Thursday, April 25, 2013

Walk This Way

Today was drop dead gorgeous so I played hooky for a few hours with my friend Marie.  Marie got a chance to ride the pony (she was good.  not super forward but not super crabby either) and then to go for a walk afterwards down the spooky driveway and out to the road.

Marie uses clicker training and had a clicker with her.  It was fun watching Tessa's brain kick in as we walked down the driveway.  The walk was short in distance but long in time, as we walked and stopped.  Walked and stopped.  Tessa would take a tentative step and then freeze up.  Marie watched for signs of relaxation..chewing, head lowering, sighing and then would click and treat.  Every step forward was rewarded with a click.  A few times she had to get Tessa's shoulders moving to unstick her, but after the first while she did pretty well.

When we broke through the dappled sunlight of the long driveway on the road, there was lush grass which gave us another opportunity to show Tessa how great exploring can be.  We let her graze for a while before moving on.

Further down the road we encountered mail boxes, scary rocks and some horses.  The horses were the scariest part of all.  Exhibit A:  a short video of Tessa doing a gorgeous Arab trot with her tail thrown over her body.  This was in response to the neighbor horses coming to the fence to check her out.  She's so pretty!

We found some more grass and let her graze after this.  Then we turned and headed home.

The walk home was full of turning around and walking away again.  Marie was very patient about turning around EVERY SINGLE TIME that Tessa surged ahead, even a tiny bit.  She made sure to do lots of stopping and if Tessa tried to go, they went...but AWAY from home.  Staying next to Marie was rewarded with a click and treat.

I really admire the way Marie works with horses.  She's patient and calm and kind and just didn't make a fuss one way or the other.  She wasn't prolific with the praise, but with the clicker it was so clear to Tessa when she got it right.  And when she didn't get it right, she wasn't punished..she simply wasn't rewarded.  Walking too fast towards home?  She was turned in a circle and marched away from home.  As many times as it took.

Marie reminded me that when I go to do new things, to set the goal and then allow the time to make it happen.  So if my goal is to get down to the end of the driveway, to allow myself all the time in the world to accomplish it and to not quit until we got it.  She said the biggest lessons horses learn is when you stop short of your goal or get frustrated and try to push it faster/harder.  She said just stay quiet and give rewards whenever Tessa took steps in the right direction (either literally or more figuratively like relaxing a little bit, even if it is a tiny, tiny bit).

She also agreed with my trainers that Tessa is a great little horse who just needs more exposure.  My plan is to try to do the driveway walk again tomorrow and the next day and the next, until the driveway walk is boring for both of us.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Taking Good Care

Last night's lesson was a reminder of how far we've come and a glimpse into where we could go.  I have struggled a lot with my pony over the last two years.  I bought a young horse (just turned 5 at the time) who didn't have much in the way of training.  I wanted a bay gelding between the ages of 8 and 14, about 15.2 hands who was super calm, not spooky and had basic training.  Somehow, I purchased a barely 5 year old 14.3 hand grey mare.  At the time, she seemed super calm and not spooky but that turned out not to be true either.  And the basic training was a bit more basic than I had originally thought.

She arrived in early summer and promptly scared the daylights out of me by being a nervous wreck.  She would barge into me when she spooked, freeze up walking down the barn aisle and scoot and bolt in the arena.  I was afraid to ride her.  Without a confident leader, her behavior got worse.  She began nipping when I brushed her.  You couldn't pick up her back legs without her yanking away abruptly.  She stopped wanting to go forward, instead kicking out at my leg or bucking.  The more she bucked, the more I froze up.

Six months after purchasing her, I decided to sell her.  She was too much horse and I was too nervous of a rider.  As a last resort, I switched trainers.  I would give the new trainer a month and if things didn't change I would sell her.  That was October of 2011.  My first lessons were at the walk and trot only.  I bought a bucking strap and learned to curl my fingers around it and take deep breaths.  That first month my trainer stood next to me in the arena, giving me constant feedback and instruction.

