Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Thunder is Back

Thunder and I at Tough Sucker II yesterday. The wind was horrendous, felt like it was going to blow me right off my horse a couple times! This was Thunder's first ride since his nasty stone bruise last summer at City of Rocks. he had a LONG rest from that, milked it all the way! I'm happy to say the red beast is back! We added another 50 miles to his record for a lifetime total of 3515 AERC miles. 

Thunder and I had a good time with only a couple spooks along the way. He didn't even generate a sweat! Of course we weren't going very fast either thanks to the old right hip of mine. Even then I was still pleased to be sharing the trail with Thunder and good friends! Regina Rose always puts on a good ride with unmatched hospitality as she opens up her home to all of us riders! 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mystery Solved

The question of what caused Brass to bolt on Saturday just keeps rattling around in my mind. I was wanting to take Brass over to Ted and Leni's and walk him over the bridge and put him on the teeter totter. But we took a little drive out to Succor Creek for a trail ride instead. Ted wanted to get Brass out on some trails. He had Terrence ride Mudslide so she could get some water crossing practice and I took Blue.

Part of the plan was to work Brass at liberty and see if he would leave or stay. Like so much of what has been done with him this week, we've tried to get him to fail so then we can work on the correct response if he makes the wrong choice.  A person usually wants to set a horse up for success but in this problem solving, if there is a hole somewhere we have to find it. Brass is a wise boy - he chose to stay and not run off.

Then as Ted was trotting along with Brass we heard this loud "Ping!" We all stop as we see a black object flying through the air! It went up high and landed a good 100 feet away. It was Brass' front Easyboot Epic. It had come off, the hind foot stepped on it and somehow the gaiter stretched and tore which launched that bugger. Brass didn't jump much but I had worked extensively yesterday with boots and such around his legs, loose flopping objects, etc. BUT this confirmed our very first question - did he bolt because he lost a boot or did he bolt out of the boots. Pretty convinced now the boot came off, and since he was zoned out it scared the heck out of him causing the spook and bolt. Maybe it hit him in the belly too. What if it hit him in the belly with the same kind of force that we saw send it skyward today? That would cause any horse to react! Not only react but not want to come back to the rider either!

It wasn't too much farther down the trail that he lost the other front boot. Normally these Epics stay on so I'm a bit surprised. Guess I need to readjust those cables! But right now it's great training. Ted said you could feel Brass bunch up and brace but he didn't bolt or anything bad. He put the boot back on. And we kept riding to the water as he and Terrence did circles, loped a bit, did one rein stops and more. Blue and I just ambled along. :)  

Terrence rode Mudslide right into the creek and she loved it. She splashed and splashed!
Swallow nests in the rocks, I really love riding through here.

Also tonight Ted gave Brass a chance for his ADD to kick in, kinda let him zone out a bit. Then reached down and gave his neck a heavy pat and said BOO and that horse did jump. More proof that you can't go to sleep on him and or let him go to sleep under you. 

Not only was it a pretty ride with friends but it was a great problem solving adventure. And the bolting mystery is solved! Time to move on!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Back to the Drawing Board

When I was a kid one my favorite cartoons was a scientist named Clyde Crashcup. And whenever he had to fix a failed plan he always said "Back to the drawing board!" So that's been my in my thoughts, back to the drawing board and review the problem and find a solution. Why did that silly horse bolt? And what to do about it?
Ted did some ground work to get Brass back to thinking correctly

I know why he didn't stop, because I'd been using one rein at a time to slow down. Bad human! I dulled the one rein stop. That became pretty obvious when Ted rode him yesterday and tuned that up. So okay I take the blame for that part of the incident but not all the blame.
The one rein stop was reinstalled

So what else happened? Well it's sort of hard to explain but I think he just had been walking and trotting along behind Linda's mare for awhile, and just zoned out. We know he is still green with 6 months of riding, we know he is ADD, we know he doesn't always remember his lessons, and we know endurance riders day dream and zone out so why not the horse. I think you know the scenario - you're going along through lala land and suddenly wake up with a start and ask yourself "How did I get here?" I think Brass did that and scared himself. He bolted, jumped the sagebrush, now I was off balance and trying to pull his head around, etc etc. It all snowballed into a mess.
Ted added some speed and did a few things to spook him up but brass was good

So that's my theory and I'll stick to it until a better one comes along. But Ted and I have cussed and discussed this whole thing. Not that it was any of his fault, oh no - I take the blame for the mistakes I made.
I worked on more desensitizing

Since Brass is so reactive to everything, I decided we needed more desensitizing. Just about the only thing he spooked at all day was trail ribbon. So I hung trail ribbon on his neck, his legs, his head and his back. I took Easyboots and put them around his pasterns and let them flop around and be annoying.

