Tuesday, April 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April Fool's Day foolery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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