Saturday, July 30, 2011

Show Proofs!

Show proofs are up from last weekend's show. I think I might like to get a couple to commemorate Milo's first B rated show, and well, our first "real" reining show together. Your suggestions on your favorites would be appreciated! I know I have a few picked out already, but I'd like to hear what you guys favor as well.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Not the ride I was hoping for

I guess I had some expectations going into my ride today. I know, not good, but I was hoping that my 21st birthday ride would be something to remember....for a good reason. I wasnt sure I wanted to post about this, but there must be a lesson in here somewhere...

I tacked up Milo with all the fixings for a trail ride. Fortunately for me with my birthday in the summer, Im usually always guaranteed a nice day, and today was no exception. I knew I wanted to hit the trails and get some sun for this special day. Throughout the week I had been asking if anyone was available to join me on the trail, but because its a Friday, most were working. Initially, I wasnt thrilled about going out alone, but decided I had done it so many times in the past, today would be just fine.

Interestingly, the night before as I had my last few thoughts before falling asleep, I pondered going on the trail without my helmet. I ride in the arena and at unfamiliar places without it, why not the trail? I barely even got the thought through my head and another voice screamed, "NO! NO! Wear your helmet on the trail! This would be the ONE time that something bad happened". I still considered my theory that I dont like going on the trail alone, but with my cell phone in my pocket, a helmet on my head, and chinks covering my legs, I ventured out - alone. In fact, I enjoyed the time to spend solely with my horse and not chit chatting with anyone. I decided it would be a good opportunity to "find my seat" as Sarah had suggested me doing my loping a long stretch of trail and finding the balance in my seat.

This was my intention upon hitting the trail. I wanted to be able to come back from it and tell you all that I found it, that we got our lead changes, and all went well and according to plan.

Silly me, I should have known you cant go into a ride with expectations.

To begin with, Milo spooked in the usual place before entering the trail. The solid fence outside a house that always bears barking dogs unseen behind it always makes Milo on edge, but this day Milo not only stopped and raised his head to stare at the unseen, but he whirled around and proceeded to take off the other direction. Of course I wasnt ok with that, and sent him back towards the fenceline. Again, he spun backwards, and with my encouragement for forward, he shot backwards, avoiding any means of direction from me. I seriously thought we wouldnt make it past there, and I had never experienced a spook like this from Milo before.

But, we did make it beyond the unseen barking dogs, and we were on the trail now. We actually enjoyed some nice trotting with a lifted back, and I started to try and find or rhythm together. There was a perfect opportunity for a lope with a long stretch of trail before us. I urged Milo into the lope, and really wanted to try for the lead change. Again, the voice told me not to - he was excited on the trail, not fully listening, not fully using his body, and certainly not fatigued to the lead as we get in the arena. And yet, I wanted to do what Sarah suggested, and I wanted to find those magical lead changes.

Unfortunately, wanting and performing are two separate things. It seems the more I want something to happen, the less I allow it to in my body. Needless to say, we did not get any changes.

And then the real event of the trail ride happened. As we were walking along a gravel logging road, a road that did not suit any working on with the deep gravel, I used the opportunity to let Milo get some air. A fork in the trail was coming up, but I thought nothing of it. We had passed this spot many, many, many times on our usual trail route, and what is scary about a fork in the road? Something was to Milo and he stopped his feet dead in his tracks and lifted his head up in his best impersonation of a giraffe. Instantly, he whirled back as he had done at the dog fence, and prepared to take off back for home. Heck no was I allowing that, and I brought him back around and urged him forward. Another double back, another turn around from me. Another flying backwards episode, urging legs and rein from me. One more spin back, and I tried to turn his head back around. This spin back sent Milo into the bushes on the side of the trail, which was up a mount slightly. As he turned around, and now with his head off center, and the footing not even, Milo scrambled to find his feet and we went down.

It played in slow motion, like these events tend to do, and I felt the slip of his hind feet as he tried to find a grip on the gravel. No anchor to grab onto, his foothold failed him, and his back and front went down simultaneously, directly onto the right side. As we came down, I knew we would land directly onto my right leg. In fact, the impact directed at the right stirrup, and we sort of crumpled around that, and the motion of the slipping rear took the hind end's weight off of the side. I had no problem getting my feet out of the stirrups - in fact, they seemed to do it themselves without my direction, but I still held one rein. Milo was barely down a moment, and he was right back up again. Me, not so much.

Although thankful that my helmet was on, my head never made contact with the ground (thank God), but I was most appreciative of my chinks. The chinks made the most impact with the gravel, and I think really saved me from getting torn up at all. It only took a few moments to process, and I felt that everything seemed to be in working order still, and I stood up. My feet (which had already been killing me from very poor tennis shoes I have been wearing while pushing carts at work) were hurting, and my right one particularly from impact. I felt a little crippled as I walked still, but typical for the past few days. But I felt no real "pain" and I led Milo towards the Y in the trail, as he was still upset about it. He tried to pull back once and I was able to use the end of the reins to slap behind him. As if nothing happened, suddenly Milo calmly walked forward and didnt care about the fork in the road anymore. Horses.

I mounted back up and we continued on our way. Milo was quiet and calm for a few minutes as we walked along, and then we had an issue with him listening to my lateral aids. I got really frustrated and ended up texting Sarah and getting a real lump in my throat. Tears welled up and I felt childish and wondered why on earth I was crying. I suppose frustration, the event that occurred, and the fact that my perfectly planned out ride was not meeting my expectations. I did, however, work on simple changes along another stretch of trail, and did, by the end, get some very nice changes. I suppose I will focus on that "ta-da" for today.

Not the memory I wanted to hold for this day, but a memory nonetheless.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

First Time, Both Directions

Monday I wanted to ride Milo because, well, Mondays I have off for cleaning at Sarah's and the pastures at Milo's, but considering how my work schedule was panned out, it would be a good day to ride. Knowing he had been worked pretty steadily this last week however, and the horse show of course the day prior, I knew I didnt want to work him that hard. I tacked up and we trotted around a bit, doing the usual warm up exercises one-handed.

