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Musing on horse training–“bitting up”

Over the past week I’ve had a few moments of horse training awareness where I gained a new perspective on my past experiences and the training tools in my toolbox. One of those is a semi-controversial technique known as “bitting up.” Years ago, “bitting up” was often used to introduce the young horse to a bit. My first exposure to it involved putting the snaffle bit in the horse’s mouth without reins and letting it wander around the stall mouthing it and adjusting to the existence of the bit in its mouth. The three horses who got their first bits at my hands started that way. I also used this technique to introduce my first Quarter Horse, Sparkle, to her curb bit.

Then I started out with G, and learned a bit more about how to use bitting up in part as a means to introduce the horse to carrying the bit and develop a headset. In this mode, still using a snaffle, you tied the reins to the saddle, leaving enough play in the reins so that the horse’s nose was two or three inches in front of the vertical. Then you turned the horse in a pen and let it wander around, playing with the bit and getting comfortable with picking up contact without the interference of a rider. At this point, the horse was learning about giving to the pressure of a bit on its own. The key was that a.) the horse was unrestrained except for that bit contact and b.) the horse was under supervision. This didn’t go on for very long, perhaps 5-10 minutes max. Then, depending on where the horse was in training, you climbed on and did a short ride.

As the horse’s training advanced, then you tightened the reins slightly, still allowing for the nose to be ahead of the vertical. At this point, the horse was worked on a lunge line or in a round pen, working on balance and contact. The key was that the horse learned on its own about yielding to bit pressure without the vagaries of human hands. The idea was that the horse taught itself about bit pressure.

Hold that thought. It becomes important later on here.

One of the things that G said about this type of bitting up was that it not only helped the horse learn on its own, but that it created a habit of discipline. We did this sort of work not only with green horses but horses going through retraining. Horses who lacked respect for the bit. Horses whose mouths were desensitized by heavy-handed riders.

The technique, of course, is one that gets misused. One of the worst versions of it was revealed a few years ago when a trainer in Southern California used it with a curb bit, and tied the reins so tight that the horse threw herself and broke her neck. Unsupervised, to boot. A curb bit is a leverage device, operating not just on the bars of the horse’s mouth (a toothless gum section between incisors and molars) but on the jaw, possibly the roof of the mouth (depending on how high the curved section of the bit is), and on the horse’s poll (a very sensitive area behind the ears). Too much pressure in these places can cause a horse to rear and flip…which is apparently what happened in that case.

But there are other versions of misuse. Using it with the nose cranked to the chest. Doing it for hours on end. Doing it with a thin twisted wire bit. Probably many other variations I don’t really want to think about.

Over the years, I discovered that this tool had other uses. When young Mocha was sparky, I’d bit her up and put her on a lunge line or the round pen. A short period–5-10 minutes, max–and she would switch over from being Ms I Know Everything to Ms Okay I’ll Listen. I started pulling this tool out in the springtime even as she matured and became more steady.

This past week it all came together. She’s out in Big Pasture now, hilly on the end of a long ridge flat, running with the herd. The first day I rode her, she was total Miss Butthead. Nickering at the herd, her attention on the herd, wanting to run and not pay attention to the rider on her back, even with the curb bit in her mouth and some schooling.

(an example of the herd and Big Pasture)

Well, that wasn’t gonna work. So the next time, I brought out the snaffle and the lunge line, and bitted her up. Then we reviewed the concept of listening to the human instead of wondering what the herd was doing, including screaming for them. And whoa. Especially whoa, because she hadn’t been particularly listening to that.

5 minutes later, we had brains reinstalled.

A revisit on the next ride also ensured that Brains Were Installed. Both times we had a pleasant ride, including a stretch of gallop along a flat section of jeep track. Little mare started dancing as we swung around to the starting place, took off as fast as she could once I kissed to her and leaned forward, and–best of all–she eased off and stopped when asked. And our canters away from that stretch of flat, safe place for hard gallop were controlled and quiet. Oh, a couple of times she asked to run, and I said no. But the key was–she listened.

When I go back and look at previous year’s entries (I was looking for a picture that isn’t on this computer), I see many notes about having to do just that at G’s place, at around this time of year. So it’s a normal thing, just a phase of late spring or early summer.

And damn, I’m sure glad I’ve got this tool in my bag of training tricks.


