Follow the adventures of a Northern British Columbian equestrian and her trio of horses - an anxious, but pleasant young Appendix named Annie, a spicy potato mini named Spud, and the newest addition, a little APHA weanling named Maizey.
A while back I purchased some Mountain Horse tall boots and I thought "Yay I'm so sophisticated now because I own tall boots and I haven't had any in seven years. I'm like a real rider now or something."
And then I went and wore them and loved them and angels sang.
And then I cleaned them.
(Because I'm not an animal and want my tack to last, obviously.)
With mink oil.
And the fucking boots have this weird grimey stain on them and have lost their shine.
So, I did what any good horse person who loves their tack would do.
I ignored it and pretended it didn't bother me.
Well, I've ridden in them several times since and now I just can't even deal anymore.
What the fuck did I do?!
Can I undo the fuckery I have done?
Please help me. I can hear the leather crying in my boot bag. We've been together through good times, bad times, and an awkward soak in the tub together.
I can't lose them!
Special bonding moment trying to get these bitches to fit.
Spud was a cheap date for the vet. Teeth needed minor floating and he had a little bean removed.
Almost two weeks ago Annie and Spud visited the Vet. I have blogged on here before about how my area lacks large animal vets and how a clinic from down south comes up twice a year for annual appointments. The "Travelling Vets" (I hesitate to call them Mobile Vets, simply because they do not have a lot of mobile equipment and are not known for being mobile other than coming up this way twice a year). Long time readers will recall just how expensive these visits are - usual prices for 2 dentals and 2 vaccines run an average of $700.
The costs associated with simple and routine procedures has been a difficult pill to swallow - especially since I own multiple horses. So being the frugal person I am, I did some investigating and ended up hearing through word of mouth of another vet practice - an actual Mobile Vet practice - that was coming up to the area. Since I assume she didn't want to impede on the Travelling Vets "stomping grounds", she set up her mobile practice a few towns away - give or take 3 hours (where the annual BVX is held).
No pictures from that day because it was cold as hell and dark.
Long story short - the price point was more than fair and even calculating in gas, food, and overnight accommodations we'd be coming out ahead. (Which is fucking insane).
Friday afternoon I left work early to get my things ready and N and I rolled out of town just after 3pm. We made good time, despite having to stop several times for N to run some errands.
When we arrived at the grounds, we tacked up and rode - because why not? The horses were good - Annie was a bit skittery heading over to the darkening rings and we ended up just moseying to the warm up arena that had a few jumps in it. I didn't do too much, as the ground was already hard from the cool temperatures and frost.
Annie was pretty amicable until we dealt with the canter again and as expected, got wound up tighter than a spring and started to try and jump into the canter at all costs. I ignored her and kept asking her to trot and I feel like we ended on a pretty good note. The kicking out/bucking and head tossing was still evident during our trot - canter transitions and although I was feeling kind of frustrated, I just rolled with it.
We did lots of transitions and while I am having trouble remembering the exact details of the ride, I just remember it felt incredibly messy. I tried to emulate a lot of the things Anthony had mentioned in our ride the week before but I couldn't seem to garner the same results. Regardless, we did have some good successes and I was happy that she was being mostly good with schooling around a pitch-black ring with no real riding beforehand.
We also jumped the jumps that had been set up in the arena. So, that was fun.
Trot poles, just what the Dr (err Vet) ordered.
After riding, we wandered the grounds in the pitch black which caused for some spooks from both horses. Hilariously enough, as we wandered by one set of bathrooms, an automatic light turned on and N spooked harder than the horses did. I made sure to poke fun at her for that.
We set up the horses in their stalls and Annie was an absolute nut - pacing against the walls, snorting, shaking her head, etc. I was a bit concerned to leave them, as we would be leaving to go to a hotel for the night. Thankfully, as we finished up giving them water and food, she seemed to settle. It was clear she was pretty stressed out though.
The next morning, everyone was still in their stalls when we arrived - which was good. Annie ate all of her dinner, and breakfast, and lunch... I had packed two hay nets to the brim with hay and they had more than enough food for two days. Annie ate nearly 3/4 of a 60lb bale overnight. Good lord. Which, I guess it's better to eat than develop ulcers?
The Vet was pretty thorough in her examination - I explained what kind of issues we were having undersaddle and even showed her a bunch of videos displaying the behavior. We talked a lot about young horses and how they develop when they become riding horses and then went over Annie's conformation and how things may or may not affect her.
Waking up from her float
Her teeth only needed minor adjustments.
I gave the Vet as much information as possible: that we had been riding in a dressage saddle that was not a good fit for her and have since chucked it, she has developed a hunters bump, that she may have ulcers or an ovarian cyst and that she has had issues with her leads/cross firing.
