Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Herd dynamics, pleasant riding, and emergency dismounts

So the first thing I did today was learn about herd dynamics.
It's kind of like dominoes. If you tip the first one, all of the others end up moving too.
First we went out into the big pasture that is full of mares, and we stood. Two of the more dominant mares came up and sniffed me. Bo (ddranch) showed me how interacting with a lower on the totem pole horse will sometimes cause the higher on the pole ones to come and push away the lowers. He showed me how they will just start walking, and how the followers will move out of the way, or be moved.
Later in the evening, before I left, he had me chase Solomon off his flake for a moment, and of course Solomon then chased the 3 year old off HIS flake. When I moved off, Solomon reclaimed his flake. He then showed me the same thing with the big herd. And again it was like dominoes. One horse gets moved, and she moves another horse, who moves another, on down until you get a horse who will allow the approaching horse to share with her. Perhaps at some point we will see how Solomon does in a herd of mares, but it's tricky.

Sometime soon, the 3 year old will be moved, and another young gelding will come in and stay with Solomon for a while. Then Solomon will have, hopefully, another friend, and we will continue to build a herd that he is compatible with.

Putting him in with another alpha type of gelding would be war. We do not want gelding wars. There are no cash prizes for Gelding Gladiators, only a rise in Neosporin stock values.

Soon a couple of horses that are boarding at the ranch will move out, which will free up another pasture. Then it will be easier to rotate horses through the various pastures. We discussed the fact that Solomon is going to have to get bigger turnout soon. He'll cope, and he is much happier in the big paddocks than he would ever be in a mare motel, but if too much time goes by without him being able to run around free, the weaving will start, and it'll escalate from there.

There's a pasture that they could go into now, but it is far too lush. Bo only wants any horse to be in there for an hour at most. There is so much tasty stuff that a horse could colic himself on it easily. So it will get grazed down bit by bit. And it won't be too long before it dries up and dies. California is the golden state, and the grasses turn quickly.

Next we discussed lateral flex and vertical flex. We discussed bend, and how to make a horse "supple." We discussed how the rein tying helps a horse learn to flex and bend, and how it can lead to better rollbacks. A horse who works cattle needs to be able to pivot on his hind end. Also, it helps prepare the horse for loping witht he proper lead and sidepassing. (I hope that I got that right!)
A little more on the phrase "you can't get vertical flex without first getting lateral flex."
If you pull back on the reins with an untrained horse, he is likely going to throw his head up and back. You have a lot less control when the pressure of the bit is on the corners of the mouth than it is on the part of the mouth that the bit rests on when a horse is properly collected. It is also not good for the horse to throw up his head and hollow out his back while working. While Western style riding involves a neck that is a little longer and lower and less arched than, say, Dressage, the head still needs to be at the proper angle. If you first start by teaching the horse to bend his head down and to the side, then you can teach the horse how to hold his head, and when asked he will collect instead of throw his head back.

Here is Vinnie, who is an old hand. I don't know if this is perfect, and photos are only a moment in time, not an entire training experience, but you can see that he is doing much better at this whole vertical flex thing than Ol' Solly was:

Vinnie will figure in to today's story a little later on. I just wanted to have a less-fragmented explanation. I am not explaining it entirely well, and there is a lot that I am not certain how to explain or describe, but hopefully this makes sense!

So. Back to the stars of our little digital show.

Solomon and the bay were lead out. This time, the bay came out first. The bay was tied up first. The bay was tacked up first. And Solomon, he said, "hey! Hey! I should be getting the attention! I should be tacked up!" Aha! Jealousy. Jealousy is a great teacher. Thim about Huck Finn and the fence that needed whitewashing. Solomon wants to be first. Always first. And if the other horse is getting the attention by getting tacked up, then by the gods Solomon wants to get that attention!

So. On went the blanket. On went the saddle. No problem at all. Funny how that works, eh?

So Bo rode the little bay gelding. He showed me loping. He showed me how you can touch the right side of a horse's neck and put a little leg on the right side to get him to step left without turning. He showed me how you signal a fast-moving horse to stop, with just a light touch of the reins, the verbal command "WHOA" or "HO," the back straightened, pelvis tilted, and the legs stiffened a bit, out away from the horse and a little forward. He showed me stopping at a fence. A bit of a sliding stop, though the bay is still learning.

