Monday, November 26, 2012

Simple Solutions.

While doing glamourous things like cleaning toilets and vacuuming this morning, I thought about what my approach was going to be with Armani this afternoon if he tried anything silly while leading him in. Sure, I could probably bribe him forward with carrots but the problem with that is it doesn't really address the issue, rewards the wrong behaviour, and I think likely does nothing positive for gaining Armani's respect.

I thought it through and decided on my course of action.

When I got to the barn, I grabbed my lead shank and dressage whip from my locker, along with the rest of my normal gear. Sounds ominous but stay with me! I took his halter, lead, and the whip out with me. I kept the whip against my body vertically so that it wasn't obvious or threatening. I was a step ahead because Armani was not at the hay but hanging out in the shelter with his new BFF. The BFF might be part of his reluctance to leave but at least I wasn't dealing with hay and his friend.

In my mind I was calm and went in with the expectation that he be 100% perfect.  I haltered him with no problem. I did put the chain over his nose. This was there as absolute last resort and protection for me if he escalated the rearing. It was not there to help me lead him. What do horses do when shanked? Lift their head, probably step backwards - the oppositive of what I wanted to encourage, which is forward when I say so. 

So, horse haltered, me realxed, I proceeded to lead him forward. He took a few steps and stopped. I stayed relaxed, gave a kiss, and put some pressure on the halter. I stayed facing the way I wanted to go but could see him brace in my peripheral vision. The dressage whip was in my left hand (held against my body up to this point) so I could give him some pressure from behind without changing anything else. At the precise moment where he looked long and light through his chest (i.e. thinking about going up), I reached back and gave a slight twist of my wrist, popping him in the bum.

The result? He moved forward easily and without any drama. I thought it might require more reinforcement but he moved forward willingly without a problem. I think the key was I was able to remain facing in the direction we were going without fussing with trying to use the lead to get the forward drive. Plus I was able to use the dressage whip at the immeditate moment he sucked back. It was gentle, barely a tickle, but clear. Simple.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week One Ends With a Question (of course it does!).

My first week with Armani is almost over - and he's still alive!  And still sound!!

It's been a very busy week with Alex in Whitehorse and me at the barn almost every night. Hazel thought I was the world's worst dog owner, despite getting an hour's walk through the woods in the morning Monday and Wednesday before work, and then putting her in daycare Tuesday and Thursday so she could stay home in the evening.

On Monday, I brought her with me to the barn because it's too dark now when I get home to take her to my off leash places - too creepy. At least at the barn I can walk around in the dark without being afraid of creeps in the bushes. There are coyotes but they don't bother people. After running around a bit I put her in the car and parked in my usual spot next to the arena. I got Armani and handwalked him around the arena so he could explore. When I was all done, I opened the back door expecting to see Hazel sleeping or sitting there quietly waiting for me. Instead she was curled into a ball with her tail between her legs, shaking. Her fur felt damp so she must have been panting up a storm. The best I can figure is the sound of the horses trotting and cantering in the arena must be a bit like thunder and/or fireworks. Poor girl, I think her fears are getting worse. Alex told me last week he was watching a war movie and realized she wasn't with him at some point. He found her hiding in the basement :-(

I knew I couldn't try that again on Wednsday so I gave up and stayed home. I mean, that's one of the advantages of indoor board, right? I was too tired to handle a car or a horse anyway.

I rode Thursday with a little more purpose than my first indoor ride and was of course rewarded with more focus from Armani in return. It is really fun to be so impressed with his maturity on one hand and then a minute later he'll do something that is classic baby. I'm enjoying learning these nuances about him.

I mostly worked on within- and- between gait transitions at the walk and trot, having him moving promptly off my leg, and not leaning on my inside leg through the turns. He finds it hard because he has to carry himself more than he's used to. I'm there supporting him but I am not going to hold him up by his face like he's been used to. I believe I had moments last night where he started to get that he could stretch down and relax while really working from his back end and the feeling was lovely. Fleeting, but I'll take it as a good sign on ride 2!

I need to start wearing my digital watch again so I can hit the timer when I start my ride. For some reason I cannot remember what time I start a ride if I'm wearing a regular watch. I feel like a simpleton but apparently I have to see actual numbers because I promptly forget where the heck the big hand was positioned when I started :-/

Friday night, Alex was home and wanted to come see his horse ;-)  So we went and Armani was at the auto-waterer near the gate. Great!, I thought, I wouldn't have to trudge to the hay feeder to get him. I walked up to the gate, Armani took his face out of the water, took one look at me and trotted off to the hay. Argh!

