Archive | March, 2013

Amber – the horse that will teach you softness

28 Mar

Last night, I headed out to TB’s after work for a riding double header. In addition to riding Quinn, I also tried out a former off-the-track-TB mare called Amber. The story on Amber is that she was retired from the track and purchased by a very novice rider who subsequently found her more than he could handle. TB got her because a friend of a friend of a friend (etc.) was told that this guy had had enough and was shipping her for meat that week. TB picked her and her buddy up that afternoon. I’m not sure how long the former owner had Amber for, but apparently it was a sufficient amount of time for him to completely ruin her mouth and make her extremely worried/nervous during riding. She is a very sensitive soul and is going to be a horse that will teach me (and any others who ride her) quite a bit about riding and softness.

Her ground manners are impeccable, and based on her behaviour when I tacked her up, I was shocked at the different horse she became when I got on. I felt quite relaxed about the whole process, especially because TB was going to give me a lesson, but I realized that Amber did not feel quite so at ease with me. She was pooping up a storm, probably went about 4 times in an hour, she was clearly nervous about this new person sitting on her back and asking that she do things. I felt bad for her that I was taking her out of her comfort zone, so I tried to be as quiet as possible and gave her lots of praise and scratches which she seemed to appreciate. TB explained that this mare will make me understand what it truly means to have soft “requesting” hands. I thought I knew what this meant, but this mare has confirmed that I have some work to do. I need to focus more on keeping my outside rein consistent and giving the horse something to move into, while at the same time massaging with my inside rein and releasing when I get flexion. These are not new concepts to me, but schooling these concepts on these rescue horses is quite different than schooling them on Corona. With A LOT of coaching and demos from TB, I was getting somewhere by the end of the session and I got some really nice long-and-low and relaxation. The other teaching method of this mare is that she is extremely sensitive to the leg…not that she will take off on you, but she kicks if you use too much! I didn’t think I used too much leg, but I think the trick here is that this horse needs more seat and rein aids, as opposed to leg aids at the moment. It reinforces the need for me to secure my leg position as I mentioned in my blog about my first lesson with TB. I really enjoyed riding Amber and am pretty darn excited to continue to work with her. I apologized profusely to Amber at the end of our lesson in hopes that I hadn’t worsened her issues, but she seemed ok with me J Also, TB got on her for 5 mins to demonstrate some things to me which was incredibly helpful. I also was grateful that Amber’s session ended on a really good note as TB is an excellent rider and clearly Amber appreciated it.

Next up was The Mighty Quinn (which I have learned is now his full name; I like it but I was gunning for Quinnie McWhinnie as I think it suits him although perhaps doesn’t exude the same tone as “mighty”). I continued where I had left off on the weekend, with lots of practice at standing still for more than 5 seconds at a time. Mounting was even better than our previous session, instead of doing 10 steps of moonwalk, there were only about 2! On the negative side, he refused to stand at the mounting block for more than 10 seconds once I was on. Onwards and upwards however; I took the 10 seconds a couple of times and then asked him to move forward on my terms. I practiced what I had just learned on Amber and Quinn seemed to respond really well to it as well. He isn’t as sensitive as Amber so was definitely more forgiving. I’ve noticed a bit difference since our first ride together, I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are both getting used to each other, but things are definitely moving in a positive direction. I wish I could afford more than one horse, whoever eventually gets this guy is going to be really fortunate.

With the long Easter weekend starting tomorrow, I’m looking forward to the 4 days of horsey times ahead. I’m excited to see Corona and continue on our “Road to Respect” and I’m planning on getting in a ride on each of Amber and Quinn as well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that things are drama-free as it would be wonderful to just relax and enjoy the journey(s)!


