Friday, November 9, 2018

As the Seasons Change

It is no surprise that come Fall, our small town rapidly ascends into the season of monsoons. We luckily escaped most of them in September and for a period of October, but battling the constant wet has made it difficult to get any kind of real riding in.

The pastures are soggy, soaked to their core with an excess of moisture that causes the top layer of grass sproutlings to slough off as the horses walk from one end of the pasture to the other. I thankfully don't have much in the way of mud, as the pasture slopes to drain the excess run off away from the lean-to and subsequent shelter.

The riding arena is a heaping mess though, despite the significant amount of drainage installed last year. I mean, there is only so much draining it can do when the forecast calls for days upon days of 30-50mm showers.

I've been kinda taking it easy though, still coming to terms with everything that happened only three short weeks ago. I haven't felt much like riding still, but have taken opportunities where I feel strong and determined to play with some ground-work and even lunge Annie a bit.

I also played with a few different bridles, just to see
what a smaller noseband would look like.
The season is over for us - soon the roads will be too treacherous to drive on hauling a trailer, and the pastures will fill with an obscene amount of snow just like they do year after year. Schooling will become non-existent until 2019 and hacking the subdivision will be sparse unless the roads are well salted to prevent slips on hidden ice.

I am determined to get a few more rides in - nothing serious and nothing too far-fetched. Just enjoying my horse and enjoying the partnership we have built. Annie and I have had a very busy year, and we both deserve some down time to just enjoy one another. And the impeding Winter makes that pretty easy.

That being said, there are a few more rides I haven't blogged about yet. One of which was prior to Ella's passing and the other two were a short time afterwards.

I remember our ride on October 16th as crisp - the air had a tinge of winter bitterness in it, but the sun managed to disintegrate the cold edge. Annie was great to hack out, and although we only ended up hacking around the subdivision, we were able to throw in some really good work. Most of it was leg yielding, as well as serpentines where the footing would allow.

A good egg.
I was really happy with her at the end of that ride, mostly because for the first time since I have owned her, she foamed willingly at the mouth. It surprised me, mostly because she is quite "tight lipped" even when eating food that she doesn't easily foam or produce excess saliva. She felt good though, and we alternated between trotting along in a frame and allowing her to stretch her neck out. It was a great ride, and afterwards I cleaned my tack and took my time shining up my boots. An afternoon well spent, no doubt.

The next two rides were after everything that had happened, and the first ride was more or less to get myself back in the saddle sooner rather than later. Grief has a funny way of making us avoid or feel bad about enjoying the things we love to do, so instead of pushing it off for another day, I made myself tack up and swing aboard.

From a different ride, but a cute face.
I remember Annie was a bit spooky when I first headed out, but I didn't really blame her. The new park that was going up had changed quite a bit since we last rode by it, and she stared at it hard before cautiously continuing. At this time, she hadn't been ridden in well over 10 days, so I forgave the little bit of excess energy.

Not too soon after passing the park, she was back to her business-like self and plodded along quietly. Unfortunately, I was having a very tough time just sitting and relaxing. So we did a bit of a school - alternating between 'extended' trot and a more collected trot, asking her to stretch down through her topline, etc. It also had to be a bit of a quick ride, as Kelsey was coming to check the fit of my saddles one last time for the year. Thankfully, both saddles were fitting just fine and we had a good chat about upgrading my jump saddle sometime next year and what kind of saddles to look for.

She also brought me not one but TWO beautiful
ogilvy pad's. The second is a show pad with purple ;) 

It was a good ride - a ride I needed. I needed to get my mind off of everything and I needed Annie to just say "You want this/that? Ok, let's do it." And she dug in, did everything I asked, and took care of me.

When I slid off at the end of the ride, I thanked her profusely for being such a good girl. At the time, I don't think my brain could have handled a wirey, hot young horse, so I was thankful she was a steady rock despite her time off and lack of work in the past weeks. I really shouldn't have been surprised tho, she isn't naturally a very hot and energetic horse - but in the same breath she has played that card a few times in the past.

Our last ride together was on Hallowe'en. My brother was up visiting for the week and when he saw me looking out the window at the clear blue skies, he offered I should go and ride my horse. I'm glad he did, because I was waffling between being a good hostess as well as trying to bargain with myself I'd go "another day".

