Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Best Daily Horse Photos from Sonoma Coastal EquesTraining

My friend (and former trainer--"former" because I moved so far away), Nathalie Guion, head honcho at Sonoma Coastal EquesTraining Center has the most enchanting Faceebook page. If you love horses, love seeing kids with horses, love adults with horses, love dogs with horses, love big horses, love baby horses...well, you get the idea. Just "like" the page and you'll see fabulous photos every day about the goings on SCEC.
Also for information on Nathalie's trainning program (my thumbs cannot go up enough--just the best!), and the fantastic, kid-blue-ribbon friendly Connemar/Morgans she and Drew are breeding, check out their website by clicking here.
Here's a sample...


Jut want to give a little shout-out to my friends, Glenn and Helena, over at Horse Radio Network. If you haven't discovered this goldmine of equine info and entertainment, get on it! Horse Radio Network has shows for every discipline--jumping, three-day, dressage, reining, English, Western, and more. And if you're looking for the latest news in horse care, check out Horses in the Morning.
Click here to check out Horse Radio Network and all their shows at their Facebook page!

Friday, April 26, 2013

The most important things you need for great riding

Whether you're riding a Standardbred, a Thoroughbred, or one of my friend, Nathalie's fabulous Morgan/Commemara crosses, we all have "one of those days." It's that day when things just don't seem to go right.
I had mine today.
It was a gorgeous Northern California day, so already I was in a good mood as I walked down to the barn. Ruby, the chestnut Standardbred I'm working with these days, met me at the gate with a friendly nicker.
From there on, it was kind of downhill.
First, she wouldn't walk through the gate to exit our property. So instead of spending our riding time on the beautiful trails along the American River, it looked like Ruby and I were going to discus who was in charge.
Fortunately, we came to a meeting of the minds fairly fast and were on our way. Except that when we arrived at the trail head, she decided she didn't want to go over the step-over. After 15 minutes of ground work, with not much progress, I asked for assistance from a rider who'd just returned from her own ride (with a well-mannered horse who knew that the step-over was not going to eat him). This kind woman stood behind me, waved my whip a little, and Ruby went right over. Yay.
My goal today was to establish a nice, light, rhythmic--and slow--trot with Ruby. And by slow, I mean what is described as a "medium" trot in dressage terms. As opposed to 95 MPH, which is what Ruby thinks it's all about.
The method to esstablishing a nice, light, rhythmic medium trot with an off-the-track Standardbred is simple: every time your horse starts to turn on the gas, use a one-rein stop to bring him back to a walk or halt. Repeat. Often. Your horse will eventually get the idea that every time he starts to go-go-go, he's going to get shut down. And he'll give up and give you waht you want.
This is the method. But the KEY to the method is that the rider must have infinite patience and be possessed of immense tranquility.
What went wrong for Ruby and me today was that I understood the METHOD. I was lacking the second part--the patience and tranquility.
I often say that riding is an amazing tool for developing focus and learning to be completely in the moment. But I realized today that, as focused as I was, I was also adding tension and frustration to the mix.
And when I say frustration, I really mean it. I felt my frustration morphing into anger. I had to put the brakes on before I messed everything up for my horse.

How to Re-Establish a Happy Heart and Calm Attitude

Being mindful about your attitude, thoughts, and reactions is important at all times, but I believe it's especially so when riding, because your mood can so easily affect your horse.

1) Stop and ask yourself what is really going on? Where are your thoughts focused?

I realized that in a far-off, teeny, tiny corner of my mind, I was harboring anxiety about some basic life issues--coordinating plans for my son's graduation from college next week (summa cum laude! So proud!), conern for my husband, who just lost his lifelong best friend, worry about how much money I spent at the tack shop yesterday, concern about how the horses will behave tomorrow when a friend with small kids comes to visit tomorrow...
The list goes on and these things are not show-stoppers, they are just Life. But I realized as I was riding that the cumulative effects of Life were impacting my ability to have paitnece with my horsre.
Once I was able to acknowlegdge how worried I was about these other issues, I could see that I was bringing them into my riding. I could also see the circle game that was starting:


2) Breathe.

Taking a moment to focus on your breath is an outstanding way to re-center yourself in moments when you're about to lose your cool.  Take five very deep breaths and be mindful of where you feel your breath in your body (in your nose, the back of your throat, your belly?), Stay with your breath as you inhale and again when you exhale.
An alternative--or complement--to breathing is to create a picture in your mind of something beautiful, something peaceful that will help you reclaim your center. Something along the lines of this photo...

3) Acknowledge but don't react.

As I was fighting with Ruby to slow down her trot, I found myself thinking this thought: "She's the worst horse ever!"
A stupid thought that was composed of pure frustration. The thing that's most important to know about your thoughts is this: you can have a thought without reacting to it. In fact, in most cases, not reacting is an excellent plan.
In my case, I acknowledged my frustrations and I also reminded myself that, previous to today, I've had excellent sessions with Ruby.
And that if we didn't achieve a fabulous trot today, we could try again tomorrow. The world would not end.

