April 18, 2022

Disco Handling Evolution

Since the clinic a few weeks ago, I've been processing what I learned every time I work with Disco. And some of the advice I've kept, and some of it I've acknowledged before setting it gently off to the side.

Beginning of April

On the one hand, I got a lot of good information out of that clinic and have put quite a bit of it to use. Her no-nonsense way to handle him, her insistence that he pay attention to the handler, and the tools she gave me to confidently escalate the situation when I need to earn some respect from him have all paid off handsomely.

Exactly one time since then, we had a bit of a knock-down-drag-out over walking quietly through the gate at turnout, and without what I learned in the clinic, I probably wouldn't have stuck with it for the 30 minutes it ended up taking to get him doing what I asked in the way I wanted him to do it. But I did, and he hasn't challenged me on anything since.

Middle of April

Some of her other advice, though, after taking a deep breath and having a long conversation with Lisa about her decades of experience raising and handling Welsh Cob stallions, I'm setting aside. And maybe the clinician will get an "I told you so" out of me on that someday, but maybe she won't.

Riding Connor's sire, *Tuscani Dundee, in the Hoosier Horse Fair ten years ago yesterday

The clinician's approach to handling stallions is to handle them impassionately and I'm going to call it coldly. No scritches, never allowing them to walk up to you, treating them like a deadly weapon that might go off at any moment, that kind of thing. Extreme discipline and old broodmare energy at all times. 

Me and baby Echo, 2018

And I'm going to sound like a Paralli wingnut for a second, and you're welcome to roll your eyes at me and tell me I'm going to get hurt someday, but I'll own it: My gut says if I treated Disco the way she wants me to treat him all the time, he would end up confused, emotionally isolated and fearful. She doesn't know this breed the way Lisa and I do.

Me with then two-year-old stallions Castleberrys Reno (Disco's sire) and Castleberrys Echo in 2018

I do not think he needs to be my best friend. I do think that this breed thrives on interactions with their people in a deeply fundamental way that drew me to them in the first place, and the stallions are no different.

You do still need to stay one step ahead of them and demand respect, it's true, but I feel that treating Disco with such impassion at this stage in his development would be harmful. And that maybe there's more than one way to raise a good, safe, respectful, well-mannered stallion.

Connor's stallion full brother, Castleberrys Cadence, last week in Oregon

So I'm going to be smart about it, I'm going to take the parts of what I learned from her that are great, I'm going to file the rest away, and I'm going to continue to lean heavily on my mentor, Lisa, and take it one day at a time, which has been the plan since the beginning.



April 4, 2022

Baby's First Clinic

Yesterday Disco participated in his first ever clinic, and I don't think I'm being overly dramatic when I say it was a turning point.

There was drama, though, lol

My barnmate has been working with this trainer remotely for years now and wanted to bring her in for a clinic, so I agreed to sign Disco up for a groundwork session to help fill it even thought I knew very little about her.

This clinician is the type of older salt-of-the-earth horsewoman that everyone needs in their lives. She's spent her whole life training horses and has raised over 100 foals. She can ride too, and did in the clinic, but at a fundamental level she just speaks horse. She speaks body language, she speaks intentions and she firmly but fairly insists on good behavior.

And she pushed Disco's buttons in a way I needed to see, in a way I should be doing. And he did not appreciate it.


The GIF above was his first of several outbursts over something so small as being asked to move forward or respect the handler, and to be honest, I was shocked. He's been so docile for all of us to handle even as his hormones come in, but after the clinic I can see that that's only because we've not pushed him on the little things, and slowly, almost invisibly, he's trying to start to boss us around. That's not good in something that has testicles.

Still young enough to be led past my barnmate's mare quietly but not for long!

The clinician was nothing but fair to him even when she really got after him. She wanted him to stay out of her space. She wanted him to respect her as the cranky old broodmare and not see her as the play buddy. She wanted him to walk when she said walk (with his eye below her shoulder level), stop when she said stop, and not put his head to the ground, which she called an attempt to exert control over the handler.

And all of this was...hard. So surprisingly hard for an animal four amateurs handle twice a day every day with no issues and nothing but a flat halter and lead. But I needed to see it.

This isn't the post where I'm going to dig deep into what we did and the methods I used, although I will later. This is the post where I talk about his reaction to being asked to submit to something he didn't want to do, and it wasn't even WHAT we were asking, it was that we were trying to boss him around at all. 

He was mad.

Even after he begrudgingly respected the clinician and his body was obeying, his tail clearly conveyed how mad he was

Although I've only seen it once or twice, it struck me that I have seen this before, for his default reaction to be on the anger spectrum, like when Lisa haltered him for the first time.

He did come around. After maybe ten minutes of fireworks, he clearly respected the clinician and was paying attention to her in a way he didn't in the beginning, although his pointed tail swishes conveyed that his mind hadn't fully submitted even if his body was compliant.


At this point she asked if it was okay that we split the session to preserve his baby attention span, so we put him back in his stall while she worked with another horse, then in the second half of the session about 45 minutes later, I did the majority of the handling.

For this session, he was foot perfect for me. Very "yes ma'am" and very clued into my body language. I realized how much he had been getting away with before, even if it was something as subtle as him taking an extra step after I stopped, or him not immediately walking off with me when I start walking. 


