Monday, March 28, 2011

Support Your Horse

Support Your Horse
My journal entries from Riding in Buck Braanaman Clinic March 11-14, 2011

March 11:
I love little Sorry so much. I've known that she was ultra sensitive and that I need to have better feel for her. My big blinding flash of the obvious is preparing her for the transition by changing the way I collect my reins so she does not brace.

We started the day with the all important lateral flexion at the stand still. Buck was very particular about how the horse bent. Just cranking the horse's head around was not acceptable. If we want to be great horsemen we had better learn how to do this with finesse. We concentrated on rewarding the horse's slightest try.

We worked on three elements in the flexion; elevation of the poll above the withers, ears staying level (the horizontal plane) and the nose slightly tipped or (the face on the vertical plane). Oh and we didn't over bend them either, just 90 degrees. We recognized any time the horse was correct in one dimension, not expecting him to accomplish all three elements at once. First we asked for one of the elements to be performed very well, then two and maybe eventually all three elements would come together for a moment. We didn't expect the horse to start out perfect, but should always be working towards perfection with all three dimensions of the vertical flexion.

We sat still for quite some time working on this exercise. Patience is a virtue of every great horseman. If you were in a hurry at this clinic then you were in the wrong place. Like every horseman I have ridden with they each have stressed the importance of bending the head. Buck was more particular than any other person I have ridden with about us taking the time to really get this good. And he stressed all weekend that we should continually be working on it with every horse. After the lateral flexion was working for us a little better then we also worked on the soft feel while standing still.

We were instructed to first asked the horse to elevate the poll and give us a soft feel before walking out. Plus be sure your horse left straight. We did a lot of serpentines using our legs first then supporting with the reins. The inside leg was back and the outside leg forward. While performing a serpentine make sure the whole horse is making the corners and impulsion is maintained. After the serpentines were working for us a little we then began to ask for the same soft feel while continuing the serpetine work.

Next we worked on stopping from the walk taking extra care to be sure we asked for the soft feel before stopping the horse. After everyone was getting their horses to stop a little better, we stopped the horse then waited for the horse to settle before asking for a soft feel again and a back up. Again we were instructed to focus on elevating the shoulders to get the backward impulsion where the hind quarter is pulling like an engine. The next step was to transition right from the walk to stop to backup with smoothness.

Again my blinding flash of the obvious was in my preparation for the transition in order to keep Sorry from bracing. It is always about the feel we are able to present to the horse. Sorry fell in love with a Buckskin horse, whom she must have thought was like her buddy Cisco back home. She was talking to him whenever she could. She slowed up whenever she was by him, hoping to stay with him, and tried to speed up whenever he wasn't nearby. Buck talked about how horses are fresh first rides in the spring and we need to support them more. They will quit being buddy or barn sour when we are able to support them in a positive way. The more we are their leader the less they need another horse for support. I am glad to say that each day I was able to give her more of the support she needed and by the 4th day the Buckskin was now a non-issue for her.

Next we did some walk trot walk transitions. I was not happy as Sorry got a little more emotional as we increased the speed. So I went back to serpentines, small circles and disengaging the hind quarters when needed. Buck explained the importance of keeping the four corners of the horse balanced and straight from front to back, especially on departures. This to can keep the horse from being emotional because he feels solid and balanced. Just like Ray Hunt, Buck told us to focus and keep the horse between our legs.

We didn't do any ground work, but we talked about how important it is especially when one isn't a good enough rider to get the job done from the horses back. There was one horse who was pretty crabby with the other horses and he had the same idea Don Jessop did at the Parelli clinic I went to last spring, to make the horse move out faster away from the other horses. When a horse is pinning their ears getting ready to kick at another horse he will always slow down, so speed them up. However, the lady riding this horse was unable to do this. She just couldn't make her horse go. So this led to a discussion about life in the feet and making sure your horse walks out nice and is not dull on your legs.