Finding straight, staying centered between the reins, staying centered in my body, and keeping Milo engaged, our trot work was nice. He easily moved his hip out, crossing his inside hind over the outside, further building hock support and strength. Everything was going nicely.

I sent him into the lope and he worked well, so I decided to touch on the lead changes, maybe just simple changes, depending on how well Milo was reacting. I loped him on the canter circle, then off onto the counter canter, spending more time on the counter canter than the other to help fatigue the lead. I tried to stay aware, however, of not only maintaining straight in Milo and lifted shoulders, but also in the position of my body, making it very obvious the direction my hips were holding, as well as the positioning of my legs. I started bringing Milo down the quarter line, wanting to work on the lead change in a location where I had the longest stretch before me, instead of a location such as the center of the two circles, which doesnt allow for much time before reaching the wall.

The first pass down the quarter line on the counter canter, Milo got a little excited and anticipated a change in my body. He lost the all important straight element, and I knew it would be ridiculous to ask for the change. Back onto the counter canter circle, and then to the quarter line for straight again, and we had a nice counter canter straight line. I let him counter canter the rail, and brought him into the quarter line once more. If he maintained straight and balanced, I would approach the lead change. He did, so I remembered Sarah's words to change my legs and achieve bend through his body first, then change my hips. I did so and Milo seemed to bounce into the air. I picked up on my outside rein, but didnt hold or balance off of it as I was doing at my last lesson with Sarah. It took great thought from Milo, but I felt the change and looked down at the leading shoulder in amazement - we got a lead change on the first try. I praised him heavily and came down to a halt, patting him and letting him know that that was exactly what I wanted.

I let him walk for a few moments to catch his breath, and went over what was different this time around. I stayed engaged in my core, lighter in my cues, and broke it down for Milo. Changing the bend in his body first, then ask for the change, support with the outside rein when he needed it. Moreover, I stayed centered and where I should be - not leaning forward as is habit when asking for the change.

Soon I loped him off on the other lead, developing a cadenced and balanced lope on the correct lead circle. Milo felt great, and I repeated the counter cantering to help fatigue. I needed to remind myself to stay engaged and not allow myself to pump with my seat. It took some work, but I got balanced counter canter circles, and straight counter canter lines. The second counter canter line on the quarter line I came to and Milo felt straight and ready. I asked for the bend in his body first again, changed, and this time needed only a more subtle assistance from the outside rein. Initially, Milo only seemed to be moving laterally away from my inside leg for the new bend, and he drifted over to the wall. I didnt think we would get the change as I half halted with the outside rein, but Milo lifted and changed to the new lead. I stopped him only a few strides after the new lead, and again, heavily praised him. That was about as good as I could have asked for, so right then and there I got off of him. I lead him around and around for our cool-down on the ground, Milo licking and chewing complacently.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Our Personal Best

Settling Into The Show. 

My first class was Reining 1st 2nd Year Showing, to be judged following NRHA's rulebook. There was one caveat - two handed on a curb bit was allowed, but simple changes resulted in a penalty deduction. Initially I had been informed that one handed on a curb bit was the requirement so I was prepared for one handed riding. Right before going into the arena, I was told the exception. But I decided to go one handed anyways. I could always use the second class (which also allowed for two handed riding) to school if I needed to.

Milo felt a little strung out and wasnt quite as round as I was hoping for. But we began with our four spins each direction. A few bobbles, but overall I was pleased with his pivot foot and increased speed we have began touching on. I shortened my reins just a touch, feeling he might get a little long in the loping. As I did so, he seemed to think that I was cueing for a back - a problem I had encountered two days before riding at home. Hand forward and light bumping from my legs and he still backed. I gave him a swift kick behind the rear cinch to send him back forward again, but I was sure we had exceeded our allowed five steps before it was considered an additional maneuver and penalized accordingly.

No matter, I got Milo forward into the lope. We were to begin with two large fast and one small slow. Forgoing soft and round for speed was my dilemma, and I decided to keep Milo correct rather than fast, so there wasnt much speed difference, but Milo felt relatively even between my reins so I was pleased with them nonetheless. A simple change in the center and we completed our circles to the right, which felt far more balanced and controlled than the prior ones. I was pleased with our second simple change which consisted of only a one step change, and off we were heading for our first rollback.

I had only started making sure we had a rollback this past week, but Milo had been doing well so long as I stayed centered and soft in my back and seat. The first stop and rollback felt pretty nice - I had allowed myself to melt into the stop and finish the maneuver before asking for more as Sarah suggested from the night before. I tensed up more as we came to our second rollback right in front of the judges, but Milo still pleased me with a good turn and lope off. We rounded the corner again for our run down, and I realized how straight my horse was staying. All to soon, another realization came that we were reaching the end and my horse wasnt as round as I should have prepared him to be. I quickly jammed my seat down for a stop, leaving Milo to stop the only way I had allowed him to. A scrambled back, and we were done. I was still pleased with the performance.

We scored a 63 from both judges, placing us far behind the first and second place riders. I wasnt surprised, however, knowing they had executed flying changes and also hadnt incurred an additional backing penalty. But I was still tickled with the knowledge that Milo and I completed our first nice reining pattern - one handed. I was proud that I pushed ourselves to go one handed. My second class was coming up fast, however, and I had another pattern to memorize. Quickly, I did that, and I was called first into the arena again.

My horse felt much more with me this time as I walked to the center of the ring. I had debated jogging in, as was allowed, but felt it might get Milo a little excited to start with. The judges could just wait until I reached the center, allowing myself lots of time to get my horse together.

