Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Fever

This weekend was insanely busy. I had a work event, I worked at the barn all day on Sunday, and it was my 6 year anniversary with my husband (years together, not years married). So all it all it was a really good weekend, but not exactly relaxing.
Pink jump
So cute I can't even handle it

Even with all of the craziness, I managed to fit in a ride yesterday. Casey hadn't been ridden the day before, so I was expecting her to maybe be a tad wild, but what I ended up getting wasn't a wild pony, it was just a happy pony. Casey was so excited to be out and working in the warm and sunny weather that she was literally bouncing with excitement. We were riding with our best friends (to clarify, the human is my best friend, and the horse is Casey's "boyfriend") and they were also in very good moods, so it's just something in the air... Every single canter transition was like a mini upward explosion of happiness and going towards the jumps she was giving me a super impulsion-filled bouncy canter. She was still staying with me and giving me really nice contact, horsie was just having fun!
Pink jump
Blue going away

We set up a varied-height jump course and did a couple of lines and then a course. Casey was picking super weird distances (I think because she was just so excited to be jumping) and so there were some awkward lines, but other than that Casey was jumping really well. She was jumping round and being very good at listening to me. She didn't once rush a jump, actually at one point I had to kick her on because her stride needed to be lengthened! I also feel really good about how I rode. Even though Casey wasn't exactly being easy to ride (what with her super-bouncy canter and strange distancing), but I wasn't getting too ahead or left behind. I didn't jab her in the mouth at all, I was giving her a nice release, and my legs weren't slipping back. That's not to say that I rode perfectly, I still have plenty to work on, but the things that were major issues for me are becoming more minor every month.
Barrel vertical

After jumping we went on a "trail" ride with our buddies and Casey was for the most part good, although she did spook at the scary thicket on the side of the road (who knows what monsters hide there after all). It wasn't a huge spook though, it was kind of a hop forward and then she listened to me to calm down. All in all she was very good, she just has spring fever.

How do your horses express their spring fever?
Pats for the good pony

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Daylight Savings Sucks, But My Pony Is Awesome

Has anybody else been dragging this week due to the time change? I've been utterly exhausted all week and even though my work is going well (well-behaved students) I am barely making it through the day. The nice thing about this though is I am back to seeing the sun rise in the morning (when the Oregon clouds decide to let up enough to reveal the sun) and I no longer am riding in the dark! Yesterday when I left the barn it was still light outside!

My ride last night was pretty low-key because I have a standing date with my mom & sister on Tuesday nights, meaning I have to hustle at the barn. Casey and I had a really nice warm-up where she was very cooperative even though there were cows in the field right next to the arena. As a side note, what the heck is up with the seemingly horse-shared hatred of cows? I think of them as being very similar animals, but all the horses at our barn despise the cows. The cows could care less.
Jumping from an angle
She's starting to jump rounder over little things

After our easy warm-up we popped over some jumps. The jumps were all set at different heights and angles, allowing us to work on some particular skills. Since the jumps were so small (some were a foot, others 2 feet) we were able to practice our striding on awkward lines and our rollbacks without putting too much stress on Casey's joints. It was fun to just dink around over little things and Casey was spectacularly behaved. Her usual MO is to rush small jumps and to be really strong and try to pull me to them, but yesterday she decided to listen to my half-halts and take my suggested distances, meaning we got some really nice lines (because believe it or not, I usually make better choices about distances than my pea-brained mare). My favorite line was a double bending line across the arena. Basically there were two small verticals on the two outside lines that were diagonal to each other, and in between there was an angled cavaletti. We got such nice distances to those jumps and Casey was jumping them slightly angled so the line flowed really smoothly. The highest jump that was set up was a skinny oxer that was probably only about 2'6" and we popped over that once just for fun, but mostly we just stuck with the little things.
2'6"ish skinny oxer
Cute hind end
A little flat, but a nice distance