The Vet took all of this info and palpated and prodded my mare before simply stating that the "hunters bump" I had been seeing develop was actually that and more - inflammation and swelling. And upon palpation, Annie reacted immediately and quite angrily, which was to be expected. The Vet told me that it could be from the saddle fit, or it could also be from the fact her topline is very weak (which is apparently a super common thing in young horses) - she opted to put her money on the latter. She also commented on Annie's very weak/small loin area and said that this could attribute to the lack of topline. Interestingly enough, she also stated she thought part of this "problem" was also "Teenager Syndrome" - which of course, is impossible to diagnose, but important to note.
Post lunging, you can see the bump pretty clearly here
And looking back in my notes, it kind of ties into what Amanda, the body worker, had said about Annie being incredibly "slow developing".
With Annie's topline, there are two "open" pockets where muscle has yet to develop. The fact she hasn't developed anything isn't necessarily to do with my riding. It can stem from multiple things - nutrition, the horse's conformation, activity level, age, etc.Some horses have weak toplines their entire life due to their physical attributes. In Annie's case, the Vet thinks bumping up her alfalfa intake (from 3lbs per day to 5-6lbs) and adding a muscle building supplement will help in expanding these muscles and help them become more prominent in her back.
Those photo shows those "hollow spots" really well.
Because without these muscles, her spine is literally the only "load bearing zone" for the saddle. Any concussion or rubs or whatever will transfer directly to her spinal column vs fat/muscle that is built on either side to disperse the saddle's weight.
The Vet went on to explain more of the mechanics of the horse and how we as a rider may "misalign" them just from our riding. She explained it is important to keep riding Annie and stretching her out and getting those muscles to bulk up, especially while she is on the supplement. (She told me that it's like putting a body-builder on supplements - you have to work those muscles to make them grow). I told her I would do my best, but with the impeding winter and lack of light, I might just have to abandon riding regularly until next year. The Vet understood this and said if I can lunge her a few times a week over poles, it would help and that regardless, the product will help her build muscle although it may be slower if I am unable to exercise her regularly.
The granules are super neat.
The product itself is called Equitop Myoplast - it's kind of cool to look at and I found myself intrigued by the fact it isn't a powder. Without doing some form of copy/paste from the website, the supplement features a wide array of amino acids which are critical for the growth and development of a young horse, or horse in intense work. Essentially, if a young horse is missing a critical amino acid (which in turn is the building block for muscle development), their performance and/or body strength may suffer.
The granules are sugar/molasses coated for palatability and inside is a form of algae which somehow hosts the amino acids. Don't ask me how it works because I haven't a clue.
I hesitated to post this blog entry without some kind of "before and after" shot, so I managed to get one from a few days ago for comparisons sake.
Just shy of two weeks. * Her topline is so much more even, the "hunters bump" is less inflamed than the original pictures and it has "evened out". Her withers are less prominent*
Another shot - you can see how much wider her back surface is becoming.
We next discussed ulcers and the possibility of an ovarian cyst. The Vet asked me a ton of questions - about her diet, exercise, stress levels, heat cycles, etc. With my answers, the Vet didn't feel it necessary to pursue ulcers or cysts, especially not with this giant goose-egg on my horse's back staring us in the face.
I feel pretty confident with the diagnosis - I was sent home with a tub of the muscle supplements and previcox for the swelling - and have only been able to really lunge Annie since we've been back. She has been pretty good on the line and I've introduced some 2x4 poles (because I don't have trot poles #redneck) and have been able to hack her out once. The weather is terrible and the ground is saturated from a freak rainstorm we had, so we won't be able to do anything too crazy for the next week or so.
In the meantime, she is just moseying around the pasture and has a chiropractic appointment for the end of the month to see if it will aid in "speeding up" the healing time for her spine. I do feel kind of bad that I continued to push her, or that I didn't really consider her lack of topline as a huge issue. I mean, the Vet did state that it wasn't really anything I did (except maybe put a bad saddle on her) that caused the issue. I guess it's a pretty common thing in young horses and "growing pains" are just a part of the equation.
Post-lunging. We've had to take a break from lunging due to the saturated ground from all the flooding we had last week. Ick.
Part of me is glad it isn't a "serious" issue, but part of me is upset that I didn't really "see" it. I feel pretty shitty about the whole thing - she is my first "baby" horse and I feel like I'm making so many mistakes with her...
Now before I cry again, who else has a young horse that has been slow to develop physically? What did you do to see an improvement?
What did you do for your horse that lacked a topline? What supplements did you use (if any)? Did you notice a difference? What age do you truly believe your horse was filled out/finished growing?
I promise - I'll get around to blogging about Annie and Spud's vet appointment from a few weeks ago. I think we found the reason for her resistance at the canter (well, part of it) and another appointment should fast-track her to being back to normal in no time. For those curious - it isn't anything life altering or changing.
Since Suzie has passed, I've been incredibly curious to hear about other equestrian's journeys with their first horse. While it is always fun to catch-ride or lease, there is something special about truly being 100% connected to your horse in more ways than just what is written on paper. Having every aspect of their care under your control and direction is sometimes a scary thing, but it is an interesting and amazing learning opportunity.
The fairest of them all <3
So, fellow bloggers: Tell me the story of your first horse.