When the month was up, I wasn't convinced.  Our progress was there but was small and frustrating.  I asked my new trainer if she thought I should sell her.  I was pretty sure she would agree that she was the wrong horse for me.  But that isn't what she said.  She said that this horse was a great horse for me and that she could see that potential in both of us.  She said that she's been in horses for over 20 years and she's got a good eye for things and that this horse had the makings of a horse who would take care of it's rider.  She just needed time and consistency and for me to stick with it.

So I did.  And here we are in April of 2013.

When I got to the barn last night I was in a foul mood.  Life has been brutal the last few weeks and I was frustrated in general.  In the cross ties, my pony reflected this mood at me, swishing her tail at the bugs and stomping her feet impatiently.  She pinned her ears at the saddle, the saddle pad, the brush, at me.  When I got on her, she shook her head at me and refused to go forward.  Then she spooked and refused to go past one of the jumps.  I managed to ride her through it, but I pulled up next to my trainer and told her that I wasn't sure if I could do this.  I wasn't sure I could ride this horse.  I wanted my dead broke, forward going, already trained, not spooky gelding and I had a terrible week and maybe I should get off my horse.

She said she would tell me if she saw me taking any frustration out on my horse.  She said it wouldn't be the first time she's told someone to get off their horse and put it away because their emotions were getting in the way.  Then she gave me some reminders about forward and how I need to just ask once, then tap as a reminder, then ask again.  Don't keep asking.  Don't clench up.  Don't get angry.  Do lots of transitions.

In the end, we had light forward and easy canter transitions.  We jumped and jumped and jumped and jumped.  I kept going too far forward and my pony kept saving me.  She's that kind of a horse.  Even though she hasn't been jumping long, when I lean forward she automatically comes in deeper to a fence and pops over it so I can't come over her neck.  There's a name for it but I now can't remember what it is.  When I get it right and actually sit up, our lines flow and her jumps are big and round.

So, as we approach my pony's 7th birthday I want to say thank you.  To my new trainers who continue to see my horse's potential and encourage me to do the same.  Ride the horse you want is something I hear a lot of.  They know she can be that horse if I just stick with her.  And thank you to my pony who continues to mirror back to me exactly what I need to learn but who also takes care of me.  She's just the right amount of sassy, affectionate, interesting and challenging.  One of the things I've always loved about Arabs is that once you find your stride with them, they will do anything you ask.  We're not there yet, but I can see that distance now.  And we are riding toward it.
This picture was taken the day I bought her.  She's doing her second favorite activity in the world, napping.  Her first is, of course, eating.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Saggy Pants

I had a great ride on my pony after the clinic on Sunday.  I worked really hard to stay soft and light.  I also continued working on making sure my position was correct and forward so that Tessa could stay correct and forward.

Then on Tuesday night I had my jump lesson.  The pony was hot and spooky and did some spin and bolts, which was not the best way to start.  So we ended up working mostly at one end of the arena.  We had some nice jumps and I focused on more forward without bucking or kicking out and not worrying about roundness.  Sheesh, that is HARD.  Coming from a dressage background it's hard to let go of that entirely.  It's good for my head to just ride.  Forward.  And jump.  Then ride.  Forward.  And jump.

We had one moment where we were using jumps in all four corners of the arena and doing a circle of jumps.  We did fine over the first two, but as we came down from the one that was pointing us toward the scary end of the arena, something spooked Tessa.  She spun around and flew sideways.  There was no way we could make the fourth jump, so I pulled her around and aimed for the next one.  I steadied her gallop into a canter and we jumped the next jump.  Then we simply continued around the course again until we had cleared all the fences.

Laura said it was perfect because we didn't even acknowledge the spook, we just kept working.  I really hope that as we get out in the world and we do more things like this, that the spook settles down a bit.  Yes, I know she's an Arab.  But I've ridden plenty of non spooky Arabs in my life so I know it's not just that.  She just needs more outings and more experiences and more miles....hopefully.

At the end of the lesson, Laura called me over and said "I know the other reason why you're getting saddle sores.  Stand up in your stirrups."

I stood up in my stirrups and looked down.  My breeches sagged and I hitched them up.

"Yep.  Right there.  Your breeches don't fit right."