Then at one point while Bo was telling me something, a great gust of wind blew that flappy paper that had spooked Sol a few days ago, and something loud and metal slammed against it with a *CLANG*!

That's when I got to see an emergency dismount. Very educational. The horse spooked and kind of bucked, and started to fall over. Well, sitting a horse through a fall probably means a broken leg, so Bo bailed out. Silly bay was stumbling, trying to regain his balance even after Bo had dismounted, and was stumbling sideways towards Bo, who was rolling himself out of the way. Oh man was I scared for him! But he was okay!

Solomon was busy eating grass through the entire thing.

Bo, I do believe, got back on that horse and rode him some more. Cowboyed up, as it were.

Then it was Solomon's turn.

Oh no! Look out! Loose horse!

Well okay, Solomon didn't care that he could run anywhere. He had green grass. He had is buddy. He even had mom right there. He didn't want to stop grazing, but...

On went the bridle.

This time, mounting happened with very little drama. A bit of turning, but not much, and then Solomon gave up. And away we went! The bay was pretty tired out and pokey at this point.

Here you can kind of hear Bo talking about training posture versus riding posture. He isn't so much worried about having perfect equitation and looking good here as he is getting Solomon to do what he asks without a fight, and getting Solomon to relax and maybe even enjoy being ridden. Right now, it's all about getting Solomon where he needs to be in order for him to be a safe beginner's therapy horse.
You can get a little glimpse of his jog, too!

You can also hear him talking about "direct rein."
There are a number of different ways to signal to a horse where to go with reins. There is neck reining, where you are holding the reins, usually with one hand, and you move your hand just a little bit towards the direction you want the horse to turn. the rein may touch the neck on the opposite side, so it will touch the left side of the horse's neck when you want the horse to turn right... though with a really sensitive horse you don't need to do so. You can signal just with your pinky finger! In fact, Bo showed this to me with Solomon.
Then there's your basic direct rein, which is where you start as a beginner or with a green horse, where you pull on the right rein, pulling it towards you to get the horse to turn right. With direct reining, you ride two-handed. Now think about some advanced working horse disciplines. If you are throwing a rope at a cow, you need a hand free. If you are swinging a sword in the middle of a battle, you are going to need a hand free to hold that sword. You aren't going to have the luxury of really direct contact on the bit with two hands. You need a horse to be really sensitive to little signals while you're using your main hand for something else.
And out on the trail, it's nice to be able to, say, pull out your camera from the horn bag and take some pictures.
If the horse is unruly, however, you might need to use direct rein to get him under control.
Solomon sometimes needs direct rein, but he prefers a very light touch.

Okay, turn the sound way down for this one. Today was a very windy day.

Here you can see Solomon out on the road. He's pretty relaxed, but also very curious about his surroundings. He's looking around a lot. And you know, this is okay. As Bo said, "we aren't at a show."
He is doing what he is being asked to do. He's relaxed and kind of enjoying himself. It's okay that he's looking at the cows and the flowers. Right now we aren't working on correcting every little thing. Right now we're working on finding his joy.

We got farther down the road today than we did last time.

When we stopped, Solomon got a little reward. He got to graze for a moment.

Turning around and heading back, Solomon behaved very differently. He wanted to run! He wanted to just jump over the barbed wire fence to get closer to the mare pasture! He wanted to do things on his own time. He got mad about being made to slow down. So Bo dismounted and walked verrrrry slowly. And stopped. And we got to stand there for a little while. And then walk slowly again. Then Bo re-mounted. He did this a couple of times.

Incidentally, the bay was also not pleased with the stopping, though he was okay with going slowly. I was paying attention to Bo and Sol, and not paying attention to the little gelding at all, and got nipped in the stomach. BAD HORSE! So then I got to work on keeping the horse out of my face, hah. Little bugger. He's not going to get me again. If I pay attention, that is.

Back at the ranch, we discovered part of Solomon's behavioral problem...

