Sunday, July 31, 2011

Trail Rides!

I can't begin to tell you how much fun I'm having with both of my horses lately...

They live at a lovely facility that has 100 acres of incredible fields and pastures.  It's nice and quiet (read it's not a busy lesson barn) and my guys are relaxed and happy there.  Recently, the big fields on the property were mowed and baled.  This means we can ride in them!  Woo hoo! 

Toby out in the BIG field this past winter.
I knew Toby would be pretty good about going for a walk about on the property and in the open fields.  So off I went for a ride with him.  I took him around one paddock which was the first one he and Ollie were put into when they arrived last November.  Then we crossed the lane and hiked through his current paddock and into another small field that lays empty except for a small brook.  Toby was certain the small brook was dangerous and it took me sometime to convince him that he could easily negotiate it (I can easily one hop across it).  Then we rode up a small steep hill and we ended up at another gate where we crossed over to the large inviting wide open field where Toby and Ollie spent their winter months.  It's 55 acres of rolling hills with a small underground stream that pops above ground for a brief time before it goes back underground.  It's gorgeous.  I took Toby around the perimeter of the field and down to the small stream.   We only walked and trotted with short canters up the hills.  He was great and very brave.  I have been wanting to get him out and about on the hills to help build up his hind end and back muscles.   He was tired and pretty pleased with himself after the ride. 

Then I decided to try the same ride with Ollie.  I figured he'd had enough of riding around in circles in the arena and needed a break. 

I took him around the arena first to see how he was feeling before we struck out into the fields.  He was nice and quiet so off we went on our excellent adventure.

I had been taking him around the small dry lots after each ride as part of our cooling out.  He used to be a little excited about that but now he just plods along.  Then we went out into the fields.  We did the exact same loop as Toby except when we came to the BIG open field (did I mention it's 55 acres?).  

Ollie had no troubles with the small brook unlike his best friend Toby.  And he happily jogged up the steep hill.  Then we crossed into the big field.  He looked around but never became tense.  I made a point to keep him in sight of the barn and we trotted around some small hills.  He never had an urge to take off running even though it was WIDE OPEN in front of him.  He was very good!

During the entire ride he only became tense twice.  Once was when we came across an open gate out of his current pasture.  I have no idea why the open gate made him tense but he gingerly walked past it.  The other time was when we walked past the barn owners home on our way back to the barn.  They have a basketball hoop up and for whatever reason, it made Ollie actually spook.  The only time he spooked the whole ride.  A spook for Ollie is a small jump to one side away from the offending object.   So that's what he did and we continued to walk on past - gingerly but still a walk. 

We got to the barn and I was so proud of him!  I realized that I will be able to take him on trail rides!  He has always been so high strung that I thought I'd never be able to take him out and about.  That's not the case now!  I have no idea what has gotten him to settle down - is it the Uckele supplement "Focus Calm"?  Is it the humid weather?  Is it our increased trust with one another?  Is it all of the above?  I think so...

Did I mention that I rode him in his simple snaffle?  So proud of him  :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Just For Fun

Ollie and I are continuing on with our work and doing well.   We have another lesson on Thursday.  After our ride each morning he needs to be hosed down and cooled off.  Then I turn both Toby and Ollie back out into their pasture.  Ollie is a creature of habit and even when he's dried off after his bath he feels the need...

I just had to use dramatic music.  ;)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Our Best Ride EVER!


We had a nice steady even trot going round and round the arena.  Once we were going steadily and evenly, we were able to go down the long side and maintain that tempo!  No more seeing a straight away and picking up the pace and having his hind end attempting to pass the front end.  The icing on the cake was when I asked him for a bigger trot and he blossomed into a lovely frame with his energy coming from the hind end that lifted me up a couple inches because he became so nice and round!  At the corner I was able to collect him and make a nice balanced turn.  I had a grin from ear to ear! 

The instructor thought I was nuts when I had described my horse to her prior to our lesson. 

So what did she have us do...

First of all, I shortened my stirrups one hole.  I felt much more comfortable and was able to keep my leg in line with my body much easier.  I have (hopefully had) a tendency to get my legs out in front of me and I'm reaching for the stirrups.   This helped the balance in my seat which in turn helped Ollie to be more balanced.

Then my instructor, Julie, mentioned that hot horses like quiet hands.  So that's what I did.  I kept my hands much more still and let him come into the pressure he preferred rather than me forcing it on him.  This got him to slow down and eventually stop his head tossing.  Such a simple thing! 

Julie kept reminding me, during the entire ride to keep my leg back.  This allowed me to use my inside leg better and when we did our work to the right - our bad direction - my inside leg was much better at supporting Ollie's dropping shoulder and reminding Ollie to carry himself.  The combination of keeping steady, quiet hands and legs really improved Ollie's carriage of himself.  It was lovely! 

Finally, Julie helped me with my own tempo and how my tempo will control Ollie's tempo by using my seat better.  Ollie has a very sensitive back and I can pretty much steer him and do most of my asking for things by using my seat.  It's SO MUCH FUN to ride a horse like this!  He doesn't like an active seat but when you make a slight adjustment he responds instantly!  So when Julie asked me at one point to increase Ollie's trot by 1% it was incredibly easy to do just by using a little more driving seat (ever so slight!).  Ollie kept his tempo but put a little bit more into his trot while remaining balanced.  The icing on the cake was the lovely big trot he gave me going down the long side and collecting it back up just before the turn - all the while remaining balanced.  I heard Julie say "Wow!  He has fancy movement!"    I was busting with pride!

