Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bath Day and Mane Clipping with Laura

 Thursday, when I went to help Laura I learned how to clip a mule's mane. Mules have manes that stick straight up, like donkeys do(just like Fjords too). For shows, it is conventional to trim the mane to abut an inch long, rather than braiding. Laura demonstrated on BB first. To begin with, she clipped along the neckline of the mule, heading the direction the hairs go. For shorter necked horses, like BB, you clip further done the neck to make it appear longer(similar to adding more braids). Then she began shaving off the outer hairs of the mane to make it thinner. BB has chestnut hairs along the outside of her mane and grey hairs in the middle, so Laura clipped the red hairs off. Next she let me try. It's really easy and simple, and I had no problem doing it. When I had finished, Laura decided to leave BB's mane long because it looked really cute.

 Next, we gave BB and Moxie baths because it was a warm day and we wanted to take advantage of it. Laura showed me how to do it first, and then I did it myself. We used a special horse shampoo that attaches to the hose to spray them down(we gave BB a bath first), then I sponged BB down with a shampoo made for palominos, put the same shampoo in her mane and tail, and finally rinsed her off and put conditioner in her mane and tail. I did the same process with Moxie. BB was a much brighter, golden color by the time we were down, and both mules were soft and clean. Laura trimmed both mules tails, demonstrating how to do it. Bathing horses or mules takes a long time, so by the time we were done it was evening.

  Laura explained how important it is that your horse is well groomed, even if you are just trail riding with friends. You want to give a good impression and show how much you care for your horse. You also want to give a good representation of horses in general, or maybe the breed you have if you have a rare breed, a breed maybe most people have misconceptions about, or in Laura's case a mule. She wants her mules to give a good representation of mules since mules have a bad reputation to some people. She wants to always groom her equines like they are going to be photographed for the Olympics she says.

 We organized the tack room for a few minutes too. I enjoyed giving the muse a bath, and the next warm ay I might be able to give Lucky a bath too. I also might be able come when the veterinarian comes Monday, which will be great because I someday want to be an equine vet so it will be interesting to talk to and watch the vet work.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Equine Chiropractor

 Wednesday, the equine chiropractor came to work on Laura's equine, so I got to watch what a chiropractor does. Basically, a chiropractor fixes the blocked neuro-impulses in the spine and muscles and bringing them back into alignment if needed. This helps with stiffness and joint and back pain, making the equine more comfortable using their back in dressage work. Often scar tissue can build up under the skin, becoming stuck to the spine and making it uncomfortable for the horse because the tissue is restricting the movement. The chiropractor had a special, flat metal tool that she rubbed on the equine's back to detect this tissue. Equine chiropractors have to study at a human chiropractor school or veterinary school after their undergrad, and then take a course specializing in an chiropractic work for animals to get their animal chiropractic license, so becoming one takes quite a bit of schooling.

 It was fascinating to watch the chiropractor work and ask her questions about what she was doing. It was neat to see the tension in the spine relax as she pushed and squeezed the spine, and i could even hear the back pop a few times. After working on the back and hips, the chiropractor would lift the legs, one at a time, and bend it back at the knee(or hock), rotating in and then out. She did this on all four legs. She also worked on the neck, and on one mule she worked on the temporomandibular joint(TMJ), the joint that controls chewing.

This is Lucky. She's putting her ears back a it because she is getting adjusted, but has a very cute face.
 I helped with brining the equines to the chiropractor when she was ready, holding them for the leg and neck work, and putting them away when she was done. When she began working on the last mule, I went to the pasture to grab Lucky and began brushing her out. When Lucky was all brushed out, I worked with turning her on her forehand as I had with Dyna, then brought her to the chiropractor. Great news–the chiropractor gave the clear to start working her, so Lucky will have a week off to recover from the chiropractor and then I'll be able to state riding her!

 After the chiropractor was done, we picked up some wormers and new clippers, so I'll soon be able to learn how to worm and them clip all the equines so they look neat and show ready(there isn't a show soon but Laura wants her equines looking nice).