Sigh.  The breeches that I own three identical pairs of.  It's not that they are too big all over, it's that they don't fit right in the waist/crotch.  Laura pointed out to me that in tailor terms, you have to look at not only if you have a long or short waist, or long or short legs, but how long the distance is from pelvis to belly button.  I'm sure there's a technical term for it, but I don't know what it is.

So I have a short waist from hip to rib cage.  Super short.  Like three fingers.  But the distance from my belly button to the bottom of my pelvis (I think that's the correct term?  Basically the bottom of your crotch.) is more than 15 fingers!  And then my upper thigh is long, so regular breeches hit me about mid calf.  Laura recommended I try on Cavallo (sp?) breeches.  I'm resigning myself to the fact that my reasonably priced breeches aren't fitting right and are rubbing me raw.  And now I get to shop for breeches, something I'm not fond of doing and not fond of spending money on.

What's your favorite breech?  Any recommendations?  Any breeches I should stay far, far away from?

A Clinic and Some Cold Weather

I got back from vacation on Friday night and was invited to go see a dressage clinic on Saturday.  So early  Saturday morning, I was up and out the door early in the morning.  It was only 32 degrees out so I layered tights, wool socks, jeans, down vest, down jacket.  I went with my friend Marie who owns an Andalusian.  I have yet to meet her horse, but he sounds pretty cool.  She was invited to this clinic by a friend of hers who owns a young Lusitano.

The trainer was Andre Ganc .  The facility was lovely, with lots of good turnout and a nice covered arena.  We were there all day and by the end, both of us were itching to get back to our ponies and try what we had learned.  We were also ready for a hot bath and a glass of wine after shivering all day while 30 mph winds whipped the cold air through our jackets.  I was cold despite having two layers of down and a hat and gloves on.

My favorite horse by far was the young Lusitano.  He was hot, hot, hot!  I caught a small video and this was the smallest of his tantrum.  What I really liked about the trainer was that he just had the rider make small adjustments and keep riding forward and rewarding.  He was really, really big on rewarding.  At least once in every 20 meter circle he would say 'Pet him!'.  With his accent this came out as "Pet heeeem.  Yes, pet heeeeem."  I wish I had gotten video at the end of this lesson because the horse was a different horse.  He was relaxed and soft and supple.  His owner said that he's super mellow on the trails and only hot for arena work, which I found interesting.

I had five more paragraphs ranting about clinics and people who ride in them and then make excuses or don't do what the clinician tells them to do or aren't fit enough to ride for more than five minutes at a trot without taking a break.  I deleted it because one - standing on a soapbox is a precarious position from which you are bound to fall and two- because all of the people were lovely, nice people and I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings in case they stumble across my blog.  We all have our stuff and our reasons.

The clinic really made me want a truck and trailer and some more money to spend doing clinics.  I think Tessa and I are ready to make our way into the big wide world soon.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Jumping Lesson with No Jumping

Last night was supposed to kick off a few months of trying just jumping lessons instead of dressage lessons.  Ideally, I would do both, but with limited funds and limited time I have to choose.  So, I thought I would focus on forward and fun for a while and see how it goes.

Tessa's wound is doing good.  They are cleaning it every day.  It's always puffy and warm when I show up, but she works out of it in about ten minutes and shows no sign of lameness.  She was a little short strided while on the lunge, but once I pushed her forward she was fine.

So, I got on and we started to work on me sitting lightly.  Then we worked on making sure that Tessa understood that if I asked her to trot, I asked her to trot.  No yelling with my legs or whip.  No nagging. I carried a jump crop and was told to basically say 'hello?hello?hello?' until she answered.  So, I asked her to trot.  Nothing.  This time, rather than gripping with my leg and asking her again, I tapped her on the shoulder with the crop (not hit, tapped).  She sassed me, so I kept tapping.  I tapped while she pinned her ears.  While she threw her head.  While she pushed out of the outside rein and tried to rub me on the wall.  I tapped while she kicked out, kicked up.  And then when she blew a frustrated sigh out of her nose and moved into a lovely forward trot, I told her she was a good girl and quit tapping.

