A Great Day With Bella

Yesterday the weather forecast was a tad bit off. I know, how could that happen? As a result I was greeted by an absolutely gorgeous day of sunshine, with a temperature in the mid 50s and a light breeze. In other words, perfect riding weather.

I got Bellatrix out as the third horse of the day and as such didn’t feel I really had time to work her on the ground and in the saddle as well, so I just took her blanket off and brought her into the round pen for a bit.

I guess I should have guessed it was going to be a good day as she walked right up to me in the pasture, while I was carrying her halter. She sometimes takes that as an invitation to play “Chase me” around a half-acre of hillside, but not this time.

She stood statue still as I took her blanket off, with that great “Friesian” look in her eye. Some of you may know it. It is a look of total calm and deep wisdom that the breed can manage. Sometimes is is somewhat undeserved, as Bella is too young to be able to call wise, but horses of Friesian blood often seem to have the “old soul” thing going for them and yesterday was Bella’s day for it.

I decided to free lunge her for a few minutes. I do this to get a chance to look for any lameness or pasture injury and to give the horse a chance to kick up their heels and romp or roll, if they want to. Bella did a few turns around the pen very quietly then came right to me when I stopped pushing her. She just put her forehead against my chest a blew a quiet relaxing breath.

I then put the lunging caveson on her. This can be tricky to do sometimes if the horse isn’t held in some way, by a rope or such. They tend to duck their head away and walk off when you try to place all this leather with rings on their faces. She just stood there calmly while I fumbled with buckles and straps and when I finally got it all secured and clipped the lunge line on, she was already moving off into a small circle at the walk.

By the time we had finished the short line session, she had walked, trotted and cantered on a three foot line, while staying bent, both laterally and at the pole through it all with no contact to speak of on the line. Just to be clear, that is cantering in less than a ten meter circle around me, properly bent, upright and balance if a wonderfully soft, collected canter. For those who may not know, this NOT an easy thing for horse to do most of the time, a young horse particularly and it takes both a natural ability and proper conditioning for a horse to be able to do it properly.

After I finished lunging her, I removed the lunge line and clipped a set of light reins to the outer rings on the caveson and climbed up on her bareback. We rode around the pen for about 30 minutes, turning this way and that, purely off the leg, backing, doing haunch and forehand turns and even side-passing a few steps each way. All this with no saddle or bit of any kind. She began walking when I shifted my pelvis forward and stopped walking when I shifted it back, maintaining an even pace when I stayed in the middle. By the end she was turning left and right when I looked in either direction with no leg contact to support the request.

When it was all over, I put her blanket back on and lead her back to the pasture, where she tried to come back out when I let her go. I guess she was not ready to stop the day’s work, but my time was short and I needed still to feed.

It may not sound like any sort of huge deal, all these things we did in this short session but there are MANY “fully trained” horses with more years of life experience that I would not have had such a good session with. I was very proud of our girl. She made me feel like quite the horseman for a time and that is a wonderful gift to receive.

Hands-On Horse Training
124 Lani Way TalentOR97540 USA 
 • 5415357974

Year Wrap-up Bellatrix

Bella has matured physically and emotionally a great deal this year. She is a statuesque creature, solid, powerful and surefooted. While not quite full grown yet, she is well on her way to being the mount she was breed to be. Her conformation would suggest great natural ability in skills of classical horsemanship. Time will tell if I am assessing her correctly.

In the past year, we have not worked with her as much as some of the other horses on the property, as we were waiting for to reach something of her full stature before asking too much of her. She has had a good start under saddle but her real saddle work can now begin with the coming of spring.

In the upcoming training season I will finish her as a general riding horse and begin her training as a warhorse. When we have her carrying her rider with complete balance, left to right and front to back, then we can start to help her master the elements of medieval martial equitation.

She may not be ready for use for such activities this event season as her owner is not in any particular hurry as far as her training goes, but I am hoping to have her as at least a reliable mount for general riding by the SCA event to be held in the area the first weekend in May.

