Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Not my best night

I went out last night to work with the pony some more, and put a ride in on the older horse to drill myself a bit. The whole evening felt off and I was a bit dismayed coming away from there.

For one, the pony was edgy and anxious, and I didn't get the chance to do the pre-riding groundwork I usually do with her first, as I was getting a bit of a lesson on her last night and didn't want to hold up the process. Well, that was a mistake. She was pulling back while tied, and was being a dumbass at the mounting block, despite all my careful work to improve that behaviour. When I swung a leg over, she started walking and backing and turning and would not stand. I thought was going to come off before I even got on! But I finally got her settled-ish. She was edgy and distracted the whole ride, and was drifting out on all her turns. Cared more about what her friends in the field were doing than what I wanted. I did do a lot of trotting on her, but I didn't feel comfortable at all with her the whole ride. I was also riding her in a way that I really didn't want to at this point. I don't know. It just felt bad and like steps backward with her instead of the slow but steady improvement I'd been working and hoping for.

After that, I rode the older lesson horse -- not in a lesson, but just to get her moving and to give myself more of a workout. Last time I rode her, though, she stumbled really badly in the trot, after a short canter, like she couldn't get her legs back under herself. I was really worried she would actually wipe out! Her painkillers are being increased, as this is what happened before when she needed to start on them. But it shook me a bit. So, last night I just did walk-trot.

There's a lot that can be done at walk-trot, though, so I just focused on that. My sitting trot is still a mess, so, realizing I was pulling on the reins too much in trying it, I instead let them out very loose, and when that didn't seem to help either, I bridged them in one hand and grabbed the pommel with the other, and PULLED myself down into the saddle with the other hand, to force my body to follow. It was actually REALLY effective! And man, did it ever kill my abs!! Felt good though, in that hurts-so-good way. I was able to periodically let go and continue to follow the motion for a bit, and then I'd pull myself back down for a while, etc. Going to keep going with this for sure.

Other things I'm noticing with my riding: I seem to be transitioning my leg position to something new and, I think/hope, improved. Those lessons in North Bay made something really click for me. I'm now able to get my leg back under me AND get my heel nice and deep. Before, I could not seem to manage to do both. I'm also finding the inside ball of my calf is much more engaged, stable and effective, and I do remember that happening in my teen years with Val and how much better that felt.

I'm also no longer having to weight the outside of the stirrup to get my toes to come in. When I push my knee down and back into my heel, my toes are aligned AND my weight is even across the stirrup bar! Score! Hopefully this will go a long way to help eliminate the ankle pain I was experiencing while sustaining two-point.

I'm trying to fix a few muscle-memory things. I'm finally starting to make some headway on the left shoulder issue, though it still presents itself more if I'm tense, nervous, or distracted. I've also been catching my hands bobbing and getting too high when I post the trot. Ack. So, I'm trying to think "down" with my hands when I rise, which instead of actually pushing them down is keeping them in place. When I remember. I'm early in trying to fix this, though.

On the one hand, I'm really frustrated right now. I feel like I'm ready to step some aspects of my riding up for this season, but I'm not convinced the opportunities are going to be there for me. On the other hand, I have access to several horses to ride for free at any time, so I think this is really a "suck it up, buttercup" situation for the short term. And who knows how things will actually play out! Meanwhile, I DO have a lot more knowledge and self-awareness now, with my riding, than I did previously, and the opportunity to just quietly practice things myself and work them out will be incredibly valuable, and make me a better rider in the longer term.  I do often wish I loved somewhere with more facilities, more sense of community in riding here. I'm feeling pretty isolated right now.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ground work, and first "real" ride in a bit

Today I went out with the intention of getting two rides in, but when I got there I knew my time was limited, as it was supposed to rain pretty hard by mid morning.

I started with the pony, thinking I would just lead her, then lunge her, than maaaaaybe get around to riding her after I put a ride in on my usual lesson horse.

I brought her out and went straight into just leading her around on the property. Lots of walk, whoa, back, walk, etc. She has pretty major separation anxiety, so I want to work on getting her past that, and paying attention to the person working with her. I led her down one of the little trails that goes behind the paddock and around the pond. It would be close enough to the main part of the property that I would be unlikely to get into trouble, but far enough that she would be out of sight of her ladies.

She was actually remarkably good about it today. I led her down the path, then, when she was standing quietly, I gave her a carrot. We carried on and I did more in-hand transitions, led her over some brush on the ground a couple of times, and let her hand-graze just a little.