Confidence and determination

27 Mar

I wish there were more non-work hours in the day that I could devote to horsey items such as riding and staying up-to-date on this blog! I guess I will continue to hope for a big lottery win, but given that I don’t play the lotto, my chances aren’t looking too good…

I’ve been out to TB’s twice since my last post – once last Wednesday evening, and then again on Saturday afternoon. What can I say, other than I absolutely adore Quinn. He’s such a nice horse, incredibly calm and level headed and a quick learner too. He’s not the most patient boy, but he’s only a baby so I’m keeping that in mind as we work on patience. Throughout the whole process, I’m trying to keep in mind the big picture – that the goal for this boy is to find a forever home. This is very important so that a) I don’t get too attached and b) so that I can focus on things that will help him get a great home. First impressions are extremely important to potential buyers, especially when the market is flooded with good horses. As a result, I’m really paying attention to ground manners and teaching them consistently as part of our lesson time. Quinn is pretty good on the x-ties, he fidgets a bit, and paws, so I’m trying to stop that. He’s also a bit fussy about his ears, which has repercussions for bridling, so we will continue to work on that too. He also is not a fan of standing still for mounting. It’s been a bit of a dance trying to balance teaching him to stand while I get on. We have made improvements though – on Saturday he stood still until I was in the saddle, then he decided to moonwalk backwards which tipped me onto his neck. I caught my balance quickly and then we stood still for about a minute so he received a lot of praise for that. Riding-wise, we are getting the hang of each other. Our ride on Saturday was excellent. He moved off my leg incredibly well and was feeling pretty light in my hands. I was doing a lot of transitions and various figures and also practiced straightness using the quarter lines. All-in-all, I’m really enjoying working with him. I’m going out to work with him again tonight and possibly do a double header with a TB mare named Amber! I got an email from TB yesterday saying that there’s a potential buyer for Amber and that she could use a few sessions with a strong rider – quite flattering!

On the Corona front, I had a PHENOMENAL time with him on Saturday. We started off with some groundwork, where I really focussed on establishing my own personal space and asking him to stay out of it. The whole “I want him put down” incident with the Boss has given me a new and more confident/determined attitude with him. Whether good or bad, I see it as my mission to prove to everyone around how great this horse can be. Whether it’s a fluke or not, who knows, but since I’ve had this confidence with him, things have changed for the better. I basically will not take his crap – any of it. Ever. Why? Because if I do, I am risking his life. Period. I’m not willing to put his life on the line so I need to be the best that I can be at all times.

Usually when I work with my “savvy” stick and string, Corona tends to spook at the string anytime it’s dragged across the ground. Not on Saturday! Could this be a result of my confident attitude? Perhaps! Regardless, I was really happy and this has made me even more confident! Funny how that happens – confidence leads to good results, which leads to more confidence! We did lots of groundwork – leading, backing up, yielding the hindquarters and forehand, basically focussed on the Parelli games #1-3 and practiced yielding to various pressures while at the same time keeping out of my space. I ended the session with some trotting in hand and not getting in front of me when I would stop. I wish I had a video of this. This horse was stopping dead in his tracks without getting ahead of me. Amazing. I wished the Boss had seen it, but she was in the house at the time. I dream of the day when I show all the doubters what this horse can do, I can just imagine their jaws dropped on the floor and Corona and I riding bareback and bridle-less into the sunset (yes, I may be getting *slightly* ahead of myself)…

After our groundwork, I tacked him up and we went on a nice walk around the track. The wind was howling and there were snowdrifts everywhere. We didn’t last too long out there but we had a great couple of laps. Super relaxed, I was asking for flexion and yields and my furry friend was more than happy to oblige. There was no spooking, no acting up, it was just blissful.

I also wanted to ride because I had just bought Corona a new saddle pad – I thought we both needed a little pick-me-up to signal our new found determination. It’s red with white and navy trim and really suits him, picture is below. There was a sale at the local horse store which I took advantage of (saddle pad, two pairs of black bell boots, maple flavoured treats), and I had to go anyway to pick up some Quietex – side note: the Boss sent me a text last week telling me to get some for Corona. I will emphasize here that it wasn’t a request. Apparently his old owner used to use it on him and suggested it to the Boss when the Boss was no doubt informing her of the drama of her wanting to get rid of the horse the week before. I didn’t ask details, I just bought it because if that’s what it takes to keep the Boss happy for the time being, then so be it. I don’t know how I feel about using it – I personally don’t think he needs it, but am interested to see how it affects him.

