Monday, February 19, 2018

Karen Lesson: "I'm Just So Happy"

Dark barn aisle photo.
Although it has felt like Annie has been gone for a million years, I have realized just as quickly that her month-long training stint is coming to an end in the very near future! Part of me is excited to be bringing the monsters back home, but another part of me is... not as excited for the preparations that are required (*cough* snow removal *cough*).

This month in particular has been exceptionally taxing - emotionally and physically. Crappy Adult Things are happening and although I am trying to roll with the punches and make it out the other side, there are some Things that require Decisions. Not Fun Decisions. 

And as much as I wanted to cancel my lesson for Sunday, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I kind of needed the distraction, and welcomed the opportunity to finally sleep in and get some well deserved R&R at the same time.

Sunday morning the Boyfriend and I headed out to the barn - Annie was peacefully munching on some left-over morning hay and wandered to meet me at the gate of her paddock. I haltered her up, brought her into the barn, and left her tied for a bit while I organized my things and got ready.

She's a good bean!
She was quiet to tie, even with a young gelding trying to nibble her butt from the stall behind her. I practiced picking up her feet and doing the "farrier" work - she didn't care, didn't pull away, and didn't resist at all. Happy with that, I tacked her up and got a few other things ready and headed to the arena.

Another rider was lunging the aforementioned young gelding who did his best display of aerial dressage - it didn't seem to phase Annie so I hopped on from the mounting block and wandered the arena to warm up. At first, she felt very resistant to bend tracking left - she wanted to look out and curve her inside gut against my leg. I just pushed her forwards and did some trotting exercises as well. She hopped into a half-hearted canter going across the diagonal, but I figure it was her reacting to the spurs I had on vs excitement.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous riding her! Not that I thought she would do anything bad, but it was a mixture of excitement/nervousness as to how she'd react with me (old habits die hard?) and because our last lesson ended in colic. So... I was wary.

Trainer K popped out of the lounge and we got into it. Some key points of the lesson were as follows (not in any particular order):

  • Let go of your inside rein - she needs more outside rein support, especially for her left lead canter.
  • Don't just think about pushing her haunches in at the canter when she bulges her haunches out; think shoulder in to realign her entire body.
  • 10m circles are your preparation for shoulder-in. Do 1 10m circle and as you start your second one, go into shoulder in.
  • Half halt the canter - she likes to get speedy and flat. Use your outside leg and rein to bring her back and keep her balanced.
  • It's OK if she gets the wrong lead once or twice, when she continually gets it wrong for no reason, give her a poke with the spur to tell her you are unhappy.
  • In relation to the previous point, make sure to pet her and praise her when she does something right.
  • She likes to get buried in the front (overflexed) when she is nervous/anxious and/or doing lateral movements. Push her out and encourage her to seek the reins herself.
  • ACTIVE down transitions.
  • Ride off the rail during all three gaits to improve straightness.
  • When leg yielding at the canter, if she starts to go more diagonal vs straight, remember to "block" with the outside rein and inside leg. It's also OK to re-straighten and ask again vs going crooked.
  • Lots of inside and outside bend, as well as manipulating the shoulders will help with the overall maneuverability.
  • Always re-straighten before you hit the corner of the arena and prepare for the turn.
  • Turn your shoulders slightly when turning, it'll help her maneuver herself vs motorbiking.
  • Stand her shoulder up before the turns - utilize your outside rein more.
  • Don't worry about where her head is in the canter, you want to get more rhythm and reliability before the "headset".

There are a few more tidbits I'm sure I'm missing, but it was a good lesson. We did a lot of work on flexion, balance, and rider organization. We still had missed leads, but the cross-firing is almost completely non-existent (she did it once the entire ride) and the missed leads were less of a "tantrum" and more like "Oh oops I forgot which one I'm supposed to get this time!"

One of my favorite exercises we did was turning up centerline and when reaching x, you turn back towards the wall. So, half-circles. We also did this exercise fully - going up 1/4 line and centerline all the way to C and turning (like you would in a Dressage test of sorts). Having to keep the mare straight as well as prepared for the turns was really eye-opening into how much we as riders rely on the outside track.

Another favorite was the leg yielding at canter - it helped her feel so much more maneuverable. 