He was also foot perfect for me the next day, although he was a little jumpy. That was understandable, we had rocked his world pretty hard and he was no longer the center of it. 


After digesting all of this for a couple of days and a good talk with Lisa last night, I'm so glad I did this clinic. This came at the right time, right when I needed to step up and be a leader and put him in his place enough to keep him from being dangerous as his hormones come in. It gave all of us (because the ENTIRE co-op watched this lesson!) tools to use to handle him safely. And it gave me a frame of reference for what I should and should not accept in terms of behavior from a young stallion.

I think I'm going to look back on this as a turning point in our relationship in all of the best ways.

March 28, 2022

Disco and the Fence

Earlier in March, we put up top strand electric around Disco's field.

And unfortunately, the first morning it was electrified, as soon as the morning shift took off his halter, he marched straight up to it and...bit it.

Inspects things with his snoot


On the one hand, I'm not upset that my stud colt will well and truly respect the fence going forward, although I wish he'd become acquainted with it in a less dramatic fashion. On the other hand, he seems to think that the gate was somehow responsible for this atrocity, and he's now afraid of it.

He's starting to look more horse-shaped these days

So we've been working through that, slowly at first, because I assumed it would just dissipate with time, but I really doubled down last weekend since it hasn't. He's not even bad about it, he just stops, wide-eyed, as he approaches the gate, then tries to rush through it. But it's a polite rush, because it's Disco, and he's a 100% Grade A Good Boy.


So every time I bring him in or out, we go through the gate at least 3-4 times until he does it quietly. I give him time in between each repetition to stand and think, to process, to stare at the gate and hopefully realize it's not going to kill him. 

I've also just started bringing sugar cubes to the gate with me (even though he's still weirdly not treat motivated!) just to try to give him some positive associations there rather than negative.

Mary telling me how dirty my baby pony is, lol

It's just going to take time to get past this bad experience, and that's okay. On the positive side, it's great to see what his reaction is to something he genuinely fears - he stops, assesses the situation, but charges through anyway, even though he's scared, which I love.

March 25, 2022

Product Review: Celeris Passage Dressage Boots

When I bought my Celeris winter boots, I took advantage of the BOGOHP deal they run seemingly continually and got my first-ever pair of stiff Dressage boots (although not the stiffest they make - that would be the Passage Compete).


I was a little apprehensive about it, since I'd heard of people trying stiff boots for the first time and hating them. But beyond wearing them in the house, it was too cold to even think about riding in unlined boots for the first four months I had them, so they sat in the bag until recently. 

Survey says?

Arena lights not doing the color any favors here, but they look amazing IRL.

It's surprising, actually. I don't even notice them! Not for better or for worse, from the very first ride. They didn't hurt even a little during the break-in period, unlike the Celeris winter lace up boots which left scars on the back of my knees from the break-in process. I haven't measured, but I'm guessing the Dressage boots were made shorter knowing they won't drop as much as the soft winter boots will.


In the saddle, I don't notice the stiffness, I don't notice that they're new. They're just there, and they're gorgeous. And they ARE gorgeous. I wanted a color that would contrast beautifully with the brown saddle, and I got it.


This is the kind of leather that I love to see a nice patina on from wear, and they should continue to darken a bit and age beautifully. I can't wait for that.


So this is a bit of an anti-climactic post, but that makes my first experience with Celeris a 2/2 on delivering gorgeous, high-quality boots that fit perfectly. Thanks again Stacie for all your help!

March 23, 2022

Riding

You may have noticed I haven't written about riding lately. Part of that is because I've only been riding 2-3x a week for a while now. Many reasons - some which are motivation related, some of which are related to my husband, who still can't stay awake past the time we used to eat dinner before the seizure. Sort of puts a damper on being at the barn late.


Part of it though is that I'm working through some things that I'm not sure I fully understand yet, definitely not well enough to write about them.

I know a couple of things to be true. One, he REALLY likes this saddle. And thank goodness for that, am I right? Haha.


He's going with no resistance whatsoever, to anything, and is so willing to lift his back in it. For the first time in a Dressage saddle, I find myself not even thinking about the effect the saddle has on him, and that feels amazing.

The other is that the musculature on either side of his neck and either side of his thoracic sling is wildly imbalanced. You can feel it, you can palpate the muscles on both sides and feel how much different they are.

Spying on me as I put my boots on

Like seemingly half of the blogosphere, I had a 1:1 with Celeste about six weeks ago. I still don't have enough of a fully formed thought about it to write a post about it, but it was interesting. I can't say I've been as consistent as I should've been with the homework, but even still, he's made a lot of progress in releasing his underneck since that lesson (he, um, would NOT even lower his head a little during that lesson. It was wild to realize how afraid he is of balancing, even standing still while on the ground, without using his underneck). 

 I haven't ridden enough to really develop any new muscle and yet the shape of his neck has changed so much, people reached out to me to ask what I was doing after seeing this photo on Instagram:


So I'm trying to ride with a lot of feel. Do the reins feel even? Can I move both forelegs away from his body? Are both hind legs active? Am I sitting evenly?


You can imagine this is not a recipe for getting changes in time for show season, but I'm okay with that. This feels so much more important, given that his head shaking continues, but in ways that I know are tied to his muscular imbalances.

So that's where we are. More questions than answers, but we keep on keeping on nonetheless!