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Lily's Training Log

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I've been thinking of doing this for a while as a way to keep track of my mare's progress. Hopefully I can get some advice and encouragement along the way from all you guys.

Just a little history: Lily is a reg. appendix QH. She's 10 years old, and I've had her for about 3 years. She'd had 30 days put on her when she was 5, but really hadn't been worked since then. My plan was/is to train her to be my all-around trail, WP, HUS horse. I'd like to do some small-time shows.

I'm not a horse trainer. Right before I bought Lily I apprenticed for a trainer and took her 4 year old buckskin from his 15th ride to competing in a few open shows both English and western, and placing in every class. He was easy. So, (silly me) I had a lot of confidence that I could do it again on my own (headdesk), but Lily is not so easy. I admit right away that everything would be a whole lot easier if I put her into training for a couple of months. I'd love to start working with a trainer again, but I don't have the money to put her into full-time training (plus I'm a touch stubborn). So, its just me and her.

In the past three years we have made some progress. We've gotten over bucking issues, trailer loading issues, and many ground (dis)manners. Now she really does bathe, clip (excluding the ears), stand for farrier, load, and have much better ground manners. In the saddle, she's got a great back, we're working on turn-on-the forehand/haunches, neck reining and give-to-pressure fairly successfully. Her "whoa" and "go" and headset have gotten pretty good at the walk. She's got a nice lope naturally, but I haven't really focused on that yet (I know, it's been THREE years).

Enough yammering, her are some photos.

Lily, three years ago, when I first got her.


Under saddle, about 2 years ago.


Yesterday, after a much needed bath.


Jogging right.


Jogging left.


Loping left.


Edited by mistymorning

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Nice looking horse with pretty good conformation

Any riding pictures?

Good luck in your training!

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Bah, riding pictures are in short supply. I'm almost always working with her by myself. Just looked at the most recent riding pictures I have are from two years ago. That will have to be put on my to-do list. (Along with finals, haha).

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Trotting work today. Rode for about an hour in the arena, with tack.

For the warmup, we did some walking over the cavalettis, whoa, back, and some neck reining. Which reminds me, is it overly confusing for a horse if you switch between using one and two hands? I think I recall reading that somewhere. I tend to switch depending on what I'm working on. One hand for whoa, back, and neck reining. Two hands for pivots and direct reining (for neck reining too). By the way, I'm riding her western and in a full-check single-jointed snaffle.

The main thing we worked on today is also our biggest issue. (Dramatic music) The trot! Now I've ridden horses before with trots that the trainer has likened to "riding a jackhammer". Lily's isn't so choppy, but it is bouncy and big. My problem is not really sitting (or posting) the trot, it's just that she loses her head. I can have her moving in a nice frame at the walk, being really responsive to rein cues, but I ask her to trot and her head comes up, she starts bracing on the bit, and if I don't keep circling her, or keep some rein pressure on she breaks into a lope.

I asked for the jog which she transitioned to right away (that alone is an improvement, she used to just swish her tail, raise her head and keep walking, til I asked her more enthusiastically). But right away she also charged forward like a locomotive. What I've noticed about my own riding is that I'm rather inconsistent on how I try to slow her down and bring her back into frame. Sometimes I circle her til kingdom come. (She can jog really small circles now, which is one thing I love about her, she won't break to a walk). I just do little serpentines, left and right, releasing the rein pressure when she drops her head and gives to the bit. We can do those for ages, and when she slows down I let her go forward. It's usually only a matter of 5 steps before she's picked up speed and raised her head, so back to the circles it is. Anyway, I did start out with about 5-10 minutes of circling at the jog today. When jogging, she's generally not as responsive to the bit, at least not at first. Sometimes I have to bring her back to a walk and remind her what it means to direct rein, move her hips over, and give her head down.

Sometimes I've also just let her trot full out on a loose rein. That is because I was curious if she just needed some time to relax at the jog and settle down. Well, I didn't do it today but we've done fast trotting (breaking into the lope occasionally-my how much smoother) for more then an hour before with almost no improvement.

