Saturday, February 28, 2015

Getting to Know Dyna

 I went to Laura's both Thursday and Friday. To begin both days, I cleaned Dyna's stall. Dyna is one of those equines that takes time to trust people, so by being around her in her space for a little bit each day, I can slowly build her trust. Then when I handle her we can both be conformable around each other and she will trust and have confidence in me.  When I first entered her paddock, I focused on getting her attention on me and drawing her toward me as I do when lungeing. I got her attention by tapping my leg and clucking. It took me a few minutes to get her to come to me. I had to walk toward her hips, cluck, wait until she looked, then took a small step back. Dyna then took a few steps toward me and focused on me. When she did, I approached her, petting her and letting her know that it feels good to be with me.  I then went on to clean the paddock. Friday, Dyna actually came up to me without me asking her when I was in the middle of cleaning. She waited beside me for a few minutes.

 Thursday, I lunged Lucky on my own, without Laura watching until the end. I'm getting better at asking Lucky to do what I want using small cues. I focused on controlling my breathing, too, to get Lucky to relax and breathe.  Laura recommended I do this, and I used a technique in the book Centered Riding. Sometimes, by unconsciously holding our breathes or not breathing deeply, we can make the horse do the same and become tense. When Laura came, she told me to turn Lucky's head to the inside by squeezing the lunge line and pointing at Lucky's side with the whip to get her bend. Laura demonstrated this, and then I tried. I kept Lucky on a small circle at the walk, squeezing and releasing when needed. When Lucky was bending really nicely, Laura decided I should finish there. It's always good to end when the horse is going nicely.

Thursday, we also began preparing for a donkey clinic that Laura will be hosting at the end of March. It's going to be a fun day,  and I am looking forward to it! I will mention more as it draws near.

 Friday, Lucky was at the other end of her pasture, which is pretty big, and didn't want to come all the way up to me when I shook a bucket of grain, stopping when she was about maybe 20 to 30 yards away. Laura decided to let me try on my to catch her so that I can learn. I decided to try what I did with Dyna, taking a few steps toward Lucky and making a sound by clucking and clapping my leg. I waited a few moments. Lucky stared at me, her ear perked, so I took a step back. She then began approaching me. It's really neat how everything I am learning with Laura fits together and helps with all aspects of horsemanship, not just riding.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jumping Position Lessons!

 For my past two rides on Lucky, I rode in a jumping saddle, and will continue to do so for the next few months. This can help me develop a better balance because jumping saddles are harder to balance in than dressage saddles, the latter of which are meant to carry a rider in an upright position and good balance.

Nice picture from Saturday. Lucky is actually
coming round(which I hadn't tried to do),
and the fog on the hills adds a pretty touch.
 Friday, before riding, Laura and I dragged the two arenas and the round pen. We first had to partly deconstruct the dressage arena and remove some panels on the round pen and the other arena. Then we hooked the truck to the arena drag, which looked something like a giant rake. We circled the inside of the arenas until the footing was soft and nicely drug. Then I got out BB for Laura to ride. While she rode, I took out Lucky and began lungeing her. She has been getting much more responsive to my slightest aids each time I have worked her. Her trot was really big and nice.

 Most of my ride, I focused on my two-point position. I rose out of the saddle and leaned forward, pressing my hands into her neck. Lucky had a jump strap on, so I held onto that for balance. It took a while to find my balance, and I wasn't able to hold it for two long–sometimes my legs would slip back or I just wouldn't be in balance. However, when I put my legs forward and underneath me, sank my weight into my heels, and opened my chest, coming into balance, I could really feel the difference. I could feel Lucky's back swing freely underneath her. It was a great feeling. I kept on transitioning between posting trot and two-point throughout the lesson.

What went well:
Working on two-point
  • Lucky was responding more to my aids at a forward pace. I think this is because of the lungeing work I have been doing, which caused her to gain respect for me and caused me to grow more confident in what I was asking.

I have good elbows here!
Saturday, I rode Lucky again. This time she was also intone and listening to me. I was in two-point for a lot of the lesson and was in pretty good balance for some of the ride. Again, I could really feel these moments because Lucky's back would swing and her stride would become more free. I did an exercise much like I had done in one of my first rides on Lucky. There was a pole in the center of the arena, and cones parallel to it. This time there were two cones on each side so that I would make a larger circle. I would circle the cones on one side, head across the pole at an angle, then circle the other cones, continuing the figure eight. While circling the cones I rode in a posting trot. Then I would point Lucky toward the center of the pole, rise into my two point, and continue the exercise. This exercise will help with making straight lines toward a jump when I begin jumping. I had difficultly riding Lucky over the center of the pole–I drifted to one side. I was able to get her closer to the center when weighted the other stirrup to get her to go the other way.

