Sunday, February 26, 2017

Where Have I Been?

That accuracy tho.
We have had two planned shutdowns occuring at work - which typically means long hours, late nights, and the inability to function for the better part of the weekend.

Last time I blogged, I posted about the Jump Day just before Valentines Day that Annie and I attended along with N and AJ. Since then, I haven't been able to do much riding due to work being hectic and "adulting" getting in the way.

But for sake of making this a worthy blog entry, let's summarize what I've been up to in the past two weeks.

I took Spud on a rainy day ground drive to start getting him back into the swing of things. We practiced our vocal cues, which he adorably complied with. And we also happened upon a rambunctious puppy who decided to join us on our walk, much to Spud's annoyance.

I hacked Annie out to meet up with N and AJ. She also met a Donkey and chickens on this hack - we chased the chickens until they moved, and then she was like "OMG NOOO SO SCARRRY":

Baby pony hacked almost the entire way to AJ's house
on her OWN. :)

Tired baby pony.
As a sidenote, her saddle slipped again. >_> Fuuuck.

Her brown muzzle is just <3

I took the dogs for a walk with the Boy and snapped some photos:

Roxy - 4 years old
Ty - 12 years old (Shepherd)

Those teefers <3

My newest favorite photo of him <3

 Decided to undergo some self-inflicted pain and get a tattoo of one of my favorite quotes:

The capital words are actually in my Dad's handwriting
and the cursive is my Moms. The flower is a sweet pea
which is a nod to Suzie, who was born in May (when these flowers
bloom) and to my Auntie who called me
her sweetpea.

Not pictured:
  • Handwalking the horses with the Boy wherein Annie met some caution tape and just COULD NOT HORSE. It didn't help when Suzie moved the tape and consequently scared the shit out of Annie... Oops.
  • Having to cancel a lesson with Karen because omg the exhaustion (and I don't think riding with a fresh tattoo would be a smart idea).
  • Taking Annie and Spud for a hand-walk with the bestie on a sunny and warm afternoon.
  • Making mashes for Annie to help her beef up a bit and having to discipline Suzie because holy fuck can you NOT run me over, mare?

So yes, we are still all alive. Not doing much, but alive!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Annie Meets Jumps

A local club was hosting a “fun jumping day” on Monday, which also was a holiday in BC (Family Day). I had tentatively agreed to go, mostly to take Annie to experience a busier atmosphere and more of a “show like” feel. After our fantastic lesson the day before, I didn’t hesitate to rehitch the trailer Monday morning and coheres a friend in joining me.

I picked up N and her horse AJ first since I wasn’t sure if Annie was going to load solo and I didn’t want to waste time begging and bargaining with her like I did the day before. N offered to help load, so when we stopped to grab Annie I was pretty pleased she walked on after minimal hesitation.
At the grounds, she was pretty good, just looking around at other horses and horse trailers entering the area. She ate a good amount of hay and was well-behaved even when N put AJ on the other side of the trailer to tack up.

She was good being tied to the trailer, except for when N took AJ away. She had a bit of a melt-down pawing and snorting. I let her continue to be stupid until she calmed a bit and then I untied her and took her into the indoor.

It was a very lax environment and the event actually ran somewhat like a group lesson – Trainer K was there giving instruction. It was kind of neat to see, especially because this whole event was free and Trainer K donated her time to help a few of us out with jumping. A lot of people who attended hadn’t jumped yet this year so there was A LOT of fresh horse flesh cantering around the arena.
Unfortunately, a lot of people did not RSVP so instead of having 17 total riders, we ended up with 25 or so. For reals. There were three groups, and after much deliberation about who would go in what groups, we finally figured it all out.

^ First time through with a jump. We just rush rush rush.

N and I were in group two, which meant we were over an hour early, but that was ok. We sat and watched other horses go around and it was good for Annie to stand quiet in the indoor while other horses were ridden in the arena. 

When it came to be our turn, I could tell Annie had bonded quite heavily with AJ and didn’t want him out of her sight. Trainer K gave me a leg up and Annie jigged off, nervous and anxious. I, on the other hand, felt just fine!