She really did NOT want to go on the muddy part of the path around the pond, and kept trying to pull back, but I eventually got her through it. I led her along that trail, back to the grassy patch by the ring, then over to the archery targets where she gave a little spook at one, then stopped caring about them at all.

Once we got in the ring, I tried and tried to line her up for the mounting block in its normal position, but eventually had to switch to the along-the-fence position that had worked before. That's going to take a little longer to resolve, I guess.

One problem with the normal block position: she can swing her hips away, end even tapping her with the whip, she'll swing the OTHER way to avoid the taps, instead of towards the block. Sooooo she's calling my bluff there. :/  I'm going to need to work on getting her to yield her quarters from the ground before I can expect her to do it at the block, I guess. So, that's on my to-do list for her.

Once I got a *little* success there, I took her out and lunged her. She was SOOOO much better today!!  She cut in a bit on the same side she always does, but eventually all but stopped doing that. She was much more relaxed and consistent, even stretching down quite often. I did have trouble getting her to understand that WALK is also acceptable in lunging; she seems to think "okay, it's trot time!" and if you slow her she just stops and faces in. :/ I did get some walk though!! It was the slooooooowwwwest walk everrrrr, but it was a walk! And she kept coming in on the circle, doing it, but at least she wasn't stopping! I'm getting better at the lunging, too, for my part.

She broke into canter a couple of times, but not as much as she usually does! She was cross-firing on the one lead though. Hmmm. Once she's more adept on the line I'll try adding a smidge of canter to try to help work her through that and develop a little more balance. She'll need to learn the aids on the line before she starts it under saddle anyhow.

After the lunge session, I brought her over to the block AGAIN, in the modified position, to do one more session. I think part of why she's backing up isn't just evasion: when you step back to get on her, she thinks she's supposed to move back to stay beside you. Huh. So, still have to get her to learn not to do that *in that instant* but at least the behaviour is coming *in part* from a well-intentioned place. I also figured out that she's turning her head in towards me in a seeking behaviour (whether for attention, treats, rubbing her head all over me... whatever) so in giving her a treat this time, I gave it from the opposite side, which was WAY more effective! Going to continue to do that going forward. She finally stood well and I leaned and bounced on her back while she did, and she got to munch her treat. We'll get there!!

All in all, she did really really really well today! I was happy and impressed.

Next I rode the lesson horse. It was funny to be back up on a BIG horse again, as I've mostly been riding little ones the last few times. I have to say, it was nice not having a war at the mounting block, though she does have a tendency to want to walk off immediately once you're on, which isn't super fun, but still more manageable. I did a lot of walk to warm up, then trotted some circles and figures. I actually felt pretty good! My lower leg was really stable. I kept thinking of pushing my knees down and back, into my heel, which gave me a good position and some additional stability. I was pushing into my heels to post, this way, instead of my stirrups.

My canter was pretty good too!! A little bit of bounce, but only very very little. Less than usual, even! Not bad at all. I wasn't tucking my seat under me quite as much as I maybe should be, but it was pretty good all the same. All felt very controlled and nice. Only broke into trot unintentionally just once. My transitions were sloppy and I was a bit tippy and bouncy in them, but it'll get better. She was VERY heavy in the bridle today, so I was trying to work that out with transitions, and some persistend outside rein half halts combined with extra leg. It honestly didn't help much at all. I suspect she might be extra heavy on the bridle and forehand because she's had so much time off over the last few months, so hopefully that will improve going forward.

I was surprised at how good I felt. Sloppy transitions, yes, and my sitting trot was a tragedy, and my left leg felt weak. All of these things can be fixed, though, and I'm pretty confident I'll get it figured out. Just need a pile more saddle time, which I can get, so that's pretty great. And lots of stirrup-less torture once I get a bit more conditioned.

Catching up: the little stable in the woods, and the battle of the mounting block

(Started this post a while back, and then life got crazy. Not sure what the dates of this even are anymore!)

I've been a bit slack about keeping this blog up. Oops! We've been going at a pretty crazy pace, getting the business ready to open for the season in just under a week, so sitting down to write my horsey blog hasn't been a number one priority.

Last weekend, I had a nice last-minute invitation to come out and ride at a place I'd never been to before. My project pony was going to be used by a kid in a lesson, in a place she'd never been to before, so I was asked along to come get her ready and to put a ride in on her first to get her used to the place and to calm her down for the kid to get on.