"We're ready if you're ready."
I took Spud as well, and ponied him from Annie. Both horses were super, and we did manage to do some trot sets where we could. I didn't really push it though, as both are quite out of shape now. It was also hard to maneuver them when we trotted, as Spud found it absolutely necessary to casually trot into Annie to push her over. Poor mare got a little bit pissed when I insisted she trot straight and ignore Spud's attempts to move her - she ended up pinning her ears at Spud and he slithered away, but ended up attempting it a few more times, haha. Little stinker!

All in all, it was a good ride and we finished it off with a little bit of bridleless again. I pulled the bridle off a few feet away from the driveway, and Annie happily walked home, casually observing some Hallowe'en decorations the neighbor had put up.

Since then, I've mostly been unable to ride due to the terrible weather and my new work schedule (oh and that darned daylight savings time!!), so I've spent time grooming, hand-walking, and lunging instead. Since it is my birthday this weekend, N has already planned to kidnap me for a ride - rain or shine (and we both know she means it!).

Monday, November 5, 2018

Back in the Fall

The last riding entry I made was amidst my attempt to play catch up on the blog - the rainy day ride with AJ and N. I have several other rides I need to write about, so let's play catch up with the two that followed shortly after the rain ride!

The following day from our rain ride was sunny - bright and beautiful!

So much so that I managed to coerce a good friend of mine to come play ponies for the afternoon. Truth be told, it doesn't take much to convince J to come drive Spud, because he enjoys the little sensitive red-head and does a pretty decent job of driving him, too!

The horses were pretty good, but I remember Annie being a very large butt-face when I tied her. Usually, I tie her very close to my tack room, but on this day I tied her farther away so Spud could be closer for J to get his gear on. Unfortunately, even though Annie was (quite literally) a few feet away, she just could. not. So, she pawed, snorted, clacked her tongue and threw her head around.

Since our last farrier appointment she found out how to play with her tongue.
Here she is in all her glory, yawning and flapping her tongue about because LIFE
Sidenote: her white flecks are very noticeable now with her Fall coat!
I left her to have a hissy fit while I helped J brush out Spud and ignored Annie's antics. She got the message pretty clearly, and nearly five minutes later Annie had become subdued and quietly waited.

She's hilarious though, because if I walk towards her, she gets kind of excited like she can't contain how much of a good girl she was being. She doesn't do anything naughty, but will look at me and bob her head up and down, as if encouraging me to continue coming closer. In the Winter time last year, I was a mean horsey momma and would walk towards her, only to walk past her and continue whatever I was doing, haha.

Despite it being a nice day, I didn't have a ton of time to go riding, so we opted to do the subdivision loop. It ranges from 35-45 minutes in length on the bigger horses and with Spud, it can take anywhere from 50- 60 minutes on a good day.

A beautiful day!
I remember it was a really fun day - the sun was shining, the dogs were happily bounding along the gravel sides of the roadway and the horses were quite well behaved. Annie was cool and collected as I swung up, munched on her little treat, and off we went. We did do some sporadic trotting, but mostly took the time to enjoy a leisurely stroll on two very well behaved horses and caught up on a few things since J doesn't live here anymore and was just up for a brief visit.

We played a few games along the way, since it was garbage day, and I dared J a few times to trot in between a few sets of garbage cans, which both Spud and Annie did with zero hesitation. We also wandered through some construction cones and such, which was fun.

Are you ready for a ride, Spud?
"Heck yes I'm ready!"
Towards the end of the ride, I was feeling particularly brave and trusting of Annie and mentioned I was going to drop my bridle for the remainder of the walk home. We were probably a short 2 minute walk from the barn, and Annie felt responsive and quiet, so I figured why not. I do prepare myself to jump off if necessary, but I find as though once I can "feel" Annie is in a certain frame of mind, going bridleless is a very quiet and calm thing. I do want to do more of it in the ring because a fenced area makes me feel less nervous, haha. I do know anything can happen though, so regardless of being in a ring or not, I let J know I was dropping my bridle and to stay a little further away from me and that if I needed to, I would jump off.

That being said, I wouldn't do it if I didn't feel confident in my horse and on this day, I felt that confidence.

And Annie was picture perfect.

So much so that Spud and J trotted up ahead while Annie and I stayed halted behind so J could get the following video of us trotting on the roadway for the very first time.

