Monday, December 11, 2017

Filling In The Gaps

A lot of bloggers over the years have attested to the fact that progression in riding is non-linear. It's chock full of highs and lows - none of which are ever preconceived. Frankly, sometimes shit just happens.

Add a young, green horse into the mix and you have something like this:

And it's not to say that I'm not proud of Annie or that I'm not happy with her - when I go back and read a lot of my old entries about her I can feel a negative vibe radiating from them, which really isn't my intent. I think in attempting to be transparent about our training process, I find myself getting caught up on documenting the "not so good" stuff instead of really focusing on the positive, because I'm wanting to be truthful that there are "not so good" things.

And truthfully, sometimes I just feel plain lost, haha. Being my very first baby horse, I am at the mercy of myself for the first time - educating this creature and giving it the very best start (beyond the start she was given before I purchased her). I am incredibly hard on myself and errors leave me feeling down-trodden, especially if the issue is something we have dealt with previously and had overcome.

I feel this on a spiritual level lol
But, horses will be horses and learning to have a level of humility will go a long ways in being a productive and thinking rider. I am thankful for the life lessons Annie has taught me and continues to teach me.

With Winter being here, we've shifted our focus into addressing things we may have skimmed over in the warmer months, or things she has become more inconsistent in in the last little while. Things like standing quietly for the farrier, stretching/holding up legs, having hooves hammered on, tying quietly at the barn, groundwork, standing at the mounting block, standing once mounted and walking off calmly, tossing blankets on and off, etc. All of these things we've found a level of regression in. And to say regression, I don't mean absolute freak outs - I mean little resistances and nuances here and there.

Bodacious body - she has since finished her Myoplast,
but this was about a week ago.
Of course, there are days were she literally gets an A+ across the board and I go home, ecstatic and elated that we've made headway. And the next day we have issues with XYZ. I know it's just the nature of the beast, but I also feel like some extra help/ advice would really strengthen everything together. I haven't publicly announced it on the blog (mostly because I'm nervous as to what people will think) - although I have discussed it before - Annie is going for training with Trainer K in February. The way we've worked it out is that I will still be quite involved in the process with weekly lessons to keep in line with her progress and Trainer K is not only going to be riding her, but working her on the ground. 

I know a lot of people are going to say "Don't give up, you can do it!" but it isn't really "giving up". I am proud of the progress I've made with Annie and I am certain we could do it on our "own" if we really wanted to. But, I feel like I really need the support system of a knowledgeable trainer in order to connect the dots more effectively. Not only for Annie, but for me, which is why I made it clear I want to be involved and a part of the process. I am actually really excited for her to go and learn about living in a barn, understanding stalls aren't evil, learning to use herself, becoming acquainted with the hustle and bustle of barn life.

Trainer K is good for us.
The training isn't just about her getting her right leads or learning how to stretchy trot - it's about having someone's kid running down the barn aisle screaming their head off, or being tacked up inside a stall (not that I've found these things have ever bothered her before, but it's good desensitization practice regardless) it's all these little experiences that are going to compound into something bigger - and it's something I can't give Annie myself. In a way, I'm almost as green as she is in some aspects; this is going to be a great opportunity to relearn the basics as well as for Trainer K to have a better understanding of Annie when we resume lessons with her this Spring.

A lot of training a young horse is a mind game tho, because I know I'm an effective and consistent owner. And I am not at a complete loss - I know the basics and I know how to apply them. I can, for the most part, problem solve on my own and be able to make headway through little bumps in the road. And because I am nothing but proactive, we've been breaking things back down to the basics and going from there. Asking the question and defining the lines between good and bad.

I have been carrying treats with me for the first time since our trailering issues. They seem to be helping as Annie figures out what earns her a treat - she is exceptionally smart and has rushed herself through certain things to see if she gets the treat faster, or has pretended to do an action to see if she'll get a treat for an "attempt". 

The process is clear though - sheer disobedience results in backing and/or a tug on the leadrope, confusion and uncertainty is given a second chance and treats secure the answer I'm looking for, complete attentiveness and compliance receives a treat, scratch, and break.

Standing while mounted - good bean.
While she has never been bad about walking off when mounted, she
typically anticipates when I will ask her to walk on and will shoot forwards
and then refuse to stop and stand again if I ask.
She's learning that it's easier to stand and get treats then try and walk off.
For example, I've started to teach Annie to park herself by the mounting block. In the past, she used to swing her haunches away from the bucket and it would result in me moving/repositioning, etc. The behavior went away, but recently cropped back up when I rode her last week so I've started to use the treats as a tool in this. On the leadrope, I send her out on a circle and stop her at the mounting block - she gets a treat for stopping and the association with the block is that it is the "treat place". She started to stop at the block on her own, which resulted in a treat.

