Yesterday I had planned to go on a trail ride with a barnmate of mine. It was a lovely, sunny day, although very windy, and I felt that trails would do good to him after all the vigorous arena training before the show. However, my riding buddy's horse turned up with a freshly punctured leg and was a little lame, so the ride was cancelled. I didn't pluck up the courage to go alone, as we hadn't visited trails for so long and Snickers can be at times very strong there, if in high spirits - which he was yesterday. I used to go trail riding alone all the time in the past, but my confidence is somewhat lacking after an incident of us nearly being hit by a mad driving four-wheeler and Snickers giving me a broncing fit out of fear this summer.
So, we stayed in the arena and I decided to go for lunging him in a chambon. That is the only contraption I sometimes use and will ever use. Before I turned to seriously improving both of our skills, I just let him move with his head high in the trot, so I decided to gradually introduce him to a chambon that encourages him to stretch long and low. Hopefully, it will help him build the right muscles and a stronger topline over time. Also, this is the only training in which I use a bitted bridle, as the chambon won't give a correct pressure in a hackamore or a halter. I use a double-jointed sweet iron-copper bit with loose rings, which fits his mouth nicely, although Snickers isn't too happy about bits in general.
His teeth are floated up to date, but he has a history of bit abuse - his first owners just put a bit in his mouth one day, used very heavy hands and sawing, got him resisting violently and took it out for good, leaving him with a memory that bits mean pain and frustration only. I have re-introduced to him gradually and he will now ride relaxed in a bit on a loose rein, but he tenses up with any contact - still lots and lots to do in this.
However, he was being a good boy about the lunging, although it visibly bores him and I had to remind him several times to be more active at the trot. Sleeping is by all means his favorite gait, when it comes to working.
We had a wonderful groundwork session yesterday. Mostly it's me who has issues in those, not Snickers. Despite his sometimes robust and unshakeable outer image, he's extremely sensitive and hates any outbursts of hasty emotions, unjust cues or simply a too dominant style of leadership. I'm a follower of Ingela Larsson-Smith's idea of the leading (vs the dominant) style of training, and Snickers is very responsive when I get it right. Yesterday was the day. We worked on direction changes during the circling game, transitioning between trotting/walking/stopping/backing up/going sideways from mere changes in my focus and body language (no use of the leadrope or the training stick), and yielding the shoulder rhythmically in front of me, so that in the end it began looking like small sideways rears. He enjoyed all of that a lot and we had a splendid evening. When I let him out in the pastures again, he stayed with me and refused to join the herd - I had to leave, though, as I was not to miss my train home, but he has been progressively fond of my company in the fields.
Today I knew something was a bit off as soon as I saw him in the pastures. A quick checkup showed nothing, though, and he walked just fine, so we walked down to the riding arena where I checked again on his overall health, saw nothing suspicious (breathing fine, gut sounds fine, hooves and tendons fine) and tacked him up for a ride. At the walk, everything was almost ok, although he was a bit more resistant to move actively, but, as soon as we hit the trot, I felt he was going out of rhythm and dismounted. Lunging at the trot revealed a slight stiffness/lameness in his right hind leg, originating from the top part of it, and after palpating it I discovered that he had been kicked by another horse. Oh well, a couple of days off for my boy! Gave him a comfrey based remedy for bruises and spent the remaining evening with him out in the pastures. He seemed very content and chose staying with me over joining the roaming herd.
While my boy rested, I continued working with Magic, a 3yo pony mare that was trusted to me by her owner to work on her ground manners and a little bit of riding. She was backed this summer. Magic is a very clever girl, although she tends to spook and to barge in your space, but we've gained lots of progress - she has successfully learned to yield to pressure in different ways, to accept a person mounting her from a mounting block, to de-tangle herself from a rope around her hind legs, to stand quietly while I'm doing all sorts of crazy and loud things around her (she is meant to become a kids riding pony over time and needs to be as calm as possible), to ride bitless, to lead effortlessly in walk and trot and some other basic things.
