"Smile! It keeps your brain from falling out when you're frustrated!" - Clinton Anderson (Downunder Horsemanship)

"They say boys never grow up, their toys just get bigger. I say I never grew up, my 'My Little Ponies' just got bigger!" - Me

Thursday, December 23, 2010

No More Lessons, But Learned A Lot

(Apparently I can't do anything short......)

No more riding lessons for Lady. One of the boarders that gives lessons at the barn, and who I have become good friends with over the past 2 years, has been borrowing Lady one night a week since the end of last winter to do a group riding lesson, since she only has one horse of her own. Kate and her husband used to have two horses that they rode and used for lessons, but one of them kept pulling up lame last year if they did anything more than a little walk/trot with her. They finally discovered severe arthritis in one of her hocks, probably from an injury that happened before they got her considering she was fairly young still, and ended up finding her a home as a pasture pet and possible broodmare.

Since Jesse is finishing up vet school, they decided not to get another horse, which meant splitting up the couple of group lessons she had. For the most part that wasn't a big deal, and she wouldn't take on any more group lessons, but she had two little girls that had formed quite a friendship through their group lessons that were going to be pretty crushed over not being able to ride together.

So I offered up Lady. I figured why not. Lady's quiet enough, and takes good care of her rider, she'll adjust to their riding level. And the 4-H kids all used to ride her walk/trot at another barn I boarded at a few years ago when they couldn't bring their own horse to the 4-H workouts from time to time, so she's good with kids. And since I always ride Cody, and my husband doesn't really ride a whole lot, Lady wasn't getting ridden much anyway, and could use the job and the exercise. And it was only one night a week, and just walk/trot which shouldn't aggravate the hock arthritis she'd recently been diagnosed with, so it seemed like a win-win situation for everyone, and definitely has been!

So when their other mare went to her new home, Lady started doing lessons. She's always been a trail horse, she's not "show broke" so she doesn't "know a whole lot", but she's sensible and safe to put someone on, and she'll walk, trot, turn, and stop, and won't really take advantage of a beginner rider, so walk/trot lessons wouldn't be a problem. Just don't canter, that former barrel horse training takes over, and cantering Lady in an arena is a wild ride that I just hadn't taken the time to work with her on, since Cody's my preferred mount, and Lady canters sane enough out on the trails.

Not long before Lady started doing lessons is when Cody got hurt. Of course at that time, we just figured give her a few weeks off and she'd be fine, but as you know, that wasn't the case, and well, I haven't been on Cody's back in 11 months now. Which left Lady as my only rideable horse.

Monday nights were lesson night, so I usually hung around to watch Lady's lessons and chat with the girls' parents. And lessons definitely had a way of pointing out bad habits and/or holes in Lady's training that had me sitting there going "Oops, I guess I better work on that". Lady's riding lessons gave me homework to do!! Which was fun, because it gave me specific things to work on with Lady, and goals to meet with her. And with Cody out of commission until I could afford her knee surgery, and Lady my only rideable horse, I did my homework!

There was the go to the gate and stop habit to break. Something she didn't really do much with me, but with the girls, she'd stop at the gate every time around and just stand there, or turn and head for the gate any time the girl that was riding her stopped paying attention or gave her a loose rein. Now a lot of that was that the girls just needed to learn how to keep her going, which was a good learning experience for them. But when I would ride her between lessons, I realized she really did head for the gate a little too often any time I gave her a loose rein. So I started letting her mosie on over to the gate when ever she wanted to, but when we got there, I'd work her little fanny off right there by the gate, then take her down to the opposite end of the arena to rest. She figured it out pretty quick. The girls learned how to keep her going, and Lady learned that the gate isn't always the greatest place to be, problem solved. Next problem.

