Friday, November 16, 2012

Shouldering the Load

I've had a nagging, shooting pain in my right shoulder for about three months.  It makes it hard to lift things over my head and gets pretty aggravated when I ride.  Especially since Tessa and I are working on steady contact, which is quite a bit heavier than I thought.  So I've been seeing my chiropractor and he recommended I go to physical therapy.

The first thing my PT said was "No riding for two weeks."  I fired her.  Ha!  Okay, I didn't.  In fact, I did the responsible grown up thing and cancelled my lessons for two weeks.  Tessa will be getting some training rides and some time off while my shoulder heals up.  Better to take a few weeks off than have some awful permanent injury.  It's disappointing since I feel like we've been making such stellar progress.  I'm going to focus on getting things cleaned up at home.  We're hosting Thanksgiving at our house so I have lots to do until then learning how to actually cook.

On a good pony news, the breeches I like (and can afford) Grand Prix Lexington Full Seats were on sale on Tack of the Day!  I bought two pairs with my husband's urging.  For some reason I'm always putting off buying new breeches.  I've worn the same pair of breeches for two years and I ride 3-5 days a week!  Crazy!!!  So he pointed out that buying two pairs should last me another five years or so.  It's a good investment.  At $40 off each pair, it was definitely worth it.

I'm going out to the barn on Sunday to check in on the pony and have a friend ride her.  I'm hoping it will be warm enough to wash her tail out and maybe not raining so we can go down the driveway a bit.  I won't be going out much regularly while my shoulder heals though, because pretty much everything you do with horses aggravates it.  Lift up to put on halter.  Ow.  Brushing.  Ow.  Lifting saddle up.  Ow.  But feeding carrots doesn't hurt anything and even if I only visit her once or twice, I can at least kiss her sweet, soft nose and give her a carrot or two.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Horse is a Cat

Yesterday was my second jump lesson on Tessa.  Leila, the girl who sometimes give her refresher rides for me, was there and decided that the pony needed to wear some pink polo wraps.  She disappeared and came back around with a bag of polo wraps...with flamingos on them.  Tessa has only worn polo wraps once or twice before and proceeded to dance around when we got to her back legs.  She was shooting Leila angry looks and kicking out with her back legs.  So Leila walked her around until she was used to the wraps.

Blink. Blink.  Polo wraps?
Pre ride happiness
I mounted up and started walking around.  She was a bit hot again, looking at things and trying to stop but we kept it together.  I moved into trot.  She was sticky and a bit cranky.  We trotted over some poles and I worked on sinking my legs into my stirrups so that my back wouldn't bear the brunt of things.  I could tell it was working because my thighs started to feel like jelly.  Yep, that's two point!

Then we moved to cantering.  I got her going, but just barely.  I asked for more forward and she hunched and kicked the wall.  I tapped her and she hunched again and kicked her leg up at me.  We struggled for a few minutes with her dropping back to trot and then snarking at me when I asked for forward.

"Hop off!", my trainer called to me.  "Leila's gonna get on her and work this out."

They don't have you hop off unless things are serious.  I think Laura was just tired of the pony's attitude.  It was time for a wakeup call about attitudes.  Poor, poor pony.

Laura knows my pony is sensitive.  She said it could be the polo wraps, it could be the saddle fits a bit different.  But there's nothing that's hurting her and she needs to stop copping an attitude.

Leila hopped on and was told "Ask her to canter.  Ask her sloppily and don't ask lightly.  (this was to simulate my crappy, heavy, sloppy canter departs since Leila is naturally a very light rider)  If she kicks out at you, keep after her until she's done."

The idea is that my pony needs to know that kicking out is never the answer and that forward is.  I'm really bad about not quite getting after her effectively about this.  Yes, I'm a bit of a nagger.  It's the chicken way of doing things.