She is such a good bean. As you can see, she has
no problems going slow lol.
I was really proud of her. She seems to really like the bridleless stuff and while I am not necessarily comfortable enough to advance it beyond our short little stints like this, I am looking into purchasing her a hackamore to transition more from the bit to a neck rope. I have high hopes and aspirations to play around with this whole bridleless stuff next year (with the clicker ;) ).

With that ride completed, we made a plan to head out again in the coming days. The horses got two days off and then on October 12th, J and I took them out again (sans dogs) for a bit more of a funner ride.

Annie tied nicely this day and I ended up having to move her anyways to get Spud's cart out of the other stall she was parked next to. I'm glad I have good horses, because I nearly fell out of the stall pushing his cart... it bang and clanged and fell into the aisleway with a loud crashing sound. I am... not elegant by any stretch of the imagination.

Still, we got the horses tacked up in record time and off we headed to the fairgrounds arena!! Once there, I took some time to school Annie in the large meadow. She felt a bit bulgy in her shoulder and VERY behind the leg. So much so that I had to over-under her with the reins a few times. I managed to salvage a bit of the ride, but I really needed a whip (which I unfortunately did not have). So I squeezed out some good canter, some simple changes, and sitting trot before picking any more fights about forward and ended it there.

A photo of the handsomest potato, and our sweet Ella bean <3
(This was taken during our first ride).

I hopped off and instructed J with Spud while hand-walking Annie around so she wouldn't get cramped joints from our little school.

It was fun watching J work with Spud. Spud is a very kind pony, but he isn't generous - he'll do exactly the minimum effort unless you ask for more.

I had them do a few exercises to get Spud's motor running, because he was also very behind the leg (or... cart, haha?). A few times, I hollered at J to crack a rein over his butt for ignoring his cue to trot, so he did and Spud got VERY UNICORN PONY ANGRY. He bucked in the cart shafts, so I hollered again, "Give him another one, he knows he isn't allowed to do that." So he got another bad boy smack... another buck... another smack... another buck...

You can see where this is going.

Thankfully, after his last residual buck, he had less mini unicorn opinions and went straight to work.

A sneak peek.
There are times I wish he was a full sized riding horse and there are times I am eternally grateful his sensitive soul is only in a 34" package. This was one of those times, lol.

Anyways, after that little display of theatrics, Spud was back to his professional little self and absolutely rocked the schooling session him and J went through. Of course, the rapid succession of transitions also fired him up so much that he was *ready* to rock and roll for our next task.

I had told J we were going to canter the horses through part of the fairgrounds trail and altho J was a bit apprehensive (I gave him the whole "watch out for roots, make sure you don't go too close to either edge of the trail, help him around the corners, rate his speed, etc and I think it scared him more than prepared him, haha), we set off with Spud in front of me and Annie to set the pace. J was conservative, and popped Spud into a quiet and slow trot. I smirked, kissed at Spud and laughed uncontrollably as the little pony nodded his head back and leaped into a canter.

He knew what to do as soon as he heard the cue and his game face was on! We cantered along the stretch of trail and surprisingly, Annie and I had to canter a few times to keep up. Spud was boogeying!

^Sound off, unless you want to hear me cackling like
a hyena.

As the trail came to an end, both horses knew the drill and instinctively dropped to a trot and finally a sedated walk. J had forgotten to maneuver Spud along the last bit of trail and his cart caught onto a root, but it managed to roll over it. After that, the horses walked along, heads low and quiet.

It was a fun day, and even more fun to share it with a friend.

The last ten minute stretch before home, I decided to test my balance and Annie's saint-hood by going side-saddle. Annie could have cared less, so I thought let's try trotting.

The thing about trotting in a NON side saddle while trying to ride side saddle is that you will most likely (probably) fall off and smash your face.

Prior to the near face-falling, ahha. Poor Annie.

Thankfully, this didn't happen.

But it mostly didn't happen because as we went to trot, Annie was like, "Lady, you are half a second away from biffing it over my shoulder" and immediately slowed to a walk, "No way Jose, we are NOT going faster than a walk. Not with your immense lack of balance."