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Bits and pieces as I dive into another busy spell

It all seems to be busy these days, doesn’t it? Between writing and online teaching and a bunch of other stuff, I’ve been buzzing around quite a bit lately. We’re just about equally splitting time between both places while hoping that soon we’ll be able to spend more time in Enterprise. That’s the plan. We’ll see what the reality brings. I should be done with the online work at the end of May. I’m quite pleased with it as I’ve learned a lot about managing online teaching and have developed some opinions about how best to manage it. If everything works out, I’ll be teaching online again next year. It is definitely different pushing high school seniors along–whole dimensions to consider that were not a factor at the middle school level. Still learning and thinking about it.

On the writing front, Beyond Honor is now out to beta readers. Looking at my schedule and what needs to be done, I’m thinking that it will be out in mid-July. Meanwhile, I’ve been rebuilding my spec short story collection. I kind of woke up a few weeks ago and realized that it’s been a couple of years since I’ve added spec stories to my portfolio–most of my new short fiction has either been Netwalk Sequence promos or solicited for small press anthologies. Meanwhile the same handful of stories on the brink of being trunked have been circulating for a while. So it’s time for more spec shorts while I tread through novella rewrites, plot the next novel, and deal with crazybusy times. I don’t want to start a new novel until I’m done with Fishtrap in mid-July, and that includes novella/novelette projects. Beyond Honor turned out to be about 20,000 words more than I anticipated it being, and I’m afraid that Klone’s Folly, Bearing Witness, Becoming Solo, Federation Cowboy, and all the other longer projects I have lying about will develop the same need for expansion.

And then there’s non-writing, non-teaching life.

An unseasonably warm spell has transitioned into more traditional weather for spring, with rain showers and clouds. It’s mud season in Wallowa County. The soil here tends to be rather fine, which is okay during the times of the year when it’s either quite cold or else dry. But during the wet season? Um, well, bring boots and be careful about getting bogged down. Today I went to ride Miss Mocha and decided that the arena was hopelessly muddy, especially since she was slipping a little at the walk. However. There are nice roads around for road riding, and I decided that perhaps this spring was time to get The Girl introduced to that concept. There’s one road system that can be ridden as a big loop around the ranch, most of which is gravel road. I’ve been working on getting Mocha down the road, but for various reasons really didn’t want to do it in winter. Now that it’s spring and there’s no snow or ice, working the road is much more doable.

There is a challenge, however. Mocha goes about half a mile from home and then wants to turn back. But the other day we made it as far as the turnoff to the first gravel road. That day she got rather unsettled by a big German Shepherd barking at her followed by mama cows who were Not Happy about the horse scaring their calves–never mind that the horse in question was also snorting her head off in worry. But I think she got wound up in the whole walking thing and didn’t notice them until she got startled.

Today, I decided that I wanted to go down the highway, hang a left and head up a gravel road to where it connects to the next road in the loop. I was prepared to hop off and walk if need be, because I’ve come to decide that if Mocha digs her toes in, rather than fight it out on blacktop or a road, it’s just smarter to hop off and walk. She will follow. Then I’d keep trying getting back up and riding for a while, then turn after she went forward for a ways.

The strategy worked. I did spend about half the distance on the gravel road getting on and off, and then figured out that perhaps she’d be more comfortable on the other side of the road. That worked for a while. Then, since we were going up a small hill, I backed her for a few steps when she balked. She got tired of that quickly, and soon enough was moving ahead, even if she did emulate a giraffe looking at things occasionally. When we got to the place I had planned to turn around, she accepted a peppermint, then started walking down the next road. I decided to go with it, so we went down that road a ways. Soon enough, I heard a truck behind us, just as I saw two horses galloping hard for a fence corner and what looked like a dog in the road ahead. I decided that was enough, and turned her around to face the UPS truck. She walked home quietly, getting worried a couple of times, but otherwise just marched along quietly, looking at everything.

I think we’ll do it again tomorrow.

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We can haz interwebs niow

As of today, we now have Real Internet in Enterprise. Not hotspot, not coffee shop, but our very own Real Stuff. It involved stringing cable from a dish mounted on the house and all, but…yeah. Hello, we’re back.

It’s been a busy month here, without a lot of writing. We pretty much finished cleaning up the house in Portland for son and roommate, and now have lots of boxes to move. Meanwhile, up here in Enterprise, we’ve been painting and organizing, and are now starting to get somewhere. The house feels like home, even with loads of boxes around.

