Thursday, February 28, 2013

Little Bit Louder Now

My riding has been sporadic but productive.  I haven't ridden since my last lesson on Thursday. 

Tessa has been ridden consistently though.  The kids were all out on winter break and where do they spend their time?  At the barn, of course.  Begging to ride anything that isn't their horse.  So my horse was ridden by the younger, more competent set.

I asked today how she was for them.  These girls are all better riders with more gusto than I have, so I anticipated that Tessa was a gem for them.  Nope.  She was a raving B.  They had been warned that she might buck or kick out in the beginning, but that she would get over it as soon as she was going forward.  The Princess had other plans.  She sucked back.  She bucked.  She kicked.  Then when she was pushed forward, she shoved her head in the air and kicked out more.  And bucked more.  She was awful.

Nobody likes to hear that their horse is awful, but I was actually grateful for the opportunity for them to work through it.  Her temper tantrums didn't intimidate them and they just pushed her forward, forward, forward. 

Tessa doesn't throw tantrums like these with me anymore.  Her evasions are more passive aggressive now, like wiggling in the contact and avoiding listening to the outside leg.  But I want a well rounded horse.  I don't want a horse that only one person can ride; I want a horse that understands this is their JOB and it doesn't matter who is on you, your job is to go forward when asked without throwing a fit.  The Princess only has to work one hour a day MAX and I want it to be clear that when she's working, she's working.  And it doesn't matter if the person on her back is entirely incompetent, she's not allowed to buck and kick and suck back.  So, despite the bad news that she was awful they just kept pushing her forward.

My lesson today was working on a diamond shape.  We started at the walk, getting her to march forward in a nice swinging walk.  Anytime her head would pop up, I would put both legs on and push her forward.  Sometimes vigorously.  When we got to the turn, I would turn my shoulders, move the outside rein closer to her neck and ask her to move her haunches with my outside leg while pushing her forward with the inside rein.  She was not allowed to just turn her neck.  There were a few discussions about my outside leg and a few reminders about focusing on me and not on the horse outside throwing a raging fit (Tessa's new pasture buddy Watson loves her a little more than is appropriate and was outside screaming for her my entire lesson.)

We did this at the walk, the trot and then the canter.  I still had a doozy of a time getting the right lead canter but it is slowly, slowly improving.

Overall, I need to continue to work on keeping my outside rein and especially keeping it steady.  Tessa's new trick is to bounce around in the contact.  Then my hands bounce around and before you know it, she's stargazing and my elbows have become straight arm pistons.  It helped to anchor my hand to the saddle, and relax my arms.  And again, forward forward forward.  Always forward.  Every time, no matter what.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Three Lessons in Three Days

I have a saddle sore that is making it impossible to sit without canting my body to one side to stay off of it. 

I have a blister the size of Texas on my ring finger so I can't wear a wedding ring.

Every muscle in my shoulders is a small boulder.

I groan when I get up. 

Or sit down.

Or roll over.

I was so tired last night that I felt like I had the flu, complete with chills.

I am incredibly happy and satisfied.  Three intense lessons after having two months off of riding definitely put a damper on the old bones, but what a fantastic opportunity.  What huge strides we made.  We didn't fix anything permanently, but I figured out what the problem was.

Shoulders, shoulders, shoulders. 

Her shoulders that escape the outside rein so she can spook, look, fall inside, fall outside, wiggle, pick up the wrong lead. 

My shoulders that shrug up into my ears, that tighten into ungiving solid walls, that take over so my poor jelly belly doesn't have to work.

At one point, the pony figured out that I had a hold of that outside rein and wasn't going to give up.  She was angry.  Really angry.  In the middle of trying to turn a circle, she attempted to take control back.  I stayed steady.  She somehow managed to get both back feet off the ground, kicking in opposite directions her eye rolled back to glare at me (Arabs can do this no matter what position you're in.  It's their weird rubber necks.).  Her little nose was wrinkled and tight and she hunched her back up, grunting furiously at me.  I stayed firm and still and asked for her shoulders again.  She huffed one last time, kicked a last leg out in protest and moved her shoulders.  And we were off.  Working trot.  Reaching into contact.  Forward motion.

