Sunday, February 23, 2014

Moving forward

So since I have kept up with this blog for this long and (*fingers crossed*) seem to have at least a little bit of readership, I wanted to do a sort of quick overview about this blog and how I plan to use it in the future.

It is a big common theme with a lot of the horse blogs I personally read and follow to have goals.  Monthly goals, yearly goals, show season goals, lesson goals, all manner of goals.  I am not a big goals person.  It's partially me and partially Jazz, but it's a lot that I just simply don't really know what it is that I want in the long term. I am far from a veteran in the horse world, and there is just so much that I haven't tried yet.  I hadn't even so much as sat in an English saddle until last summer, and almost all of my horse experience in the pre-Jazz era was trail rides and more trail rides.  There are a thousand and one things I want to try with horses, and I can't know what I want to do with Jazz until I know what I want to do.  So far we've had a lot of fun with gymkhanas and rodeo events (mostly at the walk/trot), and my current loose idea is for Jazz to just be a happy, healthy horse who is safe to be around and has a good foundation of training to do whatever it is that she eventually ends up doing.  My current goal for myself is to learn to jump, and as I take English lessons in the summer, I will be accomplishing it soon with a little luck *knock on wood*.  I also am very interested in learning the basics of working cattle, and endurance, and cowboy challenge.  Since the association that puts on my gymkhanas also does cowboy challenge, I will be hopefully going to any of them that I am able and ready for.

Anyways, the point is that I have a fairly scattered existence with a lot of ideas about what my future with Jazz and with horses in general looks like, so monthly goals is just not a good exercise for me.  I try to go to the farm with no concrete expectations (except some basic manners and respect, of course), and as a result my progress can be very slow and halted sometimes.  I'm okay with that.  I have a young horse and a limited database of experience.  There is no reward for hurrying to accomplish this or that when I have no real reason to.  I don't mean to say that I would be okay with my training coming to a standstill, plateauing at decent and never rising again, but I am perfectly happy to plod along, facing challenges one at a time and really enjoying the ride.

The main reason for this blog is for me to chart my progress, and to help me keep track of my year/month/day/whatever with Jazz.  Also it's encouragement to document my experiences more with pictures, which I am horrible at.  I also have my things.  My things to work on and that are improving.  They are sort of my answer to goals.  It's hard to pay attention to how far you've come when you're struggling through hard times.  They mean to serve as a reminder of all the little victories, and a sort of push in the right direction.  I have no "Things that are perfect and need never be worked on again because they simply can't get any better" because I am working with a horse and that's a ridiculous concept where it comes to horses.  There are plenty of people who've been working with horses their entire lives that still say they have lots to learn, and I hope to be the same way.  You are never done learning, and I simply like to remind myself of that.

Sorry for the long, pictureless post.  I'll make my next one a little more visual if I possibly can.  And thanks for reading!

Oh, and one more thing about this blog.  I think that so far, it's been a fairly accurate representation of my time with Jazz.  I write about anything of significance or interest as honestly as possible with as much detail as I can remember, and I am aware of what these winter months are like.  They are our work time, our time where there's no room for all the love and cuddles if it means the respect has been pushed out, and that is the case with all our Januaries and Februaries so far, but just you wait.  Come summer, there will be a lot more time for fun and all the love for my pony I can possibly express in words.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

New Tactics

Well, I've been avoiding this post for a couple days.

I'm still kind of avoiding it honestly.

I've been a little... shaken? I think that's the closest word I can find.  I just think I've lost some of my confidence.

Where to start?

Good news.  That's always a good place to start.  I think it's about time I started riding again.  I really think I'm getting close.  I've missed it a lot.  It's been much too long.

This is the part where I put the less good news.  I just feel like I've screwed up.  In reality, probably not really.  In my mind, a lot.  I just think I've been pushing too hard at the wrong things.  I've been working on some things lately that are hard for Jazz, and I think I've just been forgetting that too often.   She has a really hard time backing a) straight and b) sometimes just in general, and I've been putting a fair amount of pressure on her to do so lately.  I just think I've been putting too much pressure on her, asking too much without enough reward for doing what I'm asking.