4) Make a mid-course correction with your goals.

One of the most important components of good goal setting is the ability to understand when it's time to establish new goals. During my ride with Ruby, I recognized that the goals I'd set for today simply weren't achievable. My horse was not in the right frame of mind and neither was I. It was more important to me that Ruby and I have a good working relationship and that she looked forward to our rides than it was to get a great trot today.
So I backed off, brought Ruby back to a walk, and gave her a long rein. She walked home a happy horse. And I was calm, pleased that I'd seen my part in what was going wrong.
The good news? The trot will still be there tomorrow.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ruby proves to be a jewel of a Standardbred

I last wrote about Ruby, a 9-year-old Standardbred mare who has come to learn how to be a saddle horse. Ruby was brilliant on the track, winning over 50% of her races, making her a statistical superstar. Then she went off to be a brood mare for a few years.
And now?  Well....if she could talk, I think she'd be a little like Dororthy in the "Wizard of Oz," when she says, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
The first day we put a saddle on her, Ruby didn't seem to think too much of it. Best Husband in the World got right on. Although Ruby at first seemed not to know how to walk with someone atop, she figured it out quickly. That first day we stayed in the round pen.
The second day, I rode Ruby while my young friend, Megan, rode my horse, Scarlett. Since we were going to take a mile walk down the road, I thought Ruby could use Scarlett as a lead horse and confidence builder.
I guess I should have asked Ruby's opionion on that, because she instantly took the lead, boldly walking out and leaving Megan and Scarlett to continuially have to trot to keep up.
On Ruby's third day under saddle, I took her alone to Cronan Ranch, 2500 acres of paradise just a 10 minute ride from the barn. Ruby loved it. And again, I experienced her amazing, ground-gobbling walk. This horse has the most comfortable and speedy walk I've ever known!
The only thing Ruby wasn't too excited about was the American River. The sound of the water rushing by--and then seeing it--scared her a little. What I loved is that she didn't turn and bolt the way my thoroughbreds did. She just stared and blew startled snorts out of her wide nostrils.
I was actually able to get her next to the water. To get her in the water, we're going to have to call on water girl Scarlett for guidance.
Ruby learning to trot in side reins
Ruby at the big, scary American River

Monday, March 18, 2013

Meet Ruby Red Dress

I have to say...last year did not go so well, mostly due to my having a horse fall over on me and breaking my ankle in several thousand painful places.
As I near the one-year anniversary of my injury, I'm still not 100%. Moral of that story? Be careful.
The other thing I've learned over the last year is that our brains are very connected to our health. Simply put, if I wake up thinking I'm in pain and will these tendons ever heal and oh, I hurt...the result is that I get exactly what I think about. I start out in pain and I spend the day that way.
However, if I wake up and spend 10 minutes (or 30) focusing on health and well-being...that's what I get. I truly feel like a completely different, vibrant human being. I feel in charge of my pain, instead of the other way around.
If you are coping with any kind of pain in your life--be it physical or emotional--pause for a moment to imagine yourself as you'd like to be. In my case, I envision myself standing atop an enormous boulder, strong and completely free of pain, with my arms raised in triumph.
I feel the emotions of that vision, and let strength and wellness flow into me. When I am tapped into the emotional feeling of energy and power, I repeat this thought:
"I am healthy, feeling energized and pain free."
I say it over and over in my mind, continuing to pull positive energy from the vision of wellness I've created for myself.
And as a new Standardbred comes into our life, I am also saying, "My body can easily support me as I mount up and ride."
I needed this mantra the other day as Best Husband in the World and I spent our first day with Ruby Red Dress, a 9-year-old chestnut mare who has never before been ridden.
Ruby was a winning harness racer until a minor soft tissue injury derailed her stellar career. For the last four years, she's been doing a fabulous job raising babies.
And because her owners want her to have a full and interesting life, they sent her to me so that she could learn to be a riding horse.
I'm already in love with Ruby and tomorrow I'll tell you why. But first, here are a couple teasers...some "before" and "after" shots as Ruby, who's lived in a pasture for the last four years, spent Day I in the beauty salon.
 Ruby Before
Ruby After

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Back in the saddle

So I last posted in May of 2012. I had big plans to track the progress of Without Fail, aka Sweetie. Just to quickly remind you...

Sweetie was having some problems with focus at the track, so her owner decided she could benefit with a few months of learning to be a saddle horse. At the end of the summer, she'd go back to the track to see if round penning and riding had improved her attitude toward racing.

I took lots of photos. I had lots of blog posts planned.

And then a horse (not Sweetie, nor one of my own) fell on me while doing a simple canter in an arena. The horse just slipped. Onto its left side. Onto my right ankle. Which broke. Severely. Throw in some torn ligaments.

