Monday, December 31, 2012

Ridiculous

I'm so behind in posting it's ridiculous.  I'm not sure when I'm going to catch up!  Today, I just wanted to share a brief tidbit.

I have dropped the martingale and spurs.  The no spurs seems to be going okay.  The no martingale has been a learning process and makes me miss the more level headed/lower headed breeds.

It is TERRIFYING to be on a horse and have them spook and fling their head upside down (not just up, but UPSIDE DOWN) so that your reins and bit are ineffective.  Luckily, she only galloped halfway across the arena and only bucked once but whoooo, hello heart rate!

It's a good reminder that you cannot ride off the face, especially with a horse who can lift their head and nose upside down.  It made me feel incredibly insecure.  We've had a few moments like that since last week when I stopped using the martingale.  I'm proud of myself for riding through them, recovering without yanking on her face and moving on.  And for not putting the martingale back on.

So, here's to moving forward in 2013.  Here's to letting go of what doesn't work and continuing to find out what does.

Oh - I also had a funny moment with Tessa and her biting.  She's been super crabby about saddling, brushing and girthing.  Being the pansy owner that I am, the first thing I did was worry that she was hurt.  Checked saddle fit, girth tightness, another round of ulcer medication, extra hay.  Then, yesterday, she really tried to bite me while I was brushing her front leg.  So, I unclipped her from the cross ties and tried again.  When she pinned her ears and nipped at me, I cut loose on her.  For about two seconds.  She flew back five steps and stared at me.  What the hell, Mom?  I put her back in place and continued brushing.  And then saddling.  And girthing.  And damn if that little mare didn't just stand still all relaxed and mellow.

Yep, she needs me to be in charge and if I won't do it then she's gonna try for that position.

So - 2013 is all about being the leader in our relationship.  If I have more free time I will try to do a year in review.  It was an AMAZING year for me and my horse and I've learned so much that even a Year in Review post couldn't do it justice, but I will try....

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jump Clinic Review~

I can feel the work of the jump clinic in every muscle in my body, particularly my back.  I'm told that as my legs get stronger, the pain in my back will lessen but today I'm feeling stiff and sore.  Sundays are usually riding days for Tessa and I, but I figured if I'm this stiff and sore she probably is too.  So we took our Sunday off.  I got some cleaning done, some last minute Christmas shopping and some much needed napping.

So, let's see what I can remember from the jump clinic.

I was frustrated because the second day we had to spend an inordinately large amount of my time on getting Tessa to canter on the correct lead.  We've been having some trouble with our right lead canter and it just fell apart on Saturday.  Sigh.

Okay, wait.  Let's start on the first day.  I was so nervous I thought I might throw up.  I got on anyway.  I learned that my horse's attitude is a direct response to my nerves.  She was a hot mess, kicking and bucking and spooking.  I whined for a minute at Linda that I thought maybe I should have someone else warm her up.  Linda shook her head and smiled sympathetically at me.  "Just ride her through this."  I glared at her (sorry Linda!) and went back to riding.  Sure enough, when my adrenaline simmered down and my muscles stopped being hard as a rock, Tessa got over herself and we went to work.

The first day was doing two point exercises.  First get in two point, then put reins in one hand, grab mane and push your legs deeper.  One of the things I really enjoyed about Marc was that he worked with where you were at and said there's no shame in holding mane until your legs get strong enough.  We went from that to leaning our upper bodies down so that our noses were touching our horses necks.  I was praying fervently to the God of Spooky Arabian Horses With Rubbernecks that Tessa would keep her head down and not smash my nose. My prayers must have worked because we survived.  When our upper bodies were down, our legs stretched even deeper.

After that we did some cantering over ground poles and then one jump.  He focused on getting forward (poor pony and I.  Maybe we really should look into Western Pleasure.) for a good portion of things.  He kept saying "Go somewhere!  REALLY go somewhere!".  After watching some video footage, I realized that what FEELS like GOING somewhere is really a lovely Western Pleasure canter.  

The other thing he focused on was waiting, waiting, waiting.  Wait for the jump.  Wait with your shoulders.  I saw this over and over again with most riders.  We all anticipate.  It's hard not to!  We only jumped one jump.  Nothing complicated.  He worked a lot on our form over the jump.  Shoulders back, don't anticipate, long legs.  It was hard work but I could really tell a difference the last time we went over the jump.

I'm working on getting some video up, but at the moment I can't edit and my darling non-horsey husband took a lot of random video.  So, in the meantime here's what we looked like before we rode.  I even busted out with a cute sweater for the clinic!  Too bad you can't see my polished boots in this picture.  I will try and post more pictures later today or tomorrow.  Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  I have to run out to the barn now and give my pony a kiss and a carrot.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Cowardly Lion

Yesterday was the first day of the jump clinic.  I was incredibly nervous and kept wondering why in the world I signed up for a stupid jump clinic.  Marc, the trainer, introduced himself and asked about me.  Then he said that Linda and Laura had both told him that my anxieties exceeded my abilities.  Meaning it's in my head. 

I don't have a huge amount of time to write a well thought out post....oh wait, I NEVER write well thought out posts.  I don't edit either.  I'm so lazy.....anyways.  I'm sitting with a giant cup of coffee, my body aching in ways I didn't think it could.   And I'm gearing up to go back today.  Yep, I'm riding BOTH days. 

I'm dragging the husband out with me today to try to get video or pictures or something.  I will do my best to post later today if I can. 

The most important thing that I came away from this experience (besides to LOOK WHERE YOU"RE GOING!!!!!!  I'm a solid 'watch the horses head' dressage rider.) is that I'm okay.  My horse is okay.  We're a good team.  And when my nerves are in check, I think I might be enjoying myself.

This clinic (so far) has been full of AHA! moments.  I can't wait to share them with you....after I survive Day 2.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Noah's Ark

I'm gonna take a moment and whine.  Yes, I live in the city known for rain but our dirty secret is that though it 'rains' a lot, it doesn't usually RAIN.  Our winter is usually grey and depressing, but sort of drizzly and showers and blah blah blah.  The last two days, it's been a downpour.  A constant deluge of freezing cold rain.  It's just barely warm enough to be rain as we top out at 41 degrees during the warmest part of the day.  But it's drenching everything.

And the mud!  Dear Lord the Mud!  Again, I live in a place that's muddy and swampy by nature but when you have heavy rain for 48 hours it makes muddy into a joke.  It turns mud pits into muddy swimming holes.  I haven't been out to the barn today, but I wouldn't be surprised if they just kept most of the horses in.  Mud up to their knees isn't really conducive for doing much, besides standing around in the oozing mud.

Some barns around here have 'mud free' turnouts.  Most of the time, this is accomplished with pea gravel.  I'm glad that my barn has grass in the summer because of their pasture management, but it means we all put up with the mud in the winter.

The jump clinic starts tomorrow and I'm riding in the evening.  I haven't ridden since Sunday and today I should be heading out to the barn.  But I gotta confess, in this awful, miserable, terribly cold rainy dark day, I"m having a hard time getting motivated.  The fireplace and a cup of tea is calling my name. And pretty damn loudly.  It's pretty much just the worry that I will embarrass myself in front of the clinician that's going to get my butt in the saddle today.  Also, in case the world ends tomorrow, I'd like to get a ride in first.  :)

Ahhhh, winter riding.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Going Without

First of all, thanks to everyone who's commented on my last post.  It has really helped to hear everyone's different experiences.

This post has two parts about going without.  The first one fun and the second one more serious.  Let's start with the fun, shall we?

After my bitching and moaning about not having fun, I once again decided to take matters into my own hands.  There were people at the arena so I couldn't do anything crazy, but I did make some decisions about what I was going to do with my horse.

The first thing I went without was my spurs.  I'm working on better communication with Tessa.  In my lessons, I don't mind wearing spurs.  I have someone watching over me and helping me be precise.  Don't get me wrong, I don't accidentally spur her all the time or anything when I'm not in a lesson.  It's just that I'm looking for a different kind of communication right now.  A softer, gentler communication for the most part.  So I left the spurs off.  I did have to actually take my legs completely off of her and wallop the CRAP out of her side at one point because she completely tuned me out.  But that one boot was enough and we didn't have any trouble after that.

Second thing I went without was my running martingale.  It's time.  I have to start letting to go of my crutches.  If I'm having a nervous day or she's super hot, I won't hesitate to return to it but it's time to step out of my comfort zone.  Things went fine.  She's pretty stiff and bracey when she wants to be, but the point is for me to learn how to maneuver her body, not how to yoink her face and head down with a running martingale.  And yes, I did say yoink.  It may not be a word yet, but it should be.

