Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Head Above Water

A photo at the back of the property.
I took this a while ago - if you look closely you can see Ella.
I have a back log of posts that I never got around to typing up prior to Ella's passing. I hadn't sat down and hammered them out, simply because I was busy riding and enjoying spending time outside. And then all this terrible stuff happened, and I didn't feel particularly compelled to write about happy stuff. I do want to share those moments though, because they ARE happy moments and remembering the happy moments is what inevitabley gets us by.

Before that though, I just wanted to take the time to say thank you to everyone who has reached out and offered kind words, a shoulder to cry on, a story of their own tragic loss, and for seeing if I'm okay. I appreciate each and every one of you guys - I am slowly but surely pushing myself past the feelings of guilt and remorse. It hasn't been an easy feat, and the funny thing about grief is that it comes and goes in waves.

Watching funny videos of Ella hurts, but it
also makes me smile.
I am trying to understand the SO's grief and sense of loss; as I feel despite helping me with the horses and being a cheerleader on the sidelines during shows, he does not fully understand horses and how they work. Which, I can understand and appreciate to some level. And despite it being an accident of epic proportions, I imagine there is the human need to blame someone or something. And well, the horses are the easiest ones to fit that mold.

So I'm navigating a bit tricky territory - trying to balance myself as well as understand the emotions of others.

I do hope before long, the SO will come to realize just how truly and purely accidental this situation was and that there isn't always the opportunity to bubble-wrap those you love. Which it's not to say I didn't feel those powerful emotions, because not long after the situation transpired, I was motivated by the fire in my eyes to do everything I could to prevent anything like that from ever happening again. And it certainly included hanging up my bridles as well as not owning another dog past this.

The most hilarious little dog ever.
It's ludicrous and doesn't make any sense, but that's what grief is. I try not to pull myself down into the darkness because when it grabs a hold, it doesn't let go. What other people feel in their own grief is valid and even if I have a hard time accepting or understanding it, I'm doing my best to respect it. I imagine men are quite different in dealing with tragedy, compared to someone like myself who finds it best to talk about it and about the real, raw thoughts and emotions.

I have my head above water most days, and on the very good days I push my boundaries a little bit. So much so that I managed to clamber up onto Annie and head out for a low-key ride around the neighborhood. She must've known I was fragile still, as she was on her very best behavior. Small spooks yes, but moreso at the changing scenery (a children's playground is being erected now so things have changed on our route since we last rode). I was proud of her - I had done pretty much nothing with her for almost two weeks - and she came out very level headed and calm.

It was just the ride I needed.

We walked, trotted, and cantered briefly throughout the subdivision where the footing allowed it.

I haven't been on her back since that day, as monsoon season has abruptly arrived. With precipitation estimated in the 20-30mm range daily, it makes outdoor activities borderline impossible.

The chores at the horses are never-ending and although there are days I have admittedly avoided them and left them for a "better day", I have taken some happiness in returning to the routine. I am a creature of habit and even when I feel glum, it's important to get out and go do the things that need doing.

Treats for the best baby bean who took
such good care of me <3
The horses are doing just fine, and are a bit more cuddlier than usual. I have taken to treating their hooves a few times a week to battle the small amounts of thrush both of them have (thanks to the rain), as well as did some ground-work with Annie for a few minutes the other day.

We're slowly putting one foot in front of the other, and over the next few days I'll cover the blog posts I intended to write a few weeks ago.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Some Goodbyes Are Too Soon

We suddenly, and very tragically lost our sweet Ella in a freak accident Saturday morning.

(note: the last few blog posts that rolled out were pre-published as well as were from rides I had had weeks ago).

I'll be blunt - as much as I don't want to go into the details of what happened, I think a level of honesty and some transparency is needed to understand the depth of the situation.

We did not see the events transpire, so only have the knowledge of beforehand and after, as well as the Veterinarian's findings and assumptions.

