Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I am very sorry, heterosexual single ladies, but exactly five years ago I married the perfect man. Please feel free to settle for whoever is second best, but the world's best has been taken.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pictures too!

I forgot to link yall to these totally gorgeous pictures I took of Dixie last week. She's easy on the eyes to begin with, but the long grass and pretty sky didn't hurt at all!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Victory, finally!

We have conquered the scary outdoor arena. I was pretty full of despair that we'd EVER ride ANYWHERE outside my barn's little indoor, but by Jove we've done it.

I've been working on this very clear stop from Mugwump for about four rides now. Basically, to put a good woah on a green horse, she squeezes the crest by the withers, THEN sits deep, picks up the reins and just pulls and holds til the horse stops. Later she adds a verbal woah to replace the squeeze. Dixie's got a sort of sense that when I say woah she ought to think about petering to a halt, so I started religiously going squeeze-woah-pull. She got no release whatsoever til she stopped. The squeeze was a really clear pre-cue, the woah, sitting deep, and reins let her know stopping is not an option but a requirement.

The first ride she hated me. The second ride she had clearly "gotten" it and stopped on just the squeeze-"woah." By the third ride she was bored with stopping, so we went back to locked hands to get the point across. Fourth ride she seemed to realize that woah means WOAH, no arguing. Today we headed outside!

We did a couple tiny circles and woahs, then headed off to the Scary Corner of the arena. When I turned her to head back, she got really big in front and light. I kinda wanted to cry, but I sat down deep and said real low "Easy, now, don't you dare." She walked very fast back to the gate, but by god she walked! We spun around and did it again, and again, and again. I got in a good 45 minute ride before LUNCH TIME.

They were feeding the horses outside today, and I insisted that Dixie listen to me while the feed lady was walking around dumping grain in the paddocks. I couldn't quite get Dixie's ears to focus on me, but she did actually respond quite nicely to all of my cues so I called it success.

I usually ride shortly before the horses' lunch (dinner?) time. The BO quite politely thinks I'm crazy, but here's my theory. If I can get my horse to pay attention to me even when every other horse in the barn is screaming for dinner, then I'm building some really valuable priorities in her head. Most training is just many many repetitions of small successes. I want to keep my horse listening to ME even when she doesn't really want to, when there's something else way more exciting/scary/fun going on. So we ride for 30 or 60 minutes, until the BO starts climbing in the hayloft throwing hay down into the stalls and the help is wheeling grain carts out. That's when she really absolutely MUST listen to me and focus on me. Once I get a couple good repetitions of something out of her, we stop and she EATS.

Obviously, when we finally pick up the pace, I'll have to stop letting her eat directly after a ride. But it's a good exercise so far!

I guess if I can repeat this good behavior outside a couple more times - and the woah stays solid - I will start adding some speed. I feel like I have been fucking around for MONTHS and making NO progress, but I think maybe I've actually just been very slowly filling in some huge holes in her training.

When I got her, she was "show broke," which meant she went straight forward as fast as possible in gait and not much else. Any leg meant go faster, she only stopped when nearby horses stopped or we approached a solid object, and she was sure that nothing good ever came from reins. I got her desensitized to legs entirely, then taught her to bend around a leg, then taught her that the bit isn't her enemy, then FINALLY got a woah on her. Probably backwards, but I had no idea I'd have so much trouble teaching woah!

I am still not ready to try a whip or spurs again. Dixie's had both of those used on her, and she's got really strong fear reactions to them while under saddle. I'd rather keep the trust I have built and gently encourage speed for a while longer. I think both whips and spurs are really useful subtle tools in the right hands, but I don't require those tools yet and I don't want to scare her.

I think I've reached a verdict on the Imus saddle too - it's just not comfortable for me. I mean, the SEAT is fantastic, and it fits her well, but I just cannot get used to the thick leather under my legs. I just can't feel her, and I don't think she can feel my legs. My NBS saddle fits surprisingly better with the different rigging, and I think I'll just keep using it for a while longer.

I don't think I'm cut out for Western saddles anymore. I use my legs as cues all the time, not just to thump with my heels to go faster. And more importantly, *I* need the feedback from feeling the horse's sides. I'm definitely going English when I get a different saddle.

Also I really missed Champ today. I think about him every time I drive to the barn, but for some reason I MISSED him so much more today. Cried off and on all day, even after such a thoroughly good ride on Dixie. :(

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Acid sprayer torture update

Ok, so after I replied to yall I headed off to get my hair cut then out to the barn. Here's what went down.

