Monday, April 23, 2018

Groundwork and Hacking

At long last, the outdoor arena is free of snow and ice - which means some schooling will be in our future! It takes a week or two for the arena to fully dry out a bit after the winter ice melts away, so we'll probably steer clear of any real work for a bit longer. Part of me is like "oh, bummer", but the other part is excited that the trails are opening up and we can hit the wilderness!

Last year, I didn't do as much trail riding as I had wanted to, mostly because I was too focused on ring riding. This year, I have a different approach and a different mindset. I'm not opposed to ring riding, but a large part of me wants Annie to experience trail riding, hacking, and "new" questions. It can be easy to keep yourself shut in an arena, especially with a young horse, but it's important to me that Annie learns to navigate tricky terrain both in company and solo.

An Annie-less walk in the rain with the puppers.
Ella is afraid of Annie, but seems much more willing
with Spud, so we'll start small for now.
Also doubles as good "learning to be alone" time for
Annie now that Suzie is gone
She has never shown any kind of opposition to trail riding - she is actually the opposite. She's always game for a ride and is happy to look around and examine her surroundings. She isn't always the most sure-footed thing, or the most patient thing, but she genuinely seems to like wandering out on a loose rein down an old ATV path. I can't say I blame her - there is something calming and alluring about the great outdoors.

We'll still do schooling, shows, and clinics - just more emphasis on "fun" vs work, haha. Last year I kind of tried to DO EVERYTHING and although we did lots of things, we didn't exactly do the things we needed to do (like lessons, hah).

Following our weekend long clinic at the TBC grounds, I went back and revisited some ground work with Annie as well as firmly instilling my new mantra "I don't care if you have feelings, you need to just deal." Which included taking only Spud for walks and leaving Annie in her misery (she actually didn't do much... mostly walked the fenceline and let out a hearty neigh when we finally came back, haha) It also included tying; partly because of Annie's rendition of two stepping at the trailer on Day 1 of the Anthony clinic and partly because I still was walking with a limp (not from the kick, from riding my pants off all weekend!) well into the week, haha. She ties quite well, but it's the wiggling and haunches whirling around and pawing that has GOT TO GO. So, I basically just tied her up and went to work cleaning up the paddocks (winter manure removal, yay).

I can spy on her through the door to the lean-to at the
back of the barn. She had... opinions this day.
Which was fine, because I had 2 more hours of poop to
shovel so... work your shit out girl.
She's done quite well with the tying - our first session she pawed almost half of it and it has dwindled down to moving her haunches back and forth (I don't have cross-ties). It's been a good lesson in patience, because on one particular day I had to walk by her in the aisleway several times and each time I passed her, she jerked her head around as if to say, "Hello. I am also here. Please pay attention to me. I fling my head. FLINGING THE HEAD. LOOK LOOK. haha you're looking... wait where are you going?!?!"

It's getting better, but just baby steps. She tied quite well last year, so she may just need a tune up of things to get her patience reinstalled. It is Spring and all that. We also did lots of in-hand work and lunging in the one small open space of grass available in front of the barn. Some ground tying for good measure, hoof picking, pretend farrier work... She tried to jerk her hoof away once, got a stern "no" and went back to it like nothing had happened. She stood quietly and even tho I could tell she was annoyed with me hammering away at her shoes, she stood.

Much better, Bannie.
Note: she does not get left unattended when she's tied to the
tree. I keep her in my sights 24/7 in this instance.
Finally though, this Sunday I was able to climb aboard and go for a ride. I was keen on ponying Spud, but was unsure since Annie likes to fast walk/yank the reins from my hands when I ask her to stop for the first 5 minutes or so of the ride. It isn't pleasant to try and pony when she does that, so I decided to tie Spud up at the barn and mounted up.

Annie had been standing at the barn while I cleaned the tack room for about an hour and although she stood quite well, she stared hard at the driveway and I think she knew we were going out. After I tacked up, she did her big inhale of air (getting herself nice and physced up for the ride I assume) and tried to walk off in a big hurry the second I mounted. We did our circling exercise and I was pretty pleased to find it didn't take long for her to get her shit together. We wandered back to the barn to grab Spud, who had tangled a front leg in the hose (don't worry, the hose was literally only 8ft long) and as I maneuvered him and Annie back in the barn, his leg stepped over the hose before it fell on the ground. Thanks so much, hose.

Annie was just elated to know we were heading back out, so I had to kind of change up what I normally do when she gets fast and bracey. Instead of circling her, I just pulled her head off to the side until she halted and waited until she was calm before asking her to move off. We did this once in the driveway and once in the street.

Heading home!
She was good tho, and we even managed to cross the highway and venture off on an old logging road. She had never been there before, and had only crossed the highway once (with help of Nicole and AJ!) last year, so I was super happy she didn't hesitate. She was a little impatient when I asked her to halt until the road was clear, but otherwise was happy to oblige.

She tore through the ground with big marching steps. I asked her to slow a few times because poor Spud had to keep trotting to catch up, haha. We went through puddles and over a few fallen branches and she was great. Previously when I had done small hacks down other short trails with ponying Spud, Annie was on high alert and very cautious. This time? She was happy to bumble her way through and take a look at everything around her.

