Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mood Swing

I finally sucked it up, stretched out my leg and went to the barn today.  I didn't want to.  I had so many excuses.  Too much work.  Too cold.  Too tired.  I might hurt my leg again.  But the real reason was that the pony had a week and a half off and I was afraid.

It's funny how irrational fear is.  I couldn't tell you what I'm afraid of.  Falling off?  Embarrassing myself?  My brain can tell you that I have never come close to falling off, even when she bucks, kicks or spooks.  I've never been out of control on her.  Yet, my gut and my heart tell me I'm one second away from dying.  Funny thing about anxiety is you have to NOT trust your instinct because your instinct will tell you that you're going to die.  You just have to look at the situation very clinically.  Are the things I'm attempting to do things I could reasonably do?  Yes.  Is it likely that I will die?  No.  And so I went to the barn, attempting positive visualization while my gut tried to show me movies of horrible accidents.

Once out at the barn, I got the pony tacked up without incident.  We're back in the jump saddle until next week when the saddle fitter will bring out another round of saddles to try.  We go to lunge and the Princess begins her usual spin, face me, rear and stop.  She knows that I will then have to walk around behind her and start over again.  Every five steps she does this.  Sometimes she throws in giant leaps into the air.  Sometimes when she gets back to work she throws a huge buck and a double barrel kick out.  She's never anywhere near close to me and she does not do this with any malice.  About halfway through this, I'm sweating (in 40 degree weather) and starting to curse under my breath.  What the hell am I doing here?  She rears up again and hops like a bunny before spinning to face me, ears pricked.  I hate this horse.  I hate her.  I hate that it's only been a week and she's a raving idiot.  She takes this moment to launch forward before spooking frantically at nothing and kicking out again.  Ten minutes later and she's finally settled into the idea of just going forward and changing directions calmly.  This means we have to change sides.  I send up a quick prayer that we won't have to repeat because of the change of direction.  Yeah, right.  She spins, she rears, she stops.  I am selling her.  This is it.  I refuse to do this.  I do NOT have to put up with this.  I am getting a horse that isn't trying to get control all. the. time.  I want Snoopy, not Lucy.  This is too much.  I'm scared and I'm angry and I'm not having fun.

Then it hits me.  My horse is not trying to get control.  Not once has she pinned her ears or swished her tail.  She has not stared me down when she stops.  She has waited, her ears pricked and her eyes soft until I got back around her and without any whip, she has gone back to trotting.  She's just fresh and young and wishing I was another horse she could play with.  I'm not saying her behavior is okay (so NOT okay) but it's not a horse who wants to dominate me and stomp on me, it's a baby who wants to play because we haven't done anything for a week and a half.  I don't stop to contemplate this very long because I've got to suck it up and ride.

She stands like a rock while I get on.  Good girl.  She walks.  She trots.  She doesn't buck.  Not even once.     It wasn't a perfect ride but there was minimal fussing and no spooking.  Sure, I lost her attention some and she wasn't in super forward mode, but it was a great ride over all.

By the time I was done, the pony was off the market again and out of danger.  We will live to see another day together, another lesson and another step towards the relationship we both crave with each other.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Spring is coming aka Why Polar Fleece Jackets are Not Good Barn Jackets

Still off riding due to my IT band, but I got to visit the pony today.  She was very itchy.  The shedding season has begun.

White horse. Black Jacket.  Bad Idea.  It would have been worse had I not been wearing another jacket over this one most of the time.

"Ooooh, gloves!  Can I eat these?"

This pose was struck many times today.  So itchy!

She came to visit me in the corner of the arena where the goat was.  This is the moment she realized the goat was also in this corner.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I have had to work this week more than I should.  And I currently don't have a saddle to ride in.  And my leg still hurts and I can't work out or ride.  And I've eaten a box of Girl Scout cookies a day (sadly, this is not an exaggeration.  I have no self control when it comes to cookies.)  And I've had a glass or two of wine every night.  So now I'm overworked, fat and depressed.  Good times.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I won't be seeing the pony until Monday.  It will have been a little over a week since the last time I saw her.  It will have been over a week since I rode her.  Part of me feels terrible about this.  I ride five or six days a week normally and to not go out for a whole week feels like I'm being a total slacker.  But let's be realistic, I have a job and a child and a husband and the fact that I ride five to six days a week is pretty awesome.  Missing a week here or there is not the end of the world.  I'll be the pony would love a more relaxed attitude to training!

The good news is I finally got my copy of Jane Savoie's That Winning Feeling.  I haven't started it yet because I want to be able to go out to the barn after reading it.  I'm a fast reader and can read an average novel in about an hour or two and this book looks to be pretty easy to follow.  I plan on reading it through and then going back and re-reading it slower, while doing the exercises and such.  As soon as my leg feels better I'm also going to take up working out again.  I'll probably put off the Jillian Michaels Shred Challenge for a few more weeks and maybe ease into it with some yoga and then Pilates.  But getting into better shape is something I'm committed to doing for both me and my horse.  As soon as I finish this box of Thin Mints.......