 ^ Through a teeny tiny line.

I didn’t really ask for much of her, because I could feel her brain spilling out a bit, but she was pretty solid the entire hour we were in the arena. And oh my god, the arena was CHAOS. There were probably 10 horses in the arena with us, of varied levels and disciplines and an entire jump course littered throughout. There was not much room to breathe, let alone try and get some quality work in (I almost ran into a few people because Mare was like “Nope, Imma just keep trotting” and the person in front of me abruptly came to a walk). 

And literally, other horses in the lesson where freaking right out. One horse was bucking and kicking the wall while another horse was spooking hard at whatever it’s Arab mind saw.

^ The sassiest bounces you ever did see.

Trainer K had half of us sit in the middle so the other half could canter around the outside perimeter of the fence and when it came my turn to be on the rail, I had already decided I was just going to trot but somehow I grew a giant size of testicles and asked for a canter. And boy, I got it! It was quiet and discombobulated, but I got it!! With several other horses cantering! I looked up into the stands where Show Buddy was sitting and she legit gave a big fist pump to the air! Woohoo.

Small victories, people.

The rest of the lesson went really well. Annie was nervous and jigged for almost the entire hour whenever we were supposed to be walking and waiting for our turn. But, she didn’t do anything bad and near the very end, she parked quietly next to another friends horse and stood on a long rein.
We fumbled through a lot of our first attempts through a gymnastics line, but that’s what it’s all about. We got some good little baby jumps and we had some nice little canter departs.

And you guys, Annie jumped her first full course!! It was very, very messy because holy shit there were people and horses everywhere and uhm, we can’t steer, but we did it!!

^ It was messy and disgusting, but I'll call it a win!

I am so very proud of her. It wasn’t perfect, but I got a lot of compliments from a few riding friends and acquaintances. The fact that Annie has had such little done with her and is already starting to show how honest she is, is awesome. It can only go up from here, and I truly hope it does.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Riding Redemption, Loading Regression

When I last wrote about Annie, it wasn’t super positive (aside from the fantastic trailer loading session). I was delving deep into my own inward battle with anxiety and nerves - which, according to almost everyone I whined to about, is totally and completely normal (who knew?).

In an effort to triumph over the newfound feelings, I booked a lesson with Trainer K who is a resident trainer at Barn C. Some blog-followers may remember the lesson I took on Suzie with Trainer K back in the summer of 2015. Trainer K isn’t new to me by any means – I used to be quite a regular student back in the days of 4-H when I rode a calm and sedated Palomino and afterwards, a fiery chestnut gelding. 

Circa 2011
This guy tried to kill me a few times that weekend.
Unfortunately, the lessons came to a halt due to a multitude of reasons – the primary reason being that I was freshly graduated and pretty much broke. Riding by any means was already a luxury and lessons were icing on the cake, so suffice to say they didn’t occur much. 

But now, with the ability to trailer anywhere anytime and a bit more of an open pocket book (although it certainly isn’t much!) I find myself in a position to start rejoining the masses and getting some appropriate instruction. For a horse like Suzie, occasional lessons were just fine since she was already very broke in the riding aspect. For a horse like Annie, I’m a bit of a fish out of water, so I figured getting the additional guidance and hand-holding would be more than beneficial to both of us.
And so, I booked a lesson for Sunday.

The intention was to lunge and/or ride sometime before the lesson, since I hadn’t yanno, cantered Annie since the last time I was at Barn C (over two weeks ago…). But the weather turned grim and it actually snowed on Friday afternoon and overnight into Saturday morning. I figured I would have to cancel, and some part of me was almost happy that I wouldn’t be able to go to the lesson. Partly due to the fear of embarrassment and partly due to anxiety.

The weather improved greatly over Saturday and on Sunday morning I woke up to make the call if I was going to haul or not. I actually had already typed out a “Let’s re-shedule” message to Trainer K but for some reason decided not to send it, and ended up pulling on my breeches and going to hitch up the trailer. 

Fortune favors the bold and if worse came to worse, I could just lunge her in lieu of riding if it was that bad.

