Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Rodeo Lesson

It was time for me and the pony to work. it. out.  We have been hovering on the edges the last few weeks.  She fusses.  She pushes into my space.  She swishes her tail and back talks me when I ask for forward.  She ignores my leg and then ignores the whip.  Repeatedly.  She breaks to trot when we canter and threatens to canter when we trot. 

So today, I was given spurs to wear.  This was actually good for me because it forced me to keep my leg quiet so I didn't accidentally stick her with a spur.  They were the tiniest of baby spurs but you wouldn't know it from the way the Princess reacted.

So we got geared up and began.  Trot.  Swish tail.  Throw head.  Suck back.  Whip.  More tail swish.  More head tossing.  More sucking back.  More leg, more whip.  More sassing.  Leg, whip.  Leg, spur.  The 'thunk' I heard was her leg kicking out at the spur and connecting with the wall.  Okay, that's okay.  But then she's back to seeing how slow she can go.  More leg.  Then, spur.  Little buck.  Tap with the whip.  Little buck.  Tap with the whip and leg.  Bucking is not the answer, forward is.  Tap again and ask with leg and spur.  BIG BUCK and forward into trot.  A lovely, energetic trot.  We trotted.  We cantered.  We had some little bucks and kicks out at the wall and the spur, but overall some really great work.  Then we walked on a long rein for a few minutes.  That's when I knew the argument was really coming.  Because of course, L wanted me to go back to work after the walk on a long rein and the Princess wanted to be done.  

Okay, pony, we're going forward right back into energetic trot right?  Uhm, this isn't energetic.  Remember my leg?  No?  How about the whip?  No?  How about the spur?  Don't want to trot energetically, that's fine.  We'll canter instead.  Which turned out to be a twenty meter circle of buck, buck, kick at the wall, refusing to canter, buck, buck and then a buck so big and a twist in the air that as we came back down to earth I let some expletives fly.  But I stayed on and I pushed forward and our next circle was lovely and forward and soft.

We ended the lesson after switching directions again and making sure that I was the one in charge of when we were trotting and when we were cantering.  We've had some of our best trot work yet.  L reassured me that everything Tess has thrown at me is very normal young horse stuff, especially mares.

p.s. My New Year's resolution is totally going to have something to do with more blog pictures.  I need more pictures!!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Cookies and New Breeches

Not surprisingly my family did not get me any horse related gifts.  My husband did give me a silk undershirt that I can wear to the barn, so there is that.  But for the most part, my family doesn't really get the whole horse thing and though my Christmas list was littered with pony stuff, I think it intimidates them.  

So I bought myself a new pair of cheap, full seat breeches online and they arrived in time for me to throw them under the tree.  I only have one pair of breeches (the horror, I know....and I ride six days a week so they are getting USED!!) but we just don't really have a whole lot of extra money for $100 breeches right now.  So I was super psyched to find full seat breeches for $35.

I can see you now, rolling your eyes and shaking your head.  Yes, yes. You are right.  I should have known better.  $35 is just too cheap.  I pulled my new Gatsby Girl breeches from the bag.  They were definitely more lightweight than my current breeches, but that's not surprising at $35.  I pulled them on.  Kind of scratchy, but still, the money I saved was like a balm on my skin as I wrestled them up my legs.  I finally got them up past my thighs and started to pull up the waist to button them.  I pulled and pulled and pulled and finally was at the end of the waist, which actually ended somewhere at the top of my rib cage.  Suffice it to say, these were not low rise breeches.  I have a short waist and thanks to the many varieties of Christmas Cookies, I now have a short, thick waist.  The effect of these breeches buttoning up four inches above my belly button, is that I look like Toad from the Wind in the Willows.  Except not as cute and not quite as green.

 I plan on keeping these breeches anyway, despite the fact that they are not all that comfortable, they sag in the crotch and they give me an amazing pot belly.  I will just wear longer shirts.  In the meantime, I'm on the hunt for reasonably priced, but also reasonably attractive, full seat breeches.  I am short waisted and not a stick and would prefer them to be under $100.  Any ideas?

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hey Crazy Lady

Despite having been ridden hard the last two days by S, the pony came out of her paddock on fire today.  It didn't help that I hadn't been out all week and my nerves were jumping so bad my hand shook when I tried to do up her throat latch.  A horse walked by and Tess hunched her back, lifted her tail and left a puddle behind her.  A horse down the aisle coughed and she tried to spin, her eyes round and wide.   It was also a cold, sunny morning (29F) and the sun was just starting to thaw out the ice on the arena roof.  Drip. Drip.  Drip.  The pony stood trembling for thirty seconds while my shaky hands fumbled with the lunge line.  Then she was off.  Rearing, bucking, kicking, snorting.  Galloping wide eyed around me her head swinging to the outside as her shoulder cut in towards me.  After about five dizzy minutes, L saw her and advised me to un-tack her and let her get her fizzies out.  Even after five minutes of galloping, Tess fidgeted while we took the saddle off.  The second the saddle came off her back, she tried to take off again.  I dug in my feet and gave her a sharp correction on the lunge line.  Then I sheepishly asked L to come back and help me get the bridle off.  By this time my anxiety had turned into cold, sweaty fear and my hands were shaking hard.

I started to think about ways I could get out riding in my lesson, ways to get L to ride her for me.  Should I say I just can't do it?  Should I feign injury?  Sickness?  These thoughts spun around my head while the Princess spun around the arena in a long, low gallop.  As she flew by me for the tenth time, she tossed her head and slowed to trot for a moment.  A suspended, fancy trot.  Her neck was arched and had her mane not been covered in green goo, she would have had a long, flowing silver mane.  I looked up, my fear simmering back down to anxiety.  Her nostrils were wide but her eyes were softer.  I lifted a hand and she spun around easily, galloping the length of the arena.  After about ten minutes she stopped, ears pricked, steam blowing out of her nostrils and waited.  I walked up to her and gave her a quick pat on the forehead.  She followed me carefully.  I asked her to move out again and she moved out at a controlled trot, her sides heaving, her eyes watching me.  She had gotten her fizzies out.

Following that, we had an amazing lesson.  I rode in S's jump saddle and the difference in Tess's movement was nothing short of a miracle.  We had forward!  We had round!  We had soft!  We also cantered.  And cantered.  And trot to canter.  Canter to trot.  Trot to canter.  Keep cantering.  Keep cantering.  Keep cantering.

At the end of our lesson, we had a steam cloud that rolled off of us as we walked.  Her head was low, her back swinging and the smile on my face stretched from ear to ear.  Days like this remind me why I do this.  Because when we get it right and we're a team, we're a damn fine team.

I hope you are all enjoying the holidays and giving your ponies extra hugs and kisses for Christmas.  It looks like I will be starting the saddle search next week, so I have that to look forward to!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas for Tessa

Santa must have been listening because when I went out to the barn on Saturday, Tessa had a stocking hanging up in front of the tack room.  Awwww. 

 I also tried to get pictures of her with antlers on, but the only antlers I had were for humans so they were kind of small and didn't show up.  Also, the pony was not a fan of the bells.

You will notice that the pony is a hot, sweaty mess in these pictures.  I wanted to take the pictures before my ride, but the Princess had a different idea.  She's been a DOLL the last few weeks about grooming and standing in the cross ties, but when I went out on Saturday she was in a stall doing crazy eyes and practically humming with energy.  She saw me coming and started to dance around.  Then she pushed herself against the wall and lifted her tail....and squirted.  What?  It's December!  Pony's don't go into heat in they?  I found out the answer is, sometimes they do.  So I led the Princess to the cross ties where she left puddles from hunching and squirting while she fidgeted back and forth and back and forth.  

I took her to the arena to let her blow some steam off but all she did was spook and then stop.  Spook and then stop.  So I saddled her up and went and found L.

"She's in heat and she's a hot mess and I'm afraid to get on her.  But she's fine on the lunge so I don't have an excuse."

