Back in the Saddle

That is one of our first rides out on the trail. Karina was very calm and a little playful - obviously happy to go out with me. We tried a little trot, turns on the hindquarters (which were meant to be tiny voltas, but they turned out to be rollbacks almost, because the path was pretty narrow), shoulder-in on both reins and so on. We met cyclists on the trail, and Karina wanted to chase them, only I didn't let her to ;)
Karina was pretty much on the bit all the time. She carries her neck rounded most of the time and she seems to be stretching her back more and more. However, when I asked her to do some bending after the ride (stretching carrot exercises), she had a big problem with one kind of those exercises. I asked her to bend around me, while I was leaning against her ribs and to reach to her hock joints. That she did easily to the left, and to the right she could not bend almost at all.  She can bend in the neck - that is not a problem, but to lean on her outside leg and rotate the pelvis to the left - that is still impossible for Karina to do. Well, that's great that I have discovered a problem area, because when I'll fix it - most of other problems will be gone forever :)


The Disguise is Gone

Well, I'm back after this long break... I'm back with results that I had hardly ever dreamed to achieve. I should be proud and happy with what Karina and I have achieved together, but instead I'm feeling a bit lost and... disappointed? No, 'disappointed' is not the right word... There is some sense of loss, like something was gone from my life forever... Pretty odd, huh?
Well, straight and to the point: Karina is now a perfectly normal horse. Normal, boring, pleasure riding horse. She is now perfectly safe and I can leave her with vet or farrier without fear that she'll do something dangerous in self-defence. No, no. Nothing of the kind. She is now extremely calm and reliable – a Gift in no Disguise. Now I finally recognize the horse I had bought two and a half a year ago...
How did we achieve that? I'll tell you next time.


Isn't it funny...

Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes

but when you look back...

everything is different.

C.S. Lewis


There is Life in Karina's Back! - October 10th

I thought that there was a crisis approaching, but it appears that I was wrong :) The progress may now be a little less visible, but nonetheless each time I work with Karina, we're making a step forward :)
This time Karina came to the pasture gate on her own. My husband took her on a lead rope and groomed her in the stableyard. I played with Karina's tail a little; she was not particularly happy about that, but her tail was loose and I could make little circles with it. Karina protested slightly when I dressed her up in cavesson. We went for a walk just as usual; during the walk I worked a little on backing up, stelling and bending. Then we went to the roundpen (this time she didn't rush there, as she was doing for the last couple of times) and worked for some eight minutes on LFS on the circle. Karina tried to lean on me a little, on both sides, for some cause she was searching for support from me. But towards the end of this session she was more on her own legs, especially to the right. She tilts her head a little, but this is caused not by tension in the neck, but by problems with stretching the whole side of her body, especially in the hip area. Improvement will come in time, of that I'm fairly sure.
I have still to pay attention to her stepping under with hind legs, because when I'm not reminding Karina to step under, she tends to place her inner hind leg beside her body (not so much as she used to in the beginning of ST, but still that is not what I want). Her LFS to the left is still very imperfect, but it is improving. I'm afraid that I'm putting too much pression on Karina and that I'm not enthusiastic enough when she is progressing. I should praise and reward her more intensively, just as I did in the beginning, and she was much more motivated to work. Now she becomes a little impatient sometimes, and perhaps... disappointed? I don't want to fail her. Just as I've said in some previous posts, it is much more working with yourself, on your reactions, than actually working with your horse. If you improve – your horse improves.
In the end of the session Karina could focus no longer. There was something going on in the nearby bushes, and there was wind, so she kept on stopping and looking there. I therefore asked her to make one last effort, and I stopped ST session right there. Then we went to the riding arena to work on some TTEAM exercises – Star and Labyrinth. I started with Labirynth, and it went pretty well, though we were both rushing through it. Next time I must pay more attention to the precision of every step and turn. I should stop Karina much more often, so we could both have time to think on our next move instead of rushing blindly through the exercise.
The Star, too, could have been better, though I confess I have not much to complain about. We worked on the poles flat on the ground, and then every second of them was raised at one end. Karina fell out on her outside hind leg, no matter what the direction. Maybe that was too hard for her and too soon I went closer to the centre of the star.
A couple of times I went with Karina to the wall and worked a little on shoulder-fore. Karina overbent to the inside and the shoulder-fore became something like a shoulder-in. She rebelled a little, I think not because I asked too much of her, but because she had problems with understanding what I wanted. I stopped her, bent her neck and asked her to step under. She made a step forward and then lowered her head. Her shoulders became visibly more free and her range of motion increased. After three steps or so I stopped her, because that was AWESOME! I rewarded Karina and took her to the stableyard to dress her up in her stable halter, so that we could go to look for some apples under the apple trees :)
When I watched training videos, I've noticed that when I led Karina from one place in the riding arena to the other, she started to let the movement through her back; it gently swayed, and her forelegs moved more softly and with grace. Her steps are becoming lighter and her motion range increases. She likes now to move with her head down, at least on straight lines, less so on curves. I no longer need to remind Karina to lower her head all the time.
Conclusions: I should have worked a little more on backing up. In fact I planned to, but since Karina gave me that wonderful shoulder-in, I decided not to force her to do any more that day.