Barely any hesitation into the water andddd....
look at where I steered us lol. Right into a branch.
On the way home she did spook pretty good at another horse that came up the street - I hadn't seen it because we met right at the corner. It took some convincing to get Annie going because "Is dis our new friend?" and once I got Annie going, Spud ripped out my arm because "DIS IS OUR NEW FRIEND" which caused Annie to stop... and then Spud would go... But then Annie would go and Spud would stop. OH MY GOD YOU GUYS.

We finished the ride just over an hour and I was pretty pleased with her. She has certainly grown up since the last time I trail rode her and I am looking forward to doing more of it, especially with friends.

I did find it hilarious tho, that she chose to spook at the following things:

  • Clicking power line by the mailbox
  • A traffic sign
  • Piece of snow we have ridden by a handful of times
  • Another horse (and then she was CERTAIN we needed to follow them on their ride).

Her very uhm... active walk lol.
#gotplacestogo #peopletosee

Things she did not spook at?
  • Painted lines on the road (you would never guess how many horses this wigs out!)
  • A guy driving a ride on lawnmower down the middle of the road.
  • Cars splashing through puddles.
  • A branch smacking me in the face and scraping across my helmet.
  • A bird taking flight after we accidentally flushed it out of a bush near the trail.
  • The sound of gunshots from the gun range.
All in all, a good day out, especially since it had been a good long week since the last time I had taken her out! 

I am trying very hard to focus on the positive things and not dwell on the imperfections - because a lot of time that's what it is with her. It's not that the entire lesson/ entire outing/ entire ride was bad - it's just portions of it. Training negativity from my brain is hard, and I'd like to give Annie the fair chance without leaving negative emotions to eat away at our relationship. She's been a fun horse so far, and if I want to improve these things, I need to keep going forward and doing what I'm doing without worrying I'll ruin the horse. Of course, I'm sure another month down the road I'll be worried I am ruining her, but that's the nature of the beast I guess.

Another thing on our list to battle Annie's weight woes
was a Panacur Powerpack. Spud.. wishes it were for him.
Slowly, one step at a time we'll get there. Progress with horses is such a funny thing because one person's trail ride around the block may mean your horse didn't gallop back to the barn while for another it's frustrating your horse wouldn't just lower his head instead of staring at everything. It's all different, and it all gets measured differently. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Anthony Lothian Clinic: Day 2; Roller Coasters Aren't Fun

From Day 1; tentative smiles because we didn't know the
amount of pain and hurt we'd be in for
I shouldn't have published my Day 1 post so fast - I forgot to add a few things. Not that they necessarily matter, but it's good to have the full picture.

So, a few additions:

During the time of the Anthony clinic, there was a despooking clinic going on with a NH trainer - lots of horses/trailers/people were at the grounds. It was a pretty busy atmosphere, as well as random loud noises would come from the indoor arena (loud bangs, yelling, music, etc).

Second point I forgot to add - when I noticed the boards had come loose, I pulled them off and stuck them in the stall beside Spud. I had briefly entertained the idea of moving my horses, but left them in the stalls instead and figured Annie would be pleased with herself for having an open space to see Spud anyways. I did go back and check Annie a second time that evening when I drove Show Buddy home from the birthday shenanigans. At that time no additional boards were loosened and Annie was eating her hay quietly. She did pace a bit when I walked up to her, but nothing overdramatic, more like "pls let me out of here." I had a hard time feeling bad for her tho, and the running joke was that I was going to leave her at the grounds forever. In fact, I made a lot of threats regarding Annie, haha.

** also note, I have TONS of media that isn't always relevant to the paragraph, so just... enjoy the pictures lol.

I loved the angle the photographer got of the trot poles.
The next morning, Show Buddy fed the horses for me (because she is the best) and I laid in bed, crippled from riding the day before. There were no other boards down and she reported that Annie dove into her hay hungrily. I laid in bed for longer than I should have and actually contemplated packing up and going home because holy shit, my body was SORE. I also didn't get much sleep in since we were up until the wee hours of the morning giggling and exchanging Bad Pony stories.

Regardless, I made it down to the grounds after doing some running around in town and pulled Annie and Spud out a few hours before the lesson. Both were very eager to leave their stalls; Annie in particular was literally shivering with anticipation as I opened her stall door. I made her wait before walking over to the trailer and tying them far apart again.

Annie was fidgety at the trailer, but not as much as she had been the day previous. She was constantly whirling her head around, staring at passerbyers and just not paying attention. The behavior is more annoying than it is dangerous, especially when she whirls her haunches around and snags a bite of hay with a possessed look of eagles on her face. Like, just fucking stand and eat your hay. Relax. Cock a leg and stay a while. On this particular day, I didn't have the hay net set up because Annie had ate all of the hay I brought her (which is good!) and I figured standing tied without hay was a reasonable thing to ask anyways.

Not very forward - mare felt exhausted this day, haha.
While she didn't fidget nearly as much as the day prior, I did end up going over and lunging her again in her halter, simply because I wasn't really sure what kind of mood she was in. And partly because I was still super frustrated with her and part of me was over-reacting a bit to her little shuffles/butt swinging. I could have easily left her tied and ignored her, but it was making me mental on the inside. When I sent her out to lunge, she did move out respectfully and when I asked for a canter, she squealed and peeled off.

Okay then.

Unfortunately for Annie, I had had enough of the shenanigans and silliness so I yanked the lead a few times to regain her focus (she was staring out at the other horses *head desk*) and MADE her pay attention to me and the speeds I was asking her to go. She received a few more jerks to the lunge line during the session but instead of cantering around staring at everything else but me, she started to settle her shit and gave me more focus.