Monday, February 20, 2012

Do You Set Goals?

Since I've been effectively grounded due to a leg injury, I've been thinking about my goals with my pony and wondering what direction I'm going.  It's early yet, but there's a part of me that is wondering if I will be physically able to ride dressage.  See, here's the back story on me and riding...

When I was about 23 I was riding six to seven days a week.  I would ride anything I could get my hands on.  I was riding three day eventing, not because I was a brave, fearless rider but because my trainer felt I had natural talent.  I had a half Arab cross that was a handy jumper, but a bit strong.  One day we were training outside on the small cross country course.  We were galloping over a log jump with a drop.  I was scared, my horse was too fast and I was leaning too far forward.  This was before eventing vests were popular.  I was wearing a helmet and boots but that's about it.  We tumbled end over end over end. I broke all the little top bones in both my feet (metatarcils...may have spelled that wrong), cracked a bunch of ribs and hyper extended a bunch of muscles in my lower back.  I also ripped my hip flexor tendons on both sides.  I was out of work for two months and in physical therapy for a year.  Though the major things healed up, I was told that due to damage to the hip flexors I would not be able to ride again effectively.  I sold my horse soon after that.

I decided the next best thing would be to ride Western where I would not as deep a seat.  I bought a cute little Western Pleasure bred mare and futzed around with her for a few years.  I missed riding english.  I sold her to a 4-H'er and went without a horse for about ten years.  Then I had a baby.  I missed horses and ended up buying another Western Pleasure horse.  Due to crazy life circumstances and a distinct personality clash (the horse was supposed to be bomb proof and was scared of his own shadow), I ended up selling him to another 4-Her.  He is now happily cleaning up on the 4-H circuit.  I also realized that Western Pleasure just wasn't my thing, especially how it's done these days.  Between the spur training, the dangerously long, loopy reins and the training that most folks use to get them there (tying the head around etc.) I just wasn't interested in going there.

Fast forward a few years and I'm taking dressage lessons once a week.  My hips seem to be handling it just fine so I jump head first into buying a horse (welcome to the Princess Pony!).  My riding goes from one day a week to six days a week.  Still no major problems.  But I haven't really been 'riding' six days a week.  I get on and work through my fear or work through the pony spooking or not going forward, but it's been pretty rare to actually ride hard in a lesson.    Until recently.  We're getting past all the little foibles and starting to work hard.  Sure enough, now I'm injured.  I haven't written dressage off yet.  It could have been a combination of too deep a seat and not enough stretching.

However, it did make me think about what it is I want to do with this pony.  And I don't know.  I like dressage for it's technical aspects and how it feels when you get it right.  It's a bit of a high when you feel their back come up underneath them, when their back feet step deeply underneath and the two of you float on a singular thought, on a shared breath.  This is what I want.  But if my body can't handle the deep seat of dressage, maybe I just want a good horse.  Maybe I could do little local shows where we ride Western and English.  We could trail ride.  We could try archery on horseback (ummm, yeah, I found this yesterday and WANT WANT WANT to try it.  I'm ignoring the fact that I'm still nervous just riding and haven't shot a bow and arrow since I was 13 and had to do it in gym class.).

Do you have big goals for your horse?  I'm not talking about daily, weekly or even year goals...I mean, do you have an overarching GOAL for you and your horse?  Does your barn support multiple disciplines?  This is another thing for me...my barn is an eventing barn.  Period.  You can just ride the dressage portion (which I am right now) but NOBODY rides Western or goes to other shows that are not dressage or eventing.  Do I need to know what I want to do with my pony (besides the obvious equipment question...)?  

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Importance of Saddle Fitting for the Rider

I've been going on and on about how well the trial saddle fits the pony, but I only briefly mentioned how it didn't quite fit me.  My trainer, especially, hated what it did to my legs.  A lot of dressage saddles have seats designed to help open your hips and put your hips and seat in the 'ideal' position.  The trouble with this, is that we're not all built the same.  The trial saddle may have helped 'open my hips' but it pushed my legs out and away from the pony's sides, making it a challenge to keep my stirrups and keep my legs long and on her sides.

It also did something much more destructive.  It gave me an injury and now I have to take at least three days off of riding, possibly more.  Basically, it stressed my hips out so much that I injured my IT band.  This is a common injury for runners, but it also can be common in riders.  I noticed that near the outside of my knee, it hurt whenever I bent my leg or went up and down stairs.  The pain got worse after working out this morning (do not do squats and jumping jacks when injured) so I actually stopped and looked it up.
You can see how this band runs all the way from the hips to the knee.

I have chronically tight hips so in the future I will make sure to do some stretching, but in the meantime I don't need my saddle to injure me!  I'm now resting my leg, icing, taking anti inflammatories and feeling cranky about not being able to ride until the pain goes away, lest I create a 'chronic' situation.  I'm having NONE of that.

