Thursday, April 25, 2024

Quick Thinking and Quick Feet

Goggles and I made it down to JT's for a jump lesson on Monday morning. I was delighted to find the jumps still in the arena. They had been there 8 days ago when I went to watch a friend's jump lesson, but because the footed arena is also the dressage arena, jumps move in and out. But we got to do it! 

We started with the long approach to the diagonal green, then right hand turn to the long approach to the blue crossrail oxer. Then left all the way around the ring to the short approach to the diagonal green and around short approach to the blue crossrail oxer. We trotted in to all of these. He wanted to pick up the canter the first few times but then settled into a nice trot rhythm. Then we added in the bending line from the short approach green vertical to the green vertical on the quarter line followed by right hand turn to blue bending line. The first time through I didn't ride him to any particular spot and we hit the blue oxer at a half stride. He politely chipped and still went willingly. The next time I rode him up to the spot with a bit more of a forward canter and he got there very nicely! It was really, really good for me to have the corners and things to do. It kept me landing and thinking and therefore kept him focused and doing productive things with his time rather than screwing around because I hadn't given him direction. 

Then we added in the one stride, sneaking both ways around the first vertical so we did just the one stride first. He again was quite polite and trotted in, did the one stride, and cantered out. He did sort of carry on (thank you kind dressage judge for my new phrase for bucking lol) in the corner after once, but came back to me very quickly. And I'm getting much better at sitting, stopping the screwing around, and then kicking him forward. Finally we put it all together and added the 5 to the 1. He clobbered the first jump the first time because he was staring at a horse in the distance. But he didn't land bucking and still let me ride him forward to the one, so that was nice. He knocked it again the second time because he was behind my leg because he was pooping. The third time was the charm and he did a lovely 5 to 1. Then we put it together with the blue bending line around to the 5 to the 1. He was absolutely super, so we finished on that. 

The past two lessons it has felt like all the homework we have been doing has been paying off. He's let me keep him in the trot to the base of the fences and when he's cantering things, he's being polite about it and keeping a relatively steady rhythm without rushing. I vaguely remember a similar (but much earlier LOL) point in Yoshi's journey where it seemed like he suddenly understand not just the over-under-through, but understood that I had to have some input and that a steady rhythm was very much desired. 

On the way home, he marched RIGHT onto the trailer. I had opened the door to find him actually eating his hay when we arrived, so I was already encouraged, and then he led straight in without hesitation for the way home. Who is this horse!?!? And did I end up with a F-you 4's instead of F-you 5? Although I'm sure saying these things means we're going to hit another step back soon... 

He solidified that he is in fact a grown up now on Tuesday when we went schooling at Majestic. He loaded up easily, chilled in the field by himself initially and then showed only mild interest when another horse arrived and then left to school. 

So profesh

I had gotten new correct connect reins. They replaced some short crappy ones I'd dug out of my tack trunk after retiring a pair of year old Plymouth Smart Pak ones that were looking sketch AF already. I like a lot of smart pak brand items but hadn't done strap goods before and don't think I will again. My left middle finger joint between my MC and P1 has been super sore lately so I thought the correct connect would be handy (haha...) Anyways, I thought I saw online the correct connect came with rein stops so I didn't actually check. They didn't. Womp womp. JT removed my running because "I like you and don't want you to die." And I didn't actually miss it because holy shit, Goggles new grown up leaf continued. 

We stuck mostly to entry fences and mostly to trotting them. It was such a productive schooling though. I started out wanting to really duck up his neck a stride early, dunno where that new stunt came from, but JT sorted that out pretty quickly. The goal the whole time was positive forward thinking. We made him sniff a spooky white top cabin but decided we'd bring AT back to hop him around some of the scarier stuff the first time. But he did all the entry fences and a few BN very willingly. He chilled with friends but was also happy to leave them or be left. He was so relaxed I kicked my feet out of my stirrups while we walked between areas on the course. 