Jazz is a sensitive horse.  She can really easily get overloaded, and I just don't like the idea that I've been overloading her.  On the bright side, (okay this next part may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but just hear me out) Jazz is a really expressive horse.  This means that if she is not pleased with something, she will make that fact very clear to me.  Those of you who have been reading a little while will recognize these objections as head tossing, rearing, blasting forward through her shoulders and most recently, biting.  Believe it or not, as much as I don't love these behaviors, I find them a million times more preferable than the alternative.  There are a lot of horses who simply aren't comfortable expressing themselves in this way, so they just trudge along quietly disapproving until eventually something sets them off and they have a huge blowout.  Comparatively, Jazz has the easier of the two problems to work out.  She's not a horse that lacks confidence in herself, all she needs is a little structure and direction to channel her into doing productive work.

So I think It's time for a little re-evaluation on my part.  I stopped riding because Jazz wasn't being safe and respectful on the ground.  Now she's getting closer and closer to safe, and quite honestly the biting only comes out when I'm really pushing her to back, so why aren't I riding yet? She is a thousand times better about respecting my space and listening to me on the ground.  She's not perfect, but has any horse ever been perfect, really? I think I need to discuss a new strategy with my trainer, but at least I know that now.  Better to try a new direction than to keep pushing against a wall.

Thing to work on # 5
Knowing when I'm just not heading in the right direction and when to reevaluate

Monday, February 17, 2014


So this weekend was supposed to be pretty Full of non- horse - related stuff but Much to my surprise and delight,  my out of town weekend lines up perfectly with the Saskatchewan equine expo! 

I was able to catch the last day of the expo today and arrived in time to watch the exciting tail end of one of the sessions of the trainer's challenge. For anyone who isn't familiar with them,  the trainers challenges are 3 day events where 3 professional trainers are given young horses that are essentially untouched. I believe they're halter broke but I think that's the extent of what they know. Anyway,  the three trainers draw a 'colt ' (they call them all colts even though at most of the trainers challenges I've seen its been all fillies) and get one hour to with with the horse each day for three days and at the end of the third day, there's a final competition in which the trainers demonstrate various compulsory skills that they have hopefully taught their horse over the three days.

I arrived for the last twenty minutes or so of one of the trainers' final sessions with his horse, a beautiful palomino filly. He was riding her walk/trot/lope and working on backing. After a few minutes of that he hopped off and started swinging a rope around (one of the final compulsories is swinging a rope and dragging a log), before untacking and jumping on bareback. He rode around about a minute and then the horse reared and bucked in quite an exciting fashion. The trainer actually stayed on pretty well until he didn't. He would have given anyone a run for their money if it had been a bareback bronc riding competition and not a trainer's challenge. Nonetheless, in the true cowboy spirit,  he just grinned and said that was the most fun he'd had in a long time and jumped right back up just so he could end his session on a good note.
A truly horrendous phone picture of the trainer's challenge 
Much to my delight,  there was also a clinic from one of my favorite trainers,  Jonathan Fields. He was giving a clinic on bend and balance and I learned a ton of new stuff that will be really useful once I start riding again.
Jonathan Fields, not that you can really tell from the picture 
Plus I got a new halter and some English riding clothes for super cheap at the trade show. Just what i needed after these last couple weeks, shopping! 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Positive spin

Well they can't all be good days.  I apologize in advance because as much as I'm going to try not to whine and complain, I can't guarantee my success rate in actually accomplishing that goal.

So as you may have gathered, I had a less than encouraging trip to the farm today.  Jazz was just weird and spooky and SASSY.  Oh my god was she sassy, swishing tail, a very clear stomp of her back feet and a few pushy episodes from her shoulders, plus something new that I'll talk about in a second.  It was just discouraging, and I'm sorry to admit that it just got to me today, and I got a bit frustrated.  Is it too much to just ask for a couple of weeks of steady improvement, even just one week? Is that so much to want?

But I'm getting sidetracked.  Here's something positive: She didn't rear.  Not even close.  No big dramatic 'you're killing me here' head throws or anything.

Here's something less so:  she's found an alternative now that rearing is work.  She tried to nip me.  Five times.  It's so frustrating that I almost want to scream.  Would it have been so bad for her to just not have a big, dangerous avoidance maneuver for a week? a day? I tried to do the same thing I do when she tries to pop up on me, where I just yield her hind end until she really gives with both crossing her feet and bending through her body a bit.  Of course she then tried to bite me while I was at her side moving her hip, but luckily I had anticipated she might, so she wasn't able to actually get her teeth on me.  To be fair, she didn't actually get her teeth on me at all, they were warnings, but even so it still isn't EVEN REMOTELY ACCEPTABLE.  

So needless to say I was a little discouraged and frustrated and very done by the time I let her go.  It just sucks that we're taking one step forward and now what feels like about six steps back.