Essentially, Ella was alone in the back section of the pasture with the horses while Jamie and I were unloading round bales into the barn. Something we had done hundreds of times. The horses were on the opposite side of the barn, watching us, while Ella was on the other side supposedly eating poop.

Something had set Ella off and she began to bark and the horses (excited for the roundbales or perhaps keen on seeing what the dog was barking at??) gingerly trotted to the opposite side of the barn where we couldn't see. I don't know what happened. I don't know if there was an animal in the back section of the pasture that caused alarm. I don't know why the horses trotted over there. I don't know why Ella barked.

What the Vet figures is that the horses must have spooked and decided to flee from whatever situation was present, and inadvertently, contacted Ella with a limb. The trauma (or lack of, rather) does not suggest she was kicked, stepped on, or intentionally injured.

That's about all I'm going to say about it. I don't want to go through the details of our own trauma as we discovered her, or the efforts we made to save her. I don't want to talk about the confusion, horror, and immense pain we felt in those moments. There is some peace in the fact that despite what we saw when we found her, her conscious-self was long gone.

I hope wherever you are, you can forgive me <3
I do know there are risks involved in horses and dogs co-existing and part of me feels really stupid for having them out there with me. But in the same breath, I worked so fucking hard to make the horses a safe place for Ella. Hundreds of videos I have of them together will show her disinterest in them and fear of them when they came close. She never bothered them. They never bothered her. She never ever barked at them (which is why Jamie and I both found it odd she was barking in the paddock).

I don't even know what to say. What to do.

I know of several people who avoid bringing their dogs to the barn. I get it. I understand why. My dogs are always with me and I think I do an OK job of giving them the tools they need to stay safe or make good choices around the horses. I spent months working with Ella and had I had any indication she would have chased them or caused an issue, she wouldn't have continued coming. But she was a delight at the barn and even when I rode in the arena - she did her own thing, sniffed her own stuff and didn't find the horses particularly interesting.

I've kind of avoided the barn these past few days aside from doing chores and changing blankets. I know I can't blame the horses, especially since it really does seem like it was an accident, but I just keep seeing it and it's so fucking hard.

I do blame myself. And I have played the events in my head over and over again - what I could have done differently, what could have happened if we didn't do X, Y, Z or had I just left the dogs at home that morning.

To say we are heart-broken is an understatement. She was a light at the end of the tunnel when I lost Ty and she brought me so much joy. She was unapologetically Ella - it didn't matter if you didn't like her... she was going to make you like her. And that's how I want to remember her - as the dog I didn't intend to keep but the dog I fell in love with after I thought so hopelessly I would never feel that again.

I am so sorry, my sweet girl. I wish there is more I could have done to protect you, to save you...

When I can do a proper send-off post for Ella without breaking down, I will. I don't want this one to be her "last" post on my blog, because that's not how I want her to be remembered. I want to share the good times, the times that made me laugh and the times that I fell in love all over again. Right now, I just can't bring myself to do it.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Famous Last Words

Don't worry, the title is moreso a play on words than it is in having any real meaning.

Basically, N finally ventured back home for the weekend (she's been away for work for a few weeks) and was itching to ride. She messaged me, asking if I'd go with her Thanksgiving Day and being the good friend I am (despite still sore from my lesson with Anthony), I agreed.

She was not enthused.
Driving out to the horses I looked up at the sky and inwardly grumbled as rain drops started to fleck my windshield. I messaged N, letting her know it was beginning to rain pretty heavily in town and she simply responded, "It isn't raining out here."

Now, I'm not a fair weather rider. I can ride in the rain and I can ride in the snow - as evidenced by many a blog posts here. But, with the weather dipping down into the cooler temps and a rainy forecast creeping over the horizon, I was a little leery.

When I got out to the barn I was happy to see the rain had managed to more or less hold off. The light droplets splattered on the tin roof as I tacked up and I messaged N once more, letting her know I was on my way.