This time, a lope off to the left was first, and we had no extra credit backing steps involved. I was pleased with our more balanced lope off, and our two circles to the right. This was the Dave Reaume Memorial Green Reiner class, whose pattern did not depict fast or slow circles. I conferred with the show secretary quickly before entering, who advised that I complete two circles even together. Milo felt well balanced and cadenced. We even had a nice little butt to the dirt stop at center for our spins to the left. I was happy with the two spins, and soon we were off onto our new circles to the right, which felt just as nice, if not better, than those to the left. Another nice stop, but I rushed right into the turnaround, not fully setting Milo up. He tried to step out after the first quarter turn, but came back and completed another nice turn. One more lope off now and we rounded the corner for our one and only rollback in this pattern.

Milo felt straight and round as we came down the quarter line, and he stopped nicely to my softer lower back. I was happy with the rollback, but the final rundown was left to come, again in front of the judges. Why this gets to me I dont know, but I feel the pressure is really on when I stop that close to them. I let it get to be again, and my horse lost impulsion as I froze up mere strides before I was supposed to ask for the final stop. Milo did as I only allowed him, again, but backed well. We were done, and again I was very happy with our ride.

We scored a 68 and a 68.5 from the two judges. Not placing us above the only other rider, but it was certainly our very best score yet! A 67 was my best score previously from the last Winter Buckle Series show in February - I was pleased. Although the pattern didnt call for lead changes, possibly boosting our ability to pass our previous score, I was still mighty proud of my Milo. 

My two favorite boys. Many thanks to Boyfriend, who helped make the show possible for me. 
Milo got a rub down after I watched both Sarah and Melissa complete their western riding class, and I had packed a few cookies, which he got as well. I relaxed and watched a few classes before deciding to pack it up and head home. The show was moving quickly and Sarah only had one more student still showing, so she would be heading back home too. 

Milo wrapped and ready to go. (I picked the entire standing wraps set on craigslist for $10. I think the orange looks striking on Milo, and Boyfriend agreed). 
On the way home, we stopped at Cowboy Country, a western shop we dont get to frequent much, and Boyfriend decided to dote on Milo just a bit...

Brand new Weaver halter, in orange! I think I like it too. :) Need to order the matching lead now as the purple just doesnt work. 
A successful weekend in deed. Milo rolled as soon as he stepped foot back into his pasture. Back to normal horse-dom now for him, this shiny clean show horse existence is fun, but just for the weekend. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Settling Into the Show

I have a real reining horse!

I guess I have felt that my horse is capable of reining, but after this last show I really feel like I can call myself a reiner now, and that we fit in with the other reiners out there competing. I have a lot to learn still, but I think I can say we are no longer ignorant newbies.

Catch my drift? Milo and I went to our first B Rated horse show this weekend. For those who might be unfamiliar, Washington State divides itself into "Zones" and each zone puts on their own B System horse shows. They are double judged and follow the same rules as the breed and discipline associations. I like to say that they are two steps up from schooling and one step down from A rated or Breed show.

I was very excited to get off of work Saturday evening and haul up to beautiful Port Angeles for the show. While outside of my "Zone", Olympic Peninsula Zone is the closest nearby that offers reining, so I transferred zones to qualify myself for year end awards. It is about an hour and a half drive to get to the show grounds, but a similar one to the Tacoma Unit where I was showing this past winter.

Sarah and some of her clients were already there (including Melissa and Grace) for the classes Saturday including the Maturity classes and sweepstakes. I was a bit bummed to miss the sweepstakes classes, but I was lucky to switch shifts and get off earlier from work anyways. We still made it to catch a few glances at the reining sweepstakes classes, and with good time to settle Milo into his stall before classes ended and I could school in the unfamiliar arena.

The fairgrounds are beautiful. While the arena is a bit rocky, the stalls and stall fronts in the horse barns are well constructed and kept up. I didnt fear my horse escaping overnight due to lack-luster stalls at some of the other show grounds I have gone to locally. Milo settled right into his stall with fluffy shavings and water buckets. I was equally impressed with the organization Sarah had gone through to make the showing experience as close to home as possible. She completely overhauled the empty stall to a tack room inclusive of hanging saddle and bridle racks. She even got the aisle-way set up for grooming and saddling in cross ties and very easy access to all the things we would need. I had never gone to a show with Sarah in her element before and I must say, I definitely will try and go to shows with Sarah because she makes things entirely comfortable and stress free.

So, after the classes were over and Milo had had some dinner in his belly, (oh and one of Sarah's students so kindly re-did my less than exceptional banding job) I tacked up Milo and hit the arena by 9, with just enough daylight left to get some schooling in. Milo worked well after checking out the arena and it's things to look at, and we had a nice ride. There were certain things I new needed some addressing, and sure enough that is when Sarah made it over to the arena to watch. I was again holding some tension in my lower back and Sarah also suggested giving Milo even more rein. I found the more rein I gave him and the better seat and leg cues I asked with, the lower Milo's head came and the more he rounded up and reached down into the bridle. Its funny how giving trust to your horse and riding correctly can do that!

Horses all snug and ready for bed in their sleazies and sheets, we all enjoyed some campfire smores, potato salad, and chicken along with a lot of laughs and entertainment. Boyfriend had so ingeniously created a sleeping quarters in my tack room, which naturally I forgot to take a picture of when set up, but it worked famously for a one-nighter at the show grounds.

Reining was the first classes of the morning and I was up bright and early at 6 am. I fed Milo (who I had no issues with BTW, nor did anyone else such as the gal who pulled him away from his food in his stall the night before to band him in the cross ties before I got in there from the show office), cleaned and watered him, and prepped for my classes. Milo had very clearly enjoyed a nice slumber the night before, which I was happy about knowing that his usual 10 am snooze-fest couldnt happen so he was at least well rested and comfortable.

Before long it was time to tack up and warm up. Milo felt great in the warm up arena, though small, I didnt get a chance to lope him before classes were called for the reining. Fortunately, after the arena drag, they opened the show ring up to reiners for a 15 minute warm up period, where I was able to get some loping, simple changes, and rollbacks in. Milo didnt feel quite as with me as the night before, but he still felt good and I was ready to go. I looked around at the fellow reiners riding and felt a pang insecurity, then reminded myself that I was interested in the score, not the placings.