There was focus (and turning!!) here tho!!
What a good bean!
I understand horses can be fresh, and I understand she is young/dumb, but after being kicked and having a stall remodeled, I wasn't in the mood. It's time to grow up a bit and stop being handled with kid gloves. Mistakes are OK, but mistakes shouldn't prevent me from correcting them.

She tied back at the trailer quietly and was great to tack up - no wiggling. After getting dressed and ready, I wandered over to the mounting block situated outside the arena. She did great standing quiet and walked off quietly when I asked.

Again, she felt tight and resistant in the bridle while we warmed up, but was compliant for the most part. I did wear spurs on this day because I was #dying. Once we finished warming up at the walk and trot - I did manage to get some steps of nice trot out of her where she felt reasonable in the bridle - and parked her a few feet away from riding buddy. She did try to casually move closer to SB and Riley, but I made her remain a few feet away.

Testing the GO button.
We got called in to our lesson nearly 40 minutes late, as another rider was having difficulties with her horse. I can understand and appreciate it, considering our lesson was late the previous day because of me. But it also is frustrating in a way, because I had booked a farrier appointment for Annie and Spud at the grounds for after my lesson. As we wandered into the ring, the farrier showed up. Part of me was questioning whether or not to excuse myself from the lesson or rebook with the farrier, but it ended up working out and the farrier kindly waited.

The lesson started out at the walk and morphed off of the previous day's lesson with instilling a slow/go button in the horses. Anthony instructed us to pivot the horse's inside front foot and maneuver it along the circle to be more in-tune with where we ask the horse to move. As we went into the trot, I felt Annie was very stiff and bracey, but worked with it. Anthony doesn't really like to see the horse's rounded up too much so I tried to keep a steady jumping contact vs dressage contact that I am used to doing with her. Her strides felt a bit choppy and uncoordinated, but we did manage to get her to swing a little bit. Certainly not as much as I have had in previous lessons though.

We did find again, that I am too loud with my aids and I have a hard time keeping my spur off of the horse. With short legs and the unfortunate habit of turning my toes outwards, it makes my spurs a bit of a problem. Part of me is curious if this had anything to do with Annie's resistance in the trot that day, or if she was just tired/sore.

A more forward trot helped us get that lift
in the trot poles - going too slow made Annie
hesitate/hit poles.
From there, we went into a canter and it was AMAZING. We had exactly 0 problems with leads, cross-firing, and turning right. The mare was ON it. At one point, Anthony called out, "Are you smiling? Because you should be smiling!" She moved out willingly when I asked, brought herself back when I asked... and it was just wonderful.

We did a bunch of sitting trot as well and it made me hyper aware that Annie has the drift left problem going left as well - Anthony caught onto this and made a comment as to how when they drift left going left it is easier to fix and it will help me on the right side as well. We worked a lot at the trot in this lesson and worked hard to establish a go button and have Annie hold it herself. She backs off a bit when things change or when I ride more tentatively (see point below), so that's something I need to change.

Since we nailed the canters and showed aptitude for steering (praise the lord, haha), we were allowed to move onto trot poles and a few cross-rails. Unfortunately, my brain kinda spilled out and I tried to over-ride everything which made the poles and jumps messy. Anthony reminded me to be bold - ride my horse boldly and commit to things. If I ride tentatively, the horse is going to apply itself tentatively.

One of our first attempts - she completely
demolished this jump, haha.
But #learning.

Some things to note from this lesson:

  • Leave her alone - turn your toes inwards and take your spur out. When she complies with your request, leave her alone.
  • All you need to do is steer an be along for the ride once you get what you are looking for.
  • THAT is your canter.
  • Ride boldly; don't be tentative going to the jumps because she will become tentative.
  • Be more committed; go into a half-seat and bring yourself forward when you get to the jumps. Show your horse what you want her to do.
  • She isn't quite sure what you want when she gets to the jumps. She is going to make mistakes - she is going to hit jumps, she is going to hesitate, she is going to land awkwardly. It's all OK. Let her make the mistake (also the theme of Day 1).
  • Lower your hands.
  • She is thinking and trying to figure out what you want. Don't repeat it until she gets it right once - repeat it until she gets it right a few times.
  • The only way to get better at something is correct repetition. She can make mistakes, but you also need to repeat the exercise to instill the correctness. <- This particular point really resonated with me, especially when I think back to our canter woes. When she got the right lead, I'd stop and be done. Which, sometimes it's practical to do it that way, but you also need to push the boundaries and ask for it multiple times so it becomes a habit.
  • Do you have a go button? Does the horse respond and hold themselves forward?
  • Going forward doesn't mean trotting faster - it means bigger, bolder steps.
  • Everything with horses comes down to discipline - the rider has to be disciplined in what they do with their horse.
  • You don't do well sitting waiting your turn (to jump), get yourself warmed up and moving around just before the other rider is finished their course/exercise.

Another attempt - getting better...
And she was trusting my decisions more.
As we progressed through the jumping, Annie got better and better. At first, she fumbled over the jumps, then landed trotting.... then tripped... but eventually popped over and rolled into a canter quietly. I haven't jumped her much and usually when I have lots of eyes on me, I get super tentative about anything I ask of my horses, so it was good to have that direction and clarity from Anthony that I need to be bolder. 

