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Aug. 7th, 2008

Pink, Pony, Heart

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If it's not raining, it's insufferably hot. Go figure.

The majority of Mysti's work sessions have been moved to the early morning hours in an attempt to beat the heat. That means I've been getting up at 6:45 all week so that I can be dressed and ready to watch and participate in these work sessions... which, surprisingly, is fine with me despite the fact that I also work two jobs. I always have enough energy to go see my baby girl!

Apparently, lots of work on the longe and free-longing in the pen have made Mysti far more willing to pick up the canter from either direction. It has also confirmed my sneaking suspicion that she is quite the smart little lady and has a natural tendency to choose the appropriate lead of her own accord. Hoorah! That means I won't have to put so much effort into teaching her that later on in her career and might possibly -- but I'm not holding my breath -- mean that she could be a natural lead-changer, too. (That would totally rock my socks, just so you know.)

Also included in Mysti's training has been some preliminary work toward jumping. Presently, David is building upon Mysti's natural curiosity and solid work ethic on the longe to send her over emptied 50 gallon drums. These barrels, measured, are three feet high with approximately a three foot spread which, quite frankly, is quite the jump for a 15 hand mare with very little prior experience over obstacles. I was there to witness her first few attempts over the barrels, two of which were slightly... uh... amusing. She went over them, but not without a great deal of stilting at the approach and a flaily-legged flight that knocked the barrels halfway across the arena on the first attempt! After a couple of shots, however, it seemed as if Mysti had thoroughly gotten the idea and, boy howdy, does she ever tuck those knees to her chin! Go figure that my stupid camera battery died just as soon as she finally got the idea.  x.o;

Because I was irritated about not having been able to take pictures of Mysti on Tuesday, I went out to David's house yesterday with a fully charged battery and more than enough space for loads of shots on my CF card. I was able to capture a few pictures of Mysti being free longed and working under saddle, though I'm afraid they're not up to my usual standards due to sketchy lighting arrangements. I haven't managed to look through all of them and tweak the colors -- remember, it was 7:00 AM and still rather dusky when they were taken! -- so I'll probably leave the review of the workout for tomorrow when I have more time to go into detail about everything.

Jul. 31st, 2008

Dressage, Warmblood

When it rains, it pours!

Thanks to inclement weather caused by a series of tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico, I haven't seen my horse's evening work sessions in... two weeks? Fortunately enough, David works with her twice a day and always sends me text messages about her morning workouts, so I'm not entiiiirely left out. But, meh. I want to ride my pony!

The last time I rode Mysti, we went out to explore the cow pasture across the street and encountered a variety of obstacles that she had never seen before. Fortunately, David had ridden her out with me on the trails two days before and she had gotten used to working up and down hills with the weight of a rider on her back, so I didn't have to really worry very much about helping her learn to navigate the terrain. (He also got her used to going through thickly wooded areas, the likes of which she'd never really experienced before, and through streams without much of a fuss. Go pony!)

She was very calm and confident around the cows, as I knew she would be because she'd grown up with them on our farm. With King there to help reassure her, Mysti was happy to ride straight into the little herd and, to my thankfulness, remained fairly unflappable when the cattle began to scramble out of the way. I'm sure they expected us to start herding them, seeing as King's a working cow horse... And I'm also quite sure that King was rather disappointed to find that he wasn't going to be allowed to go wide-open after the retreating herd. Even Mysti began to feed off of his excitement, perking up and nickering questioningly at her companion's jigging.

Mysti had her first trot under saddle that day, merrily popping over a little ditch and jogging straight up the hill after her best buddy. I believe she would have been perfectly fine to continue trotting around the majority of the pasture, but I was really quite happy just to leave it at that. When you're doing well on a green bean, you really shouldn't push your luck... and I'm glad I figured that out before I had to learn the hard way!


Since the last time I saw Mysti, she's been doing lots of trot work with David and has learned how to canter under saddle as well. He says that her trot is surprisingly smooth despite the amount of suspension she has (good movers often = bouncy rides, as far as I've learned) and that she seems to be very nicely balanced and adjustable in that gait. He also mentioned that she seems to want to come round on her own accord, lifting her back and dropping her head into a very elementary version of "framed up." The two of them have spent a great deal of time working in both directions, then moving on to serpentines and figures of eight to help Mysti learn to balance herself no matter what is asked of her.

Her canter, on the other hand, is somewhat more difficult. It is only in that gait that any real weakness begins to show, projecting outward as a hesitance to pick up the right lead. While she is more than happy to work on the left lead without any real coaxing, it takes a great deal of leg and reinforcement from a dressage whip to get her motivated into the right. Because she is clearly weaker on that side, Mysti seems to run into the right lead canter from an ever-increasing trot no matter how she is set up.

