Thursday, May 31, 2012

Falling Behind

I'd like to blame my lack of blog posts on something as awesome as "I was out enjoying the great weather and riding all the time!" but it's not so.  I've only ridden sporadically the last few weeks due to some family illness stuff.  This month I have had two people close to me end up in the hospital!  Not okay, people.  And then yesterday, some friends of friends were brutally gunned down at a local coffee shop.  A coffee shop where my sister has played her music.  A coffee shop in a family neighborhood full of moms walking their kids.  It's been an emotional week to say the least.

Monday night I had a lesson and despite being exhausted from hanging out in hospitals and being sick with worry, I went to my lesson.  At one point, Tessa reached over to nip me and without thinking I walloped her in the muzzle.  It was not a rage filled punch, it was just a reaction to "here comes her teeth".  She threw her head back, rolled her eye and appraised me.  I kept brushing her shoulder, too tired to experience my usual questions about if I did the right thing and how is she taking it and did this work.

We saddled up.  It was a cool evening and Tessa was on high alert.  We walked into the arena and to the mounting block.  My body was exhausted and I sighed deeply.  I swung a leg over and Tessa stood stock still. I gave her a scratch on her withers.  Then off we went, Tessa's attention darting to and fro.  I may have been slumped in the saddle, but my mind was quiet.  My anxiety was gone.  I was simply too tired to be anxious about things.  Tessa slowed down, lowered her head and walked on, matching my loose quietness.

Later in our lessons, she stopped listening to my leg.  Usually this brings about a cycle of panic.  Thoughts of 'OMG I will have to get after her and she might do something naughty' usually zing through my head and move quickly to my muscles.  Which then translates to the pony and sure enough, we get some naughty.  This time, when Linda said "Get her off your leg!", I simply brought her down to a walk and asked her to move off my leg.  Tessa pinned her ears and hunched her back and kept going straight.  I took the whip and asked again, this time zinging her hard with the whip.  Her hindquarters swung over and we were suddenly facing the other side of the arena.  "Good girl", I said as I scratched her withers.  I resumed asking with a light leg and we went back to working as if nothing had happened.

Then it was on to canter work.  Yes, we are actually 'working' at the canter.  Sort of.  We had been doing lots of leg yielding and shoulder in and shoulder fore while trotting.  Our goal while cantering was to canter long straight lines and then just turn our shoulders and see what that did to our canter.  What turning my shoulders did for Tessa's canter was to kill it.  Every time.  We'd get a straight line, I'd turn my shoulders and she'd drop into one of those awful bone jarring trots.  So, we've got work to do.  But, as Linda pointed out, we are now working on things in canter.  Compare that to a few months ago when I wasn't sure I ever wanted to canter.

In turnout news, her buddy Sophie is still lame and not allowed on turnout so she's going out alone.  She's a sad pony when she's alone, even though there are horses in the pasture next to her.  So they tried her with this cranky pony, Taunta again.  Nope.  Taunta ran her into the fence this time, which resulted in this lovely scratch on her butt.  Poor pony.

No pictures please!  Though notice her beautiful dapples on her summer coat.  Such a pretty girl!

Also, she's been rubbing her tail on the top.  She's regularly wormed and her lady bits cleaned out regularly.  Any ideas what I can do to help this?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pony On A Boat

My husband does boats and I do ponies.  And never the twain shall meet....except in Lyle Lovett's lovely song about it.  I'll be spending four days sailing on our boat for Memorial weekend.  The video above is actually pictures of the Puget Sound so we may be sailing to some of these places!  I'm hoping to be back in time for my group lesson on Monday.

I had to take a week off riding because I had a rib out and didn't want to make it worse.  And you know what's amazing?  I got on today and wasn't anxious.  I was a little nervous to start with, but it went away quickly.  We had a good ride and I decided to try some walk to canter transitions.  I know she's been working with the trainer on getting those.  I waited until the end of our ride so I could stop the ride if we did really well.  We did one.  No bueno.  Two.  Better.  Three.  Nailed it.  Soft and in the bridle and cantering off.  Brought her back to walk after one lap and jumped off.