They called the order of go and Milo and I were up first out of three. I had only looked at that class's pattern not wanting to confuse myself with knowing two. I entered the arena, Sarah, Boyfriend, and the Judges watching.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Little More History

As a follow up to yesterday's post and it's comments, I thought I would delve into the history of Milo to try and sort this mess out.

Within the first week or so of bringing Milo home to J's place, there was an incident between he and J. J went into the stall during feeding time for whatever reason, and Milo swung around and tried to kick him. Although older, J was fast and got out of the stall quickly and somewhat panicked. He later told me what happened, but neither one of us thought much thinking this new horse just was very uncomfortable with either of us. I was not told by the former owner about any sort of food aggression, so we both just tried to monitor it. While Milo might pin his ears for the next few weeks at dinner time, no one entered his stall and therefore nothing came of it.

Then at the end of August I took Milo to fair. The horses are kept in a small box stall during fair week, so needless to say it is very close proximity. One evening I entered the stall with the hay bag in hand, and Milo pinned his ears at me. Not thinking much, I just asked him to get away from me while I brought the hay bag to the back of the stall to tie. My motion to keep him away from the food seemed to upset him, and he swung his rear around and kicked out - narrowly avoiding me and instead kicking the water bucket. Being as we were at fair and there were people around, I couldnt take him outside for a groundwork session as I had wanted to. I did, however, halter him and get after him as I could about what happened and kept he food away from him that night, although I wasnt sure that was the best solution. I feared it would only aggravate him more or lead to confusion as they dont always associate event = no food. I waited until after fair to try and address it again.

After fair, Milo was moved from J's to a small boarding facility. The owner fed the six horses kept there and they were housed in large stalls with large paddocks attached. Before moving him, I let her know there had been a few episodes due to food aggression. I was working on it, but I wanted her informed. She still allowed us to come. So I set to work.

I worked with him and a flake of hay repeatedly for a few weeks. I would enter the stall with the flake of hay, and a longe whip behind the stall door if I needed it. I didnt want him to see the longe whip immediately and respond differently because of it - I wanted to get to the root of the problem. So as I would enter the stall with hay, if he so much as pinned an ear at me he got a verbal warning, a sharper body language, or as needed, I would remove the hay back into the stall aisle-way and send him outside of the stall using the longe whip. Eventually, we got it figured out that when hay entered the stall and someone was in there, he had to stay out of the stall in his paddock and he could not enter until someone was completely out and the door was closed, only then could he eat his food. Only a few repetitions with this technique, and the BO was able to feed him the same way. It make cleaning easier (I was one of the three cleaners) because it also developed into him exiting the stall if a wheelbarrow came in. Things were working well.

We were incident free for probably six months or so (I didnt stay at that facility for very long) and I had now owned Milo for just under a year. I moved him to a new facility where he had a stall and paddock, and group turnout in a pasture daily. I again informed the owner that he had some history of food aggression, but he wasnt concerned because all the food was dumped down into the stall from the loft above, so no one entered the stall with food. The cleaners (again, I was one of them) could enter the stall and the same routine of wheelbarrow entering stall made Milo exit the stall. I figured things were still going well. Until, Boyfriend entered the stall.

I had put Milo away for dinner after a ride, and went to put my tack away in the tack room. I hadnt closed the stall door entirely, knowing I needed to go in there one last time for something. But while I was absent, Boyfriend went into the stall because he wanted to give Milo a carrot. Milo pinned his ears at him, and Boyfriend tried to get him to come away from his food. Milo again, swung his rear around and kicked out at Boyfriend, who, surprised and appalled, exited quickly and immediately told me what happened. I went back to our previous work and ensured that my horse could respect my space when in a close proximity to him and food, and this time, also expected a pleasant demeanor.

That year I took him to fair again and had no incident. Maybe things were looking up.

When Milo was five I moved him to where he is now, but initially he was kept in the main barn with a paddock. Although no one had to enter his stall to feed, they used windows to dump the feed into from the aisle-way, I started to notice that he began pinning his ears again for food. I asked the feeders to not allow him to do so or to give him a swat in the nose and wait until he was more pleasant, but none adhered to it. I cant entirely blame them though as they have around forty horses to feed - they dont want to take their time to sit and train and horse.

But he still was doing well for the feeders so I thought maybe it was just a bad face, nothing more. Until one night after a ride, I led him into his stall for food. I was slacking off now and not making him stay in the paddock before I left the stall, instead, I asked for his nose to come around to me and wait for the verbal "ok". I did this because I always hated taking a halter off a horse and their nose barely getting out of the halter before trying to dive away to the food. This also kept his head by me and his rear away. One night, he did not meet his nose to me and instead he tried to dive for his food. I began to shoo him away from it and out to the paddock, and he stood stock still, butt pointed my direction. He didnt try and kick, but he was adament that he didnt want to move anywhere and he sure made some nasty faces. I quickly was able to grab the longe whip I still housed outside the stall, and sent him out, waiting for a pleasant demeanor and my exit from the stall before him getting food. I again did this ritual for a while before I felt we were on solid terms.

Then the opportunity came for Milo to go down to a pasture. Initially, he was with one of the two year old babies, and there was no accident aside from Milo picking on the baby. Eventually, Champ was moved, and Marie was brought in for the summer camp. Marie and Milo got along well, but I noticed that Milo started getting attached to her and would call when she left. I also had noticed in times prior, that Milo got very attached to certain mares (one during drill team and the rodeo, very un-fun rodeo, another to Heather's Missy when we hauled to practices together and cow sortings). Eventually, I heard that Milo was getting pushy and bossy towards people not only taking Marie away, but also entering the pasture. These were barn children helping with the summer camp, he certainly could not be throwing his weight around for kids. I advised they entered the pasture with a longe whip, and things seemed to work out after that.