After David first pinpointed Mysti's weak side, he decided that she would only be worked at the walk and trot under saddle. All canter work would be done on the longe so that Mysti could learn to balance herself more equally on both leads, working away from her one-sidedness. I haven't heard any updates regarding her progress, though I'll definitely be sure to post them here when I do. :D

Jul. 13th, 2008

Pink, Pony, Heart

Backlogs - Week 4

June 30, 2008

Okay, so... my arm is still killing me after the little tumble I had on Friday (which I'm not going to talk about in this journal because it's highly incriminating and my mother might kill me...), but I was really excited to get back on Mysti after David worked with her all weekend. Mounting up was a repeat of the mount and dismount exercise, working around both sides of my horse until she was perfectly still while I hopped up and down, up and down. (Not only is my horse getting better about being perfectly still and squared up -- I'm getting better at getting on and off from the right side. It feels so awkward, even though I know it's the exact same movement.)

Just like Friday, Mysti and I worked around the pen and followed David's commands for different maneuvers, all of which are designed to keep my horse thinking about moving her feet forward. Alas, it seems as if she's destined to keep getting stuck on me any time she hears King nicker to her or gets too close to the fence where he's watching. I can't really fuss at her for this just yet, seeing as she has no idea what the aids mean... I just have to keep rocking her feet back and forth until she takes a step or two and I can get her going again. (Admittedly, there are a few times when I have to wave David down for assistance with the training whip because she is completely ignoring me...)

Mysti started bucking today when we rounded the arena nearest the back yard... just little ones. Crow hops, really. I simply sat steady in the saddle and forced myself to release a big gust of air until my muscles became almost completely limp and I pulled my legs away from Mysti's sides a bit (ha... Friday's little adventure taught me something, but... I won't get into what that lesson was! ;D). The moment Mysti settled down, I calmly stroked her neck a few times and put her immediately to work where she first spooked and blew up, circling until she was listening to my aids again. I wanted her to soften to my hands, flexing laterally, while I helped her bend her body around my inner leg and got her mind more focused on the rider instead of the stupid guinea fowl flapping around in the ivy near the fence.

Overall, Mysti was quite good for her second ride with her "mother" on board. Sensitive and willing to listen without being a half-lit firecracker (even when she was having a fit over the birds near the fence, Mysti could have been a great deal worse than she was). I'm fairly confident that she'll simply continue to improve as our days go on.

July 1, 2008

My ride on Mysti was fairly short lived today when she decided that it'd be fun to stand in one spot and completely ignore my every single aid, no matter how much bending, clucking, or tapping at her bum with the popper end of the reins I could manage. Finally, David clipped the leadline back to Mysti's halter and made her work around in a few circles before asking me to dismount so that he could climb on. The moment David hit the saddle, I could tell that Mysti knew that he meant business and was not about to take any nonsense from her. Good thing, too... I'm still a bit timid about becoming too aggressive with my aids because I've never ridden a horse THIS green before and I really don't have any idea what might set her off.

The moment Mysti's feet got stuck, David used the end of his reins in an over-under fashion to smack her shoulder and hip in a rhythmical tap-tap until she got her feet hustling. Once she had unglued herself, he used lateral flexion techniques to bend her pretty deeply in a circle that ended up nearly resembling a reiner's spins. By facing her with that maneuver, David was teaching Mysti that not moving would always result in hard work. Ultimately, it's much easier to move your feet forward than it is to have to hurry up in a small circle. After a few circuits, Mysti's need for turning in a small circle became quite infrequent, indicating that she was beginning to get the picture.

We didn't press the issue too far and, after four laps around the arena without having to spin around in a tiny little circle to "unstick" her feet, we let Mysti alone and called it a day. David had me come inside and watch a video from Ron McLoughlin's Horse Handling School, the academy where David learned the majority of his training methods and became a certified trainer. There were a number of exercises performed on the longe in that video at all gaits and, much to my surprise, David told me that I was going to be doing them. All. On my green bean. Say whaaaaaaat?!

July 2, 2008

Oh boy... here we go...

David put Mysti on the longe for a good twenty minutes today and worked her in side reins so that she could get used to the feel of moving out into the contact while being appropriately flexed onto the circle. At one point, he removed the side reins and ran the longe through her bit ring and to the ring on her girth, inviting her to round more while he sent her out at all three gaits. I knew exactly what he was doing then because I had seen several of the riders on the McLoughlin video riding their horses while longed in a similar rein configuration so that they could perform their stretches. Great.

The minute I was asked to mount up, I was immediately told to flap both legs, lifting them in and out in a solid, steady rhythm that was not only meant to get my mare used to the flopping of legs against her sides, but to stretch my thigh muscles so that they'd lay more smoothly against the saddle and her back. I repeated this several times, with and without stirrups, until I was asked to change the swing of my legs into a scissoring motion, swishing back and forth. It's really quite surprising how much weight and drape you get in your legs after doing those two exercises... it's like they're little more than wet cloths hanging down at the horse's sides, staying there due to their weight and length.

Of course, no mounted stretching routine is complete without being asked to touch your toes with the opposite hand or to reach toward the horse's poll. I was also asked to reach both hands straight up toward the sky, holding them there until both sides of my body lengthened equally and I sank with an even weight into both seat bones. And, of course, there's always the torso-twist, arms extended and the lean-back.