The third thing I went without was stirrups.  I did it at the end of my ride and I walked, trotted and cantered.  I crossed the stirrups up over her neck.  She did great.  I did great.  She didn't want to canter and kicked out at my leg and I didn't lose my security at all.  Yeah!  Also, that ten minutes didn't make me sore.  Which means I should go longer next time!

Now, let's talk about the other going without.  I know I've covered this before, but I have some new readers and fresh eyes, ears and input always helps.  We are not a wealthy family.  We do not own property.  We have to board my horse.  Nobody else in my family likes horses so the time is not shared time, it's just me time.  The closest place that I can afford to board at is about twenty five minutes from my house.  An average barn trip is about three hours when you factor in traffic time, grooming, saddling and riding.  This does not include washing feet, tails or cleaning tack well.  My average bill for the pony is about $900 a month.  This is not a small chunk of change for us.  We go without things (not necessities ever, but luxuries) so that I can have a horse of my own.

And lately, I've been able to ride two or three days maximum.  That's it.  Tessa often gets used the other days, but $900 for three days a week?  That works out be $75.00 every time I go to the barn.  Ouch.

I'd like to be out there more.  Left to my own devices, I'd spend seven days a week at the barn for hours on end.  But I have a six year old daughter.  And it's important that I be home for dinner and homework most nights.  It all feels worth it when I have a good ride on Tessa.  When she whinnies for me from her stall.  But some days (especially around the crazy holidays) when I'm frantically trying to decide if I need horse time or family time, it's hard to feel like the scales are balanced.

I won't get to ride this week until Thursday and then my jump clinic is this weekend.  Wish me luck!  I will try to solve my picture dilemma by then so maybe there will be photographic evidence.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Evaluations and Chickening Out

I didn't go to my jump lesson last night.  I could have.  I told myself I just didn't feel like it.  It was cold.  It was dark.  It was raining.  It's the same weather that it's been for the last month and will continue to be for the next few months.  Nothing new.

I know that it's because I'm afraid.  But I'm questioning my goals and my fear.  Because this might be a healthy fear.  Jumping IS more dangerous.  There's loads of things I can do that don't involve jumping.  So why am I jumping?

It started as a way to do something different and a way to meet the basic Pony Club levels.  However, I've done that.  I've jumped my course of 18" jumps (and some a little higher).  I've jumped crossrails, cantered through ground poles, jumped oxers and sailed over verticals.  It was scary every time.  And though I felt a sense of accomplishment, I feel like I just realized that now that I've accomplished that I need to move forward.

Moving forward is jumping is bigger jumps.  Jumping more jumps.  More complicated patterns.  More chances of accidents. The jump clinic is looming in my future and I'm not looking forward to it, I'm terrified.  I don't know how to say "Sure I want to jump, but I'd rather it was single jumps and only 18 inches high".

I'm thinking of dropping out of jump lessons but I don't want to let fear get the better of me.  I think what I really want is to try some other horse things that involve less adrenaline.  Some trail riding.  Some Western. 

A friend of mine asked me the other day if I had fun at the barn.  I paused.  For a long time.  I love the people.  I love my horse.  I love my trainers.  But fun?  What I feel after a good lesson or a good ride is a sense of exhilarating accomplishment.  But I'm not sure fun is the right word.  Maybe that's what's driving my sense of their being something not quite right?  Maybe I'm looking for fun?

I started riding at a barn with a serious lesson program.  Lessons are what I know.  But at that barn, we used to have fun days.  We'd have a polo instructor come in.  Sometimes, in our group lessons, we were paired up with a partner and had to ride dressage tests in tandem.  We went on a few short trail rides.  Though the barn was primarily dressage and jumping riders (all lower level), it wasn't unusual for someone to decide to try reining and to put a Western saddle on their horse and tool around.  There was goofiness and silliness.  The riding was not as perfect, we weren't taught softness or lightness.  But there was fun.

I know we've gone down this road before, but I'd like to hear from you guys?  Do you have FUN when you ride?  Is it every time?  Sometimes?  Is it your barn that helps create this fun?  Tell me your stories! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Up And Down. Forward and Back.

Tessa continued to be an angry mama yesterday while I was grooming.  I got on and her walk was forward and a bit tense.  I asked her to move into trot and she shook her head at me.  I swear, if ponies could growl my pony would have growled at me.  She swished her tail, hunched up her back and kicked a leg up at me.  I reverted to panic mode for a minute so I rode over to talk to Linda about it.

"Is she in pain?  Am I hurting her?"  

"If she has an ulcer, her tummy might hurt a little bit.  But she's eating and drinking, not losing any weight and she was fine at the walk.  She can work just fine.  She just doesn't want to.  And if you let her convince you of that now, you're gonna have this battle again."

I sighed and slumped in the saddle.  One of the hardest things in riding and in life and with anxiety is when you go backwards.  And you will go backwards.  It's not me, it's just how it goes.  You go forward and then you slide backwards.  The trick is to not let it defeat you.  So, I straightened up and pushed her on.  When she sassed me, I just kept my leg on and kept riding, focusing on pretending I was holding the towel so that my arms stayed still and light.

Into the trot we went.  And then we had lots and lots of moments of gorgeous, back lifting, soft trotting.  We even had a few steps of shoulder in that weren't slug slow or completely crooked.

So, we moved on to cantering.  Ugh.  Ick.  Bleck.  Was that two steps forward and nine steps back?  Cause that's what it felt like.  She was cranky and fussy and angry.  This time, when she threw a fit, we would bring her back to trot and push her forward.  If she wasn't going to canter, then she was going to trot and work hard.  

We got a few circles of canter, but she kept quitting and dropping her head and threatening to buck so we did more circles of forward trot.  Our trot work was pretty spectacular by that time, with Tessa really pushing forward and into contact.  

I was worried about her canter transitions and how far backwards we slid, but Linda said not to worry about it.  She pointed out that I now have a wholly different standard for our trot work and that Tessa is just seeing if she can get out of cantering.  For now, since we've established new baselines in the walk and trot (she must go forward into steady contact), we're not going to worry about the canter falling apart. 

I'm also hoping that when she gets on ulcer meds, some of this will magically disappear.  Otherwise, I think that part of why Tessa ended up being my horse was because she's smart enough to find my buttons and push them.  She knows I'm not comfortable at the canter (evidenced by bracing, throwing away contact etc.) and so she uses that opportunity to try to get the upper hand.  By bringing her back down to trot and then making her work in the trot, I'm establishing that I'm in charge.  Hopefully over time this will make the canter depart less of an issue.

Monday, December 10, 2012

New Times and New Friends

Sundays ride with Tessa was a definite 'meh' for numerous reasons.

It started while I was saddling and brushing her.  Despite me being gentle and going slow, she was a snarly, teeth gnashing mess.  I have been ignoring this behavior and just going about my business.  It doesn't intimidate me anymore and I was hoping that the behavior would go away.  I know her saddle fits and I'm girthing up ridiculously slowly.  I snagged Laura and asked her to take a look at her.  She pressed a few points on her belly and Tessa kicked up at her hand.  We think she just got super stressed out from her frenemie, Dez and that her ulcer may have come back.  We're going to put her on a course of ulcer meds and see if that helps.  Poor pony.

I rode in jump tack with the idea of working on my two point position.  My two point still sucks and I can't hold it all and I can't feel any muscles working.  Sigh.  I also had my shoulders up to my ears most of the time, which threw my shoulder back out.  Monday I saw my PT and they couldn't believe how 'angry' my shoulder was.  Double sigh.

Our trot was okay.  I worked hard on just setting my rein length and leaving her face alone, especially since I was doing two point and jumping.  I just wanted forward.  When I asked her to canter she threw a hissy hit, trying to bash my nose with her cute little head.  I had almost ridden without the martingale that day.  I'm so glad I chickened out and put it back on her.

While she was freaking out and resisting and tossing her head and bucking stupid little bucks, I thought about a recent post over at A Year With Horses about bracing and softness.  I focused on being light and letting go all of the tension and bracing in my arms.  We finally eked out a decent canter, but it wasn't great.  I could have used my whip to push her more forward, but I really felt like she was bracing against me and if I couldn't un-brace then it wasn't fair to punish her for that.  We've had such great rides earlier in the week.  So, I just left it at that.  We had a few so-so trot circles and another crappy canter depart before I called it a day.

Despite the possibility of an ulcer, Tessa still loves her food.  She's like the Garfield of the horsey set.  She just wants to eat and nap and nap and eat.  I gave her a carrot and put her back out with her turnout partner, Truck.  Yes, she is now going out with Truck.  The same horse who took a chunk out of her ear through a stall last year.  Apparently, Truck was a total gentleman in turnout with her.  We'll see how it works out.