Also, I'm happy to report that she is finally, finally done shedding pounds of hair every time.  I will try to take pictures this week of her gorgeous dappled summer coat.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rainy day

Today was rainy. I pulled a muscle in my neck so I didn't ride.  The princess is in heat again and very distracted. Here's  a short video of her calling to her barn buddies. Sorry for the shakiness, it's from my cell phone.  I love when she mugs the camera and is then distracted again.  I'm totally bummed that I'm missing my Monday lesson, but I'm thinking horseback riding and neck/back pain are not a good combo.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Supah Stah, Yes That's What You Are

Monday was the warmest day we've seen this year.  Blue skies and 80 degree temperatures!  Against the back drop of lush green trees and grass, the Pacific Northwest is truly gorgeous on days like this.  Unfortunately, this time of year is also hell on wheels for my allergies.  But it's not what you think.  I'm not allergic to the flowers or the trees or the grass.  I'm allergic to indoor dust and dust mites.  So for the next month, while everything dries out and the dust multiplies faster than I can keep up, I fight against feeling crummy.  There's no sneezing, runny nose or itchy eyes for me.  Instead, I get migraine headaches, nausea and my inner ears ring painfully.  I believe they call these 'atypical' allergy symptoms.  Not to be  a downer, but nothing has worked.  I have done almost all forms of Eastern and Western medicine and nothing has changed it, not one tiny bit.

So, yesterday it was this perfect day and the day of my group lesson and I spent most of the day feeling sick.  In my head, I cancelled the lesson a hundred times.  In reality, I kept putting it off.  I get one lesson a week and I did NOT want to miss it.  Finally, I just went ahead and put on my breeches and figured I could always leave if I felt worse when I got there.  I struggled through the twenty minute drive, debating with myself about what I was doing.  But then when I got the barn, my pony nickered at me from her stall and forty minutes later when my lesson started, there was no trace of headache or stomachache.  The barn is truly healing for me in so many ways.

Last night's lesson worked on one thing.  There were four cones on each corner of an approximately twenty meter circle in the middle of the arena.  We started at a walk, making a straight line to each corner.  At the corner, we half halted and used our outside leg to move the hindquarters to the inside.  Keeping our rein aids steady, we then asked them to keep moving and move their forelegs over while still walking.  Tessa was a bit wiggly going to the right and we did quite a bit of weaving in the beginning.  I'd ask her to move her hindquarters and she'd swing her body wildly.  Then we'd correct that swing and she'd swing hard the other way.  But after a few times, she got it.  We then did this exercise at the trot and finally, at the canter.

I'm so proud of how far Tessa and I have come.  We actually began to work on doing a half halt in the canter last night.  A half halt in the canter!  Remember a few months ago when cantering was scary and awful?  Remember when every ride felt like flirting with death?  Not so much anymore.

After our picture perfect lesson, which even included a downward transition that kept forward movement AND contact AND impulsion, I hosed Tessa off.  She wasn't super happy about it, but she didn't poop in the wash rack.  Progress is being made.  Big progress.  I can't wait until next week's lesson.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pictures and Poundage

Yesterday, despite my allergy migraine (which is still hanging around dammit), I made it out to the barn for a short ride.  My friend took a few pictures and I noticed some things that were funny and some not so funny.

The not so funny is that because I had to stop exercising when I was having hip problems and I have added some unattractive poundage to my middle.  Okay, you're right.  It's not because I stopped exercising.  It's because I stopped exercising and replaced exercising with eating.  An extra hour of eating a day is WAY easier than exercising and doesn't require special shoes.  But the outcome is that I now have to make a plan to lose the gained pounds.  Mainly because I'm too cheap to buy new clothes and breeches are not the most forgiving of clothing.

The other not so funny is just a quick self reminder.  Elbows bent!!  And I think I should have lengthened my stirrups some.  I'm borrowing the saddle that my trainer uses for everybody, so the stirrups are always different lengths when you get on and I haven't figured out which one is right for me.  I can't WAIT until I get my own saddle.

You will also notice my pony sporting her shortened mane AND a very shortened tail. I arrived at the barn and noticed my horse's tail had been chopped to her hocks.  Uh.....what?  So I asked Laura about it.  Yep, she cut it off.  The princess was stepping on it.  And it got in the way.  And in eventing, tails are chopped to the hocks. And my pony is in training with an event trainer.  Sigh.  So, to all my flowing mane and tail Arab buddies, I'm sorry.  My pony is now officially an 'eventing' pony, even if she's never seen a jump in her life.  Maybe the tail is the first step to bravery?

