Sunday, July 2, 2017

Catching up

Whoops! I've had a few rides (four or more?) since I last posted here, but life has been kicking my butt and I haven't made the time to sit down and write about them.

Since I last posted, I had one or two pretty pleasant, uneventful rides on the project pony where we did some nice walk-trot, and I had her doing trot to halt really smoothly and nicely. She's much MUCH less distracted and less counter-bent, generally, too, and is getting pretty good at rating her own speed.

I also had a really good lesson on my usual lesson horse, at my coach's place, where everything was REALLY clicking and felt great! She was stepping under herself and her canter was really lovely -- and she was moving well even through some seriously muddy patches. I was highly motivated to keep her collected and lifting -- it was self preservation so she wouldn't trip in the mud!!

This lesson also included the smoothest flying change I've ever had on her. Normally she drops her head heavily and kind of falls onto the new lead, but this time it was *like butter*.

The next week, though, I went out for a quick lesson on the pony, and things did not... err... go so hotly. Usually I either hand-walk her around a lot, or else lunge her, before I get on, and when I do, it's at the mounting block. She seemed to be in an okay mood right after tack-up though, and I know the kids who have been riding her at their place don't lunge her first. So my coach suggested I just mount from the ground right outside the barn, beside the other horse.

Well.

That was not a good decision, apparently.

She actually stood all right for the mounting part, but as soon as I was in the saddle she panicked, ran backwards, got her legs tripped up in the manure pile, and actually fell over and half-rolled. I of course fell off, as staying on wasn't a possibility. Luckily I was unharmed, though it could have gone very badly.

We wrote it off as a fluke thing, walked her around a minute, set her up and tried again -- sloooowly, with a few bounces and... same thing but worse. As soon as I was sitting, she flung her neck up and CRACKED me right in the face, and scooted and kind of sat-fell and half rolled again. It was more violent this time and had even more potential to be dangerous. If she had clocked me two or three inches to the left, I'm certain she would have broken my nose. I also hit gravel instead of manure and bedding this time, so my elbow got so badly scraped up it tore the thin running jacket I was wearing to keep the bugs off. It also scratched up the side of my helmet, so -- not that I needed it -- further proof THAT thing is a necessity!!!

I was PISSED OFF so the other girl had a short lesson in the ring while I just angrily lunged the pony for a bit. She was super pissy on the line (not just because I was mad -- I was being firm but not really taking it out on her) so I pushed and pushed her, both direction, and she was pulling and resisting and was obviously not in a work mood. Eventually she settled and started to bend and drop her head.

Sooo, moment of bravery: I mounted her again. But in the way I usually do, post-lunging and from the block, skipping the stirrup. Before I got on, I did some leaning and hanging off the saddle and *actively* tried to annoy her into a reaction, but she couldn't care less, this time. I got on and had a nice 15 minute walk-trot ride while my coach helped and made sure everything was okay. She was actually perfect once I was on -- THIS time. Little twit pony. :(

That was just over two weeks ago, and I haven't ridden her since, as she's been out on loan to the kids who ride her. They've had zero problems with her, at all. Which I'm glad to hear! Next time I'm out I'm going to focus on groundwork and getting her working and thinking -- and also a LOT of desensitization. I want to work on getting her okay with having a rope slid over her, and fly spray sprayed on her, and move up to a plastic bag on a stick. She needs to be way less reactive, because while she isn't generally spooky, she does have the ability to explode when her anxiety ramps about something. I like the analogy Warwick Schiller uses about the cup of anxiety: you don't want to let it get full, because it'll run over. So, I need to do some small things that keep that cup from filling in the first place.

I also don't want to ride her next time unless my coach, or someone to assist, is around. Just in case. My safety matters most. Also, I think her problems aren't related to the riding part -- she's perfectly fine with that. It's getting her mind in the right place. Her general anxiety HAS come down a LOT since I started with her this spring. But as that mounting disaster demonstrates, she still has a long way to go.

More to come on the other two rides since I last posted...


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!!!

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...

Seeking:
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.

Ideally:
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.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Reasons I've fallen off of horses:

Bolting
Bolting
Bolting
Mounting fail
Spooking
Lost balance
Popped jump
Popped jump
Tripping
Tripping
Spooking
Slipping on ice
Mounting fail
Spooking

Friday, March 3, 2017

How to approach a jump

I honestly hadn't given it a lot of thought, but...