The best part of the clinic was at the end of the day after the ranch roping. Buck was riding his horse outside on the way back to the stalls and the horse was rushing. He showed how to slow the horse's walk, with a soft feel and waiting for the horse to get with you. Instead of quieting the horse he said let the horse figure out how to quiet you. After everyone left I skipped dinner and extroverted that I am I stayed and rode Sorry working on that last thing I saw Buck doing with his horse. I worked on getting her to slow down her walk on a soft feel, staying with me and not getting frustrated or emotional about it. When she could do it I went back to serpentines as she felt relaxed doing them. Then we cantered some circles. Which was the only time I cantered the whole weekend. Buck told how Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance said they could get a horse ready for The Cow Palace or The Grand Prix and all they would ever do is walk them and maybe trot a little. When I rode with Jack Brainard he stressed the importance of doing everything very very well at the walk before ever increasing your speed. I must say it was much easier for her to do all of these things without the other horses in the arena. Meaning I have got to have a better connection with her and keep her attention when riding in a crowd.

Sorry didn't like her stall, so I thought I would tire her out some so her stall looked like a pretty good place to rest and it seemed to work for her at least that night. I didn't get supper until 9:30. It is late now, so shutting off the light as I am writing this in bed. I am looking forward to another day tomorrow.

March 12:
Wow, another great day with Buck and the best horse I ever owned, Sorry. If only I could be as good a horsewoman as she needs me to be. I want it so bad, I am desperate to be the best I can be for her. She deserves the best because she has so much natural talent. I want to be able to provide the leadership she needs from me to help her feel secure and be able to stay balanced both physically and mentally so she can do her best and feel good about doing it. I didn't get started as early with her today and didn't do as much ground work. So consequently when I first got on she really needed to move her feet so instead of frustrate her I let her walk her big walk around the arena. Then I added some serpentines and slowing down the walk. Finally I found a good place for her mentally and for us physically in the arena to do some lateral bends while standing still. It was kind of tricky to find a spot, because with 25 riders all warming up it was sort of a circus.

When Buck circled us up he talked to us for quite a while. I wish I could write down everything he said, but it is too much and it is the same philosophy that I already have. However he does speak about it very eloquently, yet with a common sense attitude that is both meaningful and thought provoking. I could listen to him all day. Here are some of the little morsels: less sooner instead of more later; prior preparation is key; feel and timing; reward the slightest try; take the time it takes; get it done even if it means you have to do it ten thousand times; persevere; have a good work ethic; think positive and focus.

After our pep talk he sent us out to do real tight serpentines with lots of bend in the horse. It was hard for everyone to keep their forward impulsion because we kept running into one another. Even Sorry lost hers and that takes some doin' on a horse with a ton of go. She was better to the left than to the right and of course better when we were in a clearing than in a tight group squeezing us. I worked on lots of lateral flexion and soft feel though out the day. In fact every time, we stood still and Buck was talking with us I played around with it.

Sorry was getting better and better, less resistance and oh so pretty on the elevation part. Her vertical and only going 90 degrees is improving also. She gives me so much it nearly breaks my heart. Her try is so awesome. If only I could give her as much each moment that she gives me. My timing still isn't always where it needs to be. I am giving her my whole heart too, but it never seems to be enough. I believe her heart and try is much bigger than mine and my try is pretty determined. She inspires me beyond what words can describe. There is no way I will ever out-grow this horse and Buck pretty much said the same about his horses. That touched me how much he really cares for his horses.

After the small serpentines we started doing the million dollar move. HQ to FQ. Sorry was sticky on the HQ but moving the FQ pretty well but with too much forward and often crossed over behind instead of in front. We just had so much forward motion it was hard to shut the front end down and when I did she got somewhat emotional. She worked up a pretty good sweat, and it was colder than heck in that arena. Everyone was freezing. Buck wanted us to keep the lateral flexion though out this move and I had been practicing it with the head and neck a little straighter, so we had to work at that a little harder than I expected.