When Milo was moved into the pasture with Jake, I, just for the sake of it, wanted to address the food issue again and make sure that he still understood that in the pasture he was to stay away from me near food and stay pleasant. We seemed to establish that, and I told Jake's owners how I keep him away if they have a problem with him. It didnt take long before I was being told that he was being pushy, so they would bring a longe whip in. While they are too soft-hearted to actually keep Milo away by use of the whip or body language, things escalated. From pushy, Milo started to get pushy and mean to them, even rearing up one time. Another time, I was told Jake's owner just tried to adjust Milo's blanket leaning to the side, and he turned around and threw his weight around at her, ears pinned and upset.

Finally, and as I addressed here a few weeks ago, Jake's owner decided that to keep Milo away from her as she was in with Jake, she would give him alfalfa pellets, and that is where I think things have really gone downhill. Rewarding bad behavior with food, to a food driven and aggressive horse? Why oh, why? But you cant turn the clock back.

Thinking back through the events now, it seems I have really only addressed the space issue - to keep Milo out of one's space. But I only touched on the aggressive part, only requiring Milo to appear pleasant (at least, no pinned ears). While I have groomed him and such with food, I can also tie him directly above his hay pile and do whatever I please - grooming, tacking, etc and he doesnt mind and listens well to me.

So what of it now? Well, I can work with him in the pasture again and see what I find from him, but I'm assuming not much. Also, Milo and I have been working together for years and as Clara puts it, "he's a momma's boy who has learned to listen to me but lacks respect for anyone else". I still think it's impossible to expect every other person to have a one-on-one session with him, especially since feeders dont need to enter the pasture area.

I'm thinking that Milo has turned from a food aggression in the beginning to food and territorial aggression which could be from becoming attached to pasture mates, and possibly the very means of being on a pasture, maybe rekindling some sort of feral stallion like behavior for owning territory?

I'm curious to see how the show goes this weekend, and maybe I can get Sarah to help address this. Maybe if I can get her to feed him and see how he reacts, I can see how Sarah responds, and Milo likewise. It's at least an idea.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Bit of Bad News...

So my friend Clara, who owns Major and I have posted lots of blogs with her in them, feeds at the barn on the weekend evenings. I got a phone call from her after my 9:30 shift Wednesday evening saying that Milo double barrel kicked her. So immediately I called her to get the details. Apparently, she wasnt sure how Milo and Chica were getting along, so decided to feed him on the fence so they werent in close proximity to each other for feeding. Although I have been told that they are getting along well (and even sharing the same grain bucket) for feeding time, Clara wasnt sure. I guess they ate their food just fine, but Milo had dragged the bucket into the pasture so she couldnt reach it from outside the fence. Not thinking anything of it, Clara went into his pasture to retrieve it. Bucket in hand, she returned back to the gate. I guess that is when Milo made his move.

He rammed his butt right up into her and nearly pinned her against the fence, double barrel kicking out all the while. While not landing a blow due to the close proximity, somehow Clara lost her footing and went down. She said she feared he would double around and pretty much maul her, but I guess he just resumed his kicking. With quick thinking, Clara got to her feet and launched the grain bucket at him making him back off just slightly, but allowing enough time for Jake's owner to hand her a longe whip through the fence. To which Clara went after him with.

Fortunately, Clara knows how I handle Milo and how to gain his respect. She very clearly let him know that his behavior was absolutely not acceptable, and got him backing away from her respectfully and yielding his hindquarters away each direction. I am most pleased that she did this so he immediately would know his behavior was unacceptable. And better yet, she was not hurt.

But this brings me back to this topic that seems to be haunting us and the talk of the barn lately. Its the hot topic that Milo is food aggressive, although Clara felt a different take on her account with him. She suggested that he is more territorial aggressive/dominant. But the food just ads to his dominance. While still unacceptable, its an interesting thought. I have been told by numerous people that he can get into their face/space if they enter his pasture, or take out another horse from it.

Fortunately, Chica's owner, Brittany, has not had any issues with Milo and I hope it remains that way. And I dont have any problems with him. But how can we make it totally clear to this little momma's-boy that he must respect anyone that interacts with him? It isnt necessarily fair or right for everyone to have to have a one-on-one session with him. Its just not possible. I cant do anything but be frustrated over the situation and throw my hands into the air. I am at a loss.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How Long Will This Friendship Last?

My good friend and former drill team partner is keeping another one of her three horses at my barn for this winter. While one has been here for a while now and is used in her lessons and is being leased, she decided that she wanted another one here for the winter to bring back to shape. The third one was used for the drill team this year and got a lot of saddle time, while his half-sister, Chica was a little more dormant in her pasture, recouping from a colic scare this past winter.

Chica would be staying in one of the three pastures, but which one? Initially my friend thought to keep her with the BO's broodie, Lexi, as Covergirl would be leaving with her owner in only a few weeks for another year at school in Idaho. In the meantime, I told my friend she could put Chica in with Milo and we could see how they would get along. I also felt that Milo needed a friend again as it had been a couple weeks since Diego moved out. She agreed and after I left and she worked Chica, she put her in with Milo. Apparently, they did just fine and she sent me a photo of them grazing together.

The next day I got a voicemail from her saying that they were still doing well and in fact, come dinner time (our most concerned portion of their rooming together) they shared the same grain bucket! Apparently Milo and Chica switched off grain mouthfuls and there were no hooves flying or pinned ears. Thats great news! But....I dont really want the money I spend in supplements being shared between two horses. So I think Chica will start getting her own grain (currently she is with none) to hopefully keep the two occupied eating in separate buckets.

Enough chatter now, meet the new girl! I hope she stays with Milo through the winter.

Meet Chica! I forget her registered name though. Pretty girl. 
Whatta boat! Fun ride though! Pwetty girl
Let's congregate around the wheelbarrow...
Oh hello. 

