Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year is Ending...

It's been a while again, hasn't it? I was fortunate enough to recently have some of my writing featured on another more prominent horse blog. I hope no one is too offended if my writing here is of a much more casual nature!

So what have Halo and I been up to? Well, it rained most of December, so there hasn't been much opportunity to ride. I did get out and ride her this past Tuesday, and I'm still sore. We had a short little trail ride down the road with the camp kids, and then the barn owner was kind enough to let me ride with them in the indoor arena since the outdoor is still a sloppy mess. I even got to go over a little crossrail a couple of times, and got some good pointers. Mostly I need to push her to the fences more, especially when jumps are set up for larger horses. Halo has to work a little extra hard to make the lines!

November was National Novel Writing Month, so I was busy writing a book as usual. I'm now sitting down to revise last year's NaNo novel, which is something I've never attempted before. Usually just knowing I've written it and tossing it in a drawer is good enough for me, but I feel like these last two books are begging to be made into something great. So I'm going to try. Revising is a lot harder for me than writing,

October was full of insanity at work, but I still made it out to work with Halo most weekend days. I even started getting brave and doing a little jumping in the outdoor arena. Halo is going really well over small fences, and finally starting to get pretty solid on her leads and canter transitions.

Here's a picture of the pony from November, before the rain started. We had a terrible drought this year, and you can see how parched everything looks. The good news about all the rain is that grass is starting to grow again. The forecast isn't looking good for 2012, though - we still need tons more rain to get out of drought mode. Keep your fingers crossed for grass and turnout this spring!

Soon I would like to set some goals for 2012, so I'll be back to do that in the next week or so. Have a Happy New Year!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Baby Picture!

Today I was looking for something in my email and came across this old baby picture of Halo. I don't think I've posted this particular one of her before - it predates my ownership of her. I think she is about six months old here. Wasn't she cute?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer Recap in Pictures

After a summer of foot surgery, no showing, a new lessee, and a new saddle, it feels like time for a review of the past several months' progress. Looking at these pictures, I think the positive change in Halo is very apparent. She's developed a lot more muscle, and is learning to use herself correctly. We still have plenty ahead of us, though - the canter and canter transitions need improvement, she is ready to do some low fences, and lateral work needs to come into play. All three of those things have been a focus for both me and Allegra over our last several rides.

Here is where Halo started out at the beginning of the summer in May.

That last picture in particular makes me cringe because of the way I'm popping up out of the saddle. My lower back is very tight, and there is a constant struggle for me to keep it soft enough that I don't hollow my back and perch on the front of my seatbones. If anyone has in-the-saddle exercises to help improve that, please let me know! Next is our first ride post-surgery, at the very end of July (yep, in shorts and sneakers, flame away):

These next pictures are from just a few days ago. I think you can really see that her muscling has changed and improved, and I'm finding that I have less trouble keeping my butt planted in the saddle where it belongs. Unfortunately carrying a whip seems to make me extra prone to piano hands, so I have some work to do on that front.

And here are some pictures of her with Allegra, whom I credit with 90% of these positive changes in Halo. I think a huge part of it is that I've always struggled with focusing on one particular thing with Halo. I couldn't decide what to do, and she's athletic enough to do a variety of things, so I didn't feel compelled to focus strongly on one aspect of riding. Allegra made a point of working consistently on dressage, and it shows in Halo's progression.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jumping Lesson!

Allegra took a jumping lesson on Halo yesterday! I'm glad she did it, because I'm still a little leery of jumping anything over 12" and I don't want my anxiety about it to be part of Halo's early experiences. I'd rather let Allegra get Halo comfortable with the basics, and hopefully after that I can take a lesson myself. Here are the details from her email.

First she had me do trotting poles, halting towards the end the arena, doing a turn on the haunches and trotting back over. She said to help Halo get her distances - look when we would meet the pole and shorten or lengthen her stride to meet the poles. 

After that we did a line with two small cross rails. The first fence she took big, the rest were pretty small. Stephanie said to make sure Halo is forward and that I rest my hands on her neck so even if she goes big I don't catch her mouth - that it is especially important to give them good experiences starting over fences. Also important is to stop once she gets it totally right so she knows what we are looking for.