Due to the change in time, after all of that it was still really bright outside, so Casey and I decided to cool down with a "trail" ride (aka walking along the road). The last time we tried this was during the summer and it was the incident where all of the horses came galloping up and Casey flipped her lid and nearly killed me... so I was a tad nervous. This might have passed onto my horse, or maybe she just had her own reasons for being nervous, but the beginning of the ride she was very wary and slightly jiggy underneath me. At the half-way point, however, she had mellowed out and was doing the long, swinging walk that horses do when they are relaxed. It was really fun! Since she proved that she won't kill me, we'll probably make that a regular event in our rides.
Trail riding once again

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Train Just About Anything

This weekend I was talking to my sister about training animals and giving her some advice. In doing so, I realized that my methods for training my pets is really consistent, even though I have a wide range of creatures (from a lizard, all the way to a horse). It may be possible that I use these principles on my 7th grade students as well... The point is, anything is trainable if you approach it in the right manner.

I am basing my training tips on my experience as a person who has trained multiple animals & my experience from my Bachelor's Psychology degree. So without further ado, here are my training tips.

1. Don't put with up bad behaviors, in fact, it is best to be scary.
I think that oftentimes people are afraid of seeming "mean" or of hurting their pet's feelings, but this does not work out for them in the long run because then the pet doesn't take their reprimands seriously. Your pet needs to know where the lines are drawn so that they can act appropriately. That means, if they cross a line, your pet needs to deal with immediate negative consequences. This can look really different based on the bad behavior & the pet's personality (also the punishment should fit the crime), but it is important to be mean for the consequence.

Some of the problem behaviors that I deal with my pets & the consequences for them are as follows:
- Bad behavior: Remy (cat) tries to beat up Eden (dog); Consequence: I pick Remy up and talk sternly to her
- Bad behavior: Eden (dog) starts barking at the door; Consequence: I lightly hold his snout and tell him "no"
- Bad behavior: Aldo (lizard) flares up and threatens me; Consequence: I pick him up and stroke his beard so that he stops flaring up.
- Bad behavior: Casey (horse) paws at the ground; Consequence: I yell at her and/or smack her on the shoulder.
Holding high expectations is necessary

You can see that I do use a wide range of consequences that differ in terms of severity and "meanness." It is important to keep in mind the type of pet (as in my lizard doesn't care what I say, so I don't use verbal cues with him) and how bad the behavior really is (the horse's bad physical behaviors are worse than my cat's because she is bigger and can actually hurt me if she wanted to). The most important thing is that if your pet does a bad behavior, you have to immediately react. If you react after the fact, the pet won't make the connection between their behavior and you flipping out on them.
Smaller consequences for smaller bad behaviors

2. Be kind and loving at all other times.
I haven't tried this any other way, but my theory is that the "mean" consequence works so well on my pets, because I am so kind and loving towards that at all other times. It's the idea of unconditional love. Children do best when they know that their parents love them no matter what, and I think that the same is probably true of pets. If your pet knows that you love them and will always take care of them, then their world won't fall apart when you do have to get mean with them. It's just good for their emotional balance for them to get doted upon. Also, give positive reinforcement when they do good things (aka lots of cookies at all times).
Lots of cookies necessary
Unconditional love

3. Be consistent.
Above all else, the most important thing when it comes to training is the need to be consistent. If you are wishy-washy about which rules need to be followed, then you are not being clear and consistent with your pet. Even if they want to learn your rules, they won't be able to because you aren't showing them what the rules are. That means every time they do something wrong, you have to give them the same consequence, but also, every time they do something right you need to praise them. This is essential in the skills/behaviors that take a really long time to learn, like potty-training a dog, or teaching a horse to stand quietly in the crossties.
Consistency is key - even though Eden knows well how to sit, I still give him praise for doing so.

4. Break "tricks" down into as small of steps as is possible.
When training my dog in particular, I would try to get the smallest improvements in a trick and would do motions that would lead to my dog naturally moving in a way that related to the trick. So the trick "sit" for instance, was taught to my dog by putting my hand into a fist with a treat in it and moving my hand slowly backwards over his head until he would sink back onto his butt. Breaking it down into small steps helps the pet be successful and feel like they are "getting" it, which will keep them motivated to keep trying.
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
And that's it! Those all the training principles that I follow for all instances in which I want or don't want a certain behavior out of my pets.