Buck observed that people were using their legs too much and dulling the horses so he did an awesome simulation explaining how we brace on one another equally, and the difference when we present the kind of feel with lightness that is effective. I am not going to try to describe the simulation here but want to say that it was a profound one. I have to lick and chew on it more and do it with someone. But the bottom line is if we brace on the horse he will match our brace to balance himself.

Next we let the horses really walk out then offer a soft feel and see how slow we could walk them. I mean barely moving, slow, slow, slow, and when you think you are going slow, go even slower. We were instructed to bring our life down and not just pull on the reins. I already do this all the time, but Sorry was emotional a few times especially in one part of the arena. This was a great exercise for her and it is working great. Since this was my burning question I wanted to ask Buck on the first day, when he asked us what we wanted to learn. I didn't ask my question because I figured he would eventually answer it if I paid attention. And he did. The question was, "How do I slow this horse down without her getting emotional and also not loose my awesome impulsion?" I love the way she walks out, like she really has a job to do, and I never want to loose that. I hate riding a horse who just plods along.

The last exercise we did for the day was to have the horses randomly spread out with four riders trotting around us. They were to stay in the trot and make as many turns as possible, have a good focus, and try to use legs first then reins as a support. Sorry always tried to stop at her buddy the Buckskin, and one horse kicked my stirrup as I rode behind him. Glad it hit me rather than Sorry. She did swing her hind end out too much sometimes, but gave me some nice soft feel and a few good turns with all 4 corners feeling solid. It seemed my turn was shorter than the others, but I am not complaining.

During this exercise while we were sitting still we were instructed to give our horses something else to think about when another horse trotted by and our horse got worried or crabby. Sorry had a few of both at first, but it wasn't long and she wasn't paying the least bit of attention to the horses moving around. She was finally getting connected with me. During this time she gave me some awesome lateral flexion. After I got back from supper I took Sorry out to the arena for a good roll and run. She did lots of both. That horse never gets tired. It took her a while to come to me. As soon as she did I took her back to her stall gave her a good rub down and shed a few tears in her mane because she is such an awesome horse. I don't know what I ever did to deserve such an awesome creature, and I feel so responsible to be the best I can be for her. I hung out with her for quite awhile until I was completely frozen. It was quite a cold weekend.

March 13
Buck said we all have a lot of baggage that we don't need to bring to the horse and stressed how important it is to live in the moment like the horse does. Everyone sat in awe as Buck warmed up his horse both this morning and in the afternoon. It was inspiring to say the least. He is such a beautiful rider and truly soft. Everything looked so effortless. He was basically doing dressage in a western saddle wearing a flat cowboy hat. He has impeccable timing and patience with his horses. He always wants the horse to have a good expression and be relaxed the moment he drops everything to let the horse stand and rest. In other words he doesn't want the horse to be bothered.

He keeps telling us over and over about the importance of life in the feet and to use our legs with the air not on the horses sides to create lightness. He turned us loose to practice the slowing down the walk with a soft feel exercise, expressing again how vital it is for a good canter. Then we added back up 5 forward 5 back, then 4, 3, 2, 1. We worked a lot of million dollar moves, mixing it up with the slow walk, fast walk transitions, backups and serpetines when necessary.

Then we started some leg yields. He said not to come off the rail because most horses want to dive in anyway. We also did a lot of backup then pull the front end through (a slow roll back). When I got my timing with the feet right Sorry crossed in the front but when I got ahead of her she stepped behind and lifted her head up high. I really need to slow down and wait for that foot to come through. Slow down, slow down, slow down, Sherry. You are ahead of her in your timing. She was also yielding to the right better than to the left. My right knee hurts a little tonight. Must have been putting too much pressure on it.