She actually did remarkably well! She was a pill to tack up, and her other horse buddy was also being a bit of an idiot and broke her halter by pulling back in the cross ties. Once I got her ready and into the ring, she would NOT NOT NOT go up to the mounting block, and I had to get on her in the middle of the ring instead. Once I got up, she was very hesitant about riding towards/past the gate area and the mounting block, but eventually I got her through it. It helped that my coach was there riding too, so I was able to follow her horse past the problem spots.

I was doing that lean and hunch thing that is such a reflex in panicky situations, when the pony wouldn't got forward. It was good to have my coach there to tell me to SIT and ride her through it. That paid off on my next ride later in the week.

Amusing point: my stirrups were at least two holes too short, but they had a different type of leather that was tricky to adjust from the saddle, so I just rode around like a jockey. Haaaa.

I stuck around after the ride to help out / watch the kids' lesson. The place itself was so neat, I just wanted to check it all out. I had major envy of them for having that facility!! It's an adorable little barn on a private cottage property. It's all almost too cute, too clean, too perfect. It has four stalls, a hay loft, a tack room and feed room and a small heated indoor arena with a viewing room. And it's only a ten minute drive from my house. I could cry with envy.

A little later in the week, I went out to work with the pony again, back where she's kept. This time I put away the big bully mare FIRST, then brought the pony out to brush and tack her up in the ring. She was very anxious and edgy and not amused at being away from her buddies. She kept stomping her foot while she was tied, the minute I turned my attention elsewhere, like to grab a brush. One I got her tacked up, I lunged her, and she was pulling, and cutting in, and being a real pill about it. A bit of that was my fault as I got the lunge line tangled and couldn't let it out very far, so she was stuck on a pretty small circle. But still, it shouldn't have been the big dramatic experience it turned into!

Once she settled down into the lunging, I brought her over to the mounting block to get on her. And then... 20 minutes of arguing with her. Funnnnnn.

I initially tried with the mounting block in its usual position, but she would swing her butt away EVERY. TIME. After about ten minutes of that, I moved it around so that she had to line up between it and the fence. Better. But she still kept stepping backwards when I would try to get set up to mount. Another ten minutes of this... ugh. I just had this feeling it was going to go badly the second I went to swing on. So I kept setting her back up. Setting her back up. Setting her back up... And she started to get annoyed and was trying to rub her head on me. I think maybe she was itchy from the shedding, too? Whatever the reason, it wasn't cool. She actually knocked me back off the block once when she got me off guard. Finally I had her still enough to seize my moment. I was running on adrenaline by then, I think, because I don't even remember *deciding* to get on her -- I just suddenly found myself astride and getting into position.

She was... mostly okay for the ride. There was one hairy moment, though, where she decided she did NOT want to go into a corner (the one with the block, go figure) and started backing, rubbernecking, etc. There was one moment where I just felt like, oh crap, this is about to go sideways FAST, and I pulled the emergency break by bringing one rein back to my hip and spinning her abruptly to the right. I was able to bring her back down to earth after that. Gotta love those instincts though. I'm thoroughly convinced that either a rear or a spin and bolt through the hole in the arena fence was about to occur if I hadn't been on the ball with that. It's actually pretty cool when your instincts kick in in that kind of situation. I honestly couldn't even break down the queues I was getting that it was going to happen, but I could *feel* it all the same.

After that I just proceeded with a walk ride. I didn't want to take any chances while she was in a MOOD that day, and wanted to keep things on a good note. I worked a bit on getting her to soften and flex slightly to the inside. When I was done, I dismounted and led her back to the mounting block. I got her to stand nicely, then gave her a carrot and bounced all over the back with one hand while scratching her neck with the other, and telling her what a good girl she is. I really need to make that mounting block experience into something positive instead of a big stupid fight.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April Fool's Day foolery

Yesterday was nice and sunny, so I thought I'd go play with the pony again in the late afternoon. I got out there, brought all my equipment out to the riding ring so I could get her ready there, and then spent a while brushing her with the shedding blade, pulling her mane a little more, picking her feet, etc. She wasn't quite as chilled out as she had been last time, but she was pretty good.

There were some bangs and pops coming from the woods that I assumed were hunters out after the many many wild turkeys in the area. There was one huge BOOM! noise though that I couldn't identify. The pony was noticing the noises, but didn't seem too bothered.

At one point though, I could tell she was definitely noticing something in the bushes. And then abruptly she spooked and pulled back and spun around. I was trying to get around behind her at the time but luckily I was fine. The source of the big scare? Just one of the property owners coming out of the woods at a slow walk. Seriously. Sigh. I hope this isn't evidence of how spooky she could be under saddle.