Laura also moved Dez out of the stall next to Tessa and moved Manny in.  Manny is a gorgeous quarter horse who is in love with Tessa.  They hang out next to each other batting their eyelashes at each other.  It's adorable.  Hopefully these changes will help Tessa feel better soon.  Now if I can just let go of the tightness in my damn arms!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Frenemies

Remember the cute pictures I posted of Tessa and her new buddy Dez?  Yes, well, much like friendships between middle school girls, the relationship between Dez and Tessa has soured.  It started with Dez kicking at the wall separating her stall from Tessa's.  There was much ear pinning and squealing.  At first we assumed it was because one of them was in heat.  But it persisted.  Dez put up such a racket that Tessa ended up moving to a different stall.  She had become very cranky about people going into her stall.  She's been in the new stall about a week and already she's less crabby.  I'm glad my barn has folks who notice things like that.  I know a lot of barns would have just disciplined her for being crabby and left it at that.  My trainers and my barn are really invested in my pony's happiness and that's so important.

Dez and Tessa were still getting along okay in turnout, so after my lesson on Thursday I put Tessa back out in her usual pasture.  As I was turning to go I heard the sloshing sound of horses galloping through the mud.  I looked back to see Tessa with her tail straight up in the air, galloping around the turnout with Dez in hot pursuit.  They did this for about five minutes, but then seemed to settle into a truce.

I walked back to the barn and watched them for a few minutes.  Just as I was turning to go, they started up again.  Laura was already on her way out, having seen the ruckus too.  So we pulled Dez out so that Tessa could have some turn out time.  Poor Tessa stood by the gate giving me the most pathetic look.  She's not a fan of mud and she's not a fan of 'alone time.'  Though there are horses right next to her in the other paddocks, she prefers a buddy with her.

So that's the end of that friendship.  I think it's interesting that they started out okay and the relationship deteriorated after a few months.  Tessa is very submissive and Dez is only three so maybe Dez figured out she could push Tessa around and is being a snarly middle school bully.  Our paddocks aren't big enough to allow this dynamic to continue.  My pony also hates the mud so I'm sure she was unhappy about now having mud all the way up to her hindquarters from all the galloping.

I don't know who she'll get turned out with next.  Hopefully a pony who will be nicer to her.  A lover, not a fighter.

First the Towel, Then The Ball

I was lucky enough to get another private lesson this week.  This time, instead of the towel, we used a medicine ball.  I've ridden with the medicine ball before, but we really focused on making sure that it was my core that was getting worked and not my arms.

Besides the obvious benefits of nice steady contact (you can't adjust your reins when you're holding the ball) I found another hidden benefit.

Tessa was very hot and spooky, even though she'd been ridden every day.  I think she was mostly trying to get out of work since she hadn't gotten to go to turn out yet that day.  So, at one point, she did a jump, whirl and tried to bolt.  I couldn't do my usual flailing again because I held the ball. Which was even harder than the towel since my hands couldn't adjust the rein length.  So, without even thinking about it, I just tightened my core and shut her down.  My trainer actually applauded because without using ANY REIN, I had shut down a bolt in two strides.

Sometimes I think trainers must have something stronger than coffee in their thermos, because I don't know how else they put up with the learning process.  Oh sure, we all nod and go "Right. Use my core.  Uh huh." and then we get right back to fiddling with our hands.  And when a horse takes off, we pull back on the reins.  Because how else will those horses stop?  And the whole time, somehow our trainers manage not to roll their eyes and sigh in exasperation. We pretend to believe them when they tell us that you can stop a horse with no reins.  We know that wouldn't work on OUR horse.  It's got to be perfectly trained before you can do THAT.

But then, every once in a while, something like my pony's spook and bolt happens and you DO use your core (even if it's on accident because you can't physically move your hands because you're holding a heavy ball) and it's effective.  And for a brief moment, the light bulb is on and it all makes sense.  Here's hoping I can keep my light shining!

Leap of Faith

By the time I got to the barn Tuesday night, the temperature had dropped ten degrees and the rain was hammering the roof of the barn.  I was shivering from cold and from anxiety, my stomach turning flip flops. It was jump lesson night.  I went over and told Laura that I was feeling nervous and anxious and wasn't sure I could do this.

"No problem" she said, "Just get on and maybe you'll just ride around in jump tack tonight."

So I got on.  I was a ball of tense energy and Tessa picked up on it, refusing to move forward freely and spooking at both ends of the arena.  Still, we pushed forward into a warm up. It was ugly looking, but we both got moving.

While the other two girls jumped cross rails, Tessa and I were instructed to go over a small stack of ground poles at a trot.  And if we felt like it, we could canter over it.  We did both.  Then she raised it to a crossrail and we jumped that a few times. 

I really wish I could draw a picture of the way the jumps were set up, but since currently I haven't solved my picture dilemma I'll just have to try and explain it.  There were five jumps set up at angles from one end of the arena to the other.  The standards were touching each other but the jumps were at opposite angles going down the line.  We started on a right lead and then switched after each jump.  I didn't have to do the more advanced exercise, which involved very tight turns.  But (can I get a drumroll please?) I rode a course.  Of more than five jumps.  Which means I can cross that off my pony club list.

Tessa was good.  The first time we tried to go over a larger cross rail, she went from canter to trot to stop.  It was totally my fault because I was unprepared and more than a little nervous.  She heard me say "I don't think we should do this."  And she listened.  Good pony.

She also got a bit frustrated at me launching my upper body and tensing up before each jump, so when I would land too far forward she would throw her head around and pitch forward.  Which sent me more forward.  Nerve wracking for me, but it sure was an effective way to communicate!  "Mom!  GET OFF MY NECK!"

Laura said that once I got in the air, I had great position and things were fine but that I threw myself over the jump before we got there and that was what Tessa was reacting to.

I did the course twice, only having to repeat a few jumps.  When I was done I was completely wiped out.  Leila was riding in my lesson and at the end, she hopped on Tessa and took her over the hard course with tight turns and higher jumps.  The first few were pretty bad, with Tessa careening around and jumping with her feet hanging every which way.  With the tight pattern, she only had four strides of turning before the next jump.  However, after her first time through she got the hang of it.  She's so little and flexible that the tight turns were easy for her.  And once she got balanced and ready to jump she did a brilliant job.

Countdown of only two weeks until the jumping clinic!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Magic Feather

Remember Dumbo and how he couldn't fly without his magic feather?  I may have a new magic feather.  Except it's not a feather....it's a towel.  Damn you blogger for not letting me upload more pictures (not that I took any, but this is exactly the sort of thing you need pictures for,right?).

One of the things I like about my trainers is they are always willing to try new things.  They don't get stuck in saying the same things over and over again.  Shoulders Back.  Heels down.  Use your core.  I'm sure we've all heard those things and at some point, it stops mattering.  Now matter how many times you yell "Shoulders back!" at me, I'm going to hunch them back up to my ears whenever I do something.  Remember me, Arms of Steel?

Well, last night was more of the same.  She asked for an opening rein and I pulled my shoulders up to my ears, pointed my elbow in to the center of the arena, flipped my wrist upside down and brought my hand up to my waist.  All while maintaining at least 100 pounds of pressure on my arm.  This did not go over well with my horse, my trainer or my injured arm.

So she calls me over to her chair by the side of the arena and hands me a towel.

"Put each end under your armpit and hold it there."

I tried to muscle it there, hunching my shoulders, but it moved my arms too much and the towel drooped.  I tried using arms of steel to hold it there.  I was too rigid and the towel drooped.  I tried to open my rein with my elbow away from my body and my towel drooped.  Finally, I relaxed my shoulders and used the muscles behind them to hold the towel in place.  This left my forearms relaxed and supple.  Instantly, Tessa dropped her head into the contact.

We still had our crap moments, but I could no longer react with flailing elbows and rigid arms.  So our crap moments were less crappy and were over quicker.  Turning her to the inside while I pushed her off my leg actually started to work.

There was even a scary moment where she spooked and bolted.  I had my towel under my armpits and she spun a 360 and took off galloping. She didn't pull up immediately and I didn't want to lose my towel and spook her further.  So I just sat deep and called out "Runaway Pony!".  But before everyone could stop to gawk at the girl with a towel under her armpits on a runaway pony, I had her under control and right back into a forward trot with contact.

Our canter was equally amazing.  Again, I was unable to move my arms into rigid pistons and I couldn't contort my body without losing my towel.  Our contact was unbelievable and steady.