Just how much time I can devote to her training will depend to a great degree on how many other horses I will have to work this spring.

Bella – Straightness and Balance

It was apparent to us the day Bella was born that we had something pretty special in this filly. Her natural headset and collection were amazing, right from birth. However, like many horses with this strong vertical flex naturally, she tends to be less able to bend laterally.

As she has matured, Bella has continued to be a very nicely collected horse, but clearly favors one side to the other by way of balance and weight bearing. During the reduced riding season, while we are forced to work on more ground work than saddle, I intend to strive to correct this left/right imbalance to straighten and even her development side to side. This should allow her to improve her lateral flex as well and generally improver her balance under saddle.

Bella November Update

Bella has become a solid mount, strong and surefooted. Her balance is improving steadily.  She is still short of fully mature physically, was well as mentally and emotionally.

We have begun working her more regularly on the short line to improve her shoulder-in ability and will likely work on this through the winter with the intent of having her ready by spring to continue it from the saddle.

Meanwhile, we will continue to give her as much saddle time as weather will allow and continue her sensory desensitization to prepare her to start working the the elements used in medieval gaming. She is brave enough when working with other horses, but still gets a bit edgy when she is on her own.

Last day of August

Today I rode Zephyr, Raffona, Bellatrix and Orion. I will now post the status of each in regards to what I am currently working on with them.

Zephyr

Z has come a long way in a short time. His weight and physical conditioning are much improved. He is also much more flexible and collected.

He does appears to enjoy having something to do and was really into working today. He quietly took any gait I asked for, on the correct lead every time. We are still working getting him to get his butt under himself and lift his front end, but that will come.

He crossed all the trail obstacles we have laid out right now, with just a little bit of hesitation, due most likely to being alone in the arena. But after a bit he relaxed and took them all in stride.

To sum up, he is a very enjoyable ride, with soft, easy to sit gaits and I am sure he will just get better in time.

Raffona

Raffona has been and still is, one of my very favorite horses. She is so soft and light to the touch it seems sometimes you can guide her with your thoughts.

I have been working on slow canter and trot, bringing her down closer and closer to doing them in place.  She is making very nice lead changes now, looking for the new lead when I turn my head.

Oddly, it is getting her to extend that is proving to be the challenge. If she walked any slower she would be going backward and she opts to try to change gaits rather than extend her walk, trot or canter. I have to admit though, I have been enjoying her slow canter and trot so much I really haven’t worked on her extended movement as much as I should. 🙂

To sum up, if she continues to improve as she has recently, I am probably going to use her as my Palfrey in next year’s Hocktide Emprise.

Bellatrix

I hadn’t actually planned to ride Bella today, but while Raina was riding her, our little princess started acting the part and Raina did not want to correct her too forcefully for fear of doing something wrong. So we switched mares and up I climbed.

I instantly noticed how much bigger Bella felt from the saddle than she seems when you stand next to her. This did not feel like some little filly. She felt very much like Orion, but just a little closer to the ground.

For the next 40 minutes or so we walked, trotted and cantered. Her walk is forward and quick, with good flexing. Her trot, soft, with some good speed and extension when you ask for it. Good bend at the pole, but a little bit stiff in her lateral bend. Her canter was a different thing. She really didn’t want to bend or flex at first and would take any opportunity to try to head back to Fona. So we had some words and I put her in some tight circles at the walk and trot before I manage to get her to become a little more supple at the canter.  The great thing was, no matter how forcefully I insisted she behave, she never got upset. Her eye was always soft, ears quiet and she would stop and stand anytime I ask her to.

To sum up, Bella is a doll. She has her dad’s steady mind and willingness to try new things and her mom’s drive to compete. When we start her training for the games, I am positive this little tank will be a force to be reckoned with.

Orion

What can I say about Orion I haven’t said a hundred times?

In the case of today’s ride, it could be mentioned that he had not been ridden in days and he was not happy about it. Every time this week that I went to the pasture to get someone to work, he stared at me disapprovingly as I took someone else out.  So I expected him to demonstrate his displeasure by giving me a hard time. Did he? Nope, not for a second.