I just kept piling stuff on him and walking him around with it. I rattled it, moved it, tossed it anything I could think of. Put the tarp on him and under him. Put my trimming chaps over him. I tied things to his tail and let him drag them around so stuff behind him wouldn't spook him.

I made sure that he always moved with the packages because the standing horse is not the same as the moving horse. If you do any of this yourself do it in small increments and build on it slowly. And do everything from both left and right sides both. I'd have him move off and then return to me, and then I'd take the stuff off if he was calm and standing still. Maybe this will help the problem of the dirty dog leaving me. "Come to me if you want the nasty stuff off of you", I told him. So this was the lesson that came from looking at the drawing board one more time. and I somehow doubt it will be the last time.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tough Sucker Woes

Well yesterday was not a great day. It started out good. It was a warm gorgeous morning and I had driven out to Oreana for the endurance ride with my intentions of riding 50 miles on Brass at Owyhee Tough Sucker. 

I saddled up and we did a warm up in the round pen. And I rode out of camp at 8:30 with my friend, Linda Ballard. She needs 105 miles on her mare to finish out her mare's 1000! 

Brass was doing great, he accepted the 25 milers coming by and was eating and drinking. Traveled along fairly relaxed and respectful. Linda and I just walked and trotted along. Then at the top of a long sandy wash about 20 miles out for some reason he bolted, tossed in some leaps over the sagebrush and I simply could not get his head around to stop. Visions of Thunder being a runaway so many years ago rushed into my head. I knew there was rocks at the top of the hill, and sand where we were, so I took the sand and baled. he stopped at the hill top not far from where we were and looked, walked up the next little hill and stopped and looked again. I hoped he would come back to Linda's mare. But he vanished and headed west, which was the wrong way. I tracked him over the hill and he was just a fast speck on the horizon. He was definitely heading for Highway 78 and I had no idea where he would go next. I decided following him was not the right option. I told Linda don't wait for me, I'll walk back to camp.

Then Carrie Thorburn, who was riding the 25, came along on her second loop and called Regina Rose, ride manager. She got the voicemail of course! She left a message that my horse and I had parted ways, I was OK and walking in but the horse was headed for the highway. When Brass bolted he'd torn the front Epics off his hooves with his explosive bolt. So I picked them up and headed over the hill to camp, took a small shortcut. I wondered if he hadn't pulled off a boot and that set him off but I was sure that was a 'No" because I had worked with him having loose boots flop around his pasterns. The whole time I cussed the horse and swore I was never getting on him again. 
I was almost back to camp, here comes Regina on the 4 wheeler. "We got your horse.", she says. My answer, "Can I ride him?" (Who said that?) Yup she said. "Climb on!" So I hopped on the back of the four wheeler and Regina sped off with me wailing, "OH my gosh this is worse than riding my horse!" We got in the car and went down the highway to get the horse. The Sheriff, actually two, were there with him. 
Brass was all nice and calm and Officer Rocky had taken off his hind boots. They are like, this nice calm horse dumped you? I replied, "Yeah he's a bit schizo." Rocky was petting him and asked me his name. "The Big Brass" I told him, "only right now it's "you sorry bastard!" They laughed.  I took Brass and had him flex and give to the bit, I backed him up, basically did all the ground moves. He seemed back to his old self. I climbed on and rode away saying thank you. And I now had Regina's number in case I fell off again. I rode 9 uneventful miles back to camp. 3:30 PM. End of my ride. 
I'm rather stiff and sore this morning but OK physically. Mentally I am very disappointed and trying to analyze what the heck went wrong. Did a boot slip off and spook him and cause him to bolt? Maybe. But I have worked with him with boots just attached to his pasterns so he can get the feel of that boot flopping around on his leg. 
Then Ted came by, as he has been analyzing it all. I told him my tale of woe and he asked a few questions and we came up with some guesses. Endurance involves forward motion, continual forward motion. When I am out alone I stop and circle, do a C pattern, forward, backwards, left and right. But not on an endurance ride. There really isn't time for that. I had him flex every time I got on and off, only circled a few times in the first couple miles. But my mistake "could" have been and probably was - sort of doing a half halt to rate his speed with one rein. This made him ignore the bit and think he didn't have to stop. That coupled with no "come to me" exercises which keeps me in charge could explain the problems. However his biggest crime was in leaving me out there and not coming back when I called him.
So we need more miles with his lessons mixed in. He's like Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes where the ADD kicks in and he sees imaginary dragons. I may rename him Calvin, it's probably better than you sorry bastard! At least in public.
Young horses are easier to train than a 7 year old with issues and a history of mishandling and people problems. He has had it wrong for a long time so he requires much more than the average green young horse. And he is still green even though I may forget this when he gives me the perfect ride. But when he is bad, oh Lordy look out. Right now fixing him is the next step and when Ted left he asked, "Are you going to be home today?" I said "Yes I think so.". "Good" Ted replied, "if he is gone later I came and got him. I need to ride him and figure this out. " 
Oh and by the way, Linda's mare completed at 7:30 and now only need 55 more miles! YAY!  

