Monday, June 18, 2012

P1 Playdate

Last Thursday I escaped back to P1's summer camp for a day full of learning and playing with the mare.  I managed to talk S into going with me since she has a few clients who might also be visiting P's second home in the near future. 
P says she's sick of posing like this.  Find a new angle...
Aside from it be over-the-top lovely to have some company for the car and ferry rides, it was really fun to have another rider (as opposed to a non-rider Boy) experience the farm for the first time.  I totally trust S's training methods, mindset and approach.  I also know how extensive her own personal riding education is, which contributes to the value of her opinion and perspective on the whole Summer Camp operation. 

Not too surprising, I think she had a blast.  Since she's looking at the farm from a future client perspective we started with a full tour and explanation of the process which, realistically I haven't observed (or heard) since I took P last year.  I know I've expanded on it before, and it's hard not to sound like a cult-driven-zealot, but it really is so inspiring and fun to listen to Cowboy Man talk about his approach and his successes. 

It's even more fun when we have that chat as we meander through the middle of the herd watching all the individuals and their dynamics within the group. I don't think I will ever tire of standing in the middle of a large group of horses watching their energy shift and move as they float around from grassy spot to grassy spot. 

Anyway, S seemed engaged and interested and CM had fascinating stories to tell.  Then we continued the introduction by grabbing one of the mares and heading back to the barn. 

Our "volunteer" from the herd was China, who is the only horse on the property who was more difficult to integrate socially than Miss Pia herself.  China was bred for dressage, but ended up having a pretty spectacular H/J career before totally shutting down and resorting to going vertical instead of forward.  After two years on the farm she's lively, engaged and totally confident.  It's a pretty cool thing to see. 

China's demonstration for us included a liberty walk back to the barn.  Standing free for her snacks, a toe trim and tacking up, then demonstrating her liberty work with obstacles, toys, and mirroring down in the ring.  Finally there was some bridle-less under saddle work that to me is less about trick riding and more about having a horse totally on your side and willing to participate. 

From a distance, all of the tasks are fairly impressive, but when you really watch the process and how every single moment that Cowboy Man is working with a horse he is actively shaping their connection and managing their dynamic.  It's so much damn fun to observe.

Anyway, after China was done demonstrating how adorable she was, we went and grabbed P along with a few other ponies to work with for the day and started tacking up.  P still looks great.  her weight is good, her muscles are healthy and her eyeball looks soft, but mischievous.

We tacked up and opted to head to the back field and do some gait work along the fence line, focusing on each horse working as an individual and trying to rely on our reins as little as possible.  You might recall us having worked this exercise about 6 months ago on another visit. 

Basically, starting at one side of the property we trot off (one at a time) about 100 yards to where we whoa back trying to only use seat/legs/breath and then give the ponies a bite of delicious grain.  Wait patiently for the other horses to catch up, then trot off tot he next bucket of goodies. 

For Wendy, my big girl that I like to ride - the challenge is in waiting for the others to catch up.  For P, it's trying not to explode when trotting off in a big space.  For S's mount it was about tuning in and listening..

We had a lot of fun, Wendy was a good girl and even P made some progress (although the bucks were.... evident). 

Then we moved away from the fence line and took the ponies into the aspen trees and "surfed" them around the trunks - again, trying to steer all from seat and legs and using the reins minimally.  Wendy was a good girl, and I hardly had to touch her face.  S had more of an adventure as her pony hadn't been ridden in a while and the half-halt was all but missing.  But S stayed off the bridle and just worked with the horse she had.  P was.... explosive.  Cowboy Man has mentioned before that typically it's much more difficult for the horses to focus "at home" as opposed to out on the trails since the herd is present and makes it that much harder to keep their attention... I think this is what was happening with P.  She was having a hard time relinquishing her group of friends in favor of focusing on the ride and that led to extra angst and energy when we were galloping about.  CM mentioned that he feels like P is getting uncomfortable again in her withers, and even pointed out that her "nutcracker" muscles (right at the base of her neck) we looking a little hyper developed.  You can see them in the shot of P up above... a bit more definition than has been there, and almost reminiscent of when she arrived at the farm... something to keep an eye on, especially if it indicates P trying to compensate for some discomfort...

After about 45 minutes of playing around we gave the ponies a break and headed back to the barn for some lunch. 
heading in for lunch (P1 is on the right..)
Post lunch we opted for an arena session instead of heading out to the trails.  S and I tacked up for some more work sans-bridles (this time we actually took them off) and P just followed along from the ground.  Prior to mounting up again, Cowboy Man explained the basics of some of his ground work and both S and I practiced a bit with Wendy and Bella before getting on and looking to extend the lesson.  We were allowed to keep the rope halters on (and a lead rope as a emergency brake), but that didn't offer much help in the control department.  Cowboy man supported us from the ground as we asked the mares for increasingly precise work adding some reinback (without reins!) and serpentines across the ring.  P was a gem.  She stayed engaged and attached to CM even while he worked with us showing her curiosity with pretty much everything around.  That mare investigates everything.  While working on a mounting block exercise, P found the bags (unopened) of baby carrots and manged to break into them.  She also removed all the extra tack (saddles, bridles, whips) from the area and spread them evenly around her.  (sort of like a toddler in a playpen).  Rather than get after her for knocking things over and tearing into bags of treats, CM explained that her forward exploration and puzzling should be allowed and even encouraged.  Her confidence with stuff like that is what we're hoping to eventually translate under saddle...
S's reinless-reinback
 We ended by taking everyone out of the ring and working over some bridges, logs and step-up blocks, which is CM's little mini-mountain trail area.  It was a lot of fun and a good tune up for yours truly in terms of getting off the mouth and being responsible for my seat/leg use. 

Finally we ran off to our ferry and gave all the mares plenty of treats and returned them to their group. 

I didn't play with P as much as I usually do, but I also spent more time working on "me" and my contribution more than I usually do, which has an incredible value as well.

S seemed to really enjoy her visit.  We spent the whole car ride talking about how to apply various aspects of CM's approach with less "critical" cases back at the barn.  We also daydreamed about setting up a sort of adult summer camp where we'd have a multi-day clinic with both my vet and CM discussing ground work, hoof care, body work and basically everything else that goes on out at the farm...

S also empathized with why I'm bitter sweet about bringing P home.  I think she could see why I really enjoy going over there on a regular basis and how sad it would be to miss out on those days spent out in the herd/field/woods exercising a totally different side of my horsey-brain. 

All in all, a fabulous day.  P is cute, and we learned lots!


  1. Sounds like a wonderful 'get away from it all' place...refresh, rewind, recharge!

  2. Sounds like so much fun! I wish I could visit that place. Also wish CM would wear a helmet lol (actually was anyone wearing them?)! So how exactly do you ask for a reinback without reins?? Curious minds want to know lol. I'm glad you both had so much fun!


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