From the very beginning he was on his game, giving me exactly what I asked for. Stepping into his collected canter from the standstill, both leads, with his forehead exactly perpendicular to the ground. He went from this canter, to fast hand gallop, to a full charge and back down to a calm standstill with almost no prompting. Keep in mind getting his speed up without making him “Gamey” is what I have been working on lately.

He even cantered beside, behind and in front of Curly without issue, even doing close passes as he changed from one position to the next. Then just to remind both of us how it is done, I rode him with no hands for about 15 minutes, all over the arena, crossing the trail challenges, canter with Curly, turning, stopping and wheeling back into the charge. I eventually rode him to the arena gate, unlatched and opened it, then up to the gate to the barn, unchained and opened it, then herded the goat that had gotten out of the pasture back to where he belonged. Once all this was done, we trotted down to the tie off post. During all of this I never touched the reins once.

To sum up, I love this horse.

Bella is Left Handed

So today was a very good day for Bella.

She was asked to walk, trot and canter in both directions which she did we great composure.  She is perfectly happy and balanced at both the walk and trot, even a wonderful extended trot, not at all bad for only having been ridden only a handful of times. She is far from completely balanced at the canter, but did not get upset or panic at any point.  Even without a flexing, her canter is soft and easy to sit. I don’t think she will ever have the “loft” that Orion has in his canter, but I think hers will be wonderfully soft and a pleasure to ride.

She was picking up her left lead every time it was asked for and about half the time the right lead was requested. Normal for a left handed horse just starting out, so to be expected. What was unexpected is her willingness to just step into the canter from the walk.  This bodes very well for her future training as a warhorse.

Equally impressive in her performance today was the willingness to stand quietly while other horses where being worked in the main arena area.  She stood without moving a foot while her rider watched the others and while conversation was going on.  She is already showing a mature work ethic and I could not be more pleased by it.

Now we must just work on her bending and softening her slightly rigid center line. This will will do with short line lunging, stretching and of course flexing while being ridden.

I am really impressed with how fast this mare is coming along. I was certain when I started her under saddle a few months ago that I would not be able to do much real in saddle training this year, but so far she has taking everything we have tried with her in stride naturally.

Bellatrix, a History

Bella Day 1
Bellatrix on her first day.

I had the pleasure of working with Bella’s mother some time ago. She seems to throw offspring with shorter legs and powerfully thick bodies.  They tend to be less willing to flex laterally than many horses, but bend at the poll very willingly. They start out as bold babies with little interest in humans, but as they get a little older their curiosity, which is considerable, causes them to interact more and more with the people in their lives. Eventually this makes them very willing work and eager to please.

Bella was a fine example of all these traits, as I discovered early. As she was born a month early, in our pasture, with no help from anyone, we have had the pleasure of her company from day one. I handled her from a young age and was able to begin using my “Hands-On” methods well before she was weaned. I began her round pen work at just 3 weeks of age as she had by then developed and interesting problem with attempting to kick people as she ran by them. Fortunately even at this age she had little problem being separated from mom, at least as long as mom was outside the round pen.

Balla under saddle
Bellatrix now under saddle

Before she was 6 months old she was halter trained, would stand tied, pick up her feet for trimming, vet quietly and load into a trailer happily. She did seem to have a deathly fear of fly spray for some reason and it took some time to get her over that. ;> She was also moving off of pressure but would stand and let you touch her all over. We were able to free lunge her, changing her direction and telling her which gait we wanted with verbal commands and hand signals. Basically, everything I ask of a young horse before I can put a saddle on them.

So off she went to the pasture to continue to grow with only periodic tune up sessions to help her hold on to what she had already learned.

Fast forward to late this spring when I started working the now 3 year old Bella on the short line with bit and saddle in place.  She took to it so quickly that she was had her first rider by early summer and is currently learning to walk, trot and canter with rider.

That’s brings us up to date with Bellatrix.