I had been skipping work with Magic over the last few weeks due to getting Snickers fit for our first competition and having to move the barn inventory over to a different location, so I didn't expect much of this bouncy pony, believing that some things we'd have to do all over again. However, she was nothing but a pleasant surprise - Magic remembered everything as if our last session was just a day ago, and we could go further in her training. Did a little bareback riding in a rope halter and she was just a doll, also, much calmer than with a bit. She is pleasure to be around and, if I could afford to keep two horses, I'd buy her.
While Snickers was in rest, I decided to do a little trim on his hooves last Sunday, but it turned out to be a hard task. He was bored out of his wits and wanted action, also, his hip (the one which had been kicked) was okay again (Yay!) so he kept pulling his leg out of my hands. I offered him two choices - either stand quietly with a lifted leg, either work hard and fast at trot and canter - going sideways, backwards, in circles, yielding all his parts... I admit, I was more dominant than I actually like to be and I regretted some of my choices afterwards, but through this session I discovered that Snickers actually CAN go sideways at a canter (no longer he will be able to pretend that he can't ) and we got those front feet trimmed.
However, I am aiming to become less and less dominant over time. It is not how his mind works and he needs a leader, not somebody to pick fights with.
Then, this Tuesday, I visited him to go on a ride, but was too lazy to tack up properly, so I just used my bareback pad and my rope halter, and we went for a stroll, during which I worked on our stops, backing up, yielding fore- and hindquarters separately. We finally managed to do backing up from a slight change in the seat and I'm very content with that.
We're having a chiro from Scotland visiting us this Sunday - funny thing, we don't have proper chiros here in Latvia so foreign professionals have to be invited to come over. I'm glad to have this opportunity - been wanting to tune up Snickers at least once a year for a while.
And, the latest news are not happy at all - the BO decided that she needs a major change in her lifestyle and is shutting down the barn. She is currently selling all her horses, including Magic, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she is bought by a friend of mine - she'd have a wonderful home then and I'd be able to visit.
This also means I have to find a new boarding facility for Snickers and me until the last week of September. I honestly don't have an idea of where we are going to end up right now.
Thanks! I have a few options, but none are perfect. I have quite a high standard of how I want my horse to be living, so it's a bit complicated. For one, I want 24/7 pasturing in winter and it's not such a popular way of keeping horses over here - not yet. There is a barn with such a possibility and with a free boarding space for Snickers, but it is quite far and the riding arena has a very hard surface, so riding would be quite limited, which is not what I want... Will see, everything always sorts out somehow.
I'm quite sad about the BO's decision, though... I really enjoyed entrusting Snickers to her and she's a good jumping trainer.
Before I rode Snickers last night, I had to lunge a horse as per request of his owner, and I just let Snickers roam in the riding arena, as there were no other riders. Snicks was being impatient and trying to "help" me by chewing on the lunge line, trying to make the other horse go faster, coming to stand by my side and generally acting like a persistent kid. He was clearly jealous and wanted me to turn my attention to him, but he had to wait.
After that it was getting darker quickly and our arena has no lightning, so I tacked Snicks up and hopped on for some flatwork. Just this June he was still a horse with very little "Go", but it seems I have managed to change that - he is now very forwards and this evening wasn't an exclusion. We worked on pivoting on his hind legs and going forwards from that at an active pace and on trot-canter/walk-canter transitions. Snicks was flying! I had to let him to have a good run around the perimeter at a fast canter to let his steam out, but he could have been going more and more, if I had let him. There were moments when he tried cantering when I just asked for a tad more hindleg engagement at the walk and I am very pleased to see such energy in him. He is by no means too hot, just really forwards and happy to go, which is such a relief! When we came to walking off, I worked a little on neck reining, because hey - although we have no Western riding in Latvia, it doesn't mean I can't dig up some information and do a couple of things at a basic level! He got the idea and now we have a lot of refining and tuning up to do.