We finished by doing a small course of three jumps and ended it there. I was SUPER pleased with the ride - it felt a million times better and Annie was more compliant than she has ever been in the canter especially. The trot felt sticky, but looking at the photos that were taken, she just looks a titch behind the leg but nothing terrible. It'll get there!

MUCH better.
Good bean!
After the lesson, I quickly rode cajoled Annie over to where the farrier was. She was super snorty and flinched at a bunch of sounds, but I just kicked her forwards. It was terrifying wandering over there by herself don't you know. The farrier and I spoke for a few seconds and I wandered back to my trailer to untack and grab Spud before returning to where the farrier was set up.

Now, as most of my readers know, Annie has been a huge pain in the ass for the farrier in previous shoeings. She had been trimmed and hot shod a handful of times by this farrier and it went super well - she never moved a muscle. However, she seems to flip flop when she is good/bad and I can't seem to pinpoint what changes there were/are. 

Her very first trim she tried to jump a round-bale to get away from him and kicked out several times, her second trim she was a super good girl, her first two hot shoes she was a super star and then her third hot shoe she wouldn't even let him touch her. To the point where we could only put on front shoes after we struggled with her. When she went for training, he shod her with Trainer K present and allegedly she was somewhat nervous/anxious in the beginning but became quiet the moment they tied her by another horse's stall. She was shod in the front without incident and they left her hinds since she didn't really need them done at the time.

She may have been a dick for everything else on the weekend,
but she certainly wasn't for jumping.
On the weekend, I opted to just have the fronts done again to prevent a drawn out and frustrating session for the farrier. She was not great for him, but certainly not as bad as she had been (especially last year). I am just at the end of my rope with this behavior - this time she didn't shy away from him, she instead ripped her fronts away from him and would paw the air. She was smacked several times for the behavior and I did ask if he wanted me to lunge her - he said no. She did stand super quietly - albeit on HIGH alert when he did her hinds. 

Like come on mare, you should be tired. We just did two heavy work-out days and you still want to fight?

I just don't get it. I practice her holding up her feet /rasping them /picking them out/ pretending to hammer them ALL THE TIME. This isn't fucking news to her. Do I not practice enough? Am I not setting her up for success? I figured after a long hard clinic she would be much more amicable to have them done...

Testing the "slow" button during our warm up prior to jumping.
I apologized profusely to the farrier, because I know it isn't fun (or safe) for them to deal with horses like that and part of me is worried one day he'll just say "No thanks" when I ask him to come out and shoe. Although, he did assure me she certainly isn't the worst one he shoes. But still the whole situation left a sour taste in my mouth and the bad vibes from Saturday returned a bit.

I tried to keep positive tho, telling myself that she did do better than last time, especially in a very busy area. But still, I was frustrated. And mad. And embarrassed.

After Spud was finished (who was super good), I loaded them in the trailer and spoke with the farrier a few moments. Both horses were super quiet in the trailer, which I was happy with and took note that previously, Annie used to rock the entire trailer until I got in and started to drive. 

Small things, I guess. 

She wanted me to pet her face with my boot at the end of the
lesson, so I did as I was told.
The ride home was uneventful and the horses dug right into their hay when I put them out. Since then I've been alternating between tylenol and hot baths because I am so very sore. My body isn't used to the intense Anthony lessons, hah. Annie is also getting a few days off and then we'll resume tack-walking the neighborhood again.

The weekend was interesting and part of me so desperately wanted to give up and just sell the damn horse. I'm trying hard to push past the disappointments and set-backs, but it can be hard when you actually do put in the work and time and it feels like it's for nothing. And the even more frustrating is when you know and FEEL that the horse can be a good fucking horse but they just don't apply themselves to show you that... or they only show you little glimmers of how good they can be a bit at a time... inconsistently. Gah. Baby horses are a fricken process - and whoever told me that year 2 undersaddle was going to be a pain in the ass can go fly a kite, haha.

I'm not a total jerk to her, it'd be nice if she would

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Anthony Lothian Clinic: Day 1; Come What May

This was from Friday, but Spud wants to let everyone know how cute he is.
Sidenote; can anyone photoshop him in some tinfoil with some butter,
bacon and chives on him? Like a lil baked potato? Someone? Anyone?!
Part of me was excited for the clinic, especially since I so thoroughly enjoy my lessons with Anthony (when I do have the opportunity to attend), but part of me was seriously questioning my sanity. I had a moment of "we're not ready" followed by reminding myself of T's blog-post earlier this year. Plus, my mantra this year was to take as many lessons as I could and to do the thing.

So... when in Rome, right?

I left work early to get the trailer hitched and horses ready. Initially, I had planned on hauling home and hauling back out the next day, but a friend's birthday dinner in the same town made me re-evaluate and decide to stall the horses at the grounds overnight instead. My friend graciously offered to let me stay at her place, so I took her up on the offer. I brought Spud along as well, since the farrier was going to meet me at the grounds Sunday afternoon to trim/shoe before I headed home.

The horses loaded up well and hauled great to the grounds. I dropped them off and had another friend hold them while I jetted down to Barn C to pick up Show Buddy's gelding (their truck is broken at the moment) and bring him to the grounds.

Post-lunge and pre-ride.
Upon returning, I tied my two to one side of the trailer with hay and started to get everything ready. Unfortunately, Annie was fit to be tied (literally and figuratively) and danced around snorting and sucking her belly up. I wandered back over and tied Spud farther away from her, as she kept body-checking him. She didn't let up tho and kept dancing around and even kicked out several times - in Spud's direction - so I decided it was time to intervene and went over to lunge her.