Writing hasn’t really been getting done, not until the past two mornings where I’ve dashed off 800-1000 words. I think I needed processing time and down time because the back-and-forth nonstop hustle in Portland and Enterprise was getting to me. But Miscon, and then friends coming to visit kind of gave us a break.

Dealing with Mocha has also been an ongoing challenge. She aggressively did not like the change and spent a good four weeks fighting it. Between not eating and pacing, she lost weight and condition. We had to modify Portland travel plans to come back and work with her, putting on a blanket and holding her with a rope at her manger so she’d eat her hay. While there were pigs on the place that distressed her, there’s been enough deliberate crossings-of-boundaries attempts to tell me that scared and frightened horse was now angry horse. So it’s been a long, slow progress of reestablishing training basics. Lots of groundwork–nothing fancy or showy, just lots of walk, whoa, back, pay attention to me, focus, yield, respect my space type of things. And all of it went to pieces around the pigs, who are penned next to the arena.

It all came to a head over the past week. First, Mocha was resistant with the new farrier. She’d start slipping into the old relaxed mode, and then he’d do something different and that would get her all tensed up again and resistant. A couple of times, he just reached under her neck and hugged her into him. He’s a big cowboy type, certified and works with a vet clinic. At last he thumped her in the belly. After that, I put a chain over her nose and between the two, she stood. The barn owner suggested that maybe the big line of sprinklers was bothering her so we made a pilgrimage to the sprinklers and she got a good look at the world.

She was a much quieter horse after that.

But. The next day, she pitched a huge hissy fit at the hitching rail. Now this rail is solid, a hollow iron rail set into concrete posts. I tied her up at a safe short length. She wanted to eat grass, and set about fighting the rope and trying to stretch it out. When she couldn’t do that, she started pawing and stomping at the mats, then leveraging herself around. She couldn’t whack the rail with her right hip like she really likes to do, and I wasn’t set up for this fight. She got poked in the butt with an apple picker a couple of times when she wouldn’t listen to the cue to move over. She would stand when being handled, but if I went out of sight to get something, she pitched a fit. What she needed was a long session of being tied until she remembered her training to stand quietly, but for whatever reason, that day wasn’t it. So I waited until we had a few moments of relative quiet, discussed the situation with the barn owner via text, and got clearance for what needed to happen.

Which happened the next day. I came prepared. Made sure the space was set up safely, then…tied Mocha and let her blow up. She pawed with both fores, tried to kick the post once, slammed her shoulder into the rail, screamed, and just threw a tantrum. But a very slow, careful, deliberate tantrum. That’s the thing. She never lost her head the whole time she fought that hitching rail. Never did anything to throw herself, kept her movements careful and calculated, never pulled back on the rope, just thrust her head down but very carefully not under the rail. Pushed things enough to search out possible weaknesses but not enough to hurt herself. Classic example of a trained horse having a complete and total meltdown.

Every time she calmed down slightly I’d go over and rub her head, feed her a treat, then walk away to see if she would start fighting and fussing again. I didn’t just want her to stand tied, I wanted her to stand tied when I was out of sight for a long period of time. It’s not safe otherwise and I foresee the need for her to stand tied to a horse trailer in the future. But there was more to it than that. This was one of the first lessons she was taught in her home barn. She needed to remember this fundamental lesson and grasp that even though we had changed locations long-term, the basic rules still held. I had come to realize that until she grasped that concept, we were going to have problems.

At last she quieted and I could see the change in attitude. So I put a long heavy lunge line on her and let her graze for a while, then walked her out to the sprinklers.

Things changed after that blowout. Since then, she’s been more relaxed. I can walk to the car and she’ll look for me but not fret. We’ve had several good encounters with the pigs. She’s still tense and looky in that corner, but today she startled them at one point and she realized she’d made them move and that changed her attitude. She’s had a massage treatment that she clearly enjoyed. She remembers more of her old routines though I’m still getting passive resistance at times–I’m going to be working on reinstalling manners in her for a while, it seems.