Have any of you ever had an IT band injury?  How long did it take to heal?  If walking wasn't painful I would go out and at least take the pony for a walk down the road, but at the moment my comfortable spot is on the couch with my leg out straight and an ice pack on it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Complete Time Suck

Not enough work to do today?  Here's a total time suck for you.  Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show!

Amazing horses.  Terrible horses.  Some awesome examples of horrific riding, but also some examples of lovely quiet riding.  And all on crazy town Ayrabs.  Yep, I've already seen two near wrecks in the two classes I watched.  It's fascinating stuff.

On the one hand it makes me want to show!  On the other hand, it reminds me why I don't.  If only I had this on a big screen television and a bottle of wine.  Good times, my friends. 

Question for the Arab people....are they playing the music at the actual show?  Do they play music at every class?  If so, I need to show on the Arab circuit.  I hate how quiet dressage shows are.  It's nerve wracking.  Yeah, what AM I doing messing around with dressage?  I need a discipline where there's music involved!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Saddle Pads and Saddle Fitting

I rode again yesterday in the saddle I have on trial.  Regardless of what it does or doesn't do for my position, the pony seems to like it.  There was (drumroll please) NO BUCKING.  There was a tiny kick at the girth once or twice, but there was no bucking at all.  We had a pleasant, uneventful, normal ride.  Yeah!  The only snag we are running into is that her square pad is rubbing the hair off at the back of it.  I put the pad on her yesterday and her tail went crazy.  It's probably pretty uncomfortable to have it rubbing the hair.  So it got me thinking about square pads and all that.

What ever happened to using fleece pads that are saddle shaped?  Is it just a dressage thing that we want to use square pads?  Also, there are so many products out there that most of us on a regular basis under our saddles.  I know that every single person at my barn uses some sort of Thinline pad between their saddle and the square pad.  Isn't this just adding extra padding because the saddle doesn't quite fit?  Shouldn't we be seeking out a different saddle instead?

The Kent and Master's S Series Dressage Saddle
 I know that with growing horses, there can be a need to fill in spots until the horse's topline fills out.  Same thing for horses coming into work for the first time or after a long period of inactivity.  But for a regular horse in regular work, shouldn't the saddle fit well enough that a pad just adds to your horse's comfort?

Side shot.  It looks a little far forward in this shot, but that could be the square pad making it look like it's more forward.  I have it pulled up into the gullet.  This picture shows off the pony's croup high 'hump'.  
I know on the internet it's hard to read tone so I want you to know that my questions are genuine and not the sarcastic, self righteous, rhetorical questions that they  might seem to be.  :)  I also know that money is a factor.  Money is a factor for me also.  The saddle I am looking at costs three times what I paid for my horse.  However, I expect it will last me at least ten years and that the saddle is the most important piece of equipment I will own.

So, let's hear it.  What's up with saddle pads?  Crutch?  Comfort?  Fashion?

One of these days I will buy my pony a cooler that actually fits her.
Also, if anyone has any solutions to my square pad rubbing problem, lemme hear 'em.  I have already tried shorter pads which just rub her on a different place on her back....

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Pony Bubble

I don't know about you guys, but my horse life is strangely separate from the rest of my life.  It's like I have a bubble around my pony and I where who I am and what I do outside of the barn don't exist.  I'm not sure this is particularly good for us and it's certainly not intentional.  If everything was perfect, my barn life would be more a part of my regular life.  I would love to have friends at the barn that became real friends.  There's usually not very many people at the barn when I'm out there and though folks are friendly, talk is kept to horse talk only.  And since we don't trail ride, there isn't much talking while riding.  People are focused on their horses and their training.

Also, who I am out at the barn is so different than who I am in the rest of my life.  For just a brief moment, I am going to stray from ponies.  Don't worry, this blog will remain pony-centric.  I have another blog where I ramble on about other areas of my life, but this is relevant to my pony journey!  I am going to tell you a bit about who I am outside of Panic.  Outside of a struggling amateur with a cranky horse.

I am a mom.  I have a five year old daughter.  I am divorced from her dad but have since re-married the love of my life, who loves sailboats and sailing the way I love ponies.  If my daughter ends up loving race cars, I think we will have cornered the market on the three most expensive and time consuming hobbies.

I am a singer.  I actually have released an album of my own music.  I sang with a popular 80's cover band for a while.  I get up on stage in front of thousands of people and get my groove on.  And I don't suck.  At all.  In case you're curious, here's a link to some of my music on facebook.  And blonde pictures.


I work in the natural pet industry and have been working with dogs and cats for over 17 years.  I am a pet nutritionist, a dog trainer and a kick ass manager.  I have managed teams of up to 120 people.  I am highly successful (what does it mean when it takes me five times to figure out how spell successful....huh.) in my industry, though success in the pet industry does not equal money in your pocket.  Go figure.