After David was certain I knew what the signal was for each stretch, he sent my horse out on the longe at the walk and asked me to repeat each exercise without the use of my reins or stirrups. One would think that, after having three years of constant training without my stirrups at all three gaits, walking around on the longe would be an absolute cakewalk. Ha. Yeah, right. By the time we went 5 circles in each direction, I felt like my blinking legs were going to fall off if I had to lift or scissor them even one more time. Nevermind the fact that my left shoulder pops in and out of socket when I do arm circles... Talk about hard work!

After today's workout, I wasn't about to cry one little bit when David told me that he'd work with Mysti all by himself over the 4th of July weekend so that she would better understand the rein aids and leg pressure. Besides, I trust them both to improve each and every day. ♥

Jul. 11th, 2008

Pink, Pony, Heart

Backlogs - Week 3

June 23, 2008

After a weekend’s rest and relaxation, Mysti got right back to work with David on all of her previous lessons. I was not there to watch, but I’ve been told that she was quite the good girl, especially when David added a bit of a bounce as he put his foot in the stirrup and a good deal more weight across her back.
June 24, 2008

Today, David built upon his mounting lessons with Mysti by first repeating everything she had practiced so well before and then adding the extra element of his leg over her back. In an effort to avoid injury, David kept one leg on the muck bucket at all times, carefully balancing himself as he moved his leg to and fro over Mysti’s sides, over the saddle, and around her hindquarters, constantly petting and patting to keep her calm and relaxed. I wasn’t at all surprised to find that Mysti was unflinching, even after David sank down into his supporting leg and let a great deal of weight rest across Mysti’s back. He repeated this on both sides a multitude of times before calling it quits for the evening.
June 25, 2008

David and I really didn’t talk too much about today’s lesson before I arrived, so I simply assumed that we would be repeating the previous lessons and that David would ask me to emulate everything he had been doing for the last couple of days. He first went through all the steps of tacking and sacking, and then moved right along to the pre-mounting exercises he’d been drilling on. No surprise there. He asked me to join him at Mysti’s side and repeat the exercises, first stepping on and off the bucket on both sides, then leaning across Mysti’s back, and finally placing my foot in the stirrups on both sides.

After a few minutes, we finally worked our way back around to the left hand side when David calmly asked me to hold my horse and moved off to his mountain of training equipment in search of something. I was a bit surprised when he came back with a complete bridle fitted with reins and swapped this for the bit hanger that Mysti had grown accustomed to wearing. Petting her with a wink, David maneuvered my mare back up to the muck bucket and had me reassume the mounting position so that I could repeat a few of the exercises again. When I finally had my left leg in the stirrup, I felt fingers gently tapping me on the knee and glanced over to see that David’s finger was pointing skyward. Quizzically, I repeated the sign and received little more than a smile and a nod.

Well… okay. Gathering the reins and a hunk of mane in hand, I deftly swung my legs over Mysti’s back and immediately assumed the two-point position before sinking down into the saddle and gently rubbing my hand underneath her long, black mane.  We repeated the process a few times, gradually working the stirrups up until they were at their last holes… and they still didn’t fit. David and I made eye contact, the both of us shrugging, and in that instant we both decided that I’d probably be just fine without the use of my stirrups.

With David carefully holding the longe line in hand, Mysti and I were lead around the little arena over and over again, practicing roll-away and reverse maneuvers until it was clear that the mare had no inclination toward stopping. It was then that David asked me to work Mysti around him on about 6 feet of leeway, first turning one direction and then the next before asking me to check my breaks. Much to my absolute satisfaction, Mysti is more than comfortable with the word “whoa” and seems to respond with the same speed and accuracy that Skeeter, a far more seasoned mare, displays.

The area in which I seem to have the most trouble is asking Mysti to back. When David asks his horses to back, he quickly chirps the word “Back!” over and over in addition to his physical cues. I, on the other hand, am far more accustomed to asking for the back with a longer, more drawn out “Shhh, Baaaack…” that is a great deal quieter (and more show-appropriate) than David’s cue. At first, this was an area of confusion for Mysti because I didn’t quite understand that I needed to use a rather considerable amount of volume in order to get my cues to work. In the effort to avoid frustration, David added his voice with mine and Mysti immediately responded by backing. We had to repeat this method several times before the cue could be transitioned from David’s mouth to mine with the same results.

After a few more laps around the arena, I dismounted and made quite the fuss over my horse, barely managing to stay just this side of leaping, yahooing idiocy. The sheer pride that welled in my chest was enough to tighten my throat, the pressure lessened only by the broad, never-failing smile that spread from cheek to cheek. I had ridden my horse. FINALLY, seven years after I first fell in love with my dream, everything I had ever hoped for is becoming a reality. Could anything be more amazing?
June 27, 2008

We began today where we left off on Wednesday, though not without first expanding on the mounting lesson. Where I only leaned, patted, and mounted a few times after David had worked with her, Mysti’s pre-mounting groundwork was turned entirely over to me. That means I had the pleasure of stepping up and down on the muck bucket at least 20 times on each side before finally being asked to mount up. And get off. And repeat. Again. And again. I kept mounting and dismounting until both Mysti and I were utterly sick of the repetition, working from both sides until I could mount from the left and dismount on the right (or vice versa) without even so much as a batted eyelash.