So Leila asks for canter and my pony kicks out.  This began the funniest fifteen minutes I've ever seen.  I really wish I had videotaped the ride because it was kind of amazing.  Ever seen a horse walk on it's two front legs?  Me either...until last night.  My pony kicked out her left leg, then her right leg, then both legs, then her left leg, then her right leg.  She kicked the wall.  She kicked her belly.  She kicked the dressage whip.  She almost kicked the stirrup iron!  There was no space between the kicks and she was doing this weird canter/gallop thing the whole time on her front legs.  She looked just like an angry cat, hissing and spitting and trying to get something off it's paws.  Leila just sat still and kept getting after her.  Around and around they went, Tessa kicking and bucking and kicking and bucking and kick, kick, kicking.  One leg, the other leg.  She was practically dancing.

Then, finally, she decided that forward might be easier and broke into a hand gallop.  After that they did five more trot to canter transitions with Leila asking very politely and Tessa responding equally politely.
Our final jump of the night.  Twenty inches!!

Then I got back on my forward horse and jumped this.  Twenty inches of terror, right there.  But we jumped it.  It was interesting that after ten minutes of me riding, Tessa started to lose her forward again.  Not anything major, but it was there.  Just something else for me to chew on and figure out.

Sweaty pony in her cooler and polo wraps.
We were both exhausted by the end of our lesson.  She was a good girl about letting me take the polo wraps off the back and only waved her leg around a few times.  I'm gonna have to learn to put polo wraps on so we can work on this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Go, Go, Go STOP!

I could tell Tessa was a little sassy when I pulled her out of her stall last night.  I had been out of town for the weekend, but she had been ridden on Saturday so it wasn't like she had been cooped up for days.  She swished her tail as I brushed her.  She nipped the air when I girthed her up.  She shifted here and there impatiently.

As soon as my butt hit the saddle she swung out in a fast walk, her back swinging.  Right away, Linda had us work on walking forward into steady contact.  Every time her head came up, I asked her for forward instead.  My normally lazy pony suggested we trot instead.  I brought her back down to a walk.  We did leg yields to the wall and then back out, working on maintaining forward and contact.  She was lovely.

Then we picked up the trot.  A little more brace-y and choppy in her trot, but she was forward.  We flew around the ring while I attempted to get her back to lift.  My practice from last week in staying still was paying off because we had some really gorgeous moments where she slowed down and lifted her back.  Then we hit the scary end of the arena.  Everything was fine and relaxed and then she was slamming on the brakes, head in drama llama mode.  She backed up rapidly and then spun around and galloped off.  I got her back quickly and we went back to work.

The rest of the lesson was mostly great, except her spooks which kept coming in random places with no warning.  At one point we were walking on a loose rein, her head down to her knees, puffing softly.  We walked by the jump poles that we had been by at least 50 times already that night and before I knew what was happening, she had spun around and was galloping towards the other end of the arena with her tail tucked between her legs.

I got my reins gathered back up and put her back to work again.  We managed to go in the scary end and by those jump poles again, but she would just pick new spots to suddenly stop and spook.  Luckily, none of these scared me and I put her to work after each one so that at least she knows that if she reacts that strongly she will have to work.  Linda pointed out that I needed to work her fairly hard because the problem wasn't that she was scared or spooky, it's that she forgot I was on her back when she took off galloping.

We're still working on building trust and hopefully in the future, she'll spook and know that I'm right there to help her get through it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Pony is Awesome

I don't have anything new to report on really.  I went out and rode on Thursday and Tessa was a star.  She still would rather go slow than fast and loves to be behind the leg, but when I corrected her she didn't bother arguing.  For my part, I worked on using what I learned in my jumping lesson to help with my dressage problems.

So we just went around while I worked on putting weight on my pinky toe, keeping my shoulders back and most of all, holding still.  No fussing with her head.  No tension in my shoulders.  No cranking her around.  So though 90% of our ride was not pretty, it was all true.  Every single step.  That means that the 10% that was on the bit was light and forward and through her back and didn't involve me trying to push her with my body into a frame.

After our great ride, I was short on time but it wasn't raining so I wanted to stick with my commitment to riding outside.  I hopped on and was pleased to note that I wasn't afraid.  We walked and trotted a few times across the grass lawn and called it good.  Not a speck of fear.