Friday, April 4, 2014

My Third Job

I sat down and added how much time I worked with Brass the month of March. Holy cow! I rode him 197 miles and have around 55 hours just from March!

That's more time than I spend on my second job, driving bus for Adrian. However in monetary amounts, this third job doesn't pay as much as the other two! However if I were to consider pay in satisfaction, spiritual connections, fun, health (as long as I don't fall off tee hee) then the pay is pretty darn good.

The Big Brass is one time consuming guy with training, ground work and conditioning for rides. This doesn't count feeding, brushing, hoof care, etc. Yup horses and the lifestyle I love is a commitment not a hobby. But I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Tricks for Old Dogs

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach old horse folks and old horses new tricks! My friend, Ted Nicholes and his family, hosted a great horsemanship clinic last week just a couple miles from me. I'm so lucky because I got to go.

Here I am in between my endurance riding friends Pat Murray (L) and Karen Vining (R)

So people often wonder why, when I have been messing with horses my whole life, do I want to attend a horsemanship clinic? I truly believe that we never can learn it all. Horses always have something new to teach us. And one of the things they have taught me is that I need to ride smarter. I need to communicate better than I did in the old days of just climb on and ride. Plus I don't bounce anymore! I go splat when I hit the ground! So I need a better trained horse than I did when I was 22 yrs old and would ride anything that had fur. 

Trish Frahm and Secret gained a lot of confidence over the week working with Ted. 

A lot of people think horsemanship is just brushing the horse and picking out hooves. But it goes much farther than that. Most dictionaries define horsemanship as the art or skill of riding a horse. But that means in order to ride successfully you need to communicate with the horse in a language that he understands, and I don't mean "Whoa dammit!" Even though I have done that, and I suppose so have you at one time or another. I've also read books for years on the subject, studied different master horseman and learned new things as I rode along. But there is always more to learn. 

My ADD kicked in and I found this huge piece of plastic that had blown in. I spied a training opportunity! So I worked and desensitized Brass until I had it over both sides. Notice I am at a 45 degree angle to the front of him so I won't get trompled. Note the slack in the leadline. This is a great exercise for noisy materials plus a horse like Brass who does not like things happening on both sides of him at once. And once I completed the task from the left I then had to do it all again from the right side because righty and lefty can be two different horses.

When I first met the Nicholes family it didn't take long to see they knew how to handle a horse. The skills just quietly oozed out. Along came The Big Brass, a difficult boy at best with a history of people problems, and Ted was the man for the job of calming and training the horse. Not sure why God keeps blessing me with difficult horses but over the years I think I have had more than my share. They certainly are dedicated to improving my riding skills. Anyway, Ted uses the Clinton Anderson methods, and those methods get good results. Why? Because in these simple exercises horses learn to respect their handler, we learn how to basically talk to the horse in his language, and all this builds up to a responsive and supple horse that probably won't embarrass you in public. And yes there are similarities to other horsemanship folks such as Ray Hunt, Tom and Bill Dorrance, and Buck Brannaman - but there are also some profound differences. 

