Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bomb-proofing Clinic

I was able to take Diego to the Wild Horse and Burro Expo that was being hosted here in Reno at the Livestock Event Center today. One of their scheduled "events" was a bomb-proofing clinic hosted by Willis Lamm that was free to the public - bring your horse it said, so I did!

This ended up being the first time Diego's been off the property since he bucked me off and I broke my arm back in April. Add to that the fact that we were going to a pretty large show grounds with other horses, loud speakers, golf carts, plenty of people, etc and this ended up being a pretty big test for him. AND HE TOTALLY ACED IT!!! =)

When we first got there, I got Diego out of the trailer in the parking lot and tied him up and groomed him for a little while. I had strategically parked where he could see two other horses that were tied up to their trailer, so he had a little extra confidence boost. His eyes were kind of big, but he was very good and stood still while I brushed him, combed his mane and picked his hooves. Unfortunately/Fortunately it was a little cool and breezy today, so he wasn't able to get a bath and elbow grease had to do, but at least it wasn't 101 like it was a few days ago.

After I bit, I put my lunge line on Diego and took him over to the area where they had the obstacles set up. They had many different obstacles: wooden fence posts in various designs (5 of these), a barrel, a big tractor tire with plywood over it, a bed sheet on a frame, a "horse wash" on a frame with caution tape, a leopard print rug to walk over, crushed cans, a small set of wooden steps with a platform the horse could walk over, two different types of bridges, crushed aluminum cans inside one of the fence post sets, etc. It was a really nice set-up. Things were pretty low-key when I went over, there was just the clinician and one other gentleman working with is roan mustang at the time. Perfect, perfect.

Diego was nervous at first so I went over to the barrel and lunged him in some circles for a while in the most open area. This gave him a chance to start to check everything out. I just let him trot for a little bit, then started asking him to yield his hindquarters, turn and face me, change direction, back-up, etc. Once he was focusing on me, we started to walk around more and look at stuff.

One of the first obstacles we did was a set of six poles set in a circle, so I stood in the middle and lunged Dig around the outside. He did well and as soon as he dropped his head to watch what he was doing, I could see him start to focus on me more and begin to really relax. After he was looking comfortable with this, we went over to the bed sheet on the frame. Diego walked up to it and started trying to chew on the bed sheet. =) Obviously our tarp training has been paying off! Yay! I let him check it out a bit more, and then sent him through several time. We then did the caution tape horse wash obstacle. This one was a bit more tricky in that there were bits of red plastic and flagging ribbons tied long this side of the arena. Diego didn't seem to care about any of that stuff - he even bit one of the red plastic flags and pulled it off - so I had to tie it back on.

We then went over and worked on the wooden bridges. Diego has done the one at my friend Sarah's house before, so I didn't take long before he was walking over both of them. You could tell he was starting to get more and more confident and braver about trying things. I took him through the two of the other wooden sets - one was a long narrow, somewhat bendy section made of railroad ties. The other was a big jumble, where the horse had to pay attention to where they were placing their feet. The poles were angled and set up on the side with one or the other end, so he really had to focus on what he was doing.
The clinician Willis Lamm came over and talked with me for a while at this point. Diego was stopped in the middle of the obstacle, back feet straddling a pole, and he stood patiently while we discussed Dig. Willis mentioned that as an Arab, Diego is breed to be extra aware of his surroundings, as battle horses, they needed to always be alert to what was going on around them and be quick enough to evade an attack. He'd noticed when we first came in, how Dig was a bit on "overwhelm" and complimented me for just working with him calmly and quietly. He mentioned how with Diego, his "flashpoint" was still very near the surface, and he was quick to react, but we had both noticed how he was also quick to stop, think about it, and settle down to evaluate the situation. He really liked Dig a lot, and told me that in about a year and a half or so, I would probably have a rock-solid, very steady mount that I could point at just about anything.
This echoed a lot of my own feelings in that Diego is just unconfident and didn't have a lot of trust in me and our relationship. I've been happy to see that trust developing more and more, and today it was very apparent at times as he would look to me and take his cues for reaction based upon what I was doing. I could go on and on, but I'll let the pictures (taken by my 7 yr old son) speak for themselves. Diego conquered every obstacle that was in that ring. He cracked me up with the aluminum cans, rustling them with his nose, biting one, tossing them around, and then calmly stepping through. I also hooked up my second line and spent some time ground driving him around and over them as well - helping to establish that "I don't have to go first" scenario that will continue with our riding career. We ended our day with going inside the big spooky indoor arena, and lunging a bit in there and then calmly walking out and back to the trailer. I was exceedingly proud of my boy today - GO DIEGO GO!!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What we've been up to...

... besides obviously not blogging. =)

So, broken arm aside (which has healed extremely well and I have my full range of motion back - Yay!), I haven't just been letting Diego rot in the barn for the past few months. I've done my best to take this set-back in stride and think of it as time to improve our ground work and overall relationship. With that mindset, I've been pretty satisfied with our results. To be perfectly honest, I think this time to take a step back and really get back to basics has benefitted us both. And I most probably would NOT have done all this additional ground work if I had been able to keep riding.