This last month my pony and I have turned the corner.  It's like I'm finally falling in love with her.  I love her funny habits, like when you go get her in the pasture she will come to you but when you put the halter on she puts her ears back.  Not flat back in a nasty way, but more like she's preparing her ears for the halter to get on.  I used to think she was being crabby and it would intimidate me.  I'm seeing things differently now.

I hope the love affair with Tessa continues and that we continue to find out way into a solid relationship comprised of mutual respect and lightness and fairness on both of our parts.  I'm excited for our future together and all the things we'll get to do.  Thanks to my fellow bloggers for seeing us through this.  I can hardly believe how far we've come in just one year.  If you're new to this blog, I highly suggest going back and reading some of my early posts to see the difference.  Especially if you're struggling with your own horse.  It is possible to come through the other side and my pony and I are proof of that.  Now I just need to learn how to take better pony pictures.  Ha!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Work to Do

Videos are great because you capture the moment exactly as it happened.  Videos are also hard to watch.  Video taping my first jumping lesson may not have been the best idea, since I can see all my flaws in that ride.  Let's categorize them, shall we?  Then you can comment on how to fix them and I will go ask my other trainer Mr. Google also.

Pumping my upper body to get her more forward.

Leaning too far forward.

Launching myself over the jump (this goes with leaning too far forward).

Fiddling with my hands too much (not sure you can see this on the video but it's true anyways)

Weak legs and two point position (this will probably go away with time spent in two point)

I was told my legs would be super sore today.  The bad news is that they're not, my back is.  So...I am definitely using the wrong muscles.  I'd like to believe that my legs are super strong and that's why they don't hurt but I know that's not true.  I know it's because I'm not in a true two point.  That's why my back hurts today.  I think it's a combo of leaning too far forward and not using the right muscles.

What I'm Good At:

Looking at the distances.  My trainer showed me how to look for the first line, then look at the last pole, then look at a farther distance.  I had always learned to just look up the entire time and NEVER LOOK AT THE JUMP!  Which turns out to be only sorta true.  She said that when you have a horse that isn't as confident, you need have shorter distances with your eyes.  So you start by focusing on the first pole, at the spot where you want to come in at.  When you've got that lined up, you switch to the last pole (this is using four ground poles and a jump) and when you're lined up for that you look to a distance farther out.  She said that if you use 'soft eyes' and your horse isn't confident, it won't feel like it can make it all the way out to those trees outside the arena.  She had me looking at a distance after the jump and then when we were clear, looking towards the arena wall.  It worked.

The other thing my trainer talked about was how you have six strides (she said this is mostly doing cross country but the general theory holds true for all jumping) before each jump to change what you're doing.  You can half halt, ask for more forward etc.  But once you're two strides from the jump, you need to ride the horse you have.  Trying to change something that late will result in run outs, stops or wrecks.  Two strides away, you just close your leg (I almost typed close your eyes.  ha!  That would make it much more interesting, wouldn't it?) and ride the horse that's underneath you.

I really enjoyed moving away from the technicalities of dressage.  As a confirmed busy body, it was helpful to do something where I need to learn to be still.  About every ten minutes my trainer would yell, "Don't worry if she's round, just get her forward!"  This should be my mantra for all my rides, including my dressage rides.

Don't Worry about Round, Just Get  Forward!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Crossrails were jumped.  I have proof.  Of course, it's also proof that I pump with my upper body and fling myself over tiny little jumps, but whatevs.  It was my first jumping lesson in at least 15 years and I think we look pretty good!

Schneiders Tack

I bought a few things from Schneiders Tack about a month ago.  Nothing huge, just an inexpensive cotton blanket and some roller ball spurs.  The cotton blanket was adorable but of course, as soon as I bought it, the weather turned and it started raining so it got tried on and then folded up and stored for next year.

The roller ball spurs were okay, but after only two weeks, one of the balls cracked.  They weren't very expensive so I didn't think much of it.  The ball is still on the spur, it just has a crack in it.