Just when I was starting to think that mounting could go on forever, I was finally asked to mount up from the right-hand side and stay up there, gathering my reins to stand patiently while the muck bucket was moved out of the way. This time, David let Mysti and me out on a rather sizable length of rope, allowing us to circle him with more independence than we’d experienced the day before. After a few rotations, he reached up to the ring on Mysti’s halter and unclipped our line, effectively sending us out into what felt like the great unknown. In that moment of uncertainty, David explained a few simple signs that I should watch out for, whirling his finger in a circle to indicate that I should circle my horse. Switching the sign, David formed an L shape with his hand which he rotated some 90 degrees to indicate a roll-away toward the fence. A hand upheld in the universal sign for “stop” meant “whoa,” while jerking his thumb behind him suggested that I should ask for backward movement.

We spent several minutes drilling on those cues, often stopping to resort to a little inventive bending on my part when Mysti got stuck (most often by the fence where King stood surveying his girlfriend’s progress). I have never been more aware of the sheer volume with which I usually cue the horse with my legs until I suddenly found myself on a horse that had absolutely no idea what any of those more refined cues meant. Any attempts at equitation might as well be thrown clear out the window for now; lessons on a young horse are best mastered by repeated use of exaggeration on the teacher’s part, working gradually toward refinement as the horse demonstrates an increased understanding of the cue.

At one point, Mysti and I had become so thoroughly stuck that I had to ask David to help me move her feet. In an effort to prevent any fireworks that might evolve as a result of my resorting to kicking or using the leather popper at the ends of my reins for motivation, David came to the rescue with a lead rope and training whip, immediately sending us out in a longe-like circle to get Mysti’s thoughts forward once more. I was simply to remain quiet and still like a passenger for a while, posting calmly when Mysti broke into the trot and sitting gently when she worked back down to a forward walk, all the while remaining soft and passive in her face. We kept this up for several rounds before I was finally asked to assume more control of my mare’s body again, turning her left and right while David held us on the lead rope so that he could be of assistance as a motivator any time Mysti hinted that she might like to throw on the breaks.

Jul. 10th, 2008

Pink, Pony, Heart

Backlogs - Week 2

June 15, 2008 

Mysti decided to show her tail today and refused to be caught in the pasture, so she got to go the night without dinner while King munched away on his own feed. Serves her right! Maybe she’ll reconsider next time she thinks it’s a good idea to evade capture… 

June 16, 2008

It seems that yesterday’s lack of dinner was just enough inspiration to convince Mysti that it’s really better to be a good girl and get down to business than to behave like a little brat and miss her nummy dinner! Sometimes having a food-motivated horse is SO useful…
Mysti progressed through her sacking out quite quickly today because she’s finally decided that she’s probably not going to die any time soon. Once David was satisfied with her ability to stand still and ignore the movement of each object, he decided that it would be quite appropriate to introduce Mysti to the tack he would be using while working her. 

I have saddled and bridled Mysti countless times over the years, so she stood like a saint while David gently settled a thick fleece work pad onto her back and followed up with an older western saddle that he likes to use to get horses used to being tacked up. He quickly found that she was more than happy to accept the feel of a girth around her belly without so much as a single flick of her ear. Ditto her good manners toward the bit and bridle. (Granted, she hasn’t quite gotten to the point of bending her head down and opening her mouth to take the bit like Comanche often did…) 

Alas, Mysti apparently does not appreciate the feel of western stirrups clanking around her elbows, as she made quite apparent from the get-go. She made about two laps on the longe at the trot before she decided that she’d had about enough of those stirrups bumping along at her elbows and set off in a series of bronco-style bucks that set her off crow-hopping like an idiot. Talk about going directly from angel to demon in the blink of an eye! I was immediately grateful that I had much shorter legs than the six-foot-something David Caldwell and that I had always longed Mysti in an English saddle with the stirrups run up the leathers so that I never had to experience the joys of her sudden “bitchitude.” 

Of course, as with all things, Mysti quickly decided that there was really nothing all that terrible to fuss over anymore and put away the drama queen act almost as quickly as she’d whipped it out. With a snort and a shake of her head, Miss Priss – a nickname I often use just after Mysti’s had a brat moment – settled back down as if nothing had ever happened and went trotting about just as merrily as she pleased. David and I caught each other’s eyes, smiled, and shook her head as if to dismiss her actions; really, we were agreeing that she was a dork and that she could just get over herself and get on with life because throwing a hissy fit wasn’t about to get her anywhere. She apparently realized that because she went around on the longe for a good fifteen minutes without mucking about any further. 

