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Bel Joeor Sale and Giveaway!

Amanda from Bel Joeor is hosting a big sale on her Etsy site and a giveaway on her blog!  She makes beautiful saddle covers and bags.  I highly recommend checking out her shop and entering her contest.  

A Weekend of Learning - Part 1

This past weekend was such an interesting learning experience for Ellie (and for me, too)!  We had two lessons, one Saturday with a new instructor and one on Sunday with Beth, and both left me feeling inspired and ready to enter the worst season for me (winter!).  Anything I can do to feel motivated and inspired when it will soon be below freezing and the footing will turn to ice/snow is a good thing haha.

A dressage rider/trainer/judge from Maine (who spends her winters in Florida) had posted on Facebook that she was available for lessons at a barn fairly close to me, so I immediately sent her a message.  I wasn't interested in taking a dressage lesson but an in-hand/trick training lesson instead!  Besides dressage, Sandy does a ton of performing at liberty, bareback, bridleless, and incorporates tricks as well.  She has started doing an art on horseback thing, too.  Now, I have no aspirations of ever doing performances, nor do I want to paint from my horse's back, but I do want to learn more about working with Ellie in hand.  I like what I see from Sandy's videos and from watching her ride in person, and I have always found her to be a fair and competent judge.  

We arrived in the pouring rain to a little farm I have never been to before just under an hour from me.  It was super cute though really hard to navigate my 24' horse trailer into the (really muddy) narrow driveway and barnyard.  The barn owner, who I met for the first time when I showed up, was friendly and happy to have me join her lessons with Sandy that day.  She offered me a stall for Ellie (which was nice of her to include in the $20 ring fee I paid her), because having to stand out in the rain at the trailer didn't feel fun haha.  Ellie was a little wide eyed about this experience, but she hung out happily in the stall with her hay net and I groomed her a little bit beforehand.  We were the first lesson of the day at noon.  
chilling in her borrowed stall beforehand
Sandy and I chatted about Ellie and what I have done with her since I bought her.  I told her my goals for in hand work, about how I wanted to give Ellie things to occupy her brain.  I led her around the indoor a bit to get her to check out the space.  She touched all the things with her nose and soon Sandy took her from me to get started.  She wanted to start teaching Ellie the cues with me watching, which was perfect since I had no idea what I was doing nor did Ellie.  With Sandy taking her from me right off, I felt a lot less pressure about trying to figure it out at the same time Ellie was, too.

It was super interesting to me to watch Sandy work her.  All Ellie wore was a rope halter and Sandy had a dressage whip.  I regret not taking ANY videos or photos during our session, but I was so enthralled with it all.  This is why I need a personal photographer to follow me around hahahaha.  

She started with asking Ellie to disengage her hindquarters and turn towards her when on a small circle.  Ellie had a much easier time bending right than bending left, which is exactly the same as under saddle.  It took a little trial and error on Ellie's part, trying to figure out what Sandy wanted, but soon she was moving and halting and turning all just from Sandy's body position.  This type of in hand work is not new to me, but I loved how she explained what she was doing in a very methodical dressage like way.  That clicked for me.  So many "natural horsemanship" clinicians don't explain things well (in my opinion) but Sandy's approach and teaching style was super accessible.

Then I worked with Ellie in hand to figure out how to use my body language and movement to have her move around me in the same ways.  Once Ellie showed she understood (it didn't take long and even Sandy remarked on how quick and eager Ellie is), we moved on to leg yielding down the wall.  At first, Ellie was slightly confused and didn't know what Sandy was asking, but the moment she started to bring her haunches in when being asked, it was like a light bulb.  I could see the moment she realized it was just a leg yield down the wall and happily offered that.  Like before, I watched Sandy while she trained Ellie and told me what was happening, and then I gave it a try.  You can see in the terrible screen grab below how we were cueing for the leg yield using a dressage whip.  Ellie is much shorter than Sandy's Friesian but you get the idea.  It started with light tapping on her hip and soon became just raising the whip up towards the opposite (right) hip.  

because I have no media from the lesson, here is a terrible quality screen grab from one of Sandy's videos
I like how she talked about using my left hand as giving a half halt cue, as her language really made sense to me since it was all dressage based.  This gave us a nice natural progression to starting to teach her to "parallel park" to the mounting block.  Back when I started Ellie, I used sugar cubes to teach her to stand still while mounting and we have no issues about mounting blocks, but this is a good tool regardless.  It didn't take long for her to figure it out, and soon she was swinging her hind end easily over and lining up with Sandy, who stood on the mounting block. I know this is something I know she will easily remember the next time we practice it. 