Back to today. Today I did something a bit different. I decided not to worry about her speed (just posted the trot), and just work on her headset. I put her on about a 15 m circle and just held slight rein pressure until she gave her head even the slightest. We trotted for maybe 15-20 minutes going to the left, just working on giving her head down. Her jog did improve. She slowed down (but was still going fast), and her head lowered a bit, though she still wasn't giving her nose to me very often. After a while she started doing those "micro gives" where she would just drop her head a little, so I would release pressure and it would go right back up again. I brought her to a walk after she gave to me for about 3 strides. Then I walked her out for a few and did the same thing going right. To the right she started giving sooner, so we didn't work on that side as long.

To cool down we just walked the perimeter of the arena for several laps in either direction. She was very calm by the end, not breathing hard, and only a little sweaty.

Dang, that was long and boring.

Feel free to give me your sage advice and critique anything I was doing. I wish I had some riding pictures. Soon, I hope.

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Bareback work yesterday, about 30 minutes. Let the sore muscles roll.

Yesterday, I rode Lil bareback in the rounpen for while. I love working bareback because I can really fine tune my leg and seat cues. I've only recently started bringing in leg cues for Lily's training. This is partly because she used to ignore legs when she felt like it (on the trail, in the arena - if she didn't want to go forward she just wouldn't, even with spurs, only a whip or a rope to the but would work). It's also because I attended a John Lyons clinic two summers ago and he said that after training Zip to ride bridleless he realized that horses really preferred NOT to have leg cues. He said Zip was always very responsive to leg cues when being ridden bridleless but his tail swished constantly and he seemed irritated. After that, John decided to just use rein cues on his horses. Legs meant go faster and that is it. In general, I agree with that (Lily is much more likely to swish her tail from leg cues than rein cues), but I've decided that I'm not quite clear enough with rein signals alone. So, in the last few weeks I've started introducing leg cues when neck reining, backing (asking for direction change), and pivots/spins. Hello swishing tail, I think we shall become well acquainted. All well, I just want her to turn! And I think it will be easier once we start doing lateral work, and lead departures etc.

The point is, tail swishing aside, she has been responding well to leg cues when I use them with rein cues. I was impressed. I have also been pleased to discover in the last few rides that I don't have to use calves or heels on Lily for "go" cues anymore (hardly anyway). A simple tightening of my knees or even thighs sends her to the walk or trot. Hallelujah!

After some slow work, it was back to that beloved trot. Up until Friday, I had never ridden Lily's trot bareback (two strides had me hanging from her neck). But, I finally figured out how to sit it and was able to work her for about 15 minutes at the trot, doing circles, figure eights and serpentines. I couldn't do what I did on Monday (ignore the speed and focus on headset), because I wouldn't have stood a chance on that kangaroo back. So I simply kept asking her to turn small circles, releasing pressure and changing directions when she lowered her head and gave to pressure. Basically, I'm just happy to get practice sitting the jog bareback, and having the ability to cue her without the saddle in between us.

It feels like we make some progress at the jog almost every ride. I'll usually quit after she gives me a few good, slow, relaxed strides in a row. But it almost always takes me more than 10 minutes to get those few strides. (Sometimes it's more than 30 minutes.) And as soon as I let her go on a loose rein or in a straight line she goes right back to freight-train mode. I don't know how to make the progress from one ride carry over to the ride the next day or next week.

Meanwhile, I'll be the one hobbling around on sore legs.

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Well, first problem you are not riding the horse back to front

John Lyons aside, no way can you get collection, or even ahorse light on the bit without using legs

You have to ride with more legs than hands

Head set is nothing in it self. Concentrate on just a head set and you will have ahorse heavy on the bit and on his forehand

Conversly, get a horse using his hind end correctly, driving up under himself, and the head set takes care of itself

Legs certainly don't mean just go. A performance horse learns that legs mean collect more, thus drive deeper, which in turn slows a horse

Your horse is not ready for neck reining. Go back to some of the other posts, that explain how ahorse 'graduates to neck reining, after passing 'snaffle bit education"

The horse graduates from needing a direct rein, to working off of the indirect rein, by progressive training in a snaffle, in conjunction of using legs to keep body aleignment correct

Just a brief summary-while in the snaffle, start by asking with direct rein, and use the indirect rein to re -inforce the direct rein, and have horse associate it with the direct rein request

Then start asking with the indirect rein first, adding direct rein if the horse needs this help. When the horse is prety consistent of working off of the indirect rein through all gaits and manovers, he is ready to neckl rein

Since reins control only the front part of the horse fromthe whithers foreward, and legs control the ribsa nd hips, I don't see how a horse is ridden effectively without leg cues-two thirds of the communication are missing!