Now, I just need to petition the USDF to allow me to show with my towel......

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Clock is Ticking

It's October, right?  No?  November?  Ah, crap.  It's already December.  The month of holiday/birthday/no school/busy work/what am I doing with my life because this year is almost over and am I SATISFIED???  AM I HAPPY?

As you can see, December is a bit of a whirlwind for me.  I finally got to go back to the barn and start riding again.  Which is good since I'm participating in a jump clinic this month.  Yes, only three weeks from now I will be in a jump clinic.  I have now officially lost my mind.

So I finally saw my pony's adorable face yesterday and got a quick ride in.  She was a little hot, a little spooky but mostly forward and good.  We didn't push our issues because I had two weeks off, which is just enough time for a small nugget of insecurity to place itself in my brain.  Tonight is my lesson and then tomorrow is jump lesson so I'm sure I'll obliterate that nugget in the next two days.

I haven't had a chance to catch up on everyone's blogs yet (work! holidays! aaaahhh!) but I hope that you are all enjoying your ponies and making progress.  I will be reading your blogs this week but may not have time to comment.  Especially if you have the word verification because I am old and get it wrong at least twice, which leads to inappropriate words being yelled at the computer and me finally deleting my comment of "Go girl!" or whatever happy thing I felt compelled to say before I wanted to kill verification words....  So, if you don't hear from me, it doesn't mean I'm not cheering you on.  I know that lots of read and don't comment all of the time.  I'm okay with that.  :)

So, here's to a crazy December!  I will do my best to at least take pictures and write short updates.  My pony is doing great, especially in jumping.  I heard she did a three bounce grid AND jumped a picket fence jump last week.  Good pony.

Oh, I just got a notice that I'm over my quota for photo storage.  Hmm...what to do.  Delete old photos?  Pay some money so I can upload more photos?  Of course, this had to happen now when my brain is so overworked that I can hardly remember what day it is....



Friday, November 16, 2012

Shouldering the Load

I've had a nagging, shooting pain in my right shoulder for about three months.  It makes it hard to lift things over my head and gets pretty aggravated when I ride.  Especially since Tessa and I are working on steady contact, which is quite a bit heavier than I thought.  So I've been seeing my chiropractor and he recommended I go to physical therapy.

The first thing my PT said was "No riding for two weeks."  I fired her.  Ha!  Okay, I didn't.  In fact, I did the responsible grown up thing and cancelled my lessons for two weeks.  Tessa will be getting some training rides and some time off while my shoulder heals up.  Better to take a few weeks off than have some awful permanent injury.  It's disappointing since I feel like we've been making such stellar progress.  I'm going to focus on getting things cleaned up at home.  We're hosting Thanksgiving at our house so I have lots to do until then anyways...like learning how to actually cook.

On a good pony news, the breeches I like (and can afford) Grand Prix Lexington Full Seats were on sale on Tack of the Day!  I bought two pairs with my husband's urging.  For some reason I'm always putting off buying new breeches.  I've worn the same pair of breeches for two years and I ride 3-5 days a week!  Crazy!!!  So he pointed out that buying two pairs should last me another five years or so.  It's a good investment.  At $40 off each pair, it was definitely worth it.

I'm going out to the barn on Sunday to check in on the pony and have a friend ride her.  I'm hoping it will be warm enough to wash her tail out and maybe not raining so we can go down the driveway a bit.  I won't be going out much regularly while my shoulder heals though, because pretty much everything you do with horses aggravates it.  Lift up to put on halter.  Ow.  Brushing.  Ow.  Lifting saddle up.  Ow.  But feeding carrots doesn't hurt anything and even if I only visit her once or twice, I can at least kiss her sweet, soft nose and give her a carrot or two.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Horse is a Cat

Yesterday was my second jump lesson on Tessa.  Leila, the girl who sometimes give her refresher rides for me, was there and decided that the pony needed to wear some pink polo wraps.  She disappeared and came back around with a bag of polo wraps...with flamingos on them.  Tessa has only worn polo wraps once or twice before and proceeded to dance around when we got to her back legs.  She was shooting Leila angry looks and kicking out with her back legs.  So Leila walked her around until she was used to the wraps.

Blink. Blink.  Polo wraps?
Pre ride happiness
I mounted up and started walking around.  She was a bit hot again, looking at things and trying to stop but we kept it together.  I moved into trot.  She was sticky and a bit cranky.  We trotted over some poles and I worked on sinking my legs into my stirrups so that my back wouldn't bear the brunt of things.  I could tell it was working because my thighs started to feel like jelly.  Yep, that's two point!

Then we moved to cantering.  I got her going, but just barely.  I asked for more forward and she hunched and kicked the wall.  I tapped her and she hunched again and kicked her leg up at me.  We struggled for a few minutes with her dropping back to trot and then snarking at me when I asked for forward.

"Hop off!", my trainer called to me.  "Leila's gonna get on her and work this out."

They don't have you hop off unless things are serious.  I think Laura was just tired of the pony's attitude.  It was time for a wakeup call about attitudes.  Poor, poor pony.

Laura knows my pony is sensitive.  She said it could be the polo wraps, it could be the saddle fits a bit different.  But there's nothing that's hurting her and she needs to stop copping an attitude.

Leila hopped on and was told "Ask her to canter.  Ask her sloppily and don't ask lightly.  (this was to simulate my crappy, heavy, sloppy canter departs since Leila is naturally a very light rider)  If she kicks out at you, keep after her until she's done."

The idea is that my pony needs to know that kicking out is never the answer and that forward is.  I'm really bad about not quite getting after her effectively about this.  Yes, I'm a bit of a nagger.  It's the chicken way of doing things.

So Leila asks for canter and my pony kicks out.  This began the funniest fifteen minutes I've ever seen.  I really wish I had videotaped the ride because it was kind of amazing.  Ever seen a horse walk on it's two front legs?  Me either...until last night.  My pony kicked out her left leg, then her right leg, then both legs, then her left leg, then her right leg.  She kicked the wall.  She kicked her belly.  She kicked the dressage whip.  She almost kicked the stirrup iron!  There was no space between the kicks and she was doing this weird canter/gallop thing the whole time on her front legs.  She looked just like an angry cat, hissing and spitting and trying to get something off it's paws.  Leila just sat still and kept getting after her.  Around and around they went, Tessa kicking and bucking and kicking and bucking and kick, kick, kicking.  One leg, the other leg.  She was practically dancing.

Then, finally, she decided that forward might be easier and broke into a hand gallop.  After that they did five more trot to canter transitions with Leila asking very politely and Tessa responding equally politely.
Our final jump of the night.  Twenty inches!!

Then I got back on my forward horse and jumped this.  Twenty inches of terror, right there.  But we jumped it.  It was interesting that after ten minutes of me riding, Tessa started to lose her forward again.  Not anything major, but it was there.  Just something else for me to chew on and figure out.




Sweaty pony in her cooler and polo wraps.
We were both exhausted by the end of our lesson.  She was a good girl about letting me take the polo wraps off the back and only waved her leg around a few times.  I'm gonna have to learn to put polo wraps on so we can work on this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Go, Go, Go STOP!

I could tell Tessa was a little sassy when I pulled her out of her stall last night.  I had been out of town for the weekend, but she had been ridden on Saturday so it wasn't like she had been cooped up for days.  She swished her tail as I brushed her.  She nipped the air when I girthed her up.  She shifted here and there impatiently.

As soon as my butt hit the saddle she swung out in a fast walk, her back swinging.  Right away, Linda had us work on walking forward into steady contact.  Every time her head came up, I asked her for forward instead.  My normally lazy pony suggested we trot instead.  I brought her back down to a walk.  We did leg yields to the wall and then back out, working on maintaining forward and contact.  She was lovely.

Then we picked up the trot.  A little more brace-y and choppy in her trot, but she was forward.  We flew around the ring while I attempted to get her back to lift.  My practice from last week in staying still was paying off because we had some really gorgeous moments where she slowed down and lifted her back.  Then we hit the scary end of the arena.  Everything was fine and relaxed and then she was slamming on the brakes, head in drama llama mode.  She backed up rapidly and then spun around and galloped off.  I got her back quickly and we went back to work.

The rest of the lesson was mostly great, except her spooks which kept coming in random places with no warning.  At one point we were walking on a loose rein, her head down to her knees, puffing softly.  We walked by the jump poles that we had been by at least 50 times already that night and before I knew what was happening, she had spun around and was galloping towards the other end of the arena with her tail tucked between her legs.