On another note – I’m pretty sure the sh*t is about the hit the fan at the Boss’. CG told me that on Sunday, the Trainer told her that he was moving as of this Friday (i.e.: the day after tomorrow). None of us have heard anything from the Boss on the subject. The Trainer was supposed to be leaving in May, but this change in plans is just moving up the inevitable chaos that was going to ensue in May anyways. Not sure what the plan is for the racehorses (4), or the other boarders’ horses (3). I had thought that the Boss was going to have downsized to a manageable number (4 or 5) before the Trainer left because she wouldn’t have the daily help the way she does with the Trainer. With the sudden change in the Trainers’ plans, things haven’t exactly worked out the way they had planned. Also, apparently the Boss has decided that she might start up again with one of the racehorses (Bally) who was retired (for a number of reasons)…given that the Boss is not physically capable of taking up a horse, let alone hitching a jogger to it, this should be interesting. When will the madness end?!

I should have some interesting updates to provide this weekend…


Part 2 – Sunday

21 Mar

Part 2 – Sunday

I went out to the barn expecting the worse and dreading the conversation that I was going to have. The Boss came out and before I could speak to her, the Trainer and CG showed up. When things quietened down, I filled CG in on what happened and she told me a tidbit of information that I couldn’t believe – that the previous day, the Boss had told SM that she (the Boss) “might have to make the decision” for me!

I was appalled. At this point I really wondered whether I had a fighting chance in this, but I took the approach of “if it’s not said to me, I’m going to assume I know nothing about it!”

CG and I rode, and Corona was great. He was fantastic to tack up, pretty darn fresh to ride, but he calmed down really nicely. I won’t lie, I had a little talk with him as well, explaining to him the importance of us working together and him keeping his “insanity” in check as this was literally a life or death moment. He didn’t’ say anything to disagree with me, so I assume he agreed J

After our ride, I went to see the Boss in her house. I walked in and said, “Corona was great today, he wasn’t aggressive at all. I got your email and I am not ready to give up on him. I don’t think this horse is crazy, I think he’s dominant and testing me. I want to continue to work with him and I’m positive that the way to fix these issues that we’ve been having is to continue with groundwork and gaining his respect.” Aside from an eye roll when I said that the horse wasn’t crazy, the Boss seemed satisfied. She reiterated that she wanted to make sure I was still enjoying working with him because riding should be fun, and that she didn’t want to put me in an unsafe situation. We discussed various approaches and agreed that I shouldn’t always give Corona the benefit of the doubt (yes, I’m guilty of that), and that I need to not feel mean if I discipline him…we’re not talking beating him or anything, just following through more firmly. She said that she’s extremely pleased with the work I’ve done on Corona as well as the previous horses I’ve worked with, and the issues are not things that I have created.

I recognize that the Boss is coming from good intentions. I also know that part of it comes from the fact that the Trainer is supposedly leaving the barn in May and so the Boss will not have the help that she has now. I know that she is a bit nervous about her own ability to handle the horse if he becomes unruly, because she finds it difficult to handle any horse that doesn’t stand as still as a statue. That being said, I don’t believe that her concerns are strictly related to Corona but he was the easiest target because of the issues we’ve been having as of late.

I truly believe that I can improve this horse, and feel quite strongly about it. I fully understand that there are situations where horses can be dangerous and that the most humane thing to do is to put them down if there problems cannot be resolved, however I’m confident that this is definitely not one of these cases.


Part 1 – Saturday

20 Mar

I don’t even know where to begin with this post, so I’ll break it down into two…

Part 1 – Saturday

Saturday I had arranged to go out to TB’s to have my first session with the rescue horses. I am working with a gorgeous registered quarter horse named Quinn. He’s four years old and is green broke, and he also apparently has shown previously in something western (in-hand I believe). According to what TB knows, his former owner had 3 horses he needed to sell, he was successful with the first two but not with Quinn, so he sent him to auction. He also apparently was aware that the horse went to a kill buyer. TB found this out because a girl who used to know the horse contacted her through the website when she found out he had been saved. Not sure whether the information has been passed along to the former owner or not, but after 6 months, you can ask the Ontario Livestock Exchange (OLEX – the auction house) for the contact info of the previous owners.

