Friday, June 1, 2012

In which there is some fizz but no badness, and Fiddle puts the blade down

Since our last ride included several sub-optimal draconic episodes,* (*understatement)
Today: ready for goodness.

today's objective was a long ride with maximum cooperation.

We headed out solo.  
The mossy log on the left (about 100 yards from the parking lot) was
 the subject of very close scrutiny:  intense ears and a few fizzy steps to get past it.
This is always the best way to clarify our communication:
I'm not feeding her fizziness.  I required continuous forward motion,
 but didn't demand a particular speed or gait most of the time.

we can focus on each other without being distracted by whatever the other people and horses are doing.  

Total time spent fizzing:  about 10 minutes.
After that, she gave up and put her attention on the trail.
 Soon, she figured out that the only thing she was going to get when she gave the hairy eyeball to various trail objects was a one-rein check and a cue for continued forward motion.

She gave this nasty hole in the trail a very careful examination.
The ground around the hole is untrustworthy and prone to collapse
because of all the rain we've gotten this week, so I dismounted and led her  past it.
 I deliberately chose trails that were in bad condition, so that she would think about what she was doing. 
 Fiddle is a very savvy trail horse--she knows how to navigate on slick, overgrown trails, and she does it very well.  

This route through bad terrain gave Fiddle an opportunity to be Right (using her trail-skills to the best of her ability), while simultaneously being Good (doing what I ask her to do without fussing).  

We ended up on a wide, flat, mostly-unused logging road that we haven't been on for months.  We were listening to each other, and we were cooperating, so I decided to ask for More:  

Okay Fiddle.  Put the blade down and go!

"Putting the blade down" is a phrase I learned from Dennis Summers' book 4th Gear: Power Up Your Endurance Horse.  

It refers to the thing that happens when the horse's whole being is focused on moving FORWARD: the head goes down, the back raises up, the nostrils open wide, and the rear end propels the entire machine down the trail.  

Fiddle's "blade-down" trot is awesome to ride.  We haven't done much of it recently because I want to be careful to stretch but not over-stress the area affected by the surgery.

At the trailer:  "fit to continue".
 It felt good.  We both thought it felt good.  Hooray!
Right side surgery incision site: Spay Day + 5 weeks

Left side surgery incision site: Spay Day + 5 weeks
Time on the trail: 2 hours 45 minutes
Distance:  14.25 miles
Average speed: 5.5 mph
Weather:  heavy clouds, some rain

An awesome ride on a cooperative Dragon:  priceless.

Tuesday, May 29, 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 because she is, by gawd, Right, and I am Wrong (and also probably Stupid).  

Splitting away from the group is fine, we do it all the time.  However, we usually split up at the same place on the trail.  Splitting up in a different place is, by Fiddle's light, Wrong.  


We ended up fighting about it--and the fight was very venomous this time, because I was trying the new way of moving her forward out of a tantrum, and she decided that she didn't need to be cued anymore.  I swear, it's like having a teenager.  I could point her down the trail, but heaven help me if I cued her to go forward with anything other than the calf muscle of one leg, because "I'm not an idiot, I know how to do this, you can leave those damn spurs off!"

Please note that she doesn't mind the spurs when I am cuing her to do something that she didn't anticipate, like a lateral move, in the arena or on the trail.  She appreciates a precise cue, which the little Prince of Wales spur delivers nicely...I can use it to touch an exact location on her body to cue, rather than using the slab side of my leg.  She likes that.  However, since she was anticipating the cue to move forward, she got mad when I "over-cued" it with the spur.  She got REALLY MAD.  It was quite impressive--I'm sorry there aren't any photos.

The good news is that I think that I've (mostly) figured it out.  I will take her out solo this week to practice our new skill (with barely perceptible cues, which apparently is now important), and report back.  

Do I wish that my horse was sweet and compliant?  Yeah.  Sometimes I do.  She actually is "sweeter" post-surgery--we've all noticed it.  However, she's still a Dragon. She still has opinions, and she still isn't shy about sharing them.  Most of the time, that's a good thing.  I just wish I could ride her today so I would know that the issue is fixed, but my work schedule doesn't work that way. 

I have to wait, and continue thinking about how I'll do things differently the next time I get on-board.

Bah.  I hate waiting.

Monday, May 28, 2012

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:

Top photo was taken 3 months AFTER Bella was rescued.
"After" photo by Barbara Livingston

Bella was a 1.5 on the Henneke Scale when she was seized by animal control in October 2011.  To learn more about Bella the "15-year-old-yearling", you can read Ellen's article HERE.

And, if you know of anybody in the Maryland area who is hunting for a really cool horse, have 'em contact Ellen and the Starfish at 732.780-3700 or email 

photo by Barbara Livingston
This mare deserves the best.