I can read a 150 page book in about an hour or less and actually remember it.  I can multi-task like nobody's business (I'm drinking coffee, chatting on the phone with a friend of mine, updating my Facebook AND my Twitter and writing this blog right now).  I am well spoken, outspoken, decent looking, happily married, confident (yeah, see where this is going...it's gonna come back around in a second to the pony) and generally well liked and respected by my peers.  I give really, really good advice.  I have a high pain threshold and a low bullshit threshold.  I am sensitive but not weird and needy.  I like my own side of the bed more than I like snuggling.  I have a good sense of humor and a laugh that can be heard across a crowded room.

So, why then, when I go to the barn do I lose all this sense of self?  Put me in some breeches and on my cranky little mare and you'd think I couldn't walk ten feet without someone helping me.  My child would never speak to me the way my pony does.  My shoulders don't slump in my regular life (okay, they kinda do when I'm slouching because I still have angry 13 year old posture),but I take long confident strides when I walk.  I don't look down or behind me.  Put me with a horse next to me and somehow I turn to jelly, flinching at every movement.

So, there is me outside the barn.  And there is me at the barn.  And I gotta say, I like the Mona that isn't at the barn.  If I can just convince her to show up with me one day when I'm riding, I'm pretty sure things would change.  Because Mona Sterling would NOT put up with Pony Attitude.  Maybe I need to wear the pink wig to the barn.......

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Plan

There are few things in life I like better than a plan, except maybe a list.  I would say that I love a good spreadsheet, but spreadsheets can get complicated and overwhelming.  I like things that are simple and laid out nicely.  I like to be able to cross off items and sigh with deep satisfaction.  Of course, this is in my ideal life.  In my real life, I write the list and then I lose it and then I run out of time to finish what I think might have been on the list.  Three days later, the list turns up in a pants pocket while I'm doing laundry and inevitably I will have forgotten the number one item that was the most critical.  Which then leads me to believe that I need to be organized and that (somehow) this is probably my family's fault.  So, when they arrive home from work and school, they are greeted with a speech about cleaning and keeping things organized.  In the meantime, I will have pulled everything out of my closet to sort through it and re-organize.  Halfway through this project, I will realize that the closet has nothing to do with my list and will abandon it in all it's piles of clothes and crap glory.  Because I married a very smart man, my husband will not mention a word about my double standards and my lack of follow through.  Desk cleaning will then commence, only to be halted halfway through by the discovery of another list that has a different set of priorities.  And so it goes.

This is how it feels as I'm trying to saddle shop.  I put together a plan to figure out if it's the saddle or just the pony's attitude and it all falls apart.  It's just too hard to separate if the problem is saddle fit or rider error.  I rode on Sunday in the Kent and Master's saddle with no shimming on the shoulders.  I had forgotten my boots AND my half chaps, so I was just wearing my paddock boots.  I kept losing my stirrups and generally just felt out of whack.  It was also hard because for some unknown reason, every person decided to change their ride time to Sunday morning.  So, the pony was cranky like she always is.  I had my friend hop on her and after only one attitude kick, Tessa got right to work and was generally a good girl.  It's amazing how different it is when someone just gets on and laughs about Tessa's antics.  I really need to learn to do that.

 So....yeah.  I think the saddle fits the pony fine, but it didn't feel great for me.  I'm going to try it again tomorrow and make sure to wear my boots and my big girl panties.  I know, I know.  I talk a big game, but one of these days it's going to stick.

Also, over on http://www.theredhorsetales.blogspot.com/2012/02/great-expectations.html RHF wrote a great post about expectations and changing what you are thinking about.  I do a lot of visualization about having good rides on the pony, but it often falls apart when I actually get on her and I think it's because I get on thinking "Please don't buck, please don't buck".  With my body up there leaning forward and an iron grip on the reins, I'm sending mixed messages.  I'm going to focus on thinking positive things or at the very least, neutral things when I'm riding this week.  Maybe I'll make a list of things to think about when I'm riding.  Yeah, that's what I need, a good plan.  And a list.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Commenting is a Lot of Work

First, welcome to any new readers.  It's hilarious that there are actual people reading my blog.  Sometimes I think maybe I should proofread or think before I post.  A glass of wine usually takes care of that thought.  Thanks to everyone who reads and comments and generally participates.  It's been so uplifting and comforting to hear everyone's stories.  Plus, there is such a vast pool of knowledge out there and I LOVE tapping into it.

Next, I want to bitch for a moment about commenting on blogs.  I'm not a super regular commenter.  I read a LOT of blogs and just don't always have something to say.  But here's my complaint.  When I comment on a blog, I then have to go back and check on the comments to see if anyone commented on my comment or if the owner commented back.   This is a lot of work.  This is a lot of work that I don't do.  Sometimes out of laziness, but often because I forget that I've left a comment.

When people comment on my blog, my first instinct is to respond.  But lately I haven't been.  It's not that I haven't been reading.  I have been and the comments my readers leave me are thoughtful and helpful.  Sometimes I want it to be a dialogue!  But are you guys checking back on everything you comment on?  Is there a function in blogger where I can just automatically subscribe to any comments where I've left one?