Once Mysti was satisfactorily working with her topline level and her undivided attention was focused on David’s every command, she was allowed to stop and join me by the bucket-o’-training-goodies. As always, Mysti lowered her head to press her muzzle against my chest while I leaned forward to press a kiss to the little star just between her eyes and played with her forelock. Neither of us was paying any attention to David until he produced some thirty feet of black nylon rope and signaled for me to move safely out of the way while he ran up his stirrups and ran each end of the line through them and to Mysti’s snaffle. Oh, goodie! Ground driving 101! 

Yeah… to say that Mysti wasn’t nearly as thrilled as I was about ground driving is pretty much the biggest understatement I’ve made in a really, really long time. She was willing to humor us by showing off her amazing flexion skills with David at the reins, but wasn’t very keen at all on the idea of moving around with David standing behind her. I could almost see the question mark appear over her head as she peered around her sides to give him a most quizzical – and quite comical – expression. 

No amount of kissing, clucking, or flicking of the long lines was going to convince Mysti that she should really just move forward and stop planting her feet in a completely mulish show of stubbornness (no offense to mules, of course!) After making it quite clear that she had absolutely no intention of moving forward, David had to reason with Mysti using a little bit of reverse psychology in the most literal of ways. When your horse gets “stuck,” moving in the exact opposite direction you’d like to be going in is apparently the way to go? Yeah, I dunno. Don’t ask me. All I know is that it always seems to work. 

Much of the next half hour was spent working through or waiting out several more little episodes of mule-like behavior until, finally, Mysti submitted to the bit enough to navigate the little arena in both directions at the walk and trot, turning and backing up as necessary.
Apparently, Mysti is really starting to understand that throwing temper tantrums like a small child in a grocery store will get her absolutely nowhere. Might as well just do as she’s asked. 

June 17, 2008 

I was fairly unsurprised to find that Mysti was still feeling a little resentful after her adventure with the ground driving and submitting to the bit when I got to David’s house today and she was considering evasion once more. Of course, a little “mommy magic” quickly changed her mind (with the help of nummy horse treats, of course) and she decided that being caught wouldn’t be too terrible if it meant treats now and dinner after her lesson. 

Mysti was an angel for tacking up today and had absolutely nothing negative to say about her western attire (good thing, too – that mare is destined to be an all-around horse, she just doesn’t know it yet!) She is still a little sticky about being bridled, but that’s mostly because she dislikes the taste of the bit. With practice, I can tell she’ll get better because she’s already showing some improvement. 

David spent a great deal of time going over the previous sacking out lessons with Mysti and, to everyone’s great pleasure, it appears as if she’s finally starting to get over her aversion to the feel of the longe line around her hindquarters. She stood a little stiffly for the beginnings of the sacking out with her “butt-rope,” but quickly lowered her head and began licking and chewing as if to signal that she’d finally decided that she probably wasn’t going to be eaten any time soon. As soon as Mysti was fully relaxed about the rope around her body, David carefully swung it around her legs and across the saddle several times, mimicking the feel of split reins or a lariat against her neck and sides. 

After several minutes of sacking and a great deal of flapping and patting, David lead Mysti into the center of the arena and practiced simply kicking a muck bucket around her sides as if he was moving a mounting block into position. Once he had the bucket close enough, David kicked and patted at the plastic until Mysti was utterly unmoved by the hollow sounds it made and would stand for him to step up and down several times. Lifting his arms high over his head, David waved his hands at Mysti, sweeping them in a long arc over her body and generally “flailing” until she was no longer alarmed by the sight of him doing all sorts of crazy things above her. Satisfied, he stepped down and moved to the other side to repeat. 

Each time David switches sides, it becomes readily apparent that Mysti’s right side is a bit “worse” than her left in nearly every situation. She is more easily alarmed by scary things approaching her from the right and takes a bit longer to reason through the situation enough to figure out that she is in absolutely no danger. Some people might find this a little alarming considering the fact that both of Mysti’s eyes are in perfectly good working order (as my vet will readily attest), but I’m not very surprised. Because of the physical placement of their eyes, horses perceive things quite differently than carnivorous or omnivorous creatures and, therefore, must be taught using a method that appeals to both sides of the brain. David is also very well aware of this and, as such, teaches everything from both sides of the horse, even mounting. 

Mysti’s lesson continued with David reassuming his position atop the overturned muck bucket and flapping the fenders of his saddle against Mysti’s sides, often releasing the stirrups to allow them to smack against her shoulder, ribs, and flank. The horn and cantle in hand, David rocked the saddle back and forth, pressing hard on Mysti’s back to simulate the motion created when a rider hoists his or her body into the tack. Much to David’s satisfaction, Mysti was quite willing to accept the movement of the saddle without much of a fuss, probably thanks to my own work with her in that area. In fact, he deemed her quiet enough to slide his foot into the stirrup from both sides, leaning the majority of his weight across her body while keeping one foot flamingo-perched on the bucket. Ever curious, Mysti turned to nuzzle at his baseball cap and left it at that. 