I received an email in my inbox from Schneiders asking me to review the products I had bought.  Since I was disappointed with the quality of my roller ball spurs, I went ahead and took the time to bitch about it in my review.  I figured it would save other people the trouble of buying an inferior product.

Well, this morning in my inbox was an email from Cheri at Schneiders:

Dear Mona,

Thank you for submitting your review of the Roller Ball Spurs.  As a valued customer, your views, opinions and findings are very important to us.

I apologize for any inconvenience our spurs may have caused and are not what you had expected. Please find a refund of 18.99 to your Visa card ending xxxx.  The credit was issued today, November 6th and will take a couple of days to show on your credit card statement. We will also pass along this information to our manufacturer to ensure the quality of our products meet our customer’s expectations.

Thank you again for taking the time to submit your review.  We hope that we can be of service to you in the future.

I never emailed them directly, never asked for a refund.  Nothing!  And they took the time to read my review, follow up with me AND gave me a refund.  Nicely done, Schneiders.

If there's one thing close to my heart, it's customer service.  I love good customer service.  Good customer service turns me into a loyal customer for life.  Schneiders Tack, you had me at "I apologize".

Also, in a few short hours I will be riding my pony over fences....or at least over poles.  Jumping lesson!

Monday, November 5, 2012

To The Gate...And Beyond!

Sunday it was drizzling.  A kind of misty, depressing rain.  However, it was ridiculously warm for November.  Thankfully, I was wearing layers.  Off came the down vest, off came the sweatshirt.  Just a short sleeved t-shirt and breeches!  My poor, hairy pony worked up a sweat pretty quickly.

In the arena, I struggled with contact.  Since I have very busy hands that like to try to put the pony's head where I want it, I focus a lot on NOT doing that.  My backup plan to my busy hands is my shoving, busy body and I'm trying not to do that either.  Which means we spent a lot of time circling around with Tessa above the bit, bracing on the bit, running out of the outside rein (did I mention I also let my reins slide through my fingers.  I've resorted to holding on to the grab strap with my hand and rein to keep that outside rein steady.  It works sometimes, but then I have to be careful about bracing my entire arm against the grab strap.).  Tessa was wiggly and very braced.

I worked on keeping her forward and allowing her to come in to the contact.  I had a good amount of forward, but the contact was pretty awful.  After we did some cantering, we did have some nice moments but for the most part it wasn't a good looking ride.  I reminded myself that in the training process, when you're learning new skills, it's normal for the rest of the skills to fall apart temporarily.  But if I keep at it, there will be that one day where I will suddenly realize that I'm not fiddling with my hands or shoving with my seat and that my horse is going forward into contact.  I'm learning patience at a whole new level.

By the time I was done with my ride, the drizzle had stopped.  I had plans to go outside of the gate so I took some deep breaths and walked Tessa over.  It took us a while to get close to the scary gate, but we got there.  First I walked her through it a few times.  Then I got on and walked her through it a few times.  Then we started down the driveway.  Step.  By.  Step.  She would take a trembling step and stop, neck high and tense, ears pricked.  I would ask her to go forward and if she didn't, I would turn her head and we would take a side step.  We inched our way abut 1/4 down the long drive, then turned around and went home.  Then we did that again.  And again.  And again.  I was so proud of Tessa and so proud of myself.

At one point, another boarder decided to take her horse out on a short ride and asked me if I'd like to tag along.  I said I'd follow her down the driveway and see how it went.  Tessa followed her horse like a champ, marching right along with him.  She appreciated having another horse in front of her.  We rode all the way down the long drive to the paved road.  At that point, I opted out since I was already nervous and didn't want to have to feel even more nervous about the pavement aspect of things.  I turned my pony around and we headed back.  Tessa was more nervous going back and I could feel her body tense up.  But she knew she was going home, so she plodded along turning her head this way and that.

Pony got lots of carrots and love and another tail washing. I had to cancel my Monday night lesson because my daughter was up puking last night, but Tuesday is jump day.  I'm doing it people.  I'm really doing it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bit O Honey

Does anyone remember the candy Bit O Honey?  It was one of my favorite candies.  It resembled a small rock when you put it in your mouth and required fierce chewing skills.  Most of the time this meant chewing with your mouth wide open for a solid ten minutes.  Yes, that was back when you had to WORK for that candy!