But at least things are on track. I’ve more thoughts about the move, but stuff is going to be happening for the next few days. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

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Mocha’s thundering again

I’m thinking that I’m getting my old horse back. While I still feel tightness in Mocha’s right shoulder, and her hips lock up a little bit, she’s also getting to be fifteen this year. Not going to get the strong young mare she was a few years ago as she finally seems to be getting over the white line, the muscle soreness, the…whatever.

But as far as she’s concerned, it’s time to get back to some real work–real in Mocha definition meaning something other than working on the rail. Even when doing all three gaits on the rail, she’s looking to start doing patterns. Problem is, between the resection over her toe (while less extreme than her original resection, still needs to avoid too much pressure and torquing from sharp turns and such) and rehabbing whatever it was she initially did to her shoulder and chest, rail work is still the best. However, girl gets grumpy if all she does is rail work, even if it’s at all three gaits. So…figuring out a balance requires thought. Especially on a day like today where she started out tense and tight to the right, but started getting fretty and fussing about extra laps at the jog. Girl was on the muscle and wanted to go. I wanted her to be a little more warmed up with that tightness I felt. We finally came to an agreement, but I knew she needed a bit more intense of a workout.

Fortunately, there’s some options. I tested her on rollbacks a few days ago, especially trotting into them and loping out. That was popular. Now I’m careful to do them in the deeper end of the arena, and today she started jumping around in anticipation on her first right to left rollback. One of her bad habits, fueled in part by eagerness and in part by too much pressure on that right shoulder/fore so that she doesn’t get set up right to push off with her right fore. So we continued on around the arena, and trotted into the rollback, me being firm about whoa, dwell, kiss, turn.

Loping three quarters of the arena, slowing down to a trot, then whoa, pause, kiss, turn, worked. It’s a slow rollback without the push of loping into the rollback, and it made her happy. We did about four of those, then moved on to other work. Small walk circles. Trotting diagonal lines across the arena, then either doing haunches or forehand turns to face another direction and diagonal. Then loping the same type of diagonal pattern, wrapping up with a big three loop serpentine at jog and then lope, two in each direction.

By this time she was well warmed up, keyed up, and ready to go when I gave her free rein for her closing hand gallop. For the first time in ages, it really was a solid hand gallop, what we call a Mocha thunder, in both directions (we do this to shake out the tension from more collected work at the end of the ride). Then we were set up so that I asked her to roar down the diagonal after we made the far turn of the arena. It’s her favorite hard run and stop line–and she eagerly went for it. She’s not done that for over a year.

Let’s just say she was a happy horse at the end of this ride. She lined out nicely on our cool out hack along the road, swinging big through her back with an even reach through her shoulders.

My horsey girl thunders again. Yay!

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Of Writing, and Thanksgiving, and Horses

I swear I will not let the holiday season catch me unprepared again.

I swear I will not let the holiday season catch me unprepared again.

I swear I will not let the holiday season catch me unprepared again.

You’d think I would have remembered all the hard-earned lessons from selling jewelry online in the 90s and applied them to the hybrid writing life. Plan for the Christmas season. Have Christmas promotions and product ready by September. Do not be scrambling to produce work in the middle of the season. But I was locked into teacher brain, not retail artisan brain, and so instead of scrambling throughout the summer to make sure I had my seasonal book production lined up, I was decompressing. It’s really only been the past few weeks, since just before Orycon, that I’ve been scrambling to get the writing finished and either published or submitted, much less run through beta editors.

Well. This is the last year that’s gonna happen. Next year I will know what my holiday season books will be and have them ready in plenty of time, instead of just in time. I’d also been counting on a small press publication which appears to be going nowhere. Sigh.

Meanwhile, I’m getting the last piece of the book I hope to have out by mid-December wrapped up now. It was supposed to be a short story. Now it’s careening recklessly toward novelette territory, and could spin off into its own novel. Maybe I’ll premier it as a serial story, and publish subsequent installments over the course of this next year. Hmm. Could publish it separately for free as well…Hmm.

Thanksgiving is going to be low key. I get up in the morning, go ride horse, come home, get cleaned up, cook gluten-free dressing (already made blueberry crisp and spelt biscuits), then go to a friend’s house for restrained debauchery. If I’m lucky I’ll get time to wrap up the story tomorrow.

