Monday, October 19, 2009


I must admit I am waaay outside my comfort zone at the moment. Kip and I came to Florida for the Savvy Club Gold Summit...

Next thing I know I'm getting to stay on for a couple weeks and participate in the Fineese L3/4 course and the Freestyle L3/4 course. Starting in like an hour!!!

Apparently when I get there I will magically have a horse and gear too!

I'm struggling with the speed of this leap of faith. But Pat has always said that he has made it a point to go out of his way to shake hands with opportunity. Seems like it has worked for him so I am trying to model his behavior.

And I think I've heard once or twice (lol) that if I'm comfortable then I'm not really learning and growing.

Well, at the moment, I feel like a weed!

Friday, October 9, 2009

and I am so loving the armpit thing.

Ha! It sounds funny right? But seriously, for whatever reason, Linda's explanation on Septemeber's Savvy Club* Dvd (I think it'll be on Octobers in more detail) of pulling our armpit back and a little downwards to curve our body on the circle just clicked for me! yahoo!

Lil is so sensitive about everything I do when riding. When I get it wrong she tightens, (she still tries now when i'm getting it wrong. which is great because she used to just say "forget it") when I get it right she just effortlessly does whatever we're attempting.

I wasn't sure exactly why this is working so well particularly at the canter. I learned (from an olympian) to sit on my outside hip, put my inside leg a little forward and ask for the canter. Pat congruently talks about thinking of boxing with the right or left hand leading corresponding to whichever lead I want. This has always made sense because it puts me exactly in the aforementioned position.

However, shaping my horse on a circle seems to require a little adjustment. Which does make sense considering I need to do in my body what I want my horse to do in her body. And on a circle if she curves correctly, her outside foreleg is reaching around in front of her inside foreleg. So if I'm leading with my inside that instance, I'm out of sinc.

When asking for shoulder-in or haunches-in or whatever I know to do in my upper body what I want her to do and also in my lower body what I want her to do. But, I haven't been applying that to a canter circle. Duh.

So as we were cantering around yesterday, I was just feeling it as I pulled my inside armpit a little backwards and down. Linda also talked about stretching into my inside stirrup whilst staying centered with my balance. As I was doing this I could feel that my inside hip was forward as it should be, and it felt However I describe it, it was working for Lil.

I'm thinking that my hips were actually doing what I wanted hers to do! I needed them to come a tiny bit to the inside. (or we could say towards the leading side or a little thought of haunches-in) Pulling my inside armpit back instead of thinking about stretching it forwards and up with my outside shoulder made all the difference. ALL THE DIFFERENCE!

So there we were cantering on a 20m circle, and I can feel that my hips are going kind of one way and my upper body is curved the otherway. Of course this works only when it makes a whole curve. So my torso needed to gently connect the two, melding inside to outside elastically. Which seemed to correspond to my horse's ribcage.

Also, as we know riding is an active thing. So as we're going around was mirroring her. Its not like my body just stayed stiff like that. In those moments, I was really fluid, it was like my hips, and upper body respectively, were moving with hers. When it seemed all to be in harmony, the diagonal of my body actually matched the diagonal of the canter! Well, whaddaya know.

Anyway, Lil was happy. And of course this made me happy. REALLY HAPPY. It has been a challenge for her to find balance, impulsion and relaxation in the canter. It got better first Online*, then at Liberty*, then Freestyle* and now shaping it a little in Finesse*, is just falling into place.

Linda talks about how if we're getting it, it shouldn't take that long to make a change. Who knew she'd be right again. lol. So funny that just a different description of the bio mechanics I needed in my body...did the trick. This is why I just shake my head in confusion when people criticize Pat and Linda for just regurgitating information. I say, "tell me again! say it differently! now tell me again? show me... show me with a different horse. . . can I see you teaching it to someone me again?"

So, we just did a few laps each way. It felt amazing. Then I wanted to work on walk-trot transitions because those have been a little funky....but I didn't. I got off. Yay for me!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Acutally, just hanging around......