So... This is where things stop being even remotely normal. I hadn't thought to bring lunging equipment out to the ring with me, so I though I'd just *try* moving her around freely in the ring before I tacked her up. I figured either it would work or it wouldn't. Well... She started out okay -- a bit silly and fast and bucky, but I figured she'd be okay shortly... except... there's a horse pastured right beside the ring, and she decided she'd go check her out instead of paying attention to me. Which wouldn't have been a big deal -- I would just move her out of that corner -- except that the horse charged the fence at her, which scared her and sent her running -- clean through the fence at the side of the ring, breaking two of the big tire-rubber straps that made up the fencing there.

I had a moment's horror, then a "well that was stupid" moment, then walked over to where she had run to her buddies, grabbed a lead rope from the barn to catch her, and when I came out... There was the huge horse from next to the ring, out of nowhere, charging straight for her. What???!!!

Her fence was intact, so she had clearly JUMPED out of her paddock to chase down the pony. The two of them ran around all over the place, kicking at each other and squealing. Up the snowbank! Through the trees! In and out of the barn! On and on and around and around. I stood aside, mortified, and windmilling the lead rope whenever they started to get close.

Eventually the big one stopped, far enough away from the pony that I didn't feel like I'd end up in a bad spot, so I snapped the lead on her and put her back in her paddock. Then I went for the pony.


I hear a CRACK and look over and the big horse is charging THROUGH the fence of the paddock to come after the pony again. Great! Two busted fences in under ten minutes!! Recommence running, kicking, bucking, squealing, gravel and mud churned up everywhere...

The big horse has two bad stifles, but she sure was moving well through all THIS excitement. Eventually the pony got out of the way and sort of hid behind a shed near her paddock, waiting, and the big horse charged around snorting, up in the trees, in and out of the barn, into the manure pile...

She stopped in the middle of the manure pile by a low-hanging power line that was at just below head level for her. I would have loved to have waited until she was OUT of there, but I didn't want her clothes-lining herself. So I waded in, in rubber boots, thankfully, and snapped the lead on. Then she and I waded out way out with manure half way up our legs. I put her directly in her STALL this time, where she had some hay to distract her, then went out to find the pony.

The pony saw me and decided she would rather find her OWN way back into her paddock thank you very much. I had to slow-chase her through deep snow, around sheds, through thick thorny raspberry bushes, over a rusted old bicycle... as she had to check out the whole fence line from OUTSIDE. Finally, fiiiiinally I snapped the lead on and got her back into her paddock.

I ran up to the house and knocked and blabbered nonsense in a whole excited rush to my coach's husband trying to describe the chaos that had just occurred, at which point my coach pulled into the drive and started to walk up, carrying my crop that I had apparently dropped in the driveway on my way in.

She was great about it, assured me I didn't do anything wrong and that my safety came first no matter what stupid crap the horses got up to. Fortunately neither horse seemed to have have hurt herself despite their slippy-slidey fence-bustin' antics. The gravel outside the barn was amazingly churned up though! In the ring, you could actually see skid marks where the pony had tried last-second to stop herself from breaking through the fence. Fortunately both fence breaks would be easy repairs, and my coach shrugged it off as not big deal. She even helped me bring the pony back out and lunge her so she wouldn't get the impression that being a dingaling would get her out of work. The pony lunged really nicely and seemed to get over her adventure pretty quickly. She even started to bend and stretch really nicely!

And so I called it a day after that. No good riding a nervous green horse when your adrenaline is high and so is theirs. Better day next time, I hope!!!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Second ride on the greenie

I went out and worked with her and rode her again today. It was nice and sunny out, and she's still a furball, so I decided to take her outside to tie her and go at her with the shedding blade. She was a bit anxious being led (she does that baby thing where they crowd you for security) which I dealt with, but once she was tied out in the sun being brushed, she was chill chill chill chill.

After brushing, I untied her and worked on moving her quarters around a bit with a dressage whip. Then I led her over to the mounting block, moved her into position, and then just stood her there and scratched her. She was totally relaxed.

Unfortunately I hadn't thought to bring my tack out with me, so we had to go back into the barn to get her ready, and that's when she started wigging out and bouncing off the walls. So. Definitely a separation anxiety and/or I-don't-like-it-here thing. Whether she was cross-tied or even just placed in her stall, it didn't matter. She screamed for her friends, pawed, danced, and was tricky to handle, and got keyed up. I tacked her up quickly and brought her back out, and led her around a bit, and hand-grazed her a little to bring her back down to earth, and then brought her in to ride her.