I laughed and it took J a second to realize what just happened (he is admittedly not a horse guy, but he's picking it up quickly). What a good mare though to feel that and make an executive decision to keep me safe. It made my heart smile a bit, thinking of my unbalanced nieces/ nephews and how Annie would probably take care of them too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Head Above Water

A photo at the back of the property.
I took this a while ago - if you look closely you can see Ella.
I have a back log of posts that I never got around to typing up prior to Ella's passing. I hadn't sat down and hammered them out, simply because I was busy riding and enjoying spending time outside. And then all this terrible stuff happened, and I didn't feel particularly compelled to write about happy stuff. I do want to share those moments though, because they ARE happy moments and remembering the happy moments is what inevitabley gets us by.

Before that though, I just wanted to take the time to say thank you to everyone who has reached out and offered kind words, a shoulder to cry on, a story of their own tragic loss, and for seeing if I'm okay. I appreciate each and every one of you guys - I am slowly but surely pushing myself past the feelings of guilt and remorse. It hasn't been an easy feat, and the funny thing about grief is that it comes and goes in waves.

Watching funny videos of Ella hurts, but it
also makes me smile.
I am trying to understand the SO's grief and sense of loss; as I feel despite helping me with the horses and being a cheerleader on the sidelines during shows, he does not fully understand horses and how they work. Which, I can understand and appreciate to some level. And despite it being an accident of epic proportions, I imagine there is the human need to blame someone or something. And well, the horses are the easiest ones to fit that mold.

So I'm navigating a bit tricky territory - trying to balance myself as well as understand the emotions of others.

I do hope before long, the SO will come to realize just how truly and purely accidental this situation was and that there isn't always the opportunity to bubble-wrap those you love. Which it's not to say I didn't feel those powerful emotions, because not long after the situation transpired, I was motivated by the fire in my eyes to do everything I could to prevent anything like that from ever happening again. And it certainly included hanging up my bridles as well as not owning another dog past this.

The most hilarious little dog ever.
It's ludicrous and doesn't make any sense, but that's what grief is. I try not to pull myself down into the darkness because when it grabs a hold, it doesn't let go. What other people feel in their own grief is valid and even if I have a hard time accepting or understanding it, I'm doing my best to respect it. I imagine men are quite different in dealing with tragedy, compared to someone like myself who finds it best to talk about it and about the real, raw thoughts and emotions.

I have my head above water most days, and on the very good days I push my boundaries a little bit. So much so that I managed to clamber up onto Annie and head out for a low-key ride around the neighborhood. She must've known I was fragile still, as she was on her very best behavior. Small spooks yes, but moreso at the changing scenery (a children's playground is being erected now so things have changed on our route since we last rode). I was proud of her - I had done pretty much nothing with her for almost two weeks - and she came out very level headed and calm.

It was just the ride I needed.

We walked, trotted, and cantered briefly throughout the subdivision where the footing allowed it.

I haven't been on her back since that day, as monsoon season has abruptly arrived. With precipitation estimated in the 20-30mm range daily, it makes outdoor activities borderline impossible.

The chores at the horses are never-ending and although there are days I have admittedly avoided them and left them for a "better day", I have taken some happiness in returning to the routine. I am a creature of habit and even when I feel glum, it's important to get out and go do the things that need doing.

Treats for the best baby bean who took
such good care of me <3
The horses are doing just fine, and are a bit more cuddlier than usual. I have taken to treating their hooves a few times a week to battle the small amounts of thrush both of them have (thanks to the rain), as well as did some ground-work with Annie for a few minutes the other day.

We're slowly putting one foot in front of the other, and over the next few days I'll cover the blog posts I intended to write a few weeks ago.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Some Goodbyes Are Too Soon

We suddenly, and very tragically lost our sweet Ella in a freak accident Saturday morning.

(note: the last few blog posts that rolled out were pre-published as well as were from rides I had had weeks ago).

I'll be blunt - as much as I don't want to go into the details of what happened, I think a level of honesty and some transparency is needed to understand the depth of the situation.

We did not see the events transpire, so only have the knowledge of beforehand and after, as well as the Veterinarian's findings and assumptions.

Essentially, Ella was alone in the back section of the pasture with the horses while Jamie and I were unloading round bales into the barn. Something we had done hundreds of times. The horses were on the opposite side of the barn, watching us, while Ella was on the other side supposedly eating poop.

Something had set Ella off and she began to bark and the horses (excited for the roundbales or perhaps keen on seeing what the dog was barking at??) gingerly trotted to the opposite side of the barn where we couldn't see. I don't know what happened. I don't know if there was an animal in the back section of the pasture that caused alarm. I don't know why the horses trotted over there. I don't know why Ella barked.

