Friday, July 30, 2010

Hot stuff!

Been an interesting few weeks. Xena's pretty chill with mounting now. Haven't done much though... 2 weeks ago we lost a kitten to some strange disease that took exactly one day to completely wipe her out. So the rest of that week was taking care of the others, one went to the hospital with a fever, but they are all doing just fine now. Then the mama Pheonix dissapeared for a while, I was actually losing hope that she'd come back as I've also been dealing with some nasty run-ins with coyotes. The coyotes here are freakin HUGE. The pipsqueaks in LA have nothing on these guys. Anyway yesterday Pheonix came back.... very pregnant. Oh goodie, more kittens to take care of! We're locking them all in the tackroom at night now, hopefully the next batch will stay safer.

Also been busy BREEDING! We've got 3 mini mares bred to our stallion for 2011 babies. I am so excited! My friends and I had a lot of fun with that this month, what with daily teasing and marking heat cycles and fun stuff. We'll try to pasture breed them next year, he was pretty well behaved with them.

My little mini gelding Charm turned 4 this year, so I've started him to harness. He's SO smart, it's remarkably easy! Have a pocket full of cookies and that LBI will do everything. So we've done lots of squeeze games, reinforced the cart as a good place to be, zone 5 driving, etc. Also done a bunch of liberty work with the cart in the middle of the round pen, getting him to maintain gait and direction without having a line on him. He'll maintain trot or canter for about 5 laps now, and come in, and back into the shafts as his reward. He's really loving it! He's now dragged around milk jugs, logs, and pushed stuff around backwards with the breeching.... next step is just putting it all together! Hopefully sometime next week I'll actually get in the cart with him.

Did a similar thing with my little RBI that was "professionally trained" to drive that I've posted about before. She used to be driven without breeching, show style, and was incredibly tense. All winter of squeeze games later, and teaching her to push into things with her tail, she no longer freaks out when people get behind her, and she knows to push back into the breeching. The first time she ever wore it she hunched up like a holloween cat lol! So many friendly games later, she's totally comfident.

It's hard to find time to ride in the HEAT, or drive for that matter, but I try to get as much done as I can. I've discovered that since that breakthrough day, Xena's new favorite savvy is Liberty. Did some level 3 liberty patterns with her last night, and had it not been for the mosquitos we woulda kept playing. She now looks to me when she's scared, and she doesn't even pay attention to outside noises or other horses calling for her. I'm so proud. Now we just need to explore the trails!!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Another interesting ride...

Got on Xena a bunch of times yesterday. Took probably 15 minutes for her to let me lean against her left side, but she didn't mind at all on the right. Lots of approach and retreat..... but I really can't decide if I think its a physical problem or not. I know that last trainer she went to said that her back or ribs or something was out of alignmnet and that was his excuse for her bucking. Seems like quite the coincidence that it happens to be on the side you mount from, and she didn't have that problem last summer before she got sent off to him. So either
1. She's anticipating a bad experience during riding, which is easily fixable with friendly games.
2. She actually was in physical pain, (I thiiiink I heard they "fixed" whatever "it" was), and now she's anticipating pain. Fixable with friendly games and good experiences, not quite as easy.
3. Hope it's not this... she actually has something wrong with her, which is going to take $$$$$ I-mean-a-chiropractor, to fix.

I'm sincerely hoping that it's just a fear of mounting problem, not a back/rib issue. My glimmer of hope is that I think if she were in pain, she wouldn't buck and roll and jump for fun as often as she does, and that it would be equally bad on the other side.

Anyway, I took her to some grass, and mounted from both sides. I'm confident with getting on her now, so at least some good became of it. She had absolutely no reaction to my jumping on her while she was eating.... you'd think if her back hurt she'd at least flinch.

So.... my game plan for right now is to do loads of friendly with zone 3 and maybe for a week, mount while she's grazing after we play and just sit there for a while. After that, I'll try mounting in the arena again... if she still has a bad reaction to it, I'll hunt for a chiro. I need a job. >.<

(Random interjection - I was playing zone 5 driving with little Ghost the past few days, and I got her to trot half-pass on the sideways box pattern! I REALLY gotta figure out my video camera, I'm itching to audition.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I am so ridiculously happy right now I can't even describe it. Xena and I played our first real live LIBERTY sessions AND I RODE HER!

I'm quite certain that today is so far our most significant play day we've ever had. And I thought it was gonna be pretty bad. I went out to do something with Xena. Took her to the round pen. I could tell she woke up on the seriously right brained side of the bed. She was kind of blanking out, staring at things off in the distance, flinching at little things. She rolled and jumped around a bit, but that was it. I could tell she was an "un-exploded bomb" just ticking to go off. The boards on the round pen are still up, she can't see out. Recipe for disaster right?