 I also learned what hay and supplements the equines get, so I an start feeding them too. Also I learned an interesting fact about mules: they have an affinity for mares, more so than most geldings.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Learning to Lunge with Laura and Meeting Lucky

 Tuesday, when working with Laura, I learned how to actually do the lunging. Laura lunged BB first, demonstrating how it looks when a horse/mule in trotting in balance, with their head down as if on a stretchy circle. I was able to see how when a horse/mule is balanced without tension, their loin area springs up and down. It's fascinating to watch. Laura also demonstrated one of the basics of what she does with equines–being able to direct their attention where you want. If you direct their mind somewhere, their feet will follow. She showed me how she can select an object, then gently nudge BB's head toward that object to get her to focus. She then let me try the same thing. This concept is important, especially when I learned to lunged, which I soon did.

 Once I put BB away, I brought Dyna to the round pen, and Laura demonstrated another piece needed for lunging: being able to move the equine's feet. She showed how he can walk toward Dyna's hindquarters to get her to do a turn on the forehand. Then she showed how she can direct dyna's attention to the way she wants Dyna to go, say the right, face Dyna's left should, and get Dyna to turn on her hindquarters. Once I practiced the same thing, she put it together into lunging.

Dyna in the evening sun.
 She started with Dyna facing her, directing her attention the way she wanted, and then have Dyna move her shoulder and go around in a circle. When lunging, she did this without moving her feet because with equines, the one who moves first is lower ranked. to turn Dyna around, she shortens the rope, pointing the whip, which is an extension of the arm, not a punishment, towards Dyna's hindquarters to get Dyna to face her, then switches to lead rope to the other and points toward Dyna's shoulder and directs her attention to the new direction. She does this fluidly. To get Dyna to walk on, she gets more energy in her body and Dyna walks. To trot, she increases her energy and gets the rhythm of the trot her body.

 Then I tried. I was uncoordinated at first, and it took me a while to find the right way to ask for trot without being too energetic and without stepping in front of the drive line, the part of the horse's body you stand next when you lunge, which is right where you sit when riding. it felt really amazing when I got a great trot transition and a smooth change of directions.
Clipping Lucky's muzzle and jaw.

 Next I met Lucky, the mare I will be riding. Lucky is a 17 year old bay Hanoverian/Thoroughbred that was once a jumper in Southern California. She had a few problems and emotional baggage, but Laura took her and began training her about eight years ago. Lucky is a really nice, well behaved mare now. Since she has been out in the pasture for a while, we took her out, gave her a nice grooming(I even clipped her muzzle), and Laura lunged her at liberty, meaning without any tack–no halter or lunge line/lead rope. Lucky was a bit frisky, but otherwise really nice. After working her for a bit, Laura let me come in. First Laura turned Lucky's haunches and front just like she had done with Dyna, with me following. Then I did the same thing, turning her around, then walking a few steps away from her, with Lucky following as if I had an invisible alter and lead. It is really extraordinary and I love how I can learn to build a connection with horses rather than ride and leave.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Interview: Event/OTTB Trainer Laurie Canty

 Today I have an interview with Laurie Canty, an eventing trainer in Southern California with a passion for OTTBs. She also trains Sarah and Hemie, so I met her through them at a horse trial just before I started riding and again last April.  Laurie is really knowledgeable about horses–read this great interview.

How did you get started in eventing?
 When it was time for me to go to college, I had a choice of going to college or going to Ireland to a riding school and getting my teaching certificate. Their called the British Horsemaster's Assistant Instructorship. I chose to go to Ireland to get my teaching certificate when I was out of high school, so I had just turned 18. I went to a school in Ireland. That is where I learned about eventing. I went to a couple of events while I was there with my Irish friends, and I fell in love with it. I got my teaching certificate six months later, returned home, and wanting to be able to do eventing. My first job that I got was with eventing trainer Cory Walkey. She owned one of the first la large barns in Southern California that taught eventing. It happened sort of by chance. I had never heard of eventing before going to Ireland, and that's how I fell in love with it.
Laurie's first event horse. She had since he was born and evented to Preliminary.

