Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The nature of progress

I think, when I started back into riding after my sixteen year hiatus, I thought... Well, first of all I thought it would be very easy to "get back to where I was." I thought that, with a few weeks or even a couple of months -- max -- of regular riding, without outside guidance, I'd just pick it all back up again. Because obviously I must remember everything I once knew, and what I once knew must have been everything I needed to know, right?

Well, as it tends to be with these things... it did not go that way, not at all.

Sixteen years of growing from a teen to an adult, sixteen years of not having to use my body symmetrically, or stretching or working those muscles and tendons. Wow. Sure, my brain remembered a lot of the theory, but the majority of my feel was gone, and my flexibility and strength had definitely left the building a long time ago. Confidence had left along with them.

So, there I was, starting basically from scratch. Even though the road ahead was clearly going to be a little (a lot) longer than I had anticipated, I still thought that progress would be something that happened in a linear, steady fashion. Well... no.

Welcome to the game of "got it, lost it."

Many things HAVE played out that way, but many more things have not. Sitting the trot, for example: couldn't get it, and then after a few rides on Syd, I FOUND the motion I needed, and it translated really wonderfully to my lessons. And then... I lost it. I haven't found it again since, though I'm working at it.

Sitting the canter: I was bouncing and bouncing and bouncing for my whole first season, and then, in my first lesson on the same horse, after four or five months off... I could sit it smoothly and effortlessly. It just happened. But then, in the very next lesson, back to bouncing. I'm only now able to sit it smoothly again, a year later, and only if I actively think about it!

Also, most notably, I've just gotten... abruptly better this season. I don't know why. Everything is just clicking, and I feel strong, stable, in control, and able to give more directed and specific aids than ever. My confidence has also increased a lot. My lower leg has stabilized a LOT -- it's in just the right place and feels so strong and stable! My leg is right under me -- no more chair seat -- and where I used to ride off the back of my leg when I had just restarted, I now use my calves and the inside of my legs for impulsion. Swinging my leg back for a canter cue, and a well-timed push with my seat, is becoming deliberate and easy in a way that it hasn't been in yeeeeeaaaars. Last night I even rode the easiest flying change I've had since I returned to riding -- smooth and balanced and relatively effortless.

My left shoulder, which has a habit of creeping up and forward, seems to have mainly been tamed, and I'm keeping nice and straight instead of collapsing my right side. My hands feel much more stable as well.

I wish I could say all these sudden improvements were the result of fitness efforts over the off season, but... no. No, it just seems to have happened. I'll take it! And hopefully... I've got it!

Strange but good sudden progress

I had my second lesson of the season last night. There was some trot and canter in two point, some posting trot, some seated canter, and lots of changes of direction. And lots of walk to canter, canter to (okay, almost) walk. I was apparently on my GAME, and everything was looking great! Which also felt great! My coach told me lower leg had improved so much, and was stable and controlled enough, that I could, if I wanted to, actually ride responsibly with stirrups.

It's very strange. I seem to have suddenly improved this spring, and I'm not entirely sure why. It's not like I was riding diligently throughout the winter. Instead I had, basically, four months off. I didn't even do anything to stretch or exercise to keep myself fit for riding. Yet somehow, my position is suddenly and drastically better.

I have been doing a LOT of thinking, and reading, and just doing little positional things when I'm sitting or driving or working on stuff to try to straighten and correct my torso and shoulder. I think that's been part of it. I've retrained my default position to something straighter. I've also been thinking about starting my turns by just turning my shoulders; very little else really needs to happen after that, as it's enough for most horses. Even the green pony seems to instinctively understand. I think, also, those four jumping lessons in North Bay, where the instructor was after me to get my leg further back under me, helped me adjust my position in a positive way. It's like the inside ball of my calf has been able to "lock in" and now that I have the feeling, it's so nice and solid that I don't want to use my leg any other way! It's also possible that changing saddles has helped a bit too; I'm pretty convinced that the lesson saddle I was using for most of last season wasn't a good fit for me. I think the stirrup bars were too far forward and it was encouraging a chair seat.

My seat definitely got tested at one point last night, when the horse ABRUPTLY pulled her head down to the ground to cough. I was caught off guard and was YANKED forward -- but my lower leg stayed put and kept me on board!! Whew! Actually, the yanking was a sign of another positive development, amusingly enough: it means I'm clearly no longer riding with an open hand.

New material covered: keeping my hands higher while cantering, similar to where I hold them in the two point, to encourage the horse to lift her front end and not get as heavy. I did feel like I was driving and half-halting with a lot more instinct and control last night. Felt really rewarding! I also feel much stronger now, and like I'm driving more correctly with my legs, and with my seat when I do use it.

