Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Continuing On

December got us to the point where we could canter pretty frequently. I felt discouraged because we were working in circles, and I couldn't always get Spyder to go. He's a super lazy horse when it comes to working in a routine that gets frustrated when you ask him things over and over again. The problem with not asking is that he doesn't go, and so I am stuck. I really hope that this is something we'll work towards getting to a better point, and I am sure that it has a lot to do with the fact that I don't always ask 100%. I do feel more confident with someone on the ground.

Why do I feel more confident with someone on the ground? This is because my horse is a grump when he's asked to work plus he is still confused with the canter. Obviously it's not something he was allowed to do during a race so maybe he thinks it's bad? We always laugh when he does canter on his own because he's doing it to act out. When he has these moods, it's great because he's willing to do it; therefore, I don't get the grunting and kicking out that I usually do. Once he works past those moments, his canter is a dream. He has a 3-beat canter which I thought would be unlikely coming from him. I most definitely thought we'd have some 4-beat mess, but am glad to know that it looks "normal" when he's got it in the front and back.

In order to push the canter forward, we worked on jumping in previous months. That encouraged the motion, and since he loves to jump, he loves to move which results in nice cantering. Our issue at this point is moving straight because I never would guide him over a jump and let him turn after. We did some grid work to help out the forward and straight motion.

I do apologize that this video is very blurry, but you get the point. Encouraging the straight line continues to be an issue since we've worked in circles so many times prior to this, but it was half decent. I also got to work on getting him to move to the way of the lead he landed on. My instructor would call out what lead he was on, and I would go in that direction to encourage his brain to work like it should. He's always been great with picking up his right leads, too! What's great is that we do have some sort of a system for being asked, but I can't always get the right button. When we can finally work together, I get so happy, but the moving forward part is still an issue. I'm sure that with time, it will come, and we have a lot to work on in the mean time. I am happy to say that one of my last rides, I was able to push through him wanting to stop.

I'm happy also knowing that I used to get excited when we cantered at all. This was uncontrollable and just a way to encourage him to do it if he decided to do it on his own or if I pushed him into it without trying. He would get a lot of praise and was certainly confused being allowed to do it. It went from just going for as many strides as he wanted to give to asking him to do it for a few strides. Once we could get past a few strides (and kicking out), we worked on a bit of steering with the circles and the jumps to turn the direction of the lead he landed on. From there, we were able to ask for a little bit more which led to me being able to push him through his laziness and desire to stop. Even though it was just a few strides past where he wanted to stop, I can say I had a huge smile on my face. I never thought that something so simple would make me so happy, but I knew we were finally getting somewhere.

Once it dries out some, I plan on working on more jumping since that seems to pick up Spyder's mood and gives him something to think about. It keeps me happy to know he gets excited to do something different since we've been working on way too much dressage! I did end up getting a dressage saddle (which I have yet to use) so that I can work on my posture, as well. For Christmas, I got the final pieces to use it, but I haven't had the right day to see how the saddle will work for me. Since I've been going to the chiropractor, I think it will help ease some of my back pain that I get from being tense while riding and forward in my jumping saddle. I talk about how Spyder has a lot of work to do, but so do I. I need to get my heels down and my butt in the saddle. Hopefully 2013 will bring some better etiquette from both of us as a team.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Spyder's Past

I kept posting about progress, and I'm catching up quickly since I'm doing a general overview so I figured I'd switch gears a bit. If you read "About Spyder", the story tells some of his past. I spoke there about how I got in touch with his owners/breeders and ended up getting their contact information. It all started with his coggins.

I had the coggins from when he came from Canada to the Harrisburg sale. From there, I went online to look up the owner at the time. In my search, I found a Flickr account with a picture of a lot of horses, and a picture of a sign from "Grayland Farm." I created an account to get in touch with the person that took the pictures because I swear some were of Spyder. It turns out, they were!