 I also cantered Lucky for the first time! I had trouble getting her to canter at first, and I was all over the place and not on the rail, but Lucky had a really nice canter. She doesn't take off or jump into canter. For the most part, though, I will be working on getting a balanced two-point these next few months, which will come with time as I continue to build the correct muscles and strength.

What went well Saturday:

  • Better balance at two-point
  • More in tune with Lucky
  • I kept her straight most of the time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Centered Riding

 Laura recently lent me a book called Centered Riding, by Sally Swift. This book is one of lLaura's favorites, and I can tell just by looking through it and reading the first few chapters that some of what Laura has taught me comes from this book. Centered Riding isn't a book that tells you how to ride. rather, it is a book the uses phycological images to give a more centered approach to riding. I am going to study this book and write posts about the notes that I take and what I learn. Mostly for myself because writing down what I learn helps me to learn, but I also hope that my readers can learn from it too.

 What is centered riding?
 Centered riding is a centered approach to riding based on mental and physical images. It focuses on how your body works, your ability to function unhampered, and your awareness and use of your energy. This is something that makes this book and its author unique. While many trainers and books focus on what to do to get a certain result, which is of course important, Sally Swift focuses on how to use your body to do things.
From Amazon

 Unbalanced, tense riders drop down heavily into the saddle when mounting, or thump into the saddle at the trot, making the horse uncomfortable and irritated. They may also use conflicting aids, such as pulling and kicking and the same time, which confuses and frustrates the horse because they cannot do what the rider is asking them to do since the rider is unintentionally preventing them to do so. This like someone tying your elbows behind your back and asking to throw a ball, as the author writes.

However, a balanced rider makes a horse much more comfortable, allowing their backs to swing more freely and their body to become round more easily. A horse that seems unbalanced and resistant with an unbalanced rider can seem to change completely.

 By learning how to their bodies work, using their knowledge of how correct form balance looks like, a rider can improve coordination and balance. This is where the concepts in the book come in.  As I read, I will share what I learn about these concepts.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lucky Cleared for Canter Work!

 I had a fun day at Laura's on Monday, spending most of the day there. There was a lot going on that day: the farrier, chiropractor, and a woman who does equine body works was there. Before they arrived, though, I lunged and rode Lucky.

 The lungeing went so much better after I had established to Lucky that I was the leader the time before. Horses and mules really do start off where we left off and remember what they did last time. This time around Lucky respond to more subtle, quieter cues. I didn't have to even use the whip. My focus for that lungeing session was to ask Lucky to do what I wanted in the smallest way possible, and it worked well. After the first few minutes, she listened vey carefully to the slight changes in my body. In fact, just by looking in the direction I wanted her to go, what Laura does when preparing to ask for trot(to the left lungeing when to the left and right when going right), Lucky responded by trotting right away. It's such as great feeling for a horse to be in tune with you enough to trot off at just slight change in your body.
No new pictures so here's one of Lucky I took  couple weeks ago.

 Since Lucky was listening nicely, Laura recommended asking for bigger and smaller trot strides. for smaller strides I would relax my energy, and for bigger trot strides I would look where I wanted lucky to go and give a cluck if needed. There was one time when I asked a little too strongly(I slightly lifted the whip by accident), and Lucky broke into canter and kicked up her heels. I remain calmed and lowered the energy in my body, calmly saying "whoa." After that, Lucky's trot was actually much nicer and bigger, like a fancy dressage trot. It actually made her feel good to get her adrenaline going.

 Afterward, I rode Lucky for a little bit on the lunge line(Lucky still can't work too long). Laura was controlling the steering, and I just controlled the speed. I wasn't completely without reins but kept them at the buckle just in case I need to stop her. I worked on keeping my elbows bent and hands the right distance apart. In the posting trot I focused on bring the center of my body up and towards my hands. I also tired to establish an even two beat rhythm. I then tried staying up for two beats and sitting for one, but I had trouble with it. I certainly need to work on my two point! I'l be doing more lunge lessons in the future.

 After that, the chiropractor and farrier came, so I helped fetch and hold horses and mules. There was also someone there who does equine body work(massage and other things that release tension in the body). She demonstrated on Lucky how she gently squeezes the muscles behind the poll to release tension. Blinking, snorting, and chewing are all signs that tension has been released. Here is a more in-depth description of what she did. Lucky also was work on by the chiropractor. The chiropractor gave exciting news: Lucky is cleared for canter work under saddle! Woo-hoo! I'm so excited.

