Sunday, January 24, 2010

Racename XXX aka Chanel

3 yr old filly trotter. Won't turn/go the right way of track.
Jan 21. Off the truck and right to work.
Day 1: Wow. Doesn’t this bitch think she’s tough. Huge, and I mean huge, strong mare. First thing she did when I went to yield her hindquarters was come at me with both front feet. Ha ha, I was ready for her. Took her completely by surprise. Proceeded to work with her for about 45 minutes. One big plus, she just came in out of the field so she got tired quick. Those race-fit horses can fight for hours. Had her yielding and sending both directions with hardly any argument when I got done. She’s not stupid. Backed her up twice and that’s when I got the dropped head and the “lick & chew”. Ok, that was enough for the first day. Looking forward to tomorrow.
Day 2: Not so aggressive today, but tries to avoid doing what she's told. She's quickly figuring out, though, that it's easier for her to do as asked rather than fight about it. I'm standing at the center of the circle, she's on the outside. Who do you think is going to get winded first?

Stay out of my space is the first lesson you want to teach a horse, especially an aggressive horse like this. Again it's about being the herd leader, "stay out of my space!" They only come in when they are invited in. EX when handwalking, the horse should not be on top of you. That's why I like that 15' lead rope. If they feel good and want to play around, or if something spooks them, that's fine, just don't jump on top of it over there.
Yield the hindquarters is the second. When I focus my attention on the hip, I want that hip to swing away from me.. which makes the horse face me. Never under any circumstances is that horse to swing his ass at me. Remember, I'm the herd leader.
Sending To make a horse move in the direction you want (for this example, counterclockwise circle around me): stand facing the horse. (Horse should be taught 1. Stay out of my space and 2. yield the hindquarters first). Lift left arm high and point to the left. Start applying pressure with your right hand (swing end of rope or tap whip on the ground) You may have to position yourself slightly to the right of the horse to get "behind" her.

In her case, because she aggressively came at me the first day, I use a regular training whip. The horse will normally start trying to turn and bolt. This is where the rope halter comes in, they can drag you with a regular halter, the rope one will stop them in their tracks. As long as the horse is facing you he can only "bolt" backwards and he can't get any power or make any speed that way. Let him back up but keep increasing the pressure" by means of tapping harder, with rhythm, and moving closer. (The only time she would actually get hit with the whip is if she came at me (invaded my space). It's her choice, she can stay out of range or she can attack me and suffer the consequences.)
Now here's the trick: as soon as the horse makes a movement in the correct direction IMMEDIATELY drop your arms (release the pressure) and leave her alone! Resist that urge to give her one last shot to "teach her a lesson". Usually the horse will take a few steps then stop. Just start again. Depending on how smart the horse is, most figure out pretty quickly if they move in the direction you are pointing, that pressure stops. Let them walk or trot around you, leaving them completely alone. DO NOT NAG! Only apply pressure if they stop. Make it their responsibility to maintain the command until you tell them to stop.

This is where patience and perseverence come in. I like to enforce the correct behavior verbally giving praise. "Good girl, that's all I wanted" in a soothing voice.

Day 3: Much better. Even though she's physically strong, she's still a little girl mentally. Lots of dropped head, attention focused on me, and licking and chewing. She tried one time to argue. Was trotting around me, all of a sudden planted the feet and tried to run back the opposite way. These attempts will happen, you want them to happen while doing groundwork so you can more easily correct it. Just yield the hindquarters so she's again facing you, point, pressure, release when she resumes correct direction/forward movement. She'll soon get tired of arguing, it only costs her more work. Clinton's mantra: make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.

Biggest mistake I see harness people make. When a horse throws himself with all that equipment, plus probably the jogcart breaking, it makes for a huge fiasco. What does everyone do? Untangles everything and puts the horse back in the stall. Wrong, wrong, wrong. That horse is learning if he misbehaves, he gets rewarded! That's why you want to get this behavior dealt with on a lunge line. They can throw all the hissy fits they want, only makes for more work on their part. Practice simple exercises, ones that can be accomplished in an hour or two, then reward the success. Before you know it you have a willing partner looking to please you instead of a sullen sour pig.

Day 4: Introduced stepping over a pole. One wouldn’t think it would be a big deal, but to her apparently it was. Took about an hour to get it done.
Day 5: Another good day. Had her trotting over 2 poles.
Day 6: Introduced the carpet. She’s really getting cooperative. Smart mare. Took video of today's lesson. I want to set up situations where she will balk so we can work through it on the ground, without the jogcart. We'll work with the carpet for a few days, then find something else to test her.