The tail swishing is still evident, but is much less frantic/frenzied/anxious - it feels more like a thinking swish if that makes sense? Previously, I could literally hear her tail snapping behind her, but now I barely notice/hear it. It looks... awful, but it's certainly gotten less and less.

She is a lot more rhythmic in her work as well, especially the walk and trot. In the canter, she likes to get flat and a bit strung out, but that'll come. Ironically enough, she switched her "bad" lead for the day and had a more difficult time obtaining her right lead than her left, haha. The transitions into all except a handful of the canters felt so easy and effortless, even the ones that were wrong.

A very, very good pony.

Trainer K and I discussed a lot of the hang ups Annie and I have, and it boils down to rider competency. There were some things I didn't know how to "push" or ideas I weren't sure I should be pushing. The mare just simply needed more consistency and a rider who could come up with a game plan that suited her - I didn't have that knowledge and was floundering trying to find it. 

I can see 100s of things "wrong" in the pictures and videos, but finally feel like we are on the right track. Mare is coming out to play more and I feel like more of an effective rider now that I know how to ride my horse (hilarious that I've owned her a year and finally feel like I can *kinda* ride her... maybe? sorta?).

Regardless, I'm pleased with the progress Annie has made. We were able to find that "Magic Canter" for most of our lesson and one particular 20m circle left me grinning and laughing so much that I heavily botched the down transition to trot. When Trainer K asked me what happened to that transition, I just simply said, "I'm just so happy."

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Almost Halfway

My last post kind of left everyone on a cliffhanger, since I didn't really do a post-colic update. Truth be told tho, I was kind of sitting on this one because it feels much like walking under a ladder, or... a black cat crossing my path? We are edging up on one week since the colic episode and I finally feel safe enough to say we've crossed the bridge without any other implications... because horses LOVE to prove us wrong.

Annie has been back to work and has resumed regular training - Trainer K started her back up slow and steady, as to be expected, and the mare has done good. We've altered a few things in her routine so as to potentially eradicate any future tummy troubles, although part of me thinks it wasn't necessarily something we could completely control. Still, it makes me feel better we've taken additional steps to hopefully prevent a reoccurance.

The snow in our backyard - I dug a little spot for the dogs.
She got her shoes reset mid-week and the report back was that she was not so amicable for the first little bit and settled quietly after Trainer K brought a boarder horse over and chucked it in the stall next to where the farrier was working. I'm not really sure what Annie's deal is with the farrier lately, and I am trying not to make excuses for her, but perhaps the new barn/new area shoeing/ weird lights he uses?? The positive thing tho is that she ended up being good, so as per Riding Buddy's direction, I'll try not to dwell on it too much.

This is the snow accumulation outside of Annie's
pen/shelter. A friend had crouched down to take this photo.
In other news, we are solidly approaching the halfway point in training! It seems like she's been gone much, much longer, and a part of me is surprised I still have the remainder of February to go!

Trainer K has been great with keeping me as updated as possible - she isn't really one for technology (and the barn has terrible cellphone reception) so I don't receive long-winded responses or break downs of what they've been working on. Which, is fine. She's a busy lady and like any business person, prefers to have verbal conversations. Texting can cause a multitude of issues, especially if something is misread or misinterpreted.

The radio silence left me a bit neurotic for the first week, but I'm slowly coming to terms with it and taking a page out of Riding Buddy's book of "No news is good news". Though it didn't stop me from conning a few friends who live in the area (and ride) to send photos to keep me sane and quiet.

Annie, and a young girl's horse, Rowdy.
With working 12hr days and having Annie an hour away, it makes it tough to go visit or just "stop in" quickly, especially with the insane snow/ice we've accumulated in the last week. As per the regularly scheduled program when I first sent Annie, my next lesson is on the 18th!

In Spud news - I've been still going out to visit/check up on him since he is still close to home. He seems to have finally made a friend in the alpha of the herd - a cranky 26 year old Quarter Horse gelding. AJ continues to be a Giant Asshole to him tho, so I guess they are only friends during hacks haha. Thankfully, his Giant Assholeism only extends to pinning his ears and not much else.