Enter my savior, the teenager that's been riding Tessa for me.  She hops on.  Tessa is indeed a hot mess.  She's spooky and balky and hunched up.  Poor, PMS'y pony.  I know how that feels!  S pushes her through some big bucks and tantrums and gets her going sort of forward.  The Pony is still looking at everything with big, bug eyes so I ask her to keep riding.  

"I'd like to switch to my  jump saddle if I'm going to stay on her."  S says.  

I remember L and I having this conversation on Thursday about how it's hard for the pony to go forward in my dressage saddle because she throws a fit, hollows her back and then when she tries to canter I am sitting way back on her and it stifles her.  

We throw S's jump saddle on her (a really cool Pessoa Military II that I am now in love with) and within minutes the pony is moving freely forward.  Uh oh.  I mean, it's great.  The pony is going forward easily and beautifully.  But does this mean new saddle?  So, at the end, the Pony was sweaty and tired but forward.  I hopped on at the end and did a few twenty meter circles with the incredibly light and forward pony and then cooled her out.  

We debated clipping her.  S works her into a lather when she rides but I don't even get her sweaty.  I really WANT to clip her because I think she'll look less like a yak.  As L was walking by, we asked her about this.  

"Sure you can clip her with a trace clip...." she walked away and then paused, throwing over her shoulder "but if she's clipped horses tend to have more energy and be a bit hotter."  I swear I saw her wink and I KNOW I saw her smirk.

The pony will stay a yak for now. This is at the end of her ride when she should have had her head hanging down to her knees but she was trying to decide if she should spook over the fact that there was a horse in the was rack.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday is Lesson Day

I am still feeling woozy from my head cold so I opted not to ride today.  But since today was lesson today, I went out and got the pony ready.  I even got on her for a few minutes (after which I desperately wanted a nap) before handing her over to L.  L dwarfs my pony.  L is taller than me by a few inches and has long, long legs and on my little Arab mare it was pretty funny to watch.  It was great to see how quiet she was, especially with her hands.  I really, really struggle with keeping my hands quiet and allowing the pony to come forward INTO them.  Especially when I get nervous.

So L worked on our obvious issue, which is forward, forward, forward.  There were a few moments when L asked and the Princess answered with "But I'm a Princess and YOU are supposed to follow my command!  How dare you tap me with your whip!  How dare you!" followed by a tail whip to the head and a kick to the wall.  But most of the time things went smoothly.

Also, the pony got her teeth done yesterday.  Which is great, but I wish I had known so I could go out and take pictures of a drugged up Princess.  I'm sure she was hilarious.  My barn is wonderful in 'taking care of things' but they don't always tell you when this is going to happen.  It's nice to know that I don't have to be there, but sometimes I would like to be there!  I mean, I'd love to actually get to TALK to my vet sometimes.  

She was a snaggle tooth hot mess according to the vet.  I'm super excited to see if she still tries to rub her bridle off her face every time.  We also may be moving out of the Mullen Mouth Happy Mouth bit and into a jointed bit (possibly a KK).  Progress!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Decorations

I am going to complain about the stupidest, shallowest thing right now.  It's a minor thing and I think it's funny that I'm bummed about it.  Ready for it?  I am sad that my pony doesn't have a stall to hang a stocking on.  There, I said it.  My pony comes and hangs out (and takes ridiculously long naps) in other horse's stalls during the day.  She lives outside.  She has a lovely large turnout and a great shelter and ponies on both sides of the fence from her.  Right next door is her boyfriend Manny.  Tessa isn't really into Manny, but Manny believes that Tessa was put on this earth for him and that he can't live without her.  Manny also comes in during the day and whenever we walk by his stall, Manny cries and cries.  Tessa doesn't even flick an ear at him.  When Tessa first arrived, we thought about turning her out with Manny for company but now that he's so attached that isn't an option.  He actually tried to climb the fence one night when she was in heat.  Tessa wanted NOTHING to do with that action!

So, anyway, there really isn't a spot where I can hang a stocking.  I visit Tessa in the daytime so she's always in somebody's stall and not outside anyway.  There's a small, terribly shallow part of me that wishes she was in a stall so I could decorate her stall and order her fancy name plates for it and get her cute stable blankets.  But the terribly practical part of me knows that she's better off spending more time outside.  The horses in stalls only get out every other day for turnout, but my pony is out every day!  Plus she is outside from around 4:00pm to about 9am in the morning so she gets more time than a stalled horse would.

Still - - seeing everyone's cute stockings and stall decorations has me the weenciest bit jealous.  To make up for it, maybe I'll put some antlers on the Princess and take some pictures of her.  She looks a bit like a little, grey yak these days anyways.  She can be a Christmas Yak!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Again with the Canter!

Cantered again yesterday.  This time, no trainer in sight.  It may have only been one twenty meter circle to the left and a half of a twenty meter circle to the right but it was cantering.  I asked for the transition, I rode the transition and then I asked for the downward transition.  Yeah!!

I am starting weekly massage and/or chiropractic treatment for my neck and shoulders.  I am also really trying to focus on exhaling and relaxing those muscles when I ride.  The nice thing about not having to spend so much time working past my fear, is that we can begin to work on things like my shoulders and how I must be tensing them the entire ride.

No barn for me today.  I am going out to dinner at Teatro Zin Zanni, which is this cool dinner theatre experience.  I am also coming down with a cold and have a sore throat and a runny nose and getting bundled up to go to the barn just isn't working for me this morning.  So instead, I have made myself a gigantic latte (the joys of having a home espresso machine) and am going to catch up on everyone's blogs.  Hope you all are having a great weekend!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Positive in the Negative

Today was gorgeous, sunny and cold.  My work was a bit out of control this morning and watching the blue skies out my window only added to my sense of frustration.  I wanted to go ride!  I finally made it out to the barn about two hours later than I usually do.  Pony was in her stall, lying down.  Lying down and eating some lunch.  She didn't bother getting up when I arrived.  She flicked an ear at me and went back to eating while she reclined.  I took this short video on my phone...I can't tell if it's going to work and I can't figure out how to turn it the other direction.  Oh technology.

She finally got up and we went to start grooming.  First, she pooped in the aisle.  Then she noticed there was sunlight and steam on the grass.  Her ears went up, her head went up and she snorted.  Which meant she snorted steam.  Which made her jump and tremble.  Oh, poor Pony.  I laughed at her.  It must be hard to be her some days.

She did seem uncomfortable today.  It could be from the harder riding we did yesterday, she was probably a little sore.  She was very gassy and very stuck.  All that lovely forward from the last week.  Gone!  But this time, rather than freaking out I just kept riding.  I congratulated myself on riding in a very busy arena which included a lunge lesson for a five year old.  I worked on keeping my hands low.  I pushed as hard as I felt comfortable pushing.  It was a short ride and one that likely would have left me defeated and depressed last month.  But this month?  Nope.  I groomed the pony and trimmed up her tail and generally fussed over her.  It was also good timing because I didn't feel compelled to do anything that might stretch my hip too much.  So all in all, a good day.

Cantering is a Pain in the.....Hip

The last time I cantered was about three months ago.  I strained a hip flexor (which are completely weakened due to a previous accident from years ago) and was on crutches for a few days and off of riding for a few weeks.  I thought that I had strained my hip flexor because I was pushing my outside leg too far back and curling it up.  This still may be the case, but after my lesson yesterday my hip flexor started aching.  This morning, it hurts to walk.  Not so bad that it will stop me but bad enough that I'm concerned about riding.  I don't want to make it worse.

I've been googling hip flexor strains and stretches and though I have a good idea of how to take care of it after I injure it, I need to figure out a game plan for strengthening it.  It seems like yoga, pilates and riding without stirrups are some of the best ways to help make my hip flexors more fit.  I have ordered the 10 minute Pilates videos from the library so I'm ready to go with that.

In the meantime, I need to decide if I'm going to go out and ride today and see if I can work through it or if I'm going to rest it and ice it.  I know the answer is probably rest and ice but I've only ridden once since Sunday!  And I had such a great lesson yesterday!  Waaaaahhhhhhhhh.  I may also call my massage therapist and see if she thinks a massage would help.  Sigh.  

