Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Bringing on a professional trainer to help Nenya and me was probably the smartest thing I've done...lately. Our trainer has not only given me fantastic insight into being a better rider and equipped me with the tools I need to deal with a "wiggly" Princess, but Nenya has also blossomed under her wing.
When we first started lessons, I recapped all of the issues I was having with Nen and her refusal to go forward. I described her meltdowns and tantrums and that I could not figure out how to get through to the Princess that riding is not only her job but also fun. One of the first things our trainer noticed immediately was how and where I was sitting on Nenya's back.
As you can see, I was too far back in the saddle, on the hollow of her back, which was forcing my leg forward towards her elbow and too far behind the withers. Nenya's physical makeup--a combination of Arabian and American Saddlebred--tends her to be naturally hollow-backed.

Me sitting like I was added to her weakness. Much of her attitude was a result of her telling me that she's ouchie and I wasn't helping. She was moving is short, choppy trots with her head up. Doesn't that just scream uncomfortable?
So training benefit #1: It is immensely helpful to have someone with horse-sense viewing from the ground.

Our trainer took a two-prong approach to fix this issue and help Princess become less ouchie. First was to add a riser between the saddle and pad to better angle the saddle and move me forward. Just this simple piece of 2-inch foam immediately made a gigantic difference in my riding posture, making it much more comfortable for Nenya to move.

This simple change alleviated a large amount of Nenya tantrums in the arena. But as our trainer pointed out, we needed to make a long-term change. 

Second part: build up and strengthen Nenya's back. Just like any other physical therapy regiment, it's a long process, but the overall benefits far outweigh the timeline. I wanted Nenya to feel good when she moves under saddle and enjoy being a riding horse. As anyone can tell you, physical therapy is a slow process to ensure you don't cause damage or add too much strain to a weak point. Our trainer suggested a number of exercises along with the use of a neck stretcher to achieve this. 

The point of using a neck stretcher is not as a "crutch" to keep Nenya's head down, it's to create resistance--similar to the arm and leg band resistance people use in strength-training (as some argue--there are some people out there who definitely use it to pin their horse's head placement instead of doing the work themselves, which is not the point of this training tool...but I digress). When she puts her head down, to ease the resistance, she is physically inclined to raise her back, which in turn, strengthens her back muscles. Nenya has learned the more she does this, the better her back feels and the better she moves. 

As for exercises, we work in small reps in each direction. Using my legs to add pressure and stronger placement of my hands, I push Nenya into the bit by dropping her head. This has two benefits--constant contact with her mouth and sides and by lowering her head, she's raising her back, which in turn widens her stride. We do short amounts of reps as a warm-up and then I do a few reps at a walk to cool down at the end of our ride. 

As I said, it's a slow process, but what a difference this has made already. From this:
To this:
And how can I tell that she's feeling much more fit since we started this process almost 4 months ago? She is even moving better on the ground--naturally dropping her head and raising her back.

Photo credits: Before training photos by Davin Schreiber; After training photos by Anne Johnson.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Princess Wish List

Christmas is right around the corner and just like everyone else, we're running around fulfilling wishes and making dreams come true. But we can't forget about the Princess! She tells me that she's been a good girl this year and hopes that Santa Haskins brings her some fabulous things! Here are just a few things she's hoping to find under the tree. She is sure that her fellow Princess Ponehs will want these items added to their wishlist too!

Twinkle Toes Hoof Polish
What every Princess Poneh needs--polish for her freshly manicured toes! And knowing how much she loves glitter and pink, Nenya feels that this is missing from her make-up kit.
Mane and Tail "Bling"
I'm finding that I prefer Nen's long mane to be braided in the winter because I keep a neck rug on her--plus it's easier to work with when your fingers are frozen. Nen says that she would look even prettier with some embellishments and hopes to find these bands in her stocking.
Paddock Cakes Candy Paddies
What better reward after hard work than tasty treats? Nenya LOVES these candy paddies (with the exception of peppermint). They also have S'mores with marshmallows that she wants to sample as well.

Stay tuned to see what Santa brings Princess Nenya and for more updates on training!
Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The next level

**brushes cobwebs off the Blogger dashboard**

Remember when I said, I was going to try to recollect all of Nenya's training and moments from the time I purchased her in late April? Well, of course time has passed enough that everything blurs together so I'm going to use today's entry as a fast-forward to where we are now.

After what seemed like, ok a month, of just ground work and bonding with Nen, I finally started working her under saddle. I purchased a super-comfortable Wintec all-purpose English saddle since I didn't want to worry about leather care along with Princess Poneh care.  (A side plug for the synthetic saddles as I know some of you are die-hard leather saddle proponents--I love that I can hose this saddle off and here in the rainy Pacific Northwest, I don't have to care about water-spots. And did I mention that it's super comfortable? Plus with the Easy-Change Gullet system, I can just change the gullet without having to buy a whole new saddle. Ok, I digress).