Spud says, "Get my good side."
It's been weird, not having to go out daily to go chores, feed, etc. And in a way, it's been kind of... nice?  Which almost makes me feel guilty in a way, haha. The weather has been less than ideal (-22C today) and not having to stress over frozen water troughs, blanketing, soaking feed, etc has been a really nice break. I've been able to spend a lot more time with my senior dog Ty, as well as diving head-first into my school work.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Karen Lesson: Good Lesson Goes Not So Good

Not many horse photos... so here are some dog photos lol
The weekend before returning to work from our turn around was full of horsey-things. Saturday the Boy had to drop off his ski-doo to be repaired, so I ended up tagging along and managed to watch Trainer K put a ride on Annie.

First of all, it's super weird seeing someone else ride your horse, especially when you are the primary rider. Secondly, I was pretty pleased with the progress that had been made in six short days. There are quite a few things that still need polishing, and Trainer K and I discussed Annie's needs and naunces. It was incredibly helpful to have her "feel" the ride as opposed to watching - she can appreciate and understand more of what I feel in the saddle.

Sunday morning I headed out and braved the road - in retrospect I should've just stayed home - to the barn. I immediately regretted not bringing snowpants, as I waded through hip-high snow to the paddocks. Annie was wandering around quietly, and tried to hide, but reluctantly allowed me to put her frozen halter over her nose. The temps had plummeted the last two days, with Sunday being the coldest thus far. Her halter had to be used to keep the gate shut, as the latch had frozen shut and required the Boyfriend to pry it open off it's hinges. #hatewinter

Trainer K said I was the only one to have a lesson -
the rest of her lessons cancelled. I lived the furthest away.
I meandered into the barn and tied her on the opposite side Trainer K had been tying her - we had discussed tying her in various places around the barn to get her used to the idea that "tying means we do not fidget" vs "THIS is the only place you must not fidget". She was good as I left to go get her saddle and bridle from the warm office area - one of the perks of having her in training, haha! She pawed a bit, but settled and quietly stood to be tacked up.

Since I had planned on getting her feet done while I was there, I stopped and chatted with the farrier. He had me bring Annie over to look at her feet, as I didn't feel as though they needed much more than a quick rasp or two. We found that her front left shoe was starting to come loose, but the rest looked great, so I had planned to get that one fixed and the rest rasped/reset as needed after my lesson. She was a bit nervous and looky over at that end of the barn. The farrier had brought big lights and backed his truck up into the aisleway. I don't know if the smoke from our warm breaths by the lights were scaring her or what, but for the most part she stood still for him to look at all of her feet.

I walked into the arena, tightened my girth again and hopped up just as Trainer K came out of the lounge. I was running a bit behind since everything was frozen and had a tough time opening the sliding barn doors.

I warmed up as she instructed, asking for over-exaggerated bend in both directions and asking for halts without her dumping herself on her forehand. She felt good - much more attuned to my leg and I could feel that she was thinking.

What is that?
Oh, that's just 20 days worth of Annie grain.
Don't worry tho, 80% of it is alfalfa, as I have to supplement it
since Spud can't have any.
For those curious:
6lbs Alfalfa Pellets
1lb Equi Cal Pellets
1.5 cups Dr Reeds Minerals
3tbs Magnesium Oxide
1 scoop Myoplast
We attempted some circles with outside bend. Key word - attempt. Several steps felt good before we fell out again. Ah well, green horses and all that.

Moving onto the trot we did some "lengthening" and shortening of the stride on and off a circle, as well as on the long/short sides of the arena.