What caused you to become interested in OTTBs?
  When I was growing up, at about age six or seven, my father had a racing stable in Chino, California. He bred and raised racehorses. At the time, in the '40s and '50s, he raced Mexico. My father took me to the racetrack whenever he had a horse running. I was his partner in crime, so to speak. I got my first off-the-track racehorse when I was about 15 or 16. It was one of my father's horses, who couldn't run, that he brought back to me in order to ride. I can only say, he's lucky I didn't die. I was young, and had never ridden anything off the racetrack--I didn't have a clue. That was when I first got interested. My father was my very first connection to off-the-track racehorses, so before I even reached 17, I had another one that he got that had only raced a few times, and my next one he got for me from auction as a three year old for $500, and after that I went to Ireland. I had three off-the-track racehorses, and my father had the racehorse barn, so that's how became interested in OTTBs.

 What do like most about OTTBs?
 It's heart, mostly, and I think knowledge that the two foundation sires for the Thoroughbred were three Arabians. I have great respect for what Arabians can do, particularly the ones that are in the Thoroughbred. They have great heart and endurance, with ability to withstand high temperatures when you're riding. Warmbloods cannot handle heat as well as Thoroughbreds. I'd say I love their hearts, their stamina, and their desire to work with you.

What are some challenges training and competing OTTBs?
  The first year is the biggest challenge, because the first thing they ever did in their life was learn to be a racehorse. I've seen too many people be annoyed with what the thought was the right thing to do. They take hold of the bit and try to train then in ways that are confusing to the horse, rather than letting them maybe have six months in the pasture for on the trail, or something that allows the horse understand it has a new job. Especially for eventing, you never want to take that competitive spirit away.
 Could you tell me about your favorite OTTB you have ridden?
  My favorite was probably Attitude Approved. He was just incredibly intelligent and really a first class horse. He did go on later with Jil Walton to be a Four Star horse at Rolex Kentucky under the name Truly Triton.
Attitude Approved at a Novice at Pebble Beach.

 Could you tell me about an OTTB you are currently training?
 One of the horses we got from the HBO show called Luck. He's unusually because he does not have to wear shoes--he has very strong feet. He also did many miles of racing and has a completely sound body. He's one of the lovely horse's that you can get from the track that can be very useful for a long time.He has the natural ability to want to jump, and like a lot racehorses or Thoroughbreds, he finds the flatwork a little frustrating. That's only because they tendency to be horses that want to have a job. They want to working at all times, and sometimes dressage can just be dull, and they become off balance. tHis is what happens to the horse I'm training. Fortunately, we're able to put work into and he's become much better. I can also say that this horse is a perfect example that less is more. When something is hard, he doesn't want to pay attention. Because of this, we have rot take more time with than the average horse.

 I have a Thoroughbred I can probably get to Training Level in six months. Unfortunately he has a racing injury, so I can't do that, but he has the mentality to do it. With horses, you have to make sure the journey is just as much fun as the destination, and as we all know, with horse's there's no such thing as destination.
 Laurie has eventing at Pebble Beach Preliminary.

What do you look for in an OTTB event prospect?
 I look for a horse that has walk with a lot of overstep. There are a lot of lovely horses without a lot of overstep, but that is something I personally look for. As far as conformation goes, I like a shorter back. I'm not terribly picky about the trots that the event people sometimes die for that look like a warmblood trot. I would prefer to have an excellent canter because that's how we jump. The trot can either be average or a 7, because a 7 you can turn into an 8 with training. You can never fix a bad canter. I like a horse that is uphill, of course. That does not mean I would not take a horse that isn't uphill because sometimes with an excellent hind end and a short back, a horse that doesn't have a neck sticking up out of it's shoulders is still easy to get balanced. Of course I want a horse with an intelligent eye. I don't like a horse that stall walks or has some kind of a nervous disorder.