Edited by Smilie

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Hey thanks so much for the advice. I've known deep down that headset alone is not the answer. I need more direction on this "driving under herself" thing. Do I just start doing half-halts? I guess I'm not really sure how to ask a horse for collection. I think you're right. Moving off her hind end correctly is the only way her jog will truly improve and lighten. I'm sure it's been explained on here before, so I guess I can do a search if no one feels like explaining it again.

On to the the neck reining. There is a good chance I didn't do everything (or anything?) right with neck reining. But I did teach her as you described above, and I ride her two handed often still, using indirect rein and reinforcing with direct rein. She does well at the walk, which is why I recently started trying it with one hand. At the jog I only use two hands, because you're right, she's not ready to work off indirect rein alone at that gait.

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Hey, just wanted to let you know that I spent an hour or so perusing old posts about collection, and using the hind end etc. I'm going to work on compiling that information into a new lesson plan for Lily (and mostly myself I guess, because I'm sure she will pick it up as soon as I do). I don't want anyone to have to waste their breath explaining everything again when it's already been posted on here a million times (especially you smilie, oh man, I must have copied down about 10 pages of your posts :) ). The saddest part is, I've definitely known ALL of this stuff before, but it just kinda got lost somewhere in practice.

So glad I started this log. I'm going to learn. We're going to get better. Exciting!

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yep! right I'm in the same place and now I can FINALLY just drop to[ the reins and jog with "just my legs(just BUTT)" to guide, it will come(w/ hours). but "they have to figure out that its so EASY to just Jog along! flat! and when they do its like WOW! 'this is easy" I can do this" I'm there this week! now the "lazy lope".... well next week!

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Alright, after a bit plagiarizing of some of the horse guru's around this forum, I've got quit a bit of information compiled. My plan is to write out what I've been educated about and then get some help deciding what I should work on first, second, etc.


This is one of the few things I think I've been doing correctly, but as always, it could be better.

From the standstill, rotate hips forward (don't lean), say "whoa", make rein contact and hold until horse backs and softens. Then big release. Put space between cues so horse learns to anticipate and start backing (soon to be stopping), from the hip rotation. Once they learn from the halt, move to walk until they get it there, then trot/lope etc.

After a stop, turn the horse out of it (like a slow rollback; varying times between stop and turn), so they don't anticipate forward.

To correct a heavy stop (on the forehand, sticking nose out etc), take hold of reins and back horse hard using LEGS. Back until horse becomes light, gives poll and face. Then big release.

Collection (at the walk)

Start at the standstill. Get the horse to accept leg contact without moving forward, and softening and flexing vertically with the slightest lift of rein. Then move onto the walk, pick up the rein, but keep legs on and drive with seat. Wait for horse to soften and flex or give a try in the right direction. Release. If he leans on the bit, bump with legs until he softens. Release.

Shoulder elevation (similar to above). Hold reins up and just in front of withers. Drive hard with legs and wait for horse to soften and lift (you'll be sitting higher because back is lifted, shoulders up and hind end is driving forward). Release. This will lead to being able to lift shoulder by lifting rein.

Collection (at the jog, esp)

Teaching collection at the jog is easier because this gait has more natural impulsion, and will not require as much legs, generally. The goal here is for the horse to learn self carriage (aka, collection on a loose rein). You have to make it clear to the horse when he is traveling correctly or not, and give him the chance to travel this way on his own by pitching him the reins. Give them a chance to make the mistake again and then correct it.

Hold the bit barrier while driving with legs until you feel the horse soften, round and lift (shoulders up). Release and let them relax and then ask again. If he leans on the bit, use more legs (bumping) until he softens. To be traveling correctly he needs to be light in your hands, driving from behind and have shoulders up. Eventually, you can support the horse for several strides before releasing, expecting him to continue in frame. You really need to drive with legs, hold rein up in front of withers (see: shoulder elevation above), and hold as you drive. Once horse becomes light, release.

Alternately, trot a straight away, driving with legs, and using the bit barrier. When he softens, stop back and release. Turn to opposite direction and trot off again. Repeat.

Shoulder control

To start gaining shoulder control, ride an indirect arch circle, alternating with a direct bend. Ground poles, trotting figure eights and half passing are also useful.

