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Turn on the Forehand

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Turn on the Forehand

This diagram demonstrates the movement of the horse’s hindquarters around his front leg while performing a “Turn on the Forehand”.

I’ve executed a “Turn on the Forehand” many times. Halt on the wall, ask the horse to yield to the outside rein and the outside leg and pivot his hindquarters around his front outside leg. I never really considered it as a multi-faceted movement until recently.

My trainer asked us to perform a turn on the forehand. It was sloppy, to say the least. My horse stepped forward, then practically spun in the circle around his front outside leg before I could even blink. Honestly, I don’t even think I completed any cue before he figured out what he thought I was asking.

Well… after a few repeats, attempting to focus on getting specific, controlled responses reflecting the specific aids, my trainer had me dismount. Much of the remainder of my lesson was spent teaching my horse that pressure on his side behind the girth means “move your hind end!!!!”

The ground work… ugh. First of all, A decided he just didn’t like this being pushed around non-sense. He was confused, and was getting frustrated. So, he nipped at my trainer. Multiple times. When she avoided the nips successfully (and warned to wallop him, as biting is definitely a “NO!!!!” in our world), he resorted to ninja-pony-kicking at her.

What is “Ninja-pony-kicking”, you might ask? Many equestrians refer to it as “cow kicking” – horses are able to kick out to the side with their hind legs – not just the typically backwards kick. So, my intelligent horse knew that the irritation of having a flat palm applying steady pressure on his belly was related to the lady standing at his side. So, like he would with any other irritation, he kicked out. He tried this a few times previously when dealing with pressure and things irritating him. We work to avoid it, and eventually, we work that nasty behavior right out him. He is praised profusely when he “gets it right”, and we essentially ignore the naughty behavior. Except the biting.

Anyhow – behavioral issues aside (we got over them), we have been working on the ground with the exercises to get A to be responsive to leg pressure. He finally understood what was being asked of him enough that he stopped with the nasty attitude. SUCCESS! My pony and I completed a few squares in each direction, performing a three-step (90*) Turn on the Forehand at each corner. He was light and responsive, and did not rush to complete the maneuver before being cued! I’m so proud of this silly, trusting and opinionated boy!

A journey of a thousand miles…

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I’m going to take this blog in a bit of a different direction for a while.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…”

From here, I’ll be discussing my growth as an equestrian, and many of the large, small, graceful and faltering steps that form this journey. It isn’t just my journey – there are many key travelers here, from my amazing husband, to our gaggle of animals, friends and family. I will share my experiences here: good days, bad days, encouraging experiences, discouraging moments, and of course, our mostly small, but daily, successes. You know… your everyday, run-of-the-mill accomplishments, such as “Hey! I just realized that, through some miraculous pony-epiphany [brought about by a lot of persistence and consistency] I’m not struggling to get this horse to stay in his stall when I bring him in anymore! We have an understanding – one that my wrist fully appreciates!!!!” (Maybe I’ll describe this story in more detail later…)

I’m a therapeutic riding instructor, and the bulk of what I have learned in my evolution as a farmer has been about horses and horsemanship. I’ve had an amazing support system to help me develop a discerning eye and careful approach to horsemanship, one that I’m constantly honing and hope to record some larger-scale successes with, someday. I’ve come a long way from being the little girl who loved horses so much that childhood friends tell me “I saw a horse and thought of you!”. I’m always in pursuit of growing as an individual… I’m constantly learning new things about what goes into providing the best care for the horses, and how to manage the business of horses. What is the best feeding option? What does lameness look like? How do you stab a 1200 lb animal with a needle and have it not kill you? What types of tweaks do we need to make to our boarding agreements? What goes into caring for a horse (or 18 of them)? I’ve learned so much already, and there is so much more! FACT: I drive my husband batty! He is so tolerant, good-natured and supportive! I am eternally grateful beyond words…

My next few posts will be about my experiences riding, learning and training the horses I live with. Whether it is teaching an old gelding that was used to going freely in and out of his stall that it isn’t O.K. to drag me down the barn aisle when he didn’t want to be in his stall, or learning how to most gracefully avoid having feet stepped on by the horses… I’m constantly learning about horses, and teaching the horses I work with. Every moment I’m  handling a horse, the horse is learning something – whether I’m reinforcing previous training, or teaching the horse a new expectation.