She lined up for the mounting block first try, and stood quietly while I got on, and afterwards. Score!!!

We had a nice calm ride with mainly walk and just a smattering of short trotting, mostly using vocal cues to initiate transitions as she currently knows them better than ridden cues. She'll walk, trot, whoa, and back from verbal cues that are then backed up with the riding aids to build that association.

I untacked her in the barn afterwards, where she was still antsy but nowhere near as bad as earlier. Had her move over to respect my space a couple of times, then gave her a big handful of hay and some good scratches before I turned her back out.

Very interesting learning experience today! It's definitely being in the barn away from her buddies that's getting her head spinning. She was fine before, and she was fine once she ramped down from it.

I'm going to, in the short term, do tacking up outside whenever the barn is empty, and do the untacking and let-down as a short pleasant time in the barn, post-ride. Start working on that being a place she can wind down instead of winding up!

Friday, March 24, 2017

A quest for the season!

I had a call from my coach on Saturday morning, with an interesting proposal. There's a very green pony at her place, a cute little appy cross. This pony has been broke to ride, let sit, rebroke to ride, let sit... Last summer they had her going again, and had her doing walk, trot, canter, and a little bit of jumping... and then she injured herself somehow out in the pasture, so badly that one of the splint bones in a hind leg was shattered and coming out of the wound. She healed up extraordinarily well and had the rest of the season off to recover, though, and seems perfectly sound now.

This pony is cute, but very green and a silly little doof. She giraffes herself in the cross ties and screams for her friends, and crowds into you, though she will listen and move over if you can get her attention. She gets antsy easily while being handled on the ground.

I tried lunging her yesterday, though that's a concept both she and I need a LOT more work on!! I'm used to round-penning Syd, with no line, which is a heck of a lot easier! Plus he's clearly been trained to do it -- or he's just caught on quite well. I don't like the lunge line because there's so much of it to have to handle, and with the whip in the other hand... and having to trying to maintain a drive line position while keeping my feet more or less planted, instead of being be able to chase the horse back out and around... ugh. She kept losing momentum and then turning in to face me, and when I'd try to push her forward, she'd turn the other direction instead... Sigh. If I'd been in a round pen I think it would have been a different story, but I wasn't. I feel like lunging and I got off on the wrong foot all those years ago at Bradbriar, and never quite made peace. :(

My saddle fit her well, which was nice to know! It's so comfy, so it's good that I'll be able to use it. My coach was kind of laughing about it. She said, Wow, do you ever sit DEEP in that saddle! Half your butt has disappeared!

The pony is a real a tool at the mounting block, which of all her quirks concerns me the most, as you're in such a vulnerable position when you're mounting up. I'll have to come up with some strategies for that.

Anyhow, she should be interesting to work with! She didn't do anything too concerning under saddle, at all; just refused to go forward at one place in the ring, and later, decided she'd rather move backward than stand at a halt. Otherwise she was pretty easy to ride around. I just walked her, as the ring is still full of ice, snow, and mud.

Oh, the proposal! I didn't mention what it was. Basically, if I can commit to two rides a week on this greenie, I'll get full access to her and to the other horses, plus free coaching as payment for my time. Pretty great!! As silly and incompetent as I felt yesterday with her -- I'm always worse when there's someone watching :/ -- it's a nice vote of confidence from my coach, that my time is valuable and that she thinks I have sufficient skill to help bring a green horse along. She's hoping the pony will be going well enough that she'll be able to use her for advanced beginner/intermediate lessons by late summer. I'm hoping I can deliver!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

I'm not looking for a horse, but IF I were...

A bombproof ride with no vices under saddle. Emphasis on a non-spooky horse with no bolt response!
(A little bit forward is okay as long as the brakes work.)
Experienced and safe to ride out on trails and roads, alone or in company.
Must be absolutely SOUND!
Must go WTC well and pick up both canter leads easily when asked.

7 to 14 years old
14 to 16hh
(Some flexibility on height and age, though.)
Mares preferred, but will consider geldings
Breed not particularly important.
Would prefer one with some show experience, or at least used to being off-property in busy environments.
Jumping experience up to 2' or so would be preferred but isn't absolutely necessary.
Horse will be ridden English, so an English training background is preferred.
Would prefer a horse who can be kept on outdoor board, though this is not a dealbreaker.

Would be going to a good home with references.