Friday, December 30, 2011

Cold Morning

I'm going to be sad to part these two. 

Dusty wanted to get in on the fun but wasnt sure how...

She just honed her inner Milo.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This is a Fun Puzzle

I have been having a really fun time working together this puzzle. It never fails that everyday I spend with my horse I learn something. Be it something frustrating or something happy, either way its constructive, if I only allow myself to see every learning situation that way.

I worked Milo again today and was having an amazing ride. I felt so right in my body, and he was so correct in his (granted, he still wants to go out the left shoulder, and there were a few moments of not perfection, but the moments (many) when we were connected - WOW!), everything was just making sense. We even got a cadenced and fluid turnaround to the right - the hock that he nearly refuses to plant into the dirt. But for some reason today, he held it strong for two revolutions - never moving it and pivoting around with some speed. I was so happy I took a picture of the tracks in the dirt and had to send it to Sarah.

A fellow boarder and good friend was riding her mount while I was and she and I talked about transitions. She follows principles of dressage and we always have an educational time bouncing ideas off of each other, this morning was no exception. I talked with her about the less is more concept going into the lope, and she bounced the same idea to me on the downward transition - one we both struggle with. She picked up a concept from a well-known dressage book and offered the idea to her trainer as well who recommended trying it. It was just to move the outside leg from C back to B at the downward transition, supplemented with a half halt. It was amazing to watch her school her big Warmblood with this "cue" and I thought it wouldnt hurt to try with Milo, as we struggle over the downward lope transition as well.

I found that it isnt so much just bringing the outside leg forward, but combining that with the half halt - at the correct time. It simply wasnt just the leg, but the whole dynamic (as usual): to stay strong in my core, soft at the back, lifted at the sternum and in my seat offering Milo to come up into the tack, and to stay steady with the connection on the rein as well. We had some nice transitions, up and down. And the lope work - consistent! And fluid! And without speed changes through straight lines or corners! A good ride. Lots to keep thinking about. I like this puzzle.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Just Allow Him to Lope

After my realization last Friday, I talked it over with Sarah, who had to laugh at my connection made. If I am hindering Milo's ability to lope off and transition down as smoothly as he is capable on the longeline, then how can I not get in the way? Sarah recommended, simply, to stay out of his way. Milo knows the smooch/kiss cue for the lope on the longeline, just use that same cue undersaddle and just go with him. She recommended still setting up properly, but I could do that without needing my reins or legs, I can cue with just my seat and a smooch.

I was really excited to try this out on Milo. I finished her stalls, finished the big pastures at Milo's barn, and finally was ready to try it out. I had decided to ride bareback so help improve my feel and to help Milo learn the subtle seat cue for the lope. But before that, I had some other things to try out as well. After noticing his toe dragging in the last videos, I put a single trot pole out to work over. Not to drill over, but to work over. I worked on a figure eight, circles, and a flat figure eight (crossing over the pole at an angle), but focused mostly on staying quiet while going over the pole, but with connection. I have a tendency to let Milo loose over the pole and he wiggles all over afterwards. That was another emphasis made for straightness on the approach, and the after. I started remembering again why my seat positioning is so important, and how just keeping my seat bones even resulted in Milo staying straight on the approach, over, and miraculously, afterwards.

I was excited, all the work was really productive and everything was feeling really good. When the trot would get quick, I would breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, trying to slow down the tempo in my body and melt into Milo's back. And it worked. For a few strides, then we would speed up again, and I would go through the same process. It was rewarding to know that I could slow Milo down with my breathing just as I had done on Wesley, but at the same time I couldnt help but wonder what I must be doing in my body to cause him to speed up again.

