Sunday, September 23, 2012

Big weekend for the kids

What a weekend!  Not only has Joe improved significantly over the four times I've ridden him, but I finally back the pony!  I'll start out with Joe though.

Thursday was my first time riding him, and when I first get on a horse, especially one that I have time to work with (no rush for results) I like to feel out how they go and how they like to use their bodies.  Many OTTBs (Off the Track Thoroughbreds) are strong to the left, weak to the right, and stiff through their whole bodies.  Because Joe was turned out for 18+ months before I bought him, most of his body soreness from race training should be gone.  Living out in a pasture doesn't improve one-sidedness though.  

Since when I watched him be ridden by the cowboy last weekend I noticed he had a tight grip on Joe's mouth (and a corkscrew snaffle- poor boy) I also wanted to see what how he'd go without any support.  As I imagined, he went with his head up, bracing with his lower neck, and using his neck to balance himself in turns.  He also wasn't interested in picking up the right lead at all.  The next day I had the privilege of having a great professional watch me ride, and on the second try, with his tips we got the right lead, and I was impressed by how soft and balanced his canter was!  This is going to be a nice horse.

On Saturday I began asking for a bit more from him.  We spent some time walking and trotting on small circles where he was rewarded for bending to the inside and giving to the pressure. These exercises will help him become much more supple through his whole body.  I also began to ask him to drop his head down and lift through his back.  Right now, because he's not completely accepting of the contact, he is not truly on the bit, rather he's just in a frame, but working this way will help him to build his topline and gain muscle in the right places.  As he learns to understand the aids better he will learn how to carry himself correctly.  Since he still needs about 300 lbs I'm taking it slow and letting him figure things out as we go.  He's proving to be very smart and quiet though, which is exactly why I bought him!  I'm so glad that Janene was around to take some video so you can see exactly why I like him so much.

Afterwards, I went through my routine with Starbucks, and since I had Janene around to help I thought it would be the perfect chance to back him for the first time.  I lunged him til he was pretty tired (did I mention he picked up on how to lunge right away?  He's an old pro now!), and then I went through my routine of jumping up and down, banging on the saddle, shaking everything, waving my hands all over the place - Starbucks just looked at me like I'm crazy.  I swear if horses could roll their eyes, he would have in that moment.  So I had Janene lead him up to the mounting block and I layed across his back several times from each direction, and then I mounted and dismounted several times, and finally we walked off! We walked about 20 ft and then I hopped off and started over with the whole process.  The second time (after the same process of laying across him and mounting and dismounting) I got on and we walked around the whole ring with much less stopping and starting!  He's such a good boy and deserves a ton of treats!  (although instead of treats I just tell him he's a good boy, I hate mouthy horses).  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

+1 this week! Meet Joe.

Its almost time to back Starbucks (that means get on his back)!  He's getting better about all things preparation- he's lunging great, lets me stand above him and wave my arms, and lay across his back.  He's much more comfortable wearing tack, especially with the bit in his mouth.  He's still nervous when there are other horses being lunged or ridden in the ring, he can't seem to figure out why those horses look so different!  He's still reactive when there are noises or anything else going on behind him, but he improves each day.  He seems happy to be engaged in work and learning a job.

There is more exciting news though, today my new horse arrives!  

Joe is a 16.3h 5 year old TB gelding.  He's well bred (Chief Seattle x Outflanker), and although he's 5 he only raced 5 times when he was a 3 year old.  He's a plain bay with a small star and a good mover.  A cursory google search revealed some photos from his racing days, including a conformation shot from when he was a yearling.  He won $5000 on the track, and then was turned out for 18 months until I found him.  Not all thoroughbreds need or get time to decompress after a racing career, but it certainly never hurt any of them.  His body has gotten a chance to rest and recover, and his brain has had time to come down.  The beauty of ex-racehorses, and one of my favorite things about them, is that they have seen so much at a young age.  Horse shows will be no big deal for him, because there is less hustle and bustle there than there is at a racetrack.  He knows how to go (anyone who has started young warmbloods will tell you that 'button' doesn't come preinstalled!) and stop, and he bathes, lunges, ties, loads, clips etc.  All the groundwork has been done, and I'm simply going to have to retrain him to be a riding horse instead of a race horse.  Piece of cake!

I found him in a field about an hour and a half away, watched him get lunged and ridden, then vetted and bought him.  Wait, did I just buy another horse without sitting on it?  Oops!  I'm not worried about it though, this guy is kick-along quiet, and I think he'll make up into a great hunter prospect. He's got a big, slow, rocking horse canter, and as he was lunged over fences he got the hang of it quickly.  He needs about 300 lbs right now, his feet badly need to be done, and his dead summer coat needs to fall out.  I'll get him cleaned up though, and by spring he'll be a different horse.  I will post pictures when he arrives this afternoon, and I'll be blogging about both his and Starbucks progress in the coming months. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Week one

I know I always say how much I love ponies.  They are the BEST.  I've been having so much fun getting to know Starbucks, playing with him, and introducing him to his new life.  Its only been a week since he arrived and we have been working on groundwork everyday.  He took to lunging right away, and is already responding to the voice commands I use.  We work in the roundpen some days, the ring others, and sometimes we go and walk the trails.  I want him to see as much as possible so that everything becomes no big deal. 