June 18, 2008 

In the interest of keeping things interesting, David and Mysti went back to their lessons on ground driving today. For only her second time, Mysti was a great deal more accepting of the lines and David’s careful direction at the “reins” than she had been on the first go-‘round. In fact, I’d say she was about as good as anyone could have possibly hoped for, leaving all of her mulish behavior behind in exchange for a softer, more willing acceptance of the bit. 

After a few minutes’ warm up in the arena, David drove Mysti out of the little enclosure to take a long stroll around the pasture. Mysti was first sent out in the ground lines in a longe-line configuration and asked to circle David until she was quite focused on his instruction at the walk and trot in both directions. Once she was listening and had her mind more on work than the temptation of green grass, David steered Mysti up the hill and out of sight for a few minutes while I stood patiently at the arena gate with King and Shelly, David’s girlfriend. Soon, Mysti and David came back into view with Mysti walking along quite dutifully as she was guided through a stand of trees and around the pond in the middle of the pasture as if she’d been at it for ages. 

One lap around was plenty enough for Mysti, who was quite the angel save a moment’s hesitation at a rather close patch of trees. David suggested that it would be good to repeat the whole process tomorrow, incorporating the trot and a good deal of backing through and around obstacles. 

June 19, 2008 

Just as David had said, Mysti was to be taken out and ground driven in the pasture once more. By now, the entire warm-up and sacking out routine has become almost entirely uneventful, taking only a few minutes where it had once been the subject of an entire series of lessons. Hooray for desensitization! As soon as she was suited up and ready to go, I caught King and lead him into the arena while David and Mysti slipped past me to head out into the pasture. 

Armed with my camera, I hung out with King and snapped a series of shots meant to explain to Mom what I meant by ground driving, as she clearly had no clue what in the world I had been talking about for the past couple of days. Besides, I need pictorial documentation to add some pizzazz to my ramblings, eh? Why not let the pictures do the talking? 

Okay, so maybe this bag really isn't all that scary after all...

I'm always such a good girl on the longe!

Okay... I'll do it... but I still want to hang on the bit, damn it!

Oh, I like this! We're going on an adventure!

June 20, 2008 

Mysti did so well yesterday that she got to explore the world outside her safe little pasture today. After all, there is no way that her entire life is going to be spent cooped up in the safety of an arena or a familiar pasture, what with my aspirations for the show ring and trail riding in all sorts of fun places and all that jazz. 

Just as I expected, Mysti was a little less comfortable as David and I lead her out of her enclosure into the back yard and right beside an All-Terrain Vehicle and above-ground swimming pool within the first thirty seconds of walking out the gate. Snorting and blowing, my little mare curled her neck and pranced, though somehow managed to avoid any resort to her habit of spinning in a tight circle any time she feels insecure. I, for one, was rather impressed and more than willing to accept a little nervousness since she was so willing to get down to business the moment David assumed his position at the reins. 

The plan was to circle the rather large pond just outside the pasture. The notion seems simple enough until you add in the presence of guinea fowl, barking dogs, ducks, and a number of other obstacles that would be trying of almost any horse. We would make one lap around and go from there. 

Much to my surprise, Mysti showed no interest in any of the animals as they passed; I can probably attribute that to the fact that she’s seen them all before from the safety of her pasture. I certainly can’t say the same for the concrete slab that covers the feeder drain into the pond. The moment Mysti caught sight of that big white patch standing in the middle of all that nice, green grass, she threw on the brakes and tried everything she possibly could to maneuver her way around it. David’s insistence was pushing Mysti toward frustration, so I readily volunteered to stand in the middle of the slab and sweet talk to my mare until she realized that the ground was safe. Within seconds, Mysti’s feet became “unstuck” and she cautiously meandered her way down the gentle slope to join me on the concrete slab and follow right across with her nose pressed into the small of my back as if I was her only lifeline across the white abyss. 

Save the encounter with the concrete monster, most of the trek around the pond was very quiet, even after a small flock of ducks took flight from the grass and flew overhead to land with a great splash at the center of the pond. That is… until Mysti was asked to get into the pond itself. She was quite willing to prance down to the water’s edge and take a sip, but had absolutely no interest in getting her feet wet no matter how much anyone tried to convince her that she should. Hindquarters quivering, she stood with her forelegs less than an inch from the water, hocks deep beneath her belly, and refused to move an inch save a crab-crawl sideways and the occasional backward step.
After a moment’s contemplation, Mysti decided that she had taken entirely enough of the pond and wheeled, twisting herself up in the driving lines in such a way that she gained just enough leverage to pull away from David’s powerful grip (after kicking out at him – I could have killed her!) Rather than allow himself to get upset or frustrated, David simply shook his head and set out after Mysti, who had stopped the moment she caught sight of King, her lover-boy, hanging his head over the fence and calling to her. 

Once she was back in hand, David drove Mysti back to the scene of her temper at a brisk trot and immediately made her get back to work until she submitted by lowering her head and offering a sigh of resignation. Never once was he rough with her for misbehavior; rather, David simply insisted that my mare get right back to business and work beyond her temper and any uncomfortable feelings she might have. As soon as she was willing to behave like a decent mare and go around without any backtalk, Mysti was allowed to be finished for the day. 


Jul. 9th, 2008

Pink, Pony, Heart

Backlogs - Week 1

June 9, 2008

At 10 o’clock this morning, Mysti went with trainer David Caldwell of Cleveland, TN for two months of training under saddle. This day also marks Mysti’s 7th birthday.

While most horses her age would already be well under saddle and probably have a considerable number of miles on them, Mysti’s ridden education is in its fledgling stages. Much of the delay stems from an unplanned breeding to the Pure Polish Arabian stallion Mr. Rolls Royce LN and from a serious injury to her face in January of 2005. However, the lengthy wait for Mysti’s saddle training is ultimately a byproduct of tight funds and my personal absence due to college and, of course, my family’s fear that I would be injured if I trained the mare myself.

After months of searching for the right trainer with very little success, I was very nearly ready to accept defeat and settle with the fact that I might never be able to ride my beloved mare. However, the tides turned for the better just before I could give up all hope. David had been out of town for several years, working at several extremely nice facilities such as River Ranch in Knoxville, TN, and just moved back home to Cleveland this spring. By some stroke of luck, David spotted my horse standing in the pasture across the street from our family-owned convenience store, Holder’s Grocery, while he was paying for gasoline. He immediately recognized Mysti, remembering her from several years back, and Mom used that opportunity to mention to him that I was in need of a trainer to start her under saddle.

Later that afternoon, Mom called to ask if I remembered a deaf man by the name of David with whom I had ridden as a child. Eagerly, I scribbled down David’s contact information and immediately sent him a text message to learn more about how I might “enroll Mysti in school.” Surprisingly enough, David seemed to harbor no qualms about training a horse that was already so advanced in age. Perhaps he recalled how malleable and tractable her mind had been from her early days when he had seen and worked with her as a foal or he was simply confident in his training methods. Whatever the case, David said he would be happy to take my mare on and work with her as soon as I got home from college during the summer.

I felt absolutely no hesitation when it came to David or his ability to work with my mare in a way which would best suit her personality and address my needs as a rider; he had my confidence all the way around. I had seen David working with horses during my childhood and knew him to be a very calm, reasonable horseman that never resorted to brute force or other heavy-handed tactics to force a horse into “submission.” Rather, he employed gentle training methods based on the teaching tools of positive and negative reinforcement to carefully encourage a horse to accept him on the ground and in the saddle. He always worked to keep the horse calm and relaxed while challenging him or her to test the limits of the comfort zone, thereby creating a horse that thought more like a partner than a prey animal. I knew immediately that this method would be the best option for my horse, especially given her somewhat excitable nature and sensitivity to unfamiliar objects and situations – never mind the challenges her crafty mind might pose! With a horse like Mysti, a quiet, patient demeanor like David’s is highly preferable in order to forgo a number of unnecessary arguments and stressful situations.

After arriving at her new facility and exploring her surroundings, Mysti quickly settled in with King, a rather handsome buttermilk buckskin Quarter Horse gelding that happens to be David’s personal reined cow horse. In the meantime, David and I sat down on the porch to begin our discussion of my horse’s previous training and my goals for Mysti’s initial training period. We both agreed that our main focus would be to get Mysti to use the thinking part of her brain more than her innate flight-or-fight response during stressful situations. That meant that much of Mysti’s training would involve desensitization to commonly scary objects such as plastic bags and other “horse-eating monsters” in order to instill more confidence in her and, as a result, in me as her rider!

June 10, 2008

Mysti and David began their first session today with a bit of basic groundwork. Embarrassingly enough, Mysti was a bit less than willing to stand still for her dousing with fly spray, but that’s simply because she’s used to me wiping it over her with a soft cloth instead. (Quite frankly, I’m of the opinion that she can get over herself and learn to accept being sprayed! That means I’ll be able to give her a bath using a water hose instead of a sponge, which translates into shorter visits to the wash stall.) Otherwise, she was a perfect little lady while he fussed all over her with brushes and the hoof pick, standing perfectly still with a great deal of slack in the lead line as he moved all around her body. Unlike a number of other horses I know, Mysti has always been quite tolerant about people handling her ears and other sensitive areas such as her udders, eyes, and muzzle, making grooming quite pleasant because I can touch everywhere without so much as a huff of protest from my horse. David seems to agree!

After finding Mysti’s acceptance of grooming to be quite satisfactory, David put her on the longe to further test her manners and the extent of her groundwork foundation. Fortunately enough, I am of the mind that the round pen and/or longe line is one of the best ways to test a horse’s temperament and work ethic toward his or her handler and, as such, Mysti is quite accustomed to a number of physical and vocal cues. She was all too happy to trot out, canter, and change directions when asked, even in spite of the fact that David offered very few vocal commands beyond the obligatory click of his tongue to encourage her forward. Once she’d made several laps in both directions at all three gaits, David chirruped his usual “Good!” and nodded his head in satisfaction before asking my mare to join him in the center of the pen.