But since it's still December and I said I would keep things positive - - I had a fantastic lesson yesterday!  And my hip flexor causing me distress is just a reminder that I need to strengthen my core and stretch more.  Because riding is a sport and I need to prepare my body properly before playing.  I'm grateful that I got the reminder early so I can fix it before things get out of hand.  And it might be a damn good excuse for an extra massage......

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Finally! A lesson!

I hadn't been out to the barn since Sunday and I was a little nervous about how things were going to go.      Luckily, the pony had been ridden the night before by S, so she hadn't just been sitting around for three days.

First we lunged.  And ran into a bit of a snag going to the right.  Princess decided that turning in and half rearing was more fun.  Especially since she figured out that totally threw me off and I would stop, get re-organized, trip over the lunge line, cuss a bit and then try again.  So she knew every time she turned in and spazzed out, it would give her a small break.  L put a stop to that.  She took over, pony spun, half reared and even did an all four feet off the ground leap.  L tapped her with the whip, stayed calm and focused and pony learned forward.  Then she had me come back in.  She was good as gold, but we worked on forward, forward, forward.

Then it was on to the riding lesson where we worked on....riding.  Yes, folks, we worked on riding.  We didn't talk about fear.  We didn't talk about spooking.  My heart wasn't in my throat.  We rode on the inside of a 20 meter circle and worked on pushing her out to the wall. 

Don't use your heel, just push with your leg.  Good.  When her head starts to come up and she loses forward tap her with the whip.  Good. Push with the inside leg into the outside rein.  Good.  Now the same thing doing a change of direction.  Good!  Now here you lose her shoulder.  Don't cross your rein there, keep it showing you where you want the circle to go.  Quiet hands.  Great.  Now walk.  Okay, now we're going to canter.

Okay, heart rate went up a bit.  L reminded me to sit back and to only worry about one thing, getting the canter and keeping it.  Transitions might be rough, but that will come.  Right now the focus is get into canter and go forward.  

Breathe.  Okay, forward trot.  Now stop thinking about it and just canter.  Yes.  Forward.  Tap if you need to.  Sit back.  Hands down, don't worry about her head, just get her forward.  Now ask for trot before she breaks.  Good!  Now let's go the other way.  

At this point, I got distracted and felt like I was falling apart.  L reassured me that the problem was most likely that my brain started over thinking it and to get afraid and the best thing for me to do is to just go right back into canter before I could make a big deal out of it.  So off we cantered to the right.  Yes!  Then back to the left.  Then to the right!!  Canter! Canter! Canter!

We must be pretty for our lesson!
The very best part of today's lesson was that it was a riding lesson.  Not a life lesson.  Not a lesson in 'is this the right horse for me'.  A riding lesson.  And now I'm going to go soak in the bath because it's been a while since I've actually had to work on riding.  Haha!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Three Days of No Pony!

I have work deadlines and laundry and parent obligations for the next three days so I won't be seeing the Princess until my lesson on Thursday.  I'm okay with that because we have had great rides every day since Thursday.  That's FOUR DAYS of decent-ness.  I rode again yesterday in a very busy arena and besides one spook, the pony was very good.

She does have two things going on right now.  Neither is related to my fear or bad riding though, how cool is that??!?!  Small victories are good!  So problem number 1 is that she seems to have a cough.  On Friday, she coughed a few times under saddle when I got her going.  She hadn't coughed on the lunge line so I thought maybe she just inhaled something funny.  I gave her a breather and she didn't cough after that.  Saturday she did the same thing.  Sunday, she actually was coughing before I put the bridle on.  It's a dry cough and she has no other symptoms, such as a runny nose or goopy eyes.  She coughed maybe five times in the cross ties.  Then after about fifteen minutes of riding she started coughing again.  So I cut my ride short just in case and have emailed L to see what she thinks.  There were some new horses that came in a few weeks ago that had snotty noses and coughs, but they are on the other side of the barn from us.  Of course, though I was careful not to pet them, you never know who else might have pet them and then pet my pony....

Problem number 2 is that with her gigantic fuzzball winter coat, my square pad seems to be rubbing her hair off.  L thinks it's because the pads are new and that they just need to be softened up with repeated washing.  They're not too long so I know it's not that, but I don't want her getting a bald spot this winter!  I might buy an extra pad after Christmas is over and see if switching pads helps.  The two pads I have are both inexpensive pads from VTO saddlery ($25 for super cute square pads!).  But maybe the edge is too stiff.  Any recommendations for super soft dressage pads would be appreciated!

Here's a picture of the pony with her stable blanket on.  This is a backup blanket if I decide to clip her.  So far she hasn't needed it so she's just a big hairball.  The giant man is my husband.  Pony is 15 hands but looks like she's 13.2 next to him!  Cuteness!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tap, Tap, Tap.....Hello?

Most of what I'm working on right now is forward.  A girl at my barn hopped on the pony yesterday and had the same challenge getting her forward.  It was a tiny bit satisfying for me ego to see that even a very competent rider had a hard time getting her forward.  Of course, in the next minute, I realized this also means that since I've been the only one riding her for the last few weeks that I'm the one that broke the gas pedal.  I'm of two minds about this:  the brave, rider in me knows that forward is the way to go and the panic side of me likes that if given an option, the pony's natural inclination is to slow down or stop.  The wonderful thing that came out of this, is that the girl who rode her for a few minutes yesterday, volunteered to help get her forward by riding her once a week in a jump saddle and just showing her how to gallop.  She said if the pony shows any interest, she might also jump her if I want.  I think it will be really good for Tess to have a once a week ride where her rider is showing her that forward can be fun.

But my title is about something else I've been pondering.  Tap, tap, tapping for forward.  There seem to be two schools of thought on instilling forward.  One is that you motivate the horse by asking first with the seat, then the legs, then the whip and that you then increase these aids consistently until the horse moves forward at which point you release.  The other is that you still start with seat and then legs and then whip, but after politely asking once with the whip you don't mess around.  You don't gently increase the pressure, you say "Pony, I've asked you three times and now it's time for you to take me seriously."  This usually results in either a jump in forward motion or a protest in the form of a kick or a buck followed by a jump in forward motion.  I can see why you would use both but I'm unclear on when each is appropriate and which is the most fair to the horse.

I know that with dogs and children (both of which I've actually had success with) you do NOT want to waste a bunch of time slowly increasing pressure.  Because they will then wait five, ten, fifteen times after you've said it, knowing that it's not going to get super uncomfortable until you've reached a boiling point.  And by that time, you've grown frustrated at asking them over and over and are likely to be unfair and over the top when you reach your increased pressure point.I know that with my child, once I feel she understands the rules (no four letter words) we move to the one warning phase.  If the behavior keeps coming back and I've warned her once and she continues to cuss, then I eliminate the warning phase.  This is always preceded by a conversation that "You know cussing isn't allowed, so if you choose to cuss you will have an immediate time out."  For reference, my little potty mouth is five.  So now, if a cuss word comes out of her mouth she gets a time out.  The time out is meted out fairly and without dramatics.  I'm not angry, I'm just matter of fact.  I usually say "Oh, I'm sorry you chose to say that.  You need to take a time out."  She wails and cries and apologizes and then gets angry and then gets sad and then comes around.  After a few of these, she has given up cussing.  It's not worth the hassle for her.

So, how does this relate to forward and how we ask?  Well, I'm not sure.  How do you know when your horse understands that the movement of your seat or your legs means forward?  After ten rides, twenty rides?  After six months?  A year?  When do you decide (or when do you know) that your horse understands what you're asking them?  I don't think horses are ever 'out to get us' or anything like that, but I can understand that my pony is a smart cookie and that she knows she can slow down and I'll just keep bump, bump bumping with my legs for two circles and then I''ll tap mildly and she'll swish her tail and it will be at least another three circles before I get up the gumption to smack her.  And then after I smack her, she knows that in four strides she can slow down and we'll start the process all over again.  Because for a horse, this 'laziness' is self preservation.  Why expend energy if you don't have to?