I put the white spray bottle of water and the purple spray bottle of fly spray in the middle of the round pen, then led Dixie in and unsnapped the lead. She watched curiously as I walked out into the center of the round pen and picked up the water bottle - then she bolted. It wasn't cantering, it was full fledged panic galloping in mad terror, around and around and around. I waited her out for a few minutes, but she wasn't calming down and she wasn't thinking about it, she was just trying to flee. I decided that was pretty unsafe - a slip would be tragic - so I put the bottle down and waited.

She wasn't having any of it. She kept running, just as freaked out as before. I waited til she calmed down just a tiny bit, then started turning her every other lap or so. Eventually I got her brain back, turned her a few more times, and got her to stop.

Well, I thought. That didn't go like I planned. I didn't even get to try to spray her to prove that it doesn't hurt. So I put the lead rope on her, picked up the water spritzer, and squeezed it once, not even pointed in her direction. She freaked out and bolted again. This was even more unsafe, because if I pulled wrong I could knock her down and if I let go the lead could tangle up in her legs. I set the bottle down, waited and talked and eventually got her back from whatever spray-bottle waterboarding fear she was engulfed in.

Hmm. Let's back the pressure off again. I took her off to the side, rubbed her head and told her she was a good girl and waited til she stopped looking quite so horrified. Then I started leading her around. (I don't think I did irreparable damage, because she was leading like the rope wasn't even there, just following carefully in my footsteps.) We walked around the pen a couple laps, then changed direction and walked some more, then changed direction and walked directly by a bottle. She hesitated and made sure I was closer to the bottle than she was, but she came. Walk, walk, walk, near a bottle. Walk, walk, walk, I stopped and kicked a bottle, then walked past it. Walk, walk, walk, I picked a bottle up and dropped it again and walked past it.

Then I tried to take the pressure off entirely for a minute, maybe get her a little curious instead of 100% afraid. I unsnapped the lead, left her by the rail, and went and squatted down near the water bottle. She stood frozen, terrified, for a long time, but I didn't look at her or attack her with it or anything. I just waited. Eventually she relaxed a tiny bit. I started picking up the bottle and setting it down, squeezing the trigger at the dirt, holding it upside down, just messing with it. I was watching her out of the corner of my eye, but I never stared at her or motioned toward her.

I left the bottles in the middle and walked over and loved on her for a while. I rubbed a lot of loose hair off of her with my hands, massaged her neck a little, just stood near her. Then I picked up a bottle and moved toward her til she tensed up, then stopped. Waited til she relaxed, then moved in til she tensed. The rest of it was just traditional approach-retreat, and I ended up spraying one leg with water, then three legs with fly spray.

We'd been at it for a full hour, and I decided to quit when I noticed her attention was kind of wandering. I brought her in, put sunscreen on her pink little nose, and turned her back out for the night. She makes the most hysterically indignant faces about the sunscreen, but at least she's not burned raw like last summer!

"Get over it" vs. work around it

Ok, where's the line? When do you decide to work around a horse's irrational fear of something versus making the horse work through it and desensitize?

Dixie and I have been plugging along doing pretty well. I didn't make it out to see her for three days this week - an eternity for me! - and she was HAPPY to see me yesterday. Whinneyed and ran to the gate. That made me smile a lot!

Here's our current problem. Fly season is warming up here, and I stopped on the way yesterday and bought a bottle of fly spray. I knew Dixie didn't like spray bottles - she dances around when I Showsheen her mane and tail - but I didn't know how terrified she is of fly spray.

I clipped her to the tie chain, got a brush, brushed her down, and got the fly spray. I thought she might not like it, so I had her touch the bottle with her nose for a treat a few times. She was a little wild-eyed but she cooperated. Then I pointed the bottle away from her and slowly squeezed the trigger and she flipped out. She surged to the end of the chain, pulled almost as hard as she could, and froze up in terror.

I'm not sure if this was a mistake, but here's the next thing I did. I told her to settle down and very slowly and deliberately sprayed her chest. She almost broke the halter, and she was as scared as I've seen her in a long time. I immediately backed down and waited for her to calm down. And waited. And waited.

Eventually, after I put the fly spray down behind me, I got her to relax and come take a frosted miniwheat from my hand. She refused to touch the bottle again, and if I was holding it she was near panic. Poor thing!

But the flies were buggin' her! I sprayed the brush, set the bottle down, carefully wiped the brush over a leg, and repeated. She was still on high alert, still not daring to move a muscle, but she let me do it.

So what do you think I should do now? Should I get a spray bottle of water and really work on desensitizing her, or should I just use a rag to apply fly spray?