Again, loads to work on, mostly positive feeling ride to the fence, keeping his feet moving at the same tempo to the base of the jump, and keeping his shoulders and balance up, but my gosh did it feel great to go out there with a relaxed, confident horse. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

We are what we repeatedly do

Goggles and I have a relatively long saga of sorta kinda tackling trailer loading: 

Existing near the trailer

But when he moved back to JT's in August I started ignoring it as a problem. He went XC schooling but rode with a friend's horse on her trailer and then existed at a show with a friend on JT's trailer. So he had a couple of positive experiences with a reliable friend, but since the first target training session where he (mostly) got over his fear of the actual trailer itself, the issue has been more prominent solo. I think it is two-fold - the trailer takes him away from where his friends are - and he has to exist solo while travelling. 

In January, he moved up close to my house and close to the GY's who are generous in letting me use their farm as a home base for things like chiro, dressage lessons, and farrier appointments that Ben and Goggles share. I thought the frequent, short trips would be curative on their own. But that's what I thought, not what Goggles thought. My husband joined in on this as a project, and we started tackling it mostly with good 'ole repetition. The first couple of sessions we worked on "trailer" as a verbal cue for going in all the way and then "back" as a cue to have him exit before he decided he was exiting. After two sessions like that, we upped the ante and then closed the butt bar and forced him to find his own calm. He actually had us cracking up because he had a mini temper tantrum. He pawed a few times, tried to crane his head around both ways, and stared out the door with lots of angst. 

Then he started angry eating his hay. He loooooooves orchard above all else, so that's what is in the trailer. He flung large chunks of it at us and made some indignant faces still. Once he blew his nose several times and softened his eye a little bit, we let him out and then gave him a quick break and put him back on once more without closing anything in and then ended the session on that positive note. He actually did a little tiny, high-pitched, indignant SQUEAL when I put him back in his field. I am never unclear on this horse's feelings.

We hit it several days a week for two weeks, and he improved. He still wasn't marching straight into the trailer, but he would pause, I'd let him sniff a couple of times, and then he'd go on. So we started going places again, and he went backwards (figuratively and literally). He started taking longer and longer each time. A few trips, I recruited someone behind him to drag the carrot stick on the ground in a snaking motion. This worked, but after getting him on this way and driving him to the GY's, I found him sweat soaked for the first time with bars over the window of the trailer bent, indicating he had SLAMMED his butt into them at some point. 

Enter the cowboy. His method involves standing at the corner of the ramp and trailer, and focusing on straightness. He closed up the escape door and said when those are open they're not going into the trailer, they're going out the door. He also said there are "get tos" and "got tos" and until he is completely confident in the trailer, only "got to" trips are allowed. There are three lines - the comfort line, the try line, and then 1 mm forward of the try line, the fear line. His goal is to move all three lines so far forward that they are well past the nose of the trailer. Goggles was kept straight by a combination of a "rainbow" move with the carrot stick on my side of the ramp, and a gentle flexion with the fingers for the nose and a tapping on the line with the stick for the haunches on the far side of the ramp. Forward motion is requested by "livening up" and turning myself towards the trailer, and then pausing to give him a chance to react before driving forward with light taps of the stick behind the withers. Before he can be asked to step forward further into the trailer, he has to have taken a step back or at least been asked to. If he does it on his own (ie hokey pokey foot forward then back) then that counts. But if he hasn't, then shake the line up and down until he steps back. There is a try line for each foot and for the nose, a more confident step is also a new try. Any try he gives, you stop asking for forward motion. At one point he'd given us the same try line about four times and the cowboy said it was time to push a bit further and keep asking for a new try. This led to some angsty feelings, but those feelings are never to be met by angst on my part. Straightness was paramount, and then a new try. The cowboy ended up taking over at that point because things were happening too quickly for my slow reaction times (just butt and head going in different directions, out of our narrow, straight runway), but then next time we hit the point, Goggles was much more subdued in his reactions and gave a new try. It was like he was relieved that the MAIN focus was on straight and he could in fact just more a front foot another inch forward and then he was given a break. 

Eventually Goggles had head and shoulders into the trailer and our two hour session was up. I was given the tools to continue this on my own, but... I still believe that 90% of the trailering problem is a herd bound problem that will reappear the second the trailer leaves the farm. The cowboy's answer was that when he gets off the trailer, the session isn't over. As he backs off, he has to stay straight, and then he is kept straight to the trailer until he relaxes and shows the "4 C's" that we aim for in everything - confident, connected (to you and the environment), communicating, and calm. 