We did that line trotting many times, stopping at either end of the arena. then changed to trot in canter out. Results were mixed, but once she figured out what I was asking and I gave her enough leg before taking off on the first one she got it. She did duck out once to the right and tried another once or twice to dodge the second jump, but we went over messy instead.

After that we added the purple line, again trotting in and cantering out. I got off around 12:30 and she was barely sweaty even though I was exhausted. I had Stephanie help me make more holes in the stirrups, so they were nice and short and my ankles were feeling it. She did go fine in the dressage saddle and I felt comfortable in that in half seat and two point, so not sure if I'll try the other saddle or not. 

She was great picking up the canter after the first jump and keeping it around the arena. Stephanie said to be very aware of the lead so she doesn't get used to being on the wrong one, and to mix in elements of a real course even if we're just doing one line, to push deep in the corner, have the correct lead - sometimes keep it and sometimes go down to trot, turn as if you are going to another jump - sometimes tightly, sometimes wide. So pretty much how we are preparing her for a dressage test on the flat.

Halo was awesome and I encourage you guys to try it. Once we started doing poles and fences her whole attitude changed from just warming up doing flat work, she was more engaged, picked up gaits more easily after taking a break - when I asked her to canter as a rewarmup after walking she got it much faster. I think she is really going to enjoy mixing this into the routine and it will help her flat work a lot, and I know I'm going to be feeling it tomorrow, so it will be good for my position too!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Contact Is Not the Enemy

Since there are now three of us riding Halo, there is a fun email correspondence going back and forth regularly between us about our rides. I feel like I've been writing so much email that it has allowed me to neglect my blogging duties! And still, despite all the communication there are things that only become clear in person.

Yesterday I met up with Allegra at the barn. She wanted to try applying some ground work exercises with a rider on board to see if we could help clarify some cues for Halo. We set out to work on two things: leg yields and upward transitions from trot to canter.

Halo doesn't quite have leg yields down yet. The main problem is that she will move her front end over and then trail her hind end, not crossing over in the back. We have front wheel drive and need rear wheel drive instead. As I asked for a yield from the quarter line to the rail, Allegra would push on Halo's hip in addition to my cue. What struck me was how very different it felt when Halo was using her hind end. Now I know what the feeling is that we're searching for, which will hopefully make it easier to achieve without help on the ground. I know what to reward.

Another thing that probably added confusion to the mix is that the leg cues I taught Halo are that leg at the girth means move your front end over, and leg further back means move your hindquarters. From talking with Allegra it sounds like she was using opposite cues - so when going from the quarter line to the rail she would move her outside leg back and keep her inside leg forward. That is one of the many challenges when multiple riders are working with a horse - we might all be doing things slightly differently. Oops.

After we spent some time doing the leg yields, we moved to the outdoor arena to work on canter transitions. There was a ring of cones out there with dressage letters on them that provided a helpful guide. We trotted a circle around the cones, and I would call out to Allegra at which letter I was going to ask for canter. As I cued to Halo, she would reinforce the cue with the familiar longe whip cue from the ground. The results weren't perfect every time, but she definitely got a few nice snappy transitions. She was best when I set her up for it properly with a nice forward trot, and then sat back out of the way of her shoulders as I cued. It was a great exercise and I would definitely like to do it again.

Interestingly, the most important takeaway from our ride turned out to be contact. Allegra showed me how much more contact she has been using on Halo. As a rider in general I tend to err on the side of looseness with the reins. It works fine when all I'm asking of her is to get herself around the arena one way or another, or if we are just poking down the trail. I assumed that if I took up more contact, she would suck behind the bit and we would be back to square one. I was wrong. Halo seems to crave a steadier, firmer contact in addition to a strong leg to support her and push her forward. Of course now my legs are good and sore today! I had to shorten my reins several inches from where I had them, and even then Allegra had to keep reminding me to keep them shortened. The improvement in how Halo carried herself was unquestionable. We got a much more consistent trot, and even some nicely rounded canter. Using more contact also meant I had to work harder at keeping my seat deep so that I didn't get pitched forward. My abs are sore today too. It's a good feeling.