I'd ridden him on the gravel road, in the arena, and on the bridle path. I had hand-grazed him on the grass. I had not ridden him on the grass. As far as he was concerned, roads were for riding, and grass was for grazing. Being asked to work on the grass was just not PROPER in his mind! Oh no, he should be grazing! Walking out away from the ranch he was calm as can be. No ear pinning. No crow-hops. No squeals. It isn't a pain issue, though we haven't entirely ruled out pain, as he has a number of old injuries. This behavior, however? Environmental, and in his head. The environment being the grass, and the head being his concept of what being on grass is all about.

Bo put it this way.
"Say you have been stranded on an island for a year. All you've had to eat is bananas and coconuts. And then you get rescued. And I take you to an all-you-can-eat buffet. This buffet is huge, it just goes on and on with every kind of food you can think of. You're so hungry. And I'm asking you to do math problems. You aren't going to be focusing on math!"

So the little bay gelding was tied, and Bo dismounted, handing Sol's reins to me. We were standing in the middle of the gravel road. Bo had to drive a load of wood from one place to another and told me to just stand there with him. Stand quietly, and not let him move. There was grass to either side of us, but not in reach, and Solomon was Not Happy.
Pulling away towards the grass just put pressure on him from the bit. Well, that was no good. So he tried shoving at me with his head. I put my hand out and stopped him. He kept trying.
"See, he's begging now. He doesn't have anything else to do, and he's gotten away with it too much. So he's begging. He's wanting his old mom back who lets him get away with that stuff. He's convinced that his job is to be lead around with the lead rope, with you letting him graze, and him getting brushed and told how wonderful he is."
He also told me that Solomon was an anticipator. All horses are to a degree, but Solomon anticipates a lot. He needs to learn to think "what are we going to do next" instead of "oh no next I am going to get hit" or "next we're going to stop and I am going to eat that grass!"
It was time for a lesson in patience. Solomon and the little bay gelding were tied to the trailer, still wearing their saddles, though the girth was loosened a bit I think.
Oh yeah, I bought some clothing that wasn't black. It gets hot up there! Not entirely flattering, but nice and cool temperature-wise. The horses don't care if I'm wearing fitted clothing, hah! So here we are. If I am going to post all these pictures of Bo, it's only fair that I post at least one with me.

Those horses got to stand tied for 40 minutes or so.

Solomon did quite well. He relaxed into it and dozed. The LBG was quite unhappy, and he jigged around and pooped a lot. He also whinnied a fair amount. The amusing thing is that the LBG has this low rumbly call, whereas Solomon's is high and piping... Sol's whinny is one of the highest pitched calls I've heard come out of a horse. His squeals are exceptionally high. Bo and his wife got to hear Solomon's squeals echoing through the hills last night, as LBG tried to nip his butt probably 10 times an hour at least. Hey, it gives him something to do! And Solomon is not weaving or pacing.
LBG is also learning to back off and not mess with the leader. Solomon is doing a bit of training too!

"Okay," said Bo, "let me show you a really good, well-behaved horse!"

Let's pause for a moment.

You know Murphy's Law? Anything that can go wrong, will? Well there's a special law to add on to that which applies to domesticated animals. That law is, "the animal in question will do the trick in question perfectly until you try to show him off."

Somehow, they know. Don't believe me? Oh, sometimes they'll behave in front of an audience, sure, but sometimes... sometimes they do not.

The other law is one that I am going to coin here, and apply directly to riding a horse: "Shortcuts: it's a long way down."

Remember Vinnie from up there? The paint gelding with lots of chrome? (That being, really tall white socks.) The one who has his head set so nicely. Well he hadn't been ridden in a while, and the roundpenning Bo did before riding was not very long. Vinnie did well at first under saddle, but he was just a little too hot I guess, or maybe it was the woodpecker that was divebombing him. Yeah, that could have been why he started bucking.

