Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Clip from yesterday's lesson

Uunff.  Bouncier canter than it felt like, and my hands are higher than I'd like, at both gaits here.  I see the shoulder phenomenon on the left turns, though it's not that pronounced here, so either I was on good behaviour or it is getting better.  XD

Going to try to lower and steady my hands, and work on getting that butt IN the saddle at canter.

Also, didn't notice at the time, but I switched my post accidentally when she tripped after we crossed the diagonal.  Haha, whoops!! At least my change while crossing the diagonal was nice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

2016: the year of the shoulder?

After a sort of unintentional life-is-crazy three week lesson break, I was back on M today in a lesson with Roxanne.

I've been trying to stretch out some of the kinks and twists that seem to happen to me when I ride, but it's slooooooooooowwww going.  My right oblique, which has a tendency to crunch and collapse, is improving.  I've been sitting on an exercise ball at my computer and making a habit of stretching it out and down, and that at least seems to be paying off. My darned left shoulder, though... No matter how much I try to stretch it, and habitually push it down and back, it comes up and forward. I think it is improving when I'm riding straight (Actually, I should clarify with her that that's actually the case) but it's still not moving how and where it should on a left turn.

Things I *think* are getting better:
-staying tall on a right turn
-keeping my body straight when I'm going, well, straight
-using my inside leg effectively for impulsion at the canter; I can actually take it away and kick and nudge with it without feeling like the canter is all going to come apart
-Canter departs definitely feel better and more prompt, and I didn't blow a single lead today
-Transitions were much better today. I'm also remembering to stop posting when I transition down from trot to walk; it's so easy to accidentally post that last stride when I really should SIT it.
-Just generally more on the ball today with making things happen the right way in the right place.

Things that remain stubbornly the same and that I wish I could really REALLY get past:
-Left shoulder :P
-Unintentionally bracing in the sitting trot, even though I *know* what my body should be doing
-Pumping my hands at the canter to over-allow, instead of keeping them steadier and pushing the horse forward into the contact. (The latter keeps her off her forehand and makes for a nicer canter, too.) The pumping hands thing is laziness on my part -- a kind of evasion from me.  Dang.
-The angle of my hands, which in turn makes my elbows poke out. I CANNOT seem to keep my hands upright and thumbs on top while holding a crop, though.  I can't seem to put it anywhere that doesn't turn my hand, and from there, everything goes to poop.  Hmm.  Wondering if I should try riding without one for a bit to see what my hands do, just for comparison. Change the muscle memory on that, too, so maybe the angle won't be as bad when I switch to a crop again?
-My two-point position is still weak and quite hunched.  Trying to straighten my back feels sooooo exaggerated and strange. But at least I'm not falling out of it constantly? Part of why it feels weird to me is that, arched correctly, my seat isn't at an angle where I can plug it in quickly if I want to.  Forgetting the fact that it's TWO point, not three.  My butt is not SUPPOSED to plug in.  :/

As for my personal mental goals right now: I had moments of remembering to engage my lower abdominal muscles and lift my chest to straighten myself, but somehow those always seem to slip my mental list of things I want to check myself on *during* the ride, despite thinking of them often *between* rides.  So weird.  Maybe I'll ask Roxanne to try reminding me to lift my chest periodically, see if it helps some of the other stuff we've been trying to target.

After the ride, I helped Roxanne draw a lion stencil image on Berge's butt so he could have a cool design when she clipped him.  It turned out pretty nicely!  Sweet!

Friday, November 25, 2016

To the tune of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"

Eden got run over by a Morgan
Trying to get a bridle on its head
Horse thinks that there's no such thing as "Over!"
But as for me, I'd rather not be dead.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Rogue report

We had quite a snowfall, starting early early this morning and carrying on until 10am or so. It wasn't too cold -- just a thin layer of that warm packing snow. I had hoped to go back out and try Rogue again today, and decided this kind of snow would still be okay footing. So, out I went.