As I sent her out around me on the lunge circle, she kicked out at me and nailed me right in the upper thigh. It was deliberate, and she knew exactly what she had done. It didn't hurt, it more or less shocked me - I have never been kicked before - and also took a moment to thank my lucky stars she was not wearing hind shoes.

Suffice to say, I lunged the crud out of her. She frolicked and porpoised and snorted her way around me, galloping and tearing up the soil beneath her. Finally, we got to a good place approximately 10 minutes later and I did some ground-work before re-tying her to the trailer. She was much better and more placid about standing and eating her hay vs staring at ALL THE THINGS, but I could tell she was still anxious.

Post-ride cool out.
I went back a few moments later to tack up and get my gear on, which went well. I mounted up and she didn't move a muscle and walked off calmly when I asked - good girl. I did do a brief warm-up in the grass near the dressage arena which felt tight, but manageable. She didn't want to bend, or move out in front of my leg at all, so I rode with what I had before Show Buddy and I were called into the ring to start our lesson.

I was nervous, especially considering Annie's erm... expressive Karen lesson and her naughty behavior earlier that morning.

Anthony had us start out walking before moving into a trot near the top section of the jump ring - we used 1/2 of the ring and mostly stayed on a large circle for the duration of the lesson. A lot of the exercises he had us do were similar to my previous lesson - having a slow/go button and riding with purpose/direction/discipline.

We did find a pretty big hole in Annie's training that ended up causing our ride to go 30min longer, which I both appreciated and felt bad for making other lessons late. Essentially, when cantering right, Annie drifts left HARD. In the saddle it feels like she is pushing into my inside leg and when I apply it to get her off of it, we end up going left even harder. We had some moments of me literally dragging her around a 30m circle cantering because she would almost wander off left and try to go down the long-side of the arena. Embarrassingly enough, Anthony ended up putting poles out to guide me on a circle so I had a visual representation of where Annie's body should be at any given time during the circle - once I focused on steering instead of micromanaging her, we magically were able to canter a circle (and on the right lead!).

Expressive to the left; note the cross-firing.
My aids are "too nagging" which makes Annie unhappy pony.
Anthony is very big on having a horse comply with leg aids and leaving them alone - he has said multiple times that as a jumper you don't want to push a horse every single stride. You ask for a bigger trot (or canter) and the horse should comply and hold it themselves. It's interesting to me, because a lot of Dressage trainers will encourage you to push your horse every stride or second stride. Not that they are wrong - just different disciplines and such.

I did end up having to borrow a whip mid-way through the lesson, which helped quite a bit. Anthony reminded me the importance of having the horse be disciplined enough to acquiesce with the request of "go". Hilariously enough, she didn't throw a hissy fit about cantering save for once which lasted approximately 3 strides. She did cross-fire a bit, but as I fiddled less, the more amicable she became.

Trotting around the jumps at the start of our lesson.

Some things worth noting that I found super helpful:

  • She is very tentative - make her stride bolder and ride her bolder. She'll become bolder.
  • Plan your route. Don't cut in on your circle and play a game of leg yielding the horse in and out  to avoid hitting jump standards - be disciplined in the route you choose and don't micromanage the horse because of your poorly planned route.
  • Leave her alone. When she complies, stop nagging and stop pushing her. Sit quiet and enjoy the ride for a few strides.
  • The lead problem is a steering problem. Don't worry about the lead, worry about steering.
  • Why are you going left? (This was heard a lot that day).
  • Do you have a go button? You shouldn't have to squeeze your horse every single stride to get a bigger trot. Ask for it and GET the results. You don't want to canter up to an oxer and not know whether or not your horse is going to have enough power to get over it.
  • When jumping, all you should need to do is steer.
  • I don't mind her head coming up at the trot - this isn't Dressage.
  • You need to learn how to sit quiet - take your leg off.
  • She is allowed to make mistakes. She's a young horse, she is GOING to make mistakes. You have to let her make them. This isn't a show, so let it happen.
  • "Don't apologize to me for your poor planning." (I apologized for cutting into my circle again). Anthony is a very... gruff sounding individual but he makes his riders be disciplined and thoughtful in their endeavors. Part of his charm is the sarcasm that oozes, and I've found a lot of riders actually like his brutal honesty and non-sugar coating ways. It does take some getting used to tho.
  • Can you feel her outside front bending around the circle? Can you control where it lands?

Wishing my hands were lower but look at the pretty pony.
It was a pretty good lesson, despite the steering errors. I didn't get to jump, or even go over trot poles, but I am OK with it. We couldn't steer anyways, haha. I did notice tho, that Annie was not very amicable in the bridle, but Anthony didn't mind, especially considering he is a jumper. She felt kind of resistant and stiff - part of me thought she may have been sore from the Karen lesson or was being resistant just to be resistant. It wasn't particularly bad, but just something I noticed.

Once we had a few good laps of canter on the right lead around our pole circle, Anthony instructed me to halt and hop off after giving the mare a few good pats. I led her around for a solid 20 minutes to cool out as Show Buddy jumped around and did some more advanced things (bc steering is hard).

Annie untacked well and Show Buddy and I set the horses up for the night in stalls - Spud on Annie's left side and Riley on Annie's right side. She went straight to her hay and drank deeply, which I was happy to see. Part of me was nervous, especially with how anxious she got at the BVX last year. Deep down, I knew it would be good for her tho.