I've been working a lot over the last few days and so I haven't had much of a chance to play ponies. But, I have had morning time to talk with them and evening time to hang around in the barn. Of course anytime I'm near them, I'm obeserving, comparing and remembering.

One cool thing I've seen is Lil napping with her lip hanging down. I though that that might have gone away for the winter already, but after we played on Saturday... it's back! She has been relaxed, happy and on the lookout for me.

Second cool thing: The other night I let all 7 horses through the gait. She now stops and stands with me as the others go by. I have been protecting her from the higher ups in the herd when she does this.

I wondered if she would trust me enough to get her through the herd and stick to me all the way into the barn. She is usually 3rd or 4th. I wondered if I would be Alfa enough to deliver. Well, without much hassle we did it! I'm pretty sure I got big points for it too. :)

Third cool thing: The other night, I just hung out with Nigel in his stall as he ate. I put my arm over him and watched him munch. As my fingers reached all the way down his other side in a hug, I wondered why I ever thought having a big horse was the only way to go. He's just so small and cute! Yet sturdy and strong with plenty of fancy suspension.

As I stood there, I noticed that he wanted to blow out. Like everyone else was doing. I could feel his barrel under my arm fill up and then he'd let out this little sigh. I thought about why he didn't just go for it.

My feeling is, that he doesn't trust me. He's not afraid of me certainly...... Perhaps what I'm trying to describe is suspicion. He seems guarded. Not in a scared, damaged, super emotional way. Its very, very subtle. He's just not let loose.

As the minutes ticked by towards 30 of undemanding time.... we had those few rose colored moments as the sun set.... and finally, he blew out. He let loose. His body felt different under my touch. Ha! ha! Success! I'm thinking that made a big difference to him.

So for both the white horses and I, it has been a lovely few days even though I haven't had too much time to spend. . . . .

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Guest Post! ...Freestyle Drama. by Lisa M (member of our savvy team the Aspiring Horsemen)

"do you wanna hear real whining, here it is!! i had pony time today. our preflight check is going great, right up until we head off to do patterns!!

i set up the question box and a bullseye. even set up pathways with ground poles. first off, let me say that i am not coordinated enough to ride with a carrot stick while worrying about a casual rein, where i'm looking, how i'm moving, life up, life down and my horses response to all of this, which by the way, isnt great. so, i abandoned the stick for a while and concentrated on everything else.

here's the cold hard truth as i see it right now, based on friday and today. i dont think i have a real grasp on life up/life down yet which i think is confusing my ULTRA SENSITIVE horse (whom you, emma, have now experienced) and what i used to think was impulsiveness i now think might be a huge communication gap and as light as i think i'm being i'm not sure its enough and i'm a little bit frustrated...........YES, I SAID IT, the hated word..............FRUSTRATED!!

i dont think i noticed so much before because riding with "contact" makes it easier to correct little misunderstandings BUT now that i'm trying to develop our freestyle, well, lets just say its a real eye opener!! we spent most of the time walking the cloverleaf just trying to make a connection. we did walk/trot/stop transitions around the bullseye and even those were rough.

i can get a walk from the stop, trot from the walk but its always punchy and a stop from the walk or trot but i cant get a walk from the trot, in freetyle. i tried sooooooooooo hard to find that happy medium of life down to a WALK not a stop and i did a couple times but then she'd break back to the trot. i did finally get a walk a couple times and went back to the cloverleaf with the question box but i just dont know if it sunk in. the turns were ok, sometimes.

i decided to try the stick again. she was really over reactive at first. i did a lot of friendly game with the stick, rubbing her neck and cheeks and even her nose and swinging it around. it did improve. we spent the rest of our session trying to make turns by looking, turning my body, leg, then stick. i tried oh so hard to not use any rein but OMG i'm just not that good!!! the walking did finally get better so we moved up to a trot. rough all over again. i felt bad because i felt like i was being really rough with the stick.