I've been watching lots of videos with tips for dealing with horses who are pushy on the ground, so I thought, okay, let's do this and see what happens. When I got there, I got everything out and ready in the barn, then went and got Rogue from the field. I snapped the lead on and got her out of the paddock, and thought, okay, before we go in the barn I'm going to lead her around a bit and see if she's paying attention and respecting my space. So, we walked. And stopped. And turned. And walked. And turned. And backed up. And walked. And turned. And backed up... Fine, all fine, all paying attention and respectful and great. Good! Okay! Now that I have your attention, let's go in the barn.

I led her to the back cross-ties, where there's a wall behind her, hoping she'd be less doofy about the situation if she had something behind her that she could back into. But.

Antics included:
-Giraffe horse!
-Whinnying horse!
-Pretend-you're-not-there horse!
-Stretching her body down and back, front legs straight out in front of her, like a dog
-Crowding me, so that I had to use a crop to reinforce "OVER!"

And finally she chilled right out and seemed cool. So the saddle pad went on. Cool cool. Saddle went on. All fine and good. Girth went on. Sure sure, this is fine. Girth got tightened, tightened some more. Okay, yep, relaxed and happy here. Done with the idiot dance. Reins up over her head. Yeah, we're good. Cross-ties unsnapped. Ho hum yep yep all good. Halter off. Doot doot doot happy happy. Bridle in front of face, bit coming towards mouth...


I tried to hold her for a moment but she was too far and it was past the point of being safe so I let go and hoped she wouldn't strangle herself on her merry romp back to her buddy Lina. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

After said romp she was grazing beside her paddock, relaxed and happy as could be. Ahhh, facepalm. No damage done except a broken noseband. I brought her back in and finished bridling her in a STALL. This was still a lengthy argument, but at least she didn't/couldn't head for the hills.

I felt slightly unsure about riding her after that fun display, but decided to at least lunge her so she wouldn't get out of everything by being a dork. The second we were out of the barn? Perfect behaviour. Paid attention, perfect on the lead-line. Perfect when I lunged her -- obeyed every command and seemed focused and relaxed. Sooooo...

I hopped on and thought I'd at least walk her each way to see how it would go. And? Perfect. So we trotted. And? Perfect. She did everything I asked how I asked, and didn't put a foot wrong.

When we were done, I untacked her in the exact same EVIL HORRIBLE cross-ties and she was completely relaxed and fine. Untacked, brushed, feet picked, blanket on... Fine fine fine! So, next time... Tack-up in M's old stall with the cross-ties in there. Closed door for the bridling. And we'll keep the aisle cross-ties for just the end part until the beginning part is a less dramatic experience. 

Also, I somehow lost a hoof pick.


However, I'm proud of how I handled things in a few ways:
I didn't let her bully me except for the bolt, where trying to stop her would have been physically dangerous.
I was (reasonably) patient.
I didn't let myself be scared off of working with her, BUT...
I wasn't stupid, and felt out the situation as I went along.

Also, regarding the walk thing I was noticing with my hips last time: at the end of the ride I remembered to do as I had planned, and let my hips have complete range of motion and move completely with her in the saddle. Felt good, though it was surprising just how much they moved and how much I've been blocking without even realizing it.

Hoped to get to lunging Apple today, too, but Miss Fussypants took up too much of my time. I'll take care of her first, next time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A plastic bag game

Geeeez this is smart.

In under 10 minutes, from




Smart smart smart.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


This morning I went out to Roxanne's place for the first time this season, to try out a horse there that needs some extra rides on her.

I bundled up like crazy, expecting it to be as icy, grey and windy as it was yesterday morning, but it turned out to be a beautiful day with this wonderful golden sunlight lighting everything up.  Just gorgeous!

When I got there I wasn't sure which black mare to grab. If I'd taken a stab at it myself, I probably would have accidentally tacked up Maggi. :D

Rogue is adorable and felt like the absolutely perfect size for me.  She loves attention and came right over to the gate when she saw me come up.  Easiest catch ever!  Had the lead on her before the gate was even open.