While he became more reliable loading by leading him in after this and had a positively pleasant and chill experience with Ben at the schooling show, I still found myself sitting in a rocking trailer a few days after the show, typing up part of this lengthy blog post. Expectations being the devil that they are, I had expected to start with a relatively chill horse on the trailer and then drive him a few feet. I'd even thought I'd planned for success: load him further away from the barn and then drive the 200 yards to the barn to unload him "at home". He walked right on. But then proceeded to have a two hour temper tantrum. I picked up rocks in the future arena, I scrolled through my phone, I stared temperamentally at him. 

He danced forward and back, craned his head around, pawed, and repeatedly turned his head sideways, anxiously chewing with his mouth. He ignored the hay and the water bucket and did everything he could to try to leave. I had put the ramp up but hadn't closed the escape door. Two hours in, my "loads of time before I have to leave for work" had vanished, and I was wondering how to end on a positive note. I had inadvertently pushed him way past the fear line and was using the equivalent to the cry it out method. The cowboy had before said there wasn't anything wrong with that method when it came to having him exist in block one faaaaarrr away from the other horses. But had also cautioned that I'd better have all day because if it took six hours and I gave in at five, the next time was gonna by seven hours. 

I ended up standing in the front portion with him and insisting on relative stillness. He could stomp his feet, but no pawing and no rocking forwards and back. He actually responded well and ate a few bites of hay. I called it quits and tossed him back out in the pasture so I could rush home and then rush to work. 

Two days later, I picked it back up again. I started by putting him all the way in straight out of the pasture using my usual leading in method. I didn't close the butt bar and just backed him out again once he walked all the way forward. I was relieved to note it didn't take very long to get him in even after the meltdown two days prior. Then I rode and we worked on canter transitions and getting all his parts straight in the canter. He was pretty tired by the end of it. I walked him on to the trailer again, still tacked up, and then backed him out and got him hosed off. 

I worked on block one while he dried, which really just amounts to standing around these days. He knows exactly how long the rope is and doesn't pull. He also knows better than to come into my space, so he eats and I... Take pictures and think meditative thoughts? Lol. 

After ten minutes I put him through the rest of the blocks- line up behind me, shoulders and then hips, go forward, back up, etc. Then we walked over to the trailer. 

Compared to the session with the cowboy, he was taking WAY more confident steps on. He also went halfway on before he accepted my invitation to take a step back before  I asked for a forward step again. 

My view

Eventually, within 15 minutes or so, he was calm AND all the way in. He sniffed things for a little bit once he made it all the way in. He backed out but then went smoothly back in within a minute or two. Then he stood and ate hay. Woohoo! I hadn't ruined him with the two day prior "cry it out" method. I touched the butt bar and he slowly backed out. I put him back in and he ate hay again. I touched the butt bar and that time he stayed in and kept eating hay. GOOD BOY!! 

And that's where this tale ends, for now. We went to the GY's two days in a row last Thursday and Friday, and he loaded more slowly each time. BUT... he was pretty chill in the trailer. Not eating hay chill, but he wasn't shaking the whole thing. Progress, I think. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Goggles turns FIVE!

My what a year it's been!! 

One year ago. The phlox are blooming again right now, I guess that's his birthday flower (I always knew about birthstones but very recently found out about birth flowers)

Looking at his neck here, I can see how far we've come

Solo trail rides from the GY's

Alllllll legs

Then he moved back down to JT's

And starting learning how to hop over things

And how to line up his shoulders and butt with JT's help

Then jumping got more exciting so he needed a few training rides about being polite after fences

And he got a lesson in manners and a wonderful friend

Then we went XC and actually jumped things

JT rode him in poles and cross rails at his very first horse show

We hung out a lot and played tug of war like a dog

In January he moved to his new farm. He got two acupuncture treatments which made his neck so comfortable! 

We played at a HJ show over some more crossrails

And he also did some fancy trotting there 

Then he took on cross country SOLO

And was so GOOD! 

He's also been getting some good miles under AT

He wrapped up his last few days as a four year old with a combined test

That I would definitely label as a success

Bringing it all full circle with a solo hack through some phlox from his farm right by my house

Monday, April 15, 2024

Emotional Support Animal

Trailering post still coming... I keep wanting to wait until we've got it "fixed" but that's probably a silly urge given how horses work. 