When all was going well, I simply tilted my hips and smooched. Milo trotted for a few more strides and raised his head slightly, not sure what he was supposed to do. I smooched again a couple more times, just as if we were on the longeline. Then Milo stepped into the lope, not as beautifully as I had seen on the longeline, but with a lot less tension then we had recently been getting undersaddle. I worked on the transition a few more times (still having issues with the downward transition...) and soon he loped off at the slight tilt of my hips and single smooch, strong and true, if not a little bulging at the left shoulder. Come another try and I learned the importance of paying attention to the direction of my hips. I had learned through the last few transitions that I could still prepare him for the lope departure by positioning my hips to the outside slightly to encourage Milo to start loading the outside hock, then change my hips for the lope depart. On this particular attempt, I loaded the outside hock but smooched without changing my hips. Milo loped off on the counter canter lead. It made me smile that he was listening so well to my seat that he picked the lead that he thought it was asking him for. It reminded me that the lead (and lope departure) comes from the direction of the hips, not the leg or the hand. I couldnt help but feel pleased.

In our loping, I reminded myself to stay over my inside seat bone, and half halt with the outside rein when the drive leg was coming to to the ground (or, for me to feel easily, when my seat was down in the three beat stride) when I felt us motorcycling. I tried to lope over the pole and do a little work at the lope over it, but hadnt set it in a good place for a lope circle, next time I will remember to.

As we loped along the long side after working on the departure again a few times the other direction, Milo was up and over his back, straight and everything felt perfect. I breathed out with the word Woah and softened the hinge in my back. Milo stopped on a dime, and I felt his hip sink right into the ground. I even heard the skid sound of his left hock as he left a trail in the dirt. I couldnt believe what I heard and got off just after Milo righted himself. I looked down into the dirt and saw the couple inch skid track trailing behind his left hoof. I couldnt help but smile widely and pat my puffing horse on the neck. So many lessons learned today, Milo. What a good ride.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bringing Milo Home

Thought we forgot about our property clearing? Heck no, I am still fervent about Milo come home. But it had been a lot of work getting people to come out and help finish the work. Fortunately, last weekend we had someone out to start clearing out the Fir trees (the first few clearing trips were all for Alder, but the Firs would require bigger machinery which is what all the wait was for).

There's Benny and Boyfriend starting the work with the Skitter
And the first Fir falls....(a nice crooked one right next to the house - what a relief!)

I had to go to work, but let me show you what I returned to. Follow me as I show you where the back pasture is...

Doest look like much, but the back pasture is only about 1/3 the way cleared...

Theres still this whole other side to it that hasnt been touched...

It smells like Christmas over here...hmm I wonder why??

View looking back from the rear pasture. Where the new mound of debris is is where the barn will go. To the right where a few trees are down is the arena, and to the left in front of the house is the front (main) pasture. 

Barn goes right here:


Front Pasture:

The plan is, once the arena is fully cleared we will fence that section first, and bring Milo home to live there. With Milo home, we can save on board costs and start getting the rest of the work done. Front pasture to be fenced before the rear, and with tax return cash, start getting the barn framed. We hope to have the barn finished before winter hits next year, but Milo will have a temporary lean-to in the arena. Once everything is finished and Milo is moved to the barn, then the work on the arena will start. Benny will come back out after the new year to finish clearing the firs when the log yard opens back up after the Holidays.

Getting closer!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Realization, and Shiny Shoes

Today was a big day for Milo. He got his first hind shoes nailed on. About two and a half years ago was when Milo last had shoes on, however then, they were nailed onto the fronts. This is the first time I have have hind shoes only on a horse, but the reasoning behind it makes sense for Milo and I. 

Sarah and I discussed my goals for Milo, and where improvements can still be made in both of our bodies. The discussion began a few months back, but we both came to the conclusion that Milo needed the stability and balance in the rear that hind shoes would provide. Eventually, he will get seasonal slide plates on, but until then, Sarah felt that he needed some additional balancing before the sliders go on. I had to agree. There are some steps that need to be covered before we are ready for those big slides. Strength might be there now, but its just a little out of reach yet. Which I am fine with. We still plan on painting his hocks to relieve any excess calcium build up in them, and that will come after a fresh shoeing as well. 

Milo was a pill for Peter, my farrier, which I felt terrible about. But Peter took it in stride saying that shoeing is different for the horse than trimming, combine with the hinds never having shoes on before, he felt Milo's actions were just fine. 

Hinds and Fronts, clean and trimmed. 

Posterior and anterior views of balanced shoes. 