She's a bit of a tool to lead and tie, but not to the extent that she seemed dangerous. I'll make a point of being firm with her and will try to do some leading and standing practice.  Lots of it.

I lunged her a bit first and she seemed pretty pokey.  Not the zippy crazy hot Morgan she was reputed to be.  Under saddle she was totally fine. Slightly hesitant to carry on past her buddy in the next field, but didn't try a single wrong move.  She was pokey and got tired quickly. I had to KICK and KICK to keep her trotting.  Definitely not a speed demon!!

She was bitted with a ported solid Kimberwick, with curb chain, so I was trying to be extra loose and giving with my contact.  She was nice and sensitive to it though, so it worked out just fine.  I barely had to touch the reins to turn her, even on a fairly small circle.  I am doubtful of her actual need a bit of this type, though I actually kind of like Kimberwicks.  She just didn't seem to need much -- but then I haven't ridden her on an UP day yet, either.

It was really nice riding a horse that feels like the "right" size for me.  I have a pretty wide range of horse sizes I'll comfortably ride, of course, but 16.2 is about my upper limit.  I think she's somewhere around 14.2 or 14.3? Hard to judge anymore, it's been so long since I've been around horses whose height I've actually sticked. She's about Razz sized or a tad under, which is lovely, as she always felt small enough not to be "scary," but big enough to do anything I would be interested in doing.

Roxanne had some very nice things to say about my riding skills, my confidence levels, and just general improvements.  So good to hear!!  I do feel so much more skilled and confident now, even just since this spring. While I don't get to ride as often as I would like, I always do my "homework" both physically and mentally.  I read articles, I watch videos, and I try to stretch out the parts of me that are stubbornly stiff and crooked.  It's so nice to hear that it's paying off.

Observations in myself while riding: my default hip movement at the walk is maybe not as "with it" as it could be. I often try to drive the walk with my seat to some extent, but I think that effort has led to me being a bit out of sync with the motion when I'm not actively pushing. Need to get a good walk going that can self-sustain and then try to go all belly-dancer with it and just really let myself move along. My hips and lower back are definitely a lot more isolated and mobile than they used to be, that's for damn sure.

Elbows and shoulder(s) felt better today too.  De-pretzeling myself on the yoga ball seems to be paying off.  Sweet!!

My stirrups were at least a hole too long.  Ooops.  I was swimming in them. Noted for next time.  :P

I also met Apple, and might be working with her as well, soon. Did I ever imagine there'd be so many horses on hand to ride whenever?  Nope, but it's AWESOME! And so nice to be trusted with the task, too.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Then and now

When I got back into riding, my initial goal was, I think, something along the lines of "get as good as I used to be."  It seemed straightforward enough: my brain remembered the majority of what I had been taught, and my body remembered at least some of it, even if it refused to cooperate when I asked it to do things that used to be second nature.  I thought, if I can ride regularly and get fit enough again, it should all come back.

It didn't quite go that way.  However, the results are so much more interesting!

My plan starting out was to just find a good horse to part-board, ride often enough to "get it back," and then decide from there if I wanted a coach, and then look for a good one to proceed with.  This plan turned out to be a bit backwards, and I really should have flipped it around in the first place.  After a couple of months of fumbling around and finding everything BUT the right fit, I finally found a great coach with a great horse to learn on!