The contact issue may seem like a "duh" moment to some of you, but it's amazing the things we don't catch ourselves doing without a set of eyes on the ground. I haven't had consistent lessons in nearly ten years now, so there are plenty of gaping holes in my knowledge and abilities. I'm grateful that Allegra had time to come out with me, and I'm happy to have some equitation homework to do.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Oregon Vacation!

I've been out of touch for a couple of weeks, and with good reason. Casi and I took a much-needed trip to Oregon, managing to escape yet another week of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. Part of that vacation was paying a visit to see my old horse that I've mentioned before on this blog. He's looking healthy and well, though his owner is having tough financial times and is now on self-care. He has a lovely shaded paddock to spend most of his time in, which is great for his arthritic legs since he can move around. It also keeps him much blacker to be out of the sun!

Even though he hasn't been my horse for a long time, it's always good to see him. He'll always be my first horse, the first one I trained from the time he was young. He taught me a lot about what to do, and more about what not to do with a young horse. I know I always go on and on about him, but he means a lot to me and always will. I hope that I can get back to Oregon permanently so that I can see him more frequently, even if it's just to pet his nose and tell him he's a good boy.

I also got to go on a ride with my friend Trish. I got to ride a western pleasure bred solid-paint named Romeo. I rode him last year too, and he definitely lives up to his name. His lope was pure pleasure - Trish was laughing at me because I was grinning so much the first time we loped around the polo field we were riding in.

Another fun thing was seeing a bunch of people I haven't seen in nearly 15 years - a random collection of some of the boarders at the barn where I first took riding lessons and boarded my first horse. It was crazy seeing everyone after all these years, but it was tons of fun, and I hope we can do it again! Everyone is so grown up now, including me.

The Sunny Hill Stables crew:

It was a great vacation, and we were far from happy to come back to the awful weather here. It was already 82 degrees when I woke up at 6:30 on Sunday, so Halo got the day off. I'm sure she doesn't mind, but I am itching to ride.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Recovery and Balance

Halo was a bit witchy this week. There's a gelding new to her pasture in whom she has taken an interest - she's a big girl now and wants to flirt with the boys. Unfortunately, that made for a difficult ride for Allegra earlier this week. From what she said, Halo was acting spooky and was very unfocused. She was also somewhat bratty for Lindsey the next day, but not quite as dramatic. I headed into the weekend thinking I was going to have some rough rides ahead of me. Fortunately Halo decided to have mercy on her poor gimpy mom, and I had productive rides Saturday and Sunday.

Both days we started off with a snack. Because the weather has been so atrociously hot, I've been going out very early in the morning, and sometimes the horses haven't been fed yet. I give Halo a small armful of grass hay while I groom her because she often misses part of breakfast.

She certainly isn't complaining!

Anticipating trouble, Saturday I started off with a little round penning to see how Halo's energy level was. She wasn't too impressed with me, but she behaved perfectly. I didn't keep her at it too long since it was already hot, and she was being good. I got on and we did some warmup. The main thing that quickly became apparent is that I am VERY out of shape. It is amazing what a month off, and a month of having a bum foot did to my fitness level.

I noticed it even more last weekend during my first real post-surgery ride, but at the rising trot, I'm having trouble posting evenly. I feel like my left hip is leading, which makes sense, because my right foot is the bad foot, and I still have some swelling in the ball of my foot that makes it hard to put weight in the stirrup. I've also had to ride in sneakers because I still can't get my swollen foot into a boot. All that plus my loss of fitness means that riding is a much harder workout than usual.

Still, I could tell while trotting that Allegra's hard work paid off. As long as I stay steady with my aids, Halo stays much softer and steadier than she used to. She's more consistent about traveling forward into contact. We still have the occasional counterflexion issue to the right, but that's a mystery I think I partly solved this weekend.

The main scenario in which Halo tends to counterflex is when cantering to the right. What's strange about that is that when I first started riding her, the right was her good direction. She never had trouble with that lead. Now she's the opposite. The left lead is easy, and the right lead is always a struggle to get and maintain.