Horse is definitely in rehab mode. While most of our work is still in walk and mostly in straight lines, I’ve thrown her a sop in the form of four laps of working trot (about a half mile, two laps per direction) and four long side of the arena canters (again, two per direction). We’re also doing haunches and forehand turns, as well as backing in circles. That’s enough to keep her happy, as she does seem to get tired of doing nothing but walking. She perks right up when she gets to think about using herself, and I’m up in two-point while doing it.

But at least the writing is moving along, the horse seems to be improving, and perhaps we’re getting more movement on other things going on in the life.



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Mocha’s cantering….

Mocha loped with me today. Her choice, not mine. Not a runaway, not a rebellion, just her choice to pick it up on the long side of the arena instead of a working trot. It was smooth and balanced, and she first offered it up on her sore leg. After the first two strides felt good, I just dropped to a half-seat from two-point and eased her up at the corner, walked the corner, and we trotted the next long side.

And then I turned her in the other direction to see what she’d do, and she offered it up on that lead, same thing. With that, we headed off for a short outside hack, because what else could we do from there? She’s been letting me know this week that she’s pretty fed up with walking in a straight line, or even in smaller circles, and she Wants. Real. Work.

Sulky mare. Grumpy mare.

Any changes and she drops the sulks and grumps. So yesterday, we finished off with a trot down the long sides of the arena (me in a two-point), and then we hacked out and did some work outside. She perked right up. Today, I added in some haunches and forehand turns as part of our walk work, including the smaller circle work. That got a more energetic walk out of her. She was eager to pick up the working trot, eased off nicely at the corner, and then just quietly picked up the lope. If it had been irregular or unbalanced I would have pulled her up, but it was a nice, balanced, relaxed lope. I’ve been seeing that develop on the lunge the past two weeks (I’m lunging her before riding, part of the gradual tightening of the cinch, getting her muscles warmed up since that’s part of the area affected by her muscle strain), and it’s nice to feel it again.

It’s much earlier than I *planned* to do this by at least two or three weeks. But during this particular rehab, I’m in the space where I am letting her tell me what she is ready to try. We’re pretty much in conditioning and strength-building phase, and that gives us a little more freedom to line out in a relaxed canter for a few strides instead of a trot, if that’s what feels best. One thing about Mocha is that the canter is the gait that seems to limber her most effectively, and if letting her canter means she’ll tolerate all the walk work we need to be doing, then I’m good with that. I wouldn’t do this with every horse, but with Mocha…yeah.

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A horsey update–land o’ conditioning

And so the horsey rehab continues. Mocha marched off sound from her last round with the bodyworker. Last week she got shoes on all four feet, and the farrier was pleased with the condition of her hooves–so far. But we all know the white line is sneaky, and so tonight I have a hot date with gallon bags and Gorilla tape to make enough cheapass redneck soaking bags so that I can soak all four feet without blowing out a bag due to her shoes. It’s not optimal to soak shod feet with White Lightning, but…it is what it is, and it’s doable. I got hints of the white line reappearing yesterday, so I expect I’ll see more tomorrow and should treat it ASAP.

I have been hitting those feet pretty steadily with a straight iodine flush, and I may do just that tomorrow since the temps are still going to be on the coldish side. Or not. I may just suck it up for forty minutes of keeping her mellow while her hooves soak. Fun and games.

In any case, we’re now back to conditioning. Monday was her first day under saddle in six weeks. She stepped out pretty good, with a long and forward stride like she hasn’t had in…well, ages. Feeling that under me felt like things were right again…though, really, that’s a long way off.

For one thing, she’s desperately out of shape after the last six weeks and the previous six weeks or so of being lame in her right shoulder. I’ve kept her on stall rest with only walk work, mainly to protect the integrity of her hoof wall until we could get shoes to support the hoof capsule on that white line area. We’re now beyond that, but still, a few arena laps at a working trot leaves her winded. Considering that she was doing higher level canter work easily without drawing an uneven breath a year ago, this is a big deal. I’m basically looking at rebuilding both muscle and endurance from scratch.

Which means…lots and lots of walk work, much of it in straight lines, for a highly trained horse who enjoys pattern work and exercises which make her concentrate and think. Not every horse is this way, but Mocha likes it when we do things which allow her to puzzle out a problem or else work fast. If we can do both, she’s even happier. The challenge in bringing a horse like this back into work is to keep her mind engaged without rushing the level of schooling she’s doing. It’s far too tempting to rush a horse like her along, but given that she is a middle-aged mare, it’s better to be conservative and build up wind and muscle slowly. Especially since we are doing this at the start of winter. If she could live where we have a drier climate and turnout, that would be better, but that doesn’t happen until next year.