Now, the funny.  I'm going to throw my vanity out the window and show you these because I thought they were hilarious.  My pony and I make the same facial expressions.  We're twinsies! As evidenced by the photos below.  Also, for those dressage folks who don't use gadgets, yes that is a running martingale.  It's not to keep her from putting her head above the bit, which you can see in the photos she can do just fine.  It's to keep her from breaking my nose when she does her Arab-temper-tantrum-upside-down-neck-head-to-nose-smash move.  I'm going to be checking with Laura about when we take it off.  We need it less and less as she learns to be more obedient.

See how we are both grimacing as we turn?  Also, isn't our hot pink pad looking bright today?  I don't intentionally plan to be so colorful, but somehow it always works out that we have numerous colors happening.  Today it was blue and pink.

Okay, I'm attempting to smile while riding.  That requires too much thought and instead it comes out as a weird grimace.

Tight mouth and shoulders as we negotiate a turn?  Yes, that's me and my pony!

Again, look at our mouths.  We love to grimace.  From my leg position, I'm guessing we were attempting a turn on the forehand here.

To prove that not all moments are painfully ugly.

TWINSIES!!!  I love that we're both doing something strange with our mouths.

Let's both SMILE!
So, if we're twinsies and she is mirroring me then I really need to think about why I don't want to go's getting better but I'll bet if I figured out what scared me about a 'forward' horse I would solve 90% of our problem.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fitness and We're Not The Bad Pony

Monday was another group lesson and I'm happy to report that though we had a few sticky, argumentative moments we were mostly good.  And that for the first time, my pony wasn't the one having a hard time.  Instead it was the other grey mare (an 8 year old TB) who has having some mini meltdown moments.

Tessa and I enjoyed a forward canter, even if it was totally on the forehand.  It had energy and that's a good place to start.

Spring and summer are so busy for me because we have a boat too.  So we've been spending lots of our spare time doing boat projects.

I've also been doing my Pilates DVD which has really helped my core strength a ton.  This is made by the instructor that I had private lessons with to work on my abdominal separation and my hip problems.  As of this week, I do not have hardly any separation at all and though my arms and my legs were aching after my lesson, I had almost zero hip pain.  Hurrah!

I will say that taking the three private lessons made a HUGE difference.  You CANNOT CANNOT get the proper Pilates stuff from a DVD without first knowing what you are going for.  It's been challenging for me because I'm great at powering through stuff but not so great at using only one specific muscle.  Doing a sit up has a whole new meaning now for me.  Because I have to isolate my transverse abs and pull up from only that muscle, sit ups take a long time.  To someone watching, it must look like I'm just laying on the floor making weird faces and occasionally lifting my head.  But I'm working HARD.  And seeing results, even if they are small.  Three weeks ago, I couldn't lift my head off the floor without torquing my entire body.  Now I can use just my transverse abs and my head can float off the floor.  Amazing.

Her website is if you're interested in learning more.  I bought her book and the DVD and love them both.  I do use the DVD more....I also plan on going to some group classes in the future.  They're super small so you can get personalized attention.

Hope everyone is out and enjoying their ponies a lot these days!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Humans Can Be Stupid

Sunday was a lovely day.  It was sunny and reasonably warm.  The princess was turned out, but without her buddy Sophie, she was spending the lovely day trying to visit through the tiny gap in the fence with the pregnant mama next to her.  I pulled her out of turnout and tacked her up.  She made some big eye rolls at me, along with some ear pinning while I saddled her.  Every time I went to the girth, she swished her tail and I had to remind her once sharply that back feet must always stay on the ground.  She also sometimes paws at her girth with a front foot, which is more annoying than it is scary but still a behavior I'd like to stop.

The arena was empty by the time we got in there so it was just the two of us.  We had an average ride.  She was sort of forward, sort of crabby.  I was kind of braced and kind of tired.  We did some turns on the forehand like we've been working on in our lessons and then moved on to canter departs.  She was very sluggish, but she departed promptly every time so I left it mostly alone.

