Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lesson Report #2

Lesson #2 went very well today!  I am thrilled with Boomer's progress already!  In the short week between lessons he went from being very resistant to contact to accepting contact for the majority of the ride.  Today we worked on maintaining control of direction while on contact.  I have run in to a little trouble with Boomer wanting to blow out his outside shoulder and go tangentially off the circle instead of turning.  Karin had us on a 20m circle, then had me ride straight down the long side halfway down the arena, then make a turn across, the come back down and complete the 20m circle.  This gave him lots of opportunity to blow through the outside shoulder, which he did.  She had me fix this by really engaging my outside leg and hand.  This is really only a problem going to the left.  Karin pointed out that when he started to blow right, I would activate my left side to try to 'pull' him around, thus opening the right side and inviting him to  continue blowing right.  So, she had me focus on having weight in the right seat bone, lengthening my right leg and bumping him if needed, and in not giving away outside rein contact.  Also, I am supposed to look where I am going.  That worked!  So, now we have relaxed contact, forward movement, and steering!

Mostly we just focused on walk and trot, we cantered once but he really rushed and threw up his head.  Once I got him cantering and also tried activating my inside rein to have him relax, he lost balance and tried to lean inside and broke to trot.  Karin still wants me to work on cantering, but she wants me to 'forget' about connection and just focus on getting him to canter as soon as I give the aids instead of rushing.

We worked a little on leg yields today as well.  Towards the left, off the right leg he is very good.  But towards the right off the left leg he just tries to wiggle and bend his way out of crossing over in the back.  Karin had me focus on that connection again and then try to yield with connection, slowing him down with my hands and pushing him over with my leg so that it was an exaggerated yield where he really had to cross with his back legs.  Anytime he started to move forward too much, he got 'strung out' and wasn't really needing to cross over because his body was so long.  So, I have to balance that forward motion and keep him compact enough that he has to reach underneath.  I could really feel when he was stepping over behind instead of in front!  Very cool!  She said that in his 'bad' direction, I have to really focus on getting only one or two strides of good, collected, crossing over strides and really praise him for correct work instead of letting him wiggle around so he isn't crossing over.  On his good side, I can expect more strides from him.

I am seeing a pattern emerge so far when we get stuck- the solution is probably in my outside hand or leg!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beast of Burden

Boomer and I have been improving a little at a time.  On Sunday he really 'got it' and was relaxing his head down and striding out, increasing his speed and getting really forward for whole circles at a time.  We were having some great transitions and he was really enjoying himself!  He seemed to be really trying to figure out what I was asking.  It was very cool to see him really get it and put forth a good effort.  He really seemed to understand that 'that' was how he was supposed to carry himself for the whole ride.  

Fast forward to Monday and the newness has worn off. Boomer decided that what I was asking him to do was hard work and he was a little resistant.  I took it down a notch and he was compliant, if not cheerful.  I still asked him to relax down and move forward, but I just gave him lighter contact and released for any 'forward' he offered, not just big strides.  We also did more walk work and leg yields along the wall and kept the ride short at 45 minutes.

A huge improvement is that I have gotten Boomer in to the wash rack twice now!  If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how Boomer acts when he doesn't want to do something.  Lots of high headed, pulling back, and planting feet.  My plan is to put pressure on the lead rope until he steps forward.  It hasn't worked yet.  After a few minutes, ranch manager and trainer Bill asked if I needed help.  He talked to me about how the pressure and release is good if the horse responds to it, but if Boomer doesn't respond to that it is just teaching him to hang on me.  He wanted me to focus on keeping him moving and to forget about the wash rack.  He took Boomer and led him up and down the aisle, using the lead rope behind him to send Boomer forward in a hurry to reinforce leading.  He told me not to use any lead rope pressure at all and when I ask him to walk if he doesn't respond to send him forward from the hip- doesn't matter where he goes as long as he doesn't run me over.  If he moves towards the wash rack- I let him stop and stand.  Then repeat the ask for a walk forward again.  After maybe 3-4 tries Boomer headed right in the wash rack with no fear at all!  I tried again the next day and he went in again after minor encouragement.  The second day, I had cookies in my pocket and hooked him up in the cross ties and gave him a few treats.  Nothing like a little positive reinforcement to lighten the load, eh?