My canter seat is a lot better as well. I can actually sit and follow (though I still have to consciously decide to do so) without bouncing, especially when I have her lifting and moving under herself. My hands are able to have some give without actually pumping in the canter. I didn't hear anything about my elbows or shoulders, so that must be looking better as well. My circles were pretty round, too.

After my lesson, I worked with my project pony. She had been away being used in kid lessons for the last couple of weeks, and was apparently a little superstar! I had a bit of an ordeal tacking her up last night. She decided that bug spray was TERRIFYING and pulled free from the cross ties on the very first squirt. Sigh. So I then corralled her in her stall where I tried to find a balance between spraying enough away from her to desensitize her, but not wasting all the product. :/ I could have done a better job of it than I did. I think next time I go out, I'll bring a spray with just water in it and work on the desensitization with that so I don't feel like I have to be so economical.

After I got her sprayed (I bribed her with carrots and sprayed her while she was distracted by chewing them), I put her back in the cross ties and she pulled loose AGAIN when I towards her with the saddle. This time she definitely wasn't scared. She just did it to be a shit because she knew she COULD. Next time I cross-tie her, I'm keeping a short lead with a chain on her nose so I can actually DO something about it without putting her or me in danger. Grrrrr. That, or I could have a rope halter under the nylon halter, with a regular lead tied to that. Just something to grab and get leverage if she decides to be an idiot, so she doesn't think she can get out every time.

The ride itself was great though! Mounting wasn't perfectly smooth, but it was all right. She also didn't want to stand at a halt during the ride, at any point, but given how many bugs were out that wasn't quite that big a deal. Even the seasoned lesson horse hates standing at a halt. You can only do so much, sometimes... I felt the most confident yet with her at the trot. She still had some resistance about heading toward the mounting block corner, but didn't put up as much of a fight as she sometimes does. She also wanted to avoid the part of the fence where I usually tack her up, haha. I guess she doesn't have the greatest feelings about those parts of the ring. XD  She got over it after a few passes, though, just by *riding* her straight and through. Despite the fact she didn't want to STAY halted, she was halting on a dime, even from a zippy trot. Her head was in the air most of the ride, but she didn't feel completely distracted or ever like she was out of control. All in all, this was my best ride on her!

At the end of it, she didn't pull out of the cross ties again. Although, one of the horses behind her escaped from its stall (I must not have latched it right. Oooooops!) and was wandering around, but there was no drama.

All in all, last night was a total win! I'm feeling really good about things, even though my legs are  basically jelly today! :D

Friday, June 2, 2017

A few updates

I haven't been super on-the-ball with this lately. Oops! I've had a few rides since, and they've all definitely been better than my last doom-and-gloom post.

I've been out to work with the pony at least once or twice since, and she was much better. I'm continuing to do the hand-walking on the trails before lunging and riding her, and it really does get us both in a better headspace. Last time I did this, I even took her out on the road. Although it has basically no traffic, it was still somewhere new to check out. She was more "up" and doing her anxious snorty thing a little, but not anywhere near as bad as a few weeks before. She decided she didn't like a culvert at the side of the road and gave that a wide berth, but was otherwise cooperative. I do really wish she'd stop crowding me when she's anxious, but she's getting better. I keep giving her a good few jabs with my elbow when she does it, and she's a bit more respectful.

The last time I rode her, the bugs were SO BAD. She wouldn't stand still for tacking up or mounting and was miserable. I can't blame her at all, poor kid. There's now some bug spray available, so I'll be better equipped to deal with that next time! I rode her walk-trot, with another rider in the ring, and she was a good girl despite all the bugs. It's been at least two or three weeks now since I've ridden her, though, as she's been on loan to some clients for their private use. When she's in company with her best buddy horse friend, she's so cooperative she's actually safe for small kids. It's quite the change. I'm going to keep working on the separation anxiety angle with her, because that does seem to be her most significant problem.

It does seem to be getting better, though! Has a long way to go, of course, but it's come down a lot. I went up for a lesson a week and a half ago at the private barn, and rode the other horse. The pony had to go and wait in her stall alone during this time, and my coach said "She's probably going to have a fit in there the whole time." But, other than being a bit antsy at first, we only heard ONE neigh the whole lesson, and she seemed to settle fine on her own. Not bad!!!

Speaking of that lesson, on the horse, it was good to get my butt kicked again, haha! I did walk, posting trot, and canter, both seated and two point. I rode in the arena, but also out of it! The place has big sliding doors, so the arena doubles as a shelter for turnout. I trotted and cantered the horse out of the ring, along the fence line down a little hill, a big circle around the round bale, and a MOTIVATED two-point canter up the little hill and back into the ring!

