Showing posts from May, 2012

In which we dance the Dragon Tango: two steps forward and one step back

After the wonderful breakthrough a few days ago, I was eager to "cement the lesson" by practicing it on the trail. Fiddle had other plans.

We rode out yesterday with the Usual Suspects, and I could feel the Cloud of Snarkiness building.  Some days, she is completely content to tag along at the end of the train, and other days I'm riding a horse they should have named "Road Rage."  Guess which horse I had yesterday?


We practiced the halt-to-trot transition with excessive praise early, and she responded really well...until it was time to separate from the group and go solo. 

This is where Fiddle's personality is important to understand:  she would rather be Right than be Good.

She figures that she knows how things "ought to be".  

If I ask her to do something else, she figures that I'm probably Wrong, so she points out my Wrongness.  If I insist that she try the new thing, she gets mad--not because she doesn't want to do the new thing, but be…

In which another Starfish is saved, which makes me smile. Please pass the word!

In August 2010 I wrote a blog post about a great article I'd found online:  a bunch of standardbred folks had gotten together to save a standie that needed help.  

Since writing that post, the author of the article and I have exchanged many emails about standardbreds and people, and making sure the right people find the right standie.  Ellen works for the United States Trotting Association, and is the driving force behind the USTA Full Circle program, which is a database of horse names matched with the names of people who are willing to help that particular horse if that particular horse ever needs help.  
I like Ellen's style:  she isn't trying to save the whole world and all the horses in it in one swell foop.  
Instead, she and her friends are trying to make a difference to one horse at a time.  If you haven't read the story of The Starfish Rescuer, go do that now.  Here's the link.
Here is the current Starfish project, shown in before- and after- photos:

Bella was a…

In which there are breakthroughs, big and small, and rewards for good behavior

Excellent riding lesson today!
 The most important new thing (for me) is our training breakthrough:  the value of excessive positive reinforcement.
 Fee has always responded best to physical feedback, rather than verbal praise.  I can tell her she's a good girl, and she understands that she's done something well.  

However, if I actually want to motivate her to repeat the good behavior, I have to praise her and touch her at the same time.  I've known that for a long time.  But today, I tried something new.

In the past, when Fee got frustrated, or just felt snarky for some reason, she would plant her front feet and threw a tantrum.  You can see video footage of a typical tantrum HERE

In the video, you can see typical behavior leading up to a tantrum:  the swishing tail, the braced front end, and eventually, the back feet shooting off in all directions before I am able to get her moving forward again.   

Notice in the video when she is finished with the badness and does move for…

In which Rocky learns a good new skill, and I'm not very delicate

Rocky is gradually gaining all the skills he will need to be a successful endurance horse. Walking and trotting on uneven terrain is no longer a gigantic challenge.  He's quite good at walking and trotting uphill, and at walking downhill without losing his balance and crashing onto his nose.
 He's getting more graceful about trailer loading and un-loading.  But today, Rocky had a little problem:
 Rocky didn't quite know how to communicate the discomfort.
 This is not a picture of Rocky's problem.
 Endurance riders, as discussed in an earlier post, aren't very delicate in regards to bodily functions.
 In fact, endurance riders are not only comfortable talking about bodily functions, it's not unusual to return from an errand at a vetcheck to be told gleefully by the horse-holding-person, "He peed lemonade, you're good to go."   
 Or something along those lines.  
Talking about body functions is important in our sport.  Maintaining awareness of bodily funct…

In which we formally introduce Rocky, and he takes baby steps

I'd like y'all to meet Rocky.
Rocky is a homebred Arab, born at Fish Creek Farm, and made from parts found hanging around the place.  He's five years old now, and starting to learn how to do his Real Job.

Rocky has been handled his entire life, and his training has been very slow and gradual.  

Prior to starting endurance training with Patty, Rocky spent a bunch of time in the arena learning basic dressage.  In the arena, he learned to carry a rider, to walk/trot/canter, to turn, and to reverse.  He can collect himself a little bit, and he can extend a little bit.  He doesn't lose his cool when the rider swaps diagonals, or zips up a jacket.

But he had never seen bicycles before.
We didn't even make it out of the trailhead parking lot when Rocky's learning curve started shooting skyward.  First the bicycle, and then

Even Ariana gave all those descended-from-wolves people her full attention.  Rocky often sticks close to Ariana, who seems to know so much more than…

In which I ignore my promises and obligations and go ride

My co-author on the other book is back home again, and we've been writing like crazy people, trying to get the first set of drafts submitted to our editor before the end of this month.

I've also been communicating with a publisher for the Endurance 101 book; right now they are enthusiastic about the book, but trepidatious about the book-buying economy.  

The poet Ron Silvern said it best:  
Doubts cannot follow you into the woods.

So, that's where Fiddle and I went today.

I'll have a new, "real" post soon, about Patty's new horse Rocky.  In the meantime, sit in a recliner and push your laptop all the way out to your feet while you watch the following video:

If you're watching the video on your phone, maybe you can hand the device to a friend who will stand at an appropriate distance for you to watch?

In which I review a book: 4th Gear - Power Up Your Endurance Horse

So, y'all know I'm writing a book called Endurance 101.  This book is designed to be the book that every beginningendurance rider should read, because it answers questions and describes situations for new competitors.
If you want to read some of it, early versions of chapters are posted HERE.
When I heard that Dennis Summers was writing a book too, my heart sank.  He knows so much more than I know.  He probably knows more than I will ever know. 
Everybody would love his book, I feared, and nobody would even look at mine.
But, good news for everyone:  Dennis didn't write a book for beginners.  Dennis has written the book that every experienced endurance rider needs to read. 
His book assumes that the reader has a horse (or more than one horse) and has competed in the sport for a few years.  For example: Dennis doesn't spend time describing what electrolytes are; rather, he leaps straight to the good stuff:  how he uses them (in combination with a lot of other stuff) to enh…

In which Gene Autry sings my new theme song, and the sun shines on our trails

Spay Day + 17, and I'm back in the saddle again! Our ride wasn't fast, or far, or strenuous.  Patty's young horse Rocky led the way, and Fiddle and I took the caboose position most of the day.  
Rocky is still learning how to work his feet, so we kept the pace slow and relaxed...a perfect back-to-work ride for Fiddle.  About 9 miles in a little more than 2 hours.  Given Fee's level of fitness before the surgery, this ride was easy, which is what we wanted.

When we got to "Fiddle's Hill", she took the lead, but rather than jetting up it as we usually do, we trotted up at a nice, easy 7mph jog.
 Here's how the surgery has changed (or not changed) Fiddle's behavior so far, on a scale of 1 to 5:

Eagerness to work under saddle:
*  when in season:   -1  (can't move, must stand and pee)
*  on Regumate:  5  (get out of the way, trotting machine coming through!)
*  post-spay:  5   (happy ears when leading the pack)

Showing discomfort while working:
*  when in se…