 Also, Laura was featured in a Horse Illustrated article. Check out my post about it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Laura Hermanson in Horse Illustrated Article!

 As soon as I got my March Horse Illustrated magazine, I turned straight to page 16. Why, you may ask? An article written by Laura just appeared in it, that's why. Laura sent ant article to the magazine about her trip to the Dressage Finals in 2014 and how she became interested in mules. She actually fell in love with mules while working at the pack station in Yosemite National Park, later buying one of the pack mules, Stretch. Stretch is a real character and has lots of personality. Laura jumped Stretch and I think she did some reining too. Now that he is retired, he roams around the ranch. He's an obnoxious little mule as she says in the article.
On the cover page, too!

 More importantly, Laura explains her love for mules and what makes them unique. Mules are smart with a lot personality, which is one reason why they are labeled as "stubborn," when in fact they are just smart. Training them is challenging because of this, but also rewarding. They just require a lot more time and patience than horses do. She also goes on to explain how she found Dyna and began going to dressage shows with her. Laura actually did a lot of other disciplines with Dyna first to get her mentally prepared, including reining, cutting, and jumping. Laura really loves trying all kinds of disciplines, Western and English, learning more about horses and riding that way. Furthermore, horses and mules enjoy variety rather than doing the same thing over and over.

First page on the article.

Secretariat quote. <3

 It's also amazing how much support she got when going to the Finals, from competitors and fans alike, but I won't spoil it! If you are subscribed to Horse Illustrated, or can find it in your local tack/feed store, just check out the article so you can learn more about Laura, Dyna, and mules. I think it is really amazing that Laura was featured in Horse Illustrated, a magazine that a wide range of horse people around the country have access to. I think it is so great that mules can be seen in a positive light through Laura's article, because many people have misconceptions about them. Her story also inspires many mule owners and riders with unusual mounts, as well as many other people, and shows them that anything is possible. Laura even told me that people from Slovenia wrote her letters telling her how inspired they were and that now they feel that their riding goals can come true, even though they they don't have the best fancy warmbloods, and their horses are mostly mixed breeds. She inspires me, too. Turn to page 16 and read this amazing article.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Follow the Leader

 Friday at Laura's, after grooming the mule BB and tacking her for Laura to lunge while she worked with Dyna, I lunged Lucky. This time I was really focusing on being her leader and getting her to respond right away to my cues. Lucky still needs to get more forward when asked. She likes to settle into a western jog pace or perhaps a slow hunter hack pace when I ask for trot. However, we want a big, expressive movement in dressage.

 Previously, and for most of yesterday's lungeing, I had been clucking multiple times in a row before slapping the ground with the whip. However, to get a more immediate response I should cluck once with meaning and then follow with the whip if needed, smacking the ground. Clucking while lungeing is like asking nicely with your calf. Smacking the ground with the whip is like giving the horse a kick under saddle.You don't want to continuously kick, kick, kick. Similarly, you don't want to chase the horse with the whip.

What I learned is that you can't babysit them. By this Laura means that you can't constantly ask them to go forward every stride. You want to give them a chance to make a mistake, let them make it, and then correct them. Otherwise the won't learn how to do things on their own without being asked every stride. Laura demonstrated this with Lucky. She would cluck once to ask Lucky to trot, immediately smacking the ground with the whip if Lucky didn't respond or if Lucky responded with a slow jog. This way, she established herself as the leader.

 Then, I tried. While early, Lucky had been responding a bit half-heartedly because she didn't see me as the boss, once I asked the way Laura did, Lucky's responses were more immediate. If she slowed down her trot even a bit, I again asked. However, it was until Lucky went into my space without me asking, and I actually had to give her a smack with the whip, that she listened. Going into my space, especially when I wanted her to go around me, isa big no-no.

 After that, she intend nicely and it took only the slightest commands to get her moving forward. If she didn't respond to the cluck, I could barely lift the whip and she'd respond. Laura decided that it was best to end with that without me riding because I had gained Lucky's respect and she say me as her leader. It's always good to end when the horses finally get something or do something really well rather than push them too hard. There would be no sense in me riding her and asking more after she had done so well, so Laura decided to save it for another day. Soon, I might be doing a lesson with me riding on the lunge line with no reins to work on my balance and seat.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Asking Clearly to Get What You Want

 Wednesday, when I went to ride Lucky and help Laura, I lunged Lucky by myself while Laura rode Dyna. Now that I had an idea of what I was supposed to do and what I was asking for, the lungeing went much better. I looked for the moments when Lucky was balanced, stretching her neck down. At these moments I asked for a transition, because it is important for horses to remain balanced throughout transitions, and to do this they must already be balanced! I did lots of transitions and changed directions multiple times to work both sides. Laura watched me for a few minutes to see what I had been doing, and said that I had done a good job!