Pictured: Not raining, like Nicole said.
Once we met up, as fate would have it, the skies opened up and began to POUR on us. We both kinda just shrugged at that point and continued our ride around the subdivision. Both horses were super well behaved and plugged along sadly, especially when we had to double-back for Ella who had taken the opportunity to say hello to someone outside their home and promptly got lost.

The ride itself was good - it was nice just catching up and hearing about N's work adventures, but I did tease her relentlessly for stating so matter-of-factly it wasn't raining. "Well now it is!" I declared, lifting my arms in the air.

Hilariously enough, the dogs even ditched us near the end of the ride. We typically pass the street my horses are at and instead, split off at the dirt road, which requires me to double back. N was busy telling a story so I went past our usual turn off to the barn and continued riding with her a bit further. At one point I looked back to see both dogs had disappeared - when I got back to the barn they were both waiting in the aisleway where it was dry, haha.

Back at the barn, I stripped tack and hung most of my riding stuff out in the open to drip dry. I'm pretty good at caring for my tack and on that particular day, I was very glad for my wintec jump saddle. I was pretty damn cold, as the rain had soaked through my jacket and sitting atop a horse while they casually stroll isn't the best way to stay warm!

I still finished all my chores, which managed to help me warm up a bit and gave Annie a million treats and her mash before heading home for the rest of the afternoon. I did have to take a very warm bath to re-regulate my body temperature tho!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How to Get a Conformation Photo

While Annie is pretty good about standing (ground) tied, she forever follows me with her head. Trying to get good photos is difficult, because her neck is craned around trying to look at me and see what I'm up to. I've tried to correct it and I've tried throwing things in the opposite direction to get her attention, but it only works until it doesn't.

Never fear though.

I have found the cure all.

*Note: I realize she is still standing awkwardly, in addition to the fact the mats under her are stacked at various heights so it is NOT level ground in the slightest. The photos were just too hilarious to not share! I can also assure readers her front feet are not actually weirdly shaped as the photo is implying. We really need to get some good confo photos on the road :) *

"Smells like something is here...."
-Annie, tentatively scoping out the carrot I so carefully hid.

"Ah yes, here it is.
- Annie, snuffling at the carrot.

"Ooooh, this is a surprise!"
*chew chew chew*

*head desk*

Friday, October 19, 2018

Anthony Lothian Clinic: Day 1

Thanksgiving weekend (nearly two weekends ago, oops), Annie and I had a lesson on the Saturday with Anthony. Typically, Anthony comes up once a month, but with his wedding in July and subsequent shows in August (most people don't clinic in August because it is a pretty busy and full month of horsey things!!) we weren't able to see him for far too long!

In the few weeks prior to the clinic, I took time to reflect on old Anthony-isms and scrolled back through our previous lessons and snippets of information. I found that for the most part, we were becoming reliable in a few things, but at the same time, old habits were dying hard. Which, habits are hard to break and when you don't have eyes on you all the time, it's easy to revert back to the way things were.

When Saturday morning rolled around, I was admittedly a bit nervous. Not only had I not clinic'ed with Anthony in three months, but I hadn't had a lesson since Cat Armitage lesson in August where we also did our last show of the year (not including the online show we did later on in August!). Plus, I wanted to be improved and show Anthony our newfound FORWARD button that I worked so hard to cultivate over the summer.

Annie loaded up great but as soon as we got to the grounds, she was immediately very looky and distracted. She didn't eat a strand of hay, despite my coercing, and although she wasn't flailing around at the end of the leadrope, she certainly wasn't calm enough to quietly munch her hay. It was kinda a let down to me, because I had hoped with all the hauling we had done over the year would have brought her some form of certainty and calmness. In some ways tho, I think the cold weather was affecting her and Brrr it was FREEZING that morning. So, I kinda didn't blame her to be wide-eyed and distracted.