Things I've been doing:

- Despooking: Diego has now been "sacked out" and is non-phased by tarps, plastic bags, whips, ropes, our new puppy (who thinks he's a big dog andwants him to play), hula hoops, towels, milk jugs with rocks inside, pool noodles, Taren riding his bike around, and he's getting a lot better about quick startling movements - for the most part he just ducks his head or flinchs in place now. That was one of the little gems I picked up from the Stacey Westfall ground work DVD I rented from, was that she's "never had a deer jump out, and then back, and then out, and then back" while trail riding. So she uses both rhythym and quick sudden motions while despooking. I've noticed a pretty big difference in Diego since I've started just randomly jerking my hands around, or ducking down, or jumping towards him, etc. When I first started - it was OHMYGODWHATSGONNAEATME! Now he kind of goes "Huh?" Unfortunately, I've found out this doesn't quite apply when you walk out in the middle of the pitch black night to go feed and take off the horsie fly mask and the horse is totally zoned-out dead asleep on the far side of the barn, such that when you walk into the middle of the corral and see the dark shape and proclaim "Oh! THERE you are!" the pony will have a heart attack for approximately 3 seconds (poor guy). It also doesn't help when you are carrying a saddle and two hula hoops (which he's never seen or heard before) up to the corral in the dark (I work late a lot, training often happens at night under lights at my place) and the big rattly bulky clinky misshapen monster may "sound" like Mom, but only until you can acutally SEE her are you reassured it's not a horse eating monster.

- Lunging: We've been doing a lot of work on the lunge. Working on establishing good verbal cues (I use "walk", quick kisses to trot, a long smooch to lope, "easy" to slow down, and "whoa") that are followed every time in a quick consistent manner. I'll ask, ask with slight pressure, and then make him do it. An example of this would be a walk to trot transition. He'll be going along and I'll kiss to him. If he doesn't immediately start to trot, I'll kiss to him and use the whip, end of the rope, or my arm to apply pressure from behind to speed up. If he still hasn't started trotting, then I'll get after him until he does. The one that he has the hardest time with is the trot to walk transition down. He will often stop completely and then I need to get him walking again. He's gotten a lot better, especially going to the left, but this is something we'll continue to work on. The other nice thing is that I don't just lunge him in the same circle in the same place - we'll lunge in different areas and go over "obstacles" such as rocks, a small ditch, gravel, pieces of pipe, a sand hill, etc. I'll also use the lunge to ground drive him straight for a bit and then ask for turning again - work on making different "shapes."

- Ground Driving: I've also been doing a bit of ground driving. I rented a Mark Rashid DVD from Horseflix and he really made it look simple. I've taken lessons and had formal instruction in ground driving before from one of our local trainers who uses it a lot very successfully for her dressage horses. So I'm not totally clueless about what I'm doing. Diego has been doing pretty well with it, but after getting kicked, I do still have some hesitation about being directly behind him. As such, I do a lot of my "driving" standing next to him in the position of where I would be if I was riding. I'm seeing Diego having to overcome some of his confidence issues while we do this. I am no longer the "leader" out in front of him, instead he has to be responsible for choosing where to go with some direction from me. I've been using my hand or the stirrup if saddled to create pressure where my feet will go to help reinforce our verbal cues as well. While ground driving, I'll press, then give the verbal cue and press again, and then make him - using this as a transition away from the verbal cues somewhat. I purchased a new snaffle bit that has three pieces, similar to a french link but with the middle link being a little thicker and more rounded (I believe it's called a Lozenge snaffle). Diego seems to like this bit a lot better and doesn't chomp on it as much. He also doesn't bob his head when I apply rein pressure, so I think the regular snaffle was hitting the roof of his mouth.

- Riding: Yes, I have been "riding", just a bit the past week. Actually, truth be told, I have sat on the pony a few times and done a little bit of walking around the corral. I just don't totally have my nerve back yet and my corral is not the most conducive place to riding the horse, being farily small and having one wall of the barn/shed that sticks out into it. Mounting and dismounting (from either side) has been a non-issue and we've done some really easy walking circles, stops, and backing up. That's it for now. I've been busy doing something pretty much every weekend lately so I just haven't had time to get him out to a proper round pen or arena to do some more riding.

Honestly, I don't think our bucking issue is totally resolved or gone. I think Diego has learned he can do this behavior to get me off of him and to be able to do what he wants. I'm not sure if it's naughtiness on his part (which I kind of doubt), or just insecurity and feeling overwhelmed. I'm hoping that by going slower and doing the basics again, we can avoid the bucking. But the little voice in the back of my head is telling me that this isn't a "done" issue and that honestly I'm going to have to ride it out and then severely discipline him for him to start to think about giving up that behavior. I would be happy if that little voice is wrong though.
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