Monday, February 23, 2009

Bzz, bzz!

Halo and I have been busy bees this past week. I managed to get her longed several times, bridled her once, trimmed her chin whiskers with the scissors, did some showmanship, and started clipper training.

Since I don't have clippers at the moment I had to get creative with a way to start her clipper training. It actually worked out well, because if I DID have clippers I probably wouldn't want them to get destroyed by a spastic fling of the head while training baby.

She knew something was up as I the mini-massager I got for $10 at Walgreen's. She hoped it was a treat, but should have known better:

I later realized that perhaps this is the most brilliant method of clipper training ever - not only does this thing buzz and make all kinds of noise, but it's much bigger than clippers and also lights up in a scary way. Or at least Halo seemed to think it was scary:

She did the ol' snort'n'blow a couple of times, but overall was pretty trusting of my approach with the massager. I started on her shoulder and neck, and once she stood calmly I turned it off. Eventually I was able to touch it to her cheeks and head, but I didn't try for the most sensitive parts (nose and ears) just yet. I think it will be a few more sessions before she's completely nonchalant about the buzzing.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Halo Has Visitors!

This post is overdue because I didn't have pictures until a couple of days ago, and then work turned into the ninth level of hell. Excuses, excuses. Anyway, a friend of mine from work came out to the barn last Sunday and took some pictures of Halo. First we got her out and cleaned up. Here's miss Halo licking my hand after a good grooming from me and Sioux:

Next I took her up to the arena, showed them her paces in the round pen, and then got her out into the big arena to run around a little bit. I'd worked her the night before, so she was much more interested in scavenging blades of grass than giving us a show. Sioux did get a few good pictures though.

It was nice to have a couple of pictures of me with Halo, since I'm usually the one behind the camera.

Sioux and Ben also asked me how much Halo weighed. Being non-horsey people, they guessed around 350 lbs. We were all surprised though when I checked her with the weight tape and got 821 lbs!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

I know I should have taken pictures of Halo draped in something red, pink, and garish, but all I've got today is a "Hi, mom!" picture that shows off her new and somewhat unfortunate hairdo.

I finally got tired of dealing with her mane being at that awkward between long and short stage, so I whacked it all off. I've finally come to terms with the fact that she'll look stupid showing in Halter and Showmanship with a long mane. I might as well get it short and start doing the maintenance now. Of course that's what I said to myself when I first got her last summer, and it didn't stick...but it's more realistic this year since she will actually be showing.

The second shot I have of her shows how much her conformation has changed. Part of it is weight gain and winter fuzz, but she's definitely filled out more and begun to look stockier. I'm not sure how she will look in the end, but for now I am thankful that her shoulders are starting to catch up with her butt height-wise, and she's getting some nice muscling (hopefully also from the longe exercise). She now measures 14.1h at the withers. Two more inches and she's not a pony! Keep your fingers crossed. :) She looks a bit cresty in this picture due to her mane sticking up from the haircut. When she sheds out a bit darker this spring I'm planning to do a full conformation critique with a comparison to last year's photos. 

It was another cold and windy day today. We did a brief, saddle-free longe session and then got her tail washed up. Halo has some guests coming to see her tomorrow, which I will post all about tomorrow night or Monday. I think they'll come armed with cameras and carrots, and she won't have to work, so I imagine she'll be glad to see them!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Slow Week

No real mid-week post this week - I intended to go to the barn last night, but instead got roped into learning how to dance the foxtrot with one of my friends. It went better than I expected, although today there is a mysterious ache in the left side of my butt. Who knows what that's about. With the three-day weekend coming up I hope to get out to the barn daily and work Halo, as well as hopefully ride Cash at least one more time (the gelding I mentioned last week).

With Cash I would like to work more on making nice circles at the trot. He likes to drop his inside shoulder and barge through my outside leg when we pass the arena gate, and he also sometimes tries to make a break for it coming down the first long side of the arena. We made some progress last week, but it definitely needs reinforcement. It would also be nice to see if I can get a canter out of him. One thing I like a lot about him is even though he pitches his mini-fits, he's a horse who actively seeks release. As soon as he figured out that I would be much quieter with my hands and legs and stay out of his way when he went forward without any noodling, he started to seek that release.