What the Vet figures is that the horses must have spooked and decided to flee from whatever situation was present, and inadvertently, contacted Ella with a limb. The trauma (or lack of, rather) does not suggest she was kicked, stepped on, or intentionally injured.

That's about all I'm going to say about it. I don't want to go through the details of our own trauma as we discovered her, or the efforts we made to save her. I don't want to talk about the confusion, horror, and immense pain we felt in those moments. There is some peace in the fact that despite what we saw when we found her, her conscious-self was long gone.

I hope wherever you are, you can forgive me <3
I do know there are risks involved in horses and dogs co-existing and part of me feels really stupid for having them out there with me. But in the same breath, I worked so fucking hard to make the horses a safe place for Ella. Hundreds of videos I have of them together will show her disinterest in them and fear of them when they came close. She never bothered them. They never bothered her. She never ever barked at them (which is why Jamie and I both found it odd she was barking in the paddock).

I don't even know what to say. What to do.

I know of several people who avoid bringing their dogs to the barn. I get it. I understand why. My dogs are always with me and I think I do an OK job of giving them the tools they need to stay safe or make good choices around the horses. I spent months working with Ella and had I had any indication she would have chased them or caused an issue, she wouldn't have continued coming. But she was a delight at the barn and even when I rode in the arena - she did her own thing, sniffed her own stuff and didn't find the horses particularly interesting.

I've kind of avoided the barn these past few days aside from doing chores and changing blankets. I know I can't blame the horses, especially since it really does seem like it was an accident, but I just keep seeing it and it's so fucking hard.

I do blame myself. And I have played the events in my head over and over again - what I could have done differently, what could have happened if we didn't do X, Y, Z or had I just left the dogs at home that morning.

To say we are heart-broken is an understatement. She was a light at the end of the tunnel when I lost Ty and she brought me so much joy. She was unapologetically Ella - it didn't matter if you didn't like her... she was going to make you like her. And that's how I want to remember her - as the dog I didn't intend to keep but the dog I fell in love with after I thought so hopelessly I would never feel that again.

I am so sorry, my sweet girl. I wish there is more I could have done to protect you, to save you...

When I can do a proper send-off post for Ella without breaking down, I will. I don't want this one to be her "last" post on my blog, because that's not how I want her to be remembered. I want to share the good times, the times that made me laugh and the times that I fell in love all over again. Right now, I just can't bring myself to do it.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Famous Last Words

Don't worry, the title is moreso a play on words than it is in having any real meaning.

Basically, N finally ventured back home for the weekend (she's been away for work for a few weeks) and was itching to ride. She messaged me, asking if I'd go with her Thanksgiving Day and being the good friend I am (despite still sore from my lesson with Anthony), I agreed.

She was not enthused.
Driving out to the horses I looked up at the sky and inwardly grumbled as rain drops started to fleck my windshield. I messaged N, letting her know it was beginning to rain pretty heavily in town and she simply responded, "It isn't raining out here."

Now, I'm not a fair weather rider. I can ride in the rain and I can ride in the snow - as evidenced by many a blog posts here. But, with the weather dipping down into the cooler temps and a rainy forecast creeping over the horizon, I was a little leery.

When I got out to the barn I was happy to see the rain had managed to more or less hold off. The light droplets splattered on the tin roof as I tacked up and I messaged N once more, letting her know I was on my way.

Pictured: Not raining, like Nicole said.
Once we met up, as fate would have it, the skies opened up and began to POUR on us. We both kinda just shrugged at that point and continued our ride around the subdivision. Both horses were super well behaved and plugged along sadly, especially when we had to double-back for Ella who had taken the opportunity to say hello to someone outside their home and promptly got lost.

The ride itself was good - it was nice just catching up and hearing about N's work adventures, but I did tease her relentlessly for stating so matter-of-factly it wasn't raining. "Well now it is!" I declared, lifting my arms in the air.

Hilariously enough, the dogs even ditched us near the end of the ride. We typically pass the street my horses are at and instead, split off at the dirt road, which requires me to double back. N was busy telling a story so I went past our usual turn off to the barn and continued riding with her a bit further. At one point I looked back to see both dogs had disappeared - when I got back to the barn they were both waiting in the aisleway where it was dry, haha.