My pony has taught me that if I tap her with a whip, she will try to intimidate me.  She wants me to pick a fight with her because she will win in a fight.  So, my goal is to make sure not to pick a fight with her.  I need to irritate her into going forward.  And not get intimidated when she pitches a fit before she does it.

So, then we were going to get to the jumping part and L asked me to canter.  About halfway around the arena, she told me to put more weight on my toes.  I did and the pony became lighter.  Then L told me to stop and came over.

She told me to sit normally and I swear I saw a lightbulb go on over her head.

"Aha!  I have figured out why your horse won't go forward and why you are getting saddle sores!!  Most people, when they are nervous, ride in the fetal position.  You, however, are riding in a defensive position with your seat shoved down into the saddle and your heels shoved down.  Your thighs aren't even touching the saddle!!"

She had me stand up in the stirrups and shift so that I was more forward.  She told me to stand on my toes.  I had to grab Tessa's mane to get my balance.  It felt very strange.

We picked up the trot.  I made sure to hold her mane when I wobbled.  My thighs burned.  Then we picked up the canter.  Oh!!!  This is what it feels like to be light!  The pony was forward and listening and didn't require multiple tries to pick up the canter.

When we turned to go to the right, things kind of fell apart, but we brought it back together with a plan.  Keep the outside rein and ask for canter in three stages.  One - half halt.  Two - Outside Leg Back.  Three - Ask for canter with the inside leg.  If at any time during those stages, she threw her neck and shoulder out and changed the bend, I was to go back and start over.  If she picked up the wrong lead, I was to counter canter her in a ten meter circle.

We got the right lead canter multiple times.  We also got the left lead more than I would have liked, but I'm letting myself off the hook.  My thighs were burning trying to hold the new position and my brain was overflowed with information.

In the end, we ran out of time to actually jump anything, but I think we solved a much bigger issue about my riding.  I've been riding defensively.  The kind of seat that works well on a horse that is bolting, bucking, being super naughty.  This would be fine if I was a rodeo cowboy and Tessa were a bucking bronco, but we're not.... at least most of the times.  I won't get to ride again until Friday, but I'm excited to work on my new position.

I also woke up this morning with every muscle SCREAMING at me so it must have been a good workout.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Springtime Silliness

Sunday was the most gorgeous day ever, full of sunshine and blue skies and warm temperatures.  I got out to the barn, excited to ride and see where we were at.  I was going to practice doing polo wraps (seriously, where is adult pony club when you need them) and staying light in the saddle.  But when I pulled my pony out of the stall, her right hind leg was puffy and swollen.  Oh goody.

This picture was in the wash rack after cold hosing.  You can't see much of the swelling, but you can see the puncture wound.  You also can't see the strange hair sticking up running down the leg.  It was bad enough that she is on antibiotics.

L had me lunge her for ten minutes in each direction to see how she was.  She was a little bit ginger on the one foot, but worked out of it quickly so that's a good sign.  Also, since I only ever lunge when she's being crazy I didn't realize how BORING lunging is.  And how ten minutes feels like FOREVER when all you're doing is trot, trot, trotting.  I was told to keep her trot forward but not too fast and not asking for too much.  Just enough forward to make sure she's bending in her hocks.  Since it was warm, Tessa just plugged around.  Circle after agonizingly boring circle.  It's obvious she was lunged a lot in a halter, because she just went around with little encouragement.  I have no idea how people lunge for an hour.  I would die of boredom.  I kept checking the clock to see if my ten minutes was up.

Then I took Tessa in and gave her a full on bath.  The only thing I didn't clean was her face.  She was so good in the wash rack, standing like a champ and not lifting a leg at all even when I scrubbed near her wound, that I decided not to push it and wash her face.

Then we went back and I groomed another small pony's worth of hair off of her and put her away.  L put a clay pack on the wound and started her on antibiotics.  I'm hoping for an update today since we were supposed to start our jumping lessons tomorrow.  We're both hoping that it will be the kind of injury that will respond well to light work so I can at least hack her. 

No idea how she got it.  It's the time of year when they go into heat and make bad decisions in turn out.  She's not known for going crazy when she goes outside and neither is her turnout partner, so who knows what happened.  Just some springtime silliness, perhaps.