When we worked on cantering this weekend, my lack of leg strength and pain in my foot meant it was extra difficult for me to put weight in my right stirrup. We repeatedly had trouble getting the right lead, even though I was remembering to sit back and get out of the way of her shoulders. It occurred to me then that the main issue was probably that I was sitting crooked altogether. (I am probably lopsided all the time, but I imagine it is much worse post-surgery). As an experiment, I got a good trot, then sat down, dropped as much weight as I could tolerate in my right hip and stirrup, and away we went. Halo got the right lead every time I asked that way.

As usual, most things that go wrong with the horse are rider error. I've always had pain in my right foot, and I've always preferred to canter on the left lead. Poor Halo has been trying to canter with my weight thrown off balance, so I've effectively trained her to prefer the left lead. Oops. She has the same problem with Lindsey and Allegra, who don't share my foot issues. However, I think she's become used to my crookedness over the past year, so to correct the problem, the aids have to be a little more dramatic than usual. I also noted that when I forced myself to drop more weight into my right hip and stirrup she bent around my leg instead of counterflexing. I'll be interested to see if Allegra or Lindsey finds the same result I did for canter transitions.

I ended both rides a little ouchy on my bum foot, but it was worth the price to figure out the right button to push to get that right canter lead. Maybe my recovery will be good for both of us - it forces me to be more reflective as I'm riding, not just once I get home and am turning things over in my brain in front of the computer. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Busy Days, Busy Nights

Unfortunately this weekend is turning out to be a little more hectic than I anticipated. I rode Halo this morning and will ride again tomorrow, and I have some thoughts to share on those rides. They're going to have to wait until tomorrow, though. I shouldn't let so much freelance work pile up on the weekends!

In the meantime, here's Halo, not sure about this whole being awake and getting ridden at 8 am thing:

I took her saddle blanket, girth, and fly mask home to wash today. She had a little eye infection a couple of weeks ago, so I'm going to be more proactive about making sure her fly mask is clean in case that was part of what contributed. But without her fly mask nose panel, her nose always burns and blisters. Here she is sporting a nice thick coating of Bull Frog sunscreen.

More to come!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Leasing Can Be a Good Thing!

There are a lot of horror stories in the world about leasing out a horse. People don't pay, or they ride your horse with twisted wire bits and draw reins without permission, or they teach your horse bad habits you get to spend months trying to undo.

I did not expect to put Halo out on lease, though I was open to the thought knowing I would be off for a month from my surgery. I didn't advertise her. The thought of weeding through the masses until I found someone with appropriate experience and goals seemed like a ridiculous task to undertake. As a young horse, she needs someone who is confident and experienced enough to handle her baby moments. Sometimes just keeping her in a straight line is like trying to herd squirrels through an open field. None of that is surprising when you consider that she's only 4, and I've only been riding her 2-3 times a week for about a year.

Also, while Halo is a pretty color, she's also hony-sized with no discipline-specific training. If I were going to lease her, I needed a rider with achievable goals, like working toward a lower-level dressage test or starting her over crossrails. I also needed someone who didn't mind that they weren't going to be riding a big fancy horse.

Boy did I get lucky!

Through a friend, I met Allegra, who happened to fit the bill perfectly. Her background is in eventing, but she also has natural horsemanship experience. Her approach is a good balance between the two, and she has been working to get Halo more comfortable with contact and more consistent in her gaits. She's also great about communicating with me regularly about any issues Halo has and how she is progressing.

While I've been out of commission I've given Allegra free rein to ride as much as she would like without any additional cost, so she has been going out every other day. I finally got to go out and see their progress last weekend, and I was very happy. Halo is starting to muscle up nicely with the regular work, and her consistency has dramatically improved at both the walk and the trot. She's more comfortable with contact and not sucking back behind the bit anywhere near as much as she used to. I took a video last weekend that hopefully Allegra will post at some point.

I get lots of fun picture updates like these:

Round pen at sunset:

Post-ride snack:


Allegra has been doing a few things differently from me. She always rides with a dressage whip and is also using some very gentle spurs. Both have been a big help in keeping Halo between the aids and moving forward. After all, Halo's favorite evasions are popping her shoulder the wrong direction, stopping suddenly, or refusing to go forward. The extra aids are insurance that if Halo does not respond to the initial cues, Allegra can escalate the request to an order.