But to the point: as the title of this post suggests, I would like to try to put a positive spin on the day now that all of that is out of my system.  I did get a bit frustrated and emotional today, but this is the first day in recent memory that that has happened.  This time last year, I was also having a lot of troubles with Jazz (she really is not a January/February horse whatsoever), significantly less dramatic troubles since she had yet to add rearing and head tossing and now biting to her arsenal.  Anyway, I had hit some real road blocks in our training, and I was having a hard time getting someone to help me, and I felt like I was making no progress and Jazz was regressing and it was all my fault and all that sort of very un-fun stuff to be feeling. It got to a point where I would have weeks that I didn't even want to go to work with her because I was just going to be allowing her to get away with bad behavior that I had no idea how to fix and it didn't even seem worth going to the farm just to feel useless and powerless and go home upset again.

That was supposed to be the positive part of the post.  Oops.  Anyways going back to the good part, compare that to this one day out of pretty much all of my recent memory where I felt things didn't go well and got a little emotional while I was working with my horse.  One day.  No weeks turning into about a month of no progress and endless frustration.  One.  Day.  I guess it's not so bad as all that.

Things that are getting better # 3
Pushing emotions aside and just getting what needs to be done accomplished

That being said, Thing to work on # 3
Pushing emotions aside and just getting what needs to be done accomplished (today was big proof I'm not there yet)

Thing to work on #4
This new biting habit.  Nip it in the bud (get it? nip? Oh, I'm too funny).

Plus some good things happened after I left the farm that definitely helped my mood.  Look what came in the mail today!

 I ordered this "Gumiponi" as they are lovingly called from Custom Stall Signs on facebook and was so thrilled it arrived!

It's so cute! It's way tinier than I was expecting.  
I absolutely love their stuff! I also ordered a custom stall sign complete with adorable caricature of Jazz
Jazz lives outside, so her stall sign lives on my Jazz wall of fame.
 Plus a few months back they started collaborating with another awesome facebook page to offer custom embroidered saddle pads and hats.
Look at it though! Adorable! 

Jazz approved.
For those of you who haven't caught on to my obvious product placement yet, go to their page go now.

And speaking of things I got in the mail today, I couldn't help but laugh at the cover of the horse magazine that came in the mail for me today.
A little attitude adjustment is just what I'm needing right about now.  

We'll get there. I know we will.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Dizzy (I'm trying to get better at titles, I swear)

Well, there's no denying winter, especially not on a -20C day like this one.

Sorry for the crappy pictures hastily taken on the trip out.  


At least it's pretty

There's no view quite like snow covered bales with the Rockies in the Background.  I guess the winter's not all bad.
Even the halter on the fence had hoarfrost.
Jazz was a little reluctant to leave her hay, but with a little convincing she came in no problem.  The other horses in her pasture have also been giving me a little more space.  I'm not sure if it's because they haven't been getting treats anymore or if they just gave up on coming after me since I always push them away to a respectful distance.

I think you've been snuffling around in the snow Princess Frostyface.

Yet another good groundwork lesson (what else is new? What can I say? I have a great horse and a great trainer).

I took Jazz in on Saturday and she was kind of... off.  Not in any way I could pinpoint... she wasn't especially sassy or unwilling to work, she didn't seem physically ill (she did cough a couple times, and she was moving kind of weird in the deep sand, but I think she was just being lazy and not picking up her feet properly, so probably nothing to be concerned with).  Also a milestone that really shouldn't be exciting, but to me it is, just a little: Jazz didn't rear.  Not once.  This was the first time I've brought her in to work in the last few weeks that she hasn't reared.  Not to say that she was doing big rears, striking out and screaming like a stallion, it was more like a slight pop onto her hind legs that is her choice avoidance maneuver of late.

So anyway, I brought her in for my lesson today, and she was a little sassy, but not too bad.    I started with a short lunge/drive as per usual, then did some yo-yo backing that she was not pleased with today.  She kept blasting off to the side and forwards, and popping her head up whenever I tapped her chest with the rope.  She did rear once, but I just switched to a hind end yield until she softened with no further theatrics...or, no more except one.  She spooked a few minutes later at who-knows-what, and in approximately one millisecond went from standing calmly to storming past me at mach 8, grazing me with her shoulder, which is somewhat concerning, but I don't really know I can do much about it besides what I've already been working on with enforcing and re-enforcing space. When we got her listening a little, we went back to shoulder yielding, which was okay today.  Not perfect, but willing enough.  Baby steps.