I got my reins gathered back up and put her back to work again.  We managed to go in the scary end and by those jump poles again, but she would just pick new spots to suddenly stop and spook.  Luckily, none of these scared me and I put her to work after each one so that at least she knows that if she reacts that strongly she will have to work.  Linda pointed out that I needed to work her fairly hard because the problem wasn't that she was scared or spooky, it's that she forgot I was on her back when she took off galloping.

We're still working on building trust and hopefully in the future, she'll spook and know that I'm right there to help her get through it.


Friday, November 9, 2012

My Pony is Awesome

I don't have anything new to report on really.  I went out and rode on Thursday and Tessa was a star.  She still would rather go slow than fast and loves to be behind the leg, but when I corrected her she didn't bother arguing.  For my part, I worked on using what I learned in my jumping lesson to help with my dressage problems.

So we just went around while I worked on putting weight on my pinky toe, keeping my shoulders back and most of all, holding still.  No fussing with her head.  No tension in my shoulders.  No cranking her around.  So though 90% of our ride was not pretty, it was all true.  Every single step.  That means that the 10% that was on the bit was light and forward and through her back and didn't involve me trying to push her with my body into a frame.

After our great ride, I was short on time but it wasn't raining so I wanted to stick with my commitment to riding outside.  I hopped on and was pleased to note that I wasn't afraid.  We walked and trotted a few times across the grass lawn and called it good.  Not a speck of fear.

This last month my pony and I have turned the corner.  It's like I'm finally falling in love with her.  I love her funny habits, like when you go get her in the pasture she will come to you but when you put the halter on she puts her ears back.  Not flat back in a nasty way, but more like she's preparing her ears for the halter to get on.  I used to think she was being crabby and it would intimidate me.  I'm seeing things differently now.

I hope the love affair with Tessa continues and that we continue to find out way into a solid relationship comprised of mutual respect and lightness and fairness on both of our parts.  I'm excited for our future together and all the things we'll get to do.  Thanks to my fellow bloggers for seeing us through this.  I can hardly believe how far we've come in just one year.  If you're new to this blog, I highly suggest going back and reading some of my early posts to see the difference.  Especially if you're struggling with your own horse.  It is possible to come through the other side and my pony and I are proof of that.  Now I just need to learn how to take better pony pictures.  Ha!




Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Work to Do

Videos are great because you capture the moment exactly as it happened.  Videos are also hard to watch.  Video taping my first jumping lesson may not have been the best idea, since I can see all my flaws in that ride.  Let's categorize them, shall we?  Then you can comment on how to fix them and I will go ask my other trainer Mr. Google also.

Pumping my upper body to get her more forward.

Leaning too far forward.

Launching myself over the jump (this goes with leaning too far forward).

Fiddling with my hands too much (not sure you can see this on the video but it's true anyways)

Weak legs and two point position (this will probably go away with time spent in two point)

I was told my legs would be super sore today.  The bad news is that they're not, my back is.  So...I am definitely using the wrong muscles.  I'd like to believe that my legs are super strong and that's why they don't hurt but I know that's not true.  I know it's because I'm not in a true two point.  That's why my back hurts today.  I think it's a combo of leaning too far forward and not using the right muscles.

What I'm Good At:

Looking at the distances.  My trainer showed me how to look for the first line, then look at the last pole, then look at a farther distance.  I had always learned to just look up the entire time and NEVER LOOK AT THE JUMP!  Which turns out to be only sorta true.  She said that when you have a horse that isn't as confident, you need have shorter distances with your eyes.  So you start by focusing on the first pole, at the spot where you want to come in at.  When you've got that lined up, you switch to the last pole (this is using four ground poles and a jump) and when you're lined up for that you look to a distance farther out.  She said that if you use 'soft eyes' and your horse isn't confident, it won't feel like it can make it all the way out to those trees outside the arena.  She had me looking at a distance after the jump and then when we were clear, looking towards the arena wall.  It worked.

The other thing my trainer talked about was how you have six strides (she said this is mostly doing cross country but the general theory holds true for all jumping) before each jump to change what you're doing.  You can half halt, ask for more forward etc.  But once you're two strides from the jump, you need to ride the horse you have.  Trying to change something that late will result in run outs, stops or wrecks.  Two strides away, you just close your leg (I almost typed close your eyes.  ha!  That would make it much more interesting, wouldn't it?) and ride the horse that's underneath you.

I really enjoyed moving away from the technicalities of dressage.  As a confirmed busy body, it was helpful to do something where I need to learn to be still.  About every ten minutes my trainer would yell, "Don't worry if she's round, just get her forward!"  This should be my mantra for all my rides, including my dressage rides.

Don't Worry about Round, Just Get  Forward!



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

PROOF!!!

Crossrails were jumped.  I have proof.  Of course, it's also proof that I pump with my upper body and fling myself over tiny little jumps, but whatevs.  It was my first jumping lesson in at least 15 years and I think we look pretty good!

video

Schneiders Tack

I bought a few things from Schneiders Tack about a month ago.  Nothing huge, just an inexpensive cotton blanket and some roller ball spurs.  The cotton blanket was adorable but of course, as soon as I bought it, the weather turned and it started raining so it got tried on and then folded up and stored for next year.

The roller ball spurs were okay, but after only two weeks, one of the balls cracked.  They weren't very expensive so I didn't think much of it.  The ball is still on the spur, it just has a crack in it.

I received an email in my inbox from Schneiders asking me to review the products I had bought.  Since I was disappointed with the quality of my roller ball spurs, I went ahead and took the time to bitch about it in my review.  I figured it would save other people the trouble of buying an inferior product.

Well, this morning in my inbox was an email from Cheri at Schneiders:


Dear Mona,

Thank you for submitting your review of the Roller Ball Spurs.  As a valued customer, your views, opinions and findings are very important to us.

I apologize for any inconvenience our spurs may have caused and are not what you had expected. Please find a refund of 18.99 to your Visa card ending xxxx.  The credit was issued today, November 6th and will take a couple of days to show on your credit card statement. We will also pass along this information to our manufacturer to ensure the quality of our products meet our customer’s expectations.

Thank you again for taking the time to submit your review.  We hope that we can be of service to you in the future.

I never emailed them directly, never asked for a refund.  Nothing!  And they took the time to read my review, follow up with me AND gave me a refund.  Nicely done, Schneiders.

If there's one thing close to my heart, it's customer service.  I love good customer service.  Good customer service turns me into a loyal customer for life.  Schneiders Tack, you had me at "I apologize".

Also, in a few short hours I will be riding my pony over fences....or at least over poles.  Jumping lesson!

Monday, November 5, 2012

To The Gate...And Beyond!

Sunday it was drizzling.  A kind of misty, depressing rain.  However, it was ridiculously warm for November.  Thankfully, I was wearing layers.  Off came the down vest, off came the sweatshirt.  Just a short sleeved t-shirt and breeches!  My poor, hairy pony worked up a sweat pretty quickly.

In the arena, I struggled with contact.  Since I have very busy hands that like to try to put the pony's head where I want it, I focus a lot on NOT doing that.  My backup plan to my busy hands is my shoving, busy body and I'm trying not to do that either.  Which means we spent a lot of time circling around with Tessa above the bit, bracing on the bit, running out of the outside rein (did I mention I also let my reins slide through my fingers.  I've resorted to holding on to the grab strap with my hand and rein to keep that outside rein steady.  It works sometimes, but then I have to be careful about bracing my entire arm against the grab strap.).  Tessa was wiggly and very braced.

I worked on keeping her forward and allowing her to come in to the contact.  I had a good amount of forward, but the contact was pretty awful.  After we did some cantering, we did have some nice moments but for the most part it wasn't a good looking ride.  I reminded myself that in the training process, when you're learning new skills, it's normal for the rest of the skills to fall apart temporarily.  But if I keep at it, there will be that one day where I will suddenly realize that I'm not fiddling with my hands or shoving with my seat and that my horse is going forward into contact.  I'm learning patience at a whole new level.

By the time I was done with my ride, the drizzle had stopped.  I had plans to go outside of the gate so I took some deep breaths and walked Tessa over.  It took us a while to get close to the scary gate, but we got there.  First I walked her through it a few times.  Then I got on and walked her through it a few times.  Then we started down the driveway.  Step.  By.  Step.  She would take a trembling step and stop, neck high and tense, ears pricked.  I would ask her to go forward and if she didn't, I would turn her head and we would take a side step.  We inched our way abut 1/4 down the long drive, then turned around and went home.  Then we did that again.  And again.  And again.  I was so proud of Tessa and so proud of myself.