(I need a little more info on this one.)

Leg cues: whoa v. collect

A horse should collect when you add the bit barrier and keep your legs on. A horse should stop when you add the bit barrier, rotate your hips, and take your legs off. A horse should back when you continue holding the reins and add legs again, with hips still rotated.

I also took some notes on loping, but I don't want to focus on that yet.

So folks, what do you think, have I gotten the gist of it down? And if you recognize any of your own words on here, it's because I copied quite a few people ver batim (apologies). If you were going to start a horse (from the shoddy background mine has), which one of this things would you begin with? I want to work her tomorrow afternoon.

Oh man, why do finals have to be so inconvenient. Study? What? Who cares if I'm taking genetics, organic chemistry and physics. It's springtime!

Edited by mistymorning

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Day One.

Well, I got some riding pictures today. Unfortunately, they were only from about the first 15 minutes of the ride, because lovely photographer had to go to work or some nonsense. Sharing these photos will hopefully incite loads and loads of advice. I must say, looking at them myself, I'm thinking "yikes!," and not just because of my funky 'concentrating' faces either.

For some reason, I'm not feeling like going into a whole lot of detail on this ride. Probably because it's pushing midnight. I rode for about 1.5 hours. Overall, the ride was kinda scatterbrained on my part, as I was trying to figure out what to feel for when Lily was going properly. And, most importantly, how to ask for it correctly. Basically, I think we'll get better it's just a matter of time spent in the saddle. I tried to work on driving her forward, and getting her to soften in my hands while rounding back, lifting shoulders etc. I don't think we ever really truly got there, but Lily made some valiant attempts in the right direction (not pictured, ugh). I tried working at the trot, but I'm not ready for that yet. I think I need to develop a feel for it at the walk before I start trying to do everything at a faster gait. Towards the end of the ride I felt a few times where she really did feel 'light' in my hands and driving with her hind end. It was fleeting but I liked the feeling, and I'm going to try to concentrate on what it feels like.

I'll just post a few pictures. Beware, this could get ugly. (Quality is a bit sketchy too, I had to lighten them to get more detail.)









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H'mmm, hands. I started putting them forward more and higher (above the horn), to ask for those shoulders, later in the ride. I think that's better? You can see how awful the trot is, which is why I didn't work there too much. Sometimes I'm leaning forward, sometimes back. What do I need to fix to communicate better? I don't know if you can see the back/pivot sequence. But if so, how was that? For reference sake, are there any pictures here that look like Lily is in the right frame (or close)?


(edited, because a pic didn't show up)

Edited by mistymorning

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Hi There!

You have a gorgeous horse and I give you tons of kudos for working with her yourself! Great job, it's not easy!

I was wondering if you'd had her to a chiropractor. Maybe she is feeling pain at the jog? Or perhaps the saddle is pinching her or something? I had my horse to the trainer last month and she had issues with being ridden. It turned out she needed to have her back adjusted!

Keep up the great work!

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This post is actually for Monday through today.

I watched quite a few Richard Winters videos on youtube. What do you guys think of him?

I rode Lily in the roundpen, working on getting her to move off my legs/seat and not brace on the reins, and give me a good whoa. I rode her with spurs for some reinforcement when needed. I did a bunch of backing and roll backs as well. Actually, towards the end of that ride I was quite impressed because she really did come down at the trot to where you could actually say she was "jogging" and on the bit (I think). Had to cut the ride short though, because I was riding along and suddenly realized "I have a final in 38 minutes that I haven't even begun studying for." Ugh.

Well, I finished finals yesterday and packed up dorm and horses and hauled them home for the summer. Was super impressed with both horses as they haven't been in a trailer in 9 months, and both walked straight into my (tiny two-horse bp straight-load, 1965) horse trailer. Uneventful drive home, and they have settled in to their new paddock nicely.

Now I'm faced with the pleasant challenge of no arena/roundpen on the property to ride in. Luckily for two things 1) there is a soccer field I can ride on (my dad is the principal of the school, a private school), and 2) there is a barn about two miles up the highway that I boarded at a couple summers ago and could probably trailer to from time to time. Besides that I've got some vineyards which the owners told me I could trail ride in. Great for doing any "rail" work.

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Quick ride Saturday. Maybe 20 minutes.

