Sunday, February 22, 2009

And away we go!

July18th, 2007
Kate is ready for her first ride!

Warm up at liberty in the round pen. I do not see lunging as a means to "tire a horse out," but rather as a way to get them cooperating and to gauge their mental state. I don't mind a little silliness, but I want to see forward movement and willingness to pay attention.
You can see Kate's inside ear cocked toward me (as it was in every photo Al took of the groundwork!).Some lateral flexion, giving to the bit from both sides. I subscribe to the belief that I have enough invested in my young horses that I want to protect their legs, especially for these initial rides. (However, I am also lazy, so you will see photos where their legs are sans boots.)One of their first lessons is to stand next to the hay bale [bucket, stump, rock, tailgate] so the old lady can get on! I pull and push on the saddle, both to let them know I'm coming, and to encourage them to square up their feet for balance.
I really emphasize that they are to stand until I give them permission to move, but you can see Kate's left hind just starting to take a step away from me. Her ear is cocked toward me, but it's obvious that her attention has been diverted to her right. There she goes! I need to either commit to getting on, or back up and reposition her.
I went for it!
By the time I settled, she had done a full 180 from her starting position. However, at this point, she didn't want to move another inch!
For a good ten minutes we flexed in either direction, and got some baby steps behind, that pivoted her further. But she just didn't think she could move forward with me up there! Now with the hay bale in the way of her back end, she started to think about moving forward.
First tentative circle--very hollow through her back. Just keep flexing her, turning this way and that, around the pen, around the straw bale. This first time, most of my turns are towards the middle, but later on I'll start asking her to turn towards the fence, making her rock back on her hindquarters a bit.
And we can go the other direction too! One of my biggest challenges starting young horses is not to hold onto their mouths. To counteract my impulse to hold a death grip on their faces, I have to consciously remind myself to relax, and breeeeathe!Now she's in a frame I like, reaching into the bit and starting to step under herself. (I, however, need to look up ahead, instead of down at her.)
First trot steps: return to the hollow back. Although posting might make it easier on both of us, I don't want to introduce that new motion too early. I just sit as "lightly" as I can, and let her find her own pace.Now that's a round frame!Asking for a few steps of backing--one at a time. She's pretty braced against me, but because I don't use my legs the first few rides, just my voice and the dressage whip (same cues as I used ground driving), I don't have a really good way to create the energy for a good back. I probably should have done a little back and forth between my hands to prevent the set jaw.End up with some nice forward, again. I try to keep my hands low, and not too far out to the side; she's bending nicely around my inside leg. Her right ear is still focused on me.Walk it out on a loose rein. I don't think the whole session was more than 25 minutes or so.
I did good, didn't I, Mommy?Daddy, get me outta here!

Kate's pretty relaxed, considering she's just started out on her career! And I'm very proud of her! The green slobber is indicative of plenty of moisture and therefore softness in her mouth. The copper and stainless steel rollers on the D-ring snaffle are meant to encourage this.
The next day we did more of the same, with a better mount, and more walk trot circles and serpentines.

Third day, however, Kate got very fussy with her mouth, tossing her head and jawing a lot, even balking a little. After only ten minutes I climbed off, and, on checking her mouth, found that her lower jaw had hard swellings just below her first molars.

Upon checking with the vet it was determined that the lumps were actually her adult molars coming in, but that the baby teeth--caps--above them had not yet been knocked off to make way for them to grow up, so they were pushing down into the jaw. He felt they weren't far enough along for him to knock out yet, so I decided she could go back into the pasture until next spring--she was only two, after all! And she's had all the "start" I could want for a baby. The only thing more I might have done this first summer would have been some easy trail rides around the neighbor's cattle pasture.

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