Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reason #568

Reason #568 why I love my husband. 

We had our anniversary weekend this weekend where we go on a weekend getaway to the ocean for some relaxation and romance.  I found out right before we left, that every year Buck Brannaman comes into town and hosts a weekend clinic this weekend.  Obviously it was too late to go to the clinic, but maybe I thought maybe next year I would go and audit.  So I mention to my husband that we might need to change our anniversary weekend so I can audit a Buck clinic next year and he responds "How about we just have you ride in a Buck clinic for next year's anniversary weekend?"

Sigh.  He's so great.  He also went with me to see Buck in the movie theatre on one of our date nights.  He's a keeper for sure. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lesson 2!

Lesson two with Trainer #2 was...spectacular.  We started of lunging for a few minutes.  Since the Princess hasn't done much lunging, she took this opportunity to see if she could pull me to the other end of the arena.  Then she showed me how skilled she is with her crazy flexible head and neck by doing the Arab head twirl and managing to get the lunge line flipped over her ears.  I managed to not get tangled up in the lunge line, to get her attention focused back on me and to not let my heart rate go up too much when the crazy antics began.

Trainer #2 reminded me that, like everything, the pony needs to know what being on the lunge line is about and that with time, she will understand that this is work.  The sooner she pays attention and does soft, quiet transitions on the lunge the sooner she is done on the lunge. 

The first part of my lesson focused on how to keep her attention focused inside the arena.  I realized this is hard for both of us.  When something happens outside, I find that I am just as distracted as she is.  We did a lot of walking and watching the pony's ears.  When her ears pricked at something, I used inside bend to get her attention back on me.  It got to where I was losing her attention less and less.  Trainer #2 also gave me a great visual about my outside rein that really helped us.  Whenever I used the inside rein to get her attention, I let go of the outside rein which meant we spent a lot of time lurching around.  She said to hold the outside rein and imagine it's the pencil that I'm using to draw my 20 meter circle.  I've never heard this analogy before but the visual absolutely worked for me and our next few circles were brilliant.  So brilliant that we moved into trot work.

Our trot work was the same focus.  I was also reminded to exhale on a regular basis, which seemed to help with my tension.  The most amazing part of my lesson was that about 3/4 of the way through it we started working on moving the Pony's ribcage.  When she trots to the right she has a nice bend, but when she trots to the left she holds her body very straight and has a harder time bending.  So we spent the last fifteen minutes working on pushing her over and asking for more bend.  Which meant I wasn't working on being anxious or the pony spooking.  This is huge.  And amazing.  And amazingly huge.  I can't wait until next week's lesson!

It's A Hard Knock Life

Currently the Princess is in full time training which is four days a week with Trainer#1.  Even though I have started taking lessons with Trainer #2 and I don't have a contract with Trainer #1, I wanted to do the right thing and give 30 days notice.  So the pony is getting ridden by Trainer #1 on Mon, Tues, Thurs and Friday.  She gets worked pretty hard in those sessions.

I am now taking weekly lessons on Thursdays and Trainer #2 is encouraging me to ride as often as I can, even if it's just for a few minutes.  She's really stressing the importance of coming to the barn often and that the more I throw a leg over the pony, the easier it will get.  I totally agree.  However I don't want to overwork the pony and have her get sour about working.

I've only ridden in one lesson and then one other time so far because I'm worried about pushing the pony too much.  She's only been in work for the last six months and in serious work for the last three.  Because I lunge her before I even get on, she's a hot, sweaty mess when I am done riding.  My schedule is similar to my trainers in terms of the easiest days for me to ride are Mon., Tues, Thurs and Friday.  I am going to ask Trainer #2 about this today but I'm wondering what you all think?  Do you give your horses a day off?  Do you go see them on their day off?  I live about thirty minutes away from the barn so though it's not super far, it's also not just a quick jaunt to check on her.

Thankfully this is a temporary problem that will resolve itself November 14th when Trainer #2 is done riding her.  I'm not sure which is a bigger problem, how to not overwork the pony or what do in mid-November when it's going to be ALL ME!!  I suppose that's when the questions will start getting answered is when I'm doing all the riding.  And getting answers is always a good thing, even when they're not the ones you expect.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

America's Next Top Model Pony

I got my camera fixed AND remembered to take it to the barn!  So, here's some photos from our photo shoot.  This is Trainer #1 aboard.  This was also the ponys first time riding down the road and she did GREAT!  She only stopped a few times to blow at a mailbox, but quickly got over it.  She was never relaxed, but for a baby Arab going out on all by herself I think she did amazing!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Do You Lunge?