Tessa has been chewing her bit a lot.  Clinking and clanking and chewing.  She's currently being ridden in an 0-ring snaffle of medium to thick thickness.  It's not fancy, just a regular snaffle.  My trainer wanted me to switch to a KK Ultra, which she went well in, but I couldn't find one with small enough rings.  I love the extra link in the middle and I think Tessa would too, but the one I ordered from Dover (and then had to return and PAY to return it, I won't make that mistake again) had HUGE rings.  Tessa wears a size 5 but she needs petite rings.  I'm going to look at Bradoons since I think those are the same thing but with smaller rings.

Any thoughts?  Bits with smaller rings?  Story - You have a petite Arab.  Where do you get your bits at?

And on another note of Go Me, I rode outside again.  For longer.  This weekend I may even go out the gate and down the driveway.  Also, first jump lesson scheduled for Tuesday.  I'm hoping I can find someone to take some pictures.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Forward, Ho!

I think the phrase might be 'Onward, ho!' but forward is more appropriate for us.  Last night we had a great lesson involving lots of lovely forward trotting.  We worked a lot on lightening my seat more in the canter.  My pony HATES it when I shove and of course it's second nature for me to SHOVE.  It's like I have the belief that if I clench my butt muscles and shove forward, she'll have no choice but to canter.  Instead, it shuts her down instantly.  She's a princess pony, remember?  And so everything must be light and covered in fairy dust and glitter.  Well, everything except my outside rein, which has this habit of floating away (is that my hand up in front of my face?  how did it get there?).

So L had me put more weight into my stirrups and focus on sitting tall and relaxing.  Every time I started to get it right, Tessa broke to a trot.  On the bright side, the trot she broke to was gorgeous and forward and even sometimes on the bit.  We had some good moments all in all.

We also worked on getting my legs farther back beneath me.  They just won't stay there.  I think partly because it was adding too many new things to the mix.  Hold the outside rein, more weight in the stirrups, relax your butt, tighten your core, sit tall and now put your legs a bit farther back.  Also, the pony is convinced that if my legs are that much farther back I want her to *do* something.  We had some random leg yields, haunches in and a lot of tail swishing.  If it was up to Tessa, all cues would be done at her shoulder.

I also talked to L about my Pony Club plan.  She's on board.  I need to figure out a way to find babysitting so I can do a Tuesday afternoon jump lesson.  One of the frustrating things about my barn is that they only do jumping on Tuesdays.  I understand why they do it (our arena is small and if there are jumps set up, there's not much room to do anything else) but it's hard because Tuesdays are not a great day for me to get out there.  But I'm going to figure it out and my goal is to be able to ride a stadium course of five jumps not to exceed 18inches.

I'm also going to be working on getting outside.  One of the girls I ride with on Monday night said she lives relatively close to the barn and has a 2 acre field with a small log in it and a Steady Eddie horse for Tessa to follow.  We haven't made definite plans (I want to jump in an arena before I try the log) but my goal is to try and push forward.  The sticky spot is that once again, I don't have a trailer or truck so I need to figure out a ride.  And it's expensive to rent a horse trailer at $80 a pop and that doesn't include a truck!!  Sheesh.  I just don't think I want to invest in a truck and trailer and I'm pretty sure that's not in our budget right now anyways, but I'm getting to the point where I need to be going places.

After I do this, I will have met the requirements for D-2 Level Pony Clubber.  D-3 requires more jumping, but it just says "not to exceed 2'6" so I think I'm safe to stay at my little crossrails.   D-3 does have the Emergency Dismount requirement.  That should be....interesting.  I only have to be able to do it at a halt and walk for D-3, but I'm not sure I can fling my body off a horse with that much coordination.  At my age, I'm not convinced flinging myself off a horse on purpose is my best plan anyways.  I'll let you all know..