Repairing Mistakes - October 6th

Fortunately, nothing serious. I went to Karina to the pasture and took her to the stableyard. She came with me eagerly, on a loose lead rope (must try one day to take her without rope). I groomed her, inspected the thrush hoof and treated it with hoof spray. The ground has dried now, and I hope that it won't be raining for a next couple of days, so Karina's hooves will improve.
Anyway, I dressed her up in a cavesson and we went for a walk. I stopped her a couple of times and worked on stelling in a standstill. Karina tried to bend her neck in an 'S'-shape, and I didn't know why (at the moment, because now I know). Fortunately, I managed to correct it. I did some backing up, which is still improving (baby steps, but nevertheless some progress), and I'm thinking on starting backing up over a pole (front legs first), and backing up in a labyrinth (TTEAM methods).
Then we went to the riding arena to work on poles and cavalettis and of course that cross-rail obstacle. Since that was a problem for Karina, I broke the exercise up in three parts. But first I did some warming-up on poles. There were four of them this time, all on the ground at first. Then my husband lifted fourth pole just a little (some 10-15 cm), then the second one, and then all of them. After that we put a cavaletti at the end of the poles and finally we got to the cross-rail. At first, there were only the standards and one pole, hanged asymmetrically between them. That Karina accepted easily. Then we hanged the pole asymmetrically in the different direction, and when that was accepted, we added a second pole. This time there was no problem with the obstacle. Karina trotted over it easily and I stopped training at that. I know that there is still much more to work on – we crossed the obstacle only once, and towards the stable, so I used a little trick here; I made horse's natural motivation work for me. I don't know how would it work if I asked Karina to go over the obstacle the other way. But that may come in time. Now it is important not to loose Karina's interest and motivation. She is pretty eager to work in that way.
Then we went to the roundpen to work on our LFS. This time, just as I've said before, I focused on the L of LFS, that is the lateral bending. First I started with stelling in a standstill. I've noticed that Karina's hip on the inner side of the bending (when she bends to the right) is much lower than on the outside, which is great. That means that she's stretching her side muscles, which is the goal of this exercise. I failed, however, to notice if on the left side it works as well. Then we moved to work in walk, and I've noticed that Karina's self-carriage has visibly improved – but on the right side. She is no longer leaning on her right front leg, and she manages to keep herself on a circle instead of falling inside. I'm not sure, however, if that is because the size of the circle we're working on corresponds the degree of her crookedness to the right, or is it due to our ST progress. Because according to Marijke, I may expect severe changes in the horse's asymmetry – even that the horse will display symptoms of precisely the opposite asymmetry. If I only knew which case this was...
Anyway, circles to the left are much worse. Karina doesn't seem to support herself with her left hind leg. I know that this leg is weaker, I know that she avoids putting much of her weight on it. On the longe, in the canter, she was always falling outside with her left hip. People often think that this is caused by insufficient engagement of the inner hind leg, but it is exactly the opposite. It is because the inner hind leg is so strong and pushing, that it pushes the hip outside over the weaker outside hind leg. Karin Blignault in her Equine biomechanics for Rider. The Key to the Balanced Riding confirms that it is so.
It occured to me also that Karina may be avoiding the stretch of her short, stiff right side muscles. Well, that tells me only that I need to work on that. And if I caused Karina's asymmetry to change, it only means that we're getting somewhere.
And about that S-shape neck bending: it may not necessarily be that I caused it by some unconscious directions that I gave Karina (as I feared at first), but it may be that she is just trying, just as all animals do, to get release in an easier way, by putting in less effort. It is pretty common in horse training.


Forcing Relaxation - October 5th

That was all strange. Again, there was a lot going on in the stable. There was the equine massage course again, and there were workers repairing the paddock fences, so there was a lot of noise and excitement. The herd seemed to be grazing in peace, but that wasn't exactly true. The herd leader was furious and I have never seen him like that. He wouldn't let any horse come near him – he jumped on them with his teeth and hooves. He disciplined Karina also for coming too close. Usually he allows her to be very close to him, they drink together and chase away each other's flies. But this time he was really bossy. Maybe to him the workers, using those noisy tools, seemed to be a threat. He never shows his feelings, he keeps them much to himself, but I think he must have been very anxious and that busy day in the stable must have sorely tried his patience.