Left Hind

Right Hind

When trimmed and shod, I brought Milo into the arena to longe a bit. I didnt have the time to ride but wanted to give Milo an opportunity to try out his new feet before I rode him anyways. Originally, I began videotaping segments of the longe session for documentation. But as the work continued, I actually learned something...

Milo at the walk to the left

Milo at the trot. I never noticed his toe dragging until watching this video. Not sure if it is consistent or due to the shoes, but I will be keeping an eye on it. Im ashamed with myself for not noticing this in person.

At the lope to the left

At the trot to the right

Milo at the lope and trot to the right.

It was in this video that I had my educational/epiphany moment. As I watched Milo move, I noticed how smoothly he was stepping into the lope and back down from the lope to the trot. This is new. Normally on the longeline, even with connection, he falls down into the trot, and drags himself into the lope. I havent longed him in probably a month or more, and it was interesting to see how different he was moving into these transitions. 

Then it hit me. 

Not only is my horse stronger with the "pieces in place for the puzzle", but he is capable of performing these transitions fluidly. So what does this mean? It means that we arent getting those transitions under saddle, because of me. Obviously, my horse is capable and strong enough to transition easily on the longeline, but under saddle, he still transitions in the same manner as previously noted. The difference has to be me. A little wave of disappoint overcame me when I made this realization, but at the same time I felt good knowing that my horse is very much capable of what I am asking him. I no longer have to feel like it is that difficult for him. He is strong, he is capable.  

That leaves one conclusion for me: figure out how to make my body capable and strong. Milo has been upholding his end of the deal. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Puzzle Pieces

I've had a hard time coming up with how to write this post the past couple of days. Probably because in my last lesson I never had that big Aha moment like I typically do. Not saying I didnt get as much from the lesson, but I just havent been able to find the words to express what happened.

When we arrived at Sarah's last Saturday, she wanted to get on him first. Milo tried hard for her, didnt give as much sass as he usually does to people who arent Mom, and what Sarah told me from her time on him was that he dramatically walks out of his left shoulder. He also had a really hard time with holding the shoulder straight and staying over his back. Her reasoning from this was that his shoulder bulge is an overcompensation from my exaggerated right seat bone, as discovered in my lessons on Wesley. Aside from that, Sarah noted that Milo is strong and has all of the pieces in place. It is now my job, and challenge, to figure out how to put all of the pieces together to form the puzzle.

I have to find a way to stay soft in my body, to stay in tune with it and Milo's and to ride in one unit.

I have been experimenting throughout the last three rides since that lesson. Today, I slowed everything down and focused on myself and my horse every step of the way. Trying to avoid micromanaging, I simply wanted to be aware of what my body was doing to effect how Milo's body responded.

Immediately, I noted how he walked off not in a straight line, but always with the left shoulder leading. Why was this? I focused on my body and concentrated on my seat bones. I tried again and again, keeping my seat balanced over both seat bones, and soon Milo was stepping off straight with his shoulders in check.

Now forward, I remembered Sarah telling me in the lesson to be aware of Milo's hip. When I ask for his shoulder he has been evading by bringing the hip in which does bring the shoulder in eventually, but he still is walking out the shoulder. Staying aware of this evasion, I again tried to find the cause in my body. When I found it was due still to an imbalance in my hips, I righted them and when the evasion occurred, I used a subtle half halt in the outside rein to rebalance Milo over his drive leg. It seemed to work for a step or two, and when I arced him slightly it seemed to improve more.

I experimented more on my body throughout the ride, and tried to maintain a light seat with relaxed ankles. It feel odd to be in such a position, but the elevation in my horse's back was notable. Clearly we were working together, step by step.

No incredible spins or slides, no fast lope circles or lead changes. Just trying to figure out how the puzzle goes together.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Remember seeing a purdy red banner flying from Milo's tail in the previous posts' photos? Its a red tail bag I made for him. I had actually made a few of my horse friends tail bags for Christmas presents (you can read all about it on my other blog Here) and it so happens I have a few extra I would like to sell.

They are $8 a piece if anyone is interested, definitely can ship.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Milo and Remi

My friend came over to help me clean the pastures and she brought her eleven month old, very excited Lab, Remi, who hit it off with Milo. While my chocolate lab, Angie, would never instigate or continue play with a horse, Remi found it tons of fun, as did Milo.