Anyways, those are my rambling, long thoughts on this process.  Now off to the barn to see what I can convince the pony to do today!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Intentions vs Expectations

Kate over at made an incredibly profound comment on my last blog about having intentions when we work with our horses, instead of expectations.  Boy howdy if that ain't the truth.  For the last three days I have gone out to the barn and left my expectations at the door.  Sure, I've had intentions.  I intend to ride the pony.  I intend to find good things in every day with her.  I intend to work on our forward.  I intend to sit back and tall and not let my legs creep up and forward.  Armed with these intentions, I move purposely into my time at the barn.  Having let go of any expectations for December, I'm finding that my time at the barn gets better in leaps and bounds.  My ride today was good and forward and I rode in a very busy arena with a lot going on.  The barn put Christmas lights up and Tess wasn't sure what she thought of those, but she got over it quickly and without much ado.

So thank you, Kate, for helping me define the difference between having an intention of doing something and an expectation of something getting done.  Intentions are what get my lazy, chickenshit ass to the barn and expectations are what drive me to drink.  I'm thinking letting go of expectations is the best gift I could give myself.  So Merry Christmas to me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December Goodness

Two good rides in a row.  Yes please!  L's partner (also a trainer) even said "You have a different horse." because the pony was being so good.  Our ride was short but I wanted to end on a good note and not bore us silly.

Today was Goat Boot Camp for the pony.  The scary corner of the arena is the corner that the goat lives behind.  Yes, we have a goat at the barn.  She lives in a pen on one side of the barn.  It's not the side that Tess stays in during the day so she's never actually seen much of the goat.  This is the most she's ever seen of the goat.   The next picture is the pony's usual reaction to the corner that the goat is behind.  This is her "omigodwhatisoverthere?!?!" stance.
And the last picture is her just hanging out in the corner, though obviously still uptight.  The mounting block and muck bucket are on the wall that the goat lives behind, so now you have some perspective.  This is the corner that we don't ride in.  Even hand walking her over there, she has a limit to where she'll go.  Since I have been nervous about it, I haven't been helping her so today L had me do a little Pony Goat Camp where we walked over the other side of the barn and showed her the goat.  She was a very brave pony and stood still, but did not trust that goat at all.  There was an empty stall across the aisleway from the goat so we ended up putting her in there and letting her hang out and mellow out.  When I last left her, she had settled down to eat but would pop her head up every minute with her mouth full of hay.  Just to make sure that goat didn't escape or something.

I'm excited to start being the leader that Tess needs to explore her world.  I think we're going to make a point of visiting different barn aisles and maybe grooming her on the other side of the barn, so that she learns she can be quiet in all cross ties, not just the familiar ones.  I see long walks in our future together. It will be interesting to see if showing her the goat on the other side of the wall makes any difference.  I wonder if she'll make that connection?

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I know it's not New Years quite yet, but I have a resolution for December.  After reading through some of my past posts and having a good talk with L today, I am going to focus, focus, focus on ONLY the positive things.  Every time I blow a molehill up into Mt. Everest, it gets worked out within a day or two.  But the more I keep calling it a mountain, the bigger it looks!  So I'm putting on my rose colored glasses for the month of December.  I will be Susy Sunshine.  I will be PollyAnna.  I will be Maria from the Sound of Music (omigod I LOVE that movie by the way.)  I may have made lists before, but if you have to make a list it's not positive enough.  So from here on out there will be facts and there will be accomplishments and there will be optimism.  For those Debbie Downers out there, yes I am going to now enter the world of rainbow pooping unicorns.

So, now that we're past the resolutions bit let me tell you about today's lesson.  We were rock stars.  We've been having some forward issues and L helped me work through some of that on the lunge.  When the Princess would slow down and shake her head at me, I snapped the whip and pushed her forward.  Kicking out?  Forward!  Backing and half rearing?  Forward!  The answer was always forward.  So before I even got on, we had established that the word of the day was Forward.

Once I was on, we went very quickly into working on our trot which over the last week has gotten sticky and slow.  I'm not even exaggerating that within ten minutes we were a changed team.  L showed me how to put my hands wide and NOT pull, just to keep some connection.  So I put my hands wide when her head went up and just tapped with the whip.  She tried three or four times to come back to that, but when she found that it wasn't effective, she stopped.  Just like that!  We spent the rest of the lesson doing transitions from walk to trot to walk.  Transition on a circle.  Transition on a line.  Transition in the middle of a bend.  By the end of our lesson we were almost on the bit during our transition and even had some downward leaning into contact.

L and I also talked about expectations, which are the root of my unhappiness lately.  She said that every day I come out and spend with my horse is a good day, no matter what we accomplish or don't accomplish.  She also pointed out that I have completely lost of sight of where I was a month ago (in case you forgot, I was terrified to ride and only rode about 2 days a week.).  These days I am out at the barn 5-6 days a week and I ride every time.  These days I'm working on keeping my horses attention and transitions.  Did we have to talk about fear today?  Not really.

The last thing we talked about was my panicky pony, who continues to tremble when a horse in the aisle way kicks or someone walks by the gate.  And by tremble, I mean she wants to get the hell out of there.  L said that she really believes that will go away on it's own in time.  Part of where L and Trainer #1 disagree is that Trainer #1 was really pushing the pony with strong, driving aids and a fair amount of whip.  L thinks that since the Princess doesn't have confidence, that she is now scared of the spooky thing AND scared she'll get punished for it.  She thinks this also will just dissolve as the pony learns that's not going to happen.  With me, when she spooks we simply go back to work and that is all.

L also said that she was really, really impressed by how mellow my pony was for a five year old.  She said that if I had been working with her she would have never let me buy a five year old (ha!  As if Trainer #1 would have let me.  I bought my pony because I'm old enough to make my own stupid mistakes thank you very much.) but then went on to say that my horse has an amazing temperament.  She said she thought she would make an excellent lesson program horse because she takes things in stride.  She also said that a year from now I will be amazed at the difference.  A year?  Hell, it's been a month and I already am.

Happy December everyone!  I'm excited for my month of sunshine and flowers even if it is cold, dark and rainy here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Since I have been riding five days a week I have noticed a disturbing trend.  My neck is sore and my shoulders are sore.  Sometimes so bad that my shoulder will spasm painfully.  I have re-arranged my home office so that the monitor, chair and desk are at the appropriate height so I know it's not that.  Also, I didn't work much the week of Thanksgiving.  But I did ride.  And even though I try REALLY HARD to relax my shoulders and arms and neck, I must not be getting it.  I have knots the size of boulders in both shoulders and can't move my neck enough to really look over either shoulder.  Not good.

I went to see a chiropractor and he did x-rays and all that and stated the obvious.  I have shortened tendons in my neck and shoulders from having my shoulders up around my ears all the time.  He recommended that I see him three times a week for a month.  Which would be fine if my insurance covered it, but sadly I have a co-pay of $35.00 a visit.  Which means that month would cost me approximately $420.00.  Well, I don't have $420.00 right now so that's off the table.  Massage comes with the same problems.  Massages around here are about $70 an hour.

Though both these things would be helpful, it seems like I am not in a financial position to pursue either one at this time.  Which leaves me with home care.  I have been putting heat on my shoulders off and on during the day and trying to do some gentle stretches.  I'm not sure if it's helping but at least the problem isn't getting worse.