We started out by lunging Quinn and then I hopped on and had my first lesson in more than 10 years! I was using TB’s fancy dressage saddle with knee blocks and that was quite the adventure. I learned (well, it was confirmed) that I need to work on my leg position because I tend to rotate my legs outward and too far back. TB showed me how to “invert” my legs and get my knees stuck into the blocks for support. It was quite the challenge and something I’ll be working on for the foreseeable future. I also learned that I have difficulties maintaining the proper contact with my outside hand. Instead of keeping my elbows at my sides, I let my arms creep forward and don’t give enough outside rein support which in turns allows the horse to collapse.

I felt somewhat embarrassed at the lesson incase TB changed her mind about letting me ride with her, but she said these were just small fixable items and that I had a great seat and balance. Needless to say, I was rather sore when I dismounted and felt the burn from the lesson for the rest of the weekend! I’ve attached some photos of Quinn…I can’t take credit for them, but it will show you how cute he is!

I went home and all was well…until Saturday night when I was going to bed. I received an email from the Boss saying that she thinks we have come to the end of the line with Corona and that she would like to put him down. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I felt terrible because this clearly had come from our discussion last week where I had expressed my frustration at his aggressive behaviour, but in the email, the Boss said that it has been on her mind for awhile. Needless to say, I barely slept that night and spent the night sobbing. It wasn’t clear from the email whether she was asking me for my opinion or whether she had made the decision already. I was dreading going to the barn the next day and finding out.



Back to the drawing board…

14 Mar

I had a great ride on Saturday, the sun was shining and I was actually too hot (and I wasn’t even wearing a jacket!). I was nearly blind for the first 20 minutes because of the reflection of the sun off the snow, but I’m not going to complain about sun after the last 5 months of grey skies! Corona was great for our ride, nice and calm and we did our first trotting intervals since his injury! He was sound, and happy and really relaxed, it was great. In terms of his recent aggression, it was still there, but still much better than it had been so I was pleased.

I was taking a training course at work this week and we were let out early yesterday so I thought I’d get out to the barn for an extra ride. Caught Corona, he came to me willingly at the gate and with the good stall behaviour back the last few times, I thought I’d brush him in his stall. This turned out to be a bad idea. I started with picking out his feet and he was happy enough for the first foot, and then as soon as I stepped back to do his hind, he pinned his ears and moved back so that his butt was right up against the wall, leaving no room for me to pick up his foot. Nothing I did changed this, he just kept his ears pinned, tossed his head around and swished his tail at me. That was the end of the me in the stall. I decided to experiment and I put him in another stall. He seemed fine at first, I was able to pick out all of his hooves and then the ear-pinning started up again so I decided cross-ties would be the safest option.

I gave him a really good grooming with the curry comb and he seemed to love it, I found a bunch of itchy spots and focussed on those and he was like butter in my hands. This was great! Then I got the dandy brush out and it was like someone flipped a switch and the horse-from-hell came back! I couldn’t even rest my hand on him without him pinning his ears and tossing his head around. Off and on, something would catch his attention out the door and he’d prick his ears forward and be his normal self again, only to turn back into the devil a second later.

I tried bribing him for lack of a better word – basically giving him small treats in those short moments when he was non-threatening, but he kept reverting back to the anger. I tacked him up on the x-ties and he was fine. Rode him and he was fine.

After my ride, I tried the stall again and he was good until the tack was off and then out came devil-horse again, including turning his bum toward me. So back on x-ties we went and he was relatively good (compared to the first grooming).

Throughout my ride I was thinking about his behaviour in the context of the eventual move to CG’s barn (likely in the fall) and the fact that this would literally be my horse. The shadows of doubt reared their ugly heads and I began to wonder if perhaps Corona was indeed too much horse for me. I never want to get to the point where I’m scared to be around him, but I can see this happening in the future if things continue down this path. At the same time, I know that if I didn’t take this horse, that his future with the Boss would be uncertain (mainly due to her hatred for this horse and the fact that she sends horses to the meat man rather freely). There is no way I want this fate for any horse.

When I was brushing him after our ride and was talking to the Boss, I said, “you know, this horse is making it really hard for me to like him right now!” and proceeded to explain what happened during our grooming session. She didn’t really know what to advise because nothing happened that should have triggered this behaviour. She then proceeded to tell me that if I decided that I didn’t like the horse anymore, that she would get me a different one to work with and she’d have Corona put down because she wouldn’t want to just pass along the problem. On one hand, I was shocked, but not for the reason you’re probably thinking…I was shocked that she said she would put him down rather than send him to the meat man. Regardless, this isn’t something I want to even consider. I was hoping she would say that if I thought he was too much for me, that she’d find him a new home. Guess not.

