Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Second ride on the greenie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

A quest for the season!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

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

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

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

Would be going to a good home with references.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Reasons I've fallen off of horses:

Mounting fail
Lost balance
Popped jump
Popped jump
Slipping on ice
Mounting fail

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.

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!!!

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.