One of the older gents at our barn had a major episode Saturday night,something with his intestines, which sadly led to his lungs collapsing Sunday afternoon.  I received an email this morning that his owner decided to let him go.  He was only 16, but this was the second 'episode' in 6 months.  The first episode he spent racking up huge vet bills by staying in the hospital for three weeks.  He was a wonderful gentleman of a gelding and will be sorely missed.  He was still very much alive when I was riding Tessa and his owner brought him to the side of the arena to graze.  Tessa could not focus while he was out there.  I tried moving her off my inside leg, tapping with the whip, bending back and forth.  No matter what I did, she would grab the bit and prick her ears to stare at the gelding.

Some of the barn girls were also out on that side of the arena, fussing over the babies so I thought that might be part of it.  We tried working mostly down at the other end of the arena, but it got to the point where I really only had two corners of her paying attention.

Looking back on the situation, I wonder if she knew.  I mean, none of us humans knew that the gelding would collapse only an hour later (it may have even been less time than that) but maybe Tessa knew.  Horses are such wonderfully empathetic creatures and are so tuned in to these kinds of things.  I probably couldn't hold her attention because she was thinking "WTF Mom.  That horse is DYING and you want me to work on stupid canter departs??  Are you kidding me??"  I can't say that I blame her.

Horses, like humans, are fragile creatures and when our time is up or their time is up there's not much we can do.  But in the meantime, we can enjoy each others company and enjoy the steps we take, both forwards and backwards, together. Yesterday could be written off as a few steps backwards in our training, but I think it was actually a few steps forward in me learning that sometimes my horse knows about things more important than circles in an arena and it's my job to listen.  Thanks, Tessa.  I needed that reminder.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cold, Dark and Rainy

I haven't ridden as much these last few weeks.  Mostly due to other commitments and also the fact that the pony is in training right now so my trainer insists on riding her three days a week.  But it's also hard to get out to the barn some days.  Sure, the days are longer now, but we are in the transition phase of spring in the Pacific NW.  Which means we get a teaser day or two of gorgeousness and then a solid week or two of doom and gloom and 45 degrees and rainy.  It's dark and it's cold and even though I was riding six days a week back in January when it was REALLY dark and cold, somehow my tolerance has had it.  I'm tired of being cold.  I'm tired of wearing five hundred layers to the barn.  I'm tired of the mud.  I'm tired of my nose running while I ride from my spring allergies and from being cold and then getting warm.  I'm tired of not being able to teach my pony how to get bathed because it's too damn cold.

Okay, rant over.  Tomorrow is supposed to be drop dead gorgeous and my plans include a Sunday morning ride, followed by a bath for the princess.  She's not a super dirty horse.  Especially for a grey horse, she's quite clean.  But despite being tacked up in the wash rack regularly, she still loses her pony mind when you turn the water on.  We take it slow, we use warm water.  She whirls from side to side, not paying attention to her feet or to me.  She lifts her back legs, kicking out compulsively (not AT me but at the water).  I smack her, I growl, I push her over.  She poops nervously.  And this is is just to hose off her feet.  I have actually never washed her back feet, because the washrack is very enclosed and I don't want to be near a hoof if she lifts it and kicks out.

So, my goal for the next few months, while the weather is warm ( is Seattle so this is not a given) is to wash my horse as much as possible.  To get her where I can give her a full bath, including her head.  To show her that water won't hurt her.  I will know I have reached my goal when I can wash her and she's not kicking out and not stiff with anxiety.  I want to see her head drooping with her lower lip pushed out while I soap up her tail and wash her back legs.  She will be the cleanest grey horse the Pacific Northwest has ever seen.  Starting tomorrow.....

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Princess Turns 6!

Yesterday was Tessa's 6th birthday.  For her birthday I made her a cake out of oats, molasses, cut up apples and carrots as fake candles.

Mmmmmm.....pony cake.

Tessa tried hard to be respectful while my five year old (also turning six this month) daughter led a rousing version of Happy Birthday.  She really wanted to skip the singing and move right to the cake eating portion of the celebration.
I want to eat this cake...RIGHT.NOW.

Nom nom nom.  Cake is good.
 There were cupcakes for the humans and to bribe the five year old to go out to the barn with me.

