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.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tack or Training?

I am having my trainer check my saddle fit tomorrow.  I'm concerned that it's causing problems.  I have watched every video I could find, read every article and scoured the internet for saddle fit, but I still can't tell if the saddle fits.  Yes, I can slide my fingers underneath the panel in front.  But how easy is easy?  How tight is tight?  How much pressure is too much?  Or not enough?  Too many questions.

The other problem is the symptom list.  It looks like this:

Biting when you touch her girth area (even with a soft brush or your hand)
Tail swishing, biting, backing up in crossties when you saddle her (also when you are just pudding saddle pads on)
Gnashing of teeth, swishing of tail, attempting to bite when I tighten the girth in the cross ties.  And by tighten, I mean the girth is so loose I could probably pick the saddle up over her head to take it off.
Circling defensively when tightening the girth in the aisle or the arena.
Resistant and crabby about going forward.
Hopping into the trot
Hollow back, swishing tail.

Yep, that screams saddle fit right?  Sure....except that these are also EXACTLY the same symptoms you would get for a horse who is trying to dominate it's owner and get out of work.  My pony is green (under saddle consistently now for 6 months) and smart and just doesn't feel like working.

Trainer #1 did not have the under saddle problems when she was riding her, but she was also using her own saddle.  Even with her own saddles, the pony still had all of the same problems with saddling..just not the forward issues under saddle.  There's a part of me that hopes the problems ARE due to saddle fit (look!  I'm not as incompetent as I think!  It was her saddle!!!) and another part that equally hopes that the problems ARE NOT from her saddle (I CANNOT AFFORD ANY MORE EXPENSIVE ITEMS FOR THIS PONY UNTIL NEXT YEAR!!!!).

Murphy's Law says that it will be the saddle because we're kind of out of money.  I mean, we have enough for emergencies and care but since the pony has had six months of full time training, an expensive round of ulcer treatments and a whole new wardrobe we just are out of money on the spreadsheet column marked PONY.

Problem #2 is the bit or the bit placement.  Or it's me.  I'm hesitant to show pictures because they freak me out.  It looks like my pony is being yanked on, even when there is NO pressure on the reins.  I'm going to be brave and post these pictures because I value y'all's opinions.  Before you jump in and say that she's fighting the nose band, her cavesson is so loose I can get at least two fingers under it, usually three.  It's so loose that Trainer #2 suggested I might try to tighten it so she can't evade through her jaw.  I'm not sure how I feel about that so I've left it loose.  Also, Trainer #1 (the one who rode her for six months) ALWAYS used a flash and rides her in a KK loose ring bit, not the Happy Mouth Mullen that she's in here.  So, be gentle with me but please check in and tell me what you think.

p.s. She's in the Happy Mouth because it encourages her to lean and take up the bit because she was SO far behind the bit when I bought her.  I have tried her in a Boucher, an O Ring snaffle, Full Cheek snaffle and finally the Happy Mouth.

p.p.s. I had to make the pictures larger so you could actually SEE her mouth.  She does have a long mouth which you can see in other photos where Trainer #1 is riding her, but she uses a flash so I haven't seen the grimacing before.

 I am adjusting her forelock for maximum pretty, but doesn't this bit look like it's WAY too far back in her mouth??
Not much tension on the reins, though I had just asked her to bring her head down with my legs.  Is she chewing on the bit because it's a plastic Mullen Mouth?  Or to show her unhappiness?

 Seriously, we're just standing here.  What is this face!!!!!??????  We could play a vampire pony in this picture
 Here it's better and I probably have the most contact out of all of the pictures.