We must have trotted for at least a 1/2 hour doing leg yields across the diagonal of the arena. I was frustrated with the other riders because they couldn't seem to follow the directions. We were to stay single file. They couldn't seem to get the idea of how to rate their horses behind another one. They would let their horse go up the tail of the one in front, pass really close or they couldn't keep their horse going. If they would have just stayed a horse length apart it would have worked. But they did not. It was a very frustrating exercise for me because so many of the people would not stay organized when we were not on the diagonal. So Sorry got a bit emotional too. Plus it was tough in the middle when the lines criss-crossed. But I do like the exercise, if people would just follow the rules. Some just couldn't follow the rules because they didn't have control and others seemed not to care or just didn't get what they were suppose to do to keep it organized.

After break we picked a partner. One person was the cow the other the cow horse. We were to mirror each other like cutting. It didn't go so good for Sorry because the other horse kept crowding us and my timing was off. Before we quit we practiced again on our own all we had done today. Even though Sorry's leg yields and roll backs weren't so good in the group situation, when we were on our own slowing down I was impressed with how the stressful work had improved her yields when the pressure was off. So it was all good. After everyone left I did a little ground work with Sorry, but went back to my cousin's early on Sun. evening to have dinner with them and play with the kids.

I didn't write in my journal after the 4th day, because on the way home I had to pick up a pony for training. It made for a long drive home. Didn't get home until late and every day since I have been working Happy the pony and another training horse named Babe, plus continuing the learning with Sorry. But I will say the 4th day was just as good as the others. Buck did not introduce anything new, we just kept practicing what we had already done, trying to refine it. He is a perfectionist and said he wants his students to be just as good as he is, or even pass him by. But he also said they would be aiming at a moving target, so they better be progressing faster than he is. I love a teacher who is always continuing their own education and striving to be better.

Oh and I almost forgot, a couple of people got bucked off on the fourth day, thankfully it wasn't me. LOL. Don't really know what happened? A horse spooked at who knows what? And from there it was like dominoes falling. Luckily I was at the other end of the arena. And when I heard Buck yell one rein stop, I did it and Sorry stopped turned and faced the dust storm of spooking and bucking horses. She stayed calm and that sure made me happy. Even though that little horse can be a nervous ball of energy at times, she has always stayed with me during some out of control situations (like a cattle drive with bolts of lightening, a covey of quail jumping out in front of her etc.) She seems to be able to keep her head about her. Another reason I think so highly of her.

I am glad I made the effort to go instead of attending the NE Horse Expo this year, and I plan to go ride in another clinic with Buck in CO this summer. The only regret I have is I didn't get any pictures. I can't get enough learning and I am desperate to be the best I can be. I know that takes dedication, perspiration, and perseverance. I am willing to pay the price.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Report Card Time

Picture by James Ingram
Report Card Time
By Sherry Jarvis

Here we are at then end of our series about CAWA. The acronym we have been exploring the last few months in the feature article of the monthly newsletter. We have looked at C-Calmness; A-Attentiveness; and W-Willingness of both the human and the horse. As we arrive at the last desirable character quality I would like you to burn these anchor words into your mind, so that any time you are working with your horse you are giving yourself and your horse a grade in each category.

Observe your horse with keen eyes, scan over his body does he get an A+ or an F for calmness at this moment. Just because he is standing still may not mean he is calm. It could be the calm before the storm. Maybe the horse deserves an A for calmness but he is blowing you off and therefore deserves an F for attentiveness.

Perhaps you deserve an F for attentiveness because your horse may be trying his heart out for you, but you keep pressuring him too hard instead of becoming clearer for him, and then when he finally blows you wonder what happened. You became to direct-lined in your thinking, thus you missed the signs because you were not paying attention to the horse in the right way. Therefore you earned an F in attentiveness and now you are assigned a do-over lesson. You have to start back at the beginning again in order to re-teach the horse in a way that makes sense to him. Sometimes a horse has to do some unlearning of bad habits before you can teach him the new and desirable habits. And sometimes the human has some unlearning to do too! How many do-over lessons do you want to be assigned? Becoming more adaptable in your approach will lead to fewer do-overs.

Then there is the horse which has high marks for calmness and attentiveness, but fails in the willingness department, because you haven’t figured out how to motivate him yet. So he just kind of stands around looking at you with his tongue stuck out at you like “Ha, Ha, bet you can’t make me do that, others have tried and failed, what ya got that they didn’t have?” So don’t forget you might need to be willing to get out of your comfort zone to find ways to help motivate this horse to want to perform for you. As you can see it is a two way street, I am grading myself as well as the horse on how we are doing in each character trait.

Now we come to the last letter of the acronym A-Adaptability. I have never had anyone come to me for help because their horse will do anything they ask calmly, attentively and willingly, no matter how the situation or circumstances change.

Adaptability means being able to adjust or be flexible to changing situations and circumstances. It is the ability to change (or be changed) to fit changed circumstances.

When a person is adaptable and flexible it shows that one can act in a way that encourages change at any or all times. In today’s challenging times, this is more important than ever. A great leader can be many things; but most great leaders do not fall apart when they are faced with change and adversity. They are not so fixated on one way or one thing that they are not willing to explore new ideas and different solutions to old problems. Adapting to a situation, surroundings, culture, or idea does not require you to lose originality but it expects you to assert yourself in a way which makes you welcome to it and the people or in this case the horse involved.

Some consider that a person’s ability to show adaptability and flexibility is essentially a part of their emotional intelligence. I think it also shows a horse’s emotional stability. In leadership development, it is a key quality. It is a common trait that all prospective employers seek when considering candidates for a job.

Being adaptable to change is a very important positive character trait for both the horseman and his horse. To be able to deal with change is necessary, because life doesn't necessarily let us remain in our comfort zone all the time. Regardless of the amount of preparation you’ve had before working with a particular horse, you simply cannot predict everything that may happen now or in the future. I guarantee situations will pop up that you were not expecting. I can’t count the number of times I have heard myself and my clients say, “Hmm, my horse has never done that before. What the heck is going on?”

Those who have learned to adapt to the needs of each individual horse you work with will have better success developing the horse into a working partner. Adaptability is high on the list of top positive character traits for both the horse and rider as without it you won’t be able to make the most of your experiences. Adapting and adjusting is crucial and one should make it their priority as it will be appreciated by your horse. You will also appreciate your horse more when he is adaptable to you, the circumstances you put him in or the situations you end up in together.

A horse that is truly adaptable does not need to loose his high grades in calmness, attentiveness or willingness just because the circumstances change. These are the old trust worthy horses, the tried and true partners, the first ones we always pull out of the corral when we have a serious job to accomplish with no messing around. Mine is Cisco.

A horse is becoming adaptable when we change the context of what we are asking him to do and he can still remain calm, attentive, and willing, or at least he can keep his grade fairly high in each. While a horse is learning to be more adaptable at first he may lower his grade a little in each category, but as he progresses he will eventually be able to hold it together better when we change the context and he may only loose one of those positive qualities. As he becomes more and more adaptable he will be able to sustain his calmness, attentiveness and willingness better and longer each time we change the context. There are many ways we can change the context of a situation for a horse.

The weather: All of a sudden the wind comes up. Does your horse loose his calmness even though you are still asking him to do the exact same thing he was doing a moment ago? If he does, he isn’t very adaptable to weather changes. Last spring students were shocked in the young horse handling class at how calm the colts were even though the wind was blowing about 60mph. It can be done.

The environment: You take your horse to a new arena that is very different from the one he is used to. How often have you heard yourself or someone else say, “My horse never acts this way at home.” Then you have seen the person with the tried and true horse that no matter where they take him he never seems to get unsettled and can do his job in nearly any environment, especially when the person is patient with him and they understand one another.

Other horses coming and going: You are doing a perfectly calm, attentive, willing, little jog trot when your horse’s buddy leaves the arena then suddenly you are on an out of control race horse. What happened to the relaxed willing jog trot? It left when the calmness and attention the horse had on you were replaced by a crazy scared horse with absolutely no attention on you. In fact, he doesn’t even recognize that you are still in his world, the only thing he is paying attention to is his buddy leaving. So he can’t possibly think about a jog trot. It becomes something like a piaffe or maybe even a rear when you try to hold him back from running to be with his buddy. So don’t even think about getting the jog trot back until you get his calmness and attention back. Or what about this scenario? A new horse comes in the arena while you are cantering beautiful collected circles and as the new horse goes by your horse acts up.

Change of Speed or Gait: I have seen some horses that are very willing for the rider at the trot, in fact he will trot along calm and happy for miles, but ask him to canter and all of a sudden the answer is no; he will kick up, turn, speed up or even slow down the trot, he will do just about anything except canter. This is usually a very lazy or spoiled horse. Then there is the opposite a horse that wants to go all the time, as long as he is trotting at a nice clip or even galloping along he is fine, but ask him to walk and the willingness turns into nervous resistance which can result in jigging, rearing, running off and a host of other undesirable behaviors. And what about changing the speed within a gait? A well broke horse stays calm, attentive and willing whether you ask for a slow, medium or fast speed at the walk, trot, or canter. Does your horse loose his calmness or willingness when you ask him to change the speed of a gait, or do you only have one speed within each gait?

Anything new: Like trailers, flags, plastic bags, loud unfamiliar noises, different textures on the ground, going from light to dark places, any small space that makes the horse feel claustrophobic, pigs, birds, deer, and a host of other animals and things too numerous to mention. It is only natural when you ask your horse to do something new that he becomes nervous. However if you can keep the horses attention and give him reasons to be willing, like rewarding the slightest try, using approach and retreat, then your horse can become more adaptable to new things. How often I have had people call me up because they got a new horse trailer and they can’t get the horse in the trailer. They usually say, “He loaded in my old trailer, just fine.” It is sort of humorous if you think about it. We spend all this money on a brand new trailer and our horse doesn’t appreciate it one bit. The fact is the more adaptable your horse becomes the quicker and easier it is to introduce him to new things.

I found it interesting that when I looked up the word adaptability in a thesaurus some related words were; pliability, suppleness, bendiness, softness and an antonym was rigidity. Who doesn’t want a horse that is pliable, supple, soft, and bends easily in your hands? We all know we can get a lot more done with a horse like that no matter what discipline we choose. And what horse likes a rider who is rigid in their riding posture and heavy handed making it physically difficult for the horse to be pliable, supple, and soft?

When we are too rigid in the rules of engagement we can become dictators to the horse causing him to be less willing and adaptable in his mind. On the other hand by being a flexible yet reliable and assertive leader we allow and encourage the horse to become a willing partner that is calm, attentive and adaptable. This kind of working relationship is valued and enjoyed by both the horse and his rider.

What does your report card look like, are you calm, attentive, willing, and adaptable when working with your horse? Or are you unconfident, unobservant, stubborn, and rigid? What does your horse’s report card look like? Is it fairly steady or does he go from A’s to F’s too frequently? If so, then my advice is to be more consistent. Consistency is one of the greatest keys to good training. There is a huge difference between consistency and rigidity. Consistency is reliable, even, regular, and steady, where rigidity is severely strict, harsh, rigorous, and stiff. My way or the highway kind of thinking.

So be firm but fair, be soft but not a sponge, be particular but not critical, be determined yet flexible, and most of all be balanced. In other words don’t swing the pendulum too far to one side or the other. Oh and keep a light heart too, it’s fine to take your horsemanship seriously but remember it can and should be fun too, which is why my slogan is Happy Horses, Happy People. You can’t very well have one without the other.

If you missed the other feature articles about CAWA you can read them on my blog, or I am working on another book, and I will go into these principles even deeper with exercises to reinforce them. However, I have no idea when it will be finished because my schedule is so busy right now. But I will keep working on it. Another way to learn more is at one of the summer horsemanship camps, regular private lessons, or schedule Sherry to come to your area for a clinic. The 2011 schedule is quite full, but we will do our best to fit you in. Go to our website to learn more.