With Halo I want to do the saddled longeing a couple more times, and maybe see if I can get her bridled once or twice more. With bridling I am determined that she will not be a horse who has to throw her head up in the air and pitch a fit every time I put the bridle on. She gets no treat until she puts her head down while being bridled, and I will not remove the bridle unless her head is lowered. Hopefully it will be less windy this weekend and there will be fewer distractions at the barn, but of course I'm not counting on it. Since we had a bad thunderstorm a couple of days ago, chances are I'm going to need to wash her tail. I've also been slowly whittling away at her mane - I decided not to let it grow long. It makes more sense to go ahead and pull it/trim it for Halter, and if I get it maintained now, it won't be such a huge pain in the ass this summer.

Hope everyone has a good long weekend!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Windy Weekend and the 2nd Saddling

If there's one thing training baby horses has taught me, it's to assume nothing. This past weekend was extremely windy, but we pressed on with training regardless. On Saturday I decided to longe Halo with the saddle on for the first time. As noted in a previous entry, she's been saddled one time before, but all we did was walk around the arena and back down to the hitching rail. Foolishly, I assumed she wouldn't be too perturbed about the saddle a second time. Wrong!

It took longer to saddle her the second time than it did the first. She mostly seemed concerned by me lifting the saddle above waist level, so we did that several times on both sides of her until it wasn't an issue any longer. Through the process I left her lead rope threaded through the hitching rail, but not actually tied. One of the women at the barn asked why I didn't just tie her fast and make her accept the saddle. I explained that Halo used to set back, and that I didn't want to give her an excuse to revert to that behavior in panic. Although wary, eventually Halo accepted the saddle quietly, turning her nose to sniff at it. I put it on and off a couple of times with and without the pad, and soon she didn't care at all.

I got the girth done up with no problems (strangely, she shows no fear of the girth, even with the rattly buckles) and took her out to longe. At first she felt a little explosive in-hand, but once I got her out on the longe line, I realized she wasn't actually trying to motor forward. It felt odd when I was leading her, because her initial reaction to the saddle was to tuck her tail between her legs and hunch her back up. She did her best to move out on the longe at the gaits I requested, but I could tell she was hesitant, and every time the wind blew up one of the saddle flaps, she eyeballed it and hunched her back up again.

Surprisingly she only bucked two or three times - it was mostly just humpback Halo, gallumphing around in a circle and wanting to stop when she got confused. Despite that, she behaved herself well even though she was clearly distracted by the presence of the saddle and would have preferred to focus on that rather than her longe lesson.

On Sunday we did the regular longe lesson without the saddle, and she was mostly good. We are now working on cleaning up her down transitions since she's capable of cantering. Canter to trot is an especially clumsy transition for her right now because she anticipates me asking her to whoa. She just loves to stop fast, and always looks so pleased with herself when she does. So we've been working on walk-trot-canter-trot-walk-whoa transitions, usually in that order, sometimes mixed up so she doesn't anticipate things.

On one of her down transitions from canter she decided to stop abruptly, and when I attempted to urge her back onto the circle she backed up and reared up a couple of times. I got her moving forward again and we pushed through it. Hopefully it does not become a habit. She's a baby though, and I anticipate that she will continue to test her limits in different ways. It's what babies do best.

In other news, I also rode on Saturday morning, and I've finally found a horse I love to ride! I gave up on the western saddle and put my trusty dressage saddle on Cash. It was great fun. He's still green, but I found him very responsive and smart. I'll write more on him as I hopefully begin to ride more often.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What's Next?

Last night's longe session with Halo brought up an important question: what's next? She's doing well in her workouts, and progressing nicely with longeing. All our work last night was on the line (no free-longeing). She walked, trotted, and cantered when asked, and there were no random changes of direction. There's definitely polishing left to be done; she has trouble maintaining canter counter-clockwise without a lot of encouragement (i.e., me running). We will continue to polish what she's already learned, but the problem is that I don't want her to become bored or sour with what we're doing.