Our scribbles from Saturday.
We cantered... a lot.
Also note - approx 40 min of this was warm up/waiting
for our lesson and the cool out.
We left and I went off to dinner - which was delicious - and I returned to the grounds around 8pm to give Annie her evening mash and check up on them (#helicopterparent). It's a good thing I did... because Annie decided to remodel her stall by kicking down two boards. Sigh. It appeared as though the boards were tapped into a rotten pillar tho, because all the nails were intact and nothing was broken. The boards were tapped into the pillar on the inside of Spud's stall, so by kicking them, they literally just popped out. 

I would by lying if I said I didn't sit at the grounds in my truck and cry, because I did.

I just felt so... defeated. Annoyed. Frustrated.

This horse KNOWS not to kick people. Yet, she kicked me. This horse KNOWS how to be in a stall. Yet, she damaged one.

We did A LOT of cantering.
I was embarrassed and sad when I returned back to the party - all of the ladies were really understanding and tried to help me feel better, which I appreciated. I still feel terrible about the weekend and frustrated with Annie's behavior, especially since I haven't had those issues with her before and it's not like I don't work with her - we do ground-work 3x a week at the very least. 

A friend offered that she just needs more miles, more experience, and more variety. "She's young" they said, "and she didn't have any life experience when you bought her". Yah, it's true, but it still sucks.

After playing silly games and venting my frustrations, I was ready to rally for the next morning. Come what may.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Karen Lesson: All's Well That Ends Well

Lots of road hacking km's logged this month.
I've put a few more hacking miles on Annie, both with some good success in reeling back in that naughty "let's goooo" engine she seems to possess at the beginning of every single hacking ride. I appreciate her willingness to leave the barn, but maybe with a little less... gusto?

As mentioned on the blog, it's really irritated me for the last few months and I've been pulling out all the stops to fix it. It seems like every blog post I make about it, I have a "new" idea or exercise that has helped us out, but none of them seem to really stick or make a big impact.

Which is where the Endless Circles of Boring come in.

Basically, if mare wants to move her feet when I didn't ask or if she wants to lurch forwards, I turn her in a circle.

And we circle until she decides to stop.

A quiet halt in front of the barn - and yes, there really is
that much snow still left.
I've done this for a handful of rides now and it has worked really well for us - there is no real fight, no drama and it's all about HER being in control of her own reality. Annie is a smart mare who likes to find the right answer - but she'll also test the boundaries to see if you are really serious about what you want. Which, I don't mind, but yes I do really mean we need to stand.

It took us almost 20 min to meet up with Nicole and AJ last Saturday, which is a bit annoying but it also really instilled into her that "Yes, I mean stand quiet even when we are walking on the road... even when you see your horse friend and you are feeling that Spring air blowing between your ears".

And as silly as it sounds, we stopped and stood both quietly and relaxed at the barn for the first time in months. Typically, if I make her stand, she'll dunk her head up and down or concentrate on the driveway instead of being more in tune with me. It's an interesting concept to me, because it gives her the opportunity to make the circles end as soon as she wants to comply, or we just keep circling.

Anyways, onto the Karen lesson!

There isn't much media from the lesson, so enjoy this picture
of a dead bird stuck in my grill from the drive home.
Poor bugger.
I booked a chiro/massage session with our favorite body-worker Amanda, and since she only comes to certain barns, I had to haul out to Barn C for the appointment. Since I had to haul, I figured why not add a Trainer K lesson into the mix just before the appointment!

I also hauled AJ for N, since she works out in the same town as Barn C, so I met up with her later on when AJ got adjusted.

Things were pretty good - Annie was a bit nervous about loading up in the trailer and tried to shoot up the ramp, so I ended up turning her away and just asking her to lunge small walking circles around me. I know she is still nervous about the trailer, which I don't blame her for, so I wanted her to get on with a quiet mind vs "I'LL JUST RUN ON AND GET IT OVER WITH". She got on after the little lunge with less urgency and was fidgety until I closed all the windows and doors.

She was good to stand in the trailer until she could hear AJ's hoof beats down the driveway. Then she was trying to look all over and see who was joining her, haha. She did end up skinning herself just about her eye because she was concentrating so hard on checking who was on the other side of the divider... sigh.

And this unrelated photo of our road hack a week ago.
The unloading was a total non-event and mare went straight to eating hay while I tacked up, which I was happy to see. Once we were ready, I led both horses into the barn and stuffed AJ into a stall. And he was NOT happy when I turned away to take Annie to the arena (which was literally a few feet away). He kicked at the door, threw his head, and even body-checked the stall door a few times. The latch came loose at one point and the door was open slightly so thankfully the body-worker ran over and closed it before he came loose (I was on at this point). Naughty boy.

I hopped up onto Annie after checking my girth and leading her around a little bit. She seemed a bit on edge - there were two horses getting adjusted and the one was scurrying down the barn aisle as the body-worker tried to release a stiff hip. The sound of metal horse shoes scraping down the concrete aisle was deafening, plus the large roll up door was open as Trainer K was operating a tractor that was very, very loud and picking up/ dropping manure. Horses were neighing, people were wandering around, AJ was kicking the doors... it was a little hectic haha.

At first, I contemplated lunging but just clambered aboard and decided I'd trust her. She was really good - we just walked around mostly, as I didn't want to do too much since I knew she lost a lot of condition and stamina since training. Trainer K came in and manually lowered the bay door, and Annie didn't even flinch (good girl!!).