It was brought to my attention that I've been taught a LOT of ways as the "correct" way to ride into and over a jump.

- A two point not so far off galloping position, fairly rigidly up and forward and out of the saddle, for the whole time on course. Only change is a crest release at and over the jump.

-A forward seat with a closed hip angle, but three-point contact. No release over the fence.

-A forward light seat with a closed hip angle, crest release over the fence.

-A moderate two point, but with the seat well clear of the saddle, with a release and the hip angle closing more over the fence as the horse comes up.

-Upright modified three-point into the base of the fence, folding and releasing simultaneously as the horse comes up.

Which one of these is correct?

It turns out the answer may be... Yes.

A couple more notes

I forgot to write: there were some very useful things that clicked for me in these lessons.

Thighs:
While focusing on not gripping with my thighs, I had unconsciously let them relax TOO much, except when using my knees to apply an aid. In these lessons, I was reminded that the thighs area a crucial extension of the seat. By engaging the muscles in the backs of the thighs (as opposed to gripping inwardly) I was able to significantly improve the stability of my lower leg, deliver my seat aids more effectively, and ride the motion better by stabilizing myself and absorbing some of the motion there. By thinking of pushing my knee down and back a bit, too, I was able to get my lower leg further back under me, which helped with... pretty much everything, actually.

I've always known my thighs were part of my seat but in my effort to disengage any tendency to grip, I stopped using them as the very effective tool they are. Glad to have had that click!!!

Hands:
In my first lesson there, I was having a lot of trouble trying to get a solid contact on the horse. It was frustrating me, and the instructor telling me to loosen my reins and soften my contact was also frustrating me... It became apparent by the second lesson that I was misinterpreting her instructions, though. Just to prove to her and to myself that I could, though, I went around on a very loose rein for pretty much all of lesson 2. I used my seat and legs to ride and barely touched them and... it actually worked very well. I picked my rein contact up more solidly towards the end of the lesson, but that time on the loose rein was extremely helpful. I felt, after that, like I was riding the horse's body with my body, and that the reins where a helpful supplement to that. I think that, because M is so heavy in the contact, there are times when I emphasize the reins and get lazy with the rest of me. By the final lesson in North Bay, I had the contact I needed but was barely thinking about it. 95% of what I was doing was happening with the rest of me, and the contact was going with it rather than trying to direct everything from the front of the horse. Great feeling!

That fall I had:
It's not just me putting a positive spin on it when I say that I'm glad it happened. I had actually been wanting to fall for a while now, in a weird way -- mainly to get rid of the fear of it happening. Falling off had become a big deal in my head, and I knew that was a problem, but the only way to get past it was to have a fall. And this was just such a non-event of one. Which 95% of them are. It was such an important reminder that the "worst" that tends to happen is almost never that big a deal.

A few other nice things:
The feeling of my position improving as some of the rustiness from time off this winter went away.
Being told I had improved noticeably by the third lesson.
Being told I had improved dramatically by the fourth lesson!
Being told that one of my times through that final small course would have scored a solid 8 in a hunter ring.
Being told I'm actually quite good (things to tweak aside, of course) and just need the practice and confidence.

While I'm still unlikely to pursue jumping as my main "thing," it was really nice to have a positive experience and get some focused practice in on it on a calm and steady horse (that one spook aside!!).

More guest lessons: jumping, legs, seat, and... falling.

I had three more lessons up in North Bay, after the first one there that I last wrote about. These ones went much better, and I surprised myself with some of what I was capable of, especially after such a long time off this winter.

I switched horses after the first lesson, and rode an older little chestnut mare. 18 years old and about 14.3hh. She had a bit of pony-tude, but only enough to be fun. She was a pleasant ride, very clever and very very smooth. Sitting her trot and canter was easy and nice!

She had a cute little jump. Very pleasant. And even when she didn't come in on a perfect distance, her stride was short enough that it never felt too jarring. Over the course of three lessons, I rode her at WTC, and put her over some cross rails. I got better at waiting to fold over the jumps, and keeping my eyes up, and it started to mostly feel pretty good. By the final lesson, I was doing a little five-jump course. Just cross rails still, but I'd rather jump tiny and well than bigger and poorly.