At one point, another boarder decided to take her horse out on a short ride and asked me if I'd like to tag along.  I said I'd follow her down the driveway and see how it went.  Tessa followed her horse like a champ, marching right along with him.  She appreciated having another horse in front of her.  We rode all the way down the long drive to the paved road.  At that point, I opted out since I was already nervous and didn't want to have to feel even more nervous about the pavement aspect of things.  I turned my pony around and we headed back.  Tessa was more nervous going back and I could feel her body tense up.  But she knew she was going home, so she plodded along turning her head this way and that.

Pony got lots of carrots and love and another tail washing. I had to cancel my Monday night lesson because my daughter was up puking last night, but Tuesday is jump day.  I'm doing it people.  I'm really doing it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bit O Honey

Does anyone remember the candy Bit O Honey?  It was one of my favorite candies.  It resembled a small rock when you put it in your mouth and required fierce chewing skills.  Most of the time this meant chewing with your mouth wide open for a solid ten minutes.  Yes, that was back when you had to WORK for that candy!

Tessa has been chewing her bit a lot.  Clinking and clanking and chewing.  She's currently being ridden in an 0-ring snaffle of medium to thick thickness.  It's not fancy, just a regular snaffle.  My trainer wanted me to switch to a KK Ultra, which she went well in, but I couldn't find one with small enough rings.  I love the extra link in the middle and I think Tessa would too, but the one I ordered from Dover (and then had to return and PAY to return it, I won't make that mistake again) had HUGE rings.  Tessa wears a size 5 but she needs petite rings.  I'm going to look at Bradoons since I think those are the same thing but with smaller rings.

Any thoughts?  Bits with smaller rings?  Story - You have a petite Arab.  Where do you get your bits at?

And on another note of Go Me, I rode outside again.  For longer.  This weekend I may even go out the gate and down the driveway.  Also, first jump lesson scheduled for Tuesday.  I'm hoping I can find someone to take some pictures.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Forward, Ho!

I think the phrase might be 'Onward, ho!' but forward is more appropriate for us.  Last night we had a great lesson involving lots of lovely forward trotting.  We worked a lot on lightening my seat more in the canter.  My pony HATES it when I shove and of course it's second nature for me to SHOVE.  It's like I have the belief that if I clench my butt muscles and shove forward, she'll have no choice but to canter.  Instead, it shuts her down instantly.  She's a princess pony, remember?  And so everything must be light and covered in fairy dust and glitter.  Well, everything except my outside rein, which has this habit of floating away (is that my hand up in front of my face?  how did it get there?).

So L had me put more weight into my stirrups and focus on sitting tall and relaxing.  Every time I started to get it right, Tessa broke to a trot.  On the bright side, the trot she broke to was gorgeous and forward and even sometimes on the bit.  We had some good moments all in all.

We also worked on getting my legs farther back beneath me.  They just won't stay there.  I think partly because it was adding too many new things to the mix.  Hold the outside rein, more weight in the stirrups, relax your butt, tighten your core, sit tall and now put your legs a bit farther back.  Also, the pony is convinced that if my legs are that much farther back I want her to *do* something.  We had some random leg yields, haunches in and a lot of tail swishing.  If it was up to Tessa, all cues would be done at her shoulder.

I also talked to L about my Pony Club plan.  She's on board.  I need to figure out a way to find babysitting so I can do a Tuesday afternoon jump lesson.  One of the frustrating things about my barn is that they only do jumping on Tuesdays.  I understand why they do it (our arena is small and if there are jumps set up, there's not much room to do anything else) but it's hard because Tuesdays are not a great day for me to get out there.  But I'm going to figure it out and my goal is to be able to ride a stadium course of five jumps not to exceed 18inches.

I'm also going to be working on getting outside.  One of the girls I ride with on Monday night said she lives relatively close to the barn and has a 2 acre field with a small log in it and a Steady Eddie horse for Tessa to follow.  We haven't made definite plans (I want to jump in an arena before I try the log) but my goal is to try and push forward.  The sticky spot is that once again, I don't have a trailer or truck so I need to figure out a ride.  And it's expensive to rent a horse trailer at $80 a pop and that doesn't include a truck!!  Sheesh.  I just don't think I want to invest in a truck and trailer and I'm pretty sure that's not in our budget right now anyways, but I'm getting to the point where I need to be going places.

After I do this, I will have met the requirements for D-2 Level Pony Clubber.  D-3 requires more jumping, but it just says "not to exceed 2'6" so I think I'm safe to stay at my little crossrails.   D-3 does have the Emergency Dismount requirement.  That should be....interesting.  I only have to be able to do it at a halt and walk for D-3, but I'm not sure I can fling my body off a horse with that much coordination.  At my age, I'm not convinced flinging myself off a horse on purpose is my best plan anyways.  I'll let you all know..

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pony Club Shame

I'm a master of cleaning out stuff.  Because I have moved every year since I was 16 (no, not military, I just moved out of my parents house and kept moving every year), I have become a pro at traveling light.  I'm not one for holding on to things for sentimentality.  When you're lugging boxes up three flights of stairs every year, you start paring down pretty quickly.  Especially because as the years went on, the help dwindled.  I've now lived in the same place for four years but I still have the itch to move about once a year, so I go through stuff and get rid of things by the bag full.  The one thing I have not been able to part with has been my horse books.  I'm a bit of a collector.  My library ranges from 'True Horsemanship Through Feel' by natural horsemanship trainer Bill Dorrance to "Hunter Seat Equitation" by George Morris.  I have books on riding, books on training, books on dressage, jumping, Western Pleasure and even a Pat Parelli book.

So, while I was looking through my books for the umpteenth time, I came across this gem.  At one point, I had all three books but somewhere along the way I loaned out my C Level book.  So, I have the D level and the B/HA/A level book.  I cracked open the D level book and started reading.  And, oh my, I have a lot to learn if I want to be a D level pony clubber!

I thought it would be fun to check out the tests required to move up the levels in pony club.  I mean, what a great way to make sure I am well rounded in my education (or at least in my english riding education, right?)    So I'm skimming the tests.  To Pass a D-1 test, you must be able to ride at a walk and trot safely in an enclosed arena, without a leadline.  Okay, I've got that covered.  So, I can at least hold my own with the six year old Pony Club kids.

So, moving on to the next level D-2.  Level Requirements are to be able to mount and dismount independently, shorten and lengthen reins at walk and halt, perform balance and suppling exercises....okay, there was one that I'm not sure Tessa would go for.  The old Around the World exercise, where you spin yourself around in the saddle.  I'm not sure my life is worth the risk of being backwards when she changed her mind about things. But mostly I've got that covered.

Then there was the Riding Over Fences portion.  You must be able to ride a simple stadium jumping course of four to five obstacles, not to exceed 18 inches.  Hmmmm.  I better schedule a lesson over some crossrails soon if I want to keep up with D-2 level Pony Clubbers.

And finally, the Riding in the Open section.  Yes, the section that I fail miserably.  You must be able to ride safely in a group at the walk and trot, ride with control, up and down hills, at the walk and trot and jump simple natural obstacles, not to exceed 18 inches.

Now, I get that Pony Club is developing eventers, but even if you took the jumping out of it these are skills I don't have.  My horse has been on one trail ride and it wasn't me riding her.  I've only ever ridden her in the indoor arena.  In circles.  And circles.  And circles.

Well, not anymore.  We often joke about me needing a plan for everything.  And now I've been shamed into action by the fact that at the LOWEST LEVEL of Pony Club, they can go out and ride in the open. Yes, I know, these kids are often on the ancient, bomb proof pony but I'm not so sure I have an excuse anymore.  I was at the Halloween party and if you look at those pictures, it was me and a bunch of kids.  All the other grown ups who dressed up didn't get on and I overheard more than one person saying "My horse would freak out with those decorations.  I'm not going in there."  But I did.  I didn't make excuses.  I just got my shaky legs thrown over my horse and got on and rode.

So yesterday, after our usual circles in the arena, I took my pony outside and led her over to a railroad tie that I used as a mounting block.  Was I scared?  Yup.  But I want to pass my D-2 level Pony Club test and I have to be able to ride outside.  Our barn property is fully fenced, so if I lost control we were still enclosed but with all the distractions of outside, including a very feisty and fresh yearling bucking and galloping while we rode by.  We circled the barn at a walk on a mostly loose rein.  I reminded myself to breathe.  I waved at my astonished trainer, grinning so wide it almost hurt.  I circled the barn again and found a relatively even soft spot and trotted.  It was only five steps, but I can now say that I've walked and trotted outside.  And lived to tell the tale.