I had a brief conversation with Trainer #1 last night about how the Princess lost her adorable little mind last night.  She said that this is why she does not lunge, because the horses just end up losing their focus and it's much harder to get them back.  Trainer #1 does groundwork such as disengaging the hindquarters instead.  Most of the time though, Trainer #1 just gets on.  Did I mention she's fearless?

I totally see Trainer #1's point and think she's on to something.  I'm not the world's most competent person when lunging and spend a fair amount of time just trying to make sure I'm not getting tangled up and reminding myself to put my hand down.  For some reason my hand that is holding the lunge line likes to float waaaaay up in the air, especially when the pony gets a little crazy.

On the other hand, I see why Trainer #2 is having me lunge the pony first.  Even if a spook on the lunge is a 100 and it would only have been a 10 under saddle, I'd rather have a 100 spook with me on the ground than a 10 with me on the saddle.  Mostly the pony ran around like an idiot, but she did get sweaty and tired enough that I was able to get on her.  Plus, when I've tried to do the groundwork that Trainer #1 does I don't feel like I have calmed the pony down any and I don't feel any more confident about getting on.

So, I'm wondering what you all think about lunging horses and the pros and cons?  Do you lunge your own horses?  And what are your tips for getting them focused back on you when they are tearing around in a tizzy?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

They Can't All Be Good Days

Muddy K gave me great advice this afternoon to not worry if every day wasn't great.  The timing of her advice could not have been more perfect.  The sun was out for a brief moment today so they were mowing the lawns out at the barn.  Pony was in the cross ties, one leg cocked half asleep while the lawn mower went by her outside.  The horses in the paddocks were bucking and running, but not my pony.  She was calm as can be and flicked an ear at it briefly before returning to her pre-ride nap. 

She woke up briefly to throw her usual fit about being saddled, which involves her scooting to the back of the cross ties until they are tight on her face and then swishing her tail and pinning her ears.  She's not a fan of saddling.  I try to go slow and reward her for the times she doesn't react, but she only doesn't react if something scary has her attention. 

She was super mellow, but I was sticking to my new plan of lunging before riding.  Boy am I glad I did.  I put the lunge line on and sent her out.  She ambled around at a walk that was really more of a shuffle.  I asked for a trot.  She trotted two circles around me, doing the minimum amount of work as if she could barely keep her eyes open for this.  Then the lawnmower moved and she lost her tiny little Arab mind.

She galloped, she farted, she threw her tail over her back and her head in the air.  She went so fast I got dizzy.  I continued to give her half halts on the lunge line, circling her in smaller and smaller circles while asking her to trot.  I found out the Princess can gallop a 10meter circle with no problem.  Well, at least she's athletic and I know she can bend.  I got her down to trot....for two steps and then it was back to the maniacal galloping.  Trainer #2 came out and encouraged me to just keep asking her to come down and then do transitions until she looked quiet.

Twenty minutes later she seemed much calmer so I decided to get on.  I was pretty nervous though after seeing her acrobatic meltdown and it must have translated to the pony because I just did NOT have her attention today.  We were unfocused, above the bit the ENTIRE ride (okay it was only a ten minute ride so maybe that's not fair) and just generally a hot mess.  But, I got on and that is an accomplishment.

Then I did my best to cool her off, which included hosing off her legs.  This caused a mini meltdown in the wash rack with kicking and scooting desperately forward.  Even with warm water she just wasn't having it today.  I got her cool, but even after wearing a cooler and hand walking she is a hairy best and was still wet.  So clipping is in our future.  That should be fun. 

How do you all get so many cute pictures of your ponies?  I try to make pictures of the Princess and she either looks awful or they're totally blurry!  Plus, when I'm out at the barn I always forget to bring a camera.  Clearly if I'm blogging I will need to fix that.  :)

So today I am patting myself on the back for going out to the barn.  For getting on even if it was for just ten minutes and for realizing that not every ride will be the perfect bonding experience.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bits and Pieces

It's so hard to take six months and condense it to a few paragraphs.  I'm sure I will find holes the size of Texas in my story when I go back, but I really want to be able to document this process in a positive, forward thinking way and I think the best way to do that is to quickly get to RIGHT NOW.

So, let me just say that as of this week I have Trainer #1 putting the last 30 days on her.  If I decide to sell the Princess, Trainer #1 will do the marketing and the selling for me.  Trainer #1 is a gifted, fearless rider who isn't phased at all by the Princess' spooks or her hind end.  So Trainer #1 was able to give the Princess a good foundation to work from.  Where we stalled was that Trainer #1 had no concept of fear.  This is a woman who wants to jump out of airplanes for an adrenaline rush.  That's the same rush I get when I put the saddle on and I'm standing in the aisle way contemplating riding.  We just weren't able to find a way for her to give me some of her bravado.