I had to edit into 4 segments to fit the youtube 10 minute limit for clips. Entire session lasted a little over 30 minutes.

Day 7: Perfect example of being prepared to work through problems no matter what. Had planned an easy day since she did so well yesterday, but she was all revved up and in a fightin' mood. Should have had the camcorder on today. LOL She ended up doing what she was told. Every day she ends up hot enough to cooler, so she's getting plenty of exercise.

Spent the last few weeks reinforcing the basic groundwork. Switched the carpet for a bright blue noisy tarp. She went through a week of resenting what she was being asked but not knowing what to do about it. Eventually came around to starting to enjoy the exercises. Now incorporating a lot of aerobic conditioning with the groundwork, building her fitness level in prep for returning to the track when it opens Mar. 1. I anticipate she will be up to at least 3 miles by then.

Here she is 1 month later doing the groundwork.

Flagging was the icing on the cake. In getting her to submit to this I totally establish my control over her. Her first reaction was to strike out and try to turn and cow-kick. Make no mistake she is handy with those feet and she can fire. Took 3 days to work through it. This is a really great exercise, you can actually control and "play" with their emotions... push to the edge.. then back off. Slowly build by pushing that edge a little further, a little further. It looks simple, but there is a certain technique to it. If you were to force the issue, you could seriously traumatize them, blow their mind, and set yourself back weeks. I should have had the first day videotaped. After teaching this, I hadn't done it for about a week, this is how she responded when approached again.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Ranch

NOTE: Ignore the time stamp on the pics. Date is incorrect. Pics taken Jan 2010

Five years ago I bought a small house and 3 wooded acres one-half mile down the road from where I kept my 3 riding horses. One quarter mile up the road in the opposite direction was this old falling down farm complete with an infoor arena. There were several sorry looking horses out in the field.

One day last summer the for sale sign went up, so I checked it out. Price was a little steep what with all the fixing up it would need. I guess others felt the same as it remained up for sale all through the fall. Fast forward several months: end of November the racetrack closed. I had a 2 yr old stud colt in training. None of the boarding stables took studs. Meanwhile I was offered another horse, (Heathcliff) to train. So here I was with 2 paying trainees and nowhere to keep them.

I went down and talked to the old man who owned the place. Ended up renting 3 stalls for the winter. Structurally the place is very sound, it just needed a lot of cleaning up, so I set to it. Stalls were a foot deep in manure, boards falling down, trash everywhere. I got the areas I would need in working order before the harsh weather set in.

The arena, of course, is the best part. 100' by 60' with the long side facing South enclosed by a 5' wall, the rest open which I like since it allows plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Eventually I will need to add some dirt/sand/stonedust to the existing footing. I have the whole place to myself and am enjoying the peace and quiet. In time, if I can pick up more business, I'll get a couple large paddocks fenced in and maybe an equisizer.

I've heard from several long-time residents that it use to be quite the showplace 20 years ago. Underneath all the dust and cobwebs you can tell this was so. There's a tackroom frozen in time with bridle and saddle racks, and a wall still festooned with ribbons.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Background Info

Licensed professional Standardbred horse trainer for 34 years. Grew up in the harness horse racing business. Father a trainer/driver 1950's through early 90's. We had a horse farm which my grandfather ran while Dad stabled at a training center 10 miles away. From a toddler I was always in the barn with Grandpa. Spent my childhood observing and learning herd behavior. About 5 years ago was dragged by a friend to a Chris Cox Demo at the Harrisburg Horse Expo. By that time I thought I knew it all about horse handling. Boy was I wrong! Have been enthralled with the Natural Horsemanship techniques ever since. Bought an unbroken 3 year old paint filly and trained her using Clinton Anderson's step by step dvd training program. Started using the methods on the racehorses in my care and developed a reputation for handling so-called outlaws and "rangatangs". Looking to wean myself away from the racing game (although right now that's what primarily pays the bills) and concentrate on riding, particularly trail riding. I'ld like to specialize in re-training Standardbreds to ride, starting colts, and working with problem horses. Plan to compete in Ranch Versatility this summer with my paint mare, Cherokee, and maybe that will drum me up some business.
I recently took on the project of leasing and fixing up an old run-down farm down the road from me with an indoor arena. Currently have 3 horses in training: one a 2 year old Standardbred trotting colt who will hopefully race late next summer, my paint mare, and a 4 year old off-the-track Standardbred trotter, who was not fast enough to race & owner wants broke to ride. Follow along in my blog to see his progress. Will post videos periodically. Thanks and I'ld appreciate any tips and feedback!