Whether your first horse was back in 1999 or you just signed the papers yesterday, I want to hear about it. Old pictures, new pictures. The good, the bad. What they meant to you and how they impacted your life. Any story is welcome - be it happy, sad, or somewhere in between.
Of course, those who have followed my blog for any length of time will know that Suzie was my first horse. (The idea of writing in past-tense is still a pretty foreign concept to me, so apologies if there are some present terms in my writing).
I had leased, begged, and borrowed horses to ride for nearly 90% of my riding days. Only in 2013 did I make my dream of owning a horse come true when I purchased Suzie from an old friend who had a standing offer of "if you bring a trailer, you can take her".
One of our first rides <3
The relationship with my red mare wasn't always sunshine and rainbows. In fact, we had some pretty terrible rides and a brief stint wherein I was afraid to trail ride her after she had reared and tossed me off.
She wasn't exceptionally affectionate either - she'd tolerate a hug or two and I never really tried to force my affection on her. We were mutually enamored with eachother, though, and every time I pulled up to the barn she'd greet me at the gate with a long whinny. The absence of her physical affection didn't really bother me - she was an independent horse who didn't need to be coddled and I respected that.
The last four years have been a mixture of learning, adjusting, adapting, and making memories. She certainly isn't the horse I had ever dreamed I'd pick out for myself (I rode English before I met Suzie and certainly hadn't even entertained the thought of riding Western before), but something about her spoke to my character and I longed to have her as my own.
And I am so glad it did.
She brought me out of my comfort zone and into a new world of possibilities. I had a newfound appreciation and love for Western riding, especially Reining, and it was possible because of her. She also took to English riding and was more than willing to bring herself into contact and try out the Dressage Thing. I appreciated her - she had no qualms about doing Pretty Much Everything.
We were both a bit out of our elements, but somehow just made it work.
And I think that is the best thing about Suzie - I didn't have any real goals or specific training ladders I wanted to climb. I just wanted a friend and partner.
In a lot of ways, I am glad that a banged up little red mare was my first horse. And out of the entire experience, I have only one regret.
That I didn't bring her home sooner.
Sharing the wonderful world of horses with my nephew <3
As far as I'm concerned, Suzie was just as much "his" horse as
she was mine.
First of all - thank you to everyone for your kind words, especially those who have been with me throughout my entire journey with Suzie. All of the encouragement and words of wisdom these past few years have been such a blessing. This blog has been so much more than a place to write down what is going on with my horses - it is a place I can really articulate how I feel without making apologies or inviting negativity. So, cheers to you guys.
Since Suzie's passing it's been a pretty large adjustment. The barn has been a very quiet and sad place for me. Don't get me wrong, I still go out every day to give grain to Annie (along with her new supplements and meds, which is a post I need to write about!) and pick poo. It just doesn't feel the same and I'm sure it won't for a long time.
Surprisingly, both Annie and Spud have been completely fine. The morning we led Suzie away, Annie didn't even bother to pace the fence-line and scream for Suz like she normally does. Which was really eerie and weird. Even when we went back to the barn that night to check on them (because I was convinced Annie was running circles in the paddock and would break her leg), both horses were standing calmly and quietly munching hay like nothing had even happened.
It was weird, but I was also a bit relieved they didn't seem bothered by Suzie's absence. It made things much, much easier and I was able to sleep soundly at night not worrying about them pacing and neighing all night long.
Annie does stand in the one corner of the paddock and searches the front area where I used to let them graze, but she is calm and quiet about it. She also takes a bite of grain and will walk to the edge of the stall mats to peer around the corner of the barn. I don't know if she is looking for Suzie, but it sure seems like it. I'm just glad she isn't frantic about it.
My barn time has been largely limited by the weather, too. It has been completely miserable and we've had several storm warnings - including a freak snow-storm a few days ago. So, aside from lunging Annie a few times and riding her around the street, I haven't done much. Truth be told, I don't have the heart to push myself past puttering around at the moment.
The season for the riders in this area is done, and I am kind of glad that it's time for some down time. I can heal on my own and ride when I am ready without the pressures of clinics, shows, etc.
This is an exceptionally difficult post for me to write.
Before we get into it, I want to start back a few months.
This summer has been exceptionally difficult for Suzie - I noted her pain management regime started to become insignificant and the shine she once had in her eyes started to waver. She never completely lost her zest for life and on most days, she had a little sparkle gleaning in the corner of her big brown eyes. But, on the bad days, she looked dull and tired.
I had made the final decision a few months ago, but was casually optimistic I wouldn't have to "actually" go through with it. In the back of my mind, I knew I was setting myself up, but couldn't help but try to claw the bad feeling I had in my gut away.
As the Summer progressed into Fall, I just knew.
A line in the sand had been drawn and we were painfully close to it's wall.
There were still days I questioned making the appointment, but there were more days I knew it was the right choice.
But it really didn't make it any easier.
My best friend, and photographer, captured a
really candid shot between poses.