Yes, I just asked another question.  If it's not how to train the pony it's how to work the computer.  Lucky for you guys, I'm only writing about horses.  Otherwise, I might bombard you with questions about ALL KINDS OF THINGS (like how to start an urban garden on a small deck with a black thumb....).  I blame this partially on the fact that I work by myself at home (nobody to bounce ideas off of) and partially on the fact that I have a five year old (not much going out with friends) and the fact that I only know one other person with a horse and one other person with a kid (weird, right??) so I don't have a huge network  of experienced folk.

So, thanks for reading and thanks for being my network of experienced folk.  Now, tell me how to fix my comment dilemma please!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bridling Video

I wanted to take a video of what Tessa does when you bridle her.  She also does this when you go put the lunge line through her bridle and when you brush her face.  The hilarious part is that OF COURSE, the minute I start getting her bridle on, she moves her head out of range of the camera.  So, you can't really see much of it besides her neck moving around a bit.  The headless horse!  At the end, I realize we're probably out of range and move her back over so you can see a little bit of what she does.  It's a push/pull thing with her head where she pushes it into you and then takes it away.  I am purposely not reacting as much as possible so I can get feedback without interference.

I will try and get a better video this weekend.  Maybe one where the pony has a head.  However, you can see our barns pretty Christmas lights on the aisleway.  We generally try not to turn on lights during the days, so on dark afternoons those little twinkly lights make me happy.


Saddle shopping + crabby, not forward pony + chicken rider = Whining.  Lots and lots of whining.

Is it the saddle?  Is it me?  Is she just crabby?

Rode today in the Kent and Master's with double shoulder shims.  Crabby pony.  Got off and switched to trainers Klimke Miller with no extra padding.  Crabby pony.  Got off and schooled the pony to what a cluck and a tap means.  Got back on.  Rode through the crabbiness and had a decent ride.

Sunday I will ride in the Kent and Master's with no extra padding.  Though it may not fit ME properly, I need to know if this way produces a less crabby pony under saddle.

Also, you'd think after THIS many years and with so many wealthy people in this sport, that someone would have developed an easier way to saddle fit.  Even with custom saddles, I hear horror stories about getting them to fit.  I'm ready for this to be done with and we've just gotten started.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Pony Finger and Saddle Shopping

The princess hadn't been worked in two days.  Which apparently made her decide that lunging was out of the question, she'd rather stop, spin and rear at me, effectively giving me the pony finger.  In fact, today it was more than the finger, it was the finger and the arm gesture too.  New York angry style gestures.  Though my heart rate went sky high, I snapped her on the shoulder with the lunge whip and growled at her.  She went forward, but not without adding in a saucy kick in my direction.  Oh. No. You did NOT just do that!  That would be, channeling my inner gangster girl.  So, round and round she went at a crazed gallop.  She tried spinning four times, the fourth time rearing straight up in the air.  The minute her feet came down, I was a crazy woman.  If my body language didn't scream "You are one dead pony", I'm pretty sure my trucker language did.  She got the message.  Fifteen minutes later she was doing soft transitions.  Phew.

We are looking into ways for her to get more play time in.  I obviously can't turn her lose in the arena when other people are riding.  We live in the Pacific Northwest where the ground this time of year is muddy.  And my pony is a princess, so she doesn't want to get diiiiirty.  She lives outside from about 3pm -10am.  During that time, I'm told she stands there.  Doing nothing.  She doesn't investigate, she doesn't buck and snort, she doesn't want to step in the mud.  So she hangs out by the shelter, waiting for someone to come visit.  We're talking about maybe putting someone else out with her to play with.  We'll see if that materializes.

We tried the Kent and Master's dressage saddle today.  Tess moved really free and forward underneath it but the saddle pushed your legs AWAY from the horse, so that you felt like you couldn't get your thighs on the horse.  Not good, especially with a horse prone to bucking.  So then we put a Thinline with shoulder shims in.  Better for the rider, but Tessa got stickier.  And it still wasn't great.  So then we added even more shims in the front.  Ahhhhh, that's better for the rider.  But Tessa by this time was back to crabby.

To be fair, by this time she had Laura on, then me on.  Then switch saddle.  Laura on.  Me on.  Switch saddle.  Me on.  Laura on.  Add shim.  Me on. Laura on.  Add more shim.  Me on. Laura on.  I mean, that's enough to test ANY horses patience and work ethic, let alone a green, cranky mare.  So tomorrow we're going to START with the double shims in the shoulders and see what kind of reaction the pony has.  Laura keeps telling me to take my time with saddle shopping; you don't want to rush into anything. But it's so hard when it seems like the missing piece of the puzzle is the saddle.  Patience, grasshopper.  Patience.....

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Not What I Thought

This is the second of some videos I took to show y'all how my pony was super girthy and pissy.  The first video cut off her head so it was harder to know what was going on.  The video is super short but I noticed something very interesting.  She's not reacting to the girth at all.  You can see that when I am tightening the girth she's not really doing much.  Also, by tightening, let me say that you could house a small family in the space between girth and belly at this point.  We tighten again in the arena and then we have to walk around for a while or I will find another Grand Canyon of space between girth and pony after I mount.