I’m mixing up saddle schooling and long-line schooling, because some of the muscle tightness issues that brought about her lameness are tied into her cinch area. I don’t want to make her back sore, either, which means we have to spend time getting her (and to be honest, me too) reacclimated to the saddle. I’m asking her for more complex and longer work on the long lines, which allows us to execute movements which will help her rebuild flexibility and strength, only without the pressure of the saddle. We can’t do that work under saddle yet until she’s had enough time to recondition back into the saddle. I’m also riding her in the sidepull because she needs to be working long and loose, going forward with no restraint or collection. If there’s no bit in her mouth, I’m not tempted to try to fiddle around with collection. It also means that I can focus more on using seat and legs for cueing so that we can develop the light whisper of cues that we both prefer.

So right now it’s all just a matter of long, slow work and time. I’m not expecting to be ready to do more under saddle than just walk for another month, because I want to lay down a solid muscle and aerobic foundation. From past experience with this mare, I know that she needs to build strength to a certain point before I can ask her for even basic canter work. Oh, I could ask for it sooner, but the results wouldn’t be the best. Better to build the muscles and wind, and get a nice, relaxed canter rather than have the horse strain, and the only way you get that strength is by taking the time to develop it.

So it’s a long, slow slog back. That’s the way these things just happen to be.

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Horses. Summer. You’ll get no sense out of me.


So this is happening now. Trainer/barn owner got access to a neighboring field. He had the grass cut on it, and it’s now open for hand grazing and riding. What a perfect summer setting. It’s been ages since I’ve done any field riding, and it’s excellent preparation for her move next year. Her reaction was pretty much as you see here–curious, but relaxed. I’m not comfortable loping in this field as it is, because that grass is dry enough to be dangerously slick, even if the cut stuff gets raked up.

Mocha impresses me, though. Past horses in my life, both owned and schoolies, would have been slipping. Part of this field includes a slope that, while not big, was enough to give me a feel for how she would handle downhill movement.


After last year’s escapades on the driveway, I can confidently say it was the blacktop and not the downhill that caused the problems. She walked and jogged up and downhill without slipping. The first time jogging downhill, she wanted to thump around on her forehand but a little half-halt, raise the hand and soft squeeze, and she figured it out.

There’s enough of a slope that I can work on backing her up and down the hills, and do some light schooling on an angled surface. All good stuff for muscle development, and a nice mental break from the arena for both of us in this hot weather.

Mmm. Yes. August on horseback. Just the way I like it.

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Horse at the end of July

Today I went full Western, with curb and romal. Mocha was in the grumpy stage of her heat cycle, where she’s really on the muscle and just wants to go, not fiddle with piddly stuff. We’ve not worked in the curb and romal for about 7-8 months now, though we’ve worked with a Western Pelham (which has the same mouthpiece–basically a long shanked and short shanked version). I’ve had interesting results when we’ve come back into the curb and romal from snaffle/Pelham work but I don’t think I’ve ever had her out of the curb and romal for this long since she first started going in it.

She was very much the workmanlike horse. A bit pushy (goes with time of year and time of cycle). The best thing to do with a pushy Mocha is to bump her up to canter schooling and get precise about locations of lead changes, circles, and rate changes (canter-gallop-canter) Having the full arena again (round pen used to take up half the arena; it’s now gone) makes a huge difference in schooling. I wouldn’t be doing as much with her if we were only working half an arena. With the full arena, it’s easier to do serpentines and figure 8s without falling into tight circles and putting pressure on those hocks of hers. She’s not rushing through the changes and turns, and she’s more relaxed. Win, big time. Plus, because she’s in a mode where she wants to run and work, she’s cooperative and focused.

It didn’t take much for her to get back up to speed on neck reining but that’s to be expected because I use a lot of indirect rein. She rates a lot better at the canter-gallop-canter sequence with the curb and romal. At the end of today’s work, I asked her for a rundown and whoa, followed by back. She was *quite* enthusiastic about that (even without skid boots). Then we did some of the best dang rollbacks she’s ever done. That was enough. We went for a stroll past the Paint of Death; she watched him and flicked her ears at him but kept her head low. A strange dog (goofy golden) ran at her by the Scary Barn and she raised her head, then lowered and started to approach the dog (dog was with people). She was alert but not particularly worried. Interesting how changing out the bit just brings out that side of her personality even more than ever. Girl does seem to like her work.