So today, I'm sitting with my sore muscles (I'm sure my pony is too) and reveling in the fact that we have turned another corner.  Maybe all the time off did us some good.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pony On Steroids

I showed up to the barn on Saturday with plenty of time to spare.  The drive over was warm and full of sunshine, but by the time I got to the barn the temperature had dropped about ten degrees and a cold wind was picking up.  I went out to get Tessa and she was waiting by the gate.  We meandered towards the barn.  As soon as we got away from the turnout, I could feel her body tense.  She spooked.  She spun.  She snorted.  The wind was colder and blew her mane in stiff spikes.  She grew about four extra hands as she minced alongside me.  It's moments like these that make me realize there are HUGE holes in our groundwork.  I had to elbow her hard to get her out of my space.  I'm not even sure she noticed.

We made it to the barn.  It felt like miles, even though it's about twenty or thirty feet at most.  In the crossties, she was alert but not fidgety.  I had ridden on Friday so I was going to just get on.  We went in the arena with fifteen minutes to spare.  Perfect for warming up and getting ready for the jump clinic.  Unless your pony is amped up.  She spun.  She spooked.  I got out the lunge line.  She was ambling along.  I could see in her eye that dangerous stuff was just underneath her lethargic trot.  I was about to push her forward to get it out, when suddenly the skies opened up and it began hailing.  On the barn metal roof, it sounded like bullets raining down on us. 

Pony lost what little mind she has.  She galloped with her head high at top speed.  She was like one of those crazy, wild horses in the round pen who don't know where to turn for guidance.  I began giving her checks and releases on the lunge line, trying to bring her in to a smaller circle.  Trying to get her to switch something so that her brain could click back on.  She couldn't hear me.  As gusts of wind blew the hail in sideways through the open end, she rocketed even faster.  Her back legs slipped out and she fell, but she righted herself immediately.  I continued to check and release.  After about ten minutes (maybe it was only five but it felt like forever) the hail eased up and she started swinging her head and looking for me.  I brought her back to a trot and we changed directions.  She was blowing pretty hard but her eye was soft and her body was no longer tense.

As I was adjusting the stirrups to get ready to get on, she spooked again.  At someone sitting on a chair by the arena (the same chair my trainer sits on every time).  Then she spooked and spun at a horse walking by in the aisle way.  I did a little work on her listening to me by asking her to move her hind end (sorry, can't remember the technical term for it...disconnecting?  crossing over?  Total brain cramp.) but she was again tense and hot.  This didn't help my already frazzled 'jump clinic' nerves.

Lucky for me, Leila was there to save the day.  She stuck her helmet on and hopped on.  It only took a few minutes of walk, trot, canter to get Tessa back to relaxed.

Then I got on.  And we had a great ride.  I told Marc that I didn't want to jump because it had been too long, I was too nervous, blah blah excuses.  We did ground pole work.  Then it was a cross rail with only half the side up.  When I started to look nervous he said "This is not jumping. These are cavaletti."  At the end of the ride, I realized I wasn't scared.  I wasn't nervous.  I was just having fun.  Marc made me promise to make a record of this, so here is my public declaration:

I was not scared.  I had fun.  I enjoyed the entire jumping clinic. 

This also includes Sunday where I went back and jumped verticals 'slightly' higher than cavaletti.  The only downside.  Saddle sore.  Ugh.  Something about the jump saddle that I use gives me horrible saddle sores and after two days of lessons, I now have a giant patch of bandaid on my behind.  I made it giant because I'm going back for a dressage lesson tonight!  Yes, that's right.  Three lessons in a row.  Whoooo!

Yes, she's getting ready to leave me a present in the aisle way as evidenced by her raised, fluffy tail.
Hopefully I will be able to get caught up on everyone's blogs in the next few days.  I'm so behind and I see lots of stuff has been going on!  Happy Riding everyone!!

Friday, February 15, 2013

One Week Off and One Week On.

I finally got to ride today.  My pony hadn't been ridden since I last rode her on Thursday.  I lunged her, and she was actually quite sensible.  She had a few blow up moments on the lunge line when other horses whinnied (a call to action perhaps?) or entered the arena, but she was otherwise very lovely.

We started out going to the left.  Ick.  Ugh.  We're doing something wrong.  I kept going back to the walk to figure out what it was.  At the walk, she was reaching nicely into contact and stepping forward most of the time.  As soon as we trotted down a long side, I could feel her body disconnect.  My inside foot was banging the arena wall, her head was up and twisted.  I had NO horse between my reins.  I sat deep, pushed her forward and tried to stay steady on my outside rein.  Nothing worked.  It was awful feeling.  I kept trying to come back to walk to figure out what it was, but she was fine at the walk.