Racename: XXXXX aka Heathcliff

4 year old gelding Standardbred trotter off the track being re-trained to ride. Never made breaks, sound, just not fast and very lazy.
Day 1: Typical Standardbred, stiff as a board. Worked on flexing to the rope halter, yielding hindquarters and sending both directions at the walk.
Day 2: Repeated exercises from yesterday. Worked on picking up the trot on the lunge line. He is extremely lazy and stiff. Have the feeling he’s been nagged and pecked at to the point he is totally desensitized. My immediate goal is to get him to maintain the trot until I cue him to walk/halt.
Day 3: Added the western saddle with a back cinch, no bridle. I’ll spend the next week, or however long it takes, working on flexion, bending, promptly obeying commands, and maintaining the trot. It’s important to remember not only am I mentally teaching him, but he needs to build strength in his muscles to flex and balance trotting around me. Although he flexes his head/neck better to the right, he’s having a real hard time bending the rest of his body that way. I do a lot of spiraling in and out at the trot. As soon as I get even a slight give and bend, I let him back out into a larger circle. Very important to reward the slightest try and keep encouraging him and telling him he’s doing a good job. This is a big strong horse that doesn’t want to work anyway. Pushing him too much will only make him sour and resentful. Take a lot of breaks. He loves to stand still, so I use those breaks for the desensitizing exercises.
Day 10: trotting nice circles. No longer hanging on the rope, but tipping his nose in and getting his inside hind leg under himself. Better at picking up the trot and he now maintains it without any further prompting. Very good at yielding his hindquarters. Have added the bridle and doing flexing to the bit. Very dead mouth, particularly the left side. Would probably be better in a side pull or hackamore, but since most people ride with a bit, I’m going to work to get him soft to the bit, if only to prove it can be done. Ready to mount?
Day 12: Tough day. I guess he’s decided to test me. Kept running forward into my space, would not back out of it. I tried everything in the Anderson bag of tricks. Nothing. Finally got my 2 long lines, hooked them to the rope halter (not the bridle), ran them through the saddle stirrups and got behind him. Leaned my whole weight into the ropes. We stood there in a tug of war. He had his head flexed right to his chest, wouldn’t budge. At one poin the got so mad, he was pawing the ground in anger. He tried swinging his hindquarters around, but I was able to correct that with the long lines down around his stifles. Finally he made a tiny move backwards. I immediately let go the pressure. Let him relax and think about it about 10 seconds, then leaned into him again. He resisted but finally took another small step back. Immediate release. I could see this was going to be a looong day. We worked on this for over an hour. Finally got him to back, albeit reluctantly, across the arena. Good enough for today. I can see backing is going to be a major project. Definitely not ready to mount up while he is still so resistant.
Day 17: Spent the last few days reinforcing all the basics and doing a LOT of backing up. Beginning to really relax and carries a nice low natural headset at the trot. Also doing a lot of the flex, press ribcage with my thumb until he yields, then rubbing to a stop ala Clinton Anderson exercise on Riding with Confidence Series I Preparing to Mount. .
Day 20: Mounted for the first time. As expected, he was unsure what the hell I was doing up there. (Oh yes, every day during grooming I had been climbing on a bucket alongside him so he would get somewhat used to me being up in the air over him.) Had helper lead me around. Typical head in the air, hollow back Stb carriage.
Day 21: Off the leadline. Moving forward on the chirp. Very hesitant and unsure. Do most of the real work on the lunge line, mostly standing still while mounted working on flexing to the bit. Disengages and yields hindquarters pretty good off my leg.
Day 22: Always groundwork first on the rope. Flexes very well to the halter, not so much to the bit. Yielding hindquarters very well. Sending and picking up the trot nicely. Worked on moving shoulders.
Free lunged* for the first time. As expected, ran around bug-eyed at first. Then settled down into a relaxed trot.
Mounted, no issue. Still resists backing. Flexing better. Worked on moving forward at the squeeze. Squeeze, cluck, spank. Totally respects while not fearing the spank. Also worked on the one-rein stop. Very amenable to stopping, but still needs to understand it is not his choice, but my demand Lol I want to make sure he understands when the command to whoa is given, it is to be obeyed no matter what. I’ll be able to better reinforce that when we start doing it at the trot. Also worked on stepping out on a nice brisk walk, not lollygagging.