But I laughed, figuring this was a good sign that he liked his increased turnout (he went from 7am-1pm to our 6am - 7:30/8pm winter schedule). I went to get him, no problem, and he lead in easily. The first couple days he was "sticky" coming in at night because any little movement would make him stop and look.

Today was another story. It was a complicated day with a dressage clinic going on. I planned to ride outside while the clinic was going on in the arena, and then watch my friend's ride. The second I got to the barn, I knew there was no way I was riding outside. WIND! Suck the life out of your bones kind of wind. It wasn't that cold but this time of year is the worst here because the air still holds a lot of humidity, making it feel a lot colder than the dry bulb temp would have you think.

Anyway, I ended up doing some scrapbooking. We make a scrapbook every year for the barn owners as a Christmas present. Then I watched my friend's ride while huddled in 6 layers of sweaters and jackets and double-wrapped in my wool cooler. By the end of the clinic I was feeling psyched to work with my baby but SO did not want to ride. I had been freezing for hours, it was getting dark, and I had not yet had Armani in the indoor alone.

I know riding alone is inevitable and I'm totally game and always say the horse has to learn to deal with having other horses come and go or none at all...I just wasn't sure I was in the right mental place to try it in the first week. I know he'd be fine but if I am wishy-washy than it will be ME that messes it up. I knew I was feeling wishy-washy.

Regardless, I did want to change Armani's blanket. Here is where you'll shake your head at me, probably. When I got to the barn and realized how windy it was, I knew Armani would probably be a bit cold since he was only out in a rainsheet (it's been warm during the day and he's in at night). I decided it would be a good day to stress his system a little, hoping he'll start growing a bit more coat. He's got nothing, given his turnout regime before.

Since I was there for hours, I spied on him lots. He spent most of the time by himself in or near the shelter while everyone else was at the hay. Sometimes his new best buddy (the outcast of the herd) would join him. Truthfully, I didn't see him at the hay for a little over 2 hours, whenever I looked, which was frequent but distant. I didn't let myself stress - there is still some grass (unpalatable now?) and I know from my farm spies that he's good at subversively grabbing hay when he wants to. So he was probably cold and hungry for a little while.

As soon as my friend's lesson ended, I went to bring Mani in so I could put a heavier blanket on him. I found him at the hay feeder, haltered and tried to lead him. He was very pissy about it. I managed to get him moving for a bit, then he put on the breaks again. I pushed a little and he threw his head up and then reared up and twisted away from me. I still easily had him on the lead, he wasn't really even pulling much on it, it was just such a surprise, I didn't think he had it in him! SO not ok!!!

We worked through it, slowly, and I brought him in, changed his blanket and turned him back out for a couple hours. Then I went to bring him in and has less of a fight but he still didn't want to come in at all. I'm not yet sure what is going on. My initial thought is that he had probably finally secured a place at the hay and I was taking him away. Also, I was taking him from his new buddy who lives outside 24/7.

Regardless of the 'why' he has to learn that he has to go where I lead him. I'm just a little unsure of myself when it comes to the best way to teach him this. Given his age and that he's likely still adjusting to his new life, I'm tempted to be kind and take all the time he needs. But another part of me is thinking I need to be strong during those moments so that he learns that listening to his handler is non-negotiable. I guess I'm just not sure which approach is the best to get the result I want.

We shall see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The One.

That's right, I found my horse!  I was prepared for the pre-purchase exam to yeild a deal-breaker since it's happened twice before, but everything in my mind was quiet and calm leading up to the day.

That day was last Wednesday.

My previous experiences prepared me for the worst. This time, I was able to think about the rest of the things that can come up in a pre-purchase and I didn't have to worry about plain old presenting lameness. Good thing about this process taking so long is that when we did get into some of the finer details, I was fairly educated in determing what I was and was not comfortable with.

In a fairly quick whirlwind of organizing, I brought him home Saturday!

Meet Armani!
Hmm, I was going to mention at some point
that Armani toes-in a little - it appears I toe-in a LOT!

Armani is a 3 year old registered Canadian Sport Horse. His sire is Apiro, a Bulgarian Warmblood with lots of Hanoverian and Westphalian in his pedigree. His dam is by Popeye K, a Dutch WB (KWPN approved) with Hanoverian, Dutch WB & Holsteiner in his pedigree. He is younger than I was aiming for but I'm okay with taking things nice and easy. He was started under saddle in August and did a few shows in the hack division, in the ribbons every time and winning the show hack. He actually ended up 7th overall in the hack division with only four shows.