Herro! Emotional Support Horse reporting for duty. Insert cookie payment now please! 

For the time being in our trailering journey, we're relying on friends. Which is a crutch. But more so a crutch in the sense that it provides support while the basics get stronger. At least I hope that's what's happening. My husband pointed out that it's easier to establish good habits than break bad ones. He had a bird dog who was afraid of the gun shot his whole life because he hadn't taken the time in the beginning. With that in mind, I'm desperately trying to make all of Goggle's longer trips involve a trailer buddy. As mentioned before, I failed to line up someone to go show with us, so I took advantage of Ben's current unemployment and put him to work. Goggles and Ben have shared the trailer going to a lesson and as temporary encouragement

Side note, when finding the second post and pictures, I read the line at the bottom of the post "He comes out ready to learn and is so far the easiest (and largest...) baby ever."  and had to snicker at myself a bit. While he ABSOLUTELY comes out ready to learn, I stand corrected on the easiest baby part. Anyways, naivete aside... 

Why no, I don't have a type, why would you ask? 

Ben is not necessarily the BEST choice for a trailer buddy because he isn't a particularly relaxed traveler. He doesn't eat and instead stands and flings his head consistently or sits on the butt bar. But I'd noticed on the way to our lesson in January, Goggles doesn't actually care. He doesn't feed off Ben's nervous energy and is just thrilled to have another horse in the trailer with him. This held true this trip as well and while Ben flung his head around, Goggles tore into his alfalfa. 

Ben is a case in point of what I DON'T want Goggles to be - an anxious traveler 

I was very glad I had brought Ben when we got there. Ben might not travel that well, but he is definitely a pro at hanging and eating at shows. I purposely parked close to the warm up area so that Goggles could take in those sights while relaxing. They chilled together while I checked in. Once off the trailer, Goggles kept his pretty chill vibes intact. 

Wild white eye showing

Every time I see a side picture, I barely recognize him, when did he grow up??

Upon his return from dressage, he got tucked back in and they were given a bucket of water... Goggles then DELIGHTED in drinking AND flinging the water through the tack room window. He and Ben took turns shoving their faces into the water bucket with hay. They were most pleased as was I. 

New skill unlocked: drinking at shows 

Then came the time where I screwed up... I had 4 hours between dressage and stadium. I had brought Ben's tack, so we went for a little dressage school with wide circles back to the trailer sometimes to make sure Goggles wasn't tearing it to pieces. Goggles did a variety of things while we were gone, but at one point I did see him eating a bite of hay, which is a win as well. Then I put Ben up and reunited them. 

About an hour before I was supposed to jump, I figured I would take Goggles to hang by the stadium ring for a bit. I brought him in his flat leather halter and plain 10' cotton lead. Mistakes. 

He ate grass for a second, but then started screaming, then started spinning. I quickly moved him away from the arena so I wasn't THAT person. Dressage warm up was now empty, so we found an area there. And I proceeded to fly a LARGE horse kite for the next 30 minutes. I was able to be really zen about this and just use the cowboy's method (approximation of since I was an idiot with a short lead and flat leather halter) and hang out. Goggles lept, reared, kicked, squealed, bolted at one point (and I barely held onto him) and flung himself down on the ground several times. I figured when AT showed up to help us warm up if that was still what we were doing, it was what it was. But eventually I recognized the signs that he was checking back in with me. He stopped ONLY pointing himself back towards the trailer (towards Ben who was SO HELPFULLY screaming for him) and started kinda nuzzling up to me.

We were able to head back to the trailer at that point with him walking politely behind me. I tried to get him cleaned up since he was now sweaty and covered in sand and grass from his rolling. I also called that good enough after a few minutes of stiff brushing, and we headed over to warm up. 

I shared the nice pictures in the other post, seems like time for this hilarious video snag

Lesson learned - take him out EARLIER in his rope halter and WITH GLOVES to break the umbilical cord. I'm still quite glad I brought Ben, I think the hangin' that they did was SO GOOD. We have plenty of time to work on the obsessive attachment (and maybe with another horse who doesn't participate quite as much, thankyousomuchBEN!). The fact that I did spy Goggles eating hay while Ben was gone also makes me feel like maybe he will start viewing the trailer like he views his stall - a place to relax. At home, he may be REALLY missing the other horses and pacing in turn out, but will immediately chill when brought into his stall. And, in spite of still wanting to be a bit hysterical about where Ben was, he did warm up and then DO HIS JOB in the ring. When he was trotting distractedly towards the oxer in warm up, I told him that "Do your job buddy" and he seems to kinda know what that is these days. 

Friday, April 12, 2024

First Forays

While Goggles has technically been to two "shows", one was a very casual jumper show and the other was an equally casual HJ show. Which meant that his Wednesday trip to the Majestic Oaks Schooling Show felt like his first real show as an eventer in spite of the fact that we entered a combined test, not the full three phase. 

With Ben as his emotional support animal, Goggles relaxed on the way there and ate hay. He chilled on the trailer while I checked in and then was relaxed while I was tacking him up. 

Dressage was objectively not good, but subjectively I was thrilled. We warmed up focusing pretty exclusively on tempo. I generally tried to keep him bent the proper direction, but that was about it. He squealed a few times, his trademark "I'm being wild!!" move and hopped around a bit a couple of times in the canter, but otherwise was relatively chill. There are two areas to warm up at Majestic: to the left and right of the in gate to all 4 dressage arenas. Most people form a crowd to the left, so even with Ben who handles traffic pretty well, I usually go to the right. Goggles and I had that space almost all to ourselves with just one other horse doing a few circles. I gave us about 30 minutes to warm up, but realized about 20 minutes in that it was about 10 minutes too long. He'd hit a plateau in improving in relaxation and more work was just going to make him tired. Fortunately they were running early, so we headed in. He gave the barrel at A that marked the ring number a wide berth, but wasn't spooked by the judges car or the woods behind the judge which was great.

I really like the entry test and much prefer it to the days of riding intro C for starter. We had a few moments of relaxation on our left trot circle. The left lead canter was a canter, so that was a win. The free walk had good over track the whole time, but pretty limited stretch, given how many things he wanted to look at. The right trot circle was again okay with a few nice steps. The right lead canter quickly devolved into bucking for about a quarter circle, but he did come back to the trot reasonably. Our final halt was a bit rough and crooked, but again, it happened. He walked a quarter way out of the ring on a loose rein getting lots of praise before he picked his head up and squealed and I had to pick up contact again. I expected around a 45 and we ended with a 41 with our only 4 being the bucking right lead canter. 

The judge was so positive and constructive, I love her comments. I also would hate to think how it would've gone if I wasn't ALREADY thinking so much about tempo hahaha. 

After dressage I wandered over to stadium and looked at the course. The map still had an option for 7, which at least for the N and BN was a liver pool. While I definitely was not planning on choosing the liver pool, I was even a little concerned he might spook badly enough at it that he'd have a run out at the regular 7. I planned to trot his right side near it before starting and then ride positively and confidently AT MY JUMP and tell him to DO HIS JOB. My slight mental anguish turned out to be unneeded because they removed the whole thing for entry. 

By the time I went to tack up for stadium, Goggles had decided Ben was his BFF. Ben did not help the matter by screaming for Goggles from the trailer, so warm up was a bit spicy. JT's assistant trainer arrived and I said "We'll see how this goes". She helped us through a super productive warm up in which Goggles proved he is in fact trained. While pushing the already kinda bouncy horse further forward was the last thing I wanted to do, we did it. Then we jumped and he was shockingly civilized. AT (Assistant trainer) told us "He has to do two things in the ring - jump all the jumps and come back to you after". And wouldn't ya know, he did those two things! Without even a second thought about the standards or things around the arena. GOOD BOY!! 

Overall a very successful first outing as an eventer. There are CERTAINLY a million things to work on, but when are there not, y'know? He tried soooo hard for me though and proved that he is in fact a little trained. He did not launch and buck after a single fence! I was very proud of how his brain managed to function even when he was internally (and sometimes externally) screaming for Ben. He also got some good eventer show mileage in by learning how to chill in the trailer. 

I'm tentatively planning on the POP schooling show in May for our first 3 phase. They do XC schooling the day before, so it would be great to let him see all the XC jumps (and function out in public) before doing them. 

Out of three, but a FOD for our first eventing outing is pretty great. Please excuse the reuse of this picture, it's just so dang cute I had to.