"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Friday, February 1, 2013

100th Post: On How AWESOME My Mare Is

A friend of mine introduced me to Simon's Cat yesterday. I wanted to share this video with you guys, as this is what is usually going on while I'm writing on the blog!

Astarte has this particular quirk that I have seen no other cat do, where she comes up to my arm, bares her teeth, and without opening her mouth, presses her incisors hard against my elbow. (I am at her level because I am currently sitting on the floor with the computer propped up on boxes-yup, we have not made it to Ikea yet...) My looking at her in annoyance always brings about the expected loud "GAOW!" (She also clearly pronounces the "G" at the beginning-not your typical "meow"). Her and Aengus take turns trying to climb up on the keyboard, walking in front of the monitor, and crawling up behind it. 

If you don't believe me, here's proof! At the table of the Alexandria apartment.
I have an adapter for the camera memory cards. The adapter has 2 lids-one to conceal the hole where you place the card, and the other to protect the USB thingamabob. I had the lids in front of me, between my arms and the keyboard. I'm still not sure how he did it, but next thing I knew, I hear Aengus playing with something plasticky...it was the lids! I had to get up and retrieve them. I found one; I still don't know where he put the other one. This is the cat that likes to pick up things in his mouth and run away with them, like a freaking Labrador (he especially likes to do this with small important pieces of paper)...I think he was a dog in his past life. Oh, and feeding them makes no difference. It's just the fact that I'm not paying attention to THEM...*lol* I love dogs, but I'm crazy about cats. Each one is very much an individual, like a little person. Behaviorists have tried to lump their body signals into different meanings, but while some generalization is true, it is also true that each cat has their own very particular way of communicating. Example: cats twitch their tails when annoyed. Well, yes, they DO twitch their tail when annoyed. However, Astarte, who is the happiest cat I know, is ALWAYS twitching her tail. I call it her mental metronome. As long as she is awake and thinking about something, the tip of her tail is ticking slowly back and forth. It only stops when she is sleeping. The more focused she is, the more pronounced the movement. Aengus LOVES playing with her tail because of this...

The other day the computer actually did shut down halfway through writing, and I had the same confused expression on my face as the guy in the video...*lol* However, that time it wasn't the cats-it was a power outage in our area! 

Astarte purring away in my lap as I type right now!
So, on my mare's awesomeness.

Yesterday, I went to the barn around noon, as I had to leave early to go to a meeting at work. However, I went with plenty of time, as I wanted to do more groundwork before riding...IF we rode, as it was super extra windy outside after the storm on Wednesday night. 

All of the horses were in the bottom part of the field again, and Lily was hanging out by the water trough with her friends. She saw me coming up from the barn and stood there staring at me. She started to walk away when I entered the field, and I started walking parallel to her as she followed the fence line, about 300 feet from her, not looking at her, pretending I was crossing the field with a lead rope in my hand just for funsies, NOT because I was coming to get her. I'm not sure if it worked, or if she was really glad to see me, because she surprised me by continuing to walk forwards in a diagonal line that brought her to me, coming to a stop right in front of me on her own. Good girl!! She got treats for that one!

I brought her in, removed her blankets, gave her a good grooming, and inspected her feet. She threw a shoe on Monday, so the trimmer had come and removed her other shoe almost a week early (the casting material used to secure the glued-on Eponas to her feet had worn through-this is why she kept throwing shoes a week early throughout this experiment). Her soles do indeed look much more solid! 

I'm happy that the angles in her hinds have corrected (she used to be at a negative palmar angle in both hinds, meaning her coffin bone was tilted slightly upwards! BAD!) so that's another positive thing. I'm hoping that  with future trims the fronts start to get better-I have seen the barefoot work of this trimmer on other horses in the barn, and really like her work. 

I didn't get pics this time, but I will for the next post so you guys can see. 

After she was all scrubbed up and as clean as I could make her (she still has dust from the Monday mud covering...), I put her rope halter on and walked her to the outdoor. 

What I did next was based on this awesome video that Dom posted. WATCH IT! Yes, it's 30 minutes long. But she is spectacular at explaining what she is doing, and you can see how Wink responds. Very, very cool.  