When I'm riding, I'm trying to relax my shoulders more but to be honest I'm not really sure how.  I think I'm probably pulling them back with as much tension as I was hunching them to my ears.  I'm hoping to pick up some books on rider fitness for Christmas (my library doesn't have any.  Lame.) but in the meantime do you stretch before you ride?  Any stretches for necks and shoulders?  I'm hoping that as my fear decreases, my shoulders will resume their normal position at the base of my neck instead of crowded up around it.  Also, if it doesn't work out with the Princess I'm going to buy one of these instead.  Haha!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Not enough sleep last night coupled with nightmares that woke me up over and over means I have been tired and out of sorts all day.  But today is a barn day so I made myself get out there.  It's dark and gloomy out today and my barn doesn't turn on the arena lights during the day.  Which means that you're riding the gloom of an indoor arena with only two open spaces on each side.  Also, because horses have a hard time switching from dark to light, this means that every.single.time anything happens outside the two light spaces, my pony spooked.  One minute she's on the bit, listening to me, marching forward and the next minute she's got her head in the air and we're galloping (okay, we galloped for three strides) away.  So then my adrenaline is up and I'm clenching and fighting off tears.  I'm tired and I just want to go home and have some hot chocolate and take a bath.  But I know I'm supposed to work through this stuff so I soldier on.  We try trotting, which leads to her head creatively flung in the air making circles with her nose while she pretends to pop into canter.  So I try to push her into canter to show her I'm in charge, which leads to me leaning forward and flapping my arms like a chicken and the pony just slinging her head around swishing her tail.  So I tap her with my whip.  Tail swish.  Tap her again and she bucks, which makes me lean forward and feel like crying again.

We went back to walk and did some walk/trot transitions.  They weren't bad.  They weren't good.  Slump shouldered and depressed, I brushed her off (in the dark aisle way because the barn owner's don't want to turn those on either unless it's *actually* dark out), put her blanket back on and left.

I have learned a few things today.  One is that when I haven't had enough sleep, I am wrecked.  Facing fear is not something to try when you are missing sleep.  And I need to realize that's what I'm doing every time I go to the barn; I'm facing my fear.  Two is that not only do I need to not expect to move forward, but I need to expect that sometimes I will move distinctly and painfully backward and that's just part of it.

Still - there's that question for me.  The question of spending $1,000 a month on something that is this hard.  Maybe I'm trying to live up to the rider I used to be.  Maybe this horse was the horse for the rider I used to be.  I know I said yesterday that I could be patient, but days like this make it hard.  I'm going to go have a bath and some hot chocolate and probably a good cry.  My lesson is on Thursday so I'm hoping the pendulum swings back the other way.

p.s. I swear I'm not this pessimistic or whiny in my real life.  Besides my questionable horse decisions, the rest of my life is pretty kick-ass.

p.p.s.  Days like this are also the kind of days where I think I should switch barns or send the pony to a trainer who will just put miles on her.  If I knew of someone that was far away but not too expensive I think I would do that for the winter.  Give her some 'real life' education to help her cope with things.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Right Here, Right Now

So today's exercise was to go to the barn and work with the horse I have right now.  To really be with her and see what it felt like.  Here are some observations about today, in no particular order.

1.  She nickered when I came in the barn.  No, it was not breakfast.  No, I did not give her carrots.  In fact, I have ONLY been giving her one carrot in her feed bin at the END of the ride.  I passed by her stall four times before I actually took her out and EVERY time she nickered at me and pricked her ears.  Previously I had believed Trainer #1 when she told me that she was just nickering for food.  Now, I'm thinking my pony *might* actually be nickering at me!

2.  She was so quiet in the cross ties.  She pinned her ears when I brushed her belly but I just ignored it and kept doing my thing.  She gave up quickly and I moved on.  We both exhaled.

3.  Her lunging was better today, with more transitions and more attention.  She has learned so much about lunging in the month she's been doing it.  Our lunge sessions have gone from 20 minutes of crazy town, to two minutes each way of smooth transitions.

4.  She's standing better at the mounting block, even if she did walk off today.  She stopped right away and let me fuss with reins and stirrup leathers.

5.  Our trot was more forward today.  I worked on being lighter and more relaxed and helping her move forward and into contact.

6.  I got frustrated with her being spooky (she actually spooked at her own poop because it was steaming...seriously, how Arab is that?) and started to yank.  I was tense, frustrated and heavy handed.  The pony took it all in stride, protesting by flipping her head and swishing her tail and going completely upside down for half of a circle.  We were probably both making the same face.  But you know what?  She didn't take off, she didn't do anything naughty, she just told me I was being tense and heavy handed.  Fair enough.

7.  At the end of our ride, I let her walk around on a loose rein and go wherever she wanted.  She went down to the other end of the arena a few times at a nice clip.  I then used that pace and that relaxed walk and took the contact back up.  We were soft, forward and relaxed.  Done!

8.  She practically fell asleep as I groomed her after her ride.  Even on her back legs.

9.  She let me clean out her girly bits (though not her teats quite yet) which get dirt and crap collected in the folds.  I have never met a horse so filthy in this particular area.  But she just closed her eyes and let me clean it up for her.  Good pony.

10.  When I put her back in the stall she went to say hi to her next door neighbor and then came back to say hi to me.  She even let me give her a hug and bury my nose in her sweet, pony smelling neck.

I think the Heart Horse discussion was good for me.  It has made me realize that when we both trust each other, the question of perfection is no longer a question.  It's just our journey that we're on together.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Perfect Pony List

In the ten minutes since I posted my last entry I was thinking about my list of what I want in a horse and what would make my pony a perfect pony.  Maybe my problem is I am focusing on all the things I don't want in a horse.  Animals respond to body language and our bodies often correspond with our emotions which come from our thoughts.  For example if I'm thinking about the pony spooking there are a series of things that happen.  I think about spooking, my brain shows me a picture of spooking, I may create a short movie or series of pictures where I see the pony spooking, my body reacts to these by increasing tension, which then turns into fear, which then goes outward in the form of tense muscles, shallow breathing and a change in smell.  I was once in an armed takeover robbery when I worked at the bank and I can tell you for certain that fear has a smell and your body will sweat fear when you are afraid.  Animals have a keener sense of smell and I know they can smell this change.  But back to the spooking.  So if I've spent a lot of time thinking and worrying about spooking, I'm almost guaranteed a spook.

So maybe all my obsessing about what's wrong with my horse is just leading to more wrong-ness.  So now I'm going to make a list of what I want in my perfect horse and maybe if my brain just thinks about that and not about what's wrong, the pony will start to look more and more like this horse.

My Perfect Pony List:

1.  Lovebug on the ground.  Wants to be with you.
2.  Stands quietly in cross ties
3.  Stands quietly when tied overall.
4.  Lets you touch/brush/rub her anywhere without biting or kicking or threatening.
5.  Lets you give her a bath/clip/groom/braid/saddle/bridle without biting, kicking or threating.
6.  Stands quietly in wash stall.
7.  Moves forward off the leg, quietly and without argument
8.  Is curious and confident
9.  Is safe on the ground and under saddle
10.  Is not over reactive under saddle
11.  Is forgiving of my mistakes

And here's what I imagine the Pony's list looks like.   So we can be fair about this, right?

My Perfect Partner List (by Tess)

1. Listens to me when I give small signals
2.  Is clear about she expects
3.  Gives as much as she takes
4.  Allows me to be a horse and be interested in things.  (I imagine her rolling her eyes and saying "I just wanted to see what was happening out there and we were just doing stupid 20 meter circles anyway."
5.  Gives me time to process things
6.  Rewards me when I do something well
7.  Gives me time to quiet down.
8.  Doesn't nag with the leg or seat
9.  Doesn't pull/yank/crank on the reins
10.  Is not over reactive when I am scared
11.  Is forgiving of my mistakes

I think we both want the same things when all is said and done, but can I be that owner for her?  And can she be that pony for me?

Heart Horse

Lately the term 'heart horse' has come up in my perusings of the internet.  As far as I can tell, your heart horse is the horse that is your equine soulmate.  People that own their heart horse may struggle, but they always come back to how they feel about their horse which is so strong that the struggle is worth it.  At least this seems to be what I'm reading about.

I wonder about this (and worry..duh...who would I be if I didn't worry about it!) and I think a lot about my current horse and my past horses.  I'm not sure I've had a heart horse even though I've had six horses and leased a few others.  I have loved them all in their own way, but there wasn't one horse that felt like it was 'it' for me. 

