Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I feel like I'm always training someone

Last night was a different sort of training session. Rugby got a night off. My husband and I took our twins to the park and they both began learning how to ride their bicycles without training wheels. Ah, another milestone.

We took them to the park because my husband read in one of his cycling magazines that the easiest way to learn 'em was to lower the bike seats so they could get their feet on the ground instantly, take them to a small hill and let them roll down the hill with their feet up and practice keeping their balance while the bike is moving. Then if they got wobbly all they had to do was put their feet down to stop. As they kept doing it, they got better and better and we kept working towards starting the ride with their feet on the pedals and then having them keep pedaling into the grass field after they went down the hill.

At the end of an hour, they were sweaty and exhausted but had their feet on the pedals and managed to go a while without dumping the bikes. It was awesome! They earned their ice pops from the ice cream truck afterward!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pictures from tonight's training

Tonight's session was much better. I had more concentration from the Big Guy. Yes! I got in some riding tonight! I even managed to snap a few pix of him to share since it's been a long while since I've posted any!

This is just after we finished our groundwork and I switched from the rope halter to my bridle so I could ride. (dont'cha love his scary glowing eyeballs from my flash!) It was good to get back in the tack tonight after yesterday's change of program!

You can never have too many nice head shots of your horse. The fun part of having a paint is...'s good to take a picture of each side since he looks different in each direction!

Ahh, back in his stall and waiting for that all-important after workout treat!

Sometimes, you have to know when to quit.

Ever get into a training situation where it all started out great and then you hit a point of diminishing returns? That was what happened to Rugby and I yesterday. In all fairness to the Big Guy, it was not his fault and I would have expected no less from him at this stage of his education.

The weather here has been very random with all the influence from hurricane Bill. It downpours while the sun is merrily shining, the clouds thicken up and the humidity is miserable, then the sun comes back out and heats it all up into a muggy mess. So my window of opportunity to work with the horse has been very weather dependent. Yesterday, we had a family occasion to go to around 5:00PM and the morning was busy so the only time I had to squeeze in a bit of training was at 3:00PM. Not much time by my standards and too close to feeding time but I figured I'd try.

So I arrive at the barn, shlep all my gear to my stall, walk down to the paddocks and collect my horse and get him brushed and tacked to do our groundwork before riding. He was willing and working quite well but I knew we were running out of time. I could have rushed it and tried to get mounted but something told me to finish the groundwork the way I am comfortable with it and see if I could ride.

Well, I watched it start to unravel as he noticed the horses being brought in from turn-out. He was distracted by them but could be directed back to the exercises quite easily. It was when the Sunday bran mash was being served a few minutes later that I lost him, and not in a bad or explosive way, I just watched my horses' concentration evaporate in front of me! I'd back him up and he kept turning to look at the barn. He'd forget to stand still and wait for my cue to move and then get sent back to stand again. I asked him to flex to the side and then he'd start walking in a circle instead of standing still. I knew riding was not going to be happening. I didn't want to continue to push his patience, especially at this level of his schooling. I knew if I tried to ride he could very well lose it from frustration and it was a scenario I chose not to risk.

So we wrapped it up with a few of the most simple exercises, I gathered up my unused helmet and bridle and walked him back into the barn. He kept it together long enough for me to unsaddle him and lead him quietly into the stall. He even lowered his head like he's been taught to have his halter removed and then submerged his face in his bran mash!

I let him chow down and when he was done, I took him out and sponged the sweat off him. It wasn't the session I had hoped for but given the circumstances, it all went okay. I'm hoping to get there and ride tonight!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Training Happens Anywhere

Still coughing but starting to get better. Thanks to all who wished me a "feel better". I give it another week. These colds seem to just linger lately.

Yesterday was one of those days that just got away from me. My husband rode his bicycle with the cycling club in the morning and when he got back we went out as a family and did some stuff together. We had tickets to go see G I Joe that evening so there wasn't much time to work with Rugby again. In addition, there was rain and T-storms in the forecast and I could tell by looking at the sky they were not far off.

So I went to the barn with about an hour to work with. I decided to take Rugby to the grazing area and let him have some grass. But I took my training stick and used my rope halter and 12 foot lead. I wanted to see how cooperative he would be if I asked him to perform a simple task while he was doing his favorite thing - eating!

We led to the grassy spot. If he started to speed up his walk, I walked him into a 10 meter circle, then sent him back a few steps. Then we moved again, and repeated the same if he did it again. He figured after the 3rd time that he wasn't getting there any faster by trying to force it and stayed just behind my shoulder as we stepped onto the grass. And then I looped the lead at him and let him graze.

For about 10 minutes, I let him munch away, I turned my shoulder so I wasn't staring at him but could see what he was doing from the corner of my eye. Then I faced him and lifted my left arm to point and send him onto a circle and at the same time slightly wiggled the stick in my right hand. He stopped grazing immediately and started to walk in a circle! I could see he wanted to keep eating but he didn't argue and kept walking as long as I kept pointing. I asked for just a circle and a half then stopped him with a haunch disengage, made him face me and keep his head up, not just dive for the grass. It took a few bumps up on the halter with the lead to get him to focus on me and not the turf. When he kept his head up and waited, I looped the lead gently so it touched the ground and let him lower his head to continue grazing.

I gave him a little more time and asked for him to walk the circle again. And again he did what I asked. Then I got creative.