 They need to not be hot right off the bat. I don't mind a little bit of excitement, but you are going to exert them under a lot stress. I don't like a horse with some sort of stress issues, like herd bound problems. I like a horse that when I get on and canter it, it doesn't have a problem in canter. That usually happens if you get the conformation you want. It should have a very balanced canter and you don't have to teach it to go slow.
Shaula, mare Laurie rescued and evented to Preliminary, and later jumpers.
In this picture, they are at Foxfield Jumping Derby in 1982.

What advice do you have for a young rider who aspires to compete in the upper levels of eventing?
Try to find a job when you are a working student. You have to really careful of people taking advantage of you if you do that. The working student situation is something people are less likely to want to do these days. They may want more than knowledge. They don't understand that knowledge is power and that if you work at this barn and have that understanding, then the trainer will do everything they can to teach you. Find a trainer that's passionate. The most important thing is that you are learning, no matter how unfair it is. Be a sponge. Never question, keep your lips sealed, and listen.

 Anything else? 
 The sooner you can start reading books, especially on safety–there's a lot of Pony Club books–the better. Make yourself knowledgeable. Safety is most important, because I've seen people who should know better but don't.

Friday, January 23, 2015

First Day Working with Laura!

 Thursday I had my first real day working with Laura. Since I'm a homeschooler, I can work during the day, which is awesome. This time I learned a lot about how Laura trains and had the chance to watch her ride so I could see her do similar things under saddle as she had on the ground. For the next week or so, I will be practicing groundwork, and once I learn those, I can apply them under saddle. Basically I'll be learning not just how to ride, but more in depth on training and why to do certain things. I'll be learning how to recognize when the horse is in balance and the other finer points of dressage and riding.

 I started out my learning how to clip a muzzle. Laura had brought out BB, one of her mules, who I would clip. BB is a cute mare(she looks like a dark palomino). First, Laura demonstrated how to clip just the long whiskers on BB, only using enough pressure to take off the longer hairs and going toward the end of the muzzle. She showed how to clip the long, fuzzy hairs under the BB's head and little up the cheek, and then I tried. I shaved off the really long hairs to clean up BB's face and make her look nice. Clipping the face is not too hard at all.

 I then put BB"s boots on and turned her out in the big paddock so she could run and play if she wanted to. Next, I got Moxie ready for Laura too lunge and went to watch her ride Dyna. What she does under saddle is similar to what she taught me when lungeing. She showed me at the halt the difference between the horse/mule that is truly round and one simply bending the head. A truly round horse uses his/her back and steps up underneath himself/herself. Staying halted, Laura applied just a bit a leg, and Dyna stepped under herself with her hind legs, becoming truly round. Laura always wants to ask as lightly as possible so the horse/mule is responsive. Laura is also using creating energy in her seat to go faster, and relaxing to go slower.

 At the walk, she showed my how she flexes her mount's head slightly to the inside, then outside a few times to test how flexible the horse/mule is at the moment. She makes sure the horse/mule is in self-carraige(balancing with the weight shifted to the hindquarters without help from the rider) by putting her inside hand forward and patting her mounts neck. If the horse/mule stays round, balance, and on the bit, he/she is in self carriage. Then she trots. She does the same thing a the trot, flexing the horse/mule and then putting her inside hand forward to test if the horse/mule is in self carriage. She then canters a bit, doing the same. She then does the same thing the other way. This is really neat stuff that will take my riding to the next level. I'll be more in tune with the equines I ride, and someday when I much better it will be useful in training horses.

 After that, she lunged Moxie. Again, she wanted him to become balanced at each gait, teaching me to recognize when he was balance. I recognized it a few times, but not every time. At the end of the lungeing session, though, I was able to see a clear difference in his walk from the beginning: he took bigger, more free strides, and his hind legs stepped underneath him more. She rode Moxie for a bit too, doing the same thing as with Dyna.

 I really love be a working student for Laura already. I'm learning something new each time I'm there..

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I'm a Working Student for Laura Hermanson!

