had given her horse to a new home and had developed fear from horses. I think that Red will be a good match for her, he's such a gentle and caring horse, and his need for encouragement at times could help with her need for courage. Red and I did a little groundwork in the moonlight and he was superb. Although I hadn't had the chance to do anything with him lately, he remembered all the basics and even disengaged his quarters from a distance; something that I had only shown to him once.
Doing all this at a slow pace had got me freezing, so after my acquaintance left, I lead Snicks out of his night paddock/shelter and we went on a fast paced walk in-hand in the trails. Our lonely walks, which I have been doing lately, are paying off - Snickers was very, very calm, didn't neigh for his buddies even once, we went on a loose lead and, not far from the home, played a little with the Spanish walk, sitting and rearing. A silhouette of a large, rearing horse in a silver woodland landscape, against the light of a full Moon, is an impressive thing to remember. :)
It has been getting colder lately, so yesterday I visited Snicks just to give him cuddles, a couple of apples and refill the hay and the water. We went on a very short walk as well, and Snicks clearly wanted to do something more, but it was late and I was freezing, so we called it a night.
Although I'd like to do some more riding now, I'm perfectly happy with just spending some time with my lovely boy. He seems to benefit from it as well. :)
Not much has been done. It's still quite cold, yet with no snow, so the ground is still hard and lumpy everywhere. We're mostly just going on walks in-hand and riding bareback, in a rope halter and one rein, both on weekdays and on late working day evenings. On working days, the owners of the other two horses who live outside with Snicks and myself take turns to do late-hour haying and watering, as all the large water buckets in the shelter shattered due to water freezing in them during nights, so it has to be done by hand. Waiting anxiously for warmer weather or at least some snow, so that the ground gets softer!
Yes, riding and some activities are definitely limited, but we can still have fun just hanging around. :)
This weekend I went for a couple of bareback trail rides, in which Snicks behaved perfectly with rope halter/one rein, but yesterday it seemed too cold for that, so I went with him alone for a walk in the trails in-hand. He has steam coming out of his ears, that's how much energy he has from all that standing around and eating hay in the shelter or in the paddock! He was fun to handle, let's put it this way.
Not much has been going on. Due to mostly unusable terrain, I'm just taking Snicks on in-hand walks and spoiling him rotten. As we finally got a bit of snow over the last few days, I did some groundwork yesterday, and boy he had other plans! Being a young, strong and dominant horse, who has been forced into a calmer lifestyle by frozen and lumpy mud (or ice) all over the place, he has accumulated tons of spare energy and is not shy to use it! However, as soon as I get him to concentrate on me, he is good as gold. I suspect that our first rides after the ground is good for riding again, will be...ehm...spirited.
My 1st rides this spring may be a little spirited too - (but I hope not, as I'm not as good a rider as you!) I continue to be amazed at the lack of snow you're having this year, however- We're at 4 feet now- Not too uncommon, but it's been something! (I'll have to remember my geography as I always thought Latvia was parallel with N MI) Anyway, hope you get some good powder soon, and Snicks gets to release some energy :)