My first lesson on her, and a bit on subsequent lessons (though it was better after I brought my crop), she would acknowledge my canter aid by pinning her ears and proceeding into the FUCK YOU trot. Around and around... The instructor had to snap a lunge whip at her a couple times on the first ride. By my third and final (for now) lesson on her, though, we were understanding each other better and she'd (mostly) canter when I asked, or at least do a shorter bit of the FUCK YOU trot first!

I also had my first refusals since starting up again at the jumping. My usual ride is SUPER keen into the jumps, so instead of having to push her into them, I have to half halt half halt half halt to keep her steady into them. With this little old school horse, I was dropping my leg a stride or so out, so she'd just go "Oh I don't have to?" and stop. Happily, not an abrupt stop.

She was much better, generally, about the snow coming off the roof. She only spooked a couple of times, and they were very minor, but...

...

Yeah, so, I was tasked with cantering the whole five-jump course, after having gone through a couple of times at a mix of trot and canter. The instructor said, "Just keep her cantering steady and she'll sort out her distances. Don't worry so much about them."

And then I said, "It's okay, I'm actually not TOO worried. Not to jinx myself, but I seem to be pretty sticky! Haven't fallen off since I started back riding."

Saying "Not to jinx myself" is not a very good protection against jinxing yourself, apparently, because after the second jump on the five jump course, she landed on the wrong lead. I was instructed to do a simple change to fix it. Which I started. This little horse has very abrupt downwards transitions, which I still hadn't fully gotten used to. So as she dropped to trot I got slightly ahead of the motion... and at that exact second, snow slid down the roof and she spooked sideways. I pitched forward and wound up on her neck, starting to slide forward and down. She started to turn on the spot abruptly and there was too much going on to haul myself back up. Decided I was past the point of no return, and I let myself let go and drop.

I actually landed quite well, considering. I was aware of my body and her body and I dropped onto my back and shoulder and curled into a ball, trying to roll away from her feet. As super awkward stupid falls go, I actually executed it pretty well.

When I got up I was more amused than rattled -- mentally. It was just such a dumb little fall. But my ADRENALINE had other ideas and I was trying to explain that "I'm really perfectly okay!" while sounding like I was going to break into sobbing at any second. "I'm not REALLY going to cry, I swear! *loud plaintive wheeze noise* It's just the ADRENALINE!!"

I got my breath, walked her back to the mounting block and hopped back on. Walked most of the way around the ring to get my bearings again, then felt good enough to re-do the course. And I (pretty much) nailed it!! No refusals, got every lead, didn't break from the canter. I did start leaning forward and twisting my upper body to the right -- I think the remaining panic in my system was bringing out and exaggerating every one of my quirks. Bodies are so weird.

But I did it!!

I think that was my first time successfully navigating a whole course like that, using the whole ring, with a number of jumps, and keeping my canter throughout -- and nailing the leads and everything! Even though my form was a bit compromised, especially towards the end, I got the job done and didn't look terrible doing it. It was a very good note to end on after that silly fall.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Guest lesson

While I was up in North Bay, I decided to drop in and try a lesson up there, somewhere I hadn't been before. I hadn't ridden since my last lesson at my usual place, as the indoor is still dangerously slippery.

When the instructor arrived, she asked me if I was afraid of big horses. I said, "How big?" "17hh. I ask just because some people find them intimidating. Would you be okay with that?" "Yes, though I have to admit I'm a sucker for the small ones." "There's a small mare you could try too, actually." "Yeah!"

Well, the mare was adorable and very responsive for the most part. She was such a completely different feel from my usual mount that I felt like I was riding a different animal. I bounced around a lot and didn't feel very effective. Not to mention it was freezing cold, so I was a bit stiff, and I hadn't ridden in three and a half weeks.

Despite being "technically a horse" she had a very bouncy pony feel and that short and thick pony neck. I also couldn't get a feel for how much contact to pick up on her. Her mouth was soft so there was no sort of "wall" to hit. It was strange. My hands moved a lot while I rode, as a result, because it felt like I was holding limp noodles. My body's alignment was off. I bounced a lot and I was a bit tippy at the canter.

On at least three occasions she spooked by shying and cantering when some snow fell off the roof. It didn't escalate -- I quickly grabbed and halted her. Each time though, my instructor told me NOT to grab her up like that with the reins, and to just relax and stop her more with my seat. Welllll... instinct is instinct. Maybe with more "practice" at spooking I could pull that off, but it's good to know my reaction time is decent, even if it's not necessarily THE reaction that is ideal? It worked, anyhow. And I kept my seat.