From what I understand (and she can correct me if I'm wrong), Allegra approaches Halo's issues by firstly working on forwardness, and then using mini-half-halts to encourage her to stretch down into the bridle. Halo's improvement has been tremendous, and I'm excited to get back on and work to continue applying what Allegra has taught her.

Overall, I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised by the experience of having Halo out on lease, and I hope Allegra continues to work with her for some time to come. They are a great team, and I think the work is good for Halo. It's also a great learning experience for me - both the opportunity to watch someone else ride my horse, and also the ability to discuss how best to further her training.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Visitors and Progress

Well, the foot surgery went well, and I'm back on my feet. Kind of. I still have a pretty significant limp and quite a bit of swelling. I'm definitely not ready to ride, at least not more than just bareback poking around. I was already having horse withdrawals by the end of my first week at home, but luckily I was provided with a convenient excuse to go to the barn. A friend came to visit!

I hadn't met Abigail before, but she is a member of a horse forum I've been on for a long time. We hit it off well, and she got to meet a lot of my friends over the course of her 24-hour stay in Austin. We spent the morning of July 9 at the barn visiting Miss Halo, and got some fun pictures.

It is always fun to see other people ride your horse. Halo is definitely a tester. She makes sure every new rider is going to MAKE her do something. If she thinks she can get away with not listening, she'll try it. She and Abigail had an initial discussion about going forward, but once they got that out of the way (with a rein smack and a couple of little butt hops), Halo was a good girl.

These are a couple of my favorite riding pictures of them from that day:

Abigail also found Halo's special itchy spot:

I was able to ride, but only for a few minutes just walking and a little trotting. Halo figured out very quickly that my right foot didn't really work, so I didn't have much leverage if she wanted to bulge to the right and run through my leg. It still felt great to be on her, though - it was the first time all week that I was able to move faster than a slow hobble.

It was a fun visit, and we had a great time! I have more to post soon about the work that Halo's leaser has been doing with her. They are making tons of progress, and I'm hoping I can get out to watch them work in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Out of the Saddle

My ride this past Wednesday was bittersweet.

It will be my last ride for at least two or three weeks, but probably longer than that. I had surgery yesterday to correct a hereditary bunion exacerbated by a riding injury I got when I was fourteen. My right foot has always caused me some pain, especially in the winter, due to the bunion along with the four fractures and dislocated bone on the top of my foot. I know that surgery is not going to be a cure-all since many of the issues in my foot will still be there, but I think it is a step in the right direction. The bunion has been my main source of pain over the past few years. Additionally, a bunionectomy is a very standard surgery, unlike what my podiatrist called the "hero surgery" that it would take to fix the dislocation and other issues.

So here I am, parked out on the couch with an ice pack on my ankle, thinking back to the ride I had on Wednesday night. Halo has been doing her best to teach me lately. I've been riding bareback some, and occasionally without stirrups. She's been reminding me that if I lean forward or don't drop the correct hip when I ask for the canter, she'll take the wrong lead. She's been teaching me that her ADD is mostly my ADD - if I quit focusing on her, she'll fall apart. She needs me to be there as a steady partner, with consistent cues. I have to keep breathing, keep moving with her.

On Wednesday I braided her mane and tail just for fun, and because I needed the relaxation before my surgery. I'd been getting more and more nervous throughout the day.

I may not be the braider I was ten years ago, but I don't think it's bad for someone as rusty as I am. It felt good to use my hands to create something pretty.

I took a few pictures just for the heck of it, and as a reminder of where we are right now. Maybe it is just me, but I feel like Halo has grown up a lot in the past few months. She's become stockier, and is slowly filling out. It's no wonder we ended up with an XXW saddle.

Mostly though, she's becoming more and more the horse I need her to be. When I got on Wednesday, I just threw on the bareback pad and sidepull. There wasn't much time left to ride. The sun sat low on the horizon, making her seem even more golden in the dying light. We went up to the big arena and walked around to warm up, eventually trotting some and then moving on to canter. Along one side of the arena I wove my hands through her mane and asked her for a hand gallop. She flew down the fenceline, and I could feel the wind stinging my eyes. But the best part about it was how easily she came down from it into a steady lope, and eventually into a smooth trot and then a walk. This is a horse who doesn't make me worry. I don't feel scared on her - I feel free.