It would help if you watched where you were going, Milo...
After cleaning pastures, another friend (who previously let me borrow her clippers) met Milo and I at the barn to give him his second clip. Eventful day for Milo!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What's the Problem??

The last ...well, long time, I have felt more frustration in my rides with Milo then encouragement, progress, or, well, happiness. I dont want to come across as dramatic, but I have to be honest and this blog is for the good and the bad.

I have been having amazing lessons with Wesley where I learn a lot and feel really in tune with the horse and my body. I come away from those lessons pumped and super excited to go have a breakthrough with Milo, only to end up being frustrated and disappointed because the ride isnt a mirror copy of that I had on Wesley. I know I shouldnt expect each ride to be exactly the same because they are completely different horses, with different levels of experience, and well, Im sure I am not riding the same on each one.

But when I get back on Milo it just feels like everything I learned on Wesley just isnt possible with Milo. I was having a rough day at work because of a crummy ride in the morning, and a concerned friend noticed I wasnt myself. He asked what was wrong and in an effort to explain to a non-horse person the sensitive differences between the two rides, he simply said, "Milo is a smart horse, just give him some time and he will eventually learn."

I sort of shrugged in response, thinking, what does he know? He's never ridden a horse. But those words got me thinking.

Milo and I have only been working with Sarah for a little over a year. Sarah has owned Wesley for many years. Milo and I only get to have a lesson together maybe once a month (currently, we are going on two months, this is not by choice, btw; thank you life), Wesley gets to have lessons from Sarah multiple times a week. Wesley has different conformation than Milo making some maneuvers easier. Wesley also have years of correct conditioning to make those maneuvers He also has multiple people riding him and get learn to be more fine tuned with aids, Weez knows his job and performs only when you ask correctly. I am trying to teach Milo things that I just learned and dont truly know yet.

And this is where I really had to think about it, and consider what my friend had told me. Which made me come to the realization that I am a terror of a rider for Milo. I come off of a ride with Wesley and want it mirrored on my horse, who hadnt had a moment to even learn the concepts that Wesley had taught me. I think too much when I'm riding Milo. On Weez, Sarah is there coaching me through every step. If I run into a problem, or am not breathing (classic), she is there to point it out before frustration arises. On Milo, I am alone and trying to teach him something I just learned. So I try and remember all of the things that Sarah has told me to be aware of; pizza slices, half halt on the motorcycle, rotate my upper body into the turn, keep my legs at an arc, try and breathe meditatively throughout, look where I'm going, be aware of Milo's hind end even though I keep looking down to make sure my pizza slices are correct, realize Milo's head is coming up and when I apply leg he speeds up rather than lifts his back, so we work on that for a moment and forget about everything else until it dawns on me again that I need to be making sure that I'm doing what Sarah said.

It is tiresome. And frustrating. And I come away frustrated and upset with myself for getting so frustrated. I'm at a loss with no solution other than I need to be getting Milo out to lessons with Sarah more frequently. But that part of this all is out of my hands. Work schedules, boyfriend schedules, and truck accessibility. All I want for Christmas is a tow hitch on our F450, thats all I ask for! Then I have total freedom.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pizza Slices and Motorcycles

Sarah watched me quietly as I warmed up Wesley. Remembering what she told me during our last lesson, I tried to remember to keep the contact through my reins as steady and straight to the bit as I could; I wasnt supposed to cross over the neck and give an indirect aid, we were working on straight. As Sarah reminded me in this lesson, straight cannot come from an indirect rein aid, I had to think of the reins like a chute, and my job was to keep Wesley straight in the chute. This analogy worked much better for me than trying to simply keep my rein contact straight to the bit.

Further working with my rein aids, Sarah demonstrated to me how when I simply curl my wrists to engage the bit, it simultaneously makes my upper body curl downward, and hunch over. The idea is to stay tall and engaged in my body always and through transitions. So she demonstrated a better way to aid with the rein; come upward and out slightly, not a big dramatic movement like you might imagine, but simply picking up the reins in a different way that would not only still aid in a straight manner (and with no indirection), but also allow my body to maintain up and breathing. I could think of this as maintaining a pizza slice in my reins, with the base of the slice being at my hands, and the tip at the bit and mouth. This subtle change was amazing in the results I would get from Wesley.