My dad graciously helped me electrify the horse fence here Friday. (Okay, I helped him, as he did most of the work.) The fence is a no-climb type fence, but not what I would consider super sturdy, as previous renters put it in for garden fencing, not horse fencing. We just put one strand at the top. Anyway, I feel more confident leaving one horse 'behind' when I take the other one out when I know they won't be testing the fence. My older guy, Jag, was fenced in 6 strands of hot tape when I had him in AK so he's very used to it. Lily, on the other hand, has had very little exposure to the stuff. She shocked herself twice in about 5 minutes. I found it somewhat amusing, you could almost read her mind after the first shock, "What in the heck was that? I wonder if that will happen again." Pokes with nose a second time, "OH MY GOD, it did, it did! Devil fencing!" She's a touch wary of it now.

So I took her on a ride this afternoon once it cooled down a bit (being 94? today). I just rode her bareback on the soccer field. My, my have I mentioned how much I love bareback? Lily did truly great listening to leg aids, we were working on shoulders-over/hips-over. Hopefully a precursor to leg yielding/side passing.

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I rode on Sunday and Monday for about an hour each time. Same ol' same ol'. We're making progress at the walk, better whoa, lighter back, a bit of collection at the walk. Rollbacks are getting much much better. The trot is still a nightmare. Her back hollows, head comes up, and she gets very bracey. What is the best thing to do when she braces on the bit when I ask her to collect (assuming those cues are correct)? My hunch is to stop and back her immediately, releasing when she gives. Tell me, if I stopped her as SOON as she braced and then backed her up until she softened, would that improve that habit? I'm thinking we wouldn't get to go more than two strides at a time. And if I do try that, how do I make sure she doesn't start to resent going into the jog? Should I let her go on a loose rein (while trotting) for a few circles before I ask her to collect and slow down?

Today (Wednesday). Took Lil on a short trail ride through la vineyard with my little sister on the old gelding (Mojag). Fun and relaxing little ride. I love that Lily is not heard bound or sour on a trail ride. She doesn't speed up on the way back, I even made her stop a few times and Jag left her behind and out of sight. Doesn't bother her. When we got back I let the old man graze on the soccer field while I rode Lily a bit more. She was doing really great so I put my mom on her (she's a re-rider, had horses as a kid). I was teaching her the specifics of asking for walk/whoa/back by using her seat and legs mostly. Lily did great for her. Still working on that trot. I did get her to slow down by doing circles and even some slow posting. But I can't really figure out this collection thing. If I put my legs (even just seat) on her to ask her to drive forward, she speeds off and ignores my hands. Bracing with her nose in the air. This brings me back to my original question. WHAT DO I DO?

Advice would be much appreciated folks.

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I think I've missed posting on a ride or two, but I probably didn't have much to report anyway. There is a real small time horse show going on this weekend in a town not to far from me. I had hopes a month or so ago to take Lily there, because it was cheap and low-key. Now I've decided that we really aren't ready for that which is disappointing. "Maybe next year" I tell myself. I really wish I could dedicate this whole summer to working with Lily and improving myself. I'd love to work with a trainer again! Alas, I cannot, at least to the first part.

On to today. I had the day off, so I rode this afternoon. I had to go somewhere this evening which had me riding in about the hottest part of the day. I drug out the English saddle though. I haven't used it in more than I year I think. The other day I brought the saddle/bridle in and cleaned and oiled them. I also bought a new half-pad at the Cal Horse Expo. My last one had an unfortunate encounter with a family of mice.

We just walked. Working on this dang collection. I asked my kid sister to take some pictures which she did, but it was only for the first few minutes of the ride, because she got hot and bored. Don't blame her. Anyway, they really aren't any better than the western pictures from several weeks ago. You can see my new "arena" also known as the soccer field. How's my leg? It didn't feel that far forward when I was riding, but it looks that way to me. Stirrups too long?







More coming.

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There's a hollow back for you.



Can anyone let me know if any of these pics show Lily "on the bit". Or if none are correct, which one comes closest? Critiques? Hand position? I'm dying for some feedback here. Critical or otherwise.

On a side note. There is that horse trainer a few miles down the road from me. I'm not interested in sending Lily there for pro training, but I might take some lessons from her. She does mostly cow/rodeo stuff; roping and barrel racing. But I know she gives regular western lessons to little kids and adults. Think that could be useful for me, even if the discipline doesn't match up?

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