Today we did a little bit of everything! We worked on holding her bow, conditioned, and worked on some bridleless training both bareback and with the saddle!
She’s really starting to anticipate the bow and will sometimes lift her leg before I even tap it! I still grab her hoof and help her down while saying “whoa” to encourage her to stay. After being down for a couple seconds I’ll say “ok! Good girl!” and let her come up. We only practiced a couple times. Short and sweet!
Next, I jumped on her and just wanted her to cruise around at the trot and lope only off of my leg. She got a little distracted a couple times, but we corrected it and she got lighter and lighter. I had the neckrope around her neck, but I always ask with my leg first, then add the neckrope, and if needed I grab the reins. The more we ride, the more she responds to my leg only so I’m not “messing” with her. We kept this up for a while, enough to get her blood pumping. Every so often I would let her stop and reward her for being good, and then we would start again. She got a great workout and also got better at our bridleless work! Two birds!
When we were done, I hosed her down and gave her some good scratches! She loves to grab the water with her mouth – silly horse. She stood there, enjoyed the water, and grabbed a snack for a few minutes. It was the perfect ending to our session!
Today is our two-year adoptiversary! I can’t believe it’s already been two years!
I started reflecting on how far she’s come with her training, including her first ride! I remember it so vividly. We had been doing our groundwork and she was wearing the saddle really well, going through obstacles, and hardly spooking at anything. I had put weight in the stirrups and rubbed her all over. The weather wasn’t cooperating and had been super stormy and rainy, so the roundpen was a muddy mess. While waiting for the ground to dry, we continued to solidify her groundwork and continue desensitizing. Once the roundpen was dry, I was so excited to finally be able to climb aboard my horse for the first time! I saddled her up, longed her, moved her forequarters and hindquarters, flexed her to both sides, and did some desensitizing. She flew through those steps with flying colors. It was time!
I tightened the cinch and flexed her to the side, stepped up on the stirrups on both sides, leaned over her back, rubbed her, and talked to her. She was perfect. I then committed to putting my leg all the way over on the next go. I was super excited but also anxious as you never know what can happen when starting new horses. I flexed her to the left, put my foot in the stirrup, pulled myself up, leg over, and sat in the saddle! So far so good! She could have cared less. Then I immediately dismounted. I wanted her to understand that it’s no big deal to be up there and is not always work. I repeated this a couple times, rubbing her all over, just wanting her to remain calm.
Now it was time to ask for a little bit more. I flexed her, swung my leg over, and wiggled in the saddle a bit. I rubbed her some more, and then started asking for movement by asking her to move her hind end with my heel and lightly clucking. At first she wasn’t too sure if she should be moving, but I could see her wheels turning! I continued to ask until she took a step with her hind end. I immediately released all pressure. Good girl Ella! I rubbed her and asked again. She took one step around, then two, etc. For the first ride, I never ask for too much. I just wanted her to be soft, take a couple steps both directions, and stay relaxed. She caught on quick. It didn’t take long for her to flex lightly and move her feet from my cues. That’s all I wanted! She was relaxed and listening with no freak outs! Success! I dismounted and gave her lots of scratches for a job well done 😊
It's crazy to think how far she’s come since then, and this is just the beginning! I can’t wait for all of our adventures to come! Happy two years, Ella!
I taught Ella how to bow at liberty, meaning no halter, ropes, etc. Our goal is for me to be able to hop on her bareback from the ground, since I was not blessed with a great vertical like some people. Ha! We’re working on improving her bow, little by little, but I wanted to share how I taught her! Anyone can do this with their horse. It just takes a little time and patience!
When bowing, the horse rocks backwards slightly, so it was important that she first knew how to back up when I touched her chest. I started with a small amount of pressure and increased the pressure until she backed up one step. I then released the pressure and rewarded her with a treat. Once she was taking several steps back, I taught her to pick up her front leg when I tapped her cannon bone with my boot. At first, I rewarded the smallest try. When she moved her leg at all in response to my foot, I would reward that. She began picking her foot up enough for me to grab it and hold it there, just like I was picking out her hoof.
The second phase was putting these two tasks together – picking up her foot and rocking back slightly. I tapped her cannon bone with my foot, she picked it up, I grabbed it, and then I pressed on her chest slightly. Again, I rewarded the smallest try. Whenever she rocked back at all, I would release and reward her with a treat. We practiced this over and over, small sessions for a couple days, and she rocked back farther and farther. Finally, she rocked back all the way, to where I set her leg down on the ground! She had officially bowed! I immediately said “good girl!” and released. She got big praise at that point!
Currently, we are working on holding it longer and longer. I haven’t been consistent at all, which is my fault. We have only had a bowing lesson every once in a while, but that is going to change. I will ask her to hold it a little bit longer each session by saying “whoa” when she is bowing. I want to make sure that she is waiting for my release of saying “good girl!” and not getting up sooner. This can be tricky with a 1,000 lb animal. You can’t “make” them stay down, so I don’t ask for too much at one time. I try to listen to her so that I’m setting her up for success, not failure. I want her to enjoy it! When she stays down long enough to be an improvement, I reward her and call it a day. With short, consistent sessions I know that she will continue to get better and better until I’m hopping on and we’re riding off!
Today I’m just feeling very thankful that I own this beautiful, talented horse.