i rode with a short casual rein and again tried not to use the rein. in the end the turns got better and once i was able to make a few turns by looking, turning & using a light leg we stopped and walked for a few minutes and did lots of friendly game with the stick. but i really felt like i was rough on her and i know i lost my patience a couple times. had to actually stand for a few minutes and give myself one of those mental pep talks. but ya know, in the end, minnie didnt show any signs of stress and she looked happy. she had even been blowing out on occasion so i guess i wasnt as rough as i thought. but i sure feel inadequate right now. but of course, by the time i ride again i'll be over it and will just try, try again. so, theres my whiny hiney story!! i'm hoping for a do-over myself. "

Lol. Lisa is the best. Honest and the best commiserator. Just the perfect blend of whiny and impatient compatriot and yet moreover positive, progressive and persevering. ... and funny which of course is the best medicine a friend can give you.

Monday, October 5, 2009

and I was rushing. *pounds forehead.

I wanted to ride. Things had gone so beautifully with Nigel the last time we played....I took him for granted.

I only had an hour. (oh how I hate being rushed when its a Sunday and I'm playing ponies) We went out on the hill to play the traveling circling game, back up the steep part, jump the log etc. He did it all and in pretty good spirits but I had about 15 seconds of "dwell" time, (if 15 seconds even counts) in between things.

Now that our trotting circling game is really good, I started the stretching Online* exercise a la Karen Rohlf. He got it really quickly of course and even blew out a little.

We are working on sideways over the cavaletti. For some reason he gets worried about it. Just a little RBI*. But, Arrrrrrrg! I just wanna SCREAM (and cuss. I assure you I'm going it in my head) when I think about how I didn't wait for him. I just tapped whatever part wasn't moving. He did this little suck in of air every time. I was thinking of leadership and just letting the pattern work its magic. After twice each way he licked his lips like a good ole Left Brained horsey.*

The thing is I feel like I didn't build his trust in me. I'm noticing he's easy to push. For me anyway. He is just so good natured and when he's feeling unconfident or resistant I can still get him to "do it".

I don't know, I don't know, I don't know! I thought that leadership was what would help him to trust me. But maybe our language is lacking in spots. (I did check his porcupine game yielding the hindquarters and that was not good at all). Maybe love, (and I'll bet this is it) is lacking. Lacking, lacking, lacking. The thing is, I tend to err on the side of too much love and not enough leadership. (As I've said it was the leadership Lil really needed more of. So I had to step that up for her.)

Linda's advice has always served me well in the past. "You are free to experiment so long as you have your principles in line. If one strategy doesn't work then try something else." BUT I don't know what to try in terms of love. The last time I spend undemanding time in his stall he wanted to do something. I could hand graze...but for some reason that doesn't feel right to me. . will it really translate into a connection? I just don't know if it will...

Wait. How about me and my shadow!?! I could just have him on the 12ft line and let him wander in the big field with me mirroring him. Hmmm. That might work. But on the other hand he gets to do that all the time without me...

Maybe what it comes down to is more dwell time. Doing a little bit. A LITTLE BIT...and then chilling. Like until he gets bored. Not just until he licks his lips. Like I said, I think I just get sucked into how smart he is and how he will just do so many things. That stupid direct lined predator in me has reared its ugly head. (more cussing) I just want to pinch it off.

Why I let it come out is beyond me. (well, not beyond me..of course it is a perfectly natural human trait.) But it makes me so miserable! Every single stinken time.

I did get to ride. He reached for the bit and then followed me willingly to the mounting block. It didn't feel harmonious though. By then I think the sinking feeling of failure was starting to take over...we did our pre ride checks from the saddle and then the figure 8 at walk paying close attention to a little disengagement of the hind quarters each turn then straight. (same kinda thing as Karen's stretching exercise) Of course he did it. Stretched and relaxed. I got off and he walked down to the barn next to me with his ears forward and a loose neck. After we undressed, he walked with me at Liberty* to the piles of hay I had put on the hill. But I still felt like crap. It was all in spite of me. It still felt like I hadn't improved anything.