In brief – I purchased my first horse after having taken lessons on and off throughout my life. She is a beautiful, kind girl with a firecracker personality. While bucking isn’t really her thing, going slow isn’t, either. After a few near-mishaps, where she bolted like a rocket and ran until she felt like stopping, I developed a fear of cantering, which significantly impacted my growth as a rider. Now, I’m going to jump ahead a few strides…

Here is a story of the “beginning” with one of our horses… my special boy!

Four years ago, right before my husband and I were married, we were faced with a very sad situation. Horses were brought to the farm, and for whatever reason (the economy, poor money-management skills, or worse – lack of responsibility and accountability for a dependent animal), they were left here. It was right when the economy tanked – apparently it was a common phenomenon. There were four horses. Two of the horses were owned by a woman and her daughter who had not paid board for about a year and a half, and had not come to visit their horses in even longer than that. One beautiful little mare was owned by a woman who seemed to have substance abuse issues. The last (and possibly saddest) was bought at an auction, dropped off with the first month’s board, then the owner dropped off the face of the earth. I had never met any of these owners, although I had spoken with a few of them on the phone.

Hello! That was my “welcome” to the world of “horse boarding”. Each time contact was had with the owners, they were offered to just pay what they could and come get their horses. Apparently, they weren’t in the position to move the horses, or they didn’t want to. Either way – over a year, period, is far too long to be responsible for caring for someone else’s horses who aren’t receiving necessary medical care and having their needs attended to (aside from being fed, provided with a clean stall, and let in and out – all by someone other than the owner, who was supposed to be getting paid for these services). It was far beyond necessary to remedy the situation.

After relying on my background in legal studies, and seeking the legal counsel one of the nation’s most reputable “equine” attorneys, we set in motion a sequence of events that resulted in new homes for most of the horses, and us owning a beautiful, lost horse. That is where this story begins. This was where a journey of a thousand miles began – our first step.

I’d handled him enough, this worried boy. Soft eyes, and a curious spirit. Always deep in thought, pondering some concern – ready to take flight at the slightest inkling of anything awry. He looked sad. This tall, dark and handsome horse was every little girl’s dream, and yet so scared of life that to handle him meant risking being jumped on by a 1100 lb lap dog. Yet, he was affectionate and playful. He hung tight to my heels, his nose at my elbow, and would instantly puff himself into a nearly 8ft tall panicking monster when anything unexpected occurred. I was scared of him. And I loved him.

He’d been through enough – I’d learned through word of mouth that he’d been abandoned at other boarding and training facilities several times in his life, by the same owners who left him at our farm. Somehow or another, they’d managed to drag him out of those situations and to a new barn where he’d again be left. What a sad existence. Matt wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect of keeping him, but we were both sure this horse deserved better than the life he’d had thus far. There was only one way to ensure that he’d have better… and that is the “beginning” of the journey – when he became my accidental horse.

The cycle stopped here, and our journey began.

My sweet boy...

My sweet boy…

The Vines

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The Vines

Last, but not least, the grapevines! They are almost waist-high on the trellis now! I’m so excited!

P.S. I thought I should note that, I don’t know exactly what all of the plants in the garden are because they have been shared from friends, who may or may-not recall what exactly they are sharing 🙂

The Chicks

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The Chicks

We have two older hens – one of which survived the fox massacre last Spring (she is about 5 years old now, and still laying!). Neither of the old hens are pictured here…

In this picture, however, is the rooster who was supposed to be a hen. Whoops. I guess if we are going to have a single rooster, a barred rock roo is pretty hip, though. I’ve heard they tend to be pretty aggressive… so, on “grazing” days, we’ll have to leave him cooped up. Literally, haha!

The Garden

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The Garden

I mentioned I grow weeds, right? Yep. In and amongst the weeds are a few lavender plants, a few tomato plants, a few succulents of unknown origin (okay, so I DO know that one of them is a “hens and chicks”), and a cucumber plant. Oh, and a few varieties of basil.

I also planted some flowers this evening.

As you can see, however, the weeds have pretty much consumed everything except the garden boxes. Even those are a daily battle to the death. I hate thistles. I think I covered that already though, right?