Fellow pet owners, do you think I missed anything? Anyone disagree with me about any of these?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Inside Bend and Shoulders Back

I had a jump lesson on Sunday and I haven't really wanted to write about it, but since I only take two lessons in a month I feel an obligation to record it... so here we go!

The weather on Sunday was abnormally hot. There was a really nice breeze, but it was so sunny that the sunshine was warming everything (including skin and fur). When I went to fetch Casey, her hair was super warm and after just a normal free-lunge session, she was drenched with sweat. We decided to ride anyways, but kept the warm-up stuff relatively short. Trainer had us work on things like bending to the inside at a trot, working on rocking Casey back onto her haunches and then sending her forward again, and I was instructed to keep my legs from moving. Our canter work was pretty fun, because we got to work on bending at the canter. This was the first time Trainer had us work on that, which shows that she feels that we are now capable of working at that level. Casey had a super nice canter moment where on the left-lead she put her head down and really rolled through her back. Trainer was so impressed that she immediately had me ask Casey to walk as a reward!
Right-lead canter
20 meter canter circle
I was a tad frustrated with the flatwork. It was hot and I was getting overheated, but I think I was just having trouble communicating what I was feeling to my Trainer. For instance, Trainer told me that Casey is pulling too much on my hands and that I need to get on her case when she does that. What I feel I am riding though is a horse who is not actually leaning on my hands, but rather I might be not holding my own core up enough? As in, I think it's less about her pulling me and more me pulling myself forward because I'm worried about hitting her in the mouth? See... I'm having trouble putting it into words even here! When Casey does try to yank her head forward, I do reprimand her, but at that moment I didn't think she was pulling me, I think I might have been too giving with my reins because I was trying to help her balance herself. And I could be totally wrong about it, and I might need to be more harsh about the slightest pull on the reins, but I ride by myself so much that either I've just gotten used to it or I just don't feel comfortable being that harsh. Time and time again I say this, but I really wish I had weekly lessons, because then I feel that communication with my Trainer would be so much more improved. We would both be seeing the same things and so would be on the same wavelength. Hopefully some day in the future...
I think I'm just not holding myself with my core well enough
After warming up, Trainer set up a gymnastics line. It ended up being a one stride to a one stride to a two stride. Casey was being a bit over-enthusiastic in her attempts to jump, throwing herself over them and not bothering to have nice strides between, so Trainer threw down some canter poles between the one strides and that really improved things. I was working on keeping my shoulders back, eyes up, and being subtle with my releases, rather than just throwing myself forward. This did really improve and I felt really stable going over the jumps. Casey's job was to work on jumping nicely and actually using her body. Trainer encouraged her to jump nicely and to think about her body by making the oxer super-duper wide. It was probably 3 feet wide and 2'6"-2'9" tall by the end. The last jump Casey did was frickin phenomenal (and of course my phone stopped recording the line right before that so you're just going to have to believe me)! We stopped after that jump, because Casey had done so well and it was really hot so we didn't want to over-exert her.
Chucking herself over the jump

She jumps better as the jumps get bigger
Flying pony!
I'm staying with her better on the landing side, which is a good thing!
Do you ever have days where you have trouble communicating? Is there a trick to explain what you feel you are riding that I just don't have yet?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Working on Courses

It's really hard to get better at coursework when riding by yourself. I ride mostly by myself and am lucky to have two lessons a month. It's just a lot of work to get off and on the horse in order to reset jumps. That means that I usually set up jump lines at varying heights so that I can warm up over cross-rails, then move on to 2'6" verticals, and I'll maybe set up a few jumps around 2'9". This system is convenient, because it means that I don't have to reset jumps, but it is problematic in that I am never really doing true courses at a certain height.