Some things to remember:
  • Support the turn. In order to support, you must prepare yourself - give yourself plenty of time to set her up for success. Ask for bend, stand up the shoulder, have more feel in your outside rein and almost leg-yield your corner.
  • The canter gets better the more she moves out - encourage her to GO, but also don't let her drop the shoulder in the turns especially.
  • Response must be immediate. If she doesn't comply, give her a tap with the whip and then go back to asking without the whip.
  • She lacks a lot of strength in her canter, the only thing that will make it better is more cantering.
  • She sure likes you fight you about that right lead (story of my life). We both kind of think it's "old habits die hard" in this case. Annie has been inadvertently taught that she can pick up the wrong lead and I won't get mad/correct it. This is something I knew I was fiddle fucking too much with, but c'est la vie. I had been told by a few trainers to let her canter on the wrong lead because at least she's cantering off my cue. Which, I totally get, but now it has created a problem. Clinicians are only trying to help, which I appreciate, but it also has turned this right lead thing into a bit of a nightmare because I'll fight for that lead and then I back right off as per instruction so Annie is more receptive to Trainer K who does not have that baggage with her and who insists she gets the correct lead.
  • Collecting/extending will help bring her haunches under her.
  • Lots of leg in the halt so she doesn't dump herself out front - she stops like a Western horse. We want her to stop like an English horse.
  • It's ok that she makes mistakes - ignore and move on.
  • It's time to get after her about the lead. (re: when we had 10 unsuccessful attempts) She will be able to walk when she gets the lead, which is her reward.
  • When doing your serpentines, be straighter in the middle. Ride the C shapes like corners.
  • Watch your lower leg doesn't swing back at the canter, sit stable but make sure you aren't impeding her forward motion.
  • If she swaps behind (cross fires), push her forwards, she usually self corrects. Do not bring her to trot.

Lots of good info was packed into this lesson. And we kind of found the glaring hole in Annie's training (well, time will tell) re: left right cantering. She picked it up beautifully the first few times, no hassle, no head-shaking, no bucking... and then struggled and fought with me the next time I asked. We had nearly 10 unsuccessful attempts and Trainer K scratched her head a bit considering she hasn't had that many wrong leads in a row since training. 

Spud is still enjoying his new digs - his gelding friends are being
nicer now, so he's happy.
Which, is fine. All part of learning and such. It basically boils down to the fact that I've pussy-footed around the whole thing the last year. Some rides I'd be OK with not getting it, some rides I'd push and push and push for it and not get it... some rides I'd get it ONCE and be happy and end there. 

And there isn't a wrong answer. I'm sure I could have sorted it out eventually, but the irony is that she is more consistent with Trainer K than me. Which also has to do with fitness - like Trainer K said, my timing isn't always great and I have my own faults (ie. hanging on that fucking inside rein) that make it harder for Annie. Doesn't mean she still can't do it in spite of my hang ups, but me and the mare have history. Which makes it tough sometimes.

So, we had a bit of a argument about the lead, which ended quite well and mare was given many pats for being an amazing pony. I was glad Trainer K didn't think poorly of us, as she mostly just thinks this is something Annie and I will have to suss out. Kind of like a dog who is allowed on the couch for months and months and finally one day, is expected to sleep on a dog bed ON THE GROUND. We'll get there - three more weeks of training are still left and we've already covered a lot of ground.

Into the other parts of the lesson, I had so much fun. I did have to carry a whip for the leg yielding portion, but a quick tap tap had Annie responding so well. She was curling herself behind the bit, so we spent some time uncurling her and encouraging her to stretch her neck out. We did a lot of free walk and loose rein trotting and cantering as well, which helped me "trust" her more. 

I went and grabbed Annie's heavyweight blanket and a few other things from the
barn on Friday - it's snowed more since then. I'm just praying it all melts
before I bring the horses home March 1st!
At one point, we even managed a few steps of a baby lengthen, which was SO fun. Typically our lengthens feel like RUSH RUSH RUSHRUSHRUSH. Her response to my legs has been so much better, and she feels like she's using herself vs me holding her up (or dying trying haha).

Upon completing a victory lap in the right lead, we came to a walk and let Annie have a mental (and physical) break. As we made a lap around towards the top of the arena, by the letter C, I felt her legs weeble wobble and Trainer K called out, "Make her go!" Annie felt like she was going to drop and roll! I kept her moving and walked a bit more before both mine and Trainer K's suspicions darkened - we had initially thought she wanted to roll from being sweaty and itchy.

I called out, "Somethings not right, I'm going to jump off." and quickly vaulted to the ground while Annie was still moving. Immediately, she laid down. She didn't roll or stretch out, just laid before popping back up. Trainer K stood on her other side as I unbuckled the saddle and made it just in time before she decided to lay down again.

We both looked at eachother, and both knew it, but didn't really say the dreaded word out loud. Annie laid, quite placidly, before laying flat out on her side and grunted several times. Trainer K ran and grabbed a cooler and held Annie while I fetched her halter. I managed to get the halter on, but not tied as Annie laid her head down and stretched out again.