So, a year and a bit on, where am I now with my riding?  Am I "as good as" I used to be?  Well, here's the breakdown, as I see it:

What's "as good as it was":
Amazingly... almost nothing
Rising trot, I guess?
Turns, circles, corners

What's better than it used to be:
Over all balance on the flat
Stirrup-less flat work
Understanding of rein aids, especially the different uses of the outside rein
Manipulating speed and collection within a gait
Applying aids with all or parts of the whole body, not just hands, seat, and lower legs
Half halts and the maaaaaaaannny variations and uses of them
Feel for the horse's movement, including:
-Which leg is doing what when
-When to apply aids based on where a horse is in its stride
-Tension in the horse's body
-Whether a horse is on the forehand or stepping under nicely
-Stiffness and soreness
-When a horse is really into it, and is lifting the back and swinging the barrel
Ground work and lunging
Problem solving resistant behaviours (a big advantage of Syd being a personality-changing weirdo horse -- new problems to play with on every ride!)
Ability to stay calm when a horse is being reactive
My instinct for when what I'm doing is really, really stupid, so I know that maybe next time I should NOT do that ;)

What is not as good as it once was:
Two-point position at all gaits!
My body's straightness -- apparently I've gone pretty pretzel-y in 15 years off, and it gets worse when I'm nervous or distracted
Chicken elbows :S
Jumping confidence
Jumping ability
Jumping enthusiasm ;)
Crest releases
Stirrupless two-point (as in, I don't currently have one)
Flying changes
Leg yields (They used to be so instinctive.  Now it's a very deliberate effort.)
Bareback riding (which I actually have yet to do since I came back to riding)
Sitting trot
Keeping my butt GLUED in the saddle at the canter
My enthusiasm for galloping whatsoever (though I only ever felt good about that on Razz, the utterly unflappable)
Hill work -- not a lot of hills to work on here!

So, it's nice to see the "improved" list is longer, and it does feel that way over all.  The big better/worse differences are not how I would have predicted things would happen, but I'm also not the same person I was at 17.  And I'm very pleased with how it's been happening so far, and with the coaching and guidance I've had along the way.  I'd like to update this list periodically to see how it all develops!  And hopefully I can get de-pretzelled.  I'd really like to stop having to think (or hear) "SHOULDER!!" on every left turn! :D

Mainly though, what I'm coming to realize, is that comparing myself to what I "used to" be able to do is interesting on some level, but at a certain point it's like comparing myself and judging myself against another rider.  Comparison can be a very negative approach, and I think it's more helpful to work with where I am now, and continue to develop that.  Not get nostalgic about the rider I "used to" be.  I'm the rider I am now, I'm enjoying myself, and I know I've come a very long way!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Syd is Mr. Zippy

Back in the spring, I posted an ad on Kijiji, hoping to get some extra riding time in for free on a horse or two this season. I knew money would be too tight for a part-board situation, and I thought riding a second horse outside my lessons would help me to broaden my skills. It seemed like a long shot, but I thought to myself, I'm an okay enough rider that surely I could be useful to someone who wants their horse kept in better shape, as long as that horse is sufficiently sane.

I didn't expect to receive any response, really, but I wound up having so many that I had to take the ad down after just a couple of days.

Of the free riding opportunities, the one I've stuck with through the year has been on a horse named Syd.  Syd is a big boy. Not tall, but THICK. He's a paint horse, and has been ridden Western for the majority of his life.  He's... different.

He's a different personality nearly every time I ride him. Some weeks he's a saint, and does everything nicely and well. Other weeks he's grumpy, tosses his head, blows off what I ask him to do.

I'll go into more detail in another post, though, as I really just want to sum up this most recent ride, for my own later reference.

Syd's canter, with me, has generally been pretty terrible.  He THROWS himself into it, then sorts of BOUNDS around, head up, not going anywhere near straight.  I dislike the feel of it, and it feels out of control, so I usually only go a very short distance with him.  I get into this vicious cycle of holding him tightly with everything -- reins, legs, seat -- to try to control him, which just makes him more UP and more prone to over-bend and drift off to one side.  Apparently, for other riders, he's quite smooth.  Hmmmmm.  He also only ever picks up one lead with me (except for one day early in the season when he was being Mr. Perfect). But I'm told that he'll pick up the correct lead to run barrels, and even do a flying change.  Hmmmmmm again.