I keep trying to tell Boomer that a real beast of burden doesn't get cookies.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Goals for 2010

I hadn't done any sort of 'goal' post yet, but Karen inspired me with her late post!

For 2010:
Use dressage to improve my horse and my riding
Ride on the trails near the barn as often as they are open, aim for once a week
Take one working cow lesson over the summer with resident trainer, Bill
Finish two 50 mile rides- State Fair Express 4/24 & Indian Territory 10/2

I think these are all attainable goals.

I think that we will start seeing improvement with our riding within a few weeks from my lessons with Karin.

As for the trails, the Johnson County parks and rec service is notorious for closing trails to horses at the first sign of rain or mud.  So, I will really just have to play it by ear and ride there when I can.  If you are curious, looking at the map I linked, Painted M Ranch is at the bottom right corner on the NE corner of the Homestead Ln and 127th intersection.  I can ride along a gravel road for .75 miles to the entrance at the south end of the trail.  I think the whole trail is supposed to be 5-8 miles, but I'm not sure how that is measured and it isn't marked on the trail.

The barn has 5 baby longhorns that they use for working in training and lessons.  The ranch manager and trainer, Bill, is really awesome and I would like to take a cow lesson to do something new.

The rides I linked to are just options.  They are both pretty close but there are a number of other rides nearby this season, so I can take my pick if those two don't work out!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I have been mulling things over a lot in the last few days.
One of the most amazing parts of the lesson for me was the outside rein for the leg yield.
A leg yield is a lateral movement when the horse is facing forward and moving forward at any gait and is pressed both forward and sidewys by his riders leg.  The horse is slightly bent away from the direction of travel and his 'following' (or inside) legs cross over the 'leading' legs.  Google it for a better description or video.  To clarify inside vs. outside, the inside refers to the bend in the horses body, which in the case of the leg yield is away from the direction of travel.  So, the inside legs are the side away from the travel.  The outside legs and rein are towards the direction of travel.

The problem:  Boomer was 'trailing' with his hind end and wasn't keeping his whole body in alignment.
My solution was to use more inside leg to move his hips over and more inside rein to slow him down.  It wasn't working.

The solution:  Karin watched us leg yield at the walk and said two words "outside rein".  Oh.  I picked up the outside rein (towards direction of travel) and he striaghtened up.  She explained that his hips weren't 'trailing' but that his shoulders were leading.  She also suggested riding with a whip as needed and using it to just lay across his inside hip to help it know to track up.

Processed by me:  By using my inside rein, I was blocking the movement of his shoulders and actually causing him to have more bend and be FURTHER out of alignment.  By picking up the outside rein, I slowed his outside shoulder- allowing it to come back straight with his body.

The most incredible part to me about this whole process was that it worked.  I know that seems like a strange thing to say, but I have taught Boomer everything he knows and I was asking for the leg yield wrong.  When I asked correctly- for the first time ever- he fixed it.

It is just amazing to me that Boomer knew something I didn't.  For so long it has been me asking for trot- Boomer trots, etc.  This was the first time that something more complex has come up.  I don't know how to describe the difference.  It was a new feeling for me to fix a problem with such a simple solution.  I didn't teach him anything, I just asked a little differently.

When working at the polo farm, I was had to teach a mare to prefer her right lead.  Polo riders bear most of their weight to the right as that is the mallet hand.  I first taught her to do a flying lead change, then just schooled it every day,  any time she picked up the right lead, we went straight.  Anytime she picked up the left lead, we circled right until she switched.  She started to prefer the right lead.  I taught her that. That is different from what happened with Boomer and the leg yeild.

With an old school master, they wait patiently while a student fumbles around the cues until the student finally asks correctly, then they give the correct movement.  That also is different from what happened with Boomer.

Boomer was neither taught, nor already knew what I was trying to get from him.  But once I asked correctly, he was right there with the correct response.