Back at the barn, I stripped tack and hung most of my riding stuff out in the open to drip dry. I'm pretty good at caring for my tack and on that particular day, I was very glad for my wintec jump saddle. I was pretty damn cold, as the rain had soaked through my jacket and sitting atop a horse while they casually stroll isn't the best way to stay warm!

I still finished all my chores, which managed to help me warm up a bit and gave Annie a million treats and her mash before heading home for the rest of the afternoon. I did have to take a very warm bath to re-regulate my body temperature tho!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How to Get a Conformation Photo

While Annie is pretty good about standing (ground) tied, she forever follows me with her head. Trying to get good photos is difficult, because her neck is craned around trying to look at me and see what I'm up to. I've tried to correct it and I've tried throwing things in the opposite direction to get her attention, but it only works until it doesn't.

Never fear though.

I have found the cure all.

*Note: I realize she is still standing awkwardly, in addition to the fact the mats under her are stacked at various heights so it is NOT level ground in the slightest. The photos were just too hilarious to not share! I can also assure readers her front feet are not actually weirdly shaped as the photo is implying. We really need to get some good confo photos on the road :) *

"Smells like something is here...."
-Annie, tentatively scoping out the carrot I so carefully hid.

"Ah yes, here it is.
- Annie, snuffling at the carrot.

"Ooooh, this is a surprise!"
*chew chew chew*

*head desk*

Friday, October 19, 2018

Anthony Lothian Clinic: Day 1

Thanksgiving weekend (nearly two weekends ago, oops), Annie and I had a lesson on the Saturday with Anthony. Typically, Anthony comes up once a month, but with his wedding in July and subsequent shows in August (most people don't clinic in August because it is a pretty busy and full month of horsey things!!) we weren't able to see him for far too long!

In the few weeks prior to the clinic, I took time to reflect on old Anthony-isms and scrolled back through our previous lessons and snippets of information. I found that for the most part, we were becoming reliable in a few things, but at the same time, old habits were dying hard. Which, habits are hard to break and when you don't have eyes on you all the time, it's easy to revert back to the way things were.

When Saturday morning rolled around, I was admittedly a bit nervous. Not only had I not clinic'ed with Anthony in three months, but I hadn't had a lesson since Cat Armitage lesson in August where we also did our last show of the year (not including the online show we did later on in August!). Plus, I wanted to be improved and show Anthony our newfound FORWARD button that I worked so hard to cultivate over the summer.

Annie loaded up great but as soon as we got to the grounds, she was immediately very looky and distracted. She didn't eat a strand of hay, despite my coercing, and although she wasn't flailing around at the end of the leadrope, she certainly wasn't calm enough to quietly munch her hay. It was kinda a let down to me, because I had hoped with all the hauling we had done over the year would have brought her some form of certainty and calmness. In some ways tho, I think the cold weather was affecting her and Brrr it was FREEZING that morning. So, I kinda didn't blame her to be wide-eyed and distracted.

She tacked up alright, albeit a little wigglier than I'd prefer. I noticed as the temps started to drop, she kinda can be a bit of an idiot and at home I had to tie her and just walk away a few times to remind her that tying quietly is non-negotiable. She doesn't pull back or panic, but she swings her butt around and fidgets. Which is part of the ADHD most young horses have I guess, haha, but over the Summer she stood rock-solid like an old trail string Quarter Horse.

Ya, the sheet I grabbed doesn't fit her. It's an old hand-me-down I refuse to get rid of.
But here she is - ignoring her hay and watching the lesson in the ring, haha.
Anyways, I was a bit annoyed but chose to ignore it and tacked her up as it started to lightly rain over us. By the time I clambered on and started to warm her up, the rain had subsided and I was grateful it waited until I was in the truck driving home to pour completely.

As I warmed Annie up, she felt like she had more "oomph" than usual. I didn't want to run her ragged in the warm up, but I knew it would be important to actually yanno, warm her up. The Anthony lessons are very strenuous - both physically and mentally for horse and rider.

I took the opportunity to walk quite a bit before asking for a trot - she sucked back and tried to gravitate towards the other horse in the arena. Nope, mare. I got after her and rewarded her with a walk break. Back to trot and we did some decent loopy figures but I could tell she was not really concentrating on me and wasn't as connected as she could be. I sat the trot a bit, inviting her to lower her poll and stretch her back. She did, which was good. We moved into canter and after a few laps on the grass things started to fall apart.