Sticking her nose down like a peanut roller to get more slack in the reins. Something she's always been a bit of a stinker about, and something everyone who's ever ridden her, myself included sometimes, have let her get away with, intentionally or not. She's almost always on a loose rein out on the trail, and has always been one that hated any kind of pressure on her mouth, so she'd hang her mouth open and/or fuss over rein pressure, or if she figured out she could get away with it, which she did with the little girls, she'd slyly stick her nose out and down to the ground and loosen those reins up herself, and then move happily along on a nice loose rein. Naughty girl!!! Need to fix that habit!!! I had been doing some of Clinton Anderson's riding stuff with her off and on since last summer, and we were right about to the point of starting vertical flexion, so start we did, and I quickly discovered that it wasn't so much that she didn't like pressure on her mouth or that certain bits bothered her mouth, it was more that she just had no clue what so ever how to give to bit pressure. No one had ever taught her how to give to pressure, and any time I've tried to teach her, she just didn't seem to get it, it would turn into a fight, we'd both get frustrated, and I usually gave up because we never seemed to get anywhere. But with a lot of insight and exercises from Clinton and a few other trainers, and breaking it down to even smaller baby steps than I had tried in the past, and having the concept of lateral flexion well versed in her head at this point, she finally started getting the idea of vertical flexion and learning that she had to give before she could have that loose rein back. She's getting pretty good at it now while standing, backing, and walking, and we're working on it at the trot. And while she was smart enough to figure out that the little girls weren't going to make her give like I did, the vertical flexion lessons with me between riding lessons at least kept her from trying to loosen the reins herself and going around looking like a peanut roller so the reins were loose like she wanted them, it definitely kept her a little more honest with the girls. We're still working on vertical flexion, but for the most part, problem solved. Next problem.

Eating grass on the trail. The girls sometimes had their lessons out on the trails when the weather was nice, and on that first one, Lady was eating the whole way with a rather frustrated little girl on her back. Another one of those things that she doesn't really do with me, because she knows I'll get after her for it, but everybody else that rides her always lets her get away with it, even my husband. If you don't tell her no from the get go, she'll figure it out quick, and she just can't help herself! Lady loves food and food loves Lady! So I started doing some work out on the trails with her, daring her with a nice loose rein to take a bite, and then hustling her little fanny when she did. And I put my foot down with my husband about letting her eat grass on the trail. It didn't take her long to get over that habit, and the girls learned how to tell no from the get go if she did try, and trail lessons went a little better. Next problem.

Reverse doesn't work. Another one of those things that she's just never really been taught to do properly, and I haven't taken the time to really buckle down and teach her. You can get her to back up when you need her to, but it's not a pretty picture. It's your typical head in the air, mouth hanging open, bracing against the bit, feet glued to the ground for a moment, and then finally she'll shuffle back a step or two. And that's with an adult on her back. With a kid, she just stood there with her mouth hanging open and that look on her face that said "I have no idea what I'm supposed to do!" Or, after vertical flexion lessons, she'd stand there flexing vertically as the girls tried to back her up, then get frustrated and stand there with her head up and mouth hanging open. And the barn where we board was going to be hosting a twilight horse show in a week and one of the girls was going to be showing Lady in walk/trot. I guess we better work on getting reverse fixed, and quick! So we went to work, and having learned vertical flexion, it didn't take her too long to figure out what the cue to back up was and how to do it in a nice soft head down giving to the bit frame, actually collecting herself and using her hindquarters. I think we spent about 75% of each ride that week in reverse. And on the days I didn't have time to saddle up and ride, I at least put a bridle on, climbed on her bareback, and spent ten minutes working on reverse. By the time of the show, she was backing like a little reining horse for me! And as her first class came to an end and they had to back for the judge, I stood there on the rail going "Come on Lady, we've been practicing this!" And back she did, not quite as nice she did for me, but plenty good enough for a walk/trot class! Another problem solved! Next problem.