I got to the barn about an hour or so before I wanted to actually hit the road because I wasn’t too sure how Annie was going to load, and also because I couldn’t stand in the house anymore feeling my nerves bundle up.
She has some of the kindest eyes I have ever seen.
Everything was loaded up and ready to go – except Annie. Because for some fucking reason she decided to balk, hesitate, and just downright refuse to load. I literally tried everything to get her on: baby talking, growling, ground-work, yelling, soft petting, cooing, spanking, treat offerings, hay offerings, opening the middle divider to make the trailer “bigger looking”, opening the escape doors and side doors to increase the amount of light in the trailer, and so on. 

I literally was ready to call up a friend to see if she could help me load, but instead I shifted from the mindset of, “We are going to MISS the lesson!!!11!” to “I got all day, bitch.” So I parked my butt in the trailer, out of the rain, and waited. 

We sat at this stale-mate for several long minutes wherein neither gave an inch and neither offered to fold the cards they held. I spoke to Annie in a soft voice and she randomly decided to clamber on, which took me by surprise. I tied her up, closed the doors and got into the truck. I still had over an hour to drive to my lesson and the roads were clear – do I still go, or do I just go for a short drive around the block and put Annie back as a reward?

Fuck that, we’re going to the lesson.

At the Barn, Annie unloaded well and was good when I left her in one of the vacant stalls while I got all my tack and things ready. She ate some hay and snorted as she stared out at the other stabled horses. She was also great to saddle and tack up in the stall – a bit wiggly but nothing crazy. 

I had opted to lunge her in the arena prior to my lesson and this Big Green Monster I painted her to be was nowhere to be seen as I literally chased her around the arena to canter. I spent a grand-total of maybe 10 minutes lunging her (most of it was me running) before climbing on. She felt good, but tense. We did a lot of walking while we waited for Trainer K, as I didn’t want to do too much because Annie isn’t fit yet and I didn’t want to waste her energy before the lesson. 

I regret that I wore a bright pink jacket.
There was one moment where she took great offense to my left leg and kicked out when I gave her a kick for not responding. She halted once and got sticky, but it seemed more of a brat move vs her scheming to do a Black Beauty rear. I was still nervous, but continued to push her to walk on.
The lesson started about 5 minutes later and I am pleased to say it was a really, really good lesson with many aha moments! We worked on bringing Annie’s poll higher and having her stay above the vertical during transitions and when she wanted to evade, some turn on the forehand, snappy upwards transitions, steady tempo, circles (because holy shit it feels like riding a drunk dolphin), and giving her more support as a rider (instead of yanno, just sitting there).

Some take-aways (which are things that I should have remembered):
  • When she dips her head behind the vertical, push her in front of your legs. You don’t want to have no rein contact – you want to have some steady contact to support her.
  • During a turn, use MOOORE outside rein and leg. When using an inside rein to support, give light supple squeezes vs holding her.
  • When she does a down transition, keep pushing her into a nice forward gait.
  • She relies on a lot of support from her rider due to fitness issues – be consistent and quiet with your aids.
  • If she refuses to canter, or won’t canter, do not let her walk. Walks are rewards.
  • Tip her nose to the inside when there is something that has caught her eye (ie. Another horse).
  • Unrelated to riding, Trainer K would like to see her with more weight. I agree.
  • A lot of the issues I am describing with Annie are normal baby things. Gee, who woulda thunk?

The canter work left much to be desired, simply because Mare was tired and the fact I wanted to canter on a circle was difficult for her. We did what we could and got a canter in both directions for a limited time – something we will revisit in another lesson because she simply was just too exhausted.

Still, she tried very, very hard and was good about everything, including when another horse joined us mid-lesson. It wouldn’t have been a very challenging lesson for a seasoned horse, but it was just long enough and just difficult enough for Annie’s baby brain. We are still very directionally challenged, but she definitely felt a lot more malleable (save for the end of the lesson when Horse just could not Horse anymore). 