When she got up and stayed up.
As far as colics go, it was very... tame? She "rolled" but didn't completely flip over and was up and down several times before alternating between sitting up and laying flat out. Trainer K and I rubbed her dry as well as massaged her stomach, encouraging any gas bubbles to break apart. 

Nearly 15 minutes later, her symptoms started to slightly worsen. It was at this point I called it and went to my trailer to grab my banamine. I'm pretty sure the Farrier giggled at the sight of my giant first aid kit - he's a old school kind of guy, so I imagine it was kind of funny to see me struggling through the snow with all my riding gear (including my helmet) on carrying this giant tub of supplies. 

I administered the banamine orally and spent the next 45 min brushing and petting Annie as she laid quiet. It was the oddest thing - I have seen much more frantic/violent colics, so to see my mare acting very placid was a strange thing. She was mostly dry by this point and had no temperature and her gums/skin didn't show dehydration. We were unable to check gut sounds, as I did not bring my stethoscope and didn't want to bend an ear over her as she laid.

As she dozed in the arena, I went and changed into warmer (less wet) clothing. I made up a bucket of warm water as Trainer K puttered around in the arena keeping an eye on Annie and when I brought it out, Annie was standing. I offered her the water, but she mostly just played in it and knocked the lid over on my first aid kit. Thanks, horse. 

She continued to get better as the minutes ticked by - she spooked at a boarder's horse, tried to follow a boarder around the arena (she was riding her mare), and tried to run me over when I took her outside to load into Trainer K's trailer (to encourage pooping). With no poop to be had, we set her up in a stall inside the warm barn and gave her a handful of hay and a large bucket of water. She drank deeply and furiously scarfed down whatever hay she could find. 

By 6pm, Trainer K told me to head home. The roads were getting dark and with Annie's recovery, she was optimistic I wouldn't need to spend the night. Begrudgingly, I got my things together and started to head home. The roads weren't much better, so I'm glad I left while there was still daylight.

Trainer K messaged me later that evening to say Annie was doing much better and by this morning had had several poops, drank a bucket and a half and was begging for more food. She'll also be staying in a stall so they can monitor her water intake more closely before she goes back to her paddock (which has an automatic waterer).

Her first day at the barn - the snow is much higher now.
We aren't quite sure why it happened, but with the plummeting temps we both figured she may not have been drinking much water. Not drinking much + lesson = cramping. The auto waterer is a both a blessing and a curse in this situation, as we couldn't really pin point how MUCH she has been drinking. She had eaten most of her breakfast that morning, and all of her normal/regular grain. The deep hole that is Google has suggested ulcers, but I don't think Annie displays any other symptoms - I've put a call into the mobile vet we saw in October for some advice regardless. 

So - kind of a fun and not so fun day. I swear, this horse and I need to catch a break soon. I hadn't published it on the blog, but I had fractured my nose a few weeks ago, then fell off in my Derek lessons and now this... They say bad things come in threes. I sure hope the mare and I are done now! Whoever has that voodoo doll of Annie and I can stop poking it!!


FYI, for those who are bound to ask - no we did not call the vet. We don't have a vet in the area. The closest one is 3 hours away and the roads were not safe to drive on. I am, however, speaking with the mobile vet we saw in October re: possibility of ulcers or if this may just be a fluke situation. Any stories/respectful advice is welcome as always!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Derek Huget Clinic: Day 2

Monday morning - the winter storm was NOT
messing around.
Before I had left on Saturday, I quickly mentioned to Trainer K that pending the weather situation, I may not make it for my second lesson. She assured me that if I was unable to drive out, she would ride Annie in my place.

As Sunday morning rolled around, the weather was not... favorable. I checked several weather cams before asking the Boyfriend if he would mind driving (ever since getting into a car accident two Winter's ago, I am a big weenie). He agreed and we picked up N along the way, as she wanted to watch my lesson.

We left with an extra hour to spare and made it well within time for my lesson - the roads were in pretty decent shape, but some areas were a little sketchy.

Pictured: Not Sunday's driving conditions, but
still sketchy as fuck.
Due to the high winds and blowing snow, I brought Annie into a stall to tack up. She seemed nervous about the new change and bobbed her head disapprovingly as I ran back and forth to the trailer, grabbing tack. N kept an eye on her while I got my riding gear on, but mare eventually settled and started to nibble the hay I had dumped in the corner feeder.