So, you'll notice the only time the princess puts on the Pissy Face is when I walk in front of her and then when I am on her right side fussing with the girth.  I chose not to react to her face at all because I wanted to show everyone what she does without any interpretation from me.  Okay, ready to give me some thoughts?  Ideas?  What would you do?  She mostly is just threatening, but when I first got her I was cleaning out her front hoof and she reached around and bit me on the butt.  Not cool, princess, not cool at all.  

I have a saddle on trial for the next TWO WEEKS!!!!  I will be posting about attitudes and changes and hopefully then will be posting about how awesome my new saddle is  Of course, I may have to sell my child into slavery but what's a little child slavery compared to a new saddle.....

Monday, February 6, 2012

Saddle Up!!!

Saddle fitting appointment was at 11am today.  I left the barn at 2:30.  It was one of the most amazing saddle experiences I've ever had.  For anyone reading this that's in Western Washington, I'm not sure how far she'll travel but I used Dawn Anderson at Anderson Equine.  She is worth every penny and then some.

First, she's in it for the horses.  Not for the money, not for the fancy custom saddles, but for the horses.  If that isn't the perfect start for a saddle fitter, I don't know what is.  So she rolls up right on time (dude, in the horse world, this in itself is a small miracle) and we get the pony going and ready for her tracings.  This starts with a short massage, where she points out tight muscles and sore spots.  She remarks that Tess does not have much back soreness and though she does have some tense spots, it's fairly minimal.  Then  she makes Tess square her feet up and does all kind of fancy measurements, which she writes down on a chart.  Then she gives me a copy of the chart.  She proceeds to mark up Tess's back, uses a level to find her flat point.  Oh, flat point?  I meant the least downhill point.  Ah, my poor croup high pony.  She takes picture after picture of Tess and her conformation.  She asks questions about her history, what problems we've encountered, has she has any bodywork.  She is incredibly thorough.

The whole time, my pony is learning patience.  At one point she dozes off, only cracking an eye when Dawn has to shove her hindquarters so she won't rest a hind leg.

Dawn shows me her car full of saddles.  Saddles ranging from six hundred to over three thousand.  She gives me an education on saddles, trees, treeless saddles, leather and about a hundred other things all while pulling a stack of them out of her car.  We go back to the barn and she quickly swaps trees in about four saddles in fifteen minutes.  Yep, the saddles I looked at all had adjustable trees so they can grow with the pony.  Exciting.

I can't believe I forgot to take pictures of most of the experience.  There was a saddle that I was IN LOVE with because of how fancy it was.  Plus, Dawn said that it really held you in place on the horse when they spooked.  And it was a handmade, custom saddle.  So.  Pretty.  It had red piping around the seat and the cantle.  It was so freaking cool.  However, it wasn't as comfortable for me and my trainer said it made the pony looked more sway back than she is.  Boo for fancy saddle not looking good.  Yeah for going down in price!

So- the current front runner is this.  It's a Kent and Master's dressage saddle.  It was comfortable and when the pony put in some bucks it felt great.  Even cooler?  Dawn is going out of town and offered to leave the saddle for me to ride in during my lessons for the next two weeks!  What???!!!  Amazing.  I practically threw my Klimke-Miller at her saying "Take care of this would you?" while I drooled over my saddle-to-be.

If it works, I will need to figure out financing since this saddle is $1700.  Luckily, I've already got a girth, irons and pads so it will JUST be the saddle.  Also, when I buy through Dawn, she comes back out three months later to make sure everything fits.  I'm really sold on her service and her knowledge. I know that no matter what saddle I buy, she will make sure that it fits me and my pony and that we are happy with it.  And that is worth it's weight in gold right there. 

On a training note, today was the best training day ever.  Tessa didn't have a choice but to be patient.  She was out from 11-2:30 being fussed with.  Girthiness?  Oh, yeah.  She was a real bear the first three saddles.  But saddles 4-8 she fussed a whole lot less.  And by the time we got to the girthing up all six on the lunge she only wrinkled her nose.  When it came time to ride in the four chosen saddles, she didn't even bat an eyelash.  Same thing with the mounting block.  First saddle?  She wanted to walk off?  The last three AND the second ride in the first saddle?  She just stood there.  It was a good reminder that with a little extra time and an agenda that doesn't involve much, I can teach her so much more.  She wasn't ridden or worked hard today, but boy was she ready for a nap when I put her back in a stall.

Reward Versus Work Ethic

As most of you know, my pony's work ethic is somewhat lacking.  Interestingly enough, my kindergartner got the same marks on her report card last week.   My horse and my kid are only two weeks apart and they both have work ethic troubles?  Hmmmm.....

Anyway, I'd love to hear some thoughts about rewarding and work ethic.  My big goal right now is forward.  It trumps all of my smaller goals (pay attention to me and go where I would like to go).  Without forward, we got nothin'.  I would also prefer forward without the tantrum beforehand.  So we've been working on that, both on the lunge and in the saddle.