*Free-lunging: Eventually he will be asked to trot (then canter) on a loose rein around the arena. Called “cruising“. It is the horse‘s responsibility to maintain a relaxed cadenced gait without rider constantly nagging with legs and bit, which means no jamming up in the corners, no breaking down to a walk.. If the horse breaks down to a slower gait (trot to walk, canter to trot) rider must immediately correct using the squeeze, cluck, spank. At first it will be inevitable the spank will be necessary. I want the horse to understand it does not mean leap forward in panic, but just pick up the pace as asked. This is best accomplished first from the ground. Send the horse into a trot around the arena. Let him go wherever he wants so long as he maintains the trot. If he tries to jam in the corner, use the whip to encourage forward movement. He‘ll soon learn to round around those corners, and he‘ll learn the whip is not being used to punish but to encourage.
Day 25: Huge breakthrough today. Finally feel like we’re getting somewhere. Moving off my leg pretty consistently. Starting to bend nicely in the circles. Tipping his nose inside and following it around with a nice give to the bit. Got some nice vertical flexion at the standstill. Starting to drop his head and flex when asked to back up instead of sticking his nose in the air and fighting me. He’s going to need a lot of work getting his hind end underneath him and collecting his body, but we’re making definite progress.
Day 26: Another good day. Moves off at the squeeze, stepping right out on a “going somewhere” walk. I can shift my weight around, swing my arms all over, lean forward/backward rubbing him all over -- he doesn’t care. (As Clinton puts it, ride like you’re drunk) Halting on the loose rein as soon as I sit deep in the saddle. That’s from the walk, now, the one-rein stop will get further reinforced when we trot, but I can see “whoa” is going to be his favorite move. LOL Did a lot of serpentines, and even some turns off the wall with a little rollback front leg crossover at the walk. Maintaining fairly straight lines on the post-to-post exercise.* Still better flexing to the right than left, but he’s much improved. (deadmouth on the left rein. Typical racehorse mouth, you see it all the time, heavy-handed driver with wrist through the left handhold, horse with head all cranked around. What's up with that?) Not so resentful anymore, in fact, I don’t think he swished his tail once.
*I ride my horses on a loose rein. When I set them on a course, I expect them to maintain that course not wander all over.. I hate the English style of riding where the rider constantly hangs on the mouth. I understand dressage and collection but that’s an experienced rider with light hands. Too many novices use the reins for balance. I saw many times at the other arena students taking lessons, horse would stumble, and they’ld practically go over the horses head. No give or flexibility at all in the elbows and shoulders.
Day 27: Really making progress now. Got him to trot under saddle on a loose rein. A floppy, lazy flat-footed trot, but I know it will get better. Didn't spook or get stupid at all, even started dropping his head down. As predicted, real quick to stop. lol Has that move down pat. Also did some rollbacks off the wall on the lunge line. Did a couple nice moves off his hind end. Started working on moving his shoulders off my leg, and got a couple two-tracking moves out of the circle. Once I establish good forward movement I can start working on collection.
Day 33: Introduced cavalettis. This will get him picking his feet up (typical Stb drags his hind legs, weak in the stifles. It's my opinion we Stb racehorse trainers spend way too little time building stifle muscles which I believe may be the cause of many lameness issues). Stb also have a bad habit of not watching where they put their feet. They've spent so much time checked up with shadow rolls. I use heavy landscaping logs that won't move. He clunked his toes a couple times, then started watching what he was doing. Also started using the Kineton Noseband with the bridle. Love this piece of equipment on the Stb for both riding and jogging. Distributes pressure to both the nose and mouth and since most racehorses have mouths like iron, they seem to respond better to nose pressure. Yesterday he spent most of the day with his head out the stall, looking to socialize with me. Acts like he's starting to enjoy his new job.
Day 34: Went out and about the farm today. He is such a good horse. Flushed a herd of 5 deer back by the woods. He saw them before I did, just stopped with his head up watching them bounce off through the trees. He's just the kind of horse you feel safe on. Very smart. He just needs work on watching where he puts his feet.

It's been 6 weeks. Last few days have been spent doing lots of bending and flexing. Vertical flexion at the walk. I'm now wearing spurs, NOT to jab him into forward movement, but to tickle his sides to get that rib cage arced away from my leg. Getting him to "curl" around my leg, so to speak, while doing circles. Also changed to a short-shank, copper snaffle mouthpiece gag to get a little more lift. He's backing up better and moving his shoulders when asked. Actually starting to respond to the neck rein a bit and cross over his front legs for a turn on the hindquarters.
Now that I've figured the video out, I'll take some video Mon or Tues when this cold snap breaks, and post.