To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Call it a graduation "party"!

Yesterday was a banner day – my first ride on Cohort since he started showing his alter ego (Mr. Balky Butt) that he didn't need "remedial lunging"! He was still thinking about balking, but resolved the issue in his own mind every time and even moved out and relaxed a bit periodically. I was very proud of him, and told him so.

Perfect timing, then, that Cohort's owner and I had planned a casual "trail" ride out and about on our hill this morning. As expected, Horton was much happier out of the arena, and we had a lovely walkabout and visit, me on Horton and Sylvia on Breezy, Brian's pony.

Now that he's seen Pare e´, I have a feeling Horton and I are not gonna stay down on the farm as much. Over the years I've done a lot of my schooling in the nearby fields and cherry orchards, and now that we've been out with an escort, I'm comfortable doing that with Cohort on my own. The varied terrain is great for conditioning and I think it will be better for his brain.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Still turning . . .

Today Cohort didn't get any warm-up lunging; I just got on. I'd set up three little ground poles to walk over (gotta work on spacing) which were a non-issue but helped mix things up a bit, then I asked for a trot. He really didn't want to; he wanted to balkoh, how he wanted to balk! As a result, the trot was sticky and ugly, as was his attitude. He never really slammed on the brakes, but the stickiness increased enough to be all but, so off came the rider and on went the lunge line and around (andaroundandaroundandaround) went Mr. Balky Butt.

When I got back on, Cohort's attitude was still less than cheery, but to his credit he kept moving. We trotted circles and long lines and shoulder-fore and leg yield; big figure eights and small half-eights to change direction. I kept him trotting longer than usual just to see if he would say "enough" or keep going, and he kept going. After cooling him out at the walk I asked for the trot again, just to test him. Two full figure eights – again, not totally willing, but not terrible – and back to the walk on a long rein to finish cooling out. Yay!

There's a glimmer at the end of the tunnel, and I don't think it's a train. :-) Before long, I am hopeful that we will be able to start working on rhythm. Yes, that's the beginning of the training scale. Sometimes you have to dig yourself out of a pit to get to ground level!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The wheels are turning

After a busy day, I finally got to work Cohort in the gathering dusk this evening. I was curious to see how he would act after yesterday's lesson, and I didn't have long to find out. After some walking and trotting with hints of hesitation, he sulled up. I had everything at the ready, and within seconds he was galloping around at the end of the lunge line. I kept him going several rounds past when he was ready to slow down, and then brought him back to the mounting block. We walked and then picked up the trot. Cohort wasn't going in a nice frame, and frequently considering misbehaving again (especially going to the right), but when I responded with a stern guttural correction, he thought better of it and kept moving. We trotted and walked and trotted again, including some lateral work. All the while he was clearly thinking; thinking about balking and then thinking better of it. I didn't ride long; the only place he worked up a sweat that I could see was under the girth. But if brain cells can sweat, I'm sure Horton's mental gears were well lubed!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sir Scarface Sweatyrump

I'm back from a quick trip to Texas to escort my son home after a visit with my folks. Cohort had a week off, so I was curious to see how he would behave today.

Oh, first I should explain the scar. Horton cut his face playing with his neighbor through the paddock fence at his last boarding place. Rick had stitched him up at the time, and removed the stitches in due time after Horton moved here. I thought his owner might like to see how he has healed up to now.

Back to Sir Sweatyrump. After a bit of lunging him in side reins, I mounted. Horton seemed eager to go, so after very little walking I asked for the trot. Almost immediately he balked – with ATTITUDE. I pulled his head around to my knee to avoid a quick ejection and then jumped to the ground to implement my strategy.

You see, I have been giving some thought to Horton's bad habit and the most effective response to it. I believe I was on the right track with what I did last time, but since horses live very much in the moment, a quicker reaction would be better. So I had at the ready a second lunge line with a snap end that I could attach more quickly if necessary.

I leapt off, snapped the lunge line to the nearest bit ring, and immediately commanded him into a gallop. After what I deemed sufficient exertion, I calmly brought him back, removed the lunge line, and remounted. Walked a bit, asked for the trot – and got a nasty balk again.

I responded as above, only sending him the other direction to keep things equal. Rinse and repeat . . . four times. By this time, Cohort had sweat and lather from ears to tail – not that I felt sorry for him. I mounted again and proceeded to walk him. And you know what? He gave me a more honest connection to the bit and better "ear attitude" than during any ride I've had on him to date! He thought about quitting a few times as evidenced by a slight, momentary hesitation in forward motion, and actually balked twice when tracking right – but responded quickly to a verbal correction while I pulled his head toward my knee so we were able to keep walking without another lunging session.

It was a very encouraging session, and I look forward to seeing how he responds tomorrow!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Beautiful Mr. Balky-Butt


hears a Who. 
Yes, you do.
So, after a good first week without confrontations, Cohort's balky-butt (his owner's term) side showed today. After a pleasant-enough start to our ride, he started quitting at the trot, and then progressed to quitting at the walk, then quitting and acting ugly – laying his ears back and arching his neck a little and swishing his tail. If I didn't know his history I would have gotten in his business for copping such an attitude – and probably ended up in the sand. Instead I turned him in small circles and got him walking again. When it was clear he wasn't going to work out of it, I congratulated him on winning the work lottery, got off, and lunged him in a small enough circle that I could "reach out and touch someone" if he tried to quit on me again. He ended up a whole lot sweatier than he would have from simple under-saddle work; time will tell if he figures that being good is easier and being naughty is harder.