After my reflection in my last post about how I need to spend more time on the things and people I love, I put that mental thought into action. I decided that I would spend as much time as I wanted riding and I wouldn't even look at the clock. So... we did courses!
I spent a whole two hours with this lovebug
After the usual warm-up (free-walk, trot, canter, pop over a few teeny cross-rails). I designed a teeny-tiny cross-rail course. Since the jumps were walk-over-height and not challenging on their own, the course I designed featured some tricky lines. It went diagonal line (1, 2, 3), rollback to 4, bending line to 5, diagonal line (6, 7, 8), and finished with a bending line from 9 to 10. Casey was kind of being a jerk at the beginning; leaning on my hands, trying to gallop to jumps, ignoring my aids, etc. I beat her into shape ("beat" here meaning I gave her a verbal reprimand and a strong half halt), and then she was much better behaved.
Cross-rail course
She did not take the itty-bitty oxer seriously at all
Her bascule has improved even over pathetic cross-rails
After our cross-rail course, I hopped off, raised the jumps to 2'6"-2'8" and designed a new course. This was a lot less tricky. It went outside line (1 to 2), diagonal line (3 to 4), diagonal line (5 to 6), outside line (7 to 8). Casey had no troubles with this course set at this height, but she was still being a tad too strong (aka, we had very little brakes).
2'6" course
Since the 2'6" course went so well, I raised the jumps one last time. The jumps were about 2'9" to 3' (sorry for the weird measurements, our jump standards are off a little bit and so never measure to exactly a 3 inch height). I am not sure that I've ever actually jumped a full course at that height with Casey. We've jumped much bigger jumps than that, but they were either single jumps or single jump lines, never a course. That being said, we've been jumping about 3'3" regularly for the past month, so I didn't think that jumping a 2'9" course would be too much to ask.

The course ran a little bit interesting. The first attempt was a bit rough. The first line was smooth, but at jump number 3 (which is Casey's most despised jump of them all), Casey came up at a calm controlled canter... and then totally buried herself at the jump. She stuttered to an almost-stop and then jumped the jump, clearing an almost 3 foot jump from a stand-still! (You can see this in the video at 0:15.) She did smack the plank with her hind leg(s), but the jump didn't fall and she didn't feel as if she was hurt, trotting away as if it was nothing.
Jumping from an almost-stop
While I was super impressed with her ability to jump with no momentum, that's not exactly what we were going for, so we redid that line and then finished the course with no further mishaps.
She jumped it from a canter this time...
Second time through that line
We attempted the course once more. This time all went mostly well. Casey got herself a little bit too close at the sixth jump (but not nearly as bad as she did with the plank jump in the course before). We got some really nice distances and Casey was being super responsive and was jumping super well (those bounce exercises are really paying off).
Starting to jump more round
Casey doesn't try over this jump. Not sure why as it's almost the same height as the others #horselogic
The one total mess-up was on the last line coming home. I'm not really sure what happened. It felt like Casey was going to take one more stride, changed her mind and jumped, and totally left me behind because I was not expecting that. The result was that I thumped on her back, making her a little bit pissy and throwing her balance off so that we ended up cantering a diagonal line rather than going straight. The video makes it look better than it felt, because it felt super awkward and like my horse was about to go on a bucking fit because I landed on her too hard. I probably could have redirected her so that we completed the line, but I didn't and instead we turned around and did that line once more and it rode beautifully.
Don't do this if you want your horse to not kill you
Second time through went much more smoothly

My reflection from this ride is that we do need to keep working on our courses, because some things need to be ironed out more (like, holy crap Casey, please don't jump from a stand-still anymore & also your steering needs some work, because right now you ride like a car with a loose steering wheel), BUT there is so much good stuff that I see from our progress. We did successfully jump a 2'9"-3'0" course with no major snafus, we both felt confident in doing so, and we are working a lot better as a team (we are both working together and listening to each other's feedback). I am super hopeful that we are going to just keep getting better. Also, can summer get here already so I can show my awesome horse? That would be great.
Can we just appreciate how muscly she has gotten?
Casey doesn't understand why she has to stand next to the jumps
To my audience, do you jump courses regularly? Or are you like me and too lazy to bother with all that set-up?
She likes to just rest her head in my hands. Weird? Yes. Endearing? Definitely :)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Never Enough Time