 I have some very exciting news! I've been offered a working student position with Laura Hermanson, a local rider. As you may remember, Laura Hermanson went to the last year's U.S. Dressage Finals with her mule, Dyna, the first rider to ever do so. She also owns the local tack shop, so I met her there. Just this past weekend, she offered me a position as working student, and today I went to see her! First, I told her about myself and my experience, then I met one of her mules, Moxie, a dark bay Thoroughbred mule trained through 3rd level. He's a big, sweet one.

  As a working student, I will help take care of her mules for her, brushing and tacking them, and maybe lunging them before she rides in exchange for lessons. I may even be a groom at shows. I will be learning almost constantly, and not just when riding. I'll learn the really important but often overlooked details of caring for the horse and being on the ground with them. I learned that from the time you take the horse(or mule in this case) out of the pasture, you are training him/her. Laura believes in setting the horse up for success and n asking the horse as lightly and subtly as possible, only increasing when needed. One really important thing she stressed as we talked is preparing the horse for anything you do, whether that means leading the horse, stopping, or riding. She demonstrated how she can lead the mules, halting or speeding up, using only her body language---mainly changing the way she breathes(inhaling deeply when going faster and healing to slow down) and creating more or less energy as needed. These things are small, almost imperceptible to people, but horses and mules notice them.
Laura and Moxie

 After demonstrating this with her mule, she let me try. She told me to focus on a spot, the walk purposefully to that place, creating energy as I prepared to go forward. I also walked back and forth, alternating between going slow, fast, even trotting a bit. It's something that takes a while to learn, but I was starting to get it. Personal space and respect are also very important things she mentioned, and Moxie is really good about it. To back an equine up, she simply walks toward him/her, adding energy if needed. There's no need to yank the lead rope.

 Next, she showed my how she tacks up. Again, she stressed the importance of preparing the horse,(mule) running her hands down the legs before putting the boots on. She also showed me the way she places the saddle so that it doesn't restrict the equine's movement. She taught me to feel the scapula(point of shoulder), placing the pad and saddle a bit behind it. This way, the shoulder is covered by the saddle. Then, she taught me the way she bridles, by gently turning Moxie's head toward her, lowering it a bit,   putting the bridle one. She showed me where the noseband should sit, two fingers under the cheekbone, and also where the brow band should be, by the indent over the eye. She taught me how to put the surcingle on, the showed me how she lunges.

Moxie and I.
 As she lunged, she used the same concept of changing the way she breathes and her body position to change the pace of Moxie. She prefers to lunge to train the horse to use his body properly and to build muscle without having the interference of a rider, rather than just to wear them out for get the bucks out. She wanted Moxie to find his balance in each and step underneath himself with his hind legs. Every time Moxie did this in the trot, she would quietly ask for canter, working him just a few circles until he balanced properly, even for a bit, then returning to trot. She also gave him time to stretch. By the end I began to see when he became relaxed and balanced. Laura can tell just by lunging how her ride will be and what to work on. This is just a brief, not so in depth summary of what I learned about lunging. When she was done, I untacked Moxie, helped Laura brush him, led him to his paddock. Laura showed my how she puts her equines away by simply standing out the gait and having them turn around to face her.

  To start out with, I'll be going maybe twice a week to work. I can tell I'll be learning a lot. I will be taking lesson on her 17 year old mare(not a mule), but more in depth on that later as this post is long. I'm really excited about this!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Like Pieces of a Puzzle

 Friday I rode Moe again. Unfortunately, I won't be able to work out something with Ronnie as it looks now, but my plan that I mentioned in an earlier post may help. Again stay tuned because it's almost ready.

For most of my lesson, I was focusing on relaxing my body, keeping my legs soft and sit up tall with my shoulders back. I started out by doing simple leg yields from quarter line to the rail on a loose rein. At first, since by body was tense I ended up twisting my entire body and letting my position slip each time I leg yielded, rather than simple apply more pressure with my inside leg. As I rode, I thought I lot about my position, and my leg becoming much better. I began gripping Moe with the inside of my calf, not my knee. I was also sitting up taller. Once I had sorted out my balance, I cantered right.