He's smart, generous, kind (thank god .. a little difference in his Horsenality*... I'd have been pounded on by now), and FORGIVING. And that is what I've been taking advantage of. To be fair, I guess I haven't done it maliciously...just stupidly.

Well. I am going to get it together. I am going to do better for him. I am going to be effective in putting the relationship first. Not just have it in my head and heart that that is what I want and believe in. Thats not good enough. This is one amazing horse. Brilliant. My dream horse really, in many, many ways. (and yes I know he's really hubby's horse) I am so lucky to get to play with him! *she cried in a strangled voice.

Damn it! I know this is a bit of a bummer post but I think its only fair to share the growing pains as well as the delights of success. Its not really real otherwise right? Gotta have the dark to see the light and all that. (for a more uplifting post see the previous one. lol)

Ok. *wiping tears and taking a deep breath. Today is a new day. I think I'll have time for a do-over too. The time allowed for self recrimination has been spent. I shall now flex my emotional fitness and make a change. After all, courage is not always big and loud. Often it is just a quiet resolve to persevere. That little voice inside us that says "I will try again tomorrow." Well, today is tomorrow......

Sunday, October 4, 2009

with Lil....and the change is slowly coming.

She's just more restless. I hardly catch her any more with her lip hanging down...sleeping. I see a lot more of her sucking on her own tongue out of frustration. (this is even when she's out in the field or in her stall so i know its not me.) Her ears tend to flick back and forth much more urgently. Its not too bad yet..but I am noticing.

The good thing is she's still really in tune with me. When I come by she gives me two forward ears and soft eyes. Perhaps she remembers that I can help her.

I know from last year that she needs to move. She doesn't tend to do that on her own. I mean not to the extent that she needs to. She's been out much of the week and I see her walking all over and even galloping for the few minutes the others do. The arena is open at the moment so they all even get to roll in the sand.'s not enough. Which is cool in a way. . . she needs me.

So yesterday was the first day that I had the purpose of really helping her move around to release tension and work off some cortisol. Already we had even more of a challenge because it was only an hour before sunset. (is that the time that predators have historically hunted?) This is typically a harder time of day for her than the morning or mid-day. I grabbed the wheelbarrow when we went because I needed to clean up the mess they've all made and with Lil on the line I marched on up like a leader.

As I picked up poo and talked on the phone, she wandered around and kept coming back to check on me. (good, good) I kept an eye on her as she wandered to see how much tension or lack there of she was displaying. I wondered if she'd lay down and take a nap. (of course a huge tell tale of how comfortable she is.) Several times she came near me and pawed thinking about it. But no dice. She didn't look too bad what I call the "square ears" (i'll have to post a pict...its a Right Brained Introvert* sign) but it didn't last too long. After a while she did roll but hopped up and kind of napped standing up. This was still pretty good I thought....

Playing at Liberty* as I think I've mentioned before seems to be the most effective. If we lived somewhere dry with more outdoor space I'd put her on the 45 and play the cantering traveling circling game all over. But, it's Oregon in October..and so we are relegated to the arena. (I swear I am NOT complaining. I am so grateful to have one.)

Anyway...she was ready to play for sure and offered to do lots of cool flying changes (we're working on the weave backwards and forwards now..) and I was still getting awesome draw at the canter. So I gave her a treat.....She went to her happy place and pretty internal. She was sucking her tongue (she does it in a different way in this state. straight out in front instead of out to the side the way we usually think of a thoroughbred doing).

A couple things about this behavior that I've discovered. She is still able to learn and listen to me and do stuff. . . but she DOES NOT GET BRAVER. In fact, she is much more susceptible to spooky or startling things. So I think about this, and keep at it until she comes back into the world. Licks her lips, lowers her head, loosens her ear, blows out and shakes her head.

Oh so tricky! But it sounds simple right? Oh, no, no. Since what she really needs is to move..I send her off on a circle at the trot. Yesterday, she obediently left off in the proper direction, beautiful rhythmic trot, stretched over her topline, maintaining gait and direction. (Usually a sing of being Left Brained*) But. Her tongue was out the whole time. She can show so many mixed signals and some are so subtle I miss them. So I left her out there.