I then spent all of summer 2012 having several surgeries and sitting on the couch. I was in a lot of pain and had a lot of frustration, the kind that makes you not so eager to write.

I got back to working with the horsres, cast and crutches along for extra fun, around the first part of October.

So what ever happened to Sweetie?

I'll tell you...


In the meantime, enjoy this photo that Sweetie's owner took of what racing is really like at Cal Expo.

Sandy leads Bear by nearly a length at Cal Expo!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Day I with OTT Standardbred

As I mentioned yesterday, we are very excited to have a new Standardbred project here at the farm. For the next few months, you'll be hearing all about Without Fail (barn name, "Sweetie"), who we hope will live up to both her monikers. As she learns new lessons as a saddle horse, it is our hope that she will mature mentally--and also learn some valuable training lessons that will allow her to live up to her full potential as a racing trotter.

So let me tell you about Day One with Sweetie. I have to admit to some pre-conveived notions about the type of horse she would be. Owner Stephen Chambers explained a few of Sweetie's issues: "She's fast. Very fast. And smart. When you introduce something new to her, she takes it on like a champ the first day. Then, on the second day, she can have a take-no-prisoners attitude."

Stephen added, "It's sort of like she's thinking, 'Oh, no you don't. And if you do, I'm going down and you--and everyone else within 30 feet--is going with me.' "

Um. Okay.

My shoer said, "Now why in the hell do you want to be involved with that?"

Part of me kind of had to agree with her.  I have a fair amount of back, knee, and hip problems that testify to the many years I've devoted to re-schooling and competing off-the-track thoroughbreds. I thought maybe I'd gained some of the wisdom that perportedly comes with age. The kind that says, "Do you really need to do this kind of thing? Can't you just be happy on a nice, well-trained, possibly older horse?"

Alas, I fear not. I like a challenge. Challenges keep life interesting. Or so I keep telling myself.

So Best Husband in the World and I agreed to work with Sweetie.

Funny thing is that I'd worked myself into a mental image of Sweetie that involved a lot of dust, bucking, hooves flying...you get the picture. So when she got off the trailer, I was pleasingly surprised by her demeanor. This pretty little bay had her fine head in the air and was whinnying and blowing. But she was basically calm.

We gave her the guided tour. She got to meet her new roommates, Skye and Scarlett...

Skye (left) meets Sweetie

She got to explore her new housing situation...

And then it was time for work...

Many people (myself included) like to let an off-the-track horse relax for few days before starting any kind of training. Best Husband in the World thinks it's fun to skip the down time and get right to work.

We put Sweetie in the round pen. She immediately displayed a ground-covering stride with a lot of action both in front and behind. She couldn't figure out how to trot on the right rein. She couldn't figure out how to stop whinnying. She worked hard to perfect the art of trotting while eating the stubs of grass on the other side of the fence. She preferred to change directions butt-out rather than the safer (for the trainer) head-in method. In other words, she knew nothing.

After a few minutes of work at liberty, Sweetie had her first lesson at flexing.

Flexing is probably my favorite exercise, in both the rope halter and the bridle, on the ground as well as in the saddle. The art of turing your horse's head to its belly with the lead line or rein--and quickly releaing all pressure when the horse "gives"--is a masterful way to teach your horse to release to you. For a defiant horse especially, it is a brilliant training tool.  (I have written several times of the art of flexing, so check my archives for detailed information.)

Many horses spend of lot of time spinning when first introduced to flexing. Sweetie was no exception. It was a great little workout for me. And at last, she stopped moving her feet, touched her belly with her nose, and received the reward of release. We did this many more times until she understood that if she quickly touched her belly, the lead line went slack, and she got rubbed all over.

Then we got to start all over on the other side.

After a lot of flexing, it was time for the next big step: putting on the saddle. You know all those old Western movies, where the horse stands quietly when saddled--and then launches into the air in an all-out assault on saddlery?

That did not happen here. In fact, with any of our Standardbred, saddling has always been an calm, no-fuss kind of event. Sweetie was no exception. She was somewhat nervous, but basically respectful.  She kept her four dainty feet on the ground where we like them.  BHITW sent her out to the rail and, with the exception of one big buck, she acted like she'd done it all before.

This, of course, meant is was time for the next big step--mounting up.

BHITW has a little bit of this cowboy thing going on. So he's always been the one to put his foot in the stirrup first with any horse new to riding. The macho part of me was thinking, "No, wait. I want to do it myself." The achy parts of me said, "Ya know, we're good for now. Let him do it if."

No need to worry. After a little more groundwork, a lot of saddle slapping and jumping up and down against Sweetie, BHITW swung his leg up and over. Sweetie...was great!

We finished her first day of work with a short trail ride around the property. Sweetie once again left me thinking, "These Standardbreds are amazing!"