And suddenly, a year of lessons and frustrations and second guessing later, I've got it.  This is my horse.  This is my partner.  And together we're gonna go places and do things.  Because we can.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Awesomeness of Me

Sometimes I surprise even myself.  It all started yesterday, at the barn's Halloween party.  It was a cold, blustery and rainy night (it was a dark and stormy night....oooooooh) and the barn was bustling with activity.  The kind of activity that can terrify ponies.  Costumes were being thrown around, the sound of glitter spray cans being shaken reverberated down the aisles.  Some horses were restless, pacing in their stalls.  I pulled Tessa out of her stall, away from her dinner.  This elicited pinned ears, a wrinkled muzzle and a half hearted attempt to walk to the other side of her stall, followed by a deep, dejected sigh as I slipped the halter on.  She made one last grab for a mouthful of hay and followed me into the aisle way.

She hadn't been ridden in two days, so I took her in to the arena to see if she needed to blow off steam.  I'm glad I did because the arena had been decorated.  You'd think cobwebs wouldn't be that scary to horses who live in barns, but our barn is pretty clean and Tessa had not seen cobwebs *that* big.  Where the mounting block was had been transformed with hay bales, pumpkins and corn stalks.  The other mounting block had giant cobwebs and corn stalks on it as well.  This left one mounting block.  The one in the (cue scary music) GOAT OF DEATH corner.

Fairy wings AND polo wraps?  Oh, poor pony.

You can the spooky pumpkins in the corner.  

My daughter as Tinkerbell, meeting the fairy pony.

Fancy costume!

This horse was Pepe Le Pew.  If you've ever seen Pepe Le Pew and then watched this horse canter when he's hyped up, it would all make sense.

Look at me!  In a line up!  Later, there were more horses and we had to squish closer. Tessa wanted to say hi to everybody.

But at this moment, the mounting block situation was the least of my concern.  I didn't buy a 14.3 hand horse for nothing, after all.  Mounting from the ground was not an issue for us.  Our issue at the moment was Tessa and the cobwebs.  She snorted.  She froze.  She walked backwards.  I tried to walk her by them, but she scooted sideways with loud snorting.  I wasn't worried.  Instead, it was kind of hilarious.  I felt bad for how scared she was of them, but she was so genuinely  worried that it elicited more of an 'awww, you poor baby' feeling from me.  I ended up putting her on a lunge line and just having her trot around until she started to relax.  It really only took about five minutes when she realized that she was going to have to work if she wouldn't walk by the items.  I got her to the point where she would walk by them, but with her head still watching.  Just in case that pumpkin suddenly grew legs and jumped out at her. 

I know this is super blurry, but my husband didn't get a good shot and this was the best costume. This is the Swedish Chef and her horse dressed up as a Swedish Meatball.  Since he's a Swedish Warmblood this was a pretty awesome costume.
The awesome moment came later.  The awesome moment came after putting pink polo wraps on all four legs and having her randomly kick out because they felt so weird on her (this was only the second or third time she'd ever worn them).  The awesome moment came after spraying her tail neon pink and trying to attach giant fairy wings to her saddle (didn't work, finally gave up because they kept flopping backwards and tickling her).  The awesome moment came when I went into the arena, filled with scary props and now also filled with ten other horses in costumes, some with billowing sheets, some with wings and some with crowns, and I got on my horse.  In the GOAT OF DEATH corner, no less.  Oh yes, I got on using the mounting block by the goat.  And then I rode my pony around a spooky arena with a whole bunch of other horses.  And then we all lined up, which my pony had never done.  She was disappointed to find out that lining up right next to another horse did not involve touching noses and saying hello.  She was probably wondering how come I didn't want her to talk to anybody.  She just loves to be social and was so excited to hang out with all the other horses.

I didn't do anything besides walk, but I walked without a death grip on my oh crap strap.  I walked on a loose rein.  We just ambled around in an arena full of ponies and pumpkins and scary, flapping cobwebs.  And I wasn't scared....mostly.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pony Eating Monsters and Eating Dirt

I rode yesterday and have reason to be extra proud.  The barn was empty and dark and cold.  The temperature had dropped another 10 degrees.  We're in the kind of weather that makes us want to spend days indoors.  It's not just cold, it's wet and cold.  Currently it's raining and 42 degrees.  And since I've got a sore throat from fighting off the latest elementary school bug that my child brought home, I've cancelled my lesson for tonight.  It's a good night for sitting by the fire drinking Throat Coat tea.

But yesterday I bundled up (though not enough as the barn was WAY colder than I expected) and headed out to see the pony.  After a small scuffle with her new pasture mate, a three year old warmblood mare who is just a mite pushy, I pulled Tessa out.  She either had laid down or rolled at some point because one side of her face was muddy and crusty.  She came trotting over from the far side of the pasture to see me.  I know that they say horses like being outdoors no matter what the weather, but I swear I have a hothouse flower pony.  A little mud and she's running towards me and her halter with enthusiasm.

So, the reason why I'm extra proud is that Tessa was pretty hyped up.  There was one other person riding so I wasn't able to let her blow off steam in the indoor.  I tacked her up and was going to ride her through it but then I noticed the moving truck.  Bad timing for us.  The people who are moving in to the apartment overlooking the arena were moving furniture in.  Tessa got one look at the pony eating monster Man With Chair Over His Head and decided that the goat corner wasn't so scary after all.

After a few minutes of lungeing, I put on my big girl panties and got on.  We had forward.  Unless we were headed towards the moving truck.  Some guys were helping with the moving and kept running and jumping out of the truck.  Between that and the furniture moving around, Tessa was forward.  Or at least she was forward when we were heading *away* from that truck.  Usually at a high rate of speed and following a snort and spin maneuver.  I gave up trying to work through it and just did a lot of twenty meter circles on the opposite end of the arena.  We had some gorgeous transitions and only one sullen (but giant) buck before going into canter.  All in all, a good ride.

I was chatting to someone later on about horse and riding and we were talking about falling off.  I ride at an eventer barn and I'm not sure if it's the eventing attitude or if this is true of everyone but at our barn they say things like "You WILL come off and eat dirt, it's just a matter of time."  or "You're not a real ride until you come off."   It got me to thinking.  I'm not old, but I sure as hell am not young anymore.  At 40, my bones don't bounce the way they used to.  I remember falling off pretty regularly when I rode camp horses at age 14 and it wasn't a big deal.  But when I started riding in my twenties, I only had three falls and they were not good or easy.  Fall number one just hurt a lot and left me off riding for a few weeks.  Fall number two hurt a lot worse and left me off riding for a few months.  Fall number three hurt like a son of a bitch and left me off work for three months, off riding for ten years and with permanent damage to my hips and back.  So, when I say I'm afraid of falling off that's an understatement.

Falling off consumes me.  Because it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.  When am I going to fall off?  Will I die this time?  Will it be because I've gotten bucked off?  Spooked off?  Will my foot get hung up in the stirrup?  Will I get dragged?  The scenarios are many and varied.  But is this true?  Is it statistically probably that I will fall off?  Even if I am careful?  Cautious?  I know there's always the chance you'll fall off, much like every time you get in a car there's a chance you'll get in an accident.  But nobody makes you feel like less of a driver if you've been in an accident and certainly folks don't go around harping on how it's only a matter of time before you have an accident.  So, is it true?  Should I just steel myself for the reality that I'm gonna fall off?  'Cause at this age I'm not sure if that's okay.  Not sure at all.......

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It's All In (or on) My Head

Last night our barn had a Helmet Party.  Sort of like a Tupperware party, but with helmets.  Folks brought their current helmets and had them evaluated and then were invited to check out the range of helmets the Pegasus rep had brought with her.  I forgot my camera, so I didn't get pictures of this awesome event.  Which is a shame because they had some helmets that the rep called 'one offs' that were really cool.  One of them came in a beige faux leather and was gorgeous!  Sadly, my tiny little pea head didn't fit into any of the cool helmets.

I tried on every helmet they had, from the bottom of the line to the top.  The top end of the Pegasus Helmets are their George Morris helmets.  They have leather interior and leather straps and are lovely and fancy schmancy.  And they didn't fit my head (phew, dodged a bullet right there!).  My head turned out to need a 7 Slim Oval.  My only concern with my new helmet is that when I tried it on last night, it had some slippage in the back.

I have been on a whole foods only diet for the last three weeks and have had no dairy, alcohol, soy or bread.  I've been taking a ton of supplements to try and help me with my allergies, including lots and lots of fish oil capsules.  The downside to this is obvious.  I miss having bread, cheese and wine.  Who wouldn't?  The upside?  Shiny, shiny, shiny hair.  This is why people recommend Omega 3 fatty acids for horses and dogs with dull coats.  I really need to get Tessa on this program, cause my hair is shiny and slick every day.  So shiny and slick that my helmet kept slipping in back!