Sarah kept reminding me to breathe throughout everything. To steady by body, and Wesley's, by breathing rhythmically. She further explained that studies have shown that horse's breathing rates are far slower and more methodical, more meditative, than in humans. If I could slow down my breathing and get closer to that of the horse's it relaxes the both of us. And when I do, it truly feels meditative. Breathe in through the nose for a few strides, breathe out through the mouth for another few. It was amazing.

I just had to remember to continue breathing while cuing for something. I found (Sarah pointed out) that in any cue I tend to hold my breath, which in turn makes me tense by body. I thought this through and discovered that I hold my breath in an anticipation for the horse not responding. Its as if I wait there for a minute and think, "I hope you are going to do as I ask". Even as I cue, I dont seem to truly expect that what I ask for is going to happen. It seems that I subconsciously think that the horse is always going to choose the wrong answer, and I will have to discipline as necessary. This realization made me somewhat sad.

Sarah simply reminded me to breathe through the transition, believe in the horse, because if I don't believe that the right answer will happen, then the horse can pick up on that doubt and subsequently, be doubtful, probably then resulting in the wrong answer.

When our trot, walk, and transition work was good, we walked for a few moments before moving into the lope. In this work was where the lightbulb really turned on.

"Half halt ... lope," Sarah would instruct for our lope transition. The idea in the lope departure is to get the outside drive leg engaged and ready to propel forward. The horse's energy needs to be back and on the drive leg to cleanly step into the lope. This is why we push the horse onto the outside drive leg, and therefore, onto the outside rein, while maintaining an arc to the inside. The half halt comes when you feel the outside drive leg just come forward before hitting the ground, because the half halt asks that drive leg to come into the ground and prepare to, well, drive. Half halt, lope.

As we loped a twenty meter circle, Sarah asked if I felt how Wesley was tipped at his back, much like a motorcycle looks when going around a corner. I could feel it, and I voiced that I feel like Milo moves like this a lot. Without really knowing how to correct it, I usually just picked up on the inside rein in an effort to lift the inside shoulder. In fact, Sarah said, it is not the shoulder we need to focus on, as that is just the result of the loss of the outside drive leg. Wesley was tipping over because he was not over his drive leg, and therefore the shoulder fell down. To capture that outside drive leg was to use the half halt at the precise moment, again. With the half half, I would also need to maintain that Wesley was on the correct arc, and my body was allowing it as well. Sarah instructed me to rotate my body into the direction of the horse's movement. Not tip my weight into the inside, but rotate towards the inside. As soon as I found that perfect degree of rotation, Wesley slowed down and stayed upright. I couldnt help but give myself a little grief as I poked fun at how simple it was and yet how I just couldnt seem to find this on my own.

After we caught some air at the walk, it was time to try the lope the other direction. Half halt, lope. Still riding without stirrups, this direction was suddenly harder and Wesley was much more quick and rushy. Sarah quickly noted that I needed to get my weight off of my outside (left) seat bone. This was causing Wesley to drop his shoulder to the inside, which further resulted in me sitting more deeply on the left seat bone. I noted that this is an extremely difficult direction for Milo and I, where I feel that because of the shim needed on the left side, I have to compensate for it by sitting deeper on that seat bone. And when I do, we motorcycle. Just as we had done the other direction, I needed to rotate my body into the direction of the horse's movement, and get my weight off of the outside. She further encouraged me to bring my outside leg further back, and create an arc in my body for Wesley to follow. As I tried to rotate my body in, I thought I was at the right degree when Sarah told me to bring my shoulders more into the turn. I turned by upper body more and voila, Wesley come up straight, and was able to power from the drive leg. We loped circle after circle, as I concentrated on how different (and correct) this feels versus the motorcycling. How was m body different? How did my seat bones feel? Was I breathing? As I memorized all that this felt like, I continued to work on my breathing, and as I slowed down, so did Wesley. I was able to keep a feel on the reins, but give him more slack.

It made so much sense.