There is so much more to this than just ask and recieve.  Sometimes you have to get out of the way as a rider to really allow the horse to work correctly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lesson Report #1

I had my first lesson with Karin this morning and I think we are going to really work well together.  Today was kind of a slow introduction so that she could see where we are.  I think that Boomer gave her a pretty good representation of where we are at and also what he is capable of.  We pretty much worked on a circle the whole time as she doesn't really feel that he is round enough to respond laterally to stay straight on the rail, which is why he so easily pushes through my leg is he doesn't want to go by the scary gate or whatever.  Karin had me working on softening his neck/breaking at the poll/rounding the top line AND staying forward.  In the past, I have gotten a little give and then I release.  She taught me that I have to hold that contact and only release when he is round AND forward.  So, he might not get the release right away, but it is there waiting for him when he stays round AND comes forward into the bridle.  He started to really get that.  She had me use my inside rein to get him to soften, then hold the outside rein when I ask for forward with me legs to keep him from raising up.  Another reason for keeping us on a circle right now is that because he doesn't fully understand the rein contact, he (and many young horses) have some fear when both reins are taken up at once instead of one at a time, asking for bend.  So, we have to work up to straight lines once he is stronger through the back and more accepting onthe contact.  We worked a little at transitions and keeping him round, which was difficult.  She helped me time when to ask based on how round he was.  One of our canter departs was really improved as he was actually giving with his neck instead of rushing and pushing through his chest.  It was nice to have her input to tell me to be more firm when asking for contact and he wasn't giving.  On my own, if he resists I let him slow down and stay steady on the reins until he gives.  Karin had me pushing him forward and had me really stay after him with a firm inside rein until he gave.  It was really nice to have someone there saying "wait for him, keep hanging in there, he will come down, wait for him".  She helped me discover the use of my outside rein today as well.  When on a circle, if he starts falling in, I just use me inside leg to push him over.  She had me get him round with the inside rein, THEN use the outside rein plus inside leg and he moved right over!  I couldn't believe how easy that was!  We also did a little leg yields at the walk and she said that it was coming along very well and again to use the outside rein.  I had been feeling that his hind end was trailing,  but she had me use my outside rein to straighten his shoulders and all of a sudden he was much more straight and getting much better lateral movement!

So, good ride today.  I am looking forward to hearing more "lean back, shoulders back, more back" and "push forward with your seat, cluck, more forward, leg".  I have my work cut out for me!

And because I am a proud mom, I have to brag for Boomer...  Karin said that he has a good work ethic and because he is so sensitive and gives easily that we should progress quickly.  She also said that she likes how he always has his ears back listening to me and is very animated and expressive.  Aww, Boomer!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Crossrails of Doom

The day started out innocently enough,  a quick groom and tack before setting up the arena for Gymnastic Friday.  I set up three trot poles and two cross rails.  One cross rail was set up with the cups at 12 inches, the other one was set with the cups at 14 inches.
I brought Boomer in to lunge him and OMG he was snorting like he had never seen ANY of this before!  So after a few minutes he was fine and we were walking back and forth in hand over both of the crossrails.
I got on and we went WONDERFULLY over the trot poles.  I had them set up along the short side where he has been having trouble with goblins, or whatever, and the poles seemed to focus him and he never varied off of the straight line.  Very happy/proud moment.  Walked over both cross rails, did some loose rein cantering, trotted over the low *snort* crossrail.  Boomer was great.  Trotted towards the high *snort* crossrail... BAM... slammed on the breaks and started snorting like the devil himself was laying in front of us.
Now, he had walked over this 'jump' about 5 times in both directions already.  But damn if he would be trotting over it.  So, we walked over it, and walked over it, and walked over it.  He started trying to leave to the right but would always end up walking over it.  He hit it one with the back legs and OMG it tried to kill him.  I got off, set it back up and hand walked him over it some more.
Got back on, and walked over it a bunch.  The low crossrail was never a problem for him and he continued to trot over it like a champ.  
We ended on a good note with trotting the ground poles some more and walking over the crossrails a few times on a super loose rein.
I feel bad for over facing my poor, poor horse with a 14" crossrail.  I really thought he could handle that. Though I think part of the problem was that I didn't have ground poles leading up to the crossrail.  Perhaps that helped him to even out and accept the 12" crossrail last week.  The crazy part is that I have jumped him outside over brush that had to be at least 2'.  So, I know he can do it.  Oh well, this gymnastic stuff is just for fun, so we will just keep it easy and stick with the little 12" X's!!!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rein control