This is a mare who is ready, and an owner
who is doing her damndest to try and let her go <3
As the appointment grew closer, I became more agitated and sad. Making all of the arrangements and organizing things (like the machinery ie. excavator) is not fun. Trying to segway a conversation into, "Hey, I was wondering if your company could come dig a hole for me? Oh why... uh... because my horse is being put down." is awkward and made me want to crawl into a hole. I am thankful for the Boyfriend for organizing that portion of the whole thing without me even knowing. I was surprised when he mentioned he had already lined up everything and to not worry about it.
But even so, the whole process was very carefully orchestrated and everyone did their best to ensure the most idealistic situation. Initially, I had considered burying Suzie at the BO's property, but Boyfriend (bless his amazingly sweet heart) told me I should reconsider and bury her on our land. For those who do not know or remember, we own about 5 acres of undeveloped land that will one day have a barn, riding arena, and house on it.
I chose to bury her at the base of a large cedar tree. My little mare radiated strength, perseverance and wisdom beyond her years. I wanted her burial placement to reflect that.
One of the strongest horse's I have ever known.
Both physically and emotionally <3
She never complained or showed just how much she
On October 16, mid-morning, we loaded Suzie up into the trailer and made the 10 minute drive to our property. I was uncertain about bringing one of the other horse's with me, as I had heard conflicting information in regards to how horse's process loss. A friend had suggested to leave Annie and Spud at home, as the confusion and energy in a new and unfamiliar place may not be the best situation to put them in. I somewhat agreed, but was skeptical about how Suzie would process being on her own when she passed. I mean, a handful of humans would be there, but horses are herd animals first and foremost.
Working at the Animal Shelter and Vet Hospital I have seen my fair share of euthanasia's. I have seen the perfect textbook examples of a euthanasia, and I have seen the not so great ones. Animal's responses are a tricky thing and even an involuntary reflex may look painful or leave a negative perception in the owner's mind.
I had never witnessed a large animal euthanasia. And I knew it was going to be very, very different.
My very last "ride". She was stoic as hell.
The Vets took absolute care and I appreciate their efforts very much. The entire process was oddly peaceful and I can say without absolute uncertainty that I am very confident and at peace with my decision. Although, as I had said before - it was never my decision to make. Suzie was ready. Ready to be free from pain and ready to run barrels in the clouds.
October 16th at 11:40am, Suzie took her last breaths and a very big piece of my heart. I had always heard that when we say our final goodbye to our horse, we gain a big, black hole in our heart from missing them. I can, without a doubt, say that the large empty space is very real. I watched as a large sliver of my heart quietly spilled out through my tears and disappeared with Suzie, to wherever it is the good horses go.
I miss you beyond words, my feisty red-head. Give 'em hell
I geared up for my lesson on Sunday morning and picked up N on our way out - she wanted to come watch and see what kind of insight Anthony had for us. I left quite a bit earlier than necessary, since I wanted to pick up another round bale for the horses at one of the local farms. Thankfully, I didn't need to unload and unhitch the trailer like I had initially thought, so we had even more extra time to spare.
I dutifully asked N to be in charge of video and specifically requested media of any disobedience so I could look at them after the fact. Hilariously enough, N ONLY videoed the exceptionally awful parts of our lesson, haha.
Did someone say "adventure"?
We arrived to the grounds well before my lesson and after bringing Annie in with her haybag, I drug all my tack in and settled it on a saddle rack before watching the remainder of a lesson. A from Spotted Dressage was in town and we caught up over a very slow and drawn out tacking-up process. I mentally took note of Annie pinning her ears at the girth being done up and continued finishing getting ready.
I sat with a large group of friends (N, A, Horse Show Buddy, M) who were there to cheer me and Annie on, and 15 minutes before my lesson, opted to pop Annie's bridle on and start warming up. The lesson that was going on in the ring didn't look like it was coming to a close, but I wanted to be sure I was ready.
Unfortunately, I maybe should have asked the clinician if he was ready for me, because I ended up walking around for 15-20 minutes waiting. I certainly don't mind - the girl in her lesson was struggling with some concepts and Anthony wanted to ensure they finished on a good note. It was alright in the end, because Anthony ended up giving me some exercises to work on and briefly asked a history on Annie while he watched the other rider.
Bannie was SO game for the walk/trot work!
It's a real shame about that canter :(
Not even thirty seconds into our walk work he told me Annie's front left leg stretches over and crosses her front right, causing the front right to short step and thus, giving us some issues with the canter. He told me to play around with what works to get her feeling more bent throughout the turns vs stepping over with her outside front. I did a few things, but couldn't seem to really grasp the exercise on my own. I ended up using my outside rein to "shorten" her outside leg and used my outside leg to try and bulge that inside shoulder back out vs retracting it.
I don't know if that makes any sense, but it seemed to work.
Once the real lesson started, we did quite a lot of rhythm and tempo work. I explained to Anthony about Annie's new cantering issue and the resistance I was getting from it and why I thought she was doing it.