Ted flexing Trish Frahm's mare, Secret. Lateral flexion is very important for one rein stops, turns and therefore safety. 

We began with learning some desensitizing skills that make our horses more solid and take the spook out of them. As Ted says, "Go ahead give your horse a heart attack. They're free. Make noise, be quick and animated, run up to him, get him used to everything before you get on him." This made me laugh because growing up with racehorses and being around different barns where some trainers wouldn't allow any loud noises and us kids couldn't run past the stalls. Dad had always said, go ahead and run and make noise, they'll get over it. And they did. We learned how to be the boss hoss and make our horse's feet move by having them yield their hindquarters and the fore quarters. We learned how to control the 5 body parts of the horse; head and neck, poll, shoulder, ribs and hindquarters. We learned so much over the week that I can't begin to enter it all here but I'll try to summarize it. But you could go to you tube at look at clips of Clinton Anderson training methods as you can others, or buy the DVD's.

Brass flexing nicely

One reason these methods work is horses learn from the release of pressure. Watch the boss horse, all he has to do is flip an ear or swish his tail and everyone scatters. That's driving pressure. The alpha horse moves the other horses feet away and says get out of here! When they leave the boss ignores them and the pressure is released. The reward for the right move is in the release. And it's pretty easy to see that the horses who moved their feet, lost to the horse who didn't really move his feet. So we make the horse move his feet and we win. But when the horse makes you move your feet you lose! An example: ask the horse to back with pressure and reward one step back with the release of pressure. Before you know it you are getting five backward steps. It just builds from there. 

Robin Peterson having her horse yield his hindquarters away from her, notice the hind leg crossing in front of the other. Her body language says, move out of my way! This comes into play not just in riding but in moving that horse when you open a gate from the ground or correcting a crooked back up. Just looking at the hindquarter of a horse backing crooked can make him straighten out. 

We learned how to teach the horses to laterally flex, bringing their nose to our stirrup or toes. Then we learned the one rein stop which I believe is the single most important thing anyone should know. One person said "We never did that in the old days." I guess Al & I were different because we would teach horses to flex and one rein stop many years ago, we just didn't call it that. Ted gave us a round pen demo and also laid Brass down. I may save the latter for blog number two. 

Karen Vining doing a one rein stop with her mare, Abbiroad. 

Lateral flexion and yielding the hindquarters once taught from the ground comes into play from the saddle. Move your horse over, safe stops, turns, a building block for bending at the walk, plus two track and sidepass which are advanced moves. But the horse has to know the basics first. 

Joseph Wieting has Houdini, a mustang, yield his hindquarters from the saddle. Remember in beginning moves that you exaggerate  the teach so as horse and rider learn the cues become less obvious. In a well trained horse cues are often not seen. 

Then after practicing some of these things we did cruise control. Put your horse in a desired gait for five minutes, allow him to travel where he wants, no turning allowed but you can do a one rein stop. The purpose is to further practice the one rein stop, when the horse builds speed you one rein stop, if he breaks gait - you one rein stop. By no turning allowed the horse doesn't get a lot of mixed signals. However with 7 horses we got a bit bunched up which made me nervous but it was good for the horses and all of us too. 

I dubbed it cruise chaos but it wasn't really that bad and no one fell off! left to right, Trish Frahm, Beth Nicholes, Robin Peterson and Joseph Weiting. The horses like to follow and bunch up but no one ran into anybody LOL

In addition to all that we did the sending exercise, lunging for respect stage one and two. Bending or circling at the walk. All that is just the tip of the iceberg of what all of us and our horses learned! It was interesting to note that the horses that came the first day that were pushy and disrepectful quickly improved. The horses who would not give to a rein and flex were doing great by Friday. Saturday we put it all together for different uses. And I think everyone left with a more respectful horse that was easier to handle and more responsive to ride. Therefore they now owned a safer horse which means MORE fun! 

Laura Nicholes, 7, on their pony, Snip