It did feel like we couldn't turn.  I would turn my body, keep my outside rein steady and she would plow right through me.  It felt like I was using too much inside leg, but can you ever use too much inside leg?  Was my outside rein just not steady?  Was it me or was she blowing off my outside rein?  And what the hell do I do when she blows off my outside rein???  I didn't have a lesson so I was on my own.

I gave up trying to fight her on it since I didn't know what it was I was feeling.  I made a mental note to ask my trainer about it at my next lesson.  We changed directions and went to the right.  And IT WAS MAGICAL!!  Dreamy!  Amazing!  Reaching into contact.  Mostly straight (c'mon, we can't be perfect) lifting up her back.  It was gorgeous.

We did that for a while, making large circles and small circles, me grinning like an idiot.  Then we went back to the left.  Nope.  Hot mess returned.

Back to the right?  Ooooh, dressage pony.

I still don't know exactly what it was.  If anyone has felt this or can tell me what you can to do feel if it's an outside rein issue I'd appreciate it.

In other news, the pony had an entire week off.  I've had one lesson all month.  But this weekend that's gonna change.  'Cause I'm riding in another jump clinic with Marc Grandia.  I did say that I didn't want to jump this time, but I wouldn't mind working on position and ground poles.  Mainly because I have only ridden about four times since 2013 started and I'm painfully out of shape and low on confidence.  But I'm riding Saturday AND Sunday and then in my regular Monday lesson. 

I'm hoping to sort out this wiggly business and also see if we can't make headway on the right lead canter.  We just can't get it consistently and I don't know why.  I'll bet it's that pesky outside rein/inside leg business again.......

Friday, February 8, 2013


Sorry for the extra long absence.  January kicked my butt with multiple rounds of the flu, inhalers needed to breathe, husband in China, then husband with the flu, then child with more flu, then child with fever and sinus infection.  And in there I had two houseguests, one for a week and one for two weeks.  Then I had a friends birthday, my husband's big 5-0 is coming up, my little sister's birthday, another friend's birthday, another friend's birthday and Valentine's Day and then Whammo!  It's mid-winter break and the kidlet is home from school again.  Things will hopefully slow down a bit towards the end of February.

I was able to go to my usual lesson on Monday night.  I had ridden the Saturday and Sunday before, but only for about fifteen minutes at a time.  I still have some residual stuff in my lungs and it's hard to post the trot while gasping through a coughing fit.  Saturday and Sunday I didn't really ask for much with Tessa or with me.

So we're ready to go on Monday and pretty much our whole lesson, we were a hot mess.  The pony has developed a massive under neck muscle from holding her head up the wrong way and bracing.  Monday night, I was really helping her develop this muscle by bracing right back.  She raised her head and I'd raise my hands and tighten everything up.  She'd pull against it and I'd give her the iron wall of death with my hands.  It was ugly.  Real ugly.

I felt kind of defeated after that lesson.  I half heartedly asked my trainer about lunging her in side reins to develop the correct muscling in her neck.  She laughed at me and said "Your horse will develop the correct muscle when you are riding her correctly and have the connection consistent.  It's your job to learn that."  Sigh.  I knew that, I really did. 

The princess got Tuesday and Wednesday off and I went out Thursday morning for an impromptu lesson.  There was a lot going on, including a giant truck loading up the manure, the tractor being used, a blower being used on aisleway.  I don't normally ride mornings, but it was kind of crazy! 

Tessa was hot and spooky.  I walked her around, worked her through a few giant spooks and then got on.  We walked about five steps.  Her head was straight up and I could feel every tense muscle in her body.  She was doing that scary, mincing walk that isn't forward and reaching, it's on the edge of explosive.  I hopped off and went for the lunge line.  It's not worth risking losing my confidence over.  A few crazy laps around on the lunge line and she settled down and started moving forward.

Then I got on and had the best lesson of my life.  We had multiple laps around the entire arena where she was lifting through her back and actually coming onto the bit.  I could feel her in my hands.  I worked on keeping my hands steady so she had a place to come into.  Tessa was forward and mostly responsive and it was amazing (well, okay, to be fair we still had MAJOR issues with the right lead canter.) and gave me hope.  We won't be upside down and bracing and awful forever. 

The difference between Monday and Thursday was MASSIVE.  What's interesting is I had gone to see the chiropractor right before I rode on Thursday morning.  Maybe that loosened everything up and got stuff back to where it should be?  It's a theory I'll be checking out as I go along.  But Thursday, I was glad to be back in the saddle and glad to feel like we actually are making some progress!