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Schooling is a process….

Mocha got a four day layoff while hubby and I were off at Oregon Country Fair. When I returned on Monday, I had hopes that perhaps she would finally be over the Evil Paint Gelding stuff. No such luck. We schooled well until the very end, when Mr. Gelding moved within her range of vision. Despite having had a rather rigorous work, Miss Silly started doing her giraffe imitation. Sighing, I resumed the tight circle work up by the suspicious corner, mixing it up with lateral work.

Except–the lateral work started getting her wound up, and I could tell that Airs Above the Ground were imminent. Something else had to happen, and I decided that if Little Miss wanted to hold her head high and be snorty, then by golly, she was going to do small circles with her head high at my discretion. So every time she got wound up, up went my hands. At first we trotted, and there was an amusing moment when she tried to snort while I was driving her forward while holding her head high. She couldn’t get much of a snort off, and she got tired of being required to carry her head high very quickly, and soon we were walking around the suspicious corner with her head low.

Nonetheless, I decided that enough was enough at the moment. While Mocha’s getting back in shape, I really didn’t want to be yoinking around in tight circles like that because of the stress it puts on her hocks. Besides, if she had enough go in her to start reacting at the end of a riding session, then perhaps it was time that I set her down and we really got back to work, to keep her mind focused. So she had a day of rest, and then yesterday and today’s work, inside using snaffle with a focus on getting back into patterns at walk and trot.

Yesterday was pretty sweet. Besides warmup on the rail ending with figure 8s and flying lead changes, we also walked and trotted square figures. It didn’t take long for her to be looking for the pattern and making those sharp turns. Two laps of walk, then we schooled inside and outside bend in big figure 8s at all three gaits. More walk, then two-track at walk and trot. Walk break, then, because she had been throwing off countercanter outside whenever I shifted my weight, we schooled flying changes on the rail. She was pretty energetic and enthusiastic about that. I tried to keep the changes to every four strides with the inside lead on the short ends, but she was feeling full of herself and enjoying the movement. More walk, and then spiral in and out, once in each direction, followed by a little bit of showmanship practice. She gets annoyed by it, but I will get her to square up automatically one of these days. Finished with a shower for her, and despite the heat of the day, she wasn’t very sweaty.

Today was cooler but Mocha was clearly a little tired. Instead of flying changes on the rail, we did more schooling work on bending and yielding to the bit. She normally tends to want to tilt her nose to the right, and I had noticed yesterday that her shoulders seemed to be a bit wiggly and not-straight when in walk to the left with an inside bend, especially in two particular places in the arena. So we worked on turning not-straight with resistance to hand and leg into straight with yielding to my hand  and leg at the walk. She wasn’t thrilled about that. I had to play to find the right mix of leg and hand, as well as sit up as straight as possible. Eventually we got there–and then had to go back to ground zero to work on getting a nice canter depart from the walk while maintaining the bend. It took a lap, but we got it.

Doesn’t happen at trot or canter–just walk. We did a couple of laps of canter in each direction with me asking her for some semblance of collection, and then I let her extend down the long side of the arena heading away from the gate. Not far, but just a touch to let her relax. Then cool down on a long rein.

One of my goals in this rehab is to work on consistent yielding to the bit at all three gaits. It’s one thing that kills us in rail classes, because she doesn’t necessarily want to work under herself, and I think it’s as much a conditioning issue as it is anything else. We pretty much have everything else in good shape, but keeping and sustaining impulsion and collection is a weak spot. We’re not consistent. That falls on both of us, because the rider falls apart as much as the horse does. Ergo, circuits of the big arena where we simply work on maintaining a correct bend, on the bit softly, not behind it, and just lots of building up the strength to sustain that impulsion and collection. When we get it, the result is lovely. We just have to sustain it consistently, for more than a few strides.

Yeah. Schooling is a process, whether you’re training horses or teaching kids. It’s going to be interesting to see what comes out of this rehab. Last time I had to bring her back after an injury, we suddenly had flying changes. Maybe this time we can develop more consistency. That would be nice.

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