Keep in mind that Nenya hasn't been ridden much up to this past spring--she enjoyed the luxurious life of the glorious pasture. First step--learn that the mounting block is not a pony step-stool and mommy isn't scarier because she all of a sudden is taller.

I think we spent a few hours just walking around the block, standing next to it, etc. until she felt comfortable. And here's where I stupidly just get on thinking that we've made such great progress that we can just ride. She was good--no bucking or anything and we just simply walked around the arena. The next day I tried the same thing and she bucked me off as I was trying to get on her (from the mounting block). Riding is stupid is what Nen said.
Time for reinforcements. I started consulting with a couple of my friends who have horse training experience and they told me to try a number of different things.

  • Work her only in one arena and set a schedule so she always knows when she's expected to work.
  • She's so smart you need to change it up to keep her from really thinking about how to get out of work.
  • Always warm her up on the ground and then get on.
  • Maybe look for another horse?
Ok, the last one I was going to have none of--we were meant to be together, that I knew. And yes, the amount of "Arabian-poisoning" in her blood makes her incredibly smart to where she gets bored and again, looking for trouble because work is stupid (according to her). So I warm her up a bit from the ground before tacking her up (and now I find that it helps her totally focus on me from the get go...but I'll discuss more of that in a later entry). 

After spinning my wheels with her for another month, I felt that we were taking steps backwards and doing all of this training on my own wasn't getting the results I wanted. She continued to act up after a short time of riding. I couldn't figure out why and my friends weren't there to "see" what I was trying to explain. At the end of the day, I want this experience to be fun for both me and Nenya.

So I called in the big guns, a local trainer whom I have the utmost respect for. She accepted us as a challenge and has been working with us since August--and now we're on the right track...stay tuned for the next installment! 

Friday, September 2, 2011

More from ground control...

In my last post about building a foundation from the ground, I didn't mean that after we overcame some obstacles that I stopped working Nen from the ground. That's not the case at all! In fact, every day includes some groundwork. However, because Nenya has what my friend Liz claims is "Arab Poisoning," she is a thinker and she gets bored going around in circles. She thinks it's stupid.

So to keep her mind fresh and still continue to maintain our groundwork, I change our ground activities up a bit. After all, if she won't listen to me from the ground, she's not going to listen when I'm on her back--which is so crucial not only for safety reasons but also for our growth. I also find that groundwork is a great way to start off each day so I can see how she's moving and how she's feeling. And as I'll note in future posts, sometimes I have to go back to ground work to simply get us back on track from a small derailment.

Some things I with Nen is to vary where we work. Sometimes I work her offline in the smaller covered arena. Here we work on sticking to the rail and her listening to my commands. Once she's warmed up, I change speeds often and in different parts of the arena to keep her guessing. Sometimes it's a whole lap at a canter and sometimes it's half at a canter, half at a trot. I ask her to change directions--sometimes at a walk and sometimes at a canter. My goal is to keep her engaged and I've found that it works.

When we work in the outdoor arena, I usually use a lunge line. The arena is large and it gives me more control. Plus I use it as an opportunity to set up obstacles. Using PVC piping I lay them at spaced intervals which makes her look down and pick up her feet as she goes over. Sometimes I also add cones to the mix to provide a distraction--and I'm cruel and make her go through them. 

I've found that this has not only strengthened the bond I've worked so hard to grow and nourish, but it has really provided Nenya with great mind exercises (along with the body). And of course some times I let her just play offline in the arena too--a girl's gotta find some relaxation!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A training break: Accessories time!

Every girl loves her accessories and Nenya being the girly-mare that she is, she's no exception. So I thought this week I'd divert from the training to talk about some of the best little "accessories" Nenya has in her pink toolbox.

Best brush evah: The Nuzzler

I don't know why this wasn't one of the first things I bought her. The teeth on this curry comb are a hard plastic and shaped like a massage brush. Which is exactly what it is. Nenya has the pink heart-shaped one (again, I know you're shocked) and it is very comfortable to hold. When I go over her with this brush she has pooky lip and head bobbing the whole time. When I'm done she looks at me like "Why did you stop?!" Before I bought the Nuzzler, I tried it out on my good friend Laura (her back) and she had a pooky lip and bobbed her head too. And then she too asked why I stopped.

The best mane in the barn: Cowboy Magic Detangler

Wowza! This is such a must-have. Although Nenya has very a fine-textured Arabian mane and tail, she has a lot of it and after bathing her or even a few days of her playing out in the pasture, the tangles set in. The tiniest bit of this product--we're talking dime-sized--applied to her forelock, mane and tail, and the brush just goes through like butter. It works just as well on dry hair as wet--and it smells good too! I think I'm going to use it on my own hair.