So I picked up the lunge whip and decided to really ingrain in Lily that when I bow, she is to come to neutral. We were fairly good at this before, but recently she has not been responding to this as snappily as I'd like her to. With the wind and the horses playing in the field next door, she was all for charging around on the lunge, so it was especially awesome when she started coming to a bounding stop each time I bowed. (Yes, a bounding stop-she'd be galloping around like a madwoman, I'd bow, and she'd do a big hop and turn in midair to face me, coming to a halt!). She did this once or twice. I should have stopped there. But she was still somewhat distracted, and she wasn't consistent in doing it in both directions (she was better to the right than the left), so I kept working on getting her to do it going to the left. Well, her response started slowing down, despite shortening the lunge a la Dom to make the galloping in a circle around me harder for her. I got her to stop, and decided to switch to something else-I tried to see if she would let me rub her body with the whip. I worked hard back in FL to make sure this ceased to be a problem (in attempting to link back to it, I just realized I never really wrote about our extensive whip desensitizing!), but we are truly back to square one when it comes to whips. Plus, with the brief wave of warmth, all of the mares have come in to heat, so my goofy girl was being EXTRA sensitive. She was NOT having it today-rearing (!!) and trying to charge away from me every time the whip came close to her. It took some yanking to get her to come to a stop, but I started asking her to stand by bowing, and this really worked. She finally stood, trembling like a leaf, while I flipped the whip up and down rhythmically 6 feet from her, bringing it way up in the air, then letting it come back down to earth with a loud tap. I did this on both sides, and as she slowly relaxed, I incrementally brought the flipping whip closer to her body. Eventually she was standing still, quiet, with the whip tapping the ground a foot from her hooves. I then tapped the whip on both sides, tapping it on the floor to her left, bringing it up in a big arc above her head, and tapping it on the ground to her right. No reaction. She sighed, licked and chewed. At this point, she allowed me to rub the whip all over her. Her ears were tense, but she stood still and didn't tremble. 

I stopped, let her relax and take a break, just standing for a couple of minutes. I then sent her out onto the lunge at a trot, and she was soooo much calmer than before. Focused, too-her inside ear was cocked towards me, and she was paying the horses in the field no mind. I bowed, and she stopped and turned to face me. Pause, let her rest as a reward, and then I asked her to change direction by asking her to disengage her shoulders (it is so cool to show her little pieces and then bring it all together, and have her understand!) and she trotted off in the opposite direction. I bowed, and she stopped and turned to face me. Good girl!!! We left it at that. 

I groomed her again in the barn (her neck is especially itchy with her winter coat) and tacked up, placing the rope halter on over her bridle and bringing the lunge line along. Just in case. Of course, the minute I lined her up with the mounting block, a huge gust of wind tore through the trees above us, whipping the tall grasses by the arena gate. Lily tensed and tucked her tail between her legs, but stood still. I remained on the mounting block until the wind had stopped again, and then got on. 

Lily was tense and looky as we walked off, so we worked on some circles and shoulder-in at the walk to get her attention back to me. I was wondering if I'd dare to canter today as I squeezed her into a trot. She surged forward in the trot, and we did some lovely stuff. She feels absolutely wonderful barefoot again-I still think she moves best without any shoes on. We didn't do lateral work, just lots of circles, changes of direction and diagonal lines. She was almost as in front of my leg as the other night, and she stayed there as I asked her to collect and extend. We had probably been riding for about 20 minutes total, when I asked her to canter from the trot. She popped right into it, and gave me this terrific little canter-very uphill, very easy to sit to, but VERY collected. I had her circle around one of the jumps in this little canter, and asked for the transition back to trot. She streeetched forward into the trot and came down into the contact. REALLY nice!! So we did this in both directions-3 circles at the trot, then 1 circle at the canter. She was nailing her transitions INSTANTLY-no speeding up at the trot to go into the canter, no quick on-the-forehand trot coming out of the canter. She was super-responsive in this tiny canter, and able to do small circles. In a moment of inspiration, I took her into the back portion of the arena, and we did figure 8s at the canter-circle twice one way in a 15m circle, simple lead change at the trot across the diagonal of the 8, then pick up the opposite lead canter and circle twice again. Repeat. We did this a couple of times and she was SO FANTASTIC that I finally brought her to a halt from the canter in the center of the 8, gave her a pat, and dismounted. The ultimate reward: you get off! Lily gave a big sigh, and I loosened her girth to the very last hole on her billets, then walked her out on foot for the next 10 minutes. 

This was huge. Lily's canter has slowly been improving over our last year and a half together. I used to hate cantering her with a vengeance. It was very uncomfortable and downhill, and she tended to get really flat, long and on the forehand. Our steering initially was very iffy-we could only do ginormous 40m circles at the canter-any smaller, and she just felt unbalanced. It didn't help that, since retiring from jumping, the canter had become my worst gait, especially with the dressage seat-it used to be really, really hard for me to sit up and plant my butt in the saddle at the canter after almost 2 decades of riding the canter in a half seat. A lot of cantering would wipe me out, and my abs would hurt the next day from the effort of having to sit back with my little girl's bumpy gait. Both of us have gotten much better, to where she doesn't look strung out anymore and I'm able to sit up straighter and deeper with a lot less effort. But this day was our very bestest so far-I was up, in the saddle and centered, and she was up and centered as well, which is what allowed us to remain collected and to do all of these little circles. 

I walked around with her, and once the sweat on her neck had dried (she didn't sweat much, and she wasn't even blowing when I had dismounted), took her into the barn to untack. Of course she was still sweaty under her saddle, so on a whim, I decided to take her out for a walk on the trail to finish drying out...and to see if she'd still cross those ditches. 

I clipped her lunge line to her rope halter and off we went. I noticed she was 100% sound on the lumpy gravel by the driveway! The trail was very muddy, and this is when I realized that the trail is partially created by how water runs off when it rains-you could see where the water had flowed down the trail and pushed debris aside during the storms the previous day. 

We arrived at the first ditch, and realized that it was full of flowing water! Lily came to an abrupt halt and flared her nostrils at it, ears pricked forwards. "Oh noes-there's WATER in there!" she said. I laughed at her as she stood staring at the water nervously, then turned to face her shoulder and started uncoiling the lunge line. She knows this means I'm going to send her. She looked at me once, "And you're going to make me CROSS IT??" "Yup, I sure am." I said, "And you're going first, cuz it's also quite muddy and we're not repeating our last stream incident!" Lily took a step forward, glanced at me, stared at the water again, and then I saw this really cute look of nervous determination cross her face "Ok...I'm going to do it!" She slid a little going down the bank, leaped across, and cantered 3 strides up the other way! *lol* She almost yanked the lunge line out of my hands in the process. "WHOA! Eeeaaasy!" I called to her, and she stopped. For a second there I was afraid she'd continue galloping down the trail. Of course the lunge line had somehow ended up on the opposite side of her neck. I was still far away from her as I crossed the little ditch stream and scrambled up the opposite bank to her. I saw the uncertainty in her ears at feeling the lunge line across her neck, so I continued talking quietly to her as I coiled up the lunge line, then I pulled gently on the line...and she stepped and twirled (see??? It DID prove useful after all!) She was still some 20 feet away, so I bowed...and she came! I rubbed her neck and told her what a good girl she is, and let her take a break. "Ok, this means the next ditch is going to be even scarier!" I told her, as we made our way down the path. Indeed it was.

It looks so much more treacherous in this photo than it did in person!  And the water was flowing-both ditches turn into little streams when it rains.
She wouldn't go when I tried to send her across. It was very slippery going down, and she kept trying to cut in front of me to my other side, as if we were lunging, which was incredibly dangerous with the slant of the hill, the trees, branches in the way, and mud. I was afraid we'd both fall if she kept doing this, so I calmed her down, had her stand at the top of the hill, asked her to stay, and crossed first. Once I was safely at the top on the other side, I asked her to come with a gentle tug on the lunge line. It took her a minute to figure it out, but she finally came, leaping across the river and scrambling up to me. Again, tons of petting and good girls. And then it was time to go back. 

This time, she went when I sent her. Again the lunge line ended up on the wrong side of her neck, and again I asked her to step and twirl, this time while I was still on the opposite bank, and she responded. I asked her to stay and wait, then once I was on the same side, I asked her to come by bowing again. And she did!

WHAT A GOOD GIRL!!!!!! Like I said: my mare is AWESOME!

We returned to the barn (the other ditch was a nonevent going back) and Lily got treats while I groomed her again (all of the sweat had dried off) and scrubbed the mud off of her hooves. I don't give treats often, but she had more than earned them! Her cooler and sheet went back on her, and out she went with her buddies again. 

That's her in the middle, with her muddy sheet. I need a backup sheet so I can take this one home and wash it already!
And this, my friends, is my 100th post. A milestone post about a milestone day!


  1. Sounds like you had an AWESOME session with her. LOVED reading how you put all the pieces together. And with all those distractions! Excellent work :)

  2. Thank you! And thank you for posting that video! And you thought no one was going to watch it. ;)