It's raining and windy today and I'm skipping going out to the barn in favor of hanging out with my family and doing some Christmas decorating.  But what's bothering me is that I still don't really *want* to go to the barn.  That my ride yesterday wasn't horrible, but it wasn't much fun.  Princess was spooky and inattentive and sucked back and above the bit.  We had some success with her being nice and quiet in the cross ties and letting me clean some scurf off her back legs, but I don't feel bonded with her.

Am I putting too much pressure on us?  Maybe.  I've now owned her a little over six months and have only started really trying to fix our relationship for about a month (right when I started blogging actually).  But I still contemplate if she's the right horse for me.  How different would things be if I had a horse that I knew was going to stand quietly while I brushed her.  A horse that I felt confident working on my seat with, maybe even a horse I could work on riding without stirrups.  Would I want to go out to the barn today if I had a horse that I could practice wrapping polo wraps on without fear of getting kicked in the face? 

I looked at quiet, well trained schoolmasters and tried quite a few.  They were almost all lovely, well behaved gentleman.  One cute little Arab even followed me around like a dog.  But I didn't feel a pull for him.  I didn't think about him after I left the barn.  The Princess was the only horse that after I left I was excited.  And nervous.  But I couldn't stop thinking about her.  She seemed like a diamond in the rough at the time.  She was underweight, out of shape and a total love bug.

Six months later (and having six months of pro training behind her) she seems more rough than diamond.  She pins her ears when you brush her girth.  She kicks when you touch her *there* (warning kicks but still kicks), she waves her back feet around and tries to yank them away, she freaks out in the wash stall, she spooks almost every single ride, she bucks or kicks out at the whip.  She pins her ears when I walk in front of her in the cross ties, she wants to nip when I fasten the front of her blanket...the list goes on of minor things that shouldn't matter. 

If Princess were my boyfriend I would be breaking up with her.  I would be telling my friends that no relationship should be this hard and if you have a list of complaints like the one I have, that it's just not the right person.  But she's not my boyfriend, she's my pony.  And I worry that the problem is just me and my confidence.  Once upon a time I was a decent rider and loved the challenge of a green (but sane) horse.  I loved the feeling of taking a horse from knowing nothing to being a solid citizen.  Can I get that back?  Or am I wasting my time with a horse that's not my heart horse??  I also realize that if I did want to sell the pony, it would likely be a long expensive process since I would have to pay someone to sell her for me and all the trainers around here require full time training to sell a horse for you.

As you can see from my incredibly long post, I have questions upon questions about this pony.  This is part of why I'm keeping this blog.  So that I can remind myself that there will be days like this.  The other part (and my favorite part) has been hearing other people's stories and getting great advice from people who have been there.

p.s.  Is it just me or does it seem like a lot of women buy the wrong horse when they get back into horses as an adult??  It seems like there are a lot of stories of the *first* horse being the wrong one.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Show Me Your Teeth

I would like to pat myself on the back for a moment.  About two weeks ago, the pony seemed to be having an increasingly hard time with wanting to rub the bridle off and being fussy and all that.  I mentioned to L that I thought she might need her teeth done.  She just turned 5 in May and had a cursory filing right when I bought her, but that was 6 months ago.  L didn't think that was a problem and said she was probably fine.

The vet came out today to give Tess her winter shots and the first thing L said to me when I got there was "She needs her teeth done badly."  Ha!  I was right!!  So, score one for intuition.  I'm excited to see how she changes after she gets her teeth done.  They will be letting me know when they are going to set up a group dentist appointment but I hope it's soon.

I haven't been to the barn yet today, but here's a picture of Tess in her new PINK blanket.  Because having the only tiny, grey Arabian mare in a barn full of giant, bay thoroughbreds wasn't enough.  I had to dress her in pink.

Surfing the Wave

Went out to the barn today fully expecting to have to deal with the iron fist of fear again.  I decided to give myself time.  As much time as I needed.  Tess got her shots this morning so there was a chance I wouldn't even be able to ride, depending on my timing.  I decided no matter what happened it would be okay.  I was going to just let the day happen.

Right when I got there I was told that the pony was hyped up and needed to stretch her legs, so we put her in the indoor arena.  She made a few laps with tail up, snorting at her reflection in the mirrors and sliding to a stop at the gate.  Then I remembered I had brought my camera.  So of course, after I got the camera out she just wanted to hang out and be mellow.  I know that I could have made her run for the sake of pictures, but I'm working on seeing the pony as a calm, mellow horse and less of a fire breathing dragon so watching her gallop around the arena wasn't my first priority.

Here are some photos of her hanging around in the arena.  Isn't she pretty?  The vet said I looked like a proud parent today with my camera.  

So after I was done snapping a thousand and one pictures, I saddled up.  I was pretty nervous so I told myself I didn't have to ride.  I didn't even put on my tall boots so there was no pressure.  I had watched a video on this morning about respect and lunging and how to engage your horse more, so when she wasn't listening well on the lunge I took her off and worked on disengaging her hindquarters.  Then we worked on reacting to the whip when I tapped her with it.  Then we disengaged the hindquarters again.  At the end of fifteen minutes she was licking, chewing and watching me carefully.  I felt really, really good.  She walked when I walked, stopped when I stopped, backed up respectfully if she was in my space.   I was in charge.  So I got on.  Our walk work started off a little shaky.  There was a lot going on and pony wanted to see if I was *really* going to make her pay attention.  Yes, yes I was.  

We went into trot and things fell apart the way they have been.  By this time there was an audience, including Trainer #1 who has been very passive aggressive about my defection to L.  My confidence plummeted, the pony took over and we were slogging around a 20 meter circle with me bouncing all over and her taking canter hop steps and flinging her head backwards.  Tapping with the whip resulted in a buck and more head flinging.  I felt the ball of tension firing up in my stomach and my arms turned to iron.  I dragged her around, flustered and frustrated and embarrassed.  Then I remembered what L said last week....if it falls apart, go back to where it's good and start over.  So we walked.  And worked on marching in the walk.  Then we tried trotting again.  It fell apart again.  So we walked and walked.  Success.  Trot.  Fail.  Walk.  Success.  Walk to trot.  Fail.  Trot to walk, tap with whip. Success.  Walk to trot.  One step of success!  Walk again. Walk to trot.  Trot to walk.  By this time, I've forgotten there's anyone there but me and the pony.  I don't care what I look like.  I don't care when we fall apart because we're learning.  Walk to trot.  Ask for more forward trot.  She canter hops.  Bring her down, push the trot forward and ask for canter.  And we're cantering!!  I'm tucking my seat and sitting back and then bringing her back down into a forward, gorgeous trot.  Before it can fall apart we walk again.  Then we got the other way.  Walk. Trot. Fail. Walk. Success. Walk. Trot.  Canter step.  Okay, we'll canter then!  And we canter the other way until I bring her into another perfect forward trot.  We stop then and there are congratulatory pats for the pony and lots of "Good  Girls"  But when I'm praising her, I'm also praising myself.  I stuck with it.  I wasn't afraid.  I was all sorts of other emotions, but I was NOT afraid.

We ended our ride at the scary end of the arena which we usually don't venture into.  We just stood there, her and I, watching the horses outside enjoy the sunshine.  I patted her rump and she blew a long exhale out her nose and I knew we were going to be just fine, her and I.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Need a Drink

I had my lesson yesterday.  I was a tense ball of fear for most of it.  I came close to tears at least four times because I was just so afraid and frustrated.  The pony is just being a pony and doing what is VERY normal for a young, green horse.  She is experimenting with what other answers might be acceptable.  So her new answer is to flip her neck upside down to avoid contact and at the same time do a canter hop step, swish her tail and slow down.  This is when I ask her to go forward.  So then (theoretically) I should follow up with the whip to enforce my leg.  I did.  She bucked.  I panicked.  I exhaled.  L was very calm and reminded me to breathe and sit back and ask again.  We had a few nice moments in the lesson, but for the most part I didn't have that breakthrough moment where you get it and the horse submits and it's all good.  Instead, Princess and I fought for leadership and control with both of us getting stiffer and crabbier.