That person ended up getting back to me and putting me in touch with the owner who had already called SRF being that I contacted their relative and I had before spoken to the owner/breeder on the phone (see other post). I ended up with the e-mail of the wife of the owner/breeder. This is where I got most of his history that you can read about on "About Spyder". When I would have trouble, I would turn to them since they knew him very well. I did have a few moments, like when he would pace instead of trot and when he would act crazy (a few times in the round pen he had a 'moment'), when I would e-mail his breeders/owners for help or advice. They have been very supportive of his new home.

I thought that his craziness that he had twice might be linked to being gelded late, but they let me know he was gelded at 10 months so that wasn't it. I believe it to be a bit of spring excitement, and I'm glad those fits never happened again. When it came to pacing, they let me know it was bred into him 100 years back. They said he was more willing to trot than most pacers so trotting should be easy which finally came after our setback. I asked about shoes helping him to trot, and it turns out he'd had shoes (and she suggested weighted ones in the front). I didn't have to go that route being that he's fine barefoot and gets the trotting thing now, but I'm glad that he knows what the shoeing thing is all about.
She also let me know that he was lazy. He knew that he could slow down when he got tired (mentioning he was very smart, too), and that's probably part of the reason they moved on from him. I also couldn't figure out why he HATES the kissing sound when being asked to go so I asked them about it. They call it "chirping" when asking them to go with the kissing sound. I'm guessing since he didn't like his old job much, the sound would aggravate him. I have been working on voice commands to stay clear of the sound he hates, but we do use a cluck for trot and a kiss for canter so he'll need to learn that it means something different, or I'll have to work through the trouble of thinking of something more creative to make him happy. Voice commands work very well.

The lazy horse.
I learned that people must have passed him up at the sale because he had a huge scar on his leg. How did he get this? Well, he was an escape artist the breeder said, and he was also known as "the devil." I'll have to look back in e-mails and get some of the more interesting blurbs of information, but one of those went something like, "If I could describe Spider is two words, it would be 'Happy Devil'. Who was this devil horse they were speaking of? Here's a video that makes me laugh every time I watch it! I can't imagine what he used to do to be named 'the devil'.

Grayland Spider, now "Spyder", was a devil being that he would escape, hurt himself, and bite people (pictures on his page)! They sent me a picture of him sneaking up on someone to bite her, and that part makes sense because he has always been mouthy. We've been working on that because it is very rude and something that I dealt with for a bit blaming it on being young, but with him growing up, there is no excuse. He's much better with the nipping now. It was never a latch on, grab skin, or bleed, but just a quick nip with his lips. He has to taste EVERYTHING that comes within reach. The sad part is that he knew he wasn't supposed to do it, but did anyway! It's like he can't help himself. He will do it and pull his head up or run away from you if it's in the field because he knew he will get in trouble. I'm glad we've worked on that!
Learning to Drive
Lovely injury and bandage - how he got his scar

I found out a great deal about his mom who they still own, as well. She was hurt early on in racing so they bred her because of her potential. She is gray now, but her name is Red because she used to be that color. Spyder has quite the number of siblings who are still racing all named "Grayland Something" if they were bred at their farm. His dad is Western Paradise who is still out for stud in Canada, and has made a lot of money in his career.

Spyder's Dad

Most recent picture of Spyder's Mom

Spyder was quite the story to the family that bred him, trained him, raced him, and sold him. They said that they will always remember him for his personality. He's got the most out of any horse I have ever owned! It's great when he has his happy attitude (which is most of the time), but he is a very opinionated horse. I think if I had to pick two words to decribe him, it would be "goofy baby". I think that's a lot better than "happy devil". I am proud of how he's grown and matured as he has calmed down quite a bit, but I can now see why they say it is definitely more difficult to own a horse that is the leader of the herd. He likes to play and push all of the others in his paddock around.

Playing in the round pen

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Jumping Over the Fear

In October, we kept moving forward with jumping. With Dom, we jumped and pushed into a canter and tried to keep Spyder moving after a jump. With my trainer, we worked on jumping and then trying to stay in a straight line after the jump. It was good to work on both ways considering that we were new to this jumping thing. I had done a few small jumps out in the big ring and was so happy to have conquered the wishing well on our own. With Dom back in September, we worked on refining the crossrail with steering and moved up to verticals. Whenever she comes down to the farm, she always has a goal or idea in mind of how we will be put to the test. Here are some pictures of our victory.