It all went pretty smoothly, although I did let her drop out of canter a few times when I shouldn't have. It wasn't her though -- it was very much me. Although everything was fine, I'm not feeling incredibly confident right now after all the time off from instruction. I didn't feel up to full strength in my legs and back and core, but apparently I actually looked really good! I've somehow managed to improve my position, especially my lower leg position, since I last had regular lessons in early January. I think part of it was having those four jumping lessons in North Bay. What the coach said really clicked with me, about getting my lower leg down and back, and using the backs of my thighs as a supportive extension of my seat.

So, apparently I looked a lot better than I felt like I looked! I'm still rounding my back a lot when I'm in two point, and I have a LOT of trouble convincing myself that it's okay to not have my butt tucked under in readiness to influence in the saddle. Still riding defensively. I also need to work on my core strength because even when I CAN convince myself to straighten my back, I can't maintain it for more than a few seconds. Oh well, a year and a bit ago I couldn't even stay in two point at ALL, sooooo.

It was also my first outing in my new tall boots!! Woooo! They were a bit slippery at first but they were great after about ten minutes. I didn't even really notice them, which is pretty ideal for a first ride in a pair of boots that haven't been broken in. I think they might be a touch too big, but nothing that an insole or a thicker pair of socks won't remedy.

The mare and the pony have been up at the private place for a couple of weeks now, so last night I went and rode a horse I never have before. This boy was my coach's personal horse, but he's proven to be too mentally fried from a very intense life of competition to handle the mental strain of more advanced dressage any more. He used to be capable of grand prix movements, but he's since made it clear he's DONE. Her idea is to get other riders on him who will get him to relax into less taxing work, so he can maybe decompress and learn to like having a job again.

He was a total gentleman to brush and tack up, but when I got him out to the ring he would NOT stand still for me to get his reins and throatlatch arranged for lunging. He just kept spinning and spinning and spinning around me in a tiny tight circle while I held on to him. Ugh. So I just let him spin and spin and spin and spin around me while I held onto him. Probably looked pretty comical. But I eventually got him ready. I had the lunge whip in my hand but I obviously didn't need it as he took off right away, tearing around me unprompted at a rushed canter and tripping in the deep footing. Sigh. "Just lunge him first." Hahahaha. I can see why! He was pulling and the bit actually slid THROUGH his mouth, so I had to carefully reel him in (still cantering until the circle was TINY, mind you) and redo the setup so the line was through the bit ring and over the poll. Then everything was fine.

I let him run around both ways until he was willing to slow to a walk on his own. He still seemed UP, but I was like, "Welllllp, this might be as good as it gets." I'd heard he could be a bt of a dinkus about the mounting block, but he wasn't that bad, at least this time. I had to chase him with it a bit like I do with Syd, but he was still easier to get on than the pony!

Once I was up, twenty minutes of walk commenced, with him trying to jig and me closing my knees and yanking on his face. There was a lot of hold one rein, pulse the other, hold one rein, pulse the other. My stirrups were about two holes too long, which didn't help the situation. I just pretended I was riding stirrupless and thought about using the backs of my thighs to hold and balance me.

This was definitely my most "hot horse" experience in ages. He seemed like he was never going to settle, and had those radar ears pointing straight up and forward, which as one of my friends put it, "usually precede my butt landing in the dirt." I remembered the advice to actually keep a soft hand and leg ON on a horse being hot, so I tried different variations of that. I also tried to keep him thinking by leg yielding, which he did beautifully one direction, but took as a cue to go faster the other way. Whoops. At one point he seemed SLIGHTLY better so I asked for trot and got a canter stride instead. Brought him back immediately and halted.

I did a lot of walk-halt walk-halt and eventually I didn't have to use EVERYTHING I had to halt him. I'm not sure what the exact moment was, but his head started to come down, and he started to round and relax a bit. I did do a little trot (awkward with my miles-too-long stirrups and his big movement!!) and he settled in some more.

By the end, my coach came out and we were chatting, and he was just walking calmly with his head down, on a loose rein. Like a totally different horse. Apparently this was actually his first time being ridden in that ring, at least the first time this season, so his nervousness made a bit more sense. Despite that hot beginning of the ride, I'd ride him again. He's VERY sensitive, which can of course be good and bad, but I think if I'm just very thoughtful and careful about how I ride him, it could be quite lovely to work with a horse who has so much knowledge, despite his attitude issues.

Fun fact: I used my bridle on him. The one I last used on Razz over twenty years ago. I conditioned it with Leather CPR before I went out there, and it looked PERFECT and brand new. It was actually a bit big on him, which is funny, because he's considerably larger than her. Just has a dainty head, I guess!

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.

BUT THEN...

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!!!