She decided she was done and instead of circling quietly, kept switching in her hind end. I sat quiet and tall and continued to ride - pushing her forwards despite her theatrics. She humped up a few times, offering her version of a "buck" that was not only very uncomfortable, but awkward as she hopped back and forth on and off the correct lead.

After a few agonizing strides of crooked, broken and awkward cantering, I brought her to a walk and immediately wondered if I should just wait for Anthony to help us. I looked over at the arena where he was still teaching and thought to myself, "No. You know how to solve this resistance issue. You've been through this, so just fucking do it."

So I bucked up and continued to ride my mare - not letting up for anything less than the correct canter I was asking for.

And after a few minutes - which felt like eternity (esp as a spectator stopped watching the rider in the lesson and concentrated on me... altho to be fair I'm sure she thought I was gonna get pitched hah) - Annie finally settled into a rhythm, quit fighting me, and cantered normally. We did several loops, trot-canter transitions and switched directions multiple times. She was over it and ready to comply, so I made the executive decision to drill it just a bit more to make sure she really was done her temper tantrum before we entered the ring.

It's the weirdest thing. I've read hundreds of articles and reached out to several vets about it and most if not all, have stated it's a weakness issue coupled with a training issue. In fact, all of the clinicians I have ridden with this year have stressed that exact thing.

I have never dealt with a horse that uses cross-firing as a resistance technique, haha, so it's been a journey to kinda figure it out and get over it.

Anyways, by the time we had sussed out our little issue, I still had enough time to walk around on the buckle and wait to be invited into the arena for my lesson as the other came to a close. I felt slightly bad for turning our warm up into a mini schooling, but I didn't really have many options. I've worked so hard to eradicate this issue from Annie's routine and for the most part, it's reared it's ugly head a grand total of twice the entire Summer - during the online show in August, and once during a schooling.

Waiting patiently outside the ring.
If anyone remembers, this whole cross-firing thing consumed months and months of our 2017 season when it began in late July and worsened in October where I had my first lesson riding Annie with Anthony. After that, I had her checked over by a vet and we continued to push into the issue by treating it as a disobedience.

I was super pleased that Annie didn't try cross-firing during our lesson (save for one instance) and since then, has not cross-fired in any of our subsequent hacks or schoolings. Unfortunately, by the time we did our lesson I had lost a lot of my forward and we were back at the same issue I had earlier this Summer, haha. I knew it was fizzling out the last few schoolings and knew we would be due for a session in the ring with just me, Annie, and a whip again.

So back to the lesson. Some of the things Anthony said/did that I found incredibly helpful:

  • You need to bend your elbows and follow her movement. (I HAVE TREX ARMS OK). He laughed at that comment and agreed, but told me to practice by closing my eyes and really making sure my hands follow Annie's movement, esp at the canter as I have a tendency to lock up my arms in that particular gait.
  • She has grown up a ton since I've seen her - well done in putting more weight and muscle on her. She looks great.
  • Your reins need to be even. You like to have her overflexed to the inside - ride her straight and ride her in BOTH reins.
  • Whichever rein you do not have contact in is the rein you need to be afraid of.
  • Keep the contact, even if she disagrees and flings her head. Be supple in the contact, but keep the contact.
  • Keep the aid on until you get a response. If you ask for canter, do NOT let your canter aid off until she canters.
  • You need to work on your steering - being straight does not mean you can wiggle back and forth. Go to the jump and go STRAIGHT into it AND out of it.
  • At one point I told Anthony I tried my hardest to apply all the concepts we worked on over the year, but it was hard to keep it all balanced and in check. He nodded along and simply said, "We can't work on everything all at once. All we can do is piece things together and sometimes, you have to forget about x, y, z to get to a, b, c." And after a moment, he said, "And the horses we ride get used to the little indiscretions we have. Of course, we always aim to be correct, but the horse will end up understanding your 'less than correct' way of doing this or that means this." This really resonated with me, because as amateur owners we beat ourselves up for not being the best rider we can be for our horse. And it's kinda like Anthony said in a round about way - we aren't Olympic riders and they aren't Olympic horses. We work hard to be correct but if you have a wandering left hand, your horse is gonna end up getting used to it. Not that you shouldn't work to correct it or eradicate the degree of incorrectness, but that there will always BE something that isn't 100% and your horse, like a partner, will get used to it.