^ This is terrible, but I like to maintain a level of transparency
for my readership and also for me to see progress.
In this video you will see Anthony and I working on slow/fast.
You will see where I get into trouble for continuing to ask Annie to
move out when she already has been ;)
We did a lot of fast/slow trot work and riding the corners as octagons to try and encourage her front right leg to step out more. I was really pleased with Annie during this - she really moved off of my leg and seat aids really well and continued to listen even when the other two horses left and we were the only pair left on the property.
Right away, Anthony nailed me for not using enough outside rein on the right rein - Annie actually tilts her head quite a bit to the inside on this rein and I need to encourage her to bend, but not that much. In addition to that, he probably yelled at me fifteen times to close my fingers. At one point, he told me to "close your fornicating fingers". On the video audio, you can hear my friends trying to decipher what he said and then giggling when they realized he said what they thought he said.
^ Working on a fast/slow response in the canter.
I see a slightly unhappy pony, but this video really
stood out as one that could lead me to believe
this really is a behavioral thing... Hmm.
The interesting thing I learned from the fast/slow work was that I ask and get the response, but keep asking... Like I had mentioned in the video above, Anthony gave me a tongue lashing for it and explained how it can muddle a horse's brain and make them sour to the leg. I find I am like this when I encounter a new way to ride/ think. I'll ask (in this case for forward motion) and be too genuine and nice about it and not garner a response. Then I'll ask and be more firm and get a response (yay). But then I'll reapply the aids again and WANT MORE. GIVE ME ALL OF IT. So... balancing act and all that.
In terms of the canter, at first Anthony pinned the whole resistance thing as pain. He mentioned getting her checked for ovarian cysts/tumors and ulcers - he explained a few things about mares and how their cycles can effect them. I nodded along and explained that I had an outstanding appointment to get Annie's teeth floated and had actually let them know to check for ulcers and cysts already.
^ It was explained that Anthony thinks she also gets
the wrong lead because she spends so much time
arguing about it vs actually just doing it.
Weirdly enough tho, as the lesson progressed, Anthony started to shift his thought process and started to piece together things. He asked me for another trot-canter transition and an "aha" moment came of it. He told me that basically, when I ask for canter and she gets pissy, I take my legs off and stop asking. To Annie, she has learned through me taking away the pressure/stimulis/whatever you want to call it, that I will leave her alone. Thus, the head toss and tail swish is born.
Anthony's tactic to tackle this finicky problem was for me to ask for canter and give "three steps of peace". Essentially, ask and continue to ask for canter (I don't necessarily need to increase the pressure or tap with the whip, just keep asking) until I get it, and once I get it, leave her alone for 3-4 strides. After that, I continue to steer/ask/maneuver my horse-beast to wherever I want.
Not the happiest creature :/
We did a ton of trot/canter transitions and it seemed like the more we did, the less disobedience occurred. Anthony had me stop and talk to him for a few moments in the middle of the arena and he talked about the problems that arise from being a "nice" rider. Make no mistake, he didn't want me to beat Annie, but when she says "NO" I instead say "Ok... well... let's do some stretchy trot because you're stressed." I confided in Anthony, telling him that this is my very baby and the greenest horse I have ever ridden or "brought along". I told him that when she started to get pissy with me, I would go onto something else or try to do something different to make her less stressed/more comfortable. In return, Anthony asked me, "Do you know what the first thing a horse needs to do when asked to canter?" I looked at him a little quizzically, "No, what?" He smirked and said, "Canter."
That's it. It's not like I'm asking for rocket science.
Jumping isn't rocket science either.
It was a bit of a "aha" moment in a way. I was making the whole cantering thing into some beast that it didn't need to be and pussy-footing around it for longer than I probably should've. I mean, yah, if she's hurting it probably is well warranted but if she isn't, it means that I need to start rolling up my sleeves and following the good old 4-H manual of ask-tell-demand.
Another interesting point of the lesson was when Anthony called me to the middle to talk about my dressage whip. He told me that my whip is getting me into trouble with my horse. He mentioned that each time the whip "taps" or accidentally "skims" Annie's hind end, she pins her ear at it and swishes her tail. We went into a good conversation about the use of whips and as we chatted, he took hold of my reins and started to ask Annie to yield her haunches with the whip. He then asked me if I had taught Annie to yield to the whip under saddle - to which I replied no. Admittedly, I have been using the whip as a "no no" stick vs a tool that also directs her body movements.
We moved the whip into my outside hand vs the inside and found it was much less offensive to Annie there. I made a mental note of this and reminded myself to try spurs out instead. Handling a whip can be such a troublesome thing - half the time I don't even know where the lash is pointing. Grrr.
The lesson went on though, and it got pretty interesting when we started to work on two point. The idea Anthony likes to create behind his horses is that he wants them to step into a more forward trot when he gets into two point and uses his calves - the idea behind it is that when you are in two point, you want your horse to realize "Ah, we are going to be forward and committed". So I practiced going from a "normal trot" into a two point and squeezing with my calves. The result?