She tacked up alright, albeit a little wigglier than I'd prefer. I noticed as the temps started to drop, she kinda can be a bit of an idiot and at home I had to tie her and just walk away a few times to remind her that tying quietly is non-negotiable. She doesn't pull back or panic, but she swings her butt around and fidgets. Which is part of the ADHD most young horses have I guess, haha, but over the Summer she stood rock-solid like an old trail string Quarter Horse.

Ya, the sheet I grabbed doesn't fit her. It's an old hand-me-down I refuse to get rid of.
But here she is - ignoring her hay and watching the lesson in the ring, haha.
Anyways, I was a bit annoyed but chose to ignore it and tacked her up as it started to lightly rain over us. By the time I clambered on and started to warm her up, the rain had subsided and I was grateful it waited until I was in the truck driving home to pour completely.

As I warmed Annie up, she felt like she had more "oomph" than usual. I didn't want to run her ragged in the warm up, but I knew it would be important to actually yanno, warm her up. The Anthony lessons are very strenuous - both physically and mentally for horse and rider.

I took the opportunity to walk quite a bit before asking for a trot - she sucked back and tried to gravitate towards the other horse in the arena. Nope, mare. I got after her and rewarded her with a walk break. Back to trot and we did some decent loopy figures but I could tell she was not really concentrating on me and wasn't as connected as she could be. I sat the trot a bit, inviting her to lower her poll and stretch her back. She did, which was good. We moved into canter and after a few laps on the grass things started to fall apart.

She decided she was done and instead of circling quietly, kept switching in her hind end. I sat quiet and tall and continued to ride - pushing her forwards despite her theatrics. She humped up a few times, offering her version of a "buck" that was not only very uncomfortable, but awkward as she hopped back and forth on and off the correct lead.

After a few agonizing strides of crooked, broken and awkward cantering, I brought her to a walk and immediately wondered if I should just wait for Anthony to help us. I looked over at the arena where he was still teaching and thought to myself, "No. You know how to solve this resistance issue. You've been through this, so just fucking do it."

So I bucked up and continued to ride my mare - not letting up for anything less than the correct canter I was asking for.

And after a few minutes - which felt like eternity (esp as a spectator stopped watching the rider in the lesson and concentrated on me... altho to be fair I'm sure she thought I was gonna get pitched hah) - Annie finally settled into a rhythm, quit fighting me, and cantered normally. We did several loops, trot-canter transitions and switched directions multiple times. She was over it and ready to comply, so I made the executive decision to drill it just a bit more to make sure she really was done her temper tantrum before we entered the ring.

It's the weirdest thing. I've read hundreds of articles and reached out to several vets about it and most if not all, have stated it's a weakness issue coupled with a training issue. In fact, all of the clinicians I have ridden with this year have stressed that exact thing.

I have never dealt with a horse that uses cross-firing as a resistance technique, haha, so it's been a journey to kinda figure it out and get over it.

Anyways, by the time we had sussed out our little issue, I still had enough time to walk around on the buckle and wait to be invited into the arena for my lesson as the other came to a close. I felt slightly bad for turning our warm up into a mini schooling, but I didn't really have many options. I've worked so hard to eradicate this issue from Annie's routine and for the most part, it's reared it's ugly head a grand total of twice the entire Summer - during the online show in August, and once during a schooling.

Waiting patiently outside the ring.
If anyone remembers, this whole cross-firing thing consumed months and months of our 2017 season when it began in late July and worsened in October where I had my first lesson riding Annie with Anthony. After that, I had her checked over by a vet and we continued to push into the issue by treating it as a disobedience.

I was super pleased that Annie didn't try cross-firing during our lesson (save for one instance) and since then, has not cross-fired in any of our subsequent hacks or schoolings. Unfortunately, by the time we did our lesson I had lost a lot of my forward and we were back at the same issue I had earlier this Summer, haha. I knew it was fizzling out the last few schoolings and knew we would be due for a session in the ring with just me, Annie, and a whip again.