 After the canter, which I did at a circle at C, I focused on balancing Moe with half halts, asking for roundness, and keeping her at a constant, steady tempo. She tends to anticipate doing more cantering after the first time cantering, so I had keeping her from breaking into canter. I started to develop a feel for when she was about to speed up and half halted accordingly. After working on this for quite a bit, I managed to get a really nice balanced trot.

 Once I did, I tried to repeat that during the dressage test, which went smoothly. I didn't do the canter left, but the canter right was really nice and Meghan said it was the best it's been with me riding her. She was balanced, not taking off and went a nice tempo. It's amazing how nicely things go once the small(but important) details are sorted out. I had also recently read an article about the arms, hands, and outside rein, which helped my a lot because I struggle with the same thing the author of the article does.

 At the end of the lesson, I did the leg yield on a loose rein from quarter line to the rail. The difference was amazing! I was more relaxed and confident and only had to use a light squeeze with my inside leg to push Moe over. My body was straight and moving my leg didn't affect the rest of my body at all.

 Monday, Moe was pretty relaxed, except she freaked out a bit when I got on because I may have put my toe in her on accident. She quickly moved sideways, away from the mounting block. Before riding Chester I might have fallen, but I've developed a better seat since I started riding him in June from learning to ride him through his challenges.

 I did a similar thing, starting with leg yields and then riding on a serpentine, canter in the middle. Moe didn't pick up the correct lead heading left, so I tried again on the way back, and when she still didn't, Meghan told to me do a diagonal and serpentine the other way. The other way around, I go a nice canter, and made a circle at E rather than moving on to the next part of the serpentine. I focused on sitting deep in the saddle rather than leaving air between my bum and the saddle. I managed to get it for a few strides and felt much more secure.

 Practicing the test went smoothly, too. and I even got Moe to pick up the left lead. To finish, I did leg yields in the trot. Several of them were really nice and smooth--it felt great. Meghan also said that my elbows were much better Monday! It also feels great that the pieces of the puzzle are beginning to come together. My position is improving, my seat is becoming more independent, and the smaller details are coming together now that I can fairly confidently walk, trot, and canter and have control over the horse.
P.S. Couldn't post the pictures yet.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Years and Christmas Eve Rides

I haven't done much riding these past few weeks with Christmas and New Years going on, but I did ride on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. Christmas Eve, I rode Ronnie in the arena outside of a lesson for the first time. When I was getting, she wasn't wanting to stand still and was impatient, so my more experienced friend Maddie lead her around one side of the arena with me on, then gave me advice. She said to keep Ronnie on a loose rein and not be nervous.

 Surprisingly, Ronnie was just the opposite for the rest of t he ride and needed a lot of leg to go forward. However, her canter was really nice. It was balanced, without being too fast or slow, and I kept her on the 20 meter circle without using my outside hand. It felt great and was one of those rides I didn't want to end.

 New Year's Eve, I rode Moe instead. I was geared up in my new boots, breeches, and belt that I had got for Christmas. Moe was relaxed and wasn't her usual racehorse fast self. It took my a bit to get used to my new boots, but by the end of the lesson, I was even gripping with calves, which I have been struggling with these past two months.

 I wasn't able to get left lead canter, which Moe has some difficulty with. She's likely sore on one side because she's an older horse. When she gave right lead on a left circle, I simply made a diagonal to fix it. At one point she cross cantered and it was hard to maintain my balance,so I returned to trot and changed direction to canter right instead.

 At the end of my lesson, I practiced my dressage test, Training Level 1. It went very well, except for the left lead canter part. Moe just wouldn't canter left. Only just before the canter was supposed to be over did she canter on the left lead for a few strides. I patted and praised her, then completed the test,which went smoothly the rest of the way.

 I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Years. and have a great 2015! Also I have something exciting planned but won't let the cat out of the bag until February so stay tuned!I'm just getting the last few details planned out.