We went on to a tiny bit of jumping -- or I should probably say "jumping" -- at the end. Just hopping back and forth over a tiny crossrail at a trot, although she really just trotted over it most of the times. This was completely fine. There was one awkward one where she picked up a canter about two and a half strides out and pulled her head down on landing, which pulled the reins out of my hands and left my left hand completely empty and the reins dangling, haha. At least I didn't catch her in the mouth?

One thing she had me do differently: instead of getting into two point and staying there for the jumping session, she had me keep my seat into the base of the jump and only fold over it. I actually prefer this method, so that was fine by me. It feels better to me because I feel like I maintain more control, which is one of the reasons I don't like two point much in the first place -- having my butt in the air and not being able to use my seat to influence the horse. So that was a change I was okay with making.

I think maybe next time I'll try the big boy. This mare was cute but felt a bit small in a way that similar-sized horses haven't for me, generally, which is weird but there it is! Hopefully I'm less sloppy next time; the extended periods of time of this winter haven't done me too many favours, so it's hard to say exactly how I would have done while more in practice.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Non-riding horsey time

I was having a lousy friggin' day, let me tell you. Woke up still feeling the tail end of this stupid chest cold. I wasn't coughing too much, but my lungs still felt bad and some kind of phlegmy grossness was making my stomach feel sick and kind of killing my appetite. My mood was in the gutter from that, the current political situation, stress from business stuff, family stuff, this upcoming trip down to the gift show... Ughhhhh.

As my lesson had to be cancelled yesterday due to arena flooding, I figured I probably wouldn't get a chance to horse until the end of next week, but this afternoon I decided that, NO, I will go HORSE today!!

I went out to my coach's stable, at her house. There are two boarder horses there that aren't really being worked with much, so I have free rein (har har) to work with them and ride them whenever I get the chance. The pony is still coming off an injury, but the horse is sound and fine -- just bossy! Both of them need some work on their manners. The pony is young-ish and still quite green. She's actually been broke and re-broke because she sat unridden for so long! The horse is not green, but hasn't had much done with her in the last few years, and will totally bulldoze you and disrespect your space if she gets anxious or impatient.

I did a little work with both today. First I checked out the footing to see if riding seemed feasible, but it was pretty deep snow with a hard crust on top that was hard to walk over and punch through, so I opted not to ride. No problem! Time for grooming and a little in-hand work.

The pony was first to greet me at the gate, and seemed like a sweetie (I hadn't actually handled her before), so I decided to grab her first. I got her out and led her around a bit. She was looky and distracted and whenever I stopped her on the lead, she'd pop her shoulder over into my space, which from what I've read is a foal-age holdover and a go-to for young horses who feel insecure. Well, that wasn't cool. So I'd elbow or shove her over each time, and after some leading, turning, stopping, etc., she got the message and stopped doing it.

I brought her inside and groomed her in the cross ties, then went to work on her mane as she had some SERIOUS elf locks going on. I got almost all of them out, but her mane has such a greasy and coarse texture that it was only going to happen all over again. My coach came in while I was working on her and advised that we just cut it. With that okay, we went for it and I did a pretty rough trim. When she's a bit more chilled out about being handled, and if/when my mane comb ever turns up, I'll pull it to thin it and make it look a LOT better!  We trimmed her forelock and tail a little bit too.

The pony is super cute. She's a chestnut with that same flaxen/dark gray mixed mane and tail that Razz had, though with a lot more gray. She also has an Appaloosa blanket pattern. I think I was told at some point that she's Appy/Arab? Anyhow, super super cute. Around 14hh or a touch under. Definitely big enough for me to ride once she's totally healed up and we have good footing again. Right now she does a little antsy pants dance in the crossties and is kind of a pill, but she's not an ass about it -- just doesn't seem to know better since she hasn't had a lot done with her lately.

After I was done with her and led her out, she got a bit rude about trying to get to the field so I spent another 10 minutes working on lead line manners. She stopped being pushy and gave me her full attention, so she got to go back out with her girls again.