"I think it's time for the girls to start learning how to canter soon, think Lady can do it?" Erm......maybe.......let me work on that! Lady's always been a crackhead about cantering in the arena. There is no canter, it's just full speed ahead, and the second you put any pressure on the reins to try to slow her down, she slams on the brakes regardless of your legs telling her to keep going. When it comes to canter, there is no gentle transition into or out of it, and no speed control. It's like riding with somebody who's just learning too drive.....slam the gas, slam the brake, slam the gas, slam the brake.....and you're getting slammed around the saddle. Very frustrating for both of us, and the reason I just haven't bothered working with her on it, Cody's my show horse, and Lady does fine out on the trails, she only goes barrel horse bonkers in the arena. But she'd already learned a lot of other things, so we'd work on the canter. Which was hard, because doing one rein stops every time she went too fast just made things worse and got her all the more worked up. But with the arthritis in her hocks, I have to be careful of marathon canter sessions till she learns to slow down on her own and risk making her lame for a week by over doing it. But thankfully the vertical flexion lessons up to this point proved useful! She'd learned that picking up the reins doesn't always mean stop dead in your tracks, she'd learned to listen to both my legs and my hands to know if she was supposed to stop or keep going, so I was finally able to keep her going with my legs, but begin to dial her speed down a little with my hands, and when I got the speed I wanted, I'd let her have her head and just cruise, and repeat the process all over again if she sped up. Eventually she figured out there was a speed between trot and flat out, and we finally started cantering in the arena, almost down to a lope! And though she still feels really fast to me sometimes, I have to remind myself, Lady takes very short, quick strides, so sometimes it just feels really fast to me because I'm so used to Cody's long, flowing strides.

So Lady finally learned how to canter, on the rail anyway. Try doing any tight turns, circles, or patterns at the canter, and she'd start getting revved up to barrel horse mode again, but that will come with time and work. She'd learned to canter sanely on the rail, so she'd start giving lessons at the canter too! I held my breath the first time they asked her to canter at a lesson. Cantering with me was one thing, cantering with one of these little girls who's never really cantered before and is nervous about it was another! But our work paid off, she cantered like a good girl, no crackhead barrel horse! Go Lady go! Next problem!

Right lead, left lead! With Cody out of commission, I sat bummed on the sidelines at the first twilight show the barn hosted. It was fun watching Lady do her walk/trot classes, but I wanted to show too. But while Lady cantered sanely now, she doesn't know her leads at all, she just picks up which ever lead she feels like. The only time she knows her leads and when to do a flying lead change is running barrels. And while they had adult walk/trot classes, it seemed unfair to the other riders in those classes for Lady and I to enter. I'm an advanced rider, she's not a green broke/nervous/excitable horse, and we're not a new horse and rider team getting to know each other. So I sat that show out, but we started working on her leads with the goal of me showing her in the canter classes at the next show! And the girls were learning how to sit the canter pretty well, so they'd need to start working on learning leads too. So it was time for Lady to start learning her leads! And she did pretty well, she started getting them correctly most of the time. I'd never shown Lady before, other than one show that I took her to to run barrels and speed classes several years ago. But at the next show, she did her walk/trot classes with one of the girls, and did the two western canter classes with me, and I guess our hard work paid off, because Lady and I got first in both Western Pleasure and Horsemanship!

There was going to be another show in the fall, and my goal had been to try the reining pattern with her (well, "reining for pleasure horses" or "open show reining", no true sliding stops or spins or rollback here). She was getting a little more solid with her leads, and getting better with the speed control, so she was starting to do some pretty good reining circles, slow small to big fast back to slow small and some simple lead changes in between. But with everything that went on this fall with my wedding and Wayne's injury and losing him and Cody's surgery and doctoring her, I didn't have time for riding and skipped the show, since Lady's canter and leads progress has slipped considerably. And I don't do much canter work with her in the winter, since the indoor arena has very little footing and is really hard and so really hard on arthritic joints. So we'll see what spring brings and stick to mainly walk/trot for the winter.

But Monday was Lady's last riding lesson with the girls. Kate and Jesse are expecting a baby in March and Jesse is almost done with vet school and already has a job lined up, so it's time for some big life changes for them, moving to a bigger place to live and closer to where Jesse will be working. So they'll be leaving the first of January. I'm very happy for them, but sad to see them go. And will definitely miss Monday night lessons. But who knew how much Lady would end up learning when I first said "You can use Lady for lessons!" lol! She was a good girl to begin with, she's even more well rounded now!


  1. It's amazing what watching other people (especially kids) ride your horse will reveal. The photos in this entry made me smile.

  2. What a great post (with some great pictures)! I think it's a great learning experience for us when we let other people ride our horses (I'll admit sometimes I cringe), most of the time I'm able to see things that really do need work and then I'm able to fix them. It's amazing how apparent "problems" are when your watching someone ride your horse compared to riding your horse yourself. I do the same "oops, maybe I need to work on that" thing.

  3. Nice post - Lady has come a ways and it's lovely how she'd take care of kids. Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas!