Well gee, I didn't know I had (a) fan(s)!!! I thought I just sat here writing for my own benefit and tossing it out into space. I will hereinafter try to be more diligent about posting. Lasell, I know I owe you a report on the Dan Sumerel clinic. I will get something written up soon, I promise. Shez, I understand your frustration with delivery services. Of course, it never occurred to me to put special instructions on the package, duh! I will try that next time, but as you said, there is no guarantee that they actually read it or follow through with it. Funder, I will try to keep updated more often, I promise ;-) I just checked your blog briefly, I love FHOTD, too. I don't agree with 100% of what she says, but most of it I do, and she has a unique way of putting it. I've been trying to keep up on her VLC blog, too, because I am in a similar situation, except that I am doing exactly what she says you shouldn't do. A greenie training a greenie, but it sure isn't for lack of trying. Congratulations on passing the Bar! In my other life, B.C. (Before Children), I was an office manager and legal assitant. I worked for, hmmm, 3 attorneys offices over the years. The first one was, ummmm, interesting, and that attorney now has quite the reputation in the area. The second was for a very, very large firm, there were over 100 attorneys at the time, I have no idea how many they have now. It is one of the biggest and oldest firms in Connecticut. The third and final one was for a Labor and Employment, and Workers' Compensation firm. The owner/managing partner was one of the attorneys I was assigned to at the big firm, and when he left to open his own firm, I went along with him. Then I had kids, and he moved to a bigger office in the City which was too far for me to be away from the kids, so here I am, working part-time for the firehouse, lol!
Anyway, so I have made an agreement with myself that I will ride Lakota at least 3 times per week, and more if possible. I think I've been doing pretty good. Since I started this 2 weeks ago, we have had some great improvements. For those that don't know, I bought Lakota 6 years ago. She was uncatchable for at least a year, and pretty unreliable after that. After rereading emails from the seller, and reading between the lines, she pretty much stood out and made babies (with her half brother) ("she's an excellent broodmare, she foals out in the field on her own". She wore a halter 24/7 ("she wears a halter fine"), and was caught for deworming and vaccinating ("she is up to date on deworming and shots" -- "we haven't had time to mess with her"), and that's it. She never had her hooves trimmed ("she wears her feet perfectly!"). And these people rescued her from someone who wasn't feeding them and was abusive! I guess that would explain why she is 14.2, and her sire is 15.2H and her dam is 15H.
Anyway, got off on a little rant there, sorry. So the first year, 2003, I pretty much worked on Lakota being caught consistently, getting her feet trimmed, and letting me touch her. The second year we worked on refining those things, so they could be done in a relaxed manner, rather than her bracing and worrying. Then we started some roundpen relationship stuff (Dan Sumerel), and backed her in 2005. In 2006 I started riding her in the roundpen a bit, and brought her to a friends place for her to be ridden for a month. I'm not sure how much she actually was ridden, she seemed pretty much the same when I brought her home again. So we just continued on. In 2007 she was doing well, and I brought her out to the trails. Apparently I missed a big step, and she got very unconfident and worried with me on her back. She was fine being led, but being ridden was just too much for her out in the big scary world. So I brought her to another trainer last August for another 30 days. Again, I'm not sure how much riding she had. She never got out of the arena, I know that. And I made appointments to come watch her riding twice a week during that month. And I saw ONE session in those 30 days. It seems that the trainer was always too busy, or somewhere else, or just not around when I came, even though it was a preset day and time. She could very well have been ridden 5 days a week as she was supposed to, but its kind of hard to believe it when you show up at a predesignated day and time, and nobody is there, at all.
So I brought her home, and Lakota was very, very uptight and worried. She wouldn't even let me touch her. I treated her for ulcers, and within 3 days she was back to her old sweet self. I pretty much left her alone for the winter, and started up again this spring. And here we are!!!
I had always been in a 3 steps forward, 2 steps back back rut. So my very good friends on the naturalhorsemanshiphaven yahoo group convinced me that I really need to be more consistent. Between weather, lack of a good safe place to ride, job, kids, and just life in general, I had been very inconsistent in working with Lakota. I have no arena, no field, and only a very small outdoor roundpen to work in, that gets deep in mud in the rain. Its really only safe for working at a walk, maybe a slow jog if the footing is really, really good, but that hasn't been the case in probably 8 or 9 months now. So that was my excuse for not "just doing it". Well, now I'm "just doing it", at a walk, but at least its something. So Lakota will now stay on the rail (mostly) rather than cutting the corners or floating around. She stops on a breath out (mostly, except when she gets worried). She steers on just my focus, and she'll walk-on with just a "life up" from me. We can now do figure 8's and serpentines. I'm sure they are nowhere near perfect, but they are becoming softer and softer. I recently progressed to riding her out of the roundpen. This was a big issue for her. She feels safe in the roundpen. Taking her out of it gets her emotions up, and she gets worried. This is a horse that did nothing but stand around in a field making babies until she was 7. She has no life experience to call upon, she didn't get exposed to anything new before she was 7. She is also a lead mare, so she is responsible for keeping the herd safe. And she is a mother, so she must be hyper-aware to keep her babies safe. Lakota is learning to put that trust in me.
So we recently started riding out of the roundpen. When I tried this last year, she would stop dead at the threshold and flat out refuse to walk out the gate. She would avoid it, turn at the last second, or if I managed to get her facing the gate straight-on, she would just plant her feet, or walk backwards when I asked for forward. A benefit to this is that I am learning how she will react to different scary things. I've learned that when she gets scared or spooked, she plants her feet and stares, and she may blow or snort. If she can't see something, it worries her. If she knows what it is, she can easily look then move on. It is the unknown that upsets her. When she gets an attitude and doesn't want to do something, she gets bargey and girder-necked and will plow through my aids. A vibrating rein gets her attention. If she gets a little emotional, a one-rein stop calms her down. If she is refusing to go forward, she goes backward. This is definately a preferance over rearing or bucking when I insist, so I'll take it!
We've been working on softening and suppling, relaxed circles, bending to the circle. We've been practicing one rein stops, and whoaing (these are very important to me!) We practice "giving to the bit" (even though she hates a bit, so we use a Bitless Bridle), and relaxing her neck/poll and dropping her head. We've been working on "default is do nothing" (don't do anything until or unless I ask). That's a hard concept for my ADD girl. All these things have softened her up enough that I've been able to ride her out the gate of the roundpen. The first time, she was a bit anxious, but at least we got out the gate. I just asked her to continue doing the same thing we were doing inside, and this relaxed her a quite bit. Lakota seems to need a lot of repetition of something for her to relax and "get over it". When our circle turns toward the long driveway that faces the road, she would get lookey-loo about it, but is now coming back to me and softening her neck rather than bracing to she can continue staring. We are now doing soft circles and figure 8's outside the pen, between the barn, pen, backhoe and driveway. This area is also gravel, so much better to work on when the ground is wet than the soft loom of the roundpen, which becomes deep mud when its wet (which has been pretty much since February).
My hope is that as we continue to do different things, that push her buttons a bit, and she lives through them, softens to them and relaxes, she will figure out that she survived. The human was right, it wasn't really all that bad at all, and the next time, it will get easier, and easier, and easier to try new and scary things, because we are only building on the past experience of living through it. She should gain confidence in me, and learn that I will not ask her to do something that could hurt or kill her. I will not ask her to do something that will scare the crap out of her.
So, that is our journey. We may not make it back out to the trails this year. I want to take it slow, and keep her soft and relaxed. I am working on the barn side of the pen now, I want to progress to the "yard" side of the pen, with more scary stuff. The neighbors, their kids, the road, flapping laundry, the garden, the dogs, the house and the deck of the house that is littered with "stuff". There is also a path in the woods behind our house. I would like to at least take her for hand-walks out there by the end of the summer. Its not safe for riding, I need to spend more time up there cleaning up broken, rusted, downed barbed wire, and some low-lying tree branches. We do have sort of permission to be on that property, though I haven't specifically asked about riding horses there. And the guy that owns it, owns it for hunting, so fall time is out, pretty much October through December, which is the best riding time here in Connecticut :-(
Here are a couple of photos from yesterday