Friday, April 12, 2013

A calm in the storm allows for riding

Weather man has predicted rain and snow for about ten full days.  I fully expected for icy road conditions last night, which would have put the kibosh on my lesson. I will not haul a horse across town on ice without a really good reason.

Luckily the rain and snow stopped for most of the afternoon and the roads were pretty much dry and  clear when I got off work, so I raced home and loaded up.

Trax was a muddy mess, but happy to see me.  My horse has changed so much in the last 2 months.  He has gone from being a standoffish loner, to being a much more affectionate man.  He still moves away from me in the pasture (unless I have food) and then follows as soon as I am not looking, but the change is when he is in his pen or on a halter.  He has always been one to keep a safe distance between us.  I could enter his space but he never ever asked to enter mine. He never asked for physical attention.  The last two times I have had my hands on him, he actually put his head on me.  Not in a pushy rude way, but in more of a "touch me please" way.

I know all about the "bubble" and "I can touch you, but you can't touch me" but for a horse like Trax, I think this is a rule that needs to be a certain extent.  For example when we are hand walking he knows to keep a few feet back. He watches me, and if I stop, so does he. If I speed up, so does he. He pretty much "heels" better than my dogs. If I back up, so does he.  He is not allowed to put his butt on me, push me with his nose, or swing his head into my face.  He is the most respectful of any of my horses, we have good boundaries. I think this is mostly because he does not care to be that close to anyone. He has trust issues. So for him to seek out physical contact from me...that is a big step for him.

When I was brushing his neck, he turned his head and laid it on my arm. When I was tying him in the trailer, he did it again. Both times I rewarded him with some head scratching and a hug. He in turn, rewarded me with a heavy sigh of contentment.

Okay, so back to the lesson.

I have been given permission to use MK's real name now. It is Mark Keil. He says he is happy to have the on line exposure.  (I now have some video of him riding Trax which I will upload this weekend). Anyway, Mark was working with a colt when I got there, and another gal was just finishing up her ride. I really like watching him work with these colts. He has a nice easy way about himself, and it is just cool to watch.

While he was doing that I got started on my ground work with Trax, focusing mostly on his transitions up and down.   I lunged him a little longer and a little harder than usual, but I had a mission behind doing so.  Through our lessons I am learning to see and feel when Trax is just running away and when he is actually cantering with thought.  His natural tendency is to run and it takes him a while to connect his brain to his feet. So my goal was to get him to both trot and canter but be relaxed while doing it.  It took a little bit, but he finally got the idea and was maintaining his canter without me having to really drive him, then I was able to bring him down to his trot. The next step was getting him to walk, which takes quite a bit longer.  But I wouldn't give in until he actually made the transition down. I have been known to just disengage his hind end at a slow trot, instead of seeing it all the way through. I have find that if I take the time to get that transition, my ride tends to go a little better.

We started off by dragging a log while still on the ground.  He did very well and we even let the rope go behind him. I expected more of a reaction from him.  He was more reactive with the rope on his left than on his right. I'm guessing that is his roping training coming out, but with our help he pushed through it, and we were both very proud.

When I mounted up we started with just a little flexing. Then he had me go ahead and ride him out in a circle on a loose rein. We started at a walk and he maintained his walk very nicely instead of just trying to take off at a trot right off the bat.  We were going to the left, and when I asked for the lateral/vertical combo flex he gave it to me quite nicely.

Next, Mark had me go ahead and ask for a trot. He instructed me to only use my legs, no spur.  I squeezed but didn't get much of a response, so I added a cluck. which helped. Again our trot was good, I was able to give him just a slight amount of contact to maintain our speed. Again the flex was there and was soft and easy for me. Each time he gave it to me, I gave him his release with a little less contact. The we asked for the canter. I was so happy with how he felt. It was soft, he wasn't fighting me, Mark said that Trax actually looked happy.  Mark had me give him more rein and let him get up a little more speed on the "straight away" of one side, and then on the other side ask for a little less speed with my seat and legs and a command of "Easy".  It worked!  He dropped down nicely and I could feel the change in him. We did this several times. It was soo nice.  Like about as perfect as I have ever felt him.  He would give me his face when I asked even at the canter, which was even better!

Then we did some canter, trot, canter, trot transitions.  Then trot to walk to trot to walk. All of them quite nice.  After that we let him rest while we chatted about the videos I had watched on the weekend. He also asked me if my rides are better inside or outside. I told him that I do not think that inside or outside is the determining factor. The amount of prep time is what makes the difference.

After that, we switched to the right side. He started off nice but very quickly wanted to kick up to that trot so I brought him back down. When I did ask for the trot he was smooth but wouldn't give me his face very well. I got it a few times, but not easily like I did on the left.  It was a little frustrating. When we went to the canter he kicked off on the right lead which was cool, but was more like the run away freight train of his past. Those nice downward transitions were non existent and he was never really relaxed.