At one point, L had me dismount and we talked about my whip.  She made sure that the pony was giving the right response to the whip by tapping her gently with it.  No problems there.  Then she just laid the whip on her hindquarters, by her flank.  Pony swished her tail.  She left the whip sitting there.  Pony pinned pears.  She didn't move the whip.  Pony hunched her back, swished her tail, lifted a hind leg.  Aha!  I have been tickling Princess with the whip because I'm too afraid to just use it.  She's a horse that has hind end issues (remember how I can't pick up her hind feet?  Did I mention that when I got her she was explosive about anything near her rear end??) and I have been letting my whip dangle back there and then rather than tapping her with it, I just sort of tickle her.

So, I have a few things for homework this week.  One - do groundwork with the whip.  Try to desensitize her to just having the whip laying on her.  Also, make sure she is moving when I tap her with the whip.  Do not tickler her with it, tap her with it.  Two - Do not let go of contact when she goes upside down.  Do not throw her the reins.  If she does not go forward with the legs, keep contact and reinforce with a tap of the whip.  If she bucks, tap again.  Three - Stop asking when she's going forward.  This was in another lesson of mine, but it bears repeating.  If the pony is going forward, stop nagging her!  I have a horrible tendency to cluck, squeeze, cluck, squeeze over and over again.  Pony is very likely irritated and/or confused.  And I have already figured out the if the pony doesn't know what you're doing and you don't know what you're doing, she'll do what any sensible little mare would do and take over for you.

L and I also had a good chat about expectations.  After my amazing lesson last week, this week has been a big disappointment.  It's been hard to go back to dealing with my base emotions again and to feel inept all over again.  L said that when you're dealing with a green horse, you can't count on amazing rides like last week.  You have to think of them as gifts because training is a process and some days it magically comes together, but that there a lot of days where you're just helping the horse figure it out.  Add in my fear component and I should pat myself on the back every time I come out and get on the horse.  Period.  The End.

Still, after this lesson, every  muscle screamed and I just wanted to go home and pour myself a big glass of wine.  I won't get to ride again until Friday or even Saturday.  The horses are getting their shots on Friday so I'm not sure if the timing will be right for me to ride. I will have some adorable pictures of the Princess in her new blanket though.  It's sitting in a bag in my living room and it's so cute I can hardly stand it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Back to Neutral

Thank you for all of your kind words in the comments on the last post.  It means SO much to me to know that I'm not the only one.  To know that there are people who have felt the exact same way and then moved past it is wonderful.

I went out to the barn today.  Pony hadn't been worked in two days so lunging was not as smooth as it could have been.  Plus, someone had set up ground poles in the 'safe' end of the arena so we had to try and lunge in the scary side.  Considering we haven't done anything down there, she did alright.  Her circles were small and lopsided (avoiding the scary corner where the goat lives) and she lost focus when the tractor went by, but overall she did okay.  At one point she was a bit out of control and pulling and jumping and I just wanted to give up and walk away.  But I made myself bring her back down, take a deep exhale and keep trotting.

Our riding was in some ways wonderful (only one little spook and it felt totally manageable) and in some ways not so wonderful.  She is now going up instead of forward when I ask for more trot.  I used my legs and then followed up with the whip and she bucked and then didn't go forward.  I tried sitting back and taking hold of her mane when her head came up so that I felt less like I was going to fall off.  But then she'd put her head back down and slow down.  She's not in danger of major rearing, it's more she's taking an evasive canter-hop-step.  However, I know she needs to believe me when I say go forward.  It was pretty frustrating knowing that I'd like to be firm, but my body language is saying "Oh crap!".  I kept riding though and made sure to end on a good note.

So, my lesson is tomorrow and I can at least say that I brought my fear back to neutral today.  And though it wasn't the bubbling joy of Thursday's lesson, it was at least a place that was neither good nor bad.  And, I did it.


The worst thing about being afraid is how persistent fear is.  How fear sits next to you and holds your hand, strokes your forehead and your hair and tells you that you should just go lay down.  How fear snakes through your stomach while soothing your mind into thinking you're sick.  I have general anxiety about things and have been working on it for the past year, but today I just want to go back to bed.  When fear has been your strongest relationship for the last fifteen years, it's hard to break up.  Every day I confront my fear.  My fear of getting hurt at the barn, my fear of throwing up and passing out while driving (did I mention fear is also totally irrational but can convince you that it's totally valid), my fear of judgement from other people, my fear of making parenting mistakes and raising a serial killer.  I stare fear down on a regular basis and I always come out the other side.  But fear is strong and we're still in the middle of our wrestling.  And today I'm tired.

I don't want to push down these vague, uneasy feelings today.  I don't want to go to the barn and fight through the nausea that will rise up as I make the twenty minute drive.  I don't want to have to give myself a pep talk about training my horse and not letting her train me.  I don't want to focus on breathing out and relaxing my shoulders and being the leader in the relationship.  I want to get back in my pajamas and crawl into bed.  I want to stay in  my safe house and eat toast and hot chocolate and watch the rain and wind move through.

Tomorrow is supposed to be stormy, with high winds and lots of rain predicted.  I have my weekly lesson scheduled for tomorrow and I'm already afraid.  I don't want to go out in crazy windy weather and ride.  I know I sound like a petulant child, but I'm so afraid.  And then I'm angry at myself for being afraid.  And then I'm depressed that I'm so afraid.  But I know that if I take a break it will get worse.  If I don't go out to the barn this week, then I will just have a young horse that has had a whole week off.

I will go to the barn today.  I will suck it up. I wonder how much of this is because the last ride I had on Friday was not a good ride and then Saturday she had something funny on her elbow/shoulder.  I couldn't go out yesterday so it's now been since Thursday that I had a success.  The rational part of my brain sees all of this and is nodding and going "Yes, yes.  Of COURSE that's it!" but then good ol fear jumps in and says "Why do you own a horse you're afraid of?  Why are you even dealing with horses?  This isn't fun.  This is never going to be fun.  You're never going to get it.  And I'm pretty sure you're gonna puke today.  Go back to bed."

Hopefully I will have a post about this afternoon that will turn this around.  If nothing else, I will have stared fear down for one more day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Possible Setback

Pony had a weird fluid feeling in her shoulder.  No pain upon palpation, but when I lunged her she looked fine one way and kind of off the other way.  Of course, I can't really tell if a horse is 'off' unless it's head-bobbing-lurching-dead-lame.  The only other person around was another boarder who came out and watched and agreed I should hold off on riding.  I have sent an email to L (who is not only my trainer but the barn owner) and am waiting to hear back.  If it is even anything, I doubt it's anything serious.  But no riding today, which is a bit of a shame since I wanted to get over the sticky forward problem today.  I would also be lying if I didn't say it was a bit of a relief.  Going up instead of forward has definitely pushed a button with me and I'm not sure if I'm ready to fix it without someone holding my hand.

In other news, Pony still can't lift her back feet safely and she's developed a bit of thrush in the fronts.  She likely has thrush in the backs since I can't (don't) clean them out due to safety issues.  I am going to ask L if she knows anyone who would want to trade riding time in exchange for picking out her feet regularly.  I am just out of money and can't afford to pay someone, but the Pony needs experience!  She will pick up her back feet, but does it very quickly and then waves them around and snatches them back.  Then when you go to pick them up again, she snatches even faster.  I have to admit, I am disappointed that after 6 months of professional training with a trainer (who is also a trimmer and did her feet) she is only marginally better.  I know that you're not supposed to put a time limit on things like these but what is a reasonably expectation for a horse to be able to pick up her back feet calmly?

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Trainer in My Head

I like that I hit publish accidentally and now everyone can see a post with no content called 'The Trainer in My Head.'  The fact that there aren't words pretty much sums it up.  But, for those of you who want to know more, here are some words about this afternoons ride.