I guess playing with her directly after I've finished my coffee is a good thing, because I had a wonderful idea. I KNEW she needed to run around, but I didn't want to be connected to the explosion on a rope, yet she tends to crowd to me when she's spooking while loose. So.... upon noticing she makes quite an effort not to cross the ground poles most of the time, I made a square of 4 poles and a trash bag right in the middle of the pen. I got in it, and sent her off running. Our send is gettin pretty good, although it's probably because she was full of pent up energy, but she took off at a trot on phase 1. Cantered if I picked up the stick. Then she spooked at something, snorted, up went her head, and she was galloping around me every time a cricket chirped. Literally. So I said... you know what, keep running! And she came VERY close to me... but she didn't cross the poles! I was out of harm's way (out of her hind legs' way!) inside my little safety box. Every time she'd lose focus on the circle and try to look over the corral, I started with my phases to ask her to keep going, eventually making this a quick 1-4 to get her attention. She quickly got the "I gotta keep and eye on that nut" game. Then she did a funny sort of escape attempt I believe where she'd do 1/4 of a lap, then dart past me to the gate. No changing directions Xena, I added more pressure for her to speed it up if she wanted to go to the gate. After a minute of that, she was spinning little circles at the gate, not knowing where to go... I mirrored that until I got her attention, and then calmly asked for a circle. I'd only come out of my box if she broke to a walk or looked at the invisible monsters on the other side of the fence. Eventually she was doing lap after lap of good, solid trot, without paying any attention to anything else. Which was impressive because at that moment I noticed there were 2 of the neighbor's dogs running loose right outside, but I kept her focus through it!

Once I was confident that she was good and calm, I invited her in. She came, put her head down, sighed, licked, chewed, and relaxed. I think I just officially became more important than the fear. Then I was enjoying not worrying over her stepping on the rope, so we started some liberty. She backed away for a second and rolled, AGAIN! She was REALLLY coming off the adrennaline, she has actually never done that in the middle of a play session before, so I felt great that my strategy worked. Once she got up, I gave her a carrot, and we had our first real all 7 games liberty session. 7 games in 7 minutes! Even sideways with no fence!!!! I figured out our sideways problem - when she's against a fence and I yield zone 1 first, she just thinks I'm turning her that direction. But without the fence, z1 then z4, she went sideways beatifully! I even got 2 steps from zone 1!!! Couldn't be happier. I squeezed her between the fence and the trash bag, and she yielded perfectly both directions. She was a little skeptical of standing on it, but after a bit of friendly, I could put it on her back and she'd stand on it just fine.

I felt amazing about that session, like she's never so much surrendered to the idea that she doesn't have to take care of herself when I'm the leader, that following my suggestions is the way to save yourself rather than acting like a looney. Sooo.... I grabbed a bareback pad!!

I put it on her at liberty. I didn't want to make her hold still, I wanted to test myself to see if she really would accept it. She was less than willing in the beginning, but lots of retreat and reapproach, and I could throw it on her from any angle. Cinching was another story. She threatened to bite each time I messed with it, so it took a while to finish that politely. But I knew it was the threshhold that she NEEDED to be pushed over, the "look I'm doing this politely, and biting me won't make it stop." I checked out lateral flexion, good from both sides. I walked her up to a bucket, leaned over her for a while. If I went too far too fast, she let me know and was out of there. But I could tell this was the perfect opportunity to just push myself to get on her for real. More than just standing while she's eating, a real ride. I kept putting her back by the bucket, leaning, then getting off when she relaxed. Soon I could jump on the bucket, swing my leg, and put my whole weight on her. All I had to do was that final step of actually sitting on her. First time I think I forgot to breathe, jumped up there, 3 seconds later bent her and got off. *Whew* I'm alive. And she still hasn't moved. Okay... I can do this. If I back away from the edge of my comfort zone now, I'll just make it smaller, I know how to keep myself safe here, I can do it. Threw my leg over and got on.

I went right into the pushing passenger position, and just sat there, half expecting her to put me in the dirt straight away. Breathe. Her ears were locked back in the RBI frozen stance. I think I looked the same! The longer she stood without moving, the more my fear level dropped, dropped, then eventually left. Life is timeless with her, but I'm sure we stood there for a matter of minutes. Her ears started moving around the longer I sat there not asking her to do a thing. The beauty of our partnership is we have similar thoughts on threshholds... once we're there, it gets boring really fast. "You bored yet?" "Yep." "K lets do something." So she walked off, and I sat there letting her march me around. I haven't actually sat on her while she moved since California, and I believe that was August, so nearly a year. I forgot how SMOOTH she was! It's like riding a sail boat.

She stopped at the gate and we stood there for another matter of minutes, both keeping one eye open towards the other's actions lol. She slowly left the gate, lots lots lots of licking and chewing and sighing, and started meanderring around the pen. She put her nose on the ground like she was looking for another place to roll, and then decided against it. We went back to the gate to watch the kittens play for a bit, then I bent her and got off.

BEST.DAY.EVER! We both crossed about a million of our most important threshholds today... together. I'm proud of us.