Today was interesting as Boomer was quite full of himself from the moment I haltered him. I suspect it has something to do with the added pound of alfalfa pellets. I was hoping he wouldn't be sensitive to them, but he really gets big energy out of anything extra in his feed. Anyhow, I lunged him first anticipating some residual issues with the whole 'arena door being open' thing even thought the door was closed today. Sure enough, it took a few minutes to work through but he was very good. After about 15 minutes of lunging I got on and as I was adjusting my stirrups, a big chunk of snow slid off of the arena roof. I had been dreading that moment for a few weeks now, as another lady had that happen and almost fell off when her horse spooked and bolted. Boomer, but the enigma that he is, just stood there and looked up at the ceiling with his ears forward.

Boomer was very snorty today and I was getting a little irritated about all of his nonsense. He has a few spots that he doesn't like to pass close to the rail, so he bends away from them and tries to come off the rail. It is very frustrating as he ignores my leg and using my rein just bends him more. So, we just do small circles until he gets over it (for the day... or moment). We did some cantering which was OK, but not great and after a few rounds of cantering I let him have a light rein and trot around.

*I have three levels of rein control that I use on a daily basis. First is loose- that is loopy, on the buckle work where we neck rein and use legs to communicate. We use this to warm up and cool down. Next is light rein- where I have him long and low, he gets to set his head and I have just enough contact to feel his mouth, but not enough to do any fine tuning. He has to earn this contact and he usually does so about halfway through the ride. I know when he has earned it when I offer it and he doesn't rush or throw his nose straight into the air. This is also what we do over trot poles and on Gymnastic Fridays. Last is collected contact- here I have enough contact to bring his head in to me or to drive him into the bit. He is a bit more 'up' and we can really work on flexion and using the reins together to give various more complicated aids. This is what we use for much of our 'work'.*

So, after some cantering, I gave Boomer the light rein and trotted around. Usually, he trots big and stretches then slows down to a jog and relaxes while we do circles and serpentines. However, today he was just power trotting around. Not, leg flinging, high headed trotting, but a good solid posting trot. That is something I usually have to beg for! He was stretching his neck and working the bit and was having a grand ole time! We trotted like that for probably 5-10 minutes and he was just so forward and animated! It was a really great feeling! I asked him to canter and forced myself to continue to have the light rein and was so surprised by him! He was relaxed and carried himself with such grace! No rushing, no motorcycle turns. He listened to my legs and would even yield towards the rail or go over the 'scary' sun patches on the ground. He kept up the canter for at least 5 laps on his own at a nice even pace without trying to trot. We went the same amount on the other direction and then did more trotting on the light rein. Even after all of that work, he just kept on trotting with the same energy and focus. We finally cooled out and walked on a loose rein working on straight lines and called it a day.

What started out as a frustrating ride very quickly turned in to one I was thrilled with and so proud of! I really liked his added energy and enthusiasm once he applied it correctly and wasn't being a dingbat! I was really impressed that he had that much to give and offered it willingly! We rode for the same amount of time as usual, but he just put more energy into it than usual. Rather than spending most of our time in the sitting trot/jog, we spent most of our time at the posting trot and canter.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Squirrel Brain!

Today was one of those days where you immediately scrap any notion of progress and focus on keeping the brain between the horses ears.

