Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Defining Moment

I have mentioned a few times about Annie's resistance to my left leg, and after seeing it creep up again in the dressage test on Saturday, I was a bit more invested to work on all the components of the resistance and start from square one.

Suzie says: "I would never do any of those terrible
things to you."
YAH RIGHT, Mare. She used to canter sideways down
the road every Spring.
Yesterday, I tacked up Annie and set out for the fairgrounds solo-style. She was realllly forward, jiggy, and at a few different points during the hack over to the grounds, she attempted to turn around and go home or refuse to turn down the road that led to the arena. I hadn't had any balky behavior from her before, so I was a bit taken aback and tapped her with the whip when she blatantly refused to head down the trail to the grounds. She kicked out and made her displeasure known, but still went.

The naughtiness was not appreciated, and I wondered just how good she was going to be with riding in the arena.

Her temperament was almost like we were still riding on Saturday - she was just not "all there" and didn't really feel like she was listening to me or respecting my cues. She kept popping into the trot and just not at all engaged.

I was nervous, considering we were all alone in the arena and it felt like my horse's back was hollow.

But, I took a deep breath, counted to ten, and came up with a plan.

Annie: "Letting me graze is a better plan."
(Sidenote, I have been teaching her to drag
a lunge line around behind her in preparation for
"stake grazing". She's done so well.)
We spent the next 15 minutes just walking. Every time she jigged forwards when I put my leg on, I half-halted, asked her to walk, and continued with whatever we were doing (be it bending, leg yielding, or circling). We used the entire arena and did a formulation of exercises from: bending her nose to the inside, bending her nose to the outside, walk/halt/walk transitions, circles, diagonals, riding off the track, and leg yielding.

She started to settle a bit, but as soon as we got to a familiar "sticky" spot we've had issues in in the past, that left leg resistance popped up with a vengeance. She bulged, plowed into my leg, and gnashed her teeth.

I had two options - pull her around the turn with my rein like I had been doing, or put on my big girl panties and get after her. The latter would determine if this truly was a training issue (which I had been telling myself it wasn't). Being uncertain what her reaction would be, I was nervous to pick a fight with a horse that wasn't 100% focused on me, but I rose to the occasion and gave her a kick to the ribs, followed up with a tap of the whip.

She reacted much like a toddler who got their toy taken away - jumping into canter, shaking her head, and humped up her back a few times. I don't really know if she actually bucked, but she certainly humped up like a dolphin head was sprouting from her ass.

Actual media.
I pulled her down to a walk, insisted she WALK, and repeated the exercise. At one point, because she was NOT happy with my new request, I had her in kind of a one rein stop but continued to ask her to move away and off of my left leg. It helped me have more control over her running forwards and extinguish the bucking she so badly wanted to finish.

Once we started to get somewhere and her tantrum subsided, we added other figures into the mix and ensured to revisit the portion of the arena we have had the most resistance in (ironically enough, it is right where the gate is.... coincidence?? I think not).

We remained in the walk for a very long time, looping and winding our way around the arena with her feeding off of my legs and only my legs. Serpentines, circles, diagonals, and squares... every figure imaginable was used to reinforce the message I was conveying and solidifying it.

I moved her into trot and she felt very forward - I kind of feel the trot she gave me is the trot I should be getting from her. It felt like she was moving fast, but it wasn't like her legs were flying all over the place. It felt... strong? If that makes any sense? I used a lot of half-halting and trot-walk-trot-halt-trot transitions which were all pretty decent save for the down transitions - those were kind of messy.

Annie, the dog on the leash.
Suzie, the free-ranging senior.

Despite this "new" trot she's giving me, it felt really nice. She was a bit retracted in her throatlatch and I probably had too much feel in my reins, but that trust will come back and I think she will relax more and let her poll out as we both understand things better and our "trust bank" fills back up.

I didn't intend to canter, but I ended up asking for canter and you guys... I didn't even realize I asked for canter on her bad lead first and.... SHE GOT IT. And she gave me a BEAUTIFUL canter. She broke twice and picked the lead back up, and even moved off my legs at a reasonable rate. I was really, really proud of her for that. We cantered, cantered, and cantered some more. I could have just kept cantering forever. It didn't feel like the ugly canter she typically has had on that lead. Hmm... I wonder if all the bending and transitions helped? Ya think? My initial thinking is that this whole resistance was affecting her lead... we will see if that plays out.

And then we moved on to her other lead and it was some of the best canter work I've had out of her. Who knew that when I stopped babying and making excuses for my 4 year old, we COULD canter a 20m circle without her falling in or out. Who knew that actually RIDING your goddamn horse could do that?

She did pick up the wrong lead going her good way (left), so I just looped back and we cantered the proper way for that lead (which works well for me since it re solidified that lead again).

I felt really, really pleased with her work, and despite the theatrics earlier on in the ride, I think it was a good wake-up call. Like I mentioned to a friend - it wasn't the ride I wanted to have, but it was the ride we needed to have.

And naps, we all need naps.
We cooled out in the arena and then I opened the gate from her back and we headed home. She was really sweaty, but a kind of sweaty that she was actually working and I felt kind of proud that we had done some good quality work.

She walked home on a loose rein, plugging her nose close to the ground and let me pluck her mane braids out one by one as she wandered down the road.

It was a defining moment in a way about how things that may have seemed like small issues really aren't small. And while it did scare me, I feel a bit more confident in my abilities and my trust in Annie is starting to develop. It can be easy to get caught up in feeling frustrated that your horse who was fine with trail riding solo one day has a complete nope moment months down the road, but it is what it is. As our relationship develops and evolves, I assume she will challenge other aspects of my leadership as well. We just have to chip away at them and not avoid them when they crop up - kind of like how I convinced myself the left leg thing was a "strength issue". Haha, no. Humbly, from me to you, it was 100% a training issue. And I am sure our next schooling session will still include a small battle re: the left leg.

Today, however, I decided both of us deserved a little bit of a break from the consistent schooling and go do something different. So, I headed out this morning and saddled up for a little toodle ride around the neighborhood with Best Pony Spud tagging along (mostly because he is fat). She started out a bit jiggy, but took approximately 2 minutes to settle into a long rein and let me fiddle with Spud, my phone, and whatever else I was doing.

Best ponies.
It was a quick ride - about 20 minutes - simply because the clouds opened up and absolutely poured on us. I decided to just turn her around and head home. She tried to turn back once or twice, but didn't refuse to go forwards when I told her to like yesterday. I actually didn't use the whip at all, which was nice.

Tomorrow we haul out to Barn C for her to get adjusted by a sports medicine therapist - the same one that Finn saw when I rode him - who uses both massage and chiropractic to achieve results. I am interested to see what she will find and her recommendations. From there, I anticipate Annie will get a few days off from her adjustments and then we will start again. The process is never-ending and there are always learning lessons to be had.


  1. Sometimes "those rides" aren't fun, but we need to have them to make progress. And sounds like you're making excellent, definable progress! Way to go!

  2. Good job! Sometimes you just have to draw the line.

  3. Left leg resistance struggle bus rider right here too. It sounds like you are doing a lot of great exercises to help with it. I noticed with my girl, the more tense she is, the less likely she is to yield to my left leg. It is easy to get heavy or naggy with that leg, but I *try* to stay soft and follow up with a tap with the crop is she is not listening. But I must admit, sometimes I just end up nagging with that leg... :)