There were two resin lawn chairs side by side on the grass. Some of the boarders like to sit and chat while they graze their horses, so the chairs were left there. I moved the chairs apart so there were about 6 feet between them. Then I gave the send signal and Rugby began to walk on the circle. As he approached the opening between the chairs, his ears snapped to attention and he stopped and gave a snort. I quietly kept offering the signal to send, even stepping slightly to the front of the chairs to "lead" him between. He cautiously stepped between and then, without hurrying finished walking through the gap. He wanted to just stop and graze right after he passed through and I had to get his attention and have him keep walking. He walked around and this time as he approached the gap he slowed, but kept walking and passed through without further hesitation!

I was impressed! I expected anything from him absolutely refusing to try, to him charging through the opening. His alert but cautious handling of the situation and that he trusted my asking him to do it were better than I could have wanted. I let him graze after that. Another few minutes later I sent him in the opposite direction through the chairs and he did it that time as if the chairs weren't there. If I'd had more time, I would have slowly kept closing the gap and having him pass through a tighter opening until he did it smoothly and without concern. But I was satisfied with what we did and let him just finish the time I had left with grazing.

So even with very little time, training can happen anywhere. Working on the grass is great because while it is a distraction, it is also a reward. The fact that he will stop grazing when I ask for a task is a big plus in the respect department where he's concerned because this big boy LOVES to eat!

And we beat the rain! It started drizzling as we walked back into the barn. Mission accomplished!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Another Ride

Have come down with some awful chest cold. Lots of coughing and post nasal drip. Had it about 4 days now. Very annoying, especially the headaches from too much coughing. So I have not been of a mind to do a whole lot with Rugby this past week. I did some groundwork just to keep the ball rolling and tonight I made myself get him saddled up and work toward another ride. We worked in the small arena behind the barn again. All went well. Lunged for respect for about 40 minutes and then into the saddle for about 20 minutes or so to work on exercises of lateral flexion at the walk. And he was a star.

One of the biggest changes I made when I started working with the big guy after the fall was to train myself that this was going to be a new journey. I will miss going on the hunter paces in the fall and heading out to the trails like I was doing with Monty but the only way to give both myself and Rugby a chance was to change my thinking from what I will be missing (for a while) to what fun I will have when this nice, young horse is finished and trained. I decided that my mindset is it will take as long as it takes. If it takes another year before I can try trail riding, that's fine. If we don't attempt to canter or start jumps until next spring, that's okay, too. I see the potential of this young horse and will work at his pace to make him the best beast he can be. And when it's all done, I will have the satisfaction that I did it and I finished it.

He's a big, cuddly puppy of a horse. If he had it his way, he'd want me to hang out with him by his stall door and rub his face forever. You can't show enough love to this big sponge - he just keeps soaking it up.

Some great things to come of all this are: He'll lower his head to the ground for you to remove and put on his halter or bridle. He stands quietly on cross ties with no fidgeting. He'll easily move over for you while on the cross ties by simply gesturing with your hand at his hip. He'll back up with a fingertip on his shoulder. He'll lift his hooves nicely for cleaning and trimming. He will stand quietly for having his mane pulled. He loves to have his belly and chest scratched. He knows that treats only happen after all the work is done and he's returned to his stall and will not mooch on you or try to pick your pockets while you work with him. He leads with respect, he does not crowd you while walking him and if he does, as soon as you stop and send him back, he will back up away and resume walking slightly behind your right shoulder. He's very good at lunging now and will increase and decrease his gait on command. He stands quietly and respectfully while mounting.

Sounds like a pretty nice horse so far, right? That's why I am encouraged to do this at his pace. It's been great with slow but very steady progress.

Another thing I'm loving is his hooves. He's my first barefoot horse and he's got the best hooves I've ever dealt with. In fact, as I am working with him, I think he moves even better now than when I first bought him. My trimmer is doing a great job and Rugby is benefitting from his good, natural hooves.

So, I am in a good place.

Weather permitting, I will try to ride again tomorrow.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I did it again! I rode the beast this evening after a good groundwork session. Rugby seemed in a mellow mood even as I was grooming him but I decided to be thorough and do good groundwork first. He was very willing and unconcerned about all the noises coming from the other side of the fence in the restaurant parking lot.

When the time came to switch the rope halter for the bridle, he just put his head down and cooperated. Then I gently brought him to the mounting block, and slowly mounted up. He was fine. Off we walked and did lateral flexing and a little backing and I let him cruise around at the walk. (and I find it amusing that he likes to walk through the groundpoles, even when I let him choose where he wants to go. I am guessing this guy is going to like jumping when we get there!)

It was all good! No fear.

I tried to recall all the work from my lesson on Thursday. How I did about an hour of groundwork before we attempted the riding. How T.S. set him up before he mounted Rugby. How he connected the feel of the bit with moving the body and how he did not mount first without laying his body across the saddle and rubbing Rugby's opposite shoulder, then when the response was inviting, he swung his leg low and over Rugby's back and into the saddle. Then T.S. proceeded to ask Rugby to begin lateral softening. How he exaggerated his movements on the reins to teach and to soften and give with each try.

T.S. must have ridden him for almost 45 minutes before I got on. And after watching him, all my fear melted away. T.S. had to leave promptly at 6:30PM and asked how I felt about riding. I told him, let me ride while he was still there. He smiled and we switched. And he held Rugby for me to mount up, for the first time in about 2 months. It was so good to ride my horse again. We are to work on our walk for the next month. T.S. will come back and we will move up to trotting.

I love Rugby. I'm also not as sorry for the experience that led to this. I have gained so much, most importantly a level of communication and a relationship with this horse that I feared I might not find. I'm also glad to have been referred to T.S. and I am grateful for his help.

So, it's time to introduce him by his real name. My trainer is Tony Simonetti. Here is his information Natural Horseman Tony Simonetti and here is his webpage L.I. Horse Community If you read his testimonials, mine is right at the top from the first time Tony came to work with us.

It's been a good weekend.