One of my FAVORITE things I learned in Reno from Pat was that ten laps on the 22ft line ends up being a quarter mile. This was very very exciting information for me. A thoroughbred's flight line is between 2 1/2 and 6 miles right? So theoretically if I hang in there long enough with her she'll cross it.

She did about 12 laps before she licked her lips and seemed to make some changes. I asked her to go till 15 and then brought her back. We had a little dwell time...but she didn't nuzzle me or really connect...she stood about 5 feet away pretty still.

I asked her to do 15 the other way at trot. This time she didn't have her tongue out and was asking if she could come back a lot. Of course dwell time after the bring back then 15 laps each way at the canter. I had a cavaletti off the rail and as she went by I pointed at it and clicked (from the center of the arena while sitting on the barrel). She went directly to it whist cantering and hopped over instead of going around. She didn't loose rhythm just put it right into her stride. I thought: huh. I guess I really could ride that. Afterwards, she kept jumping it! That was really cool. Really really cool actually.

So that was a ways! 60 laps. And most of the time she was farther away than she would have been on the 22ft line. So lets say 1 3/4 miles? She even was warm to the touch when we finished with that. She was blowing out..but not too forcefully. When she really goes for it I know there was a lot of tension built up. Yesterday it wasn't like that. She even did the little purring blow out that they do when they are just relaxed and happy.

She looked quite rideable but it was getting towards dark and that wasn't my goal anyway... I must admit that I was beginning to wish it had been. lol. I have a few things to polish up in our L4 Liberty assessment so I figured we'd work on one of those. She tends to be a little stiffer going sideways right to left so I started to ask her for that...and a little faster. She kinda got it but when I asked for more she did a spin and came cantering towards a playful way!

"Take what the horse is offering" right? So when she cantered to me, I used that energy to ask a faster sideways but from zone one*. Then, draw her forward (she got so engaged!) then, drive her back and sideways. Before I knew it and without me meaning to she was playing that super cool cutting game that we see Linda and Remmer do so often! I laughed out loud. I mean really...what more could I ask for? Here my little RBI who for the longest time didn't play....was..well. playing.

It was great. Now, I'll be interested to see how things are today.............

Thursday, October 1, 2009

with Nigel the wonder pony! ( Lipizzan...whatever)

He was just so fun today. The rate at which he learns is unreal. ...I do have to prepare him properly.... help him get into that sweet spot learning frame of mind. When he gets out! He's almost like a difference species. (maybe he's really an alien)

We did lots of fun things taking advantage of the still dry ground. (yay for that) Traveling circling game was grrrrrrrrrrreat! He seemed to really enjoy it. Hardly touched the end of the line even while cantering and yet he was out there doing his thing. Up and down the big hill even. Then we ended up at the log and he hopped right over! What a good boy! Backed up and down the hills, into the arena...just romped around.

I had an idea to help him want to hop over the barrels. He is all for going through them. lol. Just pushed them out of the way, march through, turn face and wait. Today I put the cavaletti in front of it. Much harder for him to push it out the way with his knees.

I felt better about asking him now that we have our maintain gait, maintain direction, look where you're going over an obstacle so much more solidly. Sure enough he did it. Not super pretty on the first try because he gave them a shove with his nose first and had them in a bit of disarray when he jumped them. But the second time was great. Both times were with me on his right side but that's ok I think. We'll just add the other side later.

Had a great ride too. Man I love to ride him. He just seems so sure footed and solid. We got some blowing out right away too! Totally excellent.

He hardly kicked up at all going into the canter. I decided to experiment with really leaning back and even going more in my body. He extended the canter pretty well. It was funny though because it seemed like he was almost surprised that he was doing it.

Had some beautiful sideways and good bounce the rein to back up. I feel like I want to do the backing up with my legs a few more times. He does it. But now I want to isolate it to make sure he can differentiate all the different ways to ask. We've done so many of them...

Ah Nigel. He got lots of smooches today.