Afterwards I brought the horse, Rogue, out and did a good 15-20 minutes of JUST lead line manners. Same deal. My strategy (stolen in part from Warwick Schiller videos, haha) was to teach her to walk politely on a loose(ish) line by walking, stopping, and if she didn't stop when I stopped, at or behind my shoulder, she'd have to do something demanding -- like back RIGHT up ten feet, or turn sharply and spin a few times. When she caught on that, if she paid attention and stopped when I stopped without trying to get ahead of me or crowding my space, she could just relax, she stopped being such a jerk. It took almost NO contact on the lead line, either -- just needed her focus and she was great!

By the time I was done with her outside, all her buddies were in, so we decided to try cross-tying her. We put her in the back crossties, where there's a wall behind her and where the horses generally tie better because they feel more secure with something behind them. She was TOTALLY chill. I think it was mostly because her buddies were in, but I do think the PAY ATTENTION TO ME lead line work helped. Got her in a more cooperative zone instead of just thinking about what SHE wanted. I managed to groom her and even do her feet -- all with a little paint mare reaching over her stall door and pestering her -- without her being bad at ALL. She moved over when I asked without me having to get aggressive, and really just stood there SO chill! I put the lead line on her and unsnapped the crossties and just stood beside her with her totally calm and chilled out and not trying to go anywhere. I could tell the lead line work had gotten through to her, as the one time I had to give a slight tug on it, she backed up politely right way. Hilarious.

My coach said she'd never seen her so cool with being crosstied, and that we should try moving her up to the ones near the door where they don't usually stand as well. This was a good test as it was also right beside her stall where her dinner was waiting for her! And even in those ties? A peach. It was amazing. When I led her up to them, I still maneuvered her a little on the lead, forward, back, etc, to make sure she knew she still needed to focus on me. Then I clipped her in, and the only thing she tried was to repeatedly turn her head towards the stall, like "Hey lady, my food's in there!" I still had the lead line on and would gently tug her head back to keep her focus on me, each time. Once she stopped and was standing nicely, I went into her stall and grabbed a couple of handfuls of hay, and then came out and gave her some good scratches while I hand-fed them to her in the crossties. I want to make sure she starts to associate cross-tie time with relaxation, focus on me, and a positive interaction.

After I unclipped her, I moved her around a bit again so she didn't get to just barge right into her stall -- and she didn't even try it! I made sure she backed up out of the way, then I went in first, and then asked her to follow me in. I made her stand nicely while I unclipped the lead, and THEN she went for her hay.  After she had a bit of it, and I was back out of the stall, her head was out BEGGING for attention!  What a suck. She got lots of petting and scratching, and was trying to eat my phone while I took a few pictures of her. For a sometimes-big-bully, she's a real sweetheart. <3

This was just what my day needed!!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Numb hands, cold hands, warm hands?

Had a good ride this week, back on Monday. (It's now Friday.) Nothing really stood out about this one, for good or bad, just a decent ride with some of the usual quirks. My two point needs more practice; my legs aren't as strong at it as they should be, and I'm still tucking my butt defensively underneath me. Same old. Canter transitions are still much better than they used to be, though I do need to be more consistent about getting the right lead. Right as in *right*, not correct. I have no problem getting the left lead.

My ability to sit the canter more consistently is improving, but I do start bouncing a bit when I get tired. The leather half chaps help a lot more than the insulated ones, so I'll try to wear them unless it's quite cold.

I also noticed I was using the balls of my feet to help push myself up in my posting. Ack. Oops. Need to fix that before it becomes (or continues to be) a habit.

One bit of extremely helpful info this week: set up for an upward transition the same way I would for a downward one. Half halt, balance, get the horse together, even slowing if necessary, THEN ask. I like this approach! It worked really well. Will take some practice to get used to it.

So, in my previous week's ride, I found my gloves too bulky, and between the cold, my gloves, and holding a whip, I was losing circulation in my whip hand, and eventually just took the gloves off. This week I rode with no gloves and had cold hands. Neither of these scenarios are ideal, exactly. Ha. So on our trip back from Niagara Falls today, I went to Greenhawk in Barrie and tried on EVERY pair there. Opted for some Elation brand leather summer gloves. While they won't be *warm*, exactly, they're better than nothing. They're nice and stretchy and supple and feel like they'll be very pleasant to ride in in any kind of weather. And as long as I don't destroy them, they'll be good to show in as well. Looking forward to trying them out on Monday.