We don't have an outdoor arena.  We don't have trails.  We don't have cones and other interesting things to set up.  Our arena is not big enough to set up poles if there are more than two people riding and lately, there are always four or five people and a lunging horse in the arena.  It makes it hard to even do serpentines and other things to break up our endless circles.

Yesterday she didn't want to lunge.  She kept suddenly spinning and facing me and jumping with all four feet off the ground.  She even did some amazing 'airs above ground' while trying to get out of lunging.  We worked through it mostly, but it was annoying and occasionally dangerous to have your horse suddenly spin around and leap through the air.  Then she would stand there, her head high, not moving until I got around behind her with the whip again.  I kept trying to catch her body language BEFORE she did it, and in the end I got better, but I was never entirely successful.

So by the time I got in the saddle, she was already tired and very hot and sweaty.  It has been unseasonably warm during the day (mid to high fifties) and she is wearing her full set of winter woolies.  So I got on and she was reasonable.  Not great about forward.  Not great at all.  But there was no bucking and she trotted and cantered when I asked.  She was mostly paying attention and she wasn't snarking at my leg constantly.  So after only about ten minutes, I gave her a loose rein.  We went back to work for another two minutes after a short break since this has been a problem for her.  She bunched up a little bit, but then got back down to business so I kept it short.  My reasoning for this is that I don't want her to think that if she offers forward, she's going to get worked into the ground.  On the other hand, is this instilling a poor work ethic?  We ride for 45 minutes to an hour in my lesson, but my rides are generally much shorter.  20 minutes is a long ride for me.  Mostly because I want to reward her if it's going well and I worry that going around in endless circles isn't much of a reward.

So, what are your thoughts on this?  When you're training a green horse how do you instill a work ethic?  And if you can't get out of the arena and you can't use 'objects', how do you keep it fresh?

Saddle fitter comes today at 11am!!  Update to follow.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Trust In Meeeeeee

This is pretty much what Tessa thinks about my wanting her to trust me.  She thinks I'm the snake who is going to eat her if she trusts me.  This is something that is slowly, ever so painfully slowly, changing.  I can't say that I blame her.  She freaks out and I go "You're right, I'm terrified too!".

Today we had a fantastic ride.  We weren't able to try on any saddles with Laura so I ended up just riding.  I made sure to lunge the pony, even though she wasn't fresh at all.  I needed to lunge her so that if she didn't want to go forward, we could have the argument on the ground and not in the saddle.

I hopped on and we had a mostly lovely ride, with minimal tranter and only a few big bucks.  You know what the best part was?  I wasn't afraid.  Even when she bucked.  It was perfect. Not because the ride was perfect, but because there was no fear.

It's a glorious day today (sunny!  51 degrees!!) so we decided to walk down the driveway.  I exchanged her bridle for a halter with a long enough lead rope that she could circle around me if she needed to.  We proceeded to stutter down the long drive way road.  The gate made her blow and snort, eyes rolling, body tensed.  Made it through the gate.  Two steps and then she'd freeze.  We slowly made our way down the driveway.  At the end of the driveway lives a Palomino Paint who was very excited to hear another horse coming.  We could hear him galloping and snorting.  This was almost too much for poor Tess.  Her head went up, her eyes went all psycho Arab and her tail flipped over her back.  She went from 15 hands to 20 hands of twitchy, nervous horse.

This is where I realized my nerves were not going to help.  I physically exhaled and made the executive decision to turn back home.  She did nothing wrong or bad, but I was worried she was a half step away from checking out.  Sometimes when she checks out, she wants to physically bump you.  I'm pretty sure that the people who raised her let her find her comfort by walking WAY too close, because these has been an ongoing struggle for her.  So I walked slowly down the driveway, trying to stay loose, while the pony minced behind me her body ready for take off at any moment.

Back through the gate where there were a few small whirls and snort and blows and back to the barn.  It took a few minutes of walking around familiar property for her to come back, but she did.  And then I put her in the wash rack and ended up washing all of her feet and her tail.  She was nervous and a little jumpy, but settled down and only tried to kick out once.  This was firmly corrected with a sharp smack to her belly.  She looked at me like "Oh, sorry.  I forgot you were back there."  She hadn't been aiming at me, she was kicking out at her irritating, wet tail.

All in all, a gorgeous day and I had enough time actually bond with my pony.  Here's a self portrait of us from today.  See how happy we look!  Another benefit to having a shorter pony is that her head is actually in this picture.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thank You..and you and you and you.

Thank you to everyone for their thoughts yesterday.  I am so grateful to have a community of horse folks to bounce things off of, even if it is a 'virtual' community.  I think I was jumping ahead of myself and feeling frustrated and old.  I've decided (again) to just stop worrying about it.  Unless my pony turns into a major freak and does something downright dangerous, my confidence is slowly improving and we ARE getting better.  If I'm still writing posts about this in October then I may want to re-think my commitment, but until then I'm going to hang tight.  And if I'm really feeling like I want to ride a broke horse, I can take lessons on some super broke horses.