Trainer K said she really likes her, thinks she will be a great partner for me, and basically told me what everyone else has been telling me about the whole nerves thing. Things will get better, and having just the one lesson has already improved my confidence tenfold – and I have already began planning out weekly (or biweekly) lessons into our schedule. Mare needs to learn how to load like a proper lady and we need some hand-holding.

After the lesson, a friend stuck around to help me to load Annie but apparently Annie was too tired to argue (or maybe she knew we were going home?) and loaded like a seasoned pro… figures.

It may be too early to do a "transformation" post
but I don't give a shit. She looks 10x better
and more relaxed in the bottom pic!
As a weird sidenote, it is kind of neat comparing my first ride on her at Barn C to the videos and pictures that were taken at the lesson. She isn't so tucked up and tight anymore - it'll be interesting to see her unfurl herself, fill in those muscles, and really take the contact. I'm excited at the prospective future.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Trailer Loading Practice

On Tuesday I finally got my trailer back from the person who was borrowing it. They had met me at work to switch it over from their truck to mine, and naturally, I figured I might as well haul it to the barn before parking it to practice some loading with Annie.

"What are this?"
The leadrope was wrapped around her neck, FYI.

Need I mention this was during an arctic outflow warning and -19C weather?

We just roll like that in the north.

I pulled Annie out and stuffed a few handfuls of grain into a bucket (because I am the worst Horse Mom ever and rarely bring treats with me to the barn. But to be fair, Spud solidified my choice in not feeding treats regularly when he decided to try and bite Suzie while she was taking a treat from me and ended up chomping on my hand. Yah... not cool little pony. Not cool).

I let Annie investigate everything as I pulled open the doors and dropped the ramp - she softly snorted and looked pretty anxious, but was listening to my body language and assessing the situation. That is something I really enjoy about her - she won't freak out about something without first assessing what is going on.

Clearly, I traumatized her.
Other than some snorts and a brief moment where she stopped following me up the ramp to the trailer, she slowly made her way in and was pretty good about it. I know straight-hauls can be tricky and very claustrophobic feeling to some horses, so it's good that she was pretty quiet about it. I stood with her in the trailer, petting her and offering her goodies (the escape door was open during this time just in case something went awry).

The ground-work I had been doing with her helped immensely, as when I asked her to back out she immediately obeyed (even though she was kind of like "Why are we backing out of the trailer?"). I repeated the exercise three more times and each time tried to get her to be more self-sufficient.

For example, on the second attempt at loading, I attempted to get her to self-load (which was a fail), but I had her stand in the trailer quietly as I jumped out the escape door, walked around and did up the butt bar for her to feel it. She set back on the butt bar on our third time loading, but only because I think she was caught off-guard by the fact it wouldn't budge and she seemed like she wasn't totally sure how to fix it. I wandered over to the front of the trailer and grabbed her leadrope through the side window and clucked her up. She seemed pretty relieved that I had helped her, which was a bit hilarious since all she had to do was literally move one step forwards.

"But... but... I need someone to hold my hand... er hoof."
I also started to work on her self-unloading vs me going in through the escape door and backing her out manually and she did really well with that on the last attempt. She was certainly weirded out by the fact we kept loading and unloading without going anywhere, but the fact she entertained my odd requests made me smile a bit.

We will keep practicing with it, and little by little I know she will get the hang of self-loading and backing out on her own. I don't intend to make use of the escape door too much, as I don't necessarily want to be in the trailer with her as she loads/unloads, but for now it works for us and I am glad to have an "escape route" should things ultimately go south.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Officially Entering the "What Have I Done" Phase

I had mentioned in my previous post - "It's Like Dating Again" - owning a new horse is
equivalent to being on a roller-coaster. You hit some highs and you hit some lows until you level out into a steady stream of understanding and begin to truly work together as a team.

The mares rule the roost here, and Spud is slowly
deciding he doesn't "totally" hate Annie.
I will be the first to say that harvesting a relationship with an animal, especially one as large and undomesticated as a horse (compared to say, a dog), takes a great deal of effort and a great deal of understanding. Trust does not and will not happen overnight, despite what the Parelli videos show you. Dominance is not trust.