He loaded great and trailered the short 30 minutes to my barn. Yeah, that's right, I put halter fuzzies on for a short trailer ride that wasn't to a show.  I'm living my dream so I figured if I wanted fuzzies, I would have fuzzies, no matter how silly. The really silly part is that the halter I bought for him is padded leather with a raised, also padded, noseband. You know how hard it was to get fuzzies on an already padded leather halter? I gave the task over to my incredibly patient husband.

Armani settled in well with his new herd. I was expecting some drama but they were fairly boring. Perfect! He seems to be a middle-of-the-herd horse so he stands up for himself and therefore doesn't get bullied badly but also doesn't challenge leadership, either.

I was a little worried about the introductions!

He is still a little unsure of himself around the farm but is taking in all the new stuff well. I'm taking it pretty slow but did do a sight-seeing tour under saddle on Sunday and he was super going through all the fields, the galloping track, and the front jump and dressage rings. It was almost all at the walk, with a tiny bit of trot, just to let the tension out.

On Monday night, I handwalked him in the arena so he could check it out before being tacked up. To me, once he's tacked up it's work time, so I wanted him to be able to explore without any mixed-messages. He is every bit the baby he is when it comes to ground work. It just doesn't occur to him that he can't just walk off whenever he wants. He isn't rude though, just clueless and a bit impatient.

Well, that's all of an intro I can manage! Hopefully things will settle into a routine of sorts soon. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Déjà Vet Check, a Revisit, and the RAWF(!!)

I was working on a post of a more positive tone than the last few. I planned to go over the constructive things I've learned from my horse shopping experiences. Unfortunately I kept leaving it not-quite-finished and then when I'd come back to it, I had to do a bunch of edits.

Then, last Monday, I got to the point of deciding to have a pre-purchase exam for a horse about 3 hours away. I'd been out to try him and he was very, very cute. Quite lazy in the arena but had more forward outside. I was fairly confident that I could improve his response to the aids through training and that he had a pretty great brain to work with. The vet check was a big fail - he was lame. Plus he did some funky things with his hind feet walking up and down a slope (the slope was incidental, not officially part of the exam, but yeilded information all the same). I really liked the vet I hired which was great since I had to go with a clinic in that area. She was very professional and also very much looked out for me. I was much better prepared this time, having gone through it once before, so I didn't have a complete mental lurch, lol. It totally sucked to waste a whole day driving and more money on an exam to once again end up with nothing.

I have to admit that even though it was disappointing, I mostly felt relief. In hindsight, proceeding to vet check on this horse really stressed me out. Partly it was the money but now I wonder if something was telling me he wasn't the one (aside from the laziness). I don't know, it just feels that way...but that could also be a defense mechanism to make the disappointment ok. Doesn't really matter, this horse is out. :-(

That makes 16 horses that I had actually gone out to try myself at least once, a few of them more than once. So what to do?

I happened to stay home sick last Friday. I was going on 3 weeks of a nasty cold that twice looked like it was almost over, only to have a resurgence. Normally, I can't take calls on my cell phone in the office because the signal is interrupted. I also don't give my work number to many people for personal calls. I would have totally missed this call if I had happened to be at work that day.

As it was, I was home and took the call on my cell. It was my coach, calling to mention that the fancy 3 year old I tried back in August was still for sale. She knew I had liked him a lot at that time but also agreed with me that he was on the green side for what I want. Of course, back then I found the grey who was further alongt in his training and was also a gorgeous horse. I had cancelled my second visit to this 3 year old in favor of the 5 year old who was much further along. Of course, then the vetting didn't work out but I guess the greeness factor over-took the fact that I did like this horse.

So I tried him that very night and quite liked him. I was a little concerned because he is somewhat fussy in his head/neck and quite honestly it makes me worried about what people at my barn will say. It doesn't feel anything like Willie but I know it might look that way. I know this horse is like that because he's used to being held up by his mouth and he hasn't really learned to carry himself yet. As much as I'd like to believe the opinions of others don't matter, the fact is I've learned that judgements really do hurt me and undermine my confidence. Still, I know a good horse when I ride one; all that much more since the last time I saw this guy.

I requested a proper lesson on him so I could get a proper feel for where he's at. For now, I'm just going to say that it went very well and I am going to vet him next week. I just want to finally finish a post, so details will have to wait! I want this horse to work out more than any of the others, by far.

I'm off to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair tomorrow!!!! I grew up watching the RAWF equestrian events on TV every year and now I am *finally* going to be there in person. Pretty sure some serious shopping will happen!