Today she did a spook, buck, gallop madly off maneuver that caused my foot to come out of a stirrup.  I grabbed mane, cussed a bit and we went back to work.  And that was that.

Today's news is that my trainer got on and rode in my dressage saddle today.  The pony hated it, not because of the fit of the saddle but because of where it puts the rider.  We're not sure if it's too deep or if it's just a bad fit where it puts the rider on the pony but it definitely wasn't working.  So, I will definitely be getting a new saddle.  We then put her back in the jump saddle and she visibly relaxed.  Laura said she may need a jump saddle or an all purpose saddle until she is broke and not doing the spooking/bucking/cranky pony act.  The saddle fitter comes out Monday and I'm going to have her bring some consignment saddles to try.  Also, Laura and I are going to try out other dressage saddles at the barn tomorrow.

If anyone needs a 17.5 Klimke-Miller dressage saddle, it looks like I have one for sale.  Half my barn rides in these saddles because they fit so many different horses and riders so well.  But, the princess just HAD to be unique didn't she?  Of course she did.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Things I Ponder When I'm Avoiding Work

I work at home which is wonderful since I have a five year old.  My job is very flexible and allows me time to go out to the barn most days and still be able to be home when the kidlet gets out of school.  But then there are those days when I just don't feeeeeel like working and when my brain starts pondering other things.  Today, I'm pondering my choice of horse.  I read a well written blog on buying/owning young horses over at http://equestrianink.blogspot.com/.  And it got me thinking.....bad idea.  Very. Bad. Idea.

The two things that I'm thinking about today are:  Is this the right horse for me?  Yes, I've had this inner monologue before and posted about not knowing if Tess was my 'heart horse'.  She will be six in May, but that's another few years before she's considered a solid citizen.  Which is a lot of ups and downs that I'm not sure I'm prepared for.  I read other blogs where people are excited about new goals.  Trail rides, schooling shows, jumping.  And I'm working on not letting my pony scare the every living daylights out of me and getting her to trot without throwing a hissy fit.  This is not my idea of fun.

So then I start fantasizing about buying an older, broke horse.  What would I do?  I think then I'd work more on myself.  Lessons without stirrups?  Yes, please!  Trail ride to the beach?  If you can trailer me, my horse and I would LOVE to go along!  Jumping some crossrails?  Sure, Old Dobbin here is a pro over crossrails and as quiet as can be.  Is this a fantasy?  Would I be bored?  Am I fooling myself?

The hard part is that selling horses right now is not easy.  There is ALWAYS a market for well trained, experienced horses but green bean Arabs with a problem going forward?  Not so much.  I can imagine showing Tess to potential buyers.  Oh, pick up her feet?  Well, I'm too chicken to pick up the back feet because she waves them around too much.  Yeah, there's a bit of bucking when you want to trot.  Or canter.  Or walk faster.  Oh, yeah she's still a bit spooky even though she's been ridden in the same damn arena for 9 months.  It's not that she's at the bottom of the barrel.  A confident rider would have her whipped into shape in one ride.  And her movement is lovely.  But she's a dime a dozen right now.  You can find one almost like her for FREE.  And I'm WAY WAY WAY too picky to just sell her to some yahoo looking for a cheap horse.

But if you came to my barn and said "I LOVE LOVE LOVE your horse and wish she was mine." I'm not sure I'd turn you away......  And then there's the 'other hand' where I think that I need to work through this issues or they will turn up WITH EVERY HORSE.  Since the pony bucks mostly just with me, it's obviously a ME issue.  Ahhhhh...the hamster on my brain wheel is getting veeerrry tired.

The second thought I've been thinking about is:  What is it that I really want to do with a horse?  I think the answer is everything.  I want to ride dressage and take some dressage and jumping lessons (tiny jumps.  baby hunter jumps, really.).  I want to ride on a trail ride if I want to.  Around the neighborhood if that's all the trail I got.  I want to go to the beach.  I want to have a horse that is game for whatever I want to try.  A partner in crime.  I want to ride English.  Or Western.  Or bareback!

My trainer really, truly believes that my horse has that potential in her.  That if I stick with her over the next few years we can get there.  But it's sure hard to see me striking out on a trail ride when I practically have panic attacks in the arena.  Monday I was riding her after our ride on a loose rein when she saw something scary and wheeled around and ran off.  She doesn't trust me yet and I don't trust her.  But given my confidence issues, will we ever get there?  Or are we a doomed relationship where we can only talk about each others 'potential' while we argue about what's happening 'right now'.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I am going to try and do something more productive....like working to pay for the saddle fitter who's coming out on Monday.  Yeah saddle fitter!

p.s. I totally had a dream about the saddle fitter last night and that she said ALL of the pony's problems were because her saddle was pinching her shoulders.  If this comes true, I will build a shrine to the saddle fitter.  No joke.  Complete with incense, candles and crystals.