I sneaked a little sort-of-shoulder-in at the very end of the ride during cool out. I have no frigging clue how to *actually* do it, but sort of guessed at it and it kind of worked. I put the aids on that seemed to make sense to ask for that. She was moving straight down the track with her neck and shoulders bent to the inside slightly. The shoulders would need to come more off the track for it to be the actual movement, but it was an interesting little experiment. I figure we'll get there when we get there, in lessons, but it seems like it would be a satisfying movement to learn.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Rather a lot of tack...

...for someone who does not own a horse.

English saddle
2x girths
5x English saddle pads
Western saddle blanket
Leather English bridle
Bit
Spare reins
Spare stirrup irons
Spare stirrup leathers
Nylon Western bridle
Nylon halter
Rope halter
2x lead lines
2x fly bonnets
Shipping boots
Shipping head bumper
Full grooming kit

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Side by side

Left: December 26, 2014
Right: September 17, 2016

My leg's a little ahead of me on the right side picture (my stirrups are maybe a hole too short, instead of way too long like they are on the left!), but I've since improved on that. Would be interesting to see a third image in the progression.

All the same... Biiiiiiiiiit of a difference!  :D



A tale of two rides

I wound up riding M twice this week, and it's amazing how much just a little more saddle time can make a difference.

My back was finally feeling mostly better by Monday, though it still really wanted to crack if I stretched it out in certain ways (though it wouldn't actually crack, which is either a good or bad thing?). I had scheduled a lesson but my coach wound up having to be out of town last minute, so I went out and rode anyway. I put in a good 45 minutes.

I felt a lot better than I had the previous few rides, that was for sure. I had some problems, but they were more the result of rustiness than back stiffness. All my bad habits came out to play! My left arm and shoulder were popping forward, my hands weren't as low or steady as they could have been, and my stirrups were bouncing home on my feet, especially at canter. My right leg was inching up at canter, as well, so that my stirrups that side was rattling around all over the place. I couldn't see myself, but I suspect I was collapsing my right oblique at the same time, since that's my MO as well.

Still. Still. My transitions felt pretty good, and my accuracy was still showing improvement. I was able to mostly sit the canter instead of just weirdly perching like I had been. I had some definite bounce, but it wasn't awful. I played with my rein lengths a little, letting them be out a bit longer in warm-up to give her the option to stretch down. Once we got moving I shortened them up, and caught myself in the mirror a couple of times with her very nicely framed up, nose on the vertical, stepping under. I played a bit with taking more and pushing more. The stronger my legs get, the better this is starting to work for me!

Despite being a bit wobbly, I decided to do a little bit of no-stirrups sitting trot. My with-stirrups sitting trot was NOT good, so I decided to drop them and suck it up and make myself bounce around a lap and a couple of circles each direction. It was a bit dicey, haha, but I did it anyhow.

Yesterday (two days after that ride) I had a lesson. Everything felt MUCH better! Although I was still popping my left shoulder forward. There was no mention of me collapsing to the right, so I think that is getting a lot better. I tried riding in a shoulders-back harness, but it didn't do much for me. I think maybe it needed to be tighter to do the job. If I try it again, I'll give that a go.

There were two things that went unusually well for me in a neat way! For one, my canter seat felt pretty effortlessly stable. I had no bounce at all for the first ten minutes or so of the lesson. I think this was actually helped a lot by being back in my good leather half chaps, as it was warm enough not to need any extra insulation on my legs. A stable grippy lower leg meant my seat wasn't budging at all. Neat when you experience how interrelated all these things are. It's one thing to know it intellectually, but so cool to actually have it just *happen*. Not that I never bounce while I wear them, haha, but they definitely helped this time. I did notice myself bouncing a little more later in the lesson when I got a bit tired or if something was distracting me. It was easy to catch myself, though, and pull myself deeper into the saddle by thinking about keeping those legs in place. I also managed to avoid the bouncing stirrup effect, largely by thinking of pushing down into my right heel slightly on the 1 beat of each canter stride. They definitely weren't bouncing home this time, and my right leg wasn't riding up.

The other cool thing was M really collecting down into her downwards transitions. It was a very cool feeling, like she was coiling up like a spring. She was REALLY stepping under herself for these! It felt so neat! The upwards transitions were great too; she was very ready and precise. At one point, she did something I found really funny: we were doing a walk to canter transition, and I was getting ready to ask but wasn't *quite* there yet. She started a canter stride, then kind of halted in the middle of it, like "Er, is that what you wanted?" and then walked a step or two, then we actually cantered off. Roxanne said she was so under herself in that moment that she sort of caught herself by surprise. So neat having a horse be THAT on the ball!