So, enter Trainer #2.  I've had one lesson with Trainer #2 and feel very hopeful.  She has experience with anxiety around horses and offered me some really basic but somehow overlooked ideas.  Ideas such as:  lunge the Princess and if she's feisty, keep lunging her until you see a horse on the end of the lunge line that you would feel okay about getting on.  If that takes two minutes, you only lunge two minutes.  If it takes twenty minutes, so be it.  If you lunge for thirty minutes and you can't get your heart rate down and the pony is still being crazy, it's okay to just lunge.

Simple, right?  And yet it didn't occur to me that I could do that. 

Trainer #2 also talked to me about the delicate balance of pushing the boundaries of the fear but maintaining control and calm.  So if there's a spooky end of the arena, don't go there.  Ride only in the non spooky part until you feel like you are calm and having a good ride.  Then go one extra step towards the spooky part.  Not ten extra steps, one.  She also reminded me to quit while I was ahead, especially in these early stages where I'm trying to get my confidence back.

At the end of an hour and a half session, the Princess was sweaty from a good romp on the lunge and we managed a good twenty minute walk with only two small spooks.  But we glowed together.  Trainer #2 is confident that I can work this out with this horse and her confidence spills onto me and Friday was the first time I felt like I had a pony of my own and that maybe we would get through this after all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Music Montages

This is the part of the story that if Hollywood got a hold of it, they would make it a music montage.  There would be peppy, happy music and slow mo videos of my pony and I cantering through fields.  It would end with a shot of me burying my face in her long, flowing white mane while I hugged her and we both sighed contentedly.  Maybe some of you have this with your new horse.  Fuck you...I mean, lucky you.  

If you were to do a music montage of the Princess and I, it would be in black and white and would have a soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails.  It would end in a stand off with the Princess in one corner, lips wrinkled and looking at something in the distance and me in the other, crying because my Pony hates me.

Here's a condensed version of the last five months.  Because I'm doing this blog to put down my thoughts going forward, not what happened in the past.  So let's just get this over with.

The Princess comes home and goes into full training.  Hurrah!  Princess immediately goes into raging, stallion like heat squealing and striking.  Pony is immediately moved to a different stall away from other horses.  Princess begins work and though she is behind the bit (hello Arab head set) she is a lovely mover and tries hard.  Princess is spooky and has a hard time paying attention, but this is to be expected at a new barn.  

Month two.  Princess doesn't stand in crossties.  Princess is terrified of washrack.  Princess doesn't want you to touch her belly.  Princess kicks when you try to lift back feet.  SCREEEEEECCCCHHHH!  That was everything coming to a halt.  KICKING!?!?!  Yes, kicking.  Defensive kicking, but kicking none the less.  Enter month two of training.  More kicking.  Massage.  Still kicking.  Now also pinning ears and biting.  However, she did go to a schooling show and scored 62% and a red ribbon with the trainer riding her.  

Month three involved more healing work, more body work, chiropractic adjustments, more full time training, more spooking and the addition of raspberry leaf to her diet.  Month three also had me riding less.  Her spooking was unnerving and I couldn't even brush her without her trying to bite or kick.

Month four.  More training, more adjustments, more massage, the addition of a round of ulcer medication.  The addition of a second job to help finance all of the above.  More spooking, more kicking.  

Month five.  Another month off full time training, magnesium supplement, frustration, tears, hair pulling and leaving the barn crying almost every day.  Remember my list of what I wanted in a pony?  Yep, she was everything I didn't want.  This led to the decision to put her up for sale.  More crying, more gnashing of teeth.  

And so here we are, getting ready to enter month six.  This is the Princess' last month of full time training.  I can't afford it anymore and it's not helping me find my place with this horse.  I had planned on putting her up for sale as soon as I got pictures, but my camera broke the very day I went out to take pictures.  And the battery went dead on the video camera.  And then my editing software broke.  Maybe I'm not supposed to sell her after all......

So, let the games begin.  We're going to fix this goddamn thing.  I was going to say "or die trying" but I thought that'd be a horrible jinx.  I hope if you stumble across this blog and you're an overanxious, worrywart adult that I can offer some comfort to you.  You are not alone.  And hopefully, through this journey, we'll come out the other side victorious.

Panic, Paranoia and other Perplexing Things

Right, so first we need to get something out of the way.  What's up with the nickname Panic you ask?  Well, first of all it has a P which makes it kind of catchy with Princess and second of all, I have panic attacks.  And anxiety.  And sometimes depression.  Most of us who suffer with one of these things can relate to all three.  The holy trinity of the nervous system.  It started with some panic attacks in my 20's.  Here's a brief, personal and with absolutely no medical mumbo jumbo, introduction to the three.