My barn friend and I were talking the other night about how barn hours do not run at the same speed as regular hours. You can intend to only spend an hour at the barn and then somehow it ends up being three hours later.
I have no photos actually related to this content, so enjoy some photos I like of Casey!
This is not just a problem that I've been experiencing at the barn, however, it feels like I just don't have enough time for anything in my life right now. At work I've been running myself ragged to try to get ahead, at home I feel overwhelmed by chores, and because I work at my barn to reduce my board, even that is not really relaxing.
Gotta pay for her board after all
I can pinpoint which decision led to this point. I decided that I needed to prioritize spending more time with my family. This is a great goal and it's really important to me, but it made everything else seem magnified in terms of stress load. I haven't brought any work home with me since winter break, but the cost that comes at is that I have been staying at work past my assigned work hours and I take no breaks during the work day. I am spending time with my family during the week, but it makes me feel like I have to really rush at the barn to not hold things up at home.

Basically, I need to just slow things down. I have finally gotten ahead on my work, so I should be able to reduce my hours there. I will still have times devoted to spending with my family, but I will try to make those nights that I don't have to go to the barn. I am also going to reduce the number of hours that I spend at the barn working. Although I love reduced board, I need to feel like I'm not drowning anymore and having the barn be my place of peace is essential to that. I will still work on the barn on Sunday, but I'm going to make sure to keep my Saturdays to myself.
Need to spend more time with the hubby
The things that make me happiest are my family, my pets, and riding. There is really no point in life if you don't do things that make you happy, so I'm going to try really hard to focus on the good and to continue to make time for the things that I really care about.
Casey making me happy

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lazy Horse & Awesome Sister

On Saturday I was able to convince my sister to come out to the barn with me to play photographer. Since nobody in my family really loves horses, it is always a struggle to get anybody to come out with me, and I had new field boots that I really wanted to get photos of (before I totally destroy them with all of the dust and mud that exists in Oregon barns in winter). My sister probably just took pity on me, because I'm not certain that she finds coming out to take horse photos fun, but she did an awesome job!
My sister captured this gem. It might be my new favorite photo of us.

Casey was in a bit of a mood when I was grooming her (never really a good sign). She was being very agitated and pinning her ears. Grooming requires brushing her ticklish spots (which is pretty much her entire belly), so she's a bit of a snot some days about it.
This is as happy as she could manage to look

I was expecting a fiery cannon-ball horse when I hopped on her, but to my surprise, she was calm. Not only was she being calm, she was being downright lazy! I've owned Casey for six months now, and this was the first time that she's ever been LAZY. Some days she's been uncooperative, or slower than normal, or unmotivated to do what I want to do, but she's never just not wanted to do anything at all.
So calm that I did some trotting with no reins

The laziness was good in some ways. I got a really nice trot and canter that was calm and collected. This sounds like a broken record at this point, but holy crap Casey's canter has gotten so much better. It is now calm and collected-ish for the entire length of the arena (both long and short sides) and she will instantly collect if I slightly wiggle a rein. It's crazy. I don't know how or when this happened, but it's awesome. I'm able to sit her canter without any issue and no longer have to be in half-seat (although I still use half-seat plenty). 
Trotting in the dappled light

Such a balanced corner

Trotting horse butt

My new field boots were awesome at keeping me in place. They are super duper grippy. I'm not sure if this is a field boot thing, a this brand of boots thing, or a my-half-chaps-are-dying-and-no-longer-grippy thing, but it was super helpful for refining my position. I'll be posting a full review of them at a later point, once I've gotten to test them out more thoroughly, but so far I'm liking them.
Starting to look more uphill

See the little bit of bend! I'm much too excited about that...