Now something I noticed as I was riding this right lead canter is that it feels really awkward and a little rough to me. Which is the exact opposite of his left which is always smooth and easy to ride.  The question I have here is this: Is it me, or is it him?  I mean, am I just so used to riding his left lead, that it is just what feels normal to me, or does he have something physical going on that makes him a little awkward and rough on that lead.  When I say physical I mean perhaps out of place in his spine or shoulder or something.  One thing Mark noticed is that when on the right lead I tend to lean to one side in the saddle. When he caught that and had me square up my shoulders to Trax's it was a little better. So perhaps the problem really is me. (note to self- get busy finding an equine chiro just in case.)

Anyway, somewhere around this time everything fell apart and I had to bring my circle in small because Trax was really running away with me. At one point we were unintentionally circling a barrel and I swear I heard him say ,"Ooh barrels! Lets race!" and then proceeded to show me what an amazing barrel horse he is.    I had to move him away from the barrel then he finally slowed down.  I rode him to Mark and said, "Your turn. Oh and do you mind if I video some of this?" He said no problem so I grabbed my camera.

He never cantered him, just worked on his flex both to the right and the left. He explained that I am still forgetting to left my leg off and Trax has taken to leaning on me to the right. This in turn is letting him drop his shoulder instead of giving me the flex I am asking for.  I watched him bump bump bump with his legs which seemed to get more forward out of him. I'm glad I have the videos because now I can study them and really watch one thing at a time to really get a better idea of what I need to do.

Here are a few pics I took though.

I had to put some of these in black in white because I had the "Sunset" setting on them which made them look really red.

Nice flex to the right while moving forward 

 Looking softer than he ever has

Sorry a little blurry- which is when I realized my setting was off. 
That is one handome bum...the horse not the guy! 

Did you seriously just post a picture of my butt??

Lady Please!  I'm all sweaty! What will Zoe think?
Me and My Guy
 (I promise my smile was not near as forced as it appears to be)
Afterwards I walked him around while Mark got another colt. I wish I had taken a picture of this one. He looks exactly like a younger version of Danny. Same color exactly, with a white star and one white sock. He also has that same big old long nose that slight resembles a mule.  He is much smaller than Danny but then he is only 3. Maybe next time I will get a picture. Once again I found myself watching in awe at the work he was doing. Good stuff folks, really good stuff.

All in all it was a good lesson. We didn't work on a lot of different things, but focused on my riding and the much needed transitions.  I'm cannot say enough good things about Mark and the work he has done with an old lady who doesn't ride very well and her run away freight train of a horse.


  1. I feel like the "bubble" is different for each horse. It's more about boundaries and what you feel comfortable with for your horse. Trax and 'MK' look great together!

  2. Sounds as if you're making great strides with Trax :) I haven't read back far enough yet to see where you started, but I'm having a good time catching up.

    I'm so jealous of your lessons! I took about a year's worth with Sunny - only stopped because we moved - and absolutely loved the way it made me focus instead of just letting him get away with whatever. Haven't found anyone down here yet, but it's on my list.

    Totally agree with you about hauling when it's icy. I actually made arrangements last winter to ride one of the trainer's horses when it was either slick or real cold since Sunny was outside and had a super heavy coat. I just couldn't get him dry enough to put out some nights, so... It was kind of cool though. I ended up riding a Country English horse, a couple of reiners, a western pleasure horse.... It was really interesting to feel how the different disciplines change the frame and still manage to be consistent. Western pleasure was, shockingly to me, the hardest.

  3. I find the same thing with pony. She is NEVER pushy, so I don't have to set boundaries with her, she sets them herself. When I lead her, she walks to the side of me though. I know horses should walk behind, but she is allowed to walk next to me as long as her shoulder never goes in front of my feet. I've tried to get her back behind me, but it's seriously impossible, I just end up beating on her and achieving a freaked out pony which then wants to be closer to me. So as long as her shoulder isn't in front of me, and she stops when I do, backs up when I do etc I let her stay there.

    I would definitely say it sounds like he may need a chiro appt. most horses are naturally better to one side, but since he was used as a rope horse for so long he probably has been tweaked to one side and never really straightened out. Especially pulling a cow, it sounds like it might just be harder for him to bend and carry himself to the right.

    But hey, at least your getting some great stuff to the left!!! It's still progress, and some awesome progress!

  4. Sounds like you found a good trainer! And sometimes doing less is really doing more. I think its really important to warm a horse up properly to thier level of warmness, my paint horse takes a really long time too, once she shakes her whole body she is relaxed enough to actually think. Took me a long time to figure that out but it made our rides after that much better. Unless we are just trail riding she is relaxed right away, silly girl.
    It sure wouldn't hurt to have a chiro/massage look at him to see if he is right, that might make it easier for him in his left lead, and if its you, I guess you will know what to work on too.
    By the way, love the pic of you and Trax :)