Ok, I can do this! I look just as determined as he does.
His first take off - oh wow, what is this?

A little higher, and better form. He's getting the hang of it.
What comes with jumping is the canter. It is natural to my horse, and he tends to pick the gait coming out of jumps. I knew that we would soon be working on refining it as well as asking for it on the flat which made me excited, but got me down since winter was approaching quickly. The end of autumn was exciting and a let down, but the mild months have been wonderful!

Since the dark was getting to me, I decided I would attempt a ride over to the indoor which is just two doors down, but I knew I needed assistance. I am a timid rider when I am nervous, and being in the dark does not help! Dom let me know that I didn't have to worry, and that a horse could see better than a human at night. Was that good or bad? The prior winter was cold, and we were spoiled with our trailered lessons to the indoor next door. I would tack up before getting Spyder on the trailer so we unloaded from our two minute trip and get right to work. I wanted to try to get there without a trailer since that is not always an option which is why Dom came to help.

Dom got on Spyder in the dark to show me how she would tackle a nervous horse. Turns out, he wasn't nervous, and I am the problem here. Once, we attempted to get over to the other farm, and it didn't go too well so I assumed I would have the same issue. The funny part was me whipping out a flashlight. Dom was like,  "Umm, what's that for?"  Little did I know, horses can see just fine at night, and the light would only make reflections and shadows of things around the farm more scary. You learn something new every day, and I can say I learned something new about night rides. He was so good for her since she is firm rider and a great leader which is what I lack at times. There is no way I could have done that in the dark, but I wondered if he would act differently if I had just ridden him over alone vs having someone on the ground. He rode quietly over to the indoor where I hopped on to ride around for a bit. He hadn't been over there in a while, and he was quiet in the indoor. What a great horse!

I worked on pushing him into corners and going round at the same time. What I didn't know is that my spurs were making him a cranky horse. I got so used to riding in them and pointing my toes out, that I was riding funny. Dom let me know that when I used them, Spyder's reaction was not pleasant. He was and is such a creature of habit, and where I asked him to move forward, he expected my spur to poke him in the side. Every time we would get to the place I used my spur, he would look and anticipate a poke in the side. No wonder why he gives me fits every now and then. I would if I was getting spurred in the side! The canter still gets me the attitude issue because I do wear spurs, but I am learning how to better utilize my leg, the angle of my foot in the stirrup, and voice commands since he responds to those in a quiet manner. Well, maybe not completely quiet, but better.

I remember this experience well because it was so great to know I had a trusting horse that would try something new in the event he had a confident rider. It was time to suck it up! On the way back from working on bending and pushing into corners in the indoor, I rode my horse back. Visibly nervous, Dom assured me that nothing was going to happen. I had to tell him to go, let him look if he wanted to, wait for him to relax, and then decide to walk forward on his own. This had to be his idea,  and I had to reinforce it. This is when i realized that I was now jumping, starting to canter more often, and pushing through fear. What a wonderful night to reflect back on our accomplishments and encouragement from others...

...and then a new fear came. Not a fear from myself or Spyder, but a noise. A crazy, scary, screeching bark type of noise that didn't scare the horse a bit. Dom and I on the other hand, we looked at each other and said, "Oh my God, what was that?" THAT was not a sound I had ever heard growing up in the woods or on a farm... or on a farm in the woods... EVER! The moon was illuminating the path coming up the driveway where the noise was not far, but we didn't see anything. We heard it again, and then a cat came running out of the woods in front of us. We both jumped, gasped, and Spyder just kept walking like nothing even occurred to him. We both swear we heard the Jersey Devil that night. I guess my horse isn't afraid of that myth.

The few times that Dom's come out, I've realized that I hold our progress back. I'm nervous at times, and I don't try new things if I failed at the first attempt. I know now that I need to become a better leader, and understand what my horse is telling me. After we get past the barriers that I put up, we'll get much further.