I spent last night googling “aggressive horses” and watching Parelli videos in hopes of coming up with a plan. I’m still optimistic that we can reverse this behaviour, but I’m extremely disheartened at the entire situation.

I have an arrow for that!

7 Mar

As I’ve mentioned previously, over the last few weeks, Corona has begun to pin his ears whenever I bring him into his stall to groom him. Initially I had thought he was sore because the first time it happened I found a fresh bite mark on his neck, so thought maybe he had been involved in a paddock scuffle. However, the next weekend, the exact same thing happened, he would pin his ears whenever I’d touch him (with a brush, with my hand). Due to the weather, last week just happened to be the first week that I was able to ride him. I was a bit hesitant to put a saddle on him because I wasn’t certain if he was sore or not. I decided to do some experimenting to see what his reactions would be so I took him out of the stall (safety first!) and put on cross-ties. I did up the girth loosely (expecting that he would have a reaction if he was sore) and he didn’t flinch. I finished tacking him up and then we had a great ride with no issues.

This past Saturday I went out to the barn and his aggression in the stall increased from the previous 2 weeks. The stinker lifted a hind leg at me and half kicked out in slow-motion, and at one point he turned towards me to bite me. He would also turn away from me (and block me) when I went to go in front of him to get to his other side. Once again, I put him on the cross-ties to tack him up and then he was perfect for our ride.

At this point, I was fairly certain he wasn’t in any physical pain, mainly because the ear pinning came and went and he didn’t care at all when I rode him. The bugger was just being dominant. I shouldn’t say, “just” being dominant…it’s not a minor issue when a 1,200-pound animal decides to boss you around!

At home on Saturday, I proceeded to Google this behaviour and what could be done about it. I also asked for some advice from fellow Haynetters (thanks Lorraine and Elaine!).

On Sunday, I had a breakthrough. The more I thought about it after Saturday, the more I drew a similarity between what was happening in the stall, and what Corona does in the field. He is out with two other geldings and Corona is definitely the dominant one, or at least tries to be – the other two fight back occasionally, but for the most part it is him who is #1. There is a round bale in the field, and Corona clearly thinks he is the boss of the hay; he drives the others away from it and then will eventually let them come and eat. When I bring Corona into his stall, there’s normally hay in there because we’ve just mucked out and prepared the stalls for the night. This made me think back to the previous day and how he would block me from getting between him and his hay. I decided that I would take the hay out of his stall just to see what happened. Surprisingly, he was 95% better just with that. I actually groomed him in his stall, and he just watched the comings and goings in the barn, no ear pinning, no teeth, and there were no threatening leg lifts!

I put him on cross-ties to tack him up and there was some ear pinning and head tossing when I put his saddle pad on. Instead of moving away, I stood my ground beside him, talked to him and went out of my way to look relaxed. After about a minute, he stopped his head tossing, ears went forward, head went down and the lovely boy started yawning and chewing. I rewarded that and then put the saddle on and he didn’t even flinch. I felt like I channeled my inner Pat Parelli at this point and was pretty darn proud of myself. We proceeded to have a lovely ride through the snowdrifts with CG and Gracie.

After our walk, I had to sweat his leg (we’re still sweating his knee to try and get the last of the swelling), so I put him on cross ties and groomed him again. He began pawing quite intently. This isn’t a new behaviour, he doesn’t do it all the time, but it seems to be when he is frustrated or fed up with being on cross-ties. Regardless, each time he did it, I asked him to move over. It continued off and on so then I decided that if he wanted to paw, I’d just pick up his foot and hold it. This seemed to work well enough that eventually he stopped (it did take about 10 times of me holding his foot), but whatever works!

I also tried to reinforce the good behaviour on cross-ties with treats. We’ve been working on groundwork so I thought we could practice on the cross-ties and use it to my advantage. I would walk about 10 ft. in front of Corona, and ask him to “back up”, when he did, I’d give him a treat. Clearly the ears were forward at all times when this was happening.

I’m excited to see what this weekend brings, regardless, I’ll have my bag of arrows on and ready!

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