Yay for Magic! She is being sold to my friends, I will still be able to visit her and she's going to her new home this Saturday. Until that I'm continuing to work with her almost daily on accepting new situations and on riding in a halter, as she will be going to a strictly bitless home. To be honest, she is much, much calmer without a bit, I observe lots and lots of stretching long and low, chewing and licking, and being much more relaxed in general. We progressed today to trotting in a rope halter, and she was being a doll, as always. No spook, no rushing, no tension. Over these days, I've also introduced her to free jumping, going from just crossing a ground pole, then a low cross rail, and then a 50cm high vertical. Although her first reaction was refusing anything that is higher than ground, it needed just a little bit of encouragement, and, after that, everything went beautifully. She seemed to really enjoy herself while jumping and her natural jumping form is very nice. She could make a wonderful jumping pony later in life.
I will have to help her load in the trailer this Saturday and I'm not really sure how will it go. We haven't had the chance to work on this (trailer was never available), but I've been told she loaded without any problems about a year and a half ago. Meanwhile, I'm working on her being able to climb on a concrete ramp and, hopefully, that will help us with the trailer.
The chiro was a real blessing to Snickers. Although it seemed to me that his hind legs might be stiffer than I'd like them to be after last years' abscesses in his fronts, the chiro came to a conclusion that the real reason for it is a stiff front end - most likely, the abscesses are to be blamed in this, too. He worked for a good half an hour and instructed me to continue doing simple massages on Snicks' shoulders and neck for three weeks. Snickers has already showed some noticeable improvement and today I felt much more hind leg involvement than before. I am currently working on improving his stamina, so we are using endurance training plan with much more trotting (without breaking the gait). I am also concentrating on my seat and using the trotting periods for trotting without stirrups, in two-point, in two-point with my arms outstretched, and so on. I am really glad that Snickers is so reliable, because I can send him out in a canter around the arena and just go into two-point with my arms outstretched, even when there is nobody around to lunge us. It's a simple, yet a really valuable exercise for finding a true balance in the two-point, so I find it extremely important to practice it whenever I can.
Due to weather becoming chilly, Snickers is extremely full of energy and it sometimes makes me giggle, how the horse with no-go now sometimes needs a stern reminder that "stop" means "STOP RIGHT NOW", not "maybe after a few more canter paces".
And other news - we've decided about a place to move. It is very close to the current facility and we will be able to go there by foot. Also, some other horses from our herd have already moved there, so it will be easier for Snickers to blend in, besides, his two best buddies are moving there along with him. The owners are quite inexperienced, but they are really open to new information, so, hopefully, it will be a fine place with really beautiful surroundings where to spend at least this winter. Fingers crossed.
I've been having lots to do, so less time for writing here, but better now than never, right?
Last Saturday, Magic went to her new home. Although she hadn't been trailered in about two years, she loaded the trailer effortlessly and just followed me inside. I kissed her lots of goodbyes and finally climbed out of the trailer to watch her leave. As far as I know, she's settling in nicely and already breaking some hearts. My sweet girl. :)
Then Sunday came. Snickers, two of his best buddies, and a mare were the last to stay in the old pastures. They had observed the rest of the herd leave and not return for several days, and were quite stressed. After checking on them in the arena, we (the owners of the other horses and myself) were ready and set to go. The tack had been transported to the new barn earlier, and now he had just 3.5 km to walk until we got to the new barn. It is situated in the remote part of our National botanical garden and has some really beautiful surroundings. Our horses were already acquainted with the new herd before, so settling was easy, at least, for Snickers, unless we count the fact that another gelding took his mare. I am now hoping for a good winter, but, up to now, everything is looking good. Fingers still crossed.
Snicks today. I'll upload some pictures of our moving later -
(P.S. - I never leave him tied up unsupervised in a rope halter, this was just a moment to take this picture.)