Cantering nicely

Since we were just doing basic work at the trot and the canter it was nothing too exciting. The only truly exciting moment was when Eden (my dog) decided to mosey his way out into the arena to sniff at the rubber. At one point, Casey and I were cantering around the corner and at exactly that moment Eden trotted in front of our path. Casey tried to do a sideways kick/buck thing to try to murder him and my poor little dog went crying away to my sister, who then consoled the pathetic one. It was quite funny, and taught Eden a lesson. He is super well-trained, but doesn't take me seriously when I'm on the horse, because I can't get to him! So I was happy that he didn't get hurt, but also he totally deserved that.
Don't be deceived by them nicely walking next to each other. They are mutual enemies.

Once all of the trotting, cantering, and dog-murdering was over, Casey and I popped over some little jumps to get warmed up. This is when the laziness really started to show. Casey is very exuberant over jumps normally, and I just couldn't really get her going over decent sized jumps. She tried to lazily canter over to a 2'9" vertical and we almost didn't make it! (I mean we did make it... but only because Casey is ridiculously athletic and can save her own skin at the last minute...) 
Warm up cross-rail

A bit awkward, but we cleared it!

Excited for the jump

We didn't mess around with the single jumps for very long, just enough to warm up. Then we moved on to the bounce set. I set up the same bounce that Trainer set up for me in my last lesson. A cross-rail, followed by three cavaletti bounces, followed by a one stride to an oxer. I started with the oxer at about 2'7" and before I got back on the horse I tripled walked all of my distances to make sure they were right... but it didn't matter anyways. 
When will I learn to look up.... I swear I've been trying!

Our first attempt through, Casey jumped the cross-rail and then somehow managed to stop before the first cavaletti and then awkwardly trotted/walked her way through the bounce set. And then at the end she tried to rush to jump the oxer! I didn't let her, because that would've been a disaster, so we circled and tried again. 
Not enough energy!

Totally messing up, but I couldn't stop laughing

Trotting through the bounce

The second time through, Casey apparently still hadn't really learned her lesson because she was so slow that she had to throw herself to get over the bounces and then had a very awkward extended canter stride before throwing herself over the oxer. At this point I started second guessing my distances (even though I had triple-walked them), so I had my sister move the oxer forward about a foot. We went through again and though it was slightly better, Casey was still having to stretch to get over the oxer. So we moved it forward again by about two feet. 
Bouncy bounce

A bit more energy this time around

At the point I really got on Casey's case, and the next time through the bounces I gave her a nudge right before every bounce and finally we got a decent amount of power to get us nicely over the oxer. Even though I think moving the oxer helped, it really was just a case of not having quite enough horse. Casey's energy levels were just not there when we started, but once I kinda kicked her butt into gear things started working again.
Looking for the next jump



Once Casey figured out what we were doing (and that she needed to at least partially put effort in), we started flying over the jump line. We eventually got it up to a big 2'9" (it might have been more like 2'10"ish) and Casey was soaring over it. I had originally planned on rising it up to about 3'3", but since it took so many jumping efforts to get her jumping nicely in the first place I didn't want to push her. You have to ride the horse that you have, right? So I just gave her a nice long cooling down.
Her bascule is improving so much!

Cool angle

A big 2'9"

Post-ride, Casey was very hilarious in the cross-ties. Her butt is incredibly itchy right now, and I apparently hit the right spot because she was acting like a dog when you scratch them well. She was leaning into the scratches and her lower lip was quivering! It was really amusing, but she started to get a little bit too into it and stopped supporting her body enough so I had to stop because I was worried she was going to fall over! It was cute though :)
This was the spot

Quivering lip of happiness

I'm really glad that my sister got to come out with me. I know that it's not her thing, but I love it when I get to show my family why I love horses so much. They'll probably never get it, but I like to see that they care. Plus, she's really good at photography and so I get some awesome pictures out of the deal!
Cuddles with my love

She's so cute!