So far I've mixed it up a little by taking some advice I got from someone on the Fugly Horse of the Day message board. After longeing, we always do a little showmanship to cool off. That way she's developing a skill while cooling out, and using her brain in a different way. I also bridled her briefly last night before we longed (though I took it off for longeing).

Here are some ideas for the next things we could do:

Long Reining
Longeing with Saddle
Longeing with Side Reins (need to get bridle adjusted first)

Does anyone have more ideas?

The barn owner asked me again last night when my first ride was. I told her what I've been saying to everyone - probably not until fall at least. And then I found myself thinking that it was almost too bad she's too young now, because Halo is so quiet and easy that I don't think riding is going to be a big step when the time finally comes. Also, even though some of my other recent riding experiences have made me a bit nervous, I'm not worried about riding Halo. I know her personality well enough that even if she's unpredictable and bratty, I know her basic buttons and what to push to get a whoa or calm a spaz out. But fall 2009 at the earliest it shall be! She's still small, and we have tons to accomplish on the ground in the meantime to get her prepared for the August 8th show.

As stressful as it is for me, the #1 priority I need to set for myself after working with Halo is getting my butt in the saddle on one of the older horses and getting back in shape for riding. Why is it sometimes so hard to take what I know I need to do and actually do it?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Longe Photos!

It is very difficult to take pictures of a horse while longeing her, especially one who would rather stop and eat grass or try to stick the camera lens up her nose. However, I wanted to get a couple of pictures anyway since most of Halo's training right now revolves around her longeing (no pun intended).

This week for the first time I took her out of the confines of the round pen to longe in the large arena. We have a very large outdoor arena that usually has several jumps set up in it. I didn't expect them to, but the jumps ended up working to my advantage. I had taken Halo out in the large arena once before, several months ago. The session was pretty unproductive, because she was still in the early stages of learning how to longe at all. Since then, I've mostly used the large arena as a place to turn her out to run off some of the steam before getting down to work. For that reason, I had no expectations that she would behave.

Fortunately for me, I have a smart little filly. I wanted to get her out in the larger space so that we could work on cantering. Although she can canter comfortably in the round pen, she tends to cut into the circle, and I worry that it is hard on her legs. With the larger open space, I would have more room to push her away from me on the circle. 

I took her to the far back corner of the arena to avoid the distraction of the gate. Two jumps were set up that gave a false sense of containment from the long side of the arena, and they helped keep Halo on a circle. The worst she did was throw a couple of small fits while traveling counter-clockwise, pulling me out of the circle. I corrected her by continuing to push her forward, and once she traveled forward, I stayed quiet and out of her way. She improved over both the longe sessions this weekend, though she is definitely not perfect yet. 

Her understanding of voice commands is remarkable. Even with the new scenery, and even when she's having a mini-fit, she will stop instantly with the command "whoa." I am grateful for this, and hope it translates once I'm in the saddle. She's also become very responsive to "trot" and is beginning to learn "canter." All of the commands are accompanied by body language from me, which she seems to work well off of. I wish I could describe better how I use body language during longeing, but it's been a long time since I've had to dissect it. Perhaps that is something to start working on for myself so that I can figure out what is working best in my communications with Halo.

Here are some pictures from Sunday longeing.

In the arena, blowing off the tiny bit of steam she had in her. She was much friskier on Saturday when she hadn't been exercised in several days.

I like the trot...if only she didn't have her goofy head straight up in the air! I can't wait until she sheds out and her head regains some refinement from beneath all the fuzz. Oh, little Halo. You'd think whoa was her favorite word.

Sometimes when trotting, she stretches her head down to the ground. I love that she seems to enjoy stretching through the back, and I do my best not to interfere when she's moving forward and stretching nicely this way.

Overall, I am pleased right now with how she is coming along. She definitely has her moments of being terrible two, but they are outweighed by the good times. Next I should probably turn my priorities to getting myself back in shape. Riding one of the barn owner's horses a couple of weeks ago was a reminder that I am very, very out of shape. Ugh.