Post-ride roll in the arena.
Note the jumps in the background - those are the very same
We started off with leg yielding at the walk, getting her to bend and be supple throughout. We had some good success, esp when I remembered to block her from bulging her shoulder out.

Moving onto the trot, we worked lots on bending and rhythm in her stride, as well as pushing her into a "extended" (aka faster) trot down the long sides. We moved on to canter at C, trot at G which, was fine... until it was not. Annie decided I wanted canter at G instead. I said no thanks, just a trot. Annie offered canter for the next... eternity?

We bounded in and out of canter... sideways canter... crossfiring canter... wrong lead canter... head shaking canter...  tail swishing canter... and of course canter in place canter.

Oh mare.

I was pleased with myself tho, and just continued to ride a quiet 15m circle as instructed by Trainer K. I just kept rising - even tho the hopping and cross-firing and switching and bouncing was cracking my back in all the wrong places. Bend in, bend out, asking her to bring herself around the circle.

It felt like an eternity of tight-backed, balled up canter that was going nowhere and finally (thank god) she relaxed and we had a super pleasant trot. Lots of pats were given and we resumed our regular program once the hamsters were firmly installed.

This morning the hamsters were tired, haha.
We did a bunch more trotting - making S figures within a 20m circle to change the bend and encourage her to supple up a bit more. Lots more leg yields were to be had, wherein she died on me during a few of them because #hard.

As we continued to work the canter, we fell back into our regular crap canter that was super flat with the haunches leading in. It would have been a spectacular canter haunches in had I been asking for it. Hilariously, we also had no steering. It wasn't hilarious when we almost crashed into a set of jumps she spooked at and did her very best to stay away and convince me she could NOT canter down the long side because the jumps were terrifying. A poke of the spur and some encouraging kisses and we made it haphazardly by them.

We kept plugging away tho, lots of pats for effort and to bring her back to Earth a bit. And finally, we managed to get that Magical Canter where I had both steering AND didn't feel like my back was breaking in half. Lots of 20m circles, asking for bend and bringing her haunches back onto the track.

And as Annie calmed down more, we magically didn't have any tail swishing, wrong leads, or cross-firing. Imagine that.

I found the Equilab data to be pretty accurate for my
road rides, but not so accurate here... pretty sure we traveled
more than 0.4km in 58 minutes.
The lesson continued after a short break wherein Annie and I were dying, and we had a bit of a CTJ meeting about what my left leg means, especially during haunches in. One good poke in the ribs with my nubbin' spurs and she complied well. I didn't feel as though she was as connected in the bridle as she was before we took the break - she tossed her head a few times and overall just seemed a tad grumpy about continuing to work (Trainer K said she was tired... ya... me too horse!).

We finished up with another lovely canter and after a few more haunches in, we let her be done.

Some things I gleaned from this lesson that I don't really know how to elaborate on other than in point form:

  • When cantering, give her the reins a bit more. Remember to have that bend and be supportive with your outside rein, but try not to take the reins back. She likes to curl up when she gets tense, which leads to you grabbing more rein.
  • Lots of pets for her - when she gets wound up, just ignore and keep riding what you asked and when she does, let her know she answered the question right.
  • Your upper body comes forward with some of her movement, try to remain in place and more stable.
  • Lower leg is looking excellent (hooray!! but also... ow my calves)
  • Kiss her up when she buries herself down - don't be afraid to let her head poke up every once and a while.
  • Your biggest hurdle for creating a quiet canter is going to be getting her to relax more.
  • When she gets balled up and anxious, just ignore it and keep riding. Doing smaller circles will help, because she will need to balance herself more and throwing herself into canter won't be possible. Just ask quiet and calm questions.
  • Instead of holding with the inside rein, think of fluttering it at her - giving and taking.
  • For haunches in, when she blows off your aids, keep your outside aids on to prevent her from swinging out and trying to get through the "easy exit"
  • Halts look good. Make sure she keeps more rhythm in her walk coming in and out of them. 
The synopsis of gaits made sense tho - at the end of the
lesson we spent a long time chatting while halted with
Trainer K.
All in all, I was pleased with the lesson, especially because we were able to get some good direction and fodder when Annie was being... not so amicable. I can't exactly blame her tho, their paddocks are still full of 2-3ft of snow and it's SPRING. Horses are a bit more cheeky and energetic with the slightly better weather we've been receiving. The little canter melt-down used to happen A LOT last year, and being able to have someone talk me through it and give me good key pointers was super helpful.

For not having a lesson for almost two months (and no "real" riding since that time), I'm pretty happy with her. 

The chiro appointment went well - her pelvis was tilted and off centered a bit and it took quite a bit of muscle on Amanda's part to get it back in. But, Annie was SUPER for the adjustments. Her first visit she was very anxious about Amanda working on her, but she stood and moved when appropriate to do so, to help Amanda get the adjustments she needed. Her loins were also out again, which seems to be a pretty common spot for her - Amanda suggested it was just her body/mechanics. Her neck was also out in a few places, but otherwise most of her adjustments were in her haunches.

And Spud is still cute, so no worries there.

After that, ponies loaded up just fine and hauled great. Annie fussed a little in the trailer when I unloaded and took AJ back home, but settled down just fine. I tied her to the trailer while I unloaded all my tack and cleaned out the trailer - she happily munched on her hay and casually observed the surroundings. 