Halo helps me remember that what matters is loving to ride. It isn't about blue ribbons or reaching a high level of competition. Of course I still plan to work toward doing more little open shows, and getting her over some small jumps. I'd love to do some more cow work now that she was lightly exposed to it at the SHOT clinic we did in April. All those things will make her a better horse in the long run. Despite all the different things we've worked on since I started her, what I'm most amazed by is that this is a horse I can get on bareback, with headgear that is basically no more than a halter, and gallop around with no trace of fear. Just joy. How lucky am I?

Although I can't ride for a few weeks, I still feel good. I am fortunate enough that someone was introduced to me in late May who is going to be leasing and riding Halo. I've given her free rein to work with Halo in July since I can't ride anyway. She is a thoughtful, conscientious rider who puts the horse first. I can tell from talking to her and watching her work with Halo that she truly cares about Halo's progress and is committed to making her a better horse. Sometimes I can hardly say that about myself, since I'm happy galloping around the arena bareback! Either way, Halo and I are fortunate to have her, and I'm excited to see how Halo improves over the next month while I'm completely out of commission.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Professional Saddle Fitting

I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post, but there will be many forthcoming in the next week as I try out new saddles.

Lately my little horse has taken to fussing and dancing around during saddling. Thanks to the forums I frequent and all the other reading I've done online, alarm bells went off in my head. Last Tuesday we got a saddle fitter out to take a look at several horses at the barn. It was an AMAZING experience, and I would suggest working with a saddle fitter if you ever have the opportunity just for the pure educational value of it, even if your saddle already fits. I learned a lot about the biomechanics of the horse in addition to detailed explanations about what a saddle does to impact those biomechanics.

One of the most interesting things I learned was about the way the horse's shoulder works. The fitter showed me how a saddle that is too tight in the shoulder limits her scapula from being able to rotate back, thus reducing her range of motion in her front end. He explained that horses experiencing that are likely to have trouble with canter transitions and tend to run into the canter because they can't move into the gait correctly. Instead, they have to speed up enough that they can fall into the motion. Obviously, that also makes it almost impossible to get a truly collected gait. Guess what Halo has been doing lately? Rushing into the canter! I thought she was just being a normal greenie, but he said that is likely only a small part of the issue.

He also took a look at my western saddle and showed me that even the FQHB are not wide enough and are pinching her under the yoke. He also didn't like how far the skirt came back, noting that she was extremely short-backed. Though he noted that the long skirt does not pinch, he said that it may irritate her and prevent her from being able to fully flex her body and turn on the haunches. Guess what we've been having trouble with when riding western? Turns on the haunches! His recommendation was that I look for a barrel saddle or reining saddle with a rounded skirt or single skirt that doesn't extend back as far as the current one. I'm heartbroken, because I loved my western saddle. But what is right for the horse is a heck of a lot more important than what I like. I know I will eventually be able to find something that fits both of us, but right now it seems like a daunting task.

I was amazed by the depth of his knowledge and how much he could tell me about how my horse was going without even watching me ride. He immediately identified problems we were likely to be having under saddle, and suggested that I look for an XXW tree english saddle. He specailizes in English saddles, so I didn't get a recommendation for a western one. I may look for a saddle designed for Arabians since they tend to be made with wider bars, wider yokes, and short skirts. I would like something like what I have now - nice enough for open shows or reining, but also casual enough for trail riding.

It seems to me that saddle fitting is a vital and often overlooked aspect of horsemanship that we should all know more about. It occurred to me that when I first started taking lessons, no one ever said, "hey, let's start out by taking a look at your tack and making sure it fits your horse." Don't you think there would be a lot more happy horses if instructors made a point of that?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Manor Parade, October 2010

Here are some pictures from a little parade that Halo and I did in October 2010. There were only four of us in the parade, so it was pretty low key. She did great with all the noise and vendors that were lining the streets.

Monday, April 11, 2011

SHOT Versatility Clinic 4-9-11

Halo and I attended a Stock Horse of Texas (SHOT) clinic this past weekend. I was nervous, but we made it through in one piece!