The snake-head returned and much to my displeasure, it seemed to continue to be a theme for the lesson. There were a few moments where I asked for her to step out and she obliged without any theatrics or issues.
^ If you can learn anything from this video, learn to close your fingers.
Although, Anthony did specifically state to be sure to cross off any pain issues just to be on the safe side. He is a huge advocate for animal health and wouldn't want me to needlessly beat my horse into the ground for resistance when it could very well be a physical issue.
We finished the lesson off with jumping and although it was a disaster, I really enjoyed the "mental break" from endless 20m circles. Horse Show Buddy was pretty astonished I was allowed to jump, given that Anthony usually has people do a lesson of flat before graduating to jumping. And at the end of the lesson, Anthony offered an olive branch of assistance should I need it. I really appreciated he is willing to answer any questions I may have or talk strategy with me outside of lessons. I nodded my appreciation and told him I'd let him know what came of the vet visit on the weekend.
Overall, I was really pleased with the lesson. Annie was super game for the walk/trot stuff and although the canter fell apart and caused some issues, I still feel pretty confident about most of it. I do worry about what could be causing this issue, so hopefully we will be able to pinpoint more at the Vets this weekend to ease my mind.
I last left off with a pretty awful, no good, Very Bad Ride on Bannie. Fear not, we have been still plugging away at this newfound disobedience and as the blog title suggests, I've been trying to play around with the resistance and have made a few other calls to further squash any indication it could be health related.
Last week I schooled her once in the back paddock to try and recreate the "NO" answer I was getting so I could break it down some more and assess it without the pressure of time. We played a lot with stretchy trot - the idea being that maybe I was getting in her face too much and causing some kind of bumping effect when going into the canter.
Interestingly enough, Annie didn't offer any kind of resistance during her left lead canter, but instead started to get played up when asked for her right lead (her bad lead). I didn't feed into the drama when she started to toss her head and tried to leap back into canter. We went straight back to a stretchy trot and didn't even bother going back into canter, just to throw her off a bit.
Unfortunately, I wasn't really able to assess the resistance more than what she offered. It feels like she just gets tight and balled up and when she gets the wrong lead, it frustrates her.
She has started to work on her fluffy hair and... her gut. My horse has a gut now!
With daylight shrinking rapidly and work hours increasing, I haven't been able to really get a hold on this issue. It certainly wasn't causing me any stress or sleepless nights (until now, lol), so when the opportunity came to go hacking around with N and AJ, I did.
She tried her usual "FAST WALK AWAY" after I mounted and asked her to walk on. So we practiced turning back towards the barn and standing there. How weird is it I have a horse that walks slow towards HOME but walks fast AWAY from the barn? I know usually if you have a barn sour horse, you turn them away from the barn, but in my case I turn her towards the barn and make her stand.
We also did a bunch of circles along the asphalt - she'd fall out and start to walk fast reaching the top of the circle (towards the trails) and slow down towards the bottom of the circle (towards the barn). I did some flexion exercises - in and out, in and out.
Once she was responsive, I let her walk on a loose rein to meet up with N and AJ. She was really, really good.
When we parted ways at the end of the ride, I opted to canter down the dirt road to see what kind of response I'd get. I asked for canter and got.... no head tossing, no tail swishing... nothing but the canter I asked for. She was happy to putter along and was respectable and amicable when I brought her back down to walk the rest of the way home. It was actually a really delightful ride.
My mind, much like a spinning carnival ride, started to reel in a million thoughts.
Is it her teeth? Does she need to be floated? Is she just being asked too much? Is she just needing a break? Am I not rewarding her at the proper time? Am I rewarding too much? Am I not asking hard enough? Should I be getting mad at her? Is her back bothering her? Does she have ulcers? Are her ovaries bothering her?
Is she arena sour? Or just "work" sour?
I felt a little like a fish out of water with her newfound "problem" area, so I ended up weaseling my way into a clinic with a jumper trainer who I had taken lessons with before. I wasn't able to commit to the full three days due to work, but I figured one day would be better then nothing.
post-hack happy faces!
Anthony is someone who I lessoned with back in my Geronimo-riding days. He is very blunt, but also calculating, thoughtful, and very observant. He makes me a little bit nervous (okay, a lot nervous), but I really respect and value his opinion, especially in "problem" areas of training.
Thank-you everyone for your comments on my last entry - sometimes it feels better knowing other people have been on a similar Struggle Bus. I find the blogging community to be so helpful in that regard. You can think you are alone and when you look at the comments, you realize almost every single person who has commented has similar stories. It gives me self-assurance and a little bit of confidence that we can get past this and keep going :)
"Hay to the left of me, saddles to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with my human." -Annie
This past weekend, a new saddle fitting representative made the trekk down to our area - I am not only super pumped about this, but am even more enamored with the fact that the owner and operator is a very familiar "face" among blog-land. Hamer and Clay, anyone? Some may be unaware, but Kelsey has started her foray into the wonderful world of saddle making and is working her way to becoming a fully certified saddle fitter!