I also had a chance to go over some of the leg position stuff that I've been puzzling about a bit lately. Apparently I'm not in a chair seat, which is good to hear! The stirrup bars being set further forward on a jumping saddle mean that having my legs hang straight down from them, they're still going to be slightly ahead of my hip, and that's fine. I'm riding correctly in the type of saddle I'm in. The other thing is, I was wondering if I was correct to weight the outside of my stirrup bar on the flat, but then even out the weight for two point and jumping to avoid rolling my ankle. And that was correct, so that's cool! I don't need to go so far as to weight the INSIDE of the stirrup bar over fences, but it is okay for my toes to angle outward more than on the flat in order to have the security of the ball of my calf in place.

My left turns need work but I'm feeling generally pretty good about my riding right now, from that lesson. On a left turn, trying to simultaneously push my left shoulder back and down, rotate my upper body to the left, lift my left hand slightly but keep my elbow in and my rein aligned instead of popping it over to a leading rein position.... Aaaaughgghghhhh I feel like a pretzel. I'll just have to keep stretching it and working it. So many things that started out feeling like I would NEVER get them have just come with time and good instruction. So, I have faith.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

I rode again three days ago. It was just three days after my first lesson back, when I was still very stiff and ouchy from the back *thing* that got me over Christmas. On the Friday I had taken a low dose of muscle relaxant and was moving reeeeasonably well, but for this lesson I went without. I wasn't hurting anymore -- just stiff and kind of locked up.

I got on early and had about ten minutes in the ring to myself before the lesson started. I did a lot of walk, and some trot and canter work to warm up. I didn't feel *that* off at first, but the horse felt VERY off, like she wasn't cooperating with me, or ignoring things I was asking. Our corners were terrible, and there were times we were about 4 feet inside of the track for no particular reason. Oops.

Turns out my feeling that the horse was off was actually at least 60% ME being off, but I couldn't feel it because my body and I were not communicating very well.

Things I was doing and not aware of:

-Leaning back a lot because I didn't have the flexibility to roll my pelvis under me the way I normally would to move with the motion

-Twisting to the right and popping my left shoulder forward and up -- the same old battle, but whereas I've been getting better recently, this time it was VERY exaggerated. Augghh!!

-Not using my legs very effectively -- not in any way I can specify -- I think I was generally out of sorts based on the above problems and it was affecting my coordination generally

-My hands and my rein tension were all over the place, which I think was partly a function of the stiff back and shoulders

It was a suuuper frustrating lesson because it felt like I had hopped into a time machine and gone back to where my riding was a year ago. After so much work. And even though I know it will improve as this back thing works itself out (I already feel miles better) the scary thought exists that "What if I have to redo ALL THAT WORK? Have I lost a year of progress?"

Even if I had "lost" all the physical changes I've made, including increased strength and flexibility, I still wouldn't be losing the knowledge I've gained since -- which is considerable!

Also, am I not in this for the process itself? Riding for me is very much an "it's the journey not the destination" experience. Heck, ring work is kind of the ultimate metaphor for that, isn't it? Running around in circles for 45 minutes to an hour, for the sole purpose of understanding and bettering yourself and your horse? Doesn't mean setbacks and/or plateaus aren't frustrating, though.

M was being pretty crotchety, though, all that said. She pinned her ears and looked pissed off before I even got the saddle ON. She wasn't just being girthy like she was the time before. Under saddle she was pulling at the reins until it turned into a game of tug of war. SO heavy on my hands they were hurtinng. And I definitely wasn't pulling on her; she was pulling on me. Not sure what the change in attitude is about, as she usually seems to jive pretty well with her work. It may be the Previcox causing changes that she's adjusting to.

I'm curious to maybe try my saddle out the next time I ride her, if I can. I find the jump saddles there might be putting my leg a little ahead of where I'd like it. Maybe that's just an excuse? But it seems to me like I can't get and keep my leg under me as far as I'd like it, and I do know that many jump saddles have a slightly more forward stirrup bar, to allow for a more forward seat. Also I just like how comfy my saddle is. Could be worth a try. I'm a little afraid I'll bring it and learn that it's a TERRIBLE saddle, or something, but I suppose that would be a *good* thing to know, not a bad thing.