This week, I decided to try the opposite of what I'd been doing at the canter with him.  I decided to just get him into the canter and... do nothing.  Just be an inert passenger.  He's not normally Mr. Speed Demon, so I figured he'd probably just put in a few strides and then peter out again, and I'd let him, so that hopefully he'd relax and realize cantering with me didn't need to mean a fight. I would get him into it, then let my reins go slack, take my leg off, and hover in a light seat so that NOTHING I was doing was interfering.

Well, it was a sound philosophy, I think, on any other day. Because this was the day Syd decided to be HOT HOT HOT. I don't know what his deal was. Apparently he'd been running barrels a couple of days previously, which is not his usual deal, but he does have this reputation as a slowpoke (though to be honest I've never found this to be the case). But WOW. He would NOT relax. He would NOT slow down.

Prior to riding him, I tacked him up, then brought him into the round pen, unsnapped his reins, and free-lunged him, which is what I always do. He was perfectly fine in there. I also had him go over a tiny jump a few times -- this time with a guide rail leading into it so he wouldn't run out like he did the last time I tried. Much higher success rate! Part of me wonders if the jumping prior to riding him worked him up at all, but I don't think so.I suppose it's a possibility, but it just doesn't seem too likely. Even when he's a bit silly in these warm-ups, throwing in the odd buck and sudden rollback, it doesn't usually translate into the ride afterwards.

Anyhow, the ride: FAST. He trotted FAST. He cantered FAST. He was trying to blow off my slow-down aids, so I tried some things. We circled a lot at the trot, but it didn't help. I tried doing some nice wide arcs using minimal turning aids to see if he was paying attention, and on a loose contact to encourage him to drop his head and relax, and he did turn well, but he still wouldn't relax or slow. I decided I was still going to go ahead with the canter plan, thinking, I don't want this attitude from him to lead to him getting out of working harder. Also, I thought he might relax if I stopped holding him so tightly -- I was really trying, the whole ride, not to react to the extra zip from him by tensing and holding. I was still pretty confident that he was not going to tear off.

So, I tried the canter strategy. Mainly on the rail, but also in some large "going somewhere" arcs to see if that would affect his way of going. I don't think he ever gave me the right lead -- always left -- but I tried not to focus on that overly, and just on trying to have it be relaxed and nice.  Well... he would launch into it, and go way too quickly, then either die out or I'd have to bring him back to trot myself. He was trying to blow off my requests for him to slow to trot, so I started to pick a point in the ring where the downwards transition was going to happen, whether he liked it or not, so that I would know how firm I had to be at a given time instead of him deciding when it was going to happen. So: if he wanted to slow down to trot at any time before that point, he could do that on his own, but once we got close to that point, I would ask, and if he didn't slow by that point, I would ask HARD.  Normally I wouldn't encourage a horse to decide on his own when to drop down to trot, but this was the slow-down game, this day, so slowing down was GOOD. Plus I would like him to learn to take some leg during canter without freaking out, but that's a longer term goal. I DID have to fight with him to get some of the downward transitions, but it wasn't tooo bad or scary. Still slightly nerve-racking. After enough tries, I changed down to trot-to-halt transitions, which he did start listening to better, then called it a night and walked him out in the paddock.

Another note: he wasn't sweaty at all when I first got on him, despite a pretty vigorous time in the round pen being lunged, but by the time I hopped off him he was DRENCHED. Again, it was disproportionate to how much work he actually did. He gets some SERIOUS mental sweats when I ride him, at least half the time.

His owner thought perhaps his strange SUPER MANIC state could have been caused by the barrel racing a few days prior, or that he could smell a freshly butchered deer carcass that they had buried in the manure pile a day or two prior, and it might have been putting him on edge. There was also a new dog on the property, though the dog was tied up far from where we were riding.

Syd continues to be a puzzle. I wonder which personality I'll get from him next time. Chilled out and actually listening to me would be a pleasant change!

Edited to add: While I've been very game to do No Stirrups November so far, this was the ONE ride all month where I kept them the entire time. Just too stressful and I didn't entirely trust him. I'm normally pretty game to go without, I swear!