Best smelly stuff: EQyss Mega-Tek Coat Rebuilder

I went on vacation for a week earlier this summer and came back to find Nenya had rubbed bare a part of her tail. She also somehow  managed to get a crescent-shaped bare mark on her right flank. That second one is still a mystery to me. I asked her and she just sighed and ignored me. I get that a lot. I digress...This product is fantastic for rebuilding coats and hair. It helps with dried skin and split ends too. It can also be used on Coupe's paw pads--I love the multi-pet uses! I've been faithful of putting it on Nenya's little bare spots I described above 3 times a week and both have the hair almost completely grown back. Best of all, it smells like coconut. Every girl likes to smell a bit tropical!

Best clean face: Oster ESC Face Finishing Brush

Everyone encounters a dirty face every now and then so why not sweep it clean? This brush from Oster has a nice grip handle and the bristles are super soft. Nenya LOVES this brush. She shoves her face into it as I'm sweeping away the dirt and she even tries to nibble on it. She's a freak. Anyways, I like how it's round and it's easy to get around the contours of her face and the compactness of the bristles gets a lot of dirt off quickly and easily. And I'm sure you're all dying to know, Nenya has the pink one.

Monday, July 25, 2011

From the ground we get movement

I am going into my fourth month of Princess Nenya ownership and only now have the chance to create and update this Blog so bear with me while I try to recap all the training and work I've done and from there take us forward. I promise it will hurt much less than a flu-shot.

Having been around Arabians before--and Nenya being mostly Arabian (mentally and psychologically for sure)--they become very bonded to their "person." They need a gentile but firm hand and most of all someone who very much is aware of them. Nen was missing this and I wanted this to be an all-around positive and productive experience for us both. My first month goals were to establish a positive bond and also start conditioning her on the ground.

Coming off the winter--here in Washington we still seem to be in winter--Nenya really wasn't worked or ridden. I knew going into her purchase that she had very "low miles" on her. In other words, lightly ridden. But she had good ground manners which is oh so important. I watched her former owner work her offline calling out commands and then it was my turn. Poor confused Princess couldn't understand why two people were making her work.

I called to her to make her move and I'm not sure if it was me or because Mara was there she reluctantly worked.

The real test came a few weeks later when we moved her to the barn where she lives now. I was so excited that I couldn't wait to start working with her and bonding. My husband and parents came to welcome Nen home. I wanted to show them all how talented she was and how smart she was that I could lunge her offline. As you can see that really didn't go according to plan.

So Step One: purchase lunge line (in pink of course).
Step Two: establish bond
Step Three: spend every day at barn with Princess Nenya for a couple of hours.

Fast forward a month and we are moving like a team and I can work her offline and online! Hurray--there was much applause.

And then came the complete poneh meltdown and she realized that this isn't fun anymore and she refused to move. No forward, backward, anything. Now those of you who have experienced this, it is infuriating. I liken it to a toddler having a temper tantrum in the mall and everyone is looking at you like a bad parent and you have no clue how to resolve the situation. So what does one do? Consult friends with experience and the interwebs.

I pulled out Clinton Anderson's "From the Ground Up" series and it gave me some great advice. But it was something my my good friend CeCe gave me--a copy of some of John Lyons' ground training and how to get movement that really gave me the most positive and successful results with my stubborn Princess Poneh.

Lyons' "Go Forward Cue--Talk to the Hip!" article was exactly what we needed. I found in that applying a small amount of pressure or tapping on Nenya's hip she moved forward. At first I asked once and as soon as she responded by moving forward I stopped her and gave praise. After a few forward steps the next time I asked she was stopped and praised again. And then a few more steps and then more praise and so on. I repeated this the start of every day for two weeks and now I've found that I don't even need the crop for this exercise. The minute I point to her hip she moves forward. And there was much rejoicing.

I know that this all seems trivial, but a horse who will not take commands from the ground is likely not to take commands from the saddle. Although it was a set back, I realized that I was moving Nenya too quickly and she was overloaded in a short amount of time...or else her Arab brain just had to be rebooted again. Or maybe both. Taking the time I did to do some research has actually strengthened our bond and her understanding of my expectations.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Beginning...a tad late

A few months ago I had the opportunity of a lifetime...well my lifetime anyways. I became the owner of a beautiful pinto National Show Horse mare. It wasn't because I needed more responsibility or an excuse to spend money. It was more that there was something missing in my life. That missing link I wasn't actually on the search for, but Craigslist is an evil tool and before I knew it, Nenya came prancing into my life.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I realized that I'm actually not only an owner but also becoming a trainer with the opportunity to shape and mold this beautiful companion into being a successful, all around horse. And then I realized that everyone is giving me so much advise and links and videos and directions that my head was swimming. Thus the start of this blog.

Nenya is a prissy, princess mare with a huge heart, unconditional loyalty and a willingness to learn. She is my horsey soul-mate that I didn't know I was missing.

So follow along with us on adventures and I recap the growth we both share, on a journey that has already changed my life.