Things for the most part with Annie have been trudging along slowly since our excursion to Barn C a few weekends ago. Between a brief stint wherein my work hours fluctuated to where I was getting off just at sunset, and the weather nose-diving into -20 again, I haven't had much time to really work or even spend much quality time with any of my horses.

In some ways, feel like winter is always a catch 22 – the sun will come out and you feel guilty for not being outside or not doing anything with your horse. But then you step outside and it’s fucking -20 degrees and all of your fingers go numb just filling the water trough. Or you get blessed with a real nice day and are confined to walking around the street because there is nowhere safe to lunge and the outdoor arena is still buried under a foot of ice.

This is what the outdoor arena looked like
at the end of February last year. #crying
So it shouldn’t be surprising that after 2 weeks off left to do absolutely nothing, Annie decided to have serious opinions about leaving Suzie and Spud to go on a hack solo-style. In retrospect (because hindsight is always 20/20) it would have been a better option to lunge her before attempting to hack out alone on the road, but I was feeling particularly ornery myself and other than a small oblong 15m corner of the paddock, I had nowhere to really lunge her properly.

So I hopped on.

And thus ensued our first real “fight”.

She was wiggly when I attempted to mount, so I had her trot tight circles around me until she decided she wanted to stand still while I climbed on up. Once I got up there, she immediately went to walk out, so I halted her to get organized and collect my off-side stirrup. I was carrying a whip with me, as per recommendations from a few friends, and when I felt ready to go, I squeezed and instantly felt Annie suck back.

She refused to budge, so I gave a little kick and she bowed her head down but still refused to move. In an attempt to “unlock” her, I went to turn her to the left and then to the right. But she still would not move. And thus, out came Mr. Whippy. She received two-three sharp smacks to her bottom and because I don’t think she has ever had a whip used on her, she backed up fast and kind of pivoted on her hind legs and did a complete spin to face back towards the barn. After that, I gave her a kick and she went forward and we carried on.

She is completely in love with Suzanne.
The rest of the ride was a little frustrating in the sense that every time the wind blew, Annie would break into a trot. She was quite forward and I could feel she was not really “with” me during the ride. We met up with a friend and her horse, which only seemed to cause each horse to feed off of eachother’s nervous energy.

About 2/3 into the ride, both horses settled into a buckle-rein walk, but I could still feel the tension in Annie’s back. We finished the ride and Annie had a slight melt-down when AJ turned
around to go home, but all things considered it was pretty minor (calling out, trying to turn around, walking fast).

I got off when I wanted to - and under my own terms, which is a success and I came to the realization that I need to pre-plan things a bit better. Not because I condone silly behaviour, but because Annie is still young and learning and I need to set her up better for success. And if that means a quick lunge the day before or a hand-walk the day before, I should be investing my time that way. I’ve been so used to just hopping on Suzie and going (who, by the way, has been much worse behaved on a Spring-hack than Annie!).

Friend hacks are the best.

In some ways, I kind of think "well duh, there were a lot of factors that attributed to her behavior" or "she didn't even really do anything bad" and in other respects my anxiety started to nag me "you ruined her already", "she's gonna start rearing now, way to go", "she hates you", "why did you buy a young horse" and on the list goes.

And this is where talking to a few good friends really helps. Because in Annie's defense, I went through this exact set of feelings when I purchased Suzie and Spud. Things would start out great, and then be not so great, leaving me to wonder if I really was the right rider/ owner for them.

Three really good horsey-friends were the first to hear about the mishap and offered their support. One friend gleaned, "Well, you ended on a buckle rein, so what's there to worry about?" Another offered, "The colder temps bring out the sillies sometimes, but it's nice she didn't get too silly on you aside from what you described."  And the last stated the obvious, "She's only had 30 days on her and she's four. Plus, her paddock is a sheet of ice and she hasn't been able to really do much other than eat and poop."

If anything tho, she is ridiculously
fucking cute.
None of my friends (nor myself) condone the behavior at all, but it is important to assess the facts and figure out why it was there. It could have been any number of reasons, but the fact remains that I didn't really give her the best shot at being the best she could be. Although, in some circumstances, you just can't prepare for certain things.