 This also applies to riding. You have to know what it is you want, and how to ask for it, because if you don't know what you want your horse doesn't either. I was able to get Lucky forward and on the bit. I needed to get her to the pace I wanted by asking softly at first, and then stronger, and then soft again rather than kicking every stride. I worked mostly on a 20 meter circle, using my body to turn and my inside leg to keep her bending.
Picture of me riding Lucky!

 Something I have been struggling with is keeping my elbows bent. I keep making my arms straight, which jars the horses mouth and does anything but give an elastic connection. At these moments, of course, Lucky didn't come round and forward. However, when I really focused on keeping my elbows aligned, my legs stretching down and my body stretching nice and tall, everything came to place. Laura likes to use the figurative description on your legs stretching way into the earth like trees, and your upper body stretching way up to the sky. This description really helps.

 Now, the quick break down. What to work on:

  • Elbows bent!
  • Don't let the reins slip–fingers shut.

What went well:

  • I was asking more clearly
  • I didn't rely on my hands
  • I had good geometry on my circle
Also, in other news spring is on it's way! Large clumps of hair came out when I curried Lucky. It won't be long until she has a nice, sleek summer coat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Practicing Lungeing

 Monday, I only lunged Lucky. I was pouring done rain all weekend, so Laura decided I would ride Wednesday instead. Since Lucky is a very sensitive horse, by lungeing her I can develop my lunging cues and position when lungeing her. Just by being a bit in front of the driveline, towards the middle of the horse where you stand when lungeing, Lucky will slow down. Laura was with me in the round pen to help and instruct me.

 Before starting, I stood beside Lucky, entry tossing the lunge whip over her back to make sure she would stand still and not be worried. When Laura got her, Lucky was afraid of whips. She's fine now, but it's good practice even if a horse is totally fine with them. Lucky didn't move at all, so I moved my left hand to the side to point her forward and gently tapped her shoulder to push her out on the circle. At first I struggled with finding the right position on the ground and staying there. I kept getting far in front of the driveline, which of course slowed her done. As she walked around me, I tried asking for a bigger walk and then for the trot. I did this by gaining more energy in my body, looking where I wanted her to go, and clucking, tapping the whip on the ground when necessary to reinforce this.

  I did lots of transitions because Laura does a lot of them to teach the horse to stay balanced as the gait changes. To return to the walk I relaxed in my body and gave slight squeezes to the lunge line when I needed to. I also changed Lucky's directions multiple times. To do this I pointed to Lucky's hip with the hand my rope was in, shortened the rope, and took a step back to encourage Lucky to draw into me. It took a while for me to get this coordinated, but I had a nice one at the end. Laura lunged her afterward with the side reins, and I stayed in the round pen to watch what Laura does more closely.

 I also lunged BB, the palomino mule, doing the same thing I did with Lucky. I sometimes had to tap BB's shoulder when she leaned in a bit,  and I actually started to notice thee subtle changes without being told. There were also a couple times when BB glanced towards us and offered to come in towards us. Knowing that BB was ready to listen, Laura said to watch for these moments and simple back off without pointing towards BB's hips to turn them. Sure enough, BB walked toward me when I invited her in.Laura said that I have good natural intuition("feel" as it is sometimes called) with horses, even if don't know a lot. I  just need to learn how develop it and use it.

 It was really great to be able to feel some of these moments and to practice lungeing. Lunging is a great and useful technique to learn and can help the under saddle things, too, as I have learned. Also, update n the mule that the vet came to see: the had an inflamed tendon sheath, which covers the tendon, and is now back to work. It was only a minor injury.

Friday, February 6, 2015

First Two Rides on Lucky!

 Thursday, I rode Lucky for the first time. Laura lunged her first, focusing on getting Lucky to become balanced and relaxed, without having a lot of tension in her body. When Lucky was ready, I led her to the arena and mounted. For my first ride on her, she was a bit slow and behind my leg.
I gave Lucky a bath after Thursday's ride.

The first lesson was mainly focusing on me, my position, and my turning. Laura said that I have good leg position and equation and that my leg is very still, which is great! I rode Lucky on a figure eight around to cones, with two parallel poles in the middle part where I changed directions. the poles would help me to keep Lucky straight.