The big door was open at the end of the arena and Boomer was having a really hard time making up his mind about if it was very scary or very exciting. I think he finally decided that it was very exciting to be able to see outside but that the things going on outside (tractors, horses in paddocks) were very scary. We had one spook/bolt moment when the tractor drove by, but otherwise he stayed mostly under control. We spent about 10 minutes doing circles at the walk at the end gate focusing on keeping an inside bend for the whole circle. He would give me a beautiful bend at the 'far side' of the circle and then at the end close to the gate he would invert and bend towards the gate. So, we pretty much did leg yields around the circle at the walk. Then we started doing figure eights and trotting. It was all very exciting. For Boomer. But in the end, we spent about 45 minutes riding, with at least the last 15 minutes with him very relaxed. He was readily chewing the bit and on good contact with a low neck. I was very happy with the trot work actually! We quit on a good note after he trotted right along the gate in a circle and willingly held the inside bend.

I really have no idea if that approach is the best way to handle that situation. The other, admittedly tempting, option was to work at the other end of the arena and ignore the scary area. That may have worked and he may have eventually realized that it wasn't anything to worry about and he might have relaxed sooner. However, I felt that it was important for Boomer to work through his excitement and give me correct work.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Gymnastic Friday!!!

We trotted our first cross rail today! Now, Boomer has jumped a little- I had a few cavaletti in Oklahoma and the trainer jumped him over some brush this fall. But, this was our first exercise in jumping.

Work with me here on the description of what we did. Imagine the arena is divided in to 4 long sections. Section one had two trot poles about 15 feet apart, section two had two trot poles also 15 feet apart but staggered from the first set, section three had a small cross rail with a lead up ground pole and section four had three trot poles with standards by pole 2 for 'show'. We started by going through the ground poles a few times and going over one in 'section one' then leg yielding over to 'section two' for the next pole. This was actually really fun because I tried to stay in 2 point position the whole time with loose/light contact. Boomer was more responsive to my leg than I expected! Yay! I had shortened my stirrups two holes and found it much easier to post, however I really practiced staying in two point or half seat.
Boomer did great on everything and took it all in stride. He didn't over react to the standards or to the cross rail. We only worked for about 30 minutes called it quits after he trotted the cross rail twice in a row without touching it.

Another interesting point about today's ride is that I used a new bit. I finally got my full cheek french link snaffle in the mail and I was impressed with the difference already. I also got a pair of bit keepers, I haven't used those before with my old full cheek, not sure if it makes any difference, but whatever. I really stayed out of his mouth and gave him super light contact the whole ride. He never braced and was more responsive to turns than ever before. He was working the bit more and had a great foamy slime going on after the ride. He was also less resistant for our stretches and backing at the end of the ride. Backing was probably the single biggest improvement. So, good choice, I think!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I was supposed to have my lesson today but we had to reschedule because the insurance company for the barn hadn't signed off yet on Karin as an instructor. The barn in owned by a lawyer so everything has to be by the book. So, next Wednesday at 10 am is the day. I rode anyway and Karin watched quietly for a little while.

Boomer is getting much better at cantering and I don't feel like he is rushing at all anymore! He was acting a little bit fruity about a few areas of the arena and would shy away from them. One of the in gates and the dressage letter A were giving him trouble so I focused on those spots for a while until he would go by them without resistance. That actually took about 15 minutes of trotting back and forth in front of those areas because I got fed up with his shying and decided that I wasn't going to let him get away with ANYTHING. So, we trotted by until he was relaxed and then we halted and side passed over to the scary area and stood there for a while. That really worked and he was fine going all the way along the rail for the rest of the ride. We worked on some leg yields along the wall which was interesting. We did two different exercises, one where he was at about a 45* angle towards the rail, and one 45* away from the rail and he was supposed to leg yield straight along the rail. Facing the rail was easier for him and he really was crossing over and starting to collect himself. Facing away from the rail it was difficult for him to hold back and go sideways when he had a wide open space in front of him to trot off into. So, facing the rail, he did great in both directions and he was pretty average facing away from the rail- more forward than sideways but not so much that we ever got to the center line, he just wasn't really crossing his back legs.