We rode in the outdoor arena, then down the road and through the pasture, and just enjoyed the ride. Even with her sometimes sassy attitude, I feel privileged to be her rider and trainer. She’s come so far since we started training almost 2 years ago. We’ve done a lot, and still have major goals to achieve. I’m looking forward to starting our endurance career! Regardless of how fast we get there, I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey. I think that sometimes people get so caught up in “the next thing” or “the next show,” and stress themselves out over trying to place or win. In doing so, they’re forgetting the joy that comes with riding. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the ride or event!
We all started somewhere, as a kid or an adult. Either way, I think it’s important to remember why you started, or why you want to start riding! The excitement of riding for the first time, riding a new horse, competing for the first time – all moments that should make us feel happy and proud to be there!
I’ve promised Ella that no matter what happens in any competition, I’ll always thank her for the ride and appreciate every moment that we have together as a team.
One thing that I can promise you guys is that I will always be real and honest with you about our riding and training – the good and the bad. After time off you can definitely have some ups and downs, and today was the perfect example of that.
We met up with a friend to go for a ride out and about. After saddling her up, I headed to the roundpen to longe her for a bit to get any silliness out. She was perfect! Nice smooth, ground covering trot and lope, and a solid whoa. Then we went to ride in the outdoor arena. She suddenly became aware that her girlfriends were back the other direction and thought that it was appropriate to just walk out of the arena and call it quits for the day. Every time we passed the open gate, she would try to veer towards it. At the trot, she would speed up to shoulder in towards the gate. She’s a very forward mare which can sometimes get her into trouble when she’s too gung-ho about what she “thinks” she needs to be doing. This is where we get the pony trot of death. Yay.
We needed to refresh her memory and have a discussion about this. I picked up her shoulder and asked her to move both ways off my leg until she was soft and responsive, not the rebelling stiffness. She softened up, turned the corners better, and focused more. Now that that was out of the way, it was time to head to the pasture for a nice ride. She was excited to have a riding buddy this time! We made our way through the brush and trees. Occasionally I would take her on an alternate path so that she had to walk away from her new friend. When he was out of sight, she had a small moment of anxiety, but was otherwise fine. When he trotted off, she stayed at a walk like I asked. Good job Ella 😊
We’re going to continue to work on a balance of fine tuning and conditioning so that she’s ready for those longer rides! As she gains more miles, I know that she will become more focused and start going strong again.
Today we focused on conditioning. We alternated trotting and loping for 30 minutes, enough to get her working and blood pumping but not overdoing anything. She started out like she does longing sometimes, a little awkward, speed trotting, finding her stride. As a few minutes passed and she warmed up, she settled into her beautiful ground covering trot, not the pony trot of death that we all loathe. Haha! When I’m longing, even if just conditioning, I make sure to incorporate some training element with it. For instance, I want to make sure that she’s really listening to me and waiting for me to transition gaits. When I smooch and ask for the lope, I expect the lope at that moment or else I will increase the pressure. Same goes for downward transitions. I want her to immediately relax back down. If she’s still feeling like Speedy Gonzales then I’ll step in front of the drive line to make her shift back down.
I also want her to have nice round circles where her body is bending and she’s got an eye on me, not looking out at her buddies in the pasture. I don’t want her to shoulder in and “cheat” by cutting off part of the circle. If she starts to get lazy, I will take the end of my lead rope, whip, etc. and wave it towards her shoulder to make her move away from it. This will get her back out onto the correct circle and also ensures that she has an eye on me. Ella’s a champ, though, and knows the drill. She might try to test the waters in the beginning of the session (yay mares haha) to make sure that I’m serious, but she knows what is expected of her and gives a sigh of “ok mom, if you say so.”
After our 30 minutes were up, I walked her out for a bit to prevent any stiffness, let her pulse down, and slow her breath. She then had a post workout snack of her favorite treat – watermelon rinds! She gobbles it down faster than the regular horse treats! Before she’s even done chewing, she’s asking for more by putting her slobbery nose in my face as if she’s saying “come on, mom, keep it coming! You’re too slow!” Silly pony…
Ella was sure feeling good today! We went out for a few miles on the road to start getting her conditioned. I think she likes the idea of being an endurance horse, however she did not like the idea of going slow today, like the word “easy” was part of some foreign language. She was constantly saying “mom I can do a lot more than this! Let’s go!”
She was a little pushy, wanting to go faster, but I kept making her alternate through her paces. It seemed like we were bantering back and forth like an old married couple. I said walk, she wanted to trot, I said walk, she wanted to lope. She was definitely letting me know that she didn’t approve of my “nice and easy” ride, but even so, she listened to my persistent requests.
Even though she’s not currently in great shape, I know that she could have gone all day! She loves it! I call her my little energizer bunny. It won’t take long to get her going strong, add miles, and increase the intensity of workouts with more consistent trotting and loping. I can’t wait!
It was a beautiful day for some pony time! When I arrived at the barn, Ella was right there waiting for me, ready to get going! We started by spending some time longing and doing a mini workout, and then had a short session playing around at liberty. I absolutely love the bond and level of connection that you get with the horse when liberty training. There’s nothing “making” the horse do anything. It’s an amazing feeling! Ella gives me 100% (most of the time ha), and that’s all I can ask for!