From there, we did a little more working in hand, since Ellie really gets stuck when asking for backing up.  I wanted to further solidify this movement with Sandy right there with us, as I know this is something that we need to work on.  Ellie much prefers to be just outside or firmly inside her handler's bubble, so stepping towards her and asking her to back up isn't something she would choose to do haha.  We practiced having her come to me, then halting, and then backing up, not giving her the treat until she backs.  I did all of this trying to not touch her halter or lead rope but just my body cues.  I did use the whip to lightly tap tap her chest when needed.  And when she finally acquiesces to back, she wants to shuffle along and back up in the smallest and slowest way possible.  So I really had to use my body language to make her MARCH and move backwards in a mindful way (not rushing, of course but doing an appropriate reinback movement).  She picked it up more as we practiced, but this is going to need work.

Now the funniest part of the day was as we moved from leg yielding over to the mounting block parallel park movement.  We were all standing there, Sandy and I talking and Ellie just listening haha.  Suddenly, she started offering the flehman response and was being a total ham.  Sandy had mentioned in the beginning that sometimes horses offer a trick or movement and you have to go with it and teach them the cue.  I laughed out loud at Ellie being such a character; she was clearly LOVING this in hand work and giving her busy bee brain new things to learn.

Sandy is like, "Oh!  Well, we can teach her to smile!" and I'll be damned, the horse learned how to "smile" on command.  It took her a bit of time to figure out that now Sandy was ASKING her to flip her lip, but the moment she realized that if she wiggled her lip up she got a treat, she was ALLLLLL about the smile.

I did it again with her that night in her stall when I brought the mares inside for dinner, and it only took a few tries before she did it reliably.  It makes me laugh and she loves to do it, but of course I still did not have any media.  So last night when I went out for night check, I tried to get a video of her doing it.  Let me tell you, it is not easy to get a good video yourself while trying to get your horse to do a trick hahaha.  The video setting really zooms in a lot but after several attempts, I got a fairly decent one to show you all! 

she's such a ham

Smiling Ellie from Elizabeth Sanborn on Vimeo.

Overall, this was a great experience and something I am excited to continue working on this winter.  It gives me hope that I can work with her even when we can't ride.  I want to teach her more in hand work, eventually teaching her Spanish walk and piaffe.  I will probably teach her to bow, but I am not a fan of teaching a horse to rear, so we will skip that.  I also want to try teaching her to stand on a target board and pedestal.  The sad thing is that Sandy won't be back in Maine again until spring, but this is also kind of a good thing because it forces me to work on things on my own and then I can do another lesson with her when she returns.  I think incorporating a lesson every month to six weeks will be good.

Sandy runs an online training group, with TONS of videos, so I joined that to keep me going on my own.  I don't think I would have understood much of the videos alone without having had an actual hands-on lesson with her first.  So, hopefully this gives me some exciting things to work on this winter when I cannot ride!


I’m so happy you learned so much! It sounds interesting. I also swear that teaching Zeke to smile was the best thing I ever did haha
Sara said…
That lesson sounds amazing and Ellie smiling/hamming it up is adorable. I'd love to learn more in hand work but the natural horsemanship people around me are a bit hokey and don't instill confidence in me that my money would be well spent
Trick training is so fun, I've always wanted to teach my horses to smile!
It was definitely a good lesson because Ellie needs things to occupy her brain! I love that you taught your boy, too. :-)
Yeah, I definitely exercise caution about most natural horsemanship folks, but Sandy is great as she is so grounded in dressage first. I have wanted to work with her for years, so I am glad I finally had a chance!
I never knew I wanted to teach her to smile until she pretty much taught herself LOL!!! It is definitely a fun party trick. I want to teach her to bow, but my luck she will "smile" and then "bow" on her own at the end of a dressage test LOL!
emma said…
oooooh that's so awesome!!! i have like, zero experience or knowledge of tricking training but sometimes think charlie would actually enjoy and excel at learning tricks. maybe one day!
Dom said…
Such a cool lesson and something I wish more people would do with their horses!! In-hand and liberty work can do so much for under saddle performance SO quickly! Loved your recap and am sad that you do not have a personal photographer to capture the whole thing for you!
L.Williams said…
Her smile is so cute, haha
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Liz Stout said…
Oohh my goodness her smile! I love it. What a funny, smart girl!
I have some in hand training experience and zero trick training as well! So this was a fun introduction to what I hope will be a good winter project. Charlie would probably love it!
Thank you! That is what I am hoping, that what she learns in hand will translate well over to under saddle. I definitely could use a personal photographer hahaha. It would make capturing media so much easier!
I'm pretty biased, but I agree she is pretty cute! ;-)
I think the best part is she basically did it herself in the lesson and then we just taught her a cue. It so reliable now that my three year old was cueing her the other day and she kept smiling over and over LOL!
TeresaA said…
That smile is the most adorable thing ever
Isn't she the cutest? She's so happy to do it, too LOL!