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

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Five months in

This week Stella and I 'celebrated' five months together. She's gone from a scruffy, scrawny youngster to a sleek, muscled mare in that time. Along with her physical development has come great strides in trust, relationship, and training.

My past methods of starting youngsters have been off the table with Stella, so I'm feeling my way slowly and carefully. I have been doing things with her that I never would have considered before, but hey, they seem to be working!

After two sessions of Brian and I each mounting Stella from both sides while the other held her, and leading Brian around a bit just once, I was eager to continue her under-saddle work. But Brian hasn't made himself available again, so what to do? One evening I decided to proceed by myself. After she'd had pasture turn-out and a good romp (like the episodes below, for instance),

I tied her up in her stall which I considered the safest set-up; tall, solid walls on two sides and a solid post above to tie to.
This shot of her tied in that spot was taken back in January

Then I groomed her thoroughly and tacked her up. (Another progress note: Stella now stands without panic while I swing the saddle with attached girth over her back.) I positioned the mounting block beside her and stood on top, which I'd done by myself with her on a lead line outside. Then I slowly and carefully put my foot in the stirrup, lifted the other leg over, and settled in the saddle, prepared (helmet on, of course) for panic but breathing deeply to let her know it was okay. And it was! I talked to her and stroked her and fed her a treat from the saddle (which she crunched up, something she won't do if she's really tense or scared). Then I carefully got off, took the mounting block to the off-side, and did it all again.

I was stoked by how well that went, did it again another day, and plan to do it more. That got me thinking about using the same set-up to maybe, just maybe, ease Stella into being ground-driven, one of my favorite youngster training steps but a no-go with my goosy girl. So I tied her up in the same place again, attached a lounge line to her halter, stepped out to her side and then behind her, laying the line along her side. Since then I've progressed to attaching two lounge lines to her halter and stepping behind her with one on either side of her, wiggling and swinging them. All that 'activity' along her sides and behind her still makes her nervous, but she's learning that it's not going to 'get' her.

Thinking about other obstacles to ground-driving, I thought of bridling. She wears one just fine, but going from wearing a bit and bridle to understanding communication through it is a big step. An idea came to mind which I implemented yesterday. I lunged her with a line connected to her halter, as usual, and a second line running through the near bit ring, over her poll and down to the outside bit ring. This way I could apply a little pressure to the bit when asking for a downward transition by voice but not have to. Again, it seemed to work very well, and she got surprisingly tired with a little bit of work. Even though it was warm, I think the mental effort in figuring it all out contributed to the sweat.

Lastly, a little quirk of hers that I finally captured this week:

I want to get this girl to Perrydale Trails this summer! I doubt I'd be ready to ride her through the course, but I might pony her through some obstacles and lead her on foot through others. I don't think the water crossing will be a big deal. 😏

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Kicking up and stepping out

Black horse camouflage

Today wasn't this sunny, but the mare was this spirited – and then some!

Today I turned Stella out in the lower pasture while I rode Lance. She was unusually 'animated,' alternating back-cracking bucks with racing up and down the hill and through the trees. Her behavior inspired my usually sluggish mustang to attempt a couple launches himself; thankfully that didn't escalate but we headed down the lane and away from temptation after our warm-up.

When Lance and I returned, Brian had finally gotten up and come down to clean stalls, so I asked him if he would help me again with Stella. He agreed, and held her while I mounted her from the arena fence, once on each side. She was much easier to position this time, not nearly as nervous about what we were doing. Brian thought we should try walking around, so we traded places so I could lead her. She startled a little but Brian stayed on and she settled, so we continued walking for a few minutes. Yay for another big step forward!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

But wait; there's more!

Yesterday afternoon I took Lance out for a ride. The weather has turned cool, cloudy and damp, so the arena isn't dusty – better for my asthmatic guy. After a good walking warm-up there, we went to the end of the gravel lane and back, stopping for a couple photos here and there and getting mail on the way home. We felt a few scattered raindrops, but made it back to the barn dry. I brought Stella in from the pasture where she had been enjoying turnout during our ride just in time for the skies to open up!
This is overflow from a failing gutter, but it WAS raining hard!

Well, that foiled my plans; I had my heart set on seeing the world through Morgan 'mare ears' for the first time, and Brian had said I could text him when I was ready and he'd help me. But showers come and go, so I texted Brian and proceeded with grooming and tacking her up. I thought if nothing else, I could mount her in her covered paddock (although a 'ceiling' is not ideal when getting an animal capable of launching you!). Thankfully the downpour ceased, and we headed to the arena.

It took a bit of coaching (on my part, of Brian) to get Stella in position along the arena fence; Brian is not as adept at moving a horse around and perhaps Stella was not as cooperative with him. But in the end, I, too, was able to mount her from both sides and see my gorgeous girl from a new angle:

Brian took some photos as well:


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Get out the yardstick!

My (very) slow-and-steady work with Stella is reaping results. Oh, she is still wary, reactive, and energetic, but her trust is growing and her personality is emerging. She readily tunes into me now, trusts me more, and even initiated a little game of tug with some baling twine yesterday morning – a tiny-sounding event that felt HUGE. In fact, the fact that she engaged with me like that was even more thrilling than the milestone we reached on Sunday – Stella was backed!

Brian's Mothers Day gift to me was a mother/son horseback ride. We warmed up Oliver and Lance in the arena and then rode down our gravel road and back; a short ride, but Oliver's knees are pretty bad. I took some photos of my riding buddy, and then Rick took a couple when we returned.
Stella, always watching. I think horses can learn a lot this way!

I've mentioned to Brian several times that I'd appreciate his help with Stella; there are some things that need a 'spotter.' He was willing to spend some time helping me after our ride, so I saddled up Stella and had Brian hold her while I used the mounting block and laid her back from both sides and put weight in the stirrups, things I've done solo. Then I had him hold her at the side of the arena and I climbed up the panels so I could put a leg over the saddle for the first time. At that point Brian got concerned that if she reacted I could get hurt, and insisted we switch places. Even though I was itching to sit on my gorgeous girl, and Mothers Day seemed an auspicious date for the first time, I conceded that at 40 years younger, Brian was less likely to get hurt and agreed. Plus, she knows and trusts me more, so she might react less if I was at her head. Brian carefully settled into the saddle, and she stood like a rock. A tense rock, but a rock nonetheless! I had him do it from both sides, then praised her to high heaven and put her away. Brian suggested we do more but I didn't want to risk overfacing her; always end on a good note!

The road to this milestone has been paved with lots of conditioning in the stall (gently swinging and draping the lead rope all over Stella), work at the mounting block, ponying off Lance (with increasing stirrup length and more swinging of the lead rope), and of course, plenty of turnout and grooming.

(I can't get another video to load but you should be able to view it HERE.)

See those long stirrups? Sometimes they even clang against the metal panels!

I don't think 'admiring' does much for her training, but it sure adds to my pleasure!

I'm working on her modeling skills!
Here is video I shot yesterday with stirrups at riding length, swinging and bumping on a much calmer (not to mention sleeker and shinier) girl: