January 30, 2009

What's in it for me?

"What is important is to keep learning, to enjoy challenge, and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end there are no certain answers"
(Martina Horner, President of Radcliffe College)

I am curious of other riders, other disciplines, and am looking for the opportunity to learn more whenever I can.

A while ago I read on the blog belonging to one of the Swedish “Academical” riders (a pupil of Bent Branderup). She said she wanted her horses to think it so fun to work with her, that they should crowd to get out of the pasture when she came.
I gave this quite a good thought.

A few years before that I read an interview in a magazine with one of the Danish GP-riders, I believe it was Anne van Olst (team Bronze medallist Beijing). She said she always had sugar lumps in her pocket while training, and whenever her horse had done something good, a sugar lump appeared.
I thought about that too.

You know, us horse people can be very conservative sometimes.
I grew up with dogs, and had a lot of fun with them as well as with the horses in my teens. In the 70ies, discipline was the thing, but things started to happen. Someone found out that you got better results with praise and something in your pocket. Later came the clicker training, but then I was out of dogs and into cats. Cats are not particularly interested to be trained, so I leave that to the horses and let the cats go on with their wonderful, independent life.

Still it's a no-no for many horse people to give the horse any treats.
But horses and dogs are quite different, aren’t they?
Well, research has shown that the horse’s primary motivational factors are sex and food.
The entire digestion system of the horse is constructed to eat, continously.
Then imagine what a fabulous aid we have got to motivate and to make the learning process go faster.
So many riders get angry and frustrated when the horse doesn’t do what they wish, but completely forget to praise and reward when they do the right thing.
And the human is to be the intelligent party?
Good fortune horses are kind, I say.

To our training I fill my pockets.
I praise Fame when she does right (that's my “clicker") and a carrot appears. Often a short break to stretch the neck on long reins.
And my horse gets very eager, and tries to do all the tricks by her own, and often before I have asked for them.
Sometimes she gets too eager and forgets to listen.
"I know, I know, let me"
But if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t matter. We will try again the next day.
And we have fun.
She’s always coming to me when I am to fetch her.
She’s leaving the hay in her box when I come with the bridle, and puts the bit into the mouth by herself.
Gives a soft neigh to greet me when she hears my voice in the stable (yeah, yeah, might have something to do with food but it is nice anyway).
I don’t care what the end result will be.
Riding is so much about the road, and not the goal.
In the meantime we are enjoying ourselves, both of us.
I believe that when you get too obsessive of your goals, there is a larger risk that the horse turns into an instrument. People start to take shortcuts, often detrimental to the long-term health and interests of the horse.

Everything around us, in the modern society has to go fast. Quick results. Quick fixes.
Horses are not made that way.
They need time to build muscles and strength to be able to keep healthy and to perform.
They need us to take the time necessary, and enjoy the ride.

January 28, 2009

The Cheshire Cat

"Enjoyment is not a goal, it is a feeling that accompanies important ongoing activity" (Paul Goodman 1911-1972)

"I define joy as a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace - a connection to what matters" (Oprah Winfrey 1954-)

It’s me grinning today.
Yesterday was one of the good days.
As I wrote in the last post Fame was not at her best in the training last week, but yesterday we had some good moves out there.
I felt already when we started that she was much more between the aids.
One of my goals for the winter season is to get the counter canter in place.
We have no indoor arena, just an outdoor which makes the training more difficult when the weather is not favourable. We have limited access (1-2 times a week) to the indoor arena at a close by stable. That helps.
Once the snow comes, there is no problem. Snow is a super surface to work on if it’s properly prepared. The problem is that the snow came late this year, not until the week before Xmas, and then it rained away just after a few days.
We need a good surface for the canter work. So due to the weather, we are a bit behind the schedule. But I’ll hope we’ll make up for it now, as the snow is here.

Yesterday we trained counter canter on a volte for the first time.
She did well.
Normally, in counter canter the horse's head is positioned to the canter side, i.e. the normal “outer” side, on a curve. Going straight, it is positioned straight.
To exercise the horse further you can softly play with positioning the head to the inside of the volte if the balance is good enough, and we were playing a bit with this for the first time yesterday.
She is not yet quite as balanced as she should be. From time to time she got a bit strong in my hand, so I had to balance her up again using half halts, seat and leg to ask her to engage those back legs instead of leaning into my hand.
We’re working on it.
The trot work was also good yesterday.
She was working with a soft, good connection and rhythm, and she had quite a nice extension in the end of the training session.
So I’m happy today :-)

January 27, 2009

Back to basics

"The beginning is the most important part of the work" (Plato 427 BC - 347 BC)
"A bad beginning makes a bad ending" (Euripides 484 BC - 406 BC)

At the base of the German training scale there are relaxation, rythm and contact.
Fame is a spirited horse, and I like her that way, but she can tense up.
So I constantly have to watch the three above.
She is turning six years old this spring, and even if we are playing with a bit more advanced exercises it’s the basics that are most important.
As she is getting stronger, we are starting to work towards collection.
Not collected gaits, she is not ready for that yet, but playing with lengthening and coming back, both in trot and in canter.
I have to send her forward while keeping the rhythm, keeping her relaxed and have an even contact.
She has a good canter, but I would like her to get more engaged in the trot work.
She often wants to take the easier option out and increase the rhythm instead of engaging the hind legs more, so I have to watch the rhythm and on the same time the contact, not allowing her to get heavy in the hand, and not tensing up in the neck and letting go of the contact either.
Constant input-check-output.
When she is eager, she sometimes start getting slight "hearing" problems. So again, working with transitions down, getting her to wait. Accepting the half halts. Wait for me, but keep the energy.
Funny that something that sounds so boring can be so intriguing?

I ride for my instructor every week, it’s my Funday.
Last week we had our training on Thursday. The training did not go as well as I had hoped; she was a bit tense and did not quite concentrate on the work. She had worked very well on Monday and Tuesday, so looking back I wonder if she actually had a bit of training ache from the previous days. We went trail riding in the week-end, but I worked her yesterday again and she felt much better, so I’m looking forward to the training today.

I try not to get disappointed those days when thing doesn’t work out as I had hoped, and after many years of riding it’s not that difficult.
I know that steady work brings us on in the long run, and that there will good days and bad days.
But the good days, aaah - they make me fly.
I keep them as secret treasures in my mind, experiencing the feeling over and over. They give me joy for several days.
And it’s not just the dressage work in itself, or mastering the exercises, it’s the fellowship with Fame.
She’s my buddy. We do things together. And I believe she understands a LOT.
I just have to let all the stress go, and tune in, marvellous!
You rock, Fame.

January 26, 2009

Moose safari

I got a nice comment from a rider in Alberta, Canada, where they also have moose (and cold weather). She said that the horses get scared and bolts when they have encounters.
So do the new horses here too, they do get scared.
Some of the riders as well.
Problem is, there are so many moose here in the winter time that you just have to handle the problem if you don’t want to stay at the yard the whole winter…
Normally the encounters are uneventful (apart from spooking and bolting horses), but there have been some incidents with the moose chasing horse and rider. Not me though. Yet.
But I had a close encounter a few years ago.

I was riding home very late one evening from a training session at a close by stable.
From that stable we have two ways home; either along the road, or along a path through the forest.
After passing a small clearing the path again winded in between the trees. And there stood a very large male moose, eating, just 4-5 meters from the path. He was huge.
I stopped my horse. Looked at the moose. He just looked back, tipped his ears a bit, and continued eating.
He had not planned to move, that was sure.
So I started with my usual tactics.
Barking like a large, angry dog.
Shouting in my best bass voice.
Waving my arms.
No reaction, apart from chewing and eartipping.
It was mid winter and a lot of snow. I tried to make a detour around the moose but the snow reached to the belly of my horse, so we had no chance to continue. We just had to turn back to the path.
Now my horse started to get impatient. He wanted to go home, have his evening feed and be ready with it.
So basically, I had two options.
Either to turn back, and ride along the road without reflexes. Not very smart.
Or to ride on, and hope for the best.
My horse was not in doubt. He wanted home, NOW.
So I just kept my breath, closed my eyes and rode on.
We survived.

Actually there are so many moose here that they arrange moose safari for the tourists from a nearby camping…

January 25, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Weekends I normally go trailriding. It's a nice change from the dressage work both for Fame and me. As it has been snowing for two days, the trees were heavy with snow.
It was really beautiful.
I like the winter, well at least most of the time. I suppose it's a bit of "if you can't beat them, join them". Enjoy the pleasures that it gives, and try to bear the days with foul weather without getting foul tempered.
There's just one disadvantage with the beautiful trees:
They get in your way.
So you have to hang over the neck of your horse, or try to walk around, which isn't too easy at all times.
Problem is, when you're hanging there over your horse, the entire tree releases its burden straight over you and the horse. Into your neck, on to the saddle.
I always ride with a false sheepskin over my saddle in the wintertime, to keep the bum warm.
It's just that the sheepskin and the snow are very good friends. I try to get rid of the snow, but it really sticks in there. The result is of course that my bum that should stay warm and cosy get all wet.

The snow muffles all the sounds, and in a way makes you feel like in a time vacuum. It's as if the time stands still. I wonder if this feeling is a result of being drenched in sounds when we are awake? Think about it. It's seldom that you don't hear any sounds at all.

Another nice thing with the snow is that you can see all the animal activity going on, or at least traces of it. I found something interesting today: At first I thought it was just snow that had fallen down from the trees. But it continued, and was interspaced with smaller footprints. I suppose it must be a weasel of some sort.
And then there are the moose.

As we live in an area with mountains, they gather down in the valley when the snow gets too deep further up. And that's where we ride. Today we saw four.
Normally they get out of your way, but you can't count on it. Many times they are a bit too curious of the horses.
The first two were some 35 m in front of us, and started off over a field when they heard us coming.
The next encounter was just some 15 m ahead.
The path where we were riding ends in a small road leading to a parking place for people who are going out skiing. As Norwegians are pretty crazy about skiing, and as it was a Sunday with much snow, it was kinda busy down there.
So the moose had four options:
1) to go straight ahead ending down on the road
2) going right, but there was a steep some 10 m ahead
3) going left, where a thicket separated the path from a field and
4) to turn back in our direction.
He started off to the right, but soon realised this was not a good solution, turned back to the path and stopped. Looked at us. Think, think.
Luckily he chose option no 3.
The last moose lay under some trees to the side of the path. Took a picture with my mobile phone, but it's not easy too see. If you look close you can see the head and ears in the middle of the picture.
I'm fascinated with them. Of their ugly-beautifulness. The fluidity in their movements. How they get going in all kinds of terrain. They can jump over 2 m. Quite impressive, huh?

January 23, 2009

Principles? What principles?

I have to confess.
I am not a structured person.
You know the saying "life is what's happening to you when you're busy making other plans"?
Well, that's me.
Apart from that I did not make any plans in the first place.
So I am not a person of many principles either.
I mean, not regarding important principles of life like in trying to be a decent person and and that kind of thing, but more in the smaller personal aspects of life. Like not squeezing the tooth past tube in the middle. Eating your dinner before your dessert. (Well, it does taste better that way)
I find it unnecessary to set rules for oneself when something can happen that makes you completely change your mind about things. A sensible comment from someone else, for example.
But I have a few principles though.
One of them is to never to buy a horse that isn't started.
To buy a horse that has not been backed is like buying a bag of sweets, and not knowing what you get. Might be something in there that you don't like at all.
After all, the reason for me owing horses in the first place is that I want to ride on them. So it's nice to know what you are to buy, that's what I've always thought.
"If one sticks too rigidly to one's principles, one would hardly see anybody" (Agatha Christie)
"I can resist anything but temptation" (Oscar Wilde).
How nice that people have formulated your thoughts for you, and in a much better way than you would be able to do it yourself...

So here it goes.
The story of how my present horse chose me.

In 2006 I went to watch the yearly main exhibition of the Norwegian Pony Association.
My daughter was 10 years old at the time, she had a cross Shetland-Gotlandsruss with the name of Felix.
They had a lot of fun together, doing everything from pony racing to dressage.
(Picture showing Elin/Felix and Hedvig/Springtime.)
We had also bought a larger pony to Elin from the breeder in Denmark, a connemara named Haahr's Springtime. Elin was not riding him yet, I was educating him further in dressage and we had Hedvig, an older girl, jumping him. Good ponies are hard to find, so I thought it better bring on an own one under controlled conditions...
I had also my old dressage gelding, who was turning 20 that summer. He had been retired the last two years due to bone spavin, was not getting better and I was wondering whether that summer was to be his last.
Anyway, I was into ponies, and went to the exhibition to meet my friend Gro who was going to participate with some ponies of her own.
One of them was a pretty 2 year-old sports pony filly of good breeding, Electric Fame.
That day she won both her class, and BIS for the younger ponies. (picture from that day)
Gro asked me if I was interested in buying her, which I of course declined.
Principles, you know.

Then we jump a year forward.
We had sold Felix to my friend Gro, and went down to visit him. The family had not yet returned home, so we found Felix, had some quality time with him, and then took a tour around the facilities.
Elin was now riding Springtime, and I had started to look actively for a next pony to her. Kids grow, unfortunately.

And there she was.
She was standing on a hill, eyes focused somewhere on the horison and my heart was just LOST. Boom. It was not only that she was beatiful, but she gripped the inner of my heart in a way that I can't even understand to this day.
Electric Fame.
You know, I actually believe that she chose me. Don't ask me why. Normally I am a sensible person, but this was only heart, no reason at all.
And resulted in a firm conviction that she was to be mine.
So when Gro finally came, I was pregnant.
We spoke about Felix, about all other trivials that you speak about when you've not met for a while, and all the time I just had one question in my head. Finally I asked (in a casual tone of course) if Fame still was for sale?
"Yes" Gro said, "and for a reasonable price because we need a new horse trailer".
In a mist I heard someone say: "I'll take her", and realised that very moment that I'd said it myself.
A 3 year-old, unbroken, that had been living 24/7 outdoors all her life.
Principles? Whazzat?
This candy bag was going to be mine.

Fame as three-year-old

Welcome to my English blogsite

As internet is a kinda international thing and Norwegian is not, I've decided to start up an English site as well.
More will follow.