 Panic attacks vary per person so your panic attack might be different, but mostly they feel like you are dying.  I mean REALLY DYING.  Sweating, heart racing, shallow breathing.  You think you might pass out or throw up or pass out in your throw up.  You are pretty sure you are going to die.  Sometimes it feels like the world is shifting uncomfortably.  Ick. Panic attacks are big bullies that jump out from behind buildings to make you pee your pants.  Panic attacks are why you look over your shoulder all the time, dreading that moment.

Anxiety is panic attacks white trash cousin.  Anxiety is always hanging out in his dirty underwear and tanktop, drinking beer out of a can and watching fishing shows on your television.  Sometimes anxiety gets loud and drunk and obnoxious and sometimes anxiety passes out on the couch for a few hours, but mostly anxiety is just there.  Constantly on the lookout for something to have a panic attack over.  Anxiety is not real smart either, which means anxiety can convince you that though other people can ride their horse alone, you will probably die if you do it.  Maybe Anxiety is more like an overbearing mother.  An overbearing, chain smoking, beer drinking mother who hangs around in her underwear watching fishing shows.  Yeah, that's it.

Depression is Anxiety's slovenly brother.  Depression can't be bothered to even turn on the television, let alone get up and get another beer.  Depression sits in the lazy boy and grunts monosyllable answers.  Depression convinces you there is no point in leaving the house or even the chair.  Depression lets you know that no good deed goes unpunished, that nothing will ever be good enough.  Depression would be a heroin addict if he didn't have to actually get off the couch to get it.  Depression eats cookies and then just lets the crumbs fall around him and in the cracks of the chair.  

Whoooeee, it's a party up in here isn't it?  Now the good news is that I've mostly kicked depression to the curb (hello exercise and vitamins!) and that my panic attacks and anxiety are becoming much more manageable (Theanine the wonder vitamin!).  However, I still suffer from Worst Case Scenario Syndrome which leads me down that slippery slope.  You may see children playing at a park; I see children INCHES AWAY FROM THEIR IMMINENT DEMISE!  The corner of the jungle gym and that child's cheek could connect in JUST THE RIGHT WAY which would knock out all of his teeth and require surgery.  It's funny, sort of, if you're not the one trying to control these thoughts.

So, now, before we move on in the story I just want you to imagine for a moment.  Panic.  And a Pony.  Right. If I need to say more, it's only because you don't know much about horses.  Those of you that do know ponies are nodding your heads and going "Oh, girl.  And you bought a young Arab mare.  What were you thinking?"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Every Good Story Has a Great Beginning

Beginnings can be the best part of stories.  It's the part where everything is magical and beautiful and ponies poop rainbows and you cry glittery tears of joy.  Beginnings spring from dreams of cantering through meadows with flowers in our hair, blue ribbons and trophies lined up on shelves, lazy summer days bareback while the pony grazes.

Meet Tessa.  The Princess. And standing next to her would be me, Panic.  Yeah, I'm just gonna go ahead and call myself Panic.  I would say that I'm trying to be incognito but 1. this blog is under my actual name and I blog about my life already so it's not like I have any shame and 2. I just put a picture of myself up there too.  But before I lose my butterflies and rainbows of The Beginning I want to get back to the romantic part of this story.

When I met Tessa she had just turned 5 and hadn't really been ridden much.  She was started when she was 3, but she didn't have a whole lot of stuff done with her after that.  She was bred by the people who started her and she just didn't turn out to be the horse they were looking for.  Big cross country jumps are probably not in this horse's future.  Since they're also not in mine, we were a better fit.

Despite her being only five and an Arabian AND a mare, Tessa was perfect.  She was quiet, friendly and mostly willing to work.  When she did protest, it was with her version of a buck/kick that was easy to sit and not scary at all.  My list of things I wanted in a pony was pretty short.

1. Friendly, friendly, friendly.  I wanted a horse that LIKED people.  No biting, no kicking, no ear pinning and threatening.

2.  Quiet.  Not dead.  Just not spooky.  I wanted a horse I could feel secure on.  Green was fine since I have a trainer and take regular lessons, but spooky = scary.  I don't bounce the way I used to and my butt has lost some of it's Velcro over the years.

3.  Love connection.  I looked at the horses that were 'right' for me.  Old, solid, broke geldings.  I hated riding every single one of them.  With Tessa it was love at first sight and at first ride.  Despite my chickenshit tendencies, I rode her walk, trot AND canter the very first ride.

So the princess came home with me (after more test rides and a vet check.  duh.).  This is where the glitter started to irritate my eye and her rainbow poops weren't quite so beautiful.  In fact, they started to look like horse shit.  Damn.