Since she grew up in the area, she knows how lacking a lot of our equestrian services are and I jumped at the chance when I heard she was coming our way for a visit with family and was willing to tie in a saddle fitting clinic with any riders who wanted it.
I had been in contact with Jen (The Saddle Geek) over the last few weeks, attempting to try and find a solution to Annie's curvy and short back. While I completely loved Jen's suggestions and felt she hit the nail on the head, there is just something to be said about "in the flesh" visits. And as fate would have it, a few weeks after I had contacted Jen, Kelsey announced she would be coming our way.
I was curious to see how the two saddle fitter's ideas would line up and what recommendations would be given.
It was a pretty brisk morning!
Since N wanted to check the fit of her saddle on AJ, we trailered together to the covered riding arena in the next town. We wanted to make sure that if it was raining, we had a dry space to take measurements and data without making poor Kelsey suffer in the elements should the sky decide to leak! As fate would have it, it stayed sunny all day (although it was bitterly cold in the morning).
N and I unloaded the horses upon arrival and tied them to the trailer while we unloaded our stuff into the indoor and met Kelsey. No sooner did we get things ready, N and AJ jumped into their appointment and started getting measurements taken and all kinds of neat things.
While we waited, Annie made her displeasure known each and every time AJ "left" her (he just walked to the other end of the arena), but she seemed to settle and was content to munch on her hay so long as she could see her beau. Mares.
I drooled over a few of these saddles.
When it came to our turn, Annie was compliant with being measured and having saddles placed on and off of her. We came to the conclusion I needed to make some minor adjustments to my jump saddle for it to be a comfortable fit. We started on implementing some of the changes and poor Kelsey struggled with my Wintec's silly gullet system for quite a while. Oops!
Knowing the Bates (dressage saddle) was a hard pass, we didn't opted to not even put it on Annie to check the fit. It's a terrible fit for the horse and it's a terrible fit for me. No thanks. Kelsey did take it on consignment though, so hopefully she will have better luck finding it a new home.
I rode in a few different saddles and ended up falling in love with one that is totally out of my price range (isn't that always the way).
I started by trying out a Verhan saddle (Saddle #1) which I didn't completely love. It felt pretty secure in the seat, but the flaps were def too long and would need adjusting.
The saddle fitter tried to get some photos of me in the various saddles to show me my position. This is Annie trying to leap into canter for the billionth time... -_-
Unfortunately, Annie wasn't being the most cooperative pony and I spent almost 40 minutes riding around in Trail Saddle #1 because it went from a "test ride" to a "schooling ride" very quickly. I apologized to Kelsey and told her that I was going to have to school for as long as I needed and would like to keep riding in the saddle until I felt we were in a place of agreement. Kelsey was super kind and basically left us to hash out the issues undersaddle.
It was basically the same nonsense as Saturday, except was amplified to Annie attempting to canter at a few particular spots in the arena. She cantered sideways, she bucked (once), and she ran around on her front end like a deranged zebra.
I stayed light in my seat and leaned back just enough to offset any kind of additional bucks she may throw my way. She was very stiff and hard in the mouth, unwilling to bend in either direction and unwilling to comply with any kind of request. Whenever we got down towards the bottom of the ring, closer to AJ, she was much more agreeable, but as soon as we trotted away, she made her displeasure known.
That one time we were actually able to trot through this corner and not completely canter sideways.
We managed to get into a more positive mind space, so I opted to switch over to Saddle 2 - a Hastilow dressage saddle that I completely fell in love with. The one Kelsey had for me to try, was too small in the seat and if I decided to go with a custom saddle, there would be other changes made to ensure it fit my and Annie a bit better.
Going back out onto the rail we encountered the same problems as before, but not as bad as the first go round. I managed to get more acceptance out of Annie and was pleased when she actually tried to meet me half way in a few things.
Well... that's a middle finger.
When she started to get bouncy, retracted, and threatened to leap into canter I gave her a little growl and rewarded the good behavior when it showed (however brief it was).
I mixed up my tactics in dealing with the misbehavior and a when she bounded into the canter, I let her. And we cantered and cantered and cantered and cantered some more.
We also alternated between trot-halt transitions and even threw in some halting (which she yanked into me for every single one).
By the end of a very exhausting and frustrating school, she started to get her eggs in a basket and I could feel her softening to me and finally starting to be a bit more amicable.
(In the Second Saddle) A brief moment of acceptance. Note: I realize the seat is too small for me. Was just trying it out to see how it felt.
I was only able to walk in the last saddle, as Annie had started to get her shit together and I didn't want to push my luck. I just opted to cool out - I don't remember the brand of saddle I rode in though. As we marched around the ring, Annie kept stopping and tried to walk back towards AJ, but I kept her marching and made sure to tell her she was doing a fabulous job when she complied.