And here she is BEFORE I rode, having an mini meltdown on the lungeline.  Obviously, nothing is messing with her mouth here and in fact when she is on the lunge she does not grimace.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Proof is in the Pudding

Or in my case, the video.  I had a lesson yesterday and decided to take some video.  Wow, wow, wow.  It was very enlightening.  Sadly, the video camera was too far away to catch anything my trainer is saying and it's not a great picture, but boy did I learn something.  I learned that I have NO concept of bent elbows.  None. Zip. Zero.  My legs aren't as bad as I thought, my seat looks weak but okay.  My torso is a bit forward and I obviously need to get more core strength.  But my elbows.  Sweet baby Jesus my elbows are like ramrods of tension from my tight forward shoulders to my locked up wrists.  I complained yesterday that my arm was hurting and NO WONDER!!  It's locked up tighter than a prison!  And when I think I'm gently using my arm to move the rein back and tip her nose in, I'm actually just wiggling my hands around with my elbows shoved in front of me.  The video is such poor quality that I won't post it.  I tried to take still shots from it, but we're so far away it's kind of pointless.  Besides, I might be ready to write about my awful riding for the whole wide world, but I'm not sure I'm ready to put an actual video of it out there yet.  Maybe next time.

I'm going to go through my riding books and look for exercises on keeping elbows soft and bent.  I know the old trick about putting a whip through your elbows and behind your back, but on a green, spooky thanks.  I'm not ready for that.

Since I have deprived you of gawking at my awful video, here is a cute picture of Tess before our lesson.  Note the hot pink dressage pad.  Hell yes I'm using a hot pink pad.  It looks good on her and it makes a point about not taking this whole business too seriously.  And when you're riding dressage, reminders to lighten up are always a good thing.  Also, we are the only tiny, grey Arab mare in a barn full of well trained,  gorgeous,  bay and chestnut Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods so a sense of humor is a must.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Shorter but Sweeter

I rode on both Friday and Sunday and both rides were good.  Saturday I hardly had to lunge at all because she was paying attention.  Then I rode for about fifteen or twenty minutes.  I'm trying to quit on a good note, which isn't easy for me since the second I get something good I want to do it again.  The good news about both of our spooking!!  Though now I'm left with a horse who just doesn't pay attention to me consistently.  Also, when trying to gently tip her nose to get her attention back on me, it's taking a lot of strength.  Which means I'm doing it wrong.  She's being ridden in Happy Mouth Mullen, which I've heard can make it hard for lateral bending but Trainer #2 feels like it's a good bit for us right now since I'm nervous and tend to use more contact.  Also, the Princess came to me with a habit of curling behind the bit in an Arab headset so the Mullen encourages her to take the bit.  Still, I need to figure out why I'm getting tired shoulders when all I'm trying to do is get her attention.  This is another reason I stopped early.  I felt like I was getting carried away with stronger and stronger yet somehow less and less effective half halts.  Next lesson I am going to try and remember to take my video camera because I have so many aha! moments that I can't keep track of them, much less remember them the next day.

The other funny thing that happened on Sunday is that the pony kept trying to go down to the spooky end of the arena.  She would prick her ears, throw her shoulder out and try to sidestep over there EVERY time we got even near it.  I found out after my ride that Trainer #1, who is finishing up the last week of training rides on her, has been working her hard and ONLY letting her rest down at the spooky end.  So, being the smart pony that she is, the Princess thought the best place for us to go was the other end of the arena.  Of course, she still wasn't paying attention to me as she tried to drag me down there so we did not end up going there, but it was pretty funny.

I took my camera out to the barn, but then forgot to take pictures besides another one of her in the cross ties.  Here you can see how yellow her mane is.  I want to wash it but she hates the wash rack already and it's not super warm.  Plus, every time I wash manes I end up with the water dripping down my sleeve and even warm water turns cold pretty quickly.  So I'm going to spare both of us until spring, which means I have to live with the yellow mane.  I did use some Cowboy Magic on it, but she lays on this side every night and she sleeps outside so she always comes in with a big mud clot on her mane. Of course, I did buy a grey horse.  And I will say that despite the yellow mane and the mud on her face every morning, she is a RIDICULOUSLY clean little grey mare.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lesson #3. Wheeeeee!

We are still experiencing challenges on the lunge line as was evident today when the pony managed to again, kick some rocks at the wall when she passed by, and freak the living daylights out of herself.  However, her mad gallop came back after only five circles this time instead of ten instead of twenty.  So progress is being made.  I am starting to get a little less discombobulated about lunging and am really focusing on keeping my hand down and keeping a connection on the lunge.