They seem to be doing well together. Hope it lasts!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Finding the Ta-Da for Today

After my lesson on Wesley, I really wasnt entirely sure how I would approach my ride to follow on Milo. All I knew was that I would work in the outdoor arena and allow myself plenty of space and not get concerned about an impeding turn or end of a line. I was fortunate that this particular week there was no summer lesson camp at the barn, as they use the outdoor arena for the majority of the day. I was also fortunate in that the arena had just been dragged and all poles, cones, and barrels were moved out of the way. Only one person had made tracks in the fresh dirt before me, and they had mostly worked on the rail. As you may know, I hardly work on the rail.

I worked Milo on the ground before the ride. Mostly because I thought he might be a little excited to ride in the outdoor as we had not worked down there for well over a month and a half. But I also felt that I needed to find some connection with my horse before I rode. I have found that if I have any sort of doubt about the proceeding ride, a good session of ground work helps build both of our confidence.

Milo was not excited, but was distracted, and needed a lot of coming the line to help him find connection on the line. We spent a good amount of time just working on the ground, but soon I got on. I walked him around a lap or so one-handed, and tried to find engagement and lift through my seat and leg with only minimal hand as needed. We moved into the jog and it wasnt long until my horse found a great rhythm. He easily moved laterally off my leg, loading the outside hock and filling the outside rein. I reminded myself to give him more head as Sarah had suggested on Wesley, allowing Milo to carry himself and make a mistake as needed. I found it only took a few corrections and soon I didnt need to touch his face again, I could rebalance him with my seat and leg. He felt great so I put him into the lope.

We loped first to the right. Typically, Milo has a hard time with dropping his shoulder or tipping his hip out on this lead. Again, only a few corrections were needed, and my horse loped around with cadence and balance. I was particularly pleased because he not only had his own head, but I felt a true rhythm in our pace together. I didnt have to worry about if I was pumping with my seat, but I knew my core was engaged. I really was having a great time loping him around. I couldnt believe this was my horse. To produce this lope and on top of it, in the outdoor arena with has deep spots, dips, and is usually very difficult for many horses to find balance in. And yet my horse felt spectacular.

I decided to challenge myself and I found straight through the center of a figure eight, then sent him into the counter canter, still one handed. I did have to assist here and there, but my horse still stayed well balanced, even wanting me to change the lead for him. I wanted to fatigue him some more though, and I went back and forth from one circle here on the correct lead, to a few more there on the counter circle, always making sure we were nice and straight between the two. I didnt want to change him on the circle so I sent him on the center line and prepared to use my leg to push him onto his outside hock. Milo anticipated me and broke to the trot. I set him back up again and found a good lope, and tried again. No lead change. I realized I was leaning forward and not really pushing him over before changing my seat. So I set him up again. I needed more support from the reins this time, to help support him. I went two handed and tried once again. This time, we changed, back to front. It took about two strides after the cue for him to change, but it was correct and we did it. He got lots of praise, and I texted Sarah with the happy news.

Milo needed a breather as we had been loping for a while that direction, and it was quite warm out (well, for us Washingtonians living under a rain cloud). After some time though, I put Milo into a trot and got him mentally ready to start working again. I had him pick up the lope from the walk, however, and I could tell from the get-go that my horse was quite tired. We were back to that "scrambling" lope and with me tired too, I was pumping with my seat. I really focused on myself and tried to hold my core. After getting some stabilization, I then lifted my seat and held with the rein as I had needed to do on Wesley to get Milo to lift up and drive from the hind. It took a few circles, but we finally got a balanced lope this direction, although it still did not feel as fantastic as our lope earlier. I maintained my one-handed riding and again reminded myself to give Milo more rein and balance myself. If Milo needed to hold himself up, I needed to as well. After I let off of his face and found my seat again, Milo dropped his head and lifted his back, loping a nice circle. I sent him straight, then to the counter canter where he immediately broke to a trot. Milo was tired, but he couldnt do that. So again I set him up and we got a counter canter circle, then back to the correct circle.

We played this dance a few times; I didnt want to ask for a lead change before I knew we were actually ready for it. But I asked too soon. Anticipating and tense, Milo kicked out on my first time asking. Too much leg, I thought to myself, and set him up again. Tipped forward that time. Try again. Didnt follow through with the rein when he needed the support. Set up for it again, find a balanced counter canter again. Finally, it all came together, and while it was painstaking and again not perfect, it was correct from back to front and we did it. I gave him praises again and spent a long time cooling out my puffing horse.

What did I discover the most that day? The ta-day for today, as Sarah put it. The lead changed might not have been beautiful and they came through difficulty, but we got them. Ta-da. What I want to focus on more was the beautiful ride we did have before I began working on the lead changes. I think that was the real ta-da for today. I let my horse have his head, I let him hold himself up and I truly had a fun and rewarding ride loping my horse easily around, finding straight, and remaining balanced. Ta-da!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Some Reminders from Wesley and Sarah

Because of the canceled lesson on Saturday, today I was to take a lesson on Wesley instead. Which both Sarah and I thought would be a good situation anyways because I really needed (need) more help on allowing my body to make the lead change. As I tacked him up, reaching for the familiar snaffle bit I had been riding him in previously, Sarah instead had be put in a correctional curb bit and commented that we would be working one-handed. And so the fun shall begin.

I crawled aboard the tall and handsome Wesley and warmed him up walking him and torso twisting. Something felt a bit different in my body, but I couldnt pin point what. True to her intuitive self and sharp eye, it didnt take long until we were trotting and Sarah told me to find that tension in my body and release it. She commented "it could be your lower back..." and as soon as she said that, I knew thats where the tension was, and suddenly a light bulb went off as I remembered back to my previous rides recently on Milo. I had been holding tension in my lower back when riding one handed. Could this be how I have learned to ride one-handed, when I was on the drill team and balanced off of my hands?