We weren't perfect by any means.  It took me a bit to get my seat better balanced and for me to sit more upright - yes I grew up riding hunter/jumper...  Thing came together in our ride once I got it together in the saddle.

And Ollie had a couple hairy eyeball moments such as when the dogs took a short cut through the arena.  They popped out in a corner of the arena and surprised Ollie.  He kept thinking more things were going to pop out of that corner but with my legs securely on his side to let him know it's ok, he got over it.  His final hairy eyeball moment came when two of his buddies were being turned out.  He watched them but he continued to keep to task with my urging.  He was a very good boy!

I was on cloud nine after my lesson.  I wanted to give Julie a big hug from the saddle.  I just couldn't contain my happiness!  Ollie and I were riding how I had always hoped we would!  I still haven't come down from my high!!

Ollie gets to have today off - after all I did ride him twice yesterday.  He deserves it and a couple of carrots too.   I just want to smother him with kisses!!!!!!!!!!!

ps - we have another lesson next week  :)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Did Someone Say Lesson?

Ollie continues to improve.  He's been a blast for me to work with. 

I'm still doing ground work with him and follow it up with some time in the saddle.  When it's super hot and humid I may only do ground work.  I tried out Filly's Best Friend ground work suggestion of touching Ollie near the girth to make him move away from the pressure.  He picked up on that quickly and that has helped us in the saddle.  Thanks! 

When I'm in the saddle and he feels leg pressure he typically starts to move forward.  In this case, I've used the fence as a block to help him learn that I want side movement away from the leg and not forward movement.   This has worked well. 

Finally I try to remember all the things Betsy has said to me during our lessons with both Toby and Ollie.  Reading my old blog posts has been VERY HELPFUL!  Things like sit back, let him know his limits, open up a door for him to go to, and reward him instantly when he does the right thing.  The "limits" thing has been helpful for me.  I imagine that we have a space that he can work within and allow him to figure it out.  So I let him figure out the bit pressure, if he begins to rush and lean forward he will bump himself with the bit.  He doesn't care for much bit pressure so he backs off easily.  I also do this with my body.  When I tip forward he goes more forward, if I'm sitting back in the saddle he maintains a much steadier pace.  When I put it all together (hands and seat) we march around at an even steady pleasant pace.  I really need to work on sitting steady and back in the saddle... sigh.  One fun thing about Ollie is that I get great responses from him and we're both communicating with each other - at least I feel we are.  He has a very responsive back and sometimes all I have to do is think about turning and he magically does it!  It's great fun!  

Now I feel that all we need is a lesson...  I'm not a professional trainer by any means and know I have my limitations!  I'm anxious to have someone come and watch us to give me/us some help and training suggestions.    It looks like tonight may be our break as an instructor is coming to visit us (schedule permitting).  Keep your fingers crossed for me that she can make it!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Ollie Routine

Lately I've been able to work Ollie on a regular basis.  He's turning into a total rock star for me and meeting my goals with flying colors.  Of course my goals are very attainable goals.  Primarily, I want him to be able to be ridden in the ring without being stressed and tense.  I'm happy to report that he has met that goal and we are ready to move forward!  I dragged my husband along to photograph our routine for all of you.  Routine and consistency has been the key for Ollie.

We begin by coming in for breakfast with his BFF Toby

Toby and Ollie hang out in the pasture in the background on the right.
BTW - Toby's doing great too!  We've been on a couple very nice trail rides around the area.  He's the BEST trail riding horse!

After he eats his itty bitty bit of grain and supplements (he's only getting 1 qt these days!) then it's time to get cleaned up and tacked up.

Then it's down to the round pen to see what kind of mood we are in today - almost always it's been a happy gray pony...

Then we head on up to the riding ring for a spin and work on being relaxed and knowing "whoa"...

He stand at the mounting block like he owns it! But we practice standing most chances we can...

He looks so relaxed with his floppy ears!

But then it's time to do some work.  I'm trying to get him to move away from my leg (such as leg yields) and he's great at it going to right but we fail miserably going to the left.  Any ideas for exercises we can try to improve on this would be appreciated.  Right now we do lots of spiral circles in both directions.  He's getting better but we still need to work on it.  I suppose we all have a bad side...  LOL!

He's been a very good listener.
and we can relax at the walk
He was being so good today that I decided to try canter.  This is a big deal for us.  He's been so high strung in the past but now I feel confident that we can try canter and he won't put his mind into a tizzy over it!  So away we went and he gave me a LOVELY carousel horse canter.  It was so cute and fun to ride!  He's well balanced going to the right but left is another story.  I'm just happy that we can canter and not spin his mind out of control with it!!

And we are relaxed AFTER we canter!

But he did have a little more get up and go and showed outwards signs of it with is mouth.

Overall he was WONDERFUL!   Now I feel like I have a horse that I can take to a riding lesson and he'll listen and we can improve!  Woo hoo!!

After our rides, I've been making an effort to walk him out by cruising around the property.  I'm hoping one day I can take him for a real trail ride with others.  I think we may be getting there sooner than later...

Afterwards we undress and take him to his favorite time of all - bath time!

As you can see, we're doing very well!  I'm so proud of him.  Proud of me too!  I've been so patient and going slowly has been paying dividend for me.  I'll list these couple of things that seemed to be the key to keeping him happy (and healthy): 24 hour pasture time, a buddy (Toby), being on good pasture (no more ulcers), and Uckele's Focus Calm.  I think the combo of these has made Ollie happy and focused in the right way.

Let's hope we keep heading in the right direction!!