Halo and I learned a ton at the clinic, and she got a lot of compliments from the clinicians. It was so good to have eyes on the ground. The clinic was almost solely focused on the horse, not the rider, or at least that was my experience of it. I only got nagged once to sit back when asking for the lope, which is something I know I have an issue with when I get anxious. However, from the pictures I do want to yell at myself to get my heels down!

Halo was super herd-bound at first, and screaming for her buddies like crazy when I took her out to longe her in the morning. I was pretty nervous getting on her, because she seemed wound pretty tightly, but as soon as I got her feet moving she settled down to work. We did have a few more herd bound moments, but it was a good opportunity to work on that by keeping her moving when she was being a brat, and letting her rest and stand with the other horses when she was being quiet and standing still. We definitely need to do more clinics like this.

I have a few pictures. Unfortunately the ones in the indoor arena didn't come out too clearly, but you can get the idea.

Warming up at the extended walk in the pleasure class. We made a lot of progress in this portion of the clinic, and it was a great place to start the day. The last horse I trained had a habit of not reaching into contact and sucking behind the bit. I always assumed that it was because I fussed with his face too much, so I've gone the opposite route with Halo. However, the pleasure clinician had me take up the reins about four inches, and WOW it was like I was riding a whole new horse! Halo is no dummy. She immediately started to flex at the poll and look for the release from that pressure. This picture is before he had me take up the slack.

By now she's figured out how to really step under herself. This was near the end of the pleasure portion. She's a little overflexed here, but still hunting for the contact. We spent a good portion of time at each gait working on rating speed, and the exercises were extremely helpful. The main takeaway I got from this portion of the clinic is that I need to not be afraid to take up my reins and help her find balance instead of letting her hunt it on her own.

Next we went outside for the trail class. To be honest, I didn't learn as much from this portion of the clinic as the others. Halo is for the most part extremely good about trail obstacles. She didn't refuse anything, even this very narrow bridge that caused problems for a lot of the older horses. The only thing we didn't do was trot over the very large logs shown below. I didn't feel comfortable doing it, so we stuck to walking them this time.

Here's the narrow bridge, and Halo being a very good girl!

The tilty bridge was also no problem. We have a much smaller one of these at home that she's practiced on, so this one was no big deal at all. We went over it both ways, even the "hard" way by stepping onto the raised part first.

They had some Extreme Cowboy Race obstacles, but this was the only one we got to try. Halo walked into this with zero hesitation, though she did try to grab a bite of grass since her head was right at grass level as we walked through!

The one bit of homework we did take away from the trail class is that I need to teach her a cue to stop when she is backing up. The clinician suggested pressing my hand into the top of her neck. We discovered this hole in our training when she was backing through an L made out of logs, and almost backed straight over the corner of the L. Oops.

Below is the only really clear picture that came out of the reining class. We mostly worked on walk-lope transitions, which I haven't done with Halo at home at all. This was a little stressful, as I didn't feel great pushing her, and she was a bit stressed out by being asked to do something she didn't understand. Even so, I bit the bullet and she improved a lot through the class. We have lots of homework from this class, mostly involving transitions. Can't wait to work on this at home! However, look how nicely she was using herself at the trot by this point:

Lastly, we got to practice tracking a flag for the cutting portion of the clinic. I didn't get to chase a real cow, but maybe we will have the chance next time. Halo was one of the only horses that kept her ears absolutely riveted to the flag at all times. However, I've been negligent in teaching her to turn swiftly off her haunches, so we weren't too clean at this. She did make a beautiful, quick rollback one time and it felt amazing. I feel like I have a much better grasp on how to teach her to do rollbacks now, so it is something we will practice at home as soon as her other transitions are all sharp. I want to have a strong lope depart before trying to teach her rollbacks. I also need to make sure to be able to move her haunches and shoulders in either direction at will. She's much better at moving just her shoulders right now. Need to get the hip engaged!

Anyway, we had a grand time. The clinic was well-run and the instructors knew their business. I'd highly recommend a clinic like this for anyone who wants to improve their horse's responsiveness and training.