I am continually impressed with his progress and his effort. I think Friday will be gymnastic day again and I will set up the group poles and add two jump standards next to the last trot pole. No jumping, just getting used to going between the standards.

I am really trying to keep things scheduled and interesting for both of us because I have already been feeling some guilt over not taking Boomer out on trail rides lately. Which is crazy because we have a foot of snow on the ground and the trails are closed anyway. It isn't logical, but I just don't want to bore Boomer. Though, I'm beginning to wonder if it is all in my head because Boomer doesn't seem bored at all. He seems to enjoy our work and is continually improving. He also seemed to enjoy the trot poles last week. Someone tell me I can stop worrying so much!!!

I tend to organize, schedule and make lists when I worry. I have a mental schedule for our riding this winter:
Monday-ride (work on lesson)
Friday-gymnastics (trot poles/jumps)
Weekend-ride (work on lesson)

Once spring hits and the trails open I want to take one day per week to spend out on the trails for a few hours. I also want to use the outdoor arena as much as possible. Until then, I'll keep watching the snow fall out my window!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Shoulder In

It is still pretty frigid here. The forecast calls for daytime highs below 15 all week, with lows dipping below zero. Snow planned for Wednesday and the possibility of getting above 20 over the weekend. I really don't mind the weather right now. I stay bundled up in insulated coveralls and always wear gloves when I am outside. My fear is when it gets above freezing and all of this snow starts to melt. Oh, how I hate mud. It gives me the shivers just thinking about the muddy, cold pony legs! Luckily, I have a heated indoor arena to ride in, so my riding really hasn't been effected! I just really make sure that I give Boomer plenty of time to warm up and plenty of time to cool down.
Our ride today was good. Boomer finally graduated from cantering circles to cantering the whole arena! Yay Boomer! At first he wasn't really sure what to do and broke into a trot on the long side. That is a much better problem than we used to have of him wanting to gallop on the long side! I also introduced the idea of shoulder in which, of course, Boomer didn't understand. I used exercise 61 out of 101 Schooling Exercises for Horse and Rider. Pretty much you just do a small circle in the corner and attempt to keep the bend once you leave the circle and go along the rail. I gave it a good solid try in each corner going each direction and may have gotten one or two steps that felt close. I don't think Boomer had any idea what I was asking but he really seemed to think about it and try. I was really proud of him. I think I will try exercise 54 which is leg yields in shoulder in position. Basically I will just ask him to leg yield along the rail while having his forehand angled slightly away from the rail. Luckily, Boomer isn't a horse that depends on the rail. I think he would rather work away from it. Probably has something to do with spending so much time in the cattle pasture last year *grin*!

Wednesday is the big day for the lesson! Wish me luck and hopefully I'll have something interesting to share here on the blog!

Sunday, January 3, 2010


My dad came to visit this weekend and got to see Boomer at his new barn! He has only seen me riding Boomer a few times so I was very excited to show him how much we have progressed! It was really cold and never got out of the single digits the whole time my dad was here (and won't for the next week... the low on this upcoming Friday is going to be -11). So I kept the ride short and had the heaters on the whole time. I actaully wasn't cold at all. I lunged Boomer while I was warming his bit in my armpit and he did really well considering the little punky appy who was bucking around a lunge line on the other end of the arena. After the appy left, I got on and rode for about 30 minutes. I got some really great leg yields in both directions. Boomer is learning to carry himself straighter and is gaining strength a little at a time. He was a little more forward and energetic than usual, which was great but it made his canter a little...strong. He had great departs all within 2-3 strides or less of the cue. After about a 30 minute ride we stopped in the middle and I backed him, side passed in both directions to show off a little, and then let him stretch his neck down to the ground (which he LOVES to do at the end of the ride). After I did that, John signalled for me to side pass again so he could film it. That is what you see at the end of the clip. Poor Boomer thought he was done but he was such a trooper and gave me a pretty good side pass, especially in the second direction. I hope you enjoy this little video from Saturdays ride!

If this won't play try this link:

Or search for my channel under the name BooksAreNerdy and you can see all of my videos, including this one titled "Riding Jan2, 2010".