We finished up there - a lot of my appointment time was taken up with a silly horse and Kelsey had other clients to meet. After I untacked N took the horses out to graze and I stayed back and talked with Kelsey about my options and ideas. It was really enlightening and now I have to save up for the fancy saddle I fell in love with because my butt wants nothing else. Fingers crossed she finds a new home for my Bates too!
Trust me, I am just about as thrilled as you are. - Annie
I rode Annie again on Saturday afternoon with N and AJ and while I was able to make it into the ring, I wasn't totally happy with the ride.
Maybe it's a combination of Annie being stronger/wiser, or a bit of body soreness from our previous school, or maybe a bit of both, but her response to a lot of my queries was, "And why should I?"
I've been careful to examine the issues that arise and test the waters to see what is the best solution for addressing things. It may take me a few attempts to get it right, but I like to assess things fully before developing a concrete thought.
So what exactly did she do on Saturday?
She was planning and plotting long before I tacked her up.
Well, for starters, she tried to trot off down the driveway again (I ended up turning her towards the barn, halting, asking her to go again, turning her back to the barn and halting, etc). Hacking to the ring she was quite spooky. In the ring she resorted to her old habit of sucking towards the other horse in the arena. AJ is her love-partner, so I understood when she was more attached to him vs Colby from the other day. She also took great offence to my left leg (like she did earlier in the year) and any kind of leg steering was pretty messy and inaccurate. Annnd then the canter fell apart like it had been the last few weeks - she gets tight and keeps trying to pop up into the canter and on this particular day, she cantered sideways with her head in the air and laid down a pretty good buck when I asked her to continue to trot.
I am pleased with myself that I rode through it all, remained calm and breathed through the antics. We alternated between walk-trot transitions before revisiting the canter - my initial thought is that it is harder for her to trot properly (ie. engaged, bending, etc) than it is to just run into the canter multiple times and when I shut her down, it makes her angry.
My second thought was pain - which is very viable concern. We took quite a few weeks off of schooling and now are returning to it - she may be lacking some muscles and sore in a few spots from the previous day. I palpated her back and while she was a bit sore in a few areas, nothing seemed to "jump" out as a huge issue.
Oh look, a conformation photo where she isn't looking at me and her tail isn't swishing. #progresssomewhere
I'm a pretty calculating person - I don't dismiss any theory and I certainly don't believe any answer is 100% right either. The feeling I get in the saddle is a mixture of confusion, frustration, and the middle finger. There is a healthy dose of, "I thought we just DID this?", "MORE TROT? I AM TROTTING MORE WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?" and "How about no, you little monkey on my back." Which, is fine. She's a young horse still trying to figure out all the buttons, and I'm an ammy rider who doesn't' always give her the best possible cue or release. We are nothing but a ever-changing tapestry of development!
Anyways, while the ride was a bit of a disaster, I managed to salvage a good deal of it. The walk/trot transitions really helped her settle and I felt like I was able to eek out some good work from her, despite the newfound "No" attitude. I verbally praised her and patted her several times, reassuring her that there was nothing to be worked up about or to take so personally.
We cantered around, attempted some leg yielding (which she did not appreciate kthanks), and even jumped the little makeshift tire-jump in the arena before calling it quits.
Upon leaving the arena, she hacked around on a buckle rein for the ride home and even did a stretchy trot along the dirt path which parallels the road. With her ability to "get over it" and get back to work, I strongly think this is more of a temperament thing. She's a young, empowered mare and she knows what is right. ;)
Still, ending the ride with my feet kicked out of the stirrups still feels like a win?
I contacted Trainer K (and a few friends), almost immediately after my ride and almost all of them said, "Yea... that whole work ethic change is pretty common with green horses." I guess the theory behind it is that when you first start a horse, they don't really understand what life is about. Some start out spooky and as they mature, they get more confident. Others (like Annie) start out pretty dopey and goofy ("You want to canter? How about I troooooooot so fast for you my favorite person?!). And once that dopey, goofy horse starts to understand more and become more self-aware and self-assured, they start to question things. "Pretty sure we are supposed to canter NOW". They start feel as though they are able to think for the rider in some situations. Which, can be helpful and I really appreciate it, but I could do without the sass?
I got some extra tips from Trainer K and when she gets back up to the area later this month we *may* take some lessons provided the snow doesn't fly, but if not, we will address it early next year. I'm not in a huge rush to "fix" the issue. She might just need some time off in the pasture or plodding along on a loose rein to just unhinge and relax.
She obliged to walking in the scary mud puddles.
Out of pure curiosity, has anyone else gone through something similar?
I do realize that I focus highly on the negative aspect of things, which is just something I do and it reflects a lot in my blogging. It's not like I am blaming the horse or trying to make it sound like we are in crisis mode - some of our rides just suck right now and it's all part of it. I'm sure she is getting worn out and tired from being ridden all year and going to all these new places and is ready for a nice long Winter break.
We have a few more weeks left of Fall before Winter sets in, and I'd really like to get past this last uphill battle before packing in the season. It can be frustrating when situations like that arise and although there are good portions in the ride, the bad parts really stand out like a sore thumb.