First of all, I am fighting off a cold AND I'm PMS'ing AND I have cold sore (while I'm complaining) AND it's kinda cold out today (about 40 degrees and rainy).  It's an indoor, pajamas and popcorn kind of day.  But I dragged myself out to the barn anyway since we had such a great lesson yesterday.  Warm up went fine, lunging went fine, grooming was fine.  Got on and the walk was fine.  In fact, it was pretty good.  The trot?  Miserable.  Shuffling.  Head tossing.  Going to the right we were fine.  A little sluggish but listening and round.  To the left.  We fell apart.

Here's where the Trainer In My Head starts saying 'Forward! Forward!  You must push her forward!' and the little me, the baby Panic screams (in my head, don't worry, I'm not THAT crazy yet) "I CAN'T!! IF I TOUCH HER WITH THE WHIP SHE WILL GO UP!! LOOK AT HER CRAZY HEAD!!'

And sure enough, the Pony's head was not just above the bit but above the bridle.  Nose in the air, head in the air, front feet slightly elevated doing a hoppity hop.  She had done this once or twice in my lesson yesterday and L had mentioned that this would likely be her next evasion now that I've figured out how to keep her attention with my inside rein and leg.  But I was unprepared and afraid.  I tried to push her forward.  I tried to let her go into canter.  When I felt like I was pushing her forward I am positive that what I was actually doing was throwing away the contact, flapping my arms like chicken wings and leaning forward in the fetal position.  And in response, the Pony would bob up and up, head flipped backwards into my lap.

I looked for a good representation of how Arabians can do this.  They have cornered the market on the backwards head toss.  This horse is in the pasture but it gives you an idea of their amazing flexibility.  Not surprisingly, I can't find any pictures of horses under saddle doing this.  Nobody wants to admit this stuff happens when they're riding.

So Pony is flipped her head up and backwards, hollowing her back and going slightly up.  I know the answer is forward, but today my fear got the better of me.  Especially because I have a lot of fear around getting hit in the face.  Did I mention that a month before I bought my pony I had my two front teeth knocked out by a horse I was going to buy?  Yep.  She failed the pre-purchase exam and as I was putting her shoulder guard back on over her head, she flipped her head violently and smashed my jaw shut which shattered my front teeth.  So I'm kinda funny about my face around horses these days.  And with pony bringing her head backwards towards my face, it was all I could do not to just get off right there. I did make sure to do one more circle and get a portion of it right, but we were falling apart.  So we halted and then I just sat on her, trying to breathe and watching some of the other riders.  I find the other thing that's challenging for me is to have a bad day in front of really good riders.  It's hard to not let that become a factor in riding.  Because it's bad enough to know you're not doing it right, but to see it being done SO right by the other people in the arena can be intimidating.  Ah well.

Today is a good reminder that you can go from having THE BEST DAY EVER to having a really frustrating ride and that it's all part of the process.  I'll be going back out tomorrow with a new perspective and trying again.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lesson #5 I've Got Rhythm!

This was our best lesson yet.  Of course, I could say that about every lesson.  It's amazing to be seeing tangible, real progress from week to week.  This last week I have focused on letting go of the tension in my arms and using my core instead.  I no longer ache in my arms and Tessa is moving forward more freely and willingly.

The things we focused on today were making sure I didn't let my reins get too long.  Since I have a small Arab mare, she has a very flexible neck and I have a bad habit of letting the reins slip away.  I also have busy hands. It's funny because I've been told that before, but today I finally figured out WHY my hands were busy.  Which for me, makes all the difference when you're trying to solve it.  My hands are busy because I think I'm releasing.  Except my taking of the reins and releasing is more like jiggling non stop.  Trainer #2 ...let's start calling her L, shall we?  That's a little more personal than Trainer #2.  So, L came over and showed me how to take hold of the rein and when she tips her nose in, it will automatically release the pressure.  Duh.  I knew this in principle.  She then started poking my thigh rapidly.
"Is this annoying?"  she asked.
"Yes" I said, wanting to move my thigh away from her.
"What do you want to do?" she asked, still poking me in the thigh.
"Move my leg away from you and then maybe kick you so you don't do it again."
"Now how about this?"  She changed the pressure from poking to a single, long squeeze.  "Is this annoying?"

Ding!Ding!  Lightbulb!  Pony has been tossing her head around looking for the answer because my jiggling hands were offering her no release.  I switched to a holding rein where once she tipped her nose in it automatically released and voila!  Round pony for more than two strides!

I continue to work on controlling the shoulders, as sometimes she bulges a shoulder and just heads a different direction from where I want to go.  Mostly she does this when I'm not riding every stride though, so it's really just a not so subtle reminder to pay attention.

The other thing we worked on at the end is rhythm.  This is amazing to me.  We worked on rhythm!  This means that we have come so far out of the fear that we are working on actual training/riding issues!!!!  This is huge!!!  So we worked on maintaining a forward marching rhythm in the walk and then a forward rhythm in the trot.  At one point, L even said she was really lifting herself and said that she looked lovely and was a super cute mover!  Yeah for compliments!!!

Pony offered to canter a few times when working on forward and L had me go ahead and let her canter and then keep her cantering before I brought her back down.  We have not been cantering so we kind of fell apart, but L pointed out the main thing is to make sure that coming down to a trot is always my idea.  So if she drops into a trot earlier, we MUST go back to canter, even if it's only for one stride.  Then it needs to be my idea to come back down to trot.

All in all, I feel like I have made lots of progress.  It's been barely over a month and I went from not riding because I was so afraid, being physically ill before each lesson because I was so nervous and making the decision the put my horse on the market to riding 5 days a week and starting to work on rhythm in the trot!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Taking Back the Power!

Thank you for the feedback about the bit.  Though I don't have photographic evidence, I adjusted my bit to sit lower.  It's *almost* too low, but she looks much, much more comfortable and didn't gape her mouth nearly as much.

I also had my saddle looked at by Trainer #2's partner (who is also a trainer...Trainer #3??  hahaha) and she said that it seemed to fit just fine.  She recommended I try riding without the Thinline pad I've been using to see if it puts less pressure on her shoulders.  It could have been I was more relaxed (cause I was!) or it could be that it did the trick but the pony was much more forward, much less cranky and we had an overall really great ride.  She did say that because of Tess' confirmation, her shoulders are VERY far back and that I would want to watch that.  But she also said her shoulders are SO far back that she's not sure you could even find a saddle that would clear them.  Interesting.  I will be googling this later......

Sometimes I don't realize how much I've come to depend on other people's advice and opinions and how much I've given my power away.  Why did I ride with a bit that was too tight for so long?  Because I let Trainer #1 adjust it and then I blamed everything else on my tense hands.  I never thought to adjust it.  I never thought to ride WITHOUT the Thinline pad because....well....Trainer #1 uses one, always.  I have also let Trainer #1 make me feel funny about wanting a horse that doesn't bite when you touch her belly or one that holds still when you saddle her up.  Her answer to all of these was to just ignore the behavior because it's not that big of a deal.  But today I realized something critical.  This is MY horse.  MINE MINE MINE.  Not your horse.  Not her horse.  Not Trainer #2's horse.  THIS IS MY HORSE.  This the horse I want to be MY partner. And it is a big deal to me.   *I* want a horse that doesn't bite when you girth her up.  I want a horse that stands in the cross ties without backing up to the ends of them.  I want a horse who stands perfectly still for mounting and waits until I've adjusted myself for the umpteenth, thousandth time.  I want a horse who will let me touch her anywhere.  And you know what else?  I can have all these things.  It is in MY power to help train MY horse and myself (duh..out of the two of us, I'm the one that needs more training) so that we can have a partnership that is good for both of us.

Phew.  I feel better now.  In fact, I feel like She-Ra.  I have the power!!  (or was it He-Man that said that??  I'd rather be She-Ra, especially since she actually has a pony.)

Technical Difficulties

I have no idea why it won't let anyone comment on my tack or training post.  So, feel free to comment on this one instead.  I mean, if I'm not going to take feedback then I definitely don't want those heinous pictures on the damn internet!!!  And here's a cute picture of me and Tess, showing off why I suck at braiding.  If you look, we both have braids and yes, they are both crooked as can be.  At least we match.  Now I just need a pink vest so I don't clash with her saddle pad.