 I introduced him to a saddle and bridle earlier in the week, and while at first he wasn't too sure about the whole "bit" thing, the more time he spends wearing it, the more comfortable he gets.  I still had credit at Smartpak so I ordered him his very own bridle, and have him in a loose ring happy mouth snaffle that he seems to like much better than the big rubber D-ring I used on Prince.

Side note: Everyone knows how much I love Smartpak, so I thought I would add a review about the bridle I just bought.  Smartpak has a line of bridles called Plymouth, and despite the fact that the new bridle was only $52, the leather feels like the same quality you find in $100+ schooling bridles.  Its soft, supple and comfortable on the horse's face.  It comes with reins, and in pony, cob, and horse sizes.  I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quality schooling bridle!  I happen to have their flash bridle in horse size, that I used on Aston and Prince, and a pony sized bridle that the Yellow pony shows in.  I love nice tack, and although with horses usually my taste doesn't match my budget, this time I feel like I have a great bridle at a price I can afford!

Anyway, back to Starbucks.  On Thursday Grayson helped me introduce him to ground driving.  I like to have a rapport and language established with the babies before I'm on their back.  I think it makes the experience much better, and the training process becomes much easier.  I like to establish the go and stop (cluck/woah) and steering.  Having a language is important to me when I'm about to introduce them to something entirely new in their life, and I want them to trust that I'm worth believing.

On Friday I free-jumped him for the first time, just over some little stuff, and he was great!  We had a bucket of food so that we'd be able to catch him on the back side, and when Christine had the bucket with her from her post with the video camera, he actually decided to jump the 3' side rail in the chute rather than the cross rail so he could get to the bucket of food.  I think he likes to jump! After that we put the bucket at the end of the ring and he jumped great through the chute.

One of the fun thing about ponies is that they tend to have all the personality of a big horse, packed into a little body.  Starbucks is no different.  He's got a huge personality and I just can't wait to tap into his athleticism and talent.  He's got BIG movement, and a great brain.  He's not as quiet and simple as Prince, but he's got try.  He's going to do big things, I can feel it.

I think within the next week I'll back him.  Once he's a little more confirmed with the ground driving I think he'll be ready to learn how to be a riding horse!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Meet Starbucks

Yesterday a new project arrived, and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get back into writing this blog. 

Starbucks is a 14.2h 4 year old German Riding Pony, who has spent his whole life living in a field.  He is currently halter broke, and his only trip off the farm he was born was as a foal to go to his inspection.  He was rated gold premium by the RPSI and was the #2 pony foal in the country his year.  He's a fantastic mover and has lots of potential as a dressage or eventing pony. 

He's with me to be started and sold, and this is where I will chronicle his journey from a halter broke baby into a grown up riding horse.  Over the next few weeks he'll be getting his mane pulled, learning to tie, working in the roundpen, lunging, ground driving and learning to wear tack.  I'll be going at his pace and letting him tell me when he's ready to take the next step. If he's anything like his brother though, he'll be going around in no time!
He arrived yesterday afternoon and huffed and puffed as I showed him the farm.  He's a little bit nervous, but who can blame him?  We kept him in overnight since it was wet outside, and didn't want him exploring the fence line in the dark.  He's never been stalled before so it will take some time for him to learn to love that.

This morning I spent about an hour with him in the round pen pushing him around a bit, stopping to play, and even introducing him to a saddle pad.  At first he thought the pad would eat him, but after only a few minutes he couldn't have cared less.  The most exciting thing that has happened so far is meeting the barn cats.  He can't quite wrap his head around the idea of smaller four legged animals, and thankfully both Bob and Tabby are being very tolerant and letting him sniff them and play with them.

Tonight I went back out to work him again, and he was brilliant lunging for his first time, and even wearing a surcingle for the first time.  He tied to the hitching post, and stood to let me give him a bath and pull his mane.  He seemed genuinely interested in figuring out what I was up to, and happy to be hanging out with me.  I worked on tying the same way we taught our yearling, by wrapping the lead rope around the post and holding the other end, so that there is a little bit of give but no loss of control if he pulls back. It took a few minutes for him to figure out how he was still able to move, but after that he stood patiently and hung out while I fussed with him.  He does have ticks all over his legs and belly, so tomorrow I will need to get on those, but I couldn't me more excited to become a team with him, and unlock this fancy little guy's potential!