It didnt take long as we worked in the lesson and Sarah commented more than once that I was balancing off of the reins and I had to find my seat and my legs. She reminded be that there doesnt need to be contact in a shank bit, and instead of relying on a half halt for instance, we need to find it in our bodies and ride more through leg and seat. She told me for a second time that I am "always riding and in complete control", I need to "let the horse make the mistake and then correct it or else they will never learn.". I even have that on recording from two lessons ago, but I really could feel what she was saying in my one handed riding. Sarah had us work at the lope the majority of the lesson, and of course, the lead changes.

Things just didnt feel like they were going so well in many ways. I couldnt seem to find it in my body to lift Wesley's back and engage his hind, and wanted to hang off of the bridle. If I wasnt hanging, then I was releasing too soon. As we worked down the center line and Sarah repeatedly told me with each pass to find straight, not let Wesley drop his shoulder out, dont let him fishtail, lift him into the bridle before nit-picking. And our lead changes werent that great. I was feeling a real lack of confidence wondering to myself how if I couldnt get a good lead change on this lead changing machine, how on earth could I do this on my own horse? I was starting to feel defeated and then Sarah made it much more clear.

Although she had been telling me to find the new bend with my body and then ask for the change, I just wasnt getting it. Then she finally told me to use my leg to do so. As we loped on the left lead down the center line to prepare for a change, I was to move him laterally just slightly from my right leg to get the bend, then change my hips for the change, opening up my new inside leg, shapping my legs' positions. Finally, the change felt clean and right. I rode him around a little longer and thought about how it happened. Straight, balanced, leg before seat. All in conjuction however. I discovered the difference wasnt just my realization of more leg and less hand, but that I just did it. I didnt over think every individual cue, I just let it happen. Sarah talked to me about what I was understanding but I just couldnt seem to make words of it. I just had to think about what happened.

Although I felt some defeat and lowered self esteem, Sarah encouraged me that things are coming along. Poor Sarah can't make me find it in my body, but she can help support me to discover it on my own. So how would this relate to Milo?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Blue Ribbon Ride

Saturday morning I was disappointed to wake up and hear the rain. I was scheduled for late in the afternoon for work and had planned on another lesson with Sarah that morning. I gave her a call to see what the weather was like at her house, about 30 miles away. Unfortunately, the weather was as bleak as it was outside my window, and the forecast for the rest of the day continued to call for rain. While a tough Washington cowgirl might have stuck it out and rode in the pouring rain, I decided against it knowing that I not only wanted to subject my saddle to a downpour, but I also knew my horse wouldnt be happy. He hides in his shelter at the first sign of a sprinkle, and it just would not be fair to expect him to work well in weather conditions he despises.

So we decided to make my next lesson this coming Monday on Wesley, and hopefully squeeze in another one the night before the show a week from now. I knew I wanted to ride my horse anyway, and hoped that the indoor arena at the barn would be relatively empty. I was disappointed by the changed outcome of the day, but ended up having a great ride.

Not only did I have exclusive access to the arena (the facility was nearly dead the entire time I was there, which wasnt all that early in the day). I turned up the radio and mounted up. Knowing that in my last few rides I wasnt allowing my body to really work with Milo and not fight against him, I tried to approach the first few minutes in the saddle with optimism and a greater focus on lightening my seat.

At the last lesson I questioned to Sarah why my saddle was producing dry spots just behind the withers. I had been frustrated that the saddle I spent so much money on was now producing these indicators of a poor fit. But moreso, I knew that the saddle originally was producing perfectly even lines, so the change could only be that I wasnt riding Milo and working him as I should be. In fact, the later held to be true this past week, but also Sarah found Milo's ribs and hips to be out again. After an adjustment, we found much nicer sweat patterns after the lesson. But what about this last week? What was I doing wrong?

As I warmed him up those first few laps I considered what the sweat patterns were showing. They indicated my horse wasnt lifting up into the tack from the wither and just behind it. Truly indicating that he wasnt properly elevating his back. I had also noted that the dry spots were larger on the right side than the left, further telling me that my horse was not working both sides evenly.

How could I fix this? While throughout the week I had been trying to focus on my lighter seat, I had noticed my horse wasnt as responsive to my slightly raised seatbones but rather responded more off of my spur. So as I walked him around (and soon jogged) I emphasized a lighter seat before a spur aid. Soon, I could feel the dramatic lift in my horse's back from just lightening my seat bones. I moved this into the jog and soon the lope.

Next I addressed the dry spot on the right side. This indicated that he was dropping his shoulder away and not lifting that side as well as the left. So as I worked him (all my warm up and about half of my riding has consisted of one rein only) I bumped lightly on the right rein and torso twisted as needed to encourage a greater lift in the right side.

I gotta say, our lope work (trot too, but we worked longer at the lope) was exceptional. And this was all one handed with only slight adjustments. Our departures were solid and with a soft jaw, and my horse stayed up underneath me mostly from the aid of my light seat bones. We loped the rail, circles, one center circle, and my horse stayed consistent and round. I have to add, how tickled I have been to find my horse is capable of feeling so "broke". We might not have a slow lope for a western pleasure class (not a goal I have anyways), but I now feel like my horse is touching on the capabilities that he possesses. It is truly something to feel to connected to him and so light in the aids, but have the work so exceptional and correct. Its almost a shame that no one was there to witness it, but I know the ride I had.

Milo got a break from the lope work on the right lead, and he got a lot of praise. He licked and chewed contently, reminding me how responsive he is to positive feedback, something I need to make sure I do much more often. After a breather, we loped off on the left lead, and while a bit more tired, he still worked very very well. There was a minor spook when a boarder took her horse past the back entrance of the arena, but after only a few moments my horse was back with me. I gave him another break, then worked only a few passes on rollbacks, something I had been touching on earlier in the week at the walk and trot. He did very well on the rollbacks too, receiving all A's as he loped right off after the stop, staying soft and round in the bridle. I made sure that I indicated the lead first from my hip and Milo picked them up easily. So I decided to take it to simple lead changes.