Part of me is glad her coping mechanisms in a stall are becoming less pacey/anxious, and I think having her in for training with Trainer K for a month will do wonders with her associations with stalls.

She was excellent to tie and tack up, cocking a leg and only shuffling slightly when I strapped the dressage boots to her hinds. She rarely wears boots, so I think it was a bit of a weird feeling for her.

We moseyed to the indoor and I took my time to hand-walk and do some ground work (as well as checking and re-checking my girth) before heading to the mounting block and hopping on. She stood quiet and tried to move off as I collected my stirrups, so I reminded her to stand and she did.

Since we looked like the models on the top right the day prior.
I didn't warm up as much on this day than the previous day, as I could tell Annie was lacking a lot of pep in her step. She is more naturally behind the leg due to lack of fitness and her temperament, so having her tired for the lesson was going to be challenging. Not to mention I was also tired (and so very, very sore... wow).

I still opted to warm up walk, trot, and canter - using the methods Derek gave me. She felt decent, but behind the leg. Derek greeted us warmly and we went off trotting, attempting to re-establish that "go" button and connection to the outside rein.

We had a lot of success with connection, although the primary focus of the lesson was the canter, so once that got under way we didn't worry too much about her connection to my hands and the bridle. We were worked mostly on the outside perimeter of the arena, using both the long and short sides for canter transitions using the same method he had us practice the day prior.

Does anyone else see photos/videos of themselves riding and are like
Several times Annie died out on me, so I grabbed a whip and we spent a few moments training the same ideology - whip tap means go. Annie isn't unfamiliar with this notion, but wasn't responding appropriately when I did tap her. So, we schooled her by clucking and tapping, encouraging her to go forwards and rewarding her when she did.

Moving into the canter, we stepped it up a notch by being more firm about where she would go into canter (vs her just falling into it on her own) and keeping her cantering. Most of my responsibility was to cluck and/or kiss to keep her going and to add leg pressure. There was no kicking or whipping - just voice and pressure.

It worked quite well and Annie never once attempted to pop back into canter or throw herself into the canter like she tends to when she anticipates and/or has a tantrum. The tail swishing subsided and she even managed to get her bad lead quite a few times. We didn't work too much on fixing the lead issue, though, as Derek explained to me that he believes I don't have a canter issue - I have a leg resistance issue. He went on to explain that from what he has seen in Annie thus far, the right lead is difficult for her, but she also spends a lot of time arguing with me about it (sounds familiar to my Anthony Lothian lesson) and bulging herself to the outside that she picks up the wrong lead. Ironic in a way, because sometimes counter-bending a horse can produce the correct lead - this has not proven to be the case with Annie.

^Not cantering.

With the idea of bulging, we worked on 'tickling' the inside rein while cantering right - asking her to bend and unlock her neck/shoulder area. I am certainly not doing his explanation justice, but it was to basically unstick the natural crookedness in her body. Interesting note, Anthony Lothian (who we clinicianed with in October) had told me I ride her crooked - which is something Derek doesn't necessarily agree with, but it's interesting to note both instructors have found this crookedness.

As we cantered left, we applied the same notion, except tickled the outside rein, as she was tipped to the inside more. Derek encouraged me to ride the canter "normally" (vs clucking and using my legs sparingly) and the canter I rode for 30 seconds at a time was AMAZING.

We fell in and out of this Amazing Canter (especially during the corners) but was quick to have it return. I couldn't help but smile and Derek called out, "THAT is your Dressage canter!" When we came down to trot, and eventually walk, I told Derek that we had never gotten that canter before - I hadn't ever felt that kind of connection or rhythm in her canter.

Still need to lower that poll a bit, but looking better.
The lesson ended there, with many pats and praise for a Very Good Pony. Of course, my videographer/photographer abandoned her duties early on in the lesson, so there isn't much media. Which is fine, the lesson was pretty boring in the grand scheme of things, haha!

All in all, I was very proud of Annie. The quality of work I eeked out in the two lessons was huge - we made a great strides and have made some steps in repatching our canter issues, which I feel quite optimistic about. I am glad I just went with it and applied some of T's advice - it would've been so easy to say we weren't ready (because we really weren't), but the knowledge we obtained and the lessons we learned were worth it.