Now, Solomon's bucks so far have just been tiny little crow-hops. His feet go maybe 4 or 5 inches off the ground. Vinnie's buck, however... you know those rodeo bucking horses? He'd be GREAT at that job. Oh yeah. Nasty nasty buck. And apparently once he gets started, he's not going to stop until you are off. And you will get off his back.
Bo is an excellent horseman and a great rider. He stayed on for an impressively long time. He also chose the moment of his departure from Equine Air. Grabbed the rail and Vinnie kept going while Bo did not. This was strategically timed to avoid him getting crushed between rail and horse.
Bo's wife says that she always works the horse in the roundpen for a while to see where his head is at before getting on, unless she's riding that horse every single day... then maybe not always. But with a horse who has not been ridden for two weeks, yes.
Do not think, gentle reader, that he is foolish. No one can predict sudden clanging metal or divebombing woodpeckers. I mean, one does not generally ride in one's roundpen and think "a big red, black and white woodpecker is going to suddenly dive out of that oak tree at my horse, which will leave him more than a little bit peeved."
If anything, his ability to come out of both of these incidents relatively unscathed is a testament to his skill. He was grazed with a hoof when he bailed out off the LBG, but I tell you what, someone who was not so quick would have gotten stomped. Not because the LBG wanted to stomp anyone, mind. He was just having trouble regaining his balance. Horses can be incredibly doofy. I learned something from both incidents, however, and they were valuable lessons.

1) it's better, if possible, to choose when you remove your bottom from the saddle, than to get thrown or crushed in a situation that cannot be set right in the saddle.
2) once you hit the ground, roll away from that horse.
3) work a horse that hasn't been ridden for a while before getting on his back
4) be prepared for the unexpected. If you ride horses, you're going to hit the dirt at some point. That can come on pretty suddenly... as quick as a diving woodpecker. It's like riding a motorcyle... it isn't a matter of IF you will drop your bike. It's only a matter of WHEN.
5) Sometimes horses are like bureaucrats. To get what you want, you sometimes have to make it more work for them to NOT do what you ask than if they DO do what you ask. Which leads us back to Vinnie.

Vinnie got to lope and do a LOT of rollbacks. Hard work, good training, good exercise, it engages the horse's mind, and it tires him out.

Then he got back on and rode him some more. Vinnie was well behaved then. That's another key thing. If the horse is bad, don't reward him by letting him get out of work. Then he'll learn "hey, this gets me out of work" and he'll do it again. Cowboy up. If nothing's broken anyway.

Sooo let's see. What else?

Solomon was standing tied, nice and quiet, and he got to go back into his stall for a bit. I mentioned that one of his back legs went in a lot when he walked, and it seemed that his heel was higher on the inside than the outside. So Solomon got a little trim on his back feet.

He has a lot of old injuries. There may come a time when we'll need to shoe him. Not yet though.

His fetlock on his right hind sort of pops outwards when he puts his foot down. It isn't supposed to do that. It's supposed to go forward and backward, not side to side, and it isn't supposed to be stiff or pop. We will have to keep an eye on that. So far it doesn't really seem to bother him. It's an old injury, probably from his Charro days. He's full of old injuries. Poor baby. I wish that I could have gotten him at age 3 instead of 17. I wish I could have protected him his entire life and saved him from all the abuse he lived through. What a horse he would have been! But he is still Solomon, and a wonderful boy. As Bo says, "that's the thing about rescues, it'll break your heart." But he's my boy, and I love him, flaws and all. And isn't that what it's all about?


spazfilly said...

I really love all the detail you share in your posts, especially now that you've got Solly in training. It sounds like you and Sol both are getting a lot of valuable knowledge from working with Bo.

Anonymous said...

"Putting him in with another alpha type of gelding would be war. We do not want gelding wars. There are no cash prizes for Gelding Gladiators, only a rise in Neosporin stock values."


Also LOL @ the divebombing woodpecker. Whodathunk.

Evergrey said...

Glad you enjoy it! :D

Haha yeah, they really do make a sound that is kind of like Woody Woodpecker. And it's just this black and white and red streak that comes diving down, and you are thinking "WHAT" and then bam.

Extra excitement- it is spring and the woodpecker in question probably has chicks, so we can expect more divebombing, probably. Those wacky corvids!

And the tree is the one right next to the round pen.

BuckdOff said...

Evergrey, A great and very interesting read...Remember, I told you that you'd be an excellent writer? You are...Yay, Solly and DD Ranch..So, pretty there too.

Evergrey said...

Thank you so much!

Ya know, off and on I think that maybe I could turn this into a book someday.