Here comes the dizzy part.  My homework for the week is a hind end yielding exercise.  It involves moving her hip until she softens and bends around me on the ground (Jazz is about as straight as a board, as will become very clear very fast once I start doing riding lessons again, so softening and bending is a big theme with us), and once she is nice and soft, taking one step back and changing her eye, ideally moving her shoulder over and transitioning smoothly to yielding her other hip.  It took a lot of jabs and taps on the shoulder today to move her off a little, but it could be worse.  I was definitely a bit dizzy and very done with the exercise in the maximum of ten minutes we spent on it today; my trainer told me she's worked just this exercise with horses for an hour before, so I can't imagine how dizzy I would have been after that.

I'll be away for the long weekend, so there won't be a lesson next week, but if I have anything worthwhile to report on this week, I will.  Maybe I'll do more backstory if I can think of something good.  I guess we'll find out.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Introducing... Me!

As is bound to come out at some point, I was greener than grass when I got my horse.  Essentially all of my horse experience before Jazz was from four years attending week-long summer horse camp (and one more summer after I had Jazz). I absolutely loved this camp.  It was a long-awaited seven days for the rest of the year.   One of my favorite things about the camp was the fact that we got to brush and tack up our own horse (with lots of checks from the counselors for safety, of course).

My first year at camp, I didn't even know how to post, and had never gone any faster than a walk on a horse... at least not intentionally.  I spent the first year in an introductory group, where I had posting pounded into my brain and my body for five straight days of riding.  My horse was a short black and white tobiano named Rockinstraw (Rock, for short) who liked eating grass much more than listening to her rider who barely knew how to ride.  Needless to say she wasn't exactly my favorite, but hey, you don't have to like everyone, right?

My second year I got put into the intermediate group.  I had another black and white tobiano named Checkers (she had a marking the exact shape of Africa on her bum).  I got along much better with this horse, with the only drawback being the colt she had at her side, who I had been warned might kick, and needless to say little horse-inexperienced me stayed far away, which hampered progress some.  That year I learned to lope midway through the week, and upon reflection, I think learning the way I did is one of the best ways to get a very basic (not necessarily proper, but functional) seat.  The camp was a western trail riding sort of camp, and it was a nose-to-tail sort of affair.  (read: no steering or real riding ability required.  just stay on and let your horse follow the one in front of him).  During my english group lessons this past summer (on a lesson horse), there was a girl in the group who had never cantered, and when she tried, there was a lot of vertical movement as she tried to manage steering, pace, sitting the gait and breathing all at the same time.  All I'd had to do was hold on.

Third year was fairly unremarkable.  I was placed again in the intermediate group, and rode (surprise, surprise) a short tobiano (this one was brown and white though).  The main thing that sticks out in my mind that year wasn't the actual riding, but the horse.  Her name was Imp, which was short for Imperial Enchantress.  She had a reputation for being a bit short of enchanting, but I loved her.  She was simply gorgeous, with a long, flowing two-colored mane and the most beautiful eyes.  She was definitely a little sassy, but that's part of what I love about mares.

The fourth year I was given a big, huge, adorable, sorrel gelding named Slim.  He was the absolute biggest sweetheart, and he would put up with absolutely anything (seriously. a mare kicked him one ride, and another horse just came up and started licking him, and he didn't even flinch).  I started out in intermediate, but asked to move up to the more advanced group, and switched midweek.  Much loping ensued.

For some reason every single picture was slanted and made Slim look like he had crazy eyes.  Too bad I couldn't find any of my other pictures.  

Of course, that was the last year before I got Jazz, and I didn't really work with any other horses until I started volunteering at the rescue, but I'll get to that later.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday lesson

Another awesome groundwork lesson today with Jazz. I got there a bit early for my lesson and she seemed pretty quiet, so I Started doing her yo-yo backing exercise. She was a bit sticky, and wasn't too keen on the going backwards part of it, so she reared, naturally.  So, I sent her off and did more of the lunging my trainer had taught me on Wednesday, and it definitely helped.  Just after I'd gotten her to think a little and come in to me, my trainer arrived, and she had me lunge her again both ways.  After Jazz had calmed back down on the circle, we worked on the yo-yo exercise a little, and my trainer corrected my body language a little.  Then we worked more on her shoulders, and it. was. great. 