There, he produced a rather sizeable Navajo saddle blanket with which Mysti was to be sacked out. The process was somewhat interesting simply because Mysti wasn’t at all accustomed to having things shaken at her or slapped around her body. (I’ll take all the blame for her discomfort in this arena because I typically rubbed Mysti with foreign objects rather than taking the time to make a bigger fuss out of them.) It became readily apparent that Mysti’s natural tendency to turn her body away from an offending object could be highly escalated if her comfort level was increasingly tested, a habit that could become rather dangerous in some situations. David was quick to address this issue by insisting that Mysti stand while he sacked her with a variety of objects until she began to accept that they really weren’t out to kill her after all. Perhaps most impressive was Mysti’s eventual acceptance of a plastic bag tied to the end of a training stick to the extent that she would walk forward willingly as David swished the bag around her forelegs and chest.

Before my eyes, Mysti transformed from a high-headed, snorting beastie into a much calmer, reasonable horse even in the face of terribly frightening objects. David’s no-nonsense attitude and tenacity were integral in convincing my mare that it was really quite useless to resort to the flight-or-fight response if there was nothing to worry about, especially when Mysti became fairly upset over the feeling of the longe line flipping around her hindquarters in a “butt-rope” configuration.

June 11, 2008

Because Mysti displayed some resistance to a number of items presented to her yesterday, David chose to focus on repetition of the sacking out process in today’s lesson. He began again with the saddle blanket and found that it took her a great deal less time to relax into the gentle slap of the fabric against her body. She was even willing to allow the blanket to be draped over her eyes and ears and slipped up and down her neck until she became thoroughly bored with its movement.

The presence of the longe line around her hind quarters was still somewhat a problem for Mysti, especially when the rope was shaken to the point of popping her around the hocks and flanks. However, David’s calm, reassuring hand and soothing whisper of “Relaaaaaax” helped to convince her that it was really more trouble than it was worth to continue her antsy circling because, clearly, the rope was not going to bite.

It is imperative that Mysti learns to accept all sorts of things going on around her body because desensitization is the foundation for all of the learning that she will do from here on out. Her acceptance of the saddle blanket is fairly obvious, as she must be willing to take the presence of objects on her back if she is ever going to feel the weight of a rider. The movement of the “butt-rope” is also highly important to Mysti’s training because it acts as a building-block for ground driving, one of David’s favorite methods to introduce a horse to the action of the bit before a rider is actually placed on its back. The “bag monster” is a bit more abstract in its use simply because it does not directly translate into any viable piece of tack; however, this is probably one of the most important objects in the sacking out process because it teaches a horse how to deal with strange noises and irregular motion.

June 12-14, 2008

David has gone out of town for the weekend, so I am continuing the sacking out process with Mysti using the saddle blanket and plastic bag. I have decided to leave the “butt-rope” alone until David is here to supervise simply because Mysti seems to dislike it most and I’d really rather not get my horse or me tangled up in thirty feet of rope if I can help it!

Jul. 8th, 2008

Pink, Pony, Heart

An Introduction

Hey there! 

If you are reading this journal, it is highly likely that you are already familiar with me, Lauren (better known as Dreamesque or Dreamy in several circles), and are at least somewhat aware that I am very actively involved with horses. You may also know that I already have another LiveJournal account (http://laurenchan.livejournal.com) that has been in existance for quite a while. It is quite possible that you're asking yourself exactly why I felt the need to make an alternate journal, especially given the fact that updates to my personal journal are so sporadic. This journal is primarily intended to record the training and progress of my Arabian mare, Mystic Dreams DCT, in her under saddle work and possible show career. (The first several entries will be back-dated to June 9th due to a lack of internet access; I will try to get through these entries quickly so that I will be able to update with more current news.)

Mystic Dreams DCT ("Mysti") is a 2001 Pure Polish Arabian mare by Eldans Dashing and out of Cassels Czesta. Her conformation --solid with strong limbs, a slightly more rounded croup, and a straighter profile -- is highly indicative of the Kehailan-strain influence in her pedigree, lending her toward the natural athletecism and temperaments so highly prized in the Polish state stud farms. Most of the horses in her pedigree were highly successful on the race track and in the show ring, as well as proven producers of quality in the breeding shed. Simply put, Mysti is reaping the benefits of many generations of careful breeding and management in the Polish tradition.

While a number of horses in Mysti's pedigree were very successful English Pleasure and Park Horses (most notably *Bask and his descendants), Mysti does not possess the upright action needed for saddleseat competition. Instead, her action is more flat-kneed and sweeping, perfect for hunter, sport horse, and western activities. I hope that Mysti will prove to be as athletically versatile as a number of horses in her pedigree; if they could go on from successful racing careers in Poland to winning national accolades in the American show ring, certainly she can prove herself in both huntseat and western disciplines! Only time will tell.