Of course, naturally it evolved into "what if I just stop here too?". Which, is totally fair in the whole training process... but no. Try again Annie.

Once we get a level of commitment to the bucket, I move on to introduce me stepping up onto the bucket and jumping up and down. This resulted in her backing up because "You has cookies in your hand and my mouth is all the way up here... Here I help you." I would tell her "stand" before I went up on the bucket and if she moved, she was sent backwards. 

It worked quite well and she stood quietly at the bucket - I find I have to stand there a bit for her to stop trying to look at me for treats. Once she stares straight ahead, licks and sighs I remove myself and treat her. Of course, the treats will lessen as she is more consistent and we continue the process.

The act of mounting (standing quiet and moving off quiet) and "pretend" farrier work is the same process. I do try to mix it up for sake of not being completely monotonous and to keep her guessing a bit. I can't imagine being pulled out to do X, Y, Z over and over again is fun or effective.

Good bean.
So far we've had some real positive sessions and some not so positive sessions. The main denominator in all of this is consistency. Applying the knowledge, doing the exercises, and following through is exactly what needs to be done. Bad days are bad days - she's a young horse who hasn't been able to stretch her legs in almost two months, so I get it. I get that seeing a pile of snow that was there yesterday can be a very scary thing (Yes, I am sure Annie, it definitely was there yesterday). Today was one of those days in terms of yanking her feet away - she pulled away and moved into me. I ended up losing my balance and landed on my butt - thanks mare. We still ended on a good note, applying the yes/no reward system and made it through all four feet multiple times without incident. Once she realized standing quiet (STILL. the rules haven't changed, lol) earned her a treat, she had each foot waiting for me the second time I went around.

The ultimate pay off in all of this is seeing the change - there are some times where she takes an opportunity to see if she can just skip a step and receive a reward - but we've had more times of "good". Walking down the driveway bareback in a halter (with the leadrope not even clipped around as reins) and being able to stop and walk off several times without her lurching forwards whenever I put my legs on (or insisted she just stand quietly) was a truly wonderful experience.

The little increments of change in these things make me so very happy. She's a smart and patient horse - probably the most perfect baby for me and my situation. I am slowly learning that going back and filling in gaps isn't the worst thing in the world and sometimes, you just have to take a joke (especially during the Winter when horses turn into feral horse beasts).


  1. I think sending her to training is a great idea. Why not get a little help? I was a little hesitant to start Emi myself and gave myself the "out" that if I wasn't happy with how things were going I'd send her right off. That being said, I know things are going fine for you but getting assistance is never the wrong answer! :)

    1. It's such a fickle thing tbh - a lot of people see it has "admitting defeat", but it really isn't. I want to make sure Annie gets the best possible start and if it means having a pro help define the lines of yes/no, then why not. It'll be an incredible learning opportunity for me as well!

  2. Enlisting the help of a trainer is absolutely not giving up. Eyes on the ground and consistency are much needed to have a well behaved and cooperative partner in your horse. Especially if down the line you want to do things.

    1. :)

      I think we have done OK with what we've had available to us thus far - refining the finer points of being a riding horse isn't a bad idea!

  3. I don't think there's anything wrong with enlisting some professional assistance in training a young horse. Even professionals regularly seek the guidance of other professionals. It's certainly not giving up or taking the easy way out. It's just an added layer of education. You're obviously doing a great job and making great decisions for yourself and for Annie.

    1. Thanks!
      I think it'll help us speak a more "common" language :)

  4. I sent Nilla to a trainer and it literally transformed her. It was so, so valuable. If that trainer hadn't moved to another state, I would send Levi to her tomorrow. But I also get the whole wanting to do it yourself, because that's how I usually do it.

    1. I remember you saying you would send your horses if you could! I just think it's a no brainer for us to go that route.

  5. You're doing such a fantastic job with her, but it's so, so hard to be consistent when you've got to work and it's wintertime. I've sent mine out for training before, and never regretted it - even Bridget was getting one trainer ride a week this past year to help us through some tough issues and it was well worth every $ :)

    1. Aw, thank you!!

      Glad you guys found some helpful things in having trainer rides - I know quite a few people who refuse to do trainer rides b/c they want to do things themselves. Which, is all good and fine, but I do think thre are a lot of added benefits there.

  6. investing in professional help and guidance in bringing along your young horse is basically the opposite of giving up - and anybody who would tell you differently is probably missing the point. wishing you luck!

  7. Big kudos to you for realizing when you need a little bit of outside help! It always makes me feel better to remember that even top professional riders take lessons from others (maybe not every week, but still!). There's never any shame in trying to learn, do more, or do right by your horse!

    1. Thanks, Tracy! I am excited for this next step - I think it'll really help the both of us.

  8. Recruiting the help of a pro shows how much you care about your horse - not giving up at all! You've done a great job and this is just the next step. Wishing you both the best through this next step =)