Friday the farrier was out to give him a pedicure and put front shoes on him. To his owner's knowledge, he'd never worn iron before, but he behaved very well. And now Cohort doesn't forge as much as he did when he was barefoot and overgrown!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I just got in from working Cohort, and am pleased to report it went well. He was much more cooperative under saddle, not quitting once on me. I lunged him first, then used all the same verbal cues while riding. Kept it short and sweet, and he seemed pleasantly surprised.

Before riding I trimmed his bridle path with the clippers and sprayed him down with fly spray without reaction. The boy still has straight "A"s on his ground manners report card!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Split personality

I did end up riding Cohort for a short time late on Friday, after I felt rested and it started cooling off. I lunged him a bit and then rode him at the walk and trot with lots of bending lines to keep him listening to me. He felt "sticky" – not forward – but I chalked it up to the hot day and his lack of conditioning (he had most of the last two months off after getting a stone bruise).

Yesterday evening I saddled him up again, and mounted up without lunging first. It felt like I was astride a keg of dynamite! He didn't do anything, but he was clearly tense and wasn't walking out of it. No need to take chances; I got off and fitted him with the lunge line and side-reins and put him to work that way. No problems there; his ground manners and work the lunge line are impeccable.

After a bit I got back on; ah, much better! For awhile. Then he decided he was done. I've heard this has been the sticking point in the past; Cohort has bucked when he wanted to be done and his rider insisted he was not done yet. I was determined to be the one calling the shots, but equally determined to avoid bucking. I managed to do so by keeping him moving with those bending lines, and halting only when he would do so without trying to yank the reins out of my hands.

In processing all I've learned from his owner and my own observation, I think Cohort may be ring-sour – at the tender age of five. :-/  The antidote, of course, would be keeping him out of the arena – out on trails, or at the beach. But it would be foolish to go out by myself, and the number of riding buddies available to me has diminished to maybe one possibility.

How times – and people's lives – have changed! Years ago I had friends (and friends of those friends) who could head to the beach or mountains with a little notice – and much less expense in fuel. Now one of those friends lives in Hawaii – without horses. Another moved to Montana – with horses. A third is working full-time with a disabled husband at home; she still has horses but little time and even less energy. A fourth switched from big horses to miniature horses, and stays extremely busy globe-trotting for the business she and her husband own. I now have a son, which means less time and money and more responsibilities – including the responsibility to stay safe in order to be able to raise him....

Friday, August 3, 2012

And so we start

Yesterday evening I lunged Cohort with his new bit, and he was such a good boy. He has mostly excellent manners, lacking only in a prompt canter depart from my verbal cue and the conditioning to maintain the canter for long (not unlike Larry when he first arrived). See how nicely he steps under with his hind legs? He has a big overstride at the walk. (You can see how dusty my arena is right now, too; the first photo was taken at the beginning of our session and the second was taken later.)

I was going to ride this morning while Rick was around and the temps were still pleasant, but after I did chores and trimmed hooves on five sheep, Rick decided to go get the last load of hay and asked me if I would help. He has done the lion's share of filling the barn with hay this year; I couldn't say no. So now we have 14 tons of hay stored, I'm hot and sweaty, the temps are soaring into the 90s and Cohort is enjoying being being out on pasture. Looks like I'll have to shoot for a Sunday morning ride!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Olympic coverage: ROFL!!!

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen's Dressage Training Pt. 2

No tiaras here, but Cohort's owner is coming out this afternoon with a bit for him. If it fits, we'll get to work. We'll start out with lunging, as his new environment has him pretty spooked. Last night when I put him in his night-time stall/paddock, he was afraid of the feeder. He looks big and buff, but at five years of age with only a year-plus under saddle, he still has a baby brain!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Back to bay

In the comments of my last post, Lori asked: "What's next?" Well, I wasn't sure until this morning!

I am still interested in looking at BLM horses, especially after learning about a win-win proposition called T.I.P. I'm working on coordinating a little road trip to the nearest BLM holding pens to see if I can find a future dancing partner.

In the meantime, a friend of mine who knew Larry was moving on called and asked if I would consider taking her horse in for board and training. That took some thoughtful consideration. My friend bought this very green four-year-old Holsteiner cross (a Cotopaxi son) as her new dressage mount last fall, and he turned out to have a bent for bucking when he didn't want to do something. So my friend put him in hunter-jumper training this summer with the intention of selling him, and in the process he's settled down and hasn't bucked lately. Since he hasn't sold and my friend would really rather keep him if he's going to behave himself, yesterday I went to look at him. First the hunter-jumper trainer lunged and rode him.

I observed a green, hot horse but not a mean or crazy one, so we switched out saddles and I rode him a little. I came home and told Rick I thought I could handle him, and this morning Rick gave the go-ahead. I picked up my latest project this afternoon.

Meet Cohort, also known as Horton (Hears a Who, for his expression when worried; see it?):

I look forward to teaching Cohort how to dance so that Sylvia can enjoy him safely for years to come! But first, we need to get a bit that fits him....