Some background on some of these tidbits is that Annie decided work was exhausting, esp after the schooling we did on the grass. I had to pony club kick her a few times, which was embarrassing but it is what it is. I regretted I didn't bring a whip so I tried my best to get her in front of my leg and made a mental note we needed to suss out this issue in the arena again under our own time. Anthony agreed with this, stating the easiest way to do it is when there are no time pressures or limits.

"The flat work bores me."
- Annie, probably.
Annie was a bit of a PITA about the canter aid and decided to forget how to canter and instead trot for five million fucking strides. Anthony wanted me to keep my leg aid on, which I DO agree with, but I also would have added another aid (ie. whip, spur) for the disobedience. I asked and instead of complying, she just trotted fast until I really got after her. Without a whip, I resorted to increasing the pressure in my legs and kissing (vocal). 

Some of the flat went really well and she felt steady in the bridle as well as relaxed in her work. She was behind the leg, yes, but we did have some good moments for sure. We worked a lot on placing her outside front leg and learning how to influence it when turning. At one point, Anthony was getting me to turn her to the inside while having her even in both reins. It was awkward and I floundered, as every time I went to turn, I'd lose the outside rein. Anthony went on to discuss the importance of having rein connection, esp the outside rein and we revisited the issue and ensuring I didn't cross my hands over the withers. 

However, being dead to the leg and trotting around for 10 minutes consecutively was hard, haha, but as soon as we started to use the trot poles and little X's, mare was AWAKE and AWARE. It was interesting - before I had to literally micromanage her steering to the jumps and on this particular day, she let me place her in a line and she went down it quietly and confidently without losing impulsion.

"JUMPIES?! I is happy now."
-Annie, most definitely. 
Once we did the trot poles a bunch of times, we did a small course of X's and Annie felt pretty damn good. She likes to veer right after a jump, so I worked hard on keeping her even in my reins and turning her back to the rail vs heading towards the other side of the arena. At one point, she cross-fired heading out of a jump (moreso because I think she didn't know which direction we were going haha). But overall, she cantered nice and forward out. We did a few single fences and strung them all into a small course which we repeated a few times before moving on.

We did a small line - x-rail with 5 strides to a 2' vertical - a few times and I horribly over and under corrected Annie in maintaining straightness the first time. We did it a second time and although we met the distance perfectly, Annie took out the whole bloody jump. I ignored the jump and kept her straight on the landing side where Anthony called out, "Do it again and it's going to sound like I'm trying to kill you, but change nothing about that. Ride it exactly as you did." I kinda raised an eyebrow but did it again, working hard to keep Annie in both reins evenly. We hit the correct striding again and executed the exercise perfectly WITH straightness after the jump. Hooray!

I patted Annie, brought her to a walk and joined Anthony in the middle of the arena. He explained the second time through wasn't my fault at all. It's moreso that Annie needs more time jumping to understand she needs to lift her feet vs floundering and trying to scramble over the jump. He commended me on my riding and told me not to doubt myself, which was nice.

Overall, it was a good lesson. It was a new concept of being very even in both reins and Annie wasn't very happy about it because she used the loose rein as an escape from pressure so when I took away her options, she wasn't quite sure what to do with herself. Thankfully, by the end of the lesson she was much more willing to let me feel her mouth and be an influential part of her, haha.

"Whew, that was hard work. Let's go home."
Anthony was pretty happy with us both and although it wasn't our best lesson, it felt good to hear that Annie looked good and we were chugging along nicely. It certainly was the most jumping I have ever done in one of his clinics, and when I told Riding Buddy how it went (mostly the things that went wrong, haha), she said, "It doesn't sound like it was that bad if he let you jump a bunch!!" Which, is true. Anthony might be a jumping instructor, but if things aren't there on the flat he isn't gonna let you jump. Annie and I spent most lessons strictly flat and finally were able to jump a cross-rail in April and then graduated to our first 2' jump in June. 

It makes me happy that we were able to do the thing, esp since the first day of his clinics are usually mostly flat based while the remaining two days are more jumping-esque. 

I was sad it would be our last Anthony lesson for 2018, but it also made me that more excited to begin more lessons in 2019. Onwards and upwards!