I purchased the helmet anyway, because even if it's not exactly perfect, it won't fall off my head and choke me to death like my old helmet would if I ever actually came off.

Fancy new helmet!!  With an un-fancy price tag of only $110!!
I went to the barn today, sans shower as usual, and put on my new helmet.  Much better.  A little extra hair grease was just the ticket.

I had a great ride on the pony today.  Since she had been such a pill the last time I rode her, I wanted to make sure she understood two things.  One - When I ask for forward I want forward.  Right.  Now.  If you sass me, I will sass your adorable pony butt right back.  Two - When we walk on a loose rein, it's just a walk break.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  When I put leg back on, I need you to refer to Rule Number One.  Forward.  Now.

So mostly I rode on a loose-ish rein, and sometimes I even rode with the reins in one hand.  This was about forward, no matter what I was doing up there.  I asked, she sassed.  I demanded, she sassed.  I said "Oh, honey, that's three times and now you get a time out.".  Oh wait, we're not talking about my six year old daughter are we?  Right, six year old pony.  Mostly the same deal.  I gave her the business end of the spur and we got on with it.

Then we did lots of transitions.  Walk, trot, canter, trot, canter, trot, canter, walk.  Loose rein walk.  Then back to work.  Canter, trot, walk.  Canter, canter, canter.  Walk on loose rein.

By the end of our ride I was able to lightly squeeze with my calves and we were off.  I was light and she was forward and we made it around most of the arena without spooking.

Then I went and washed her tail.  And after washing her tail for the third time since last week, I went the other side where our farrier was shoeing some horses and said thanks to him for showing me a different way of doing things.  All of these things add up to me getting more and more comfortable with my horse and closer to my goal of being able to do anything I want to with my horse without being afraid.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The B*tch is Back

Just in case you didn't know, the title is an Elton John song.  It just seemed so appropriate for my Monday night lesson recap.

The first part of the lesson was some fairly lovely work.  We're really focusing on me staying relaxed and pushing Tessa into a solid contact and feel.  Tonight's lesson was a bit more challenging because it was dark, rainy and windy.  There are two open ends on either side of our arena, which means that when it gets dark and someone is walking past or a gust of wind blows the leaves around outside, the horses can spook.  I mostly avoided going to one end of the arena because whenever we got there, I lost Tessa completely.  This is something that I feel like is a huge hole in our training and I get frustrated that it doesn't get addressed more.

We'll be trotting along in a nice frame and I'll feel her start to slow down.  I'll push her forward, but in the next step her head has come up, ears forward, head turned to look to the outside.  I tried REALLY hard not to yank on the reins at that point, but I've completely lost her.  I put a leg on and get nothing.  I put a spur on and get nothing.  I jab her HARD with the spur and she swishes her tail at me, but her head stays cranked to the outside.  So I use my inside rein.  And it's ugly.  I'm dragging her nose around using brute strength, while kicking her with my inside leg.  This happens EVERY SINGLE TIME, which means that I'm doing something wrong.  I don't know if it's that I'm tensing my body or what, but it gets old having to resort to bully tactics every time.  Again, I recognize that I'm missing something but I don't know what it is.  These are the kinds of things that I would love to work with someone like Mark Rashid or Buck Brannaman on.  Because I'm pretty sure they don't need to bully their horses into not spooking.  No, I'm damn sure they don't.  There's a Buck clinic in my area in November, but it's on my wedding anniversary weekend that I have already rescheduled once for a different horse activity so I won't be able to make it.

The other major thing of note was that after our walk break, she decided to throw a tantrum.  She does this EVERY TIME.  Do you see a theme here?  I do.  It's called ARGH WE HAVE NO PROGRESS in these departments.  Yes, yes.  I exaggerate.  But she threw a tantrum when I asked her to trot forward and then to canter.  She kicked out every time I put leg on her.  My trainer's answer to this is that I need to get after her for throwing a hissy fit.  And I know that she's probably right, but again there's that part of me that thinks there's a different answer.  But what is it?  I'm not a softie who doesn't want to hurt the poor little pony.  I mainly don't punish her because I still have a residue of fear left over and when she gets super kicky and bucky like that and she pins her ears and grunts at me, I'm kind of intimidated!  And of course, smart pony knows that.

I will also say that it's very likely she's going into heat.  Her pasture buddy is in a serious heat and it's the right time of year for that last heat.  But still, I'm tired of arguing.  I'm tired of wondering if I'm going to have to suck it up and ride through a temper tantrum.  I'm having an "I want a gelding" moment and maybe a horse who's a little less smart.  Don't worry, I'm not seriously contemplating selling her.  I just need to find the answers that work for both of us so she can stop pestering me with the question on a regular basis.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Trainers Come in Many Forms

Like the form of a shoer, for example.  I've just started using this farrier since the person who used to trim my horses feet is no longer at our barn and doesn't have time to come out and trim.  He's super friendly and outgoing and helped me out (again) with Tessa and the wash rack.

I started out in the scary wash rack, feeling overly confident.  We were a hot mess of wiggling, walking over me, bending, rolling her eyes at me etc.  I could hear Joe on the other side of the barn, singing along with the radio he constantly blares while he works on the horses.  So I picked up my shampoo and led the pony to the other side.

I got her in the wash rack.  This one is wider and brighter and overall nicer and easier to use.  Then she started her walk forward business.  I tried to pull her back using the leadrope.  She flipped her head upside down and bulged her neck out.  Then she turned her head.  I went back and forth trying to balance holding the hose, working the leadrope, pushing her back.  Joe came over and asked if he could show me something.  I said sure and handed him the leadrope.

He didn't use the leadrope.  He simply gave my pony the hairy eyeball, a small tug on a the crossties and she took a stiff step back.  Her head was still up, her neck still bulging, but he praised her loudly.

"Good girl!"  he patted her roughly on her belly.  The same belly that she swishes her tail when I brush her with a soft brush on.  She didn't move.  He kept patting her.  It wasn't gentle or soft or thoughtful. It was definitive and in her space.  He kept repeating himself in his big, booming voice.  "Good girl."

She stepped forward and he calmly reached up and gave a tug on the crossties.  She stepped back and he patted her more.  "Good girl!!"  He was enthusiastic with his patting and his praise.

She stepped forward one more time and he gently tugged.  Her head went up , her eyes rolled back and he tugged again.  Her neck bulged and I cringed, waiting for the blow up.  He reached up and made eye contact, his eyes telling her that he wasn't asking her a question, he was demanding an answer.  She stepped back, she lowered her head, she sighed.  She licked and chewed.

From there, he took the hose and went back and rinsed her tail.  She didn't move a foot.  She simply kept her head slightly turned while she watched him.  He praised her effusively.  Then he patted her some more.  He turned the operation over to me and I made a point of not backing down.  Of making eye contact with her.  He reminded me that when she was nervous and then I got quiet, she knew something wasn't right.  He said to give her lots of "Good girls" when she was good and to be business like when she wasn't being good.  To be definitive about my space and where I was and what I was doing with her.  My pony sighed and relaxed and didn't move so much as an ear while I washed her tail.  She did, however, keep one eye on me.  I returned the favor by checking in with her as well.  She just wanted a leader and I wasn't doing the job.

We then went to the scarier wash rack.  She was a hot mess again.  So Joe stepped in and moved her around.  He pointed out that when she moves into my space, I move out.  Or I try to stand my ground (which resulted in my foot getting stepped on today.  I'm grateful for small ponies with bare feet on days like today) and she pushes me anyway.  He went in and asked her to move.  Move here.  Move there.  Move backwards.  Move forwards.  Then he started scratching under her belly.  Her tail swished and flipped and her ears swiveled and pinned and swiveled.

"She doesn't have to like what I'm doing, she just has to accept it.  She has to know you're not always gonna ask her permission to do stuff.  That sometimes you're just gonna do it and she's just gotta accept it."

She didn't try to kick him, she was just agitated.  He just continued to scratch and pat and boom "Good Girl"s whenever she stopped sassing him.  She kept her eye on him the whole time and licked and chewed on a regular basis.

I'm enjoying learning from Joe.  It's different energy with a man and he's got a loud, masculine personality.  You can tell he loves horses and I've never seen him lose his temper, even when dealing with snotty warmblood youngsters who haven't yet learned their manners.  I'm remembering that being a leader to a horse is a lot like being a parent.  You want your kids to love and respect you, but you're not best friends.  Sometimes you ask them to do things and sometimes they just have to do what you tell them to.  Just 'cause.