As I mentioned previously, on Wednesday my trainer showed me a different method of asking for jazz to move her shoulders, and it has been working so much better.  I started on her left side, and I got a perfect step right off the bat.  I kept going and rewarding until I got three perfect crossing steps with her front feet in a row.  I swapped sides and she had a little harder time on the right, but I got a couple of good single steps and went back to her left.  I got several perfect steps without even having to tap her with the rope, and got four in a row.  She was really starting to get the idea, especially on the left.  I did get a few more good steps on her bad side, and even got two in a row, and by then my lesson time was done and Jazz was completely chilled out and was standing like a champion.  

My trainer even commented that I had good timing with the shoulder yielding because I've been backing her first to help lighten her forehand,  and I had a really good sense on when to switch from backing to asking for lateral movement. Also Jazz was backing well just based off of body language with no pressure from the halter or the end of the rope. 

Which brings me to thing I'm getting better at with horses #2
Developing a feel. I'm in no way there, but I'm feeling really good about how it's progressing. 

Once my lesson time was up, I brought Jazz from the arena to the barn and gave her some minerals, where I snapped a few pictures up close. Lucky horse even got a couple of crunchies.

 I played a bit with my newfound moving the shoulders button turning her in the barn aisle and navigating around the gate to the pasture.  She even came back once I'd let her go and closed the gate behind me.  It's amazing even the little changes in this horse over the last month or so.  At the beginning of the new year, she would sometimes come back to the gate and get petted, but she would be rooting around in our hands and pockets for treats, and when we tried to push her out of our space she would just give up and wander away to her friends.  Today, though, she stood a good distance away, with all of her well behind the gate (not like she used to with her whole chest pushing on it and her head digging around in pockets), and being very respectful and sweet.  She stayed there a long time after I walked away too.  She was still there when I drove off.

I can't wait for our next lesson!

Saturday, February 1, 2014


Sorry that I missed the scheduled weekly post, but better late than never.  Here's what we've been up to in the last week or so

Lesson on the 23rd:

I had a groundwork lesson with my awesome trainer, and we worked towards moving Jazz's feet meaningfully and with respect.  There's not much really to tell.  I really like my instructor because she has some different exercises than anyone else I've worked with, and she has a way of being really positive about issues.  She won't criticize what I've been doing so far, she just suggests a way to do things better or fix issues very nicely.

I spent most of last weekend at a friend's farm.  They don't have indoor facilities, so all their horses get the winter off to eat hay and try to keep warm.  I helped them with chores and went to see their other herd at their far pasture.  They raise Curly horses and warmbloods, so pretty much all their horses look like giants compared to all the quarter horses and weanlings I'm used to seeing at my boarding facility and the horse rescue.  Some of us also went to watch some friends in a hunter schooling show, which was fun since I knew absolutely nothing about hunter jumper.

I also made a trip to the rescue with C and it was just us and the owner.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and the owner let us help her with halterbreaking some of their 12 weanlings (all of whom are so cute I could just take them all home with me, but of course I probably shouldn't on account of how I've been dealing a lot lately with what happens about four years after that).   It was a really nice, restful, horse filled weekend.

Lesson on the 29th:

Jazz was all sass and energy when I brought her in for another groundwork lesson this Wednesday.  I have never seen her so utterly unwilling to stand still.  It wasn't altogether too dissimilar to her fidgety, charge-y behavior lately, but with more prancing and angry tail swishing.  At the beginning of the lesson, my trainer lunged some of the crazy out of her and tried to get her to use her brain.

I regretfully could not find photo credits for this photo so hopefully it's okay to use, but this is pretty much what Jazz looked like for the first five minutes
Then she showed me what she was doing and passed her over to me.  It was so helpful because I've never known any good, safe ways to get her feet moving when she's so sassy like that, and regular lunging isn't really much of an option when she's so wound up.  She had me doing a quick correction that kept her moving and kept me in a good position, and at one point Jazz turned to me and tried to go the other way, but I just got back into position and got her moving forwards again no problem.  Once she had quieted some and started thinking, I worked on a backing exercise which involves standing in front of Jazz with hands up at around shoulder height to keep both her eyes and moving her back and forward in a sort of yo-yo fashion.  Once that was going well, we started working on moving Jazz's shoulders, which is really tough for her and one of her worst sticky spots.  She was sort of getting it, she was charging forward quite a bit, which isn't all that surprising, but we did get a couple of true steps in either direction.  I also learned a new way to do shoulder yields which is much easier than the way I had been previously taught, which required a lot of specificity. I never really grasped the old way, so I had never really worked on it much.  

There has been a bit of a change in my trainer's schedule, so I have switched my lessons to Sundays for February, so I will hopefully have an update very soon about my next lesson.