We talked about how to keep my attention focused on my ride every time and how important forward is.  Because the pony is young and green, she's still learning about cruise control.  I need to remember that it's okay for me to pick how light I would like to have to ask and then follow that up with more energy.  I have a tendency from my school horse days to thumpity thump thump all the live long day until the horse is practically walking and I'm dripping sweat.

So we made sure I was getting her in FRONT of my leg and that I was holding the rein for attention, not yanking or fussing.  I practically play sonatas with the reins at the walk because my hands are so active!  We also worked a little bit on heading towards the 'scary' end of the arena.  I would ride the 20m circle at the one end where we are reasonably attentive and then at X I would put in a 10m circle towards the scary end going the opposite direction and then back on the 20m circle.  What was interesting was how there was one particular spot where when I tried to do the 10m circle to the right, we fell apart.  She dropped her shoulder, turned her head completely to the outside, swung her hindquarters around and generally lost all forward motion.  In response, I went into a textbook picture of the fetal crouch while thump, thump thumping and tap, tap, tapping her ineffectually.  But here's the thing that was great.  This happened every time (that's not the great part...wait for it....) BUT (this is the great part) four strides later we were back on our 20m circle and doing fine.  So though I was not able to stop the trainwreck from happening, I was able to be businesslike and get right back to it.  Hurrah!  

The other big thing I was reminded of is to stop while I'm ahead.  We had a LOVELY 20m circle with proper bend and with us both paying attention and I tried to eke out ONE MORE of those, only to end up with four crappy circles and both of us lagging.  We pushed hard and got one last decent circle before we quit but note to self:  stop before it falls apart.

The pony and I were both dripping sweat when we were done.  Definitely almost time for the clippers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Attention Span of a Gnat

The problem with our practice rides is that my job is to keep the pony's attention.  Which works for about five or ten minutes.  Then it quickly devolves into me pulling on the inside rein while she tries to yank her head around to stare the other direction, which leads to me looking in the other direction to see what she's looking at, which leads to her spinning her body in that direction.

These pictures don't have me on her (which is why I've cropped and blacked out faces...internet ya know) but this picture shows her in the middle of a spook, her little tail clamped between her legs.  Her back legs physically shake when she spooks because she's genuinely scared.  Poor pony.
Then I take more inside rein, exhale and try to re-focus. By this time, I've completely lost her and she's doing her best Arab-y giraffe imitation.  So I tap with the whip.  The tail swishes up and pops me in the head (you have to love Arab mares and their amazing helicopter tails) but I get an ear back.

The amazing helicopter tail in action.

However the very next stride I've lost her again.  More rein, more tap, more swishing.  I know that I need to make the work we're doing and the inside of the arena more interesting than what's going on outside, but it seems like when I'm not in a lesson I lose MY focus.
What's over there?  It's amazing how rein contact just goes out the window when she does this with her head.
Seconds before a spook, the giraffe neck begins.

 Our trainer has us working only on one end of the arena right now because the Princess loses her pony mind at the other end pretty consistently.  So to build our confidence, we're just working in half the arena, roughly a twenty meter circle or so.  We do changes of direction but I'm losing the pony's attention EVERY stride so changing directions that often just leads to us careening about and eventually stopping.  I think it's also hard because the pony is lazy.  We're planning on conquering that at a later date too.

So here we are on a 20 meter circle and not even a good 20m circle at that since she is very spooky in one corner and I can't seem to maintain her attention for longer than two strides.  Which really means I can't hold my own attention for more than two strides.  So what do I focus on?  I have a lesson tomorrow and plan on asking my trainer this also.  If I'm focusing ONLY on getting her attention on me, then once I have it I have nothing to focus on so I think I may need a more detailed game plan for my practice sessions.  How do you set up your practice sessions?  Do you have a plan or a goal?  I'm also trying to set myself up for success and not make my goals too big, which I am totally guilty of.  I'm trying to remind myself this is only week 2 of working with a whole new way of doing things....

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Next Year.

Next year I will steal this person's awesome idea.  Except I will be wearing a poodle skirt and a pink helmet because I value my brains more than I value the cuteness.  Also, because though her gray pony is being a DOLL FACE, I'm not sure the Princess would tolerate the hat/ears so well.  Now I have a year to work on that though.  And a year to find someone who can sew for me.  Because seriously, this costume is amazing.