Anyway, I went to the pasture to see Karina and she welcomed me warmly. There was a piece of dry bread for her, and a little scratching, and I went away. The massage course was still in progress, so I decided to wait until it finished. I spent some time watching the herd, and eventually I went to get Karina. She went with me quite eagerly, I groomed her as usual, though this time she didn't want me to do anything around her hindquarters. She was uneasy having me around there and she didn't like brushing her with her plastic brush. I have known that happen before – Karina is changing her coat, and at this time she likes her metal brush better. The plastic one seems to tickle her. I must try that the next time I'm in the stable. And I think that, despite no visual signs of that state, Karina is in heat. It is at least a time that she should be. But since she spends a lot of time outside, and she eats less caloric food, her organism cannot allow itself to spend energy on heat fireworks :) Well, we'll see about that. But I think that's it. Always when Karina is in heat, she becomes a little pushy and either over-reactive to touch or totally immune. When I want her to move, I must show her that I really mean it, whereas normally I can wave her away with my fingers. And that is what it looked like yesterday.
The thrush hoof looks better and hurts less, but the treatment isn't over yet. All Karina's frogs look bad and I have ordered her a hoof spray, but it has not come yet.
Anyway, I took her for a walk (in cavesson, of course), and we worked on some forward-down, and a little shoulder-fore (which is a little LFS on straight lines). Then I took Karina to the roundpen to work on LFS on the circle. I tried to make her move more on her own, and it sometimes worked, I think. But she continues still to lean on her inner frontleg (more on the right side, just as usual). However, I think that it is improving, but still when I leave Karina more to herself, she continues to place her hind leg beside her body, and not underneath it. After analysing the training video, which my long-suffering husband made for me again, I've noticed that I really should work more on the lateral bend, and not so much on forward-down. I have compared that with Marijke's Prince Elmelund videos, and I see that his forward-down is a result of lateral bending and stepping under. I have confused the cause with effect, and hence my new problems arose. I really need to control my forward-down obsession :) I may not have mentioned it before, but in the past I have tried everything to make Karina move in that position. Nothing I did would make her stretch her back muscles and lower her head. That was mighty frustrating. And now when Karina offered me that forward-down movement when we have started with ST, I was just overjoyed. And unconsciously I'm trying to maintain this as long as I can (by pulling on cavesson... God, I'm stupid! You cannot force realxation!), whereas I really should be satisfied with a few steps every now and then. Well, in case you didn't know, I'm telling you now, that working with horses is actually working with yourself. A horse is a horse, and he knows and can do all that you ask him, and if he doesn't, then apparently you asked a wrong question. If horse fails, that is always your fault. Mind that.
Well, after ST session, I worked a little on backing up, which is becoming better and better. I backed Karina up three times, after each backing up asking her to come forward to me. She moves now easier and lighter, and I don't need to push her back, but I just put the end of my riding whip to her chest and tap her with it. At the end of our session I no longer needed to use whip, I just waved her away with my fingers. Then she got her treat and we went to the riding arena to work on the poles and cavalettis. This time they were placed closer and Karina had to bend her joints more. Then we went to walk over a cross-rail obstacle. Why? I have noticed that Karina, despite she has no objections to jumping over paddock fences, tree logs, ditches and so on, is afraid of common show jumping obstacles. I have figured out that the standards are the problem (which is mighty odd, because she is not afraid of squeezing through the tiny door, or of horse trailers and things like that, so that can't be just a typical horse claustrophobia) and I'm starting to work on that a little. Since I've decided to work in hand and in walk only, until Karina achieves a satisfying level of relaxation, I'm doing what I can to make our training sessions as interesting as possible. And it seems to be working, because Karina is eager to come out with me and she is always curious about what are we going to do this time.
We walked over the obstacle to one side (not entirely successfully – Karina hit one of the poles with her hind leg and upset it) and then we changed direction. Karina protested. So we ended up standing on both sides of the obstacle, I one side and Karina on the other, asking me if she could go round it. I answered that she couldn't and I insisted that she came to me over the rails. I took out a treat from my pocket and beckoned her with it. Finally, with a sigh of resignation, Karina walked over the rails towards me and we stopped training at that. I took her immediately to the pasture to her mates. I hope that she will remember how she earned that release.
During our ST session this time I've noticed that Karina was tilting her head a bit. It worried me a little (it would have horrified me had I not seen Marijke's videos on that) But it wasn't until I watched our training video that I realised why Karina did that. You see, I tried to make her move her shoulders more to the outside, to shift her weight more on the outside foreleg, so that she wouldn't lean so much on the inside foreleg. That was totally erroneus (because it is the hinquarter engagement which frees the shoulders) and it resulted in Karina tilting her head (well, I helped her to achieve that by pulling on the cavesson). I don't believe now that I could be so stupid. I just hope that I did't ruin much...