Then Tessa went back out with her friend Sophie.  I wish I had taken more pictures of the two of them but my daughter is not great around horses and I didn't want her to be unsupervised while I was taking pictures. Moments after I snapped this picture, Sophie stuck her nose in Tessa's tail and Tessa did her mare pee.  Oh, girls.  

I made Tessa take a self portrait with me again.  One of these days I'll actually think about showering before I go out to the barn and take pictures of myself.  Of course, then nobody would recognize me.  I stopped by the barn once in normal clothes and having showered AND wearing makeup and it took everyone a while to figure out who I was.  Hilarious.

Happy 6th Birthday to my sweet and sometimes not so sweet girl.  I'm so grateful to have learned so much from you and I hope that we continue to get better and better.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Very Windy Day

I arrived at the barn with my stomach in knots.  The wind was blowing outside (20 knots if you're a sailing fan) and the temperature had dropped.  Tessa nickered to me, craning her head anxiously to watch me as I went about puttering with my grooming box.  As I opened her stall, she stood tensed and listening, the wind groaning between the barn doors.

Once in the cross ties she wasn't moving much, but every muscle felt tight.  She didn't push into my hand the way she usually does when I curry her.  She heard the sound of another horse coming in and held perfectly still.  Then her tail swished to the side and she hunched her back and let out her mare-ness.  Oh, great.  Add to my list of things to be worried about...a mare in heat.  I went about grooming her.  Her girth area and back were sensitive and she peed four more times while girthing up.  The wind whistled through a half open door.

One of the other riders came out of the ring, leading a sweaty pony.

"It's been crazy tonight" she remarked, brushing some errant sand off her shoulder.  "I got dumped and so did Emily.  The horses are wired with this wind."

My stomach turned over.  I had left myself enough time to deal with this, so I put the pony on a lunge line and got to work.  She spooked twice, but both relatively small.  She wasn't sucking back, but there was something off about her movement.  She looked up and down and uncomfortable and wasn't paying attention.  After about ten minutes Linda suggested that we have one of the working students ride her first, just in case.  Let me just say...Best. Decision. Ever.

Working student climbs on.  After some walking and stretching, she asks for trot.  Pony sucks back and kicks up a leg.  Pony gets a tap with the whip.  And it's on.  Tessa bucking, working student tapping with the whip, Tessa bolting and kicking, working student applying whip and weaving in and out of the four horses in our relatively small arena.  At one point, the other riders give up and go stand in a cluster in the center, watching Tessa tear around at a fast canter.  Every time the whip was applied, she kicked, which meant the whip was applied again.  Five minutes later it was over.  Her transitions were smooth and easy and you could use your leg without fear of retaliation.  I was handed the reins.

I breathed deep into my belly, exhaling a big whoosh of breath.  I got on.  I kept my eyes up.  I brushed her lightly with my legs.  Suddenly, we were trotting.  I brought her back to the walk.  She marched forward and when my legs feathered her sides again she broke into a trot, reaching for the bit.

"She's sensitive!" I yelled out at Linda.

"That's how she should be!" she yelled back.

"Weird..." I muttered to myself.  But I went with it.  I had forward and I was going to ride forward.

Our lesson involved turning on the forehand.  First at the walk.  Then at the trot.  Capturing the shoulders and moving the hindquarters.  Then we walked  from one end to the other.  Halt.  Turn on the forehand.  Walk to the other end.  Repeat.  Now at the trot.  Now the whole arena at a trot, halting in the corners and pushing the hindquarters over to turn.  Here is where some magic happened.  We trotted the whole arena.  Yes, including the goat corner.  We were so busy working we didn't have time to freak ourselves out and we just went on working. Yeah for the whole arena!!  Okay, we still can't do the whole arena when we track right, but it's some serious progress.

So then we rode the whole arena at a trot with a half halt in the corner and moving the hindquarters away without walking or halting.  Now the whole arena at a trot and in the next corner push the hindquarters away and ask for canter.  Bam!  We were cantering. With three other horses in the arena.

Concentrating face.  Not from last night since she still has an Arab mane here.
The entire lesson she was forward and listening.  The few times I had to tap her with the whip, she simply flicked her tail and moved her body away from the leg.  She pushed into contact.  Steady, solid, contact in both reins.  It was our best ride ever and I can't wait to do it again.