As I had spoke with Sarah on the phone that morning, she asked how the simple changes were since I was having such difficulty finding the flying changes in my body. I admitted that in the last week Milo was getting rushy, anticipatory, and very tense in the center expecting a change. She recommended doing one or two step simple changes on the rail, emphasizing straight, soft, and from my seat. I agreed it would be a good way to work on them where Milo was comfortable and unsuspecting of them.

After the short rollback session, I moved right into the simple changes. At first he was slightly tense, then I allowed my seat to soften and found I was tipping forward. I found my center again and we performed some very fluid one or two step changes on the rail, mostly from just my seat. After some consistent and beautiful changes, I had to stop myself from over doing it, but I was having so much fun! I slowed Milo to a walk and gave him more and more praises - he was being so good.

I threw in some spins at the end (which is a whole 'nother accomplishment - my horse is so much fun to spin on!) and after a cool-down I dismounted and hugged my horse, so proud of what we had accomplished that day. I texted Sarah in enthusiasm so pleased with the ride I had. She replied that things happen for a reason, and that I needed to have that ride on Milo that day. I felt that although I didnt get my lesson physically with Sarah, the excitement and joy I usually have after one was there after my quiet ride alone. I was elated. I even texted her saying I felt I was so ready for the show. Although no matter what happens, I know that I had a blue ribbon ride today. I am so proud of the progress my horse has accomplished.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Milo's Summer Look

This post will either make some of you cry, or some jump with joy.

I looooooove long manes, especially for the reining horses. I think a nice long mane is just gorgeous and really completes the equine look. When I bought Milo, he had a short trimmed western pleasure mane, and I maintained it that way for a few years. Eventually, I aged out of 4H and no longer had a drive to compete in western pleasure. Why maintain the short look if I wasnt competing? Besides, I loved the long look, so I let it grow out.

There was about six months of the awkward stage, you know - only a half length down the neck, but still full. Eventually, it grew out to about where it would be, and for a few months, I loved the way Milo's mane looked.

But, this last winter, Milo rubbed out two substantial portions of his mane. One right where the blanket rests (curses you stupid bad fitting blanket!! But fortunately, it is now sold and I am saving to get a HUG blanket for this coming winter....hopefully that rub out wont happen again), and another chunk up near the pole. But I still wanted to keep the long mane, religiously applying MTG weekly and hoping those areas would grow back. I admit it, I was in denial about the state of his mane.

After a few weeks (months actually...) of knowing something should be done about his mane, I consulted Sarah's opinion. While a short mane can look sharp and is easy to maintain, I was concerned about not only feeling like an outsider in the reiner pen, but I also didnt want to look "western pleasure" when that isnt what we are aiming for. Sarah said that she not only thought he would look great with a banded mane in reining, but also said that she likes a short mane for horses with a nice neck to show off. And, she added, Milo now has a very nice neck. She also said that cutting it short and properly maintaining it with conditioner would make it grow back much healthier, and evenly.

I thought about it for a few more days, then decided to take the plunge. It's just hair, right?!

Before - looking shabby, uneven, and unhealthy. 
After the initial chop. 
Some work was badly needed to it still, but I decided to pull after we rode, so that his pores would be open and the hair would come out much easier. Milo, bless his heart, stood quietly and still as I fumbled remembering how to get the hand-comb work back. But I got a lot of it evened up nicely.

There's still some work to be done, naturally, but I didnt want to do all of the pulling in one 
I gotta say, Sarah as right - it sure shows off his beefy neck really nicely. And a bonus - it makes Milo's forelock seem longer! Right? I've got two more weeks until my next show, so I have some time until then to really clean it up, and maybe practice my banding again. Good thing I still have that old sleazy from my 4H days!

Hope you like your new look, Milo. You should stay cool this summer (last summer I braided in an attempt to eliminate sweating underneath) with a lighter mane. And if you dont like it, well, it's hair and it will grow back. We all have had those "bad haircuts". OK, well, it might last longer than just the summer....

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sweet Serenity

These photos were taken in the early morning sun rays on Saturday, before our lesson with Sarah. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Perk

I found out from Sarah, in fact, that Costco has a shipment of Rubbermaid 100 gallon Stock Tanks in stock, and she herself got two because of the phenomenal deal. So after my six hour shift on Saturday after my lesson, I picked one up for myself. I love the Rubbermaid Stock Tanks because they are built of such solid and sound construction, but they are also easy to clean with the plug on the bottom, as well as a good tank to look at visually. I would have purchased two because it was a killer steal at only $63.99 individually, but with the short notice buy, the checking account wasnt calling for it. But I am super pleased with my buy, and at least now have one ready to go for when Milo does eventually come home, at a phenomenal price too! Compare that to the $150 and up they are going for not only here locally at feed stores, but also online!

Check out your local Costco to see if they have any in stock. If anything, you might be surprised what they might carry. Come to find out we also have pelleted animal bedding, salt blocks, and more. I knew I could get in trouble at Costco already, but if they have practical farm supplies as well, I might as well hand my bi-weekly check right over to them!

You know you're a country girl/horse owner when buying a stock tank excites you! Shopping for horse supplies it the best!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Three Years Today

A little off topic, but very important in my life. Today marks three years that I have happily been with Boyfriend. We have lived together for two and a half now, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment that we have been together.

I told Boyfriend before we even got together that horses were a huge part of my life, and I would always see Milo before coming home. I wanted him to be very clear that these horses are not just a "hobby" for me but a tremendous part of my life, they are my passion and I take what I do with them very, very seriously. He has stood by me and my passion through thick and thin, and fully understands how truly important Milo is to me. No one else would be doing as much as he could to bring my second love home like Boyfriend has.

Best of all, he likes Milo too and although he himself is not all that interested in riding Milo, he enjoys spending time with him. Works for me!

I am truly one very lucky girl, and I look forward to a long, happy future with him. :)

My favorite boys.