When I went out this morning to feed her her ulcer meds and mash, she was laying under one of the big trees in the paddock with Spud. Poor girl, haha. She must've been pretty tired and relaxed from the lesson and massage!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A New Normal

I miss him so much.
I still have trouble with the idea that Ty is gone. It feels like it was just yesterday we were playing out in the yard, but it also seems like eons ago I kissed his sweet face. 

I don't really know what grief is supposed to look like, or how it is supposed to act.

I have several blog posts sitting, unpublished and half-written from the times I felt too raw and emotional to deal. They will probably never make it past my viewing eyes, because they simply have no real purpose other than to express my grief.

Writing is my outlet and I am glad to have an audience that not only supports me, but gently places a hand on my back as if to say, "We'll be here when you are ready to get back up."

When walks were to be had, he was always smiling.
After Ty died, I started walking my sister's and a friend's dog. We walked and walked and walked some more. The sound of a jingling collar tag and my footsteps seemed to ease my mind. I've had walks where all I do is cry, and I've had walks where I feel happy, knowing I had one of the very best dogs in my life. 

But still, I miss hiking, and walking, and training. I miss working with a dog that is willing to meet you halfway. I miss having something that is so completely "mine". There is an empty hole in my heart, a missing bond, and a desperate longing to find something even remotely as special as what Ty and I shared.

During a short work day a few weeks ago, I decided to stop at the animal shelter that is typically closed by the time I head home. 

I didn't really know what I was looking for, or what kind of outcome I was expecting. I walked down the rows of cages and picked out a few in my mind that showed a lot of promise. I chose not to take any out, mostly because I didn't feel that tug in my heart or that voice inside of me urging to test the waters. 

Ella, a small female I had chosen for a friend who was
looking at adding a second dog to her home.
I went home that day, feeling particularly bad for not even attempting. These dogs didn't ask to be put in a shelter, and they sure as hell don't want to be there any longer than they have to be.

A friend of mine told me that opening my heart to another dog wouldn't mean replacing Ty, but instead, saving the dog a similar fate Ty could have possibly faced. 

Which... I get and understand. But... they aren't Ty?

I went back to the shelter with a friend who was looking for a second dog - I had mentioned two dogs I had liked and who I thought would be suitable for their current dog who is also a shelter rescue. And while the meeting process went well, my friend quickly realized adding a second dog (especially an untrained one), would not be the best decision for the time being.

Weirdly enough, not only does she look like Roxy, but she
was Roxy-approved. Which... never happens.
Part of me believes it was a ploy, because she no sooner stepped down from the "second dog" bandwagon and instead, gently told me that I could always foster a dog instead of having to commit to one completely. 

I mulled it over, unsure about the entire situation, but once the other half gave his nod of approval, we went and got her. 

It's kind of funny in a way, because she isn't at all what I would choose for myself, being that I enjoy larger dogs. Still, her temperament inside and outside the cage was what sold me as a likely candidate for a quick and easy adoption. 

All the walking has made for a sleepy Ella.
Since we picked her up, I have been walking.

And walking.

And walking some more.

I've found some glaring holes that need to be addressed (she is a runner) and as time goes on, I think we'll be able to patch it together and make some tangible progress. 

It feels good to have something to work with, especially since Ella is more or less a blank slate ready to be primed and worked into a good, educated little dog. She doesn't have any education, so requires some direction and guidance. She's willing to learn, which is all anyone needs in a dog.

She's a fast learner too.
I don't know how long she will be staying with us. I don't know where this road leads and for the moment, I am taking it day by day and am grateful for the ability to give this dog a lease on a new and happier life. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Better Days

Thursday - we got hit with a good
2ft of snow.
Since my last blog post, I've ridden and hand-walked the mare a handful of times. The weather still won't make up it's mind and we've been hit by two "little" snowstorms, which have put an increasing damper on trail riding and ring riding. In fact, everything but the asphalt route around the subdivision is still swallowed by snow.

By this time of the year, I have monthly goals and have already ridden in the ring...

Womp womp.

Regardless, we've made good strides in the riding department and although most of it has been walk hacking, I've been happy with Annie.

Last Tuesday - a bareback hack in the back paddock.
We  even stepped up into the creepy lean-to in the back.
We've been playing around with her impatience after mounting and we've found some things that have worked and other things that don't. Ironically enough, it takes me back to the Suzie Days wherein I had to let go to make progress. Sitting there and fighting with Annie isn't going to make things any better, so I have come up with a better tactic.

When we move off from the mounting block, I only ask for her to walk - we don't do the whole walk-halt-walk-halt unless there is a some kind of misbehavior that warrants discipline. Nit-picking isn't fun, especially when it's Spring time and the horses are raring to go.

So, I pick my battles.

Part of me is not sure it's the right answer, but it's hard to deny that the mare has been happier and is less argumentative the remainder of the ride and when we actually do stop, she complies ten-fold.

A bareback ride last Friday - including some verrrry
relaxed halts.
And so, we toodle.

In the back pasture bareback and in a halter, we toodle bareback around the subdivision, in the company of three other horses, and ponying Spud.

All of it has been good - there have obviously been some not so great moments (like Annie trying to kick another friend's mare after she spooked right into Annie's side.. lol). Still, I take it with a grain of salt and focus on the good moments.

Last Wednesday - she was not the best bean, but it worked
out OK in the end.
Maybe one day this snow will melt and we'll be able to get some real riding in?