 Laura taught me how to use me body, not my hands to turn when riding, by slightly turning my shoulders and looking where I want to go. Lucky is really sensitive, so I didn't need to turn much. In fact, I ended up turning to much at first, going to the inside of the cone by accident instead of the outside. I tried this at the walk and trot. Learning this also gives me the ability to turn a horse's hips the same way I learned on the ground. By turning to face Lucky's hip, I could make her do a turn on the forehand. Laura helped on the ground at first, and then I was able to do it on my own.

Lucky drying after her bath.
 Friday's ride went better. Lucky was forward and in front of my leg, was better balanced, and more loose in her back. I worked motley on the rail, trying to keep the rhythm I wanted, rather than let Lucky set the rhythm. I did this by slowing my posting to get a shorter stride, quickening it to for a larger stride. It's amazing how little things in the body can affect the horse. I was also able to get her on the bits few times.

 To finish the lesson, I rode exercise that helped me ride straight and make better turns. There was a single pole near the middle of the arena, with a cone near each end of the arena. At the center of the pole was an orange flower. In the exercise, which I started at the walk, I would start at one end with a cone to my left, pointing Lucky toward the middle of the pole. When was heading there, I focus beyond it. I would them turn around the other cone and repeat the exercise, like doing a figure eight. I focused on using my body to turn, not my hands. First, walked the exercise, then trotted. I was actually fairly close to the flower during the exercise and was able to use my body. One time, when trotting around the cone to the left, Lucky was balanced and the turn was coming from my turning my body to face the pole. It felt great, so Laura decided to end on the good note.
Diagram of the exercise. Not to scale.

 After every ride, Laura likes to find a few things that went well or the things she accomplished, no matter how frustrating the ride was, whether it is something her horse did well or something she did well. This can be getting a good distance over a jump, or your horse going the whole ride without freaking out at something if you have a hotter horse. We came up with these things together:

Cute Lucky after the ride.
  • Lucky was more forward and balanced
  • My hands and body were more quiet than the first time riding her
  • I used my body to turn her, not completely relying on moving my hands everywhere

 I really love riding Lucky' she's a fun horse

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Visit from the Vet

 Monday, the vet came to see one of Laura's mules because the has lately been holding her right hind leg off the ground, hardly err putting weight on it. While it's not unusual for an equine to not put weight on one foot, it is unusual for Laura's mule to only rest one leg. While the mule hasn't taken an unsound step, Laura wanted to the vet to come just in case something was wrong. Because I someday want to an equine veterinarian, Laura invited me to come watch. The vet who came is really great. Not only does she really care about horses, but when she heard that I was interested in being a vet, she took the time to explain everything she was doing.

 First, she put special sensors on the mule: one on the right front leg, one on the head, and on on the croup. This device, called the Equinosis Lameness Locator(the link takes you to the website), has revolutionized veterinary medicine. As a horse or mule trots, the device senses the take off and impact pressures of each leg, as well as irregularities in the gait, helping to diagnose which leg the lameness is on and whether it is likely mild or severe. The vet has a computer screen that instantly shows the results of the test. It's a really awesome tool that can help narrow down the lameness diagnosis to a specific leg, detecting things that the humans eye can't see. Then, the vet can work on that leg. The vet said the being a vet is like being a detective–you have to hunt for clues and solve the mystery. The Locator helps with that.

  Laura led the mule on flat ground at the trot while the device tracked the mules steps. The prognosis was that the mule right hind lameness. The vet then decided to block some of the nerves in the leg, making that part of the leg numb and thus pinpointing where the lameness is. As she worked, she explained what she was doing, showing me how the nerves look like in a book that she has. She first started by blocking everything below the fetlock, which would eliminate lameness in the ankle in the device still showed the mule to be lame. She let me be her assistant by holding the needles until she was ready and operating the Lameness Locator.

 After letting the mule adjust to having the numb leg, Laura once more led the mule at the trot. The device still showed right hind lameness. The vet suspected that the stifle may have a problem, so she decided to numb it as well. A stifle injection is a joint injection is a joint injection not a nerve injection like the other one, and is similar to the knee joint in people. When injecting the stifle, the vet injects the two cushions between the joints in that area. She feels for the three tendons running down the leg to help locate these areas.

 Again the numbing didn't help, so the vet recommended doing an ultrasound rather than continuing to guess and give more injections. Nobody likes having lots of shots put in them, mules and horses included. I don't know the result yet, but hopeful it's nothing too serious! It was a great experience to talk and learn from the vet; she was great at explaining and teaching. Now I won't be completely clueless when I go to vet school!