The self-doubt thing will go away, especially when I am able to put another ride on her and it is positive. It is funny because, had it been a mere 5 years ago, I would've just shrugged it off and continued on my merry-way. Becoming older and more aware of the realities of what could happen can leave any amateur blind-sided with the case of "What ifs" which don't do anyone any good.

It all just seems so stupid to me, especially because Suzie has been 10x worse on hacks around the neighborhood. I get the feeling it's not necessarily the behavior, but the fact that I still don't know Annie. I don't know what will happen if I push her too hard. I don't know what she will do if I do X, Y, or Z. Whereas with Suzie I know all of this stuff - of course, it was learned through trail and error over the last 3 years of riding her.

Anyone else remember two years ago when Suzie
and I went out for a 30min hack and she
jigged and sidepassed the entire ride?!
In an attempt to get the good juju juices flowing, I booked a lesson with resident trainer K at Barn C for Sunday to help us out a bit and to get Annie's legs moving. She hadn't ever been hacked out or trail ridden before I got her, so this is a pretty big lifestyle change for the moment (at least until the arena melts and we can actually school).

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Gift for Annie

Some on my social media accounts may have already gotten the scoop, but I wanted to write a post here reflecting my thoughts and feelings.

As much as horse-people are, well, horse-people, I am constantly amazed at the support and love we have for one another. Friends are certainly a'plenty in this scene, but it takes a seriously good friend to really know all about your horsey trials and tribulations.

Horse friends are the best kind of friends.
To be there for one another when things hit a low spot, and to be beaming with pride when you hit that high note, it all just comes full circle sometimes.

Some of my blog-followers may remember me mentioning Spotted Dressage on this blog several times. Not only has she been an ear to my Suzie-situation, but she has also provided her expertise (in terms of kinesio taping) for my mare.

Previously, she gifted Suzie and I with a beautiful bridle (which Annie now wears) and yet again, she managed to sneak one past me and surprise me all over again.

When I got home last Thursday, a package was sitting in the kitchen and I tore into it like a kid on Christmas, wondering what the heck Alaina had sent me! I was pleasantly surprised to see not only a halter in Annie's chosen color (this is literally the only purple thing I have for her because I am cheap, lol), but it that it was so meticulously personalized. While I realize most Western-folk go for the bronc nose-bands, I find it kind of endearing and fitting for her face.

So once again, thank you Alaina for the gift. It is something I will surely treasure.

As a sidenote:

Spud is jealous and wants his own - an ocean blue one with "Potato" stamped across the nose.

Monday, February 6, 2017

February Goals 2017

The monthly goals are backkkk!


 February Goals

Annie says, "I only misbehaved on our hack on Saturday
because you neglected me for 10 days and expected me to
be all good with a hack during a crazy wind-storm. Plus,
I'm four, you moron."
  • Start to figure out show outings (schooling shows) and other low-stress events.
  • Continue trail road-riding; with company and out solo.
  • Practice loading into the dreaded straight haul; haul out at least twice this month.
  • Work with her at least 3-4 times a week, even if it is just ground-work.
  • Work on lunging to help her start to build up muscle and balance, as well as figuring out that right lead canter. In addition, having her respond to the vocal cues on the lunge will transfer to under-saddle.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for MORE from her. Don't be mean to her, but don't let her get away with shit either. For example, with the cantering business - get after her to give me MORE canter strides.
  • Continue to work on ground work - picking up feet, bridling, blanketing, touching in ears/gums, etc.
  • Schedule and have farrier appointment done.
Suzie says, "I'm happy and fat. Pls don't take
me hand-walking again though. I hated
every minute of being away from my besties."
  • Give her her early "Spring" Legend injection if she needs it.
  • Continue to be an elderly, retired pon-pon.

Spud says, "Is it too late to send
Annie back from where you got her?"
  • Start to plan out show schedule with real-time dates and locations (in case anything has changed).
  • Haul out to indoor arena at least twice this month.
  • Start legging him up with road-work (the outdoor is going to be under snow for a bit still).