So back to the lesson. Some of the things Anthony said/did that I found incredibly helpful:

  • You need to bend your elbows and follow her movement. (I HAVE TREX ARMS OK). He laughed at that comment and agreed, but told me to practice by closing my eyes and really making sure my hands follow Annie's movement, esp at the canter as I have a tendency to lock up my arms in that particular gait.
  • She has grown up a ton since I've seen her - well done in putting more weight and muscle on her. She looks great.
  • Your reins need to be even. You like to have her overflexed to the inside - ride her straight and ride her in BOTH reins.
  • Whichever rein you do not have contact in is the rein you need to be afraid of.
  • Keep the contact, even if she disagrees and flings her head. Be supple in the contact, but keep the contact.
  • Keep the aid on until you get a response. If you ask for canter, do NOT let your canter aid off until she canters.
  • You need to work on your steering - being straight does not mean you can wiggle back and forth. Go to the jump and go STRAIGHT into it AND out of it.
  • At one point I told Anthony I tried my hardest to apply all the concepts we worked on over the year, but it was hard to keep it all balanced and in check. He nodded along and simply said, "We can't work on everything all at once. All we can do is piece things together and sometimes, you have to forget about x, y, z to get to a, b, c." And after a moment, he said, "And the horses we ride get used to the little indiscretions we have. Of course, we always aim to be correct, but the horse will end up understanding your 'less than correct' way of doing this or that means this." This really resonated with me, because as amateur owners we beat ourselves up for not being the best rider we can be for our horse. And it's kinda like Anthony said in a round about way - we aren't Olympic riders and they aren't Olympic horses. We work hard to be correct but if you have a wandering left hand, your horse is gonna end up getting used to it. Not that you shouldn't work to correct it or eradicate the degree of incorrectness, but that there will always BE something that isn't 100% and your horse, like a partner, will get used to it.

Some background on some of these tidbits is that Annie decided work was exhausting, esp after the schooling we did on the grass. I had to pony club kick her a few times, which was embarrassing but it is what it is. I regretted I didn't bring a whip so I tried my best to get her in front of my leg and made a mental note we needed to suss out this issue in the arena again under our own time. Anthony agreed with this, stating the easiest way to do it is when there are no time pressures or limits.

"The flat work bores me."
- Annie, probably.
Annie was a bit of a PITA about the canter aid and decided to forget how to canter and instead trot for five million fucking strides. Anthony wanted me to keep my leg aid on, which I DO agree with, but I also would have added another aid (ie. whip, spur) for the disobedience. I asked and instead of complying, she just trotted fast until I really got after her. Without a whip, I resorted to increasing the pressure in my legs and kissing (vocal). 

Some of the flat went really well and she felt steady in the bridle as well as relaxed in her work. She was behind the leg, yes, but we did have some good moments for sure. We worked a lot on placing her outside front leg and learning how to influence it when turning. At one point, Anthony was getting me to turn her to the inside while having her even in both reins. It was awkward and I floundered, as every time I went to turn, I'd lose the outside rein. Anthony went on to discuss the importance of having rein connection, esp the outside rein and we revisited the issue and ensuring I didn't cross my hands over the withers. 

However, being dead to the leg and trotting around for 10 minutes consecutively was hard, haha, but as soon as we started to use the trot poles and little X's, mare was AWAKE and AWARE. It was interesting - before I had to literally micromanage her steering to the jumps and on this particular day, she let me place her in a line and she went down it quietly and confidently without losing impulsion.

"JUMPIES?! I is happy now."
-Annie, most definitely. 
Once we did the trot poles a bunch of times, we did a small course of X's and Annie felt pretty damn good. She likes to veer right after a jump, so I worked hard on keeping her even in my reins and turning her back to the rail vs heading towards the other side of the arena. At one point, she cross-fired heading out of a jump (moreso because I think she didn't know which direction we were going haha). But overall, she cantered nice and forward out. We did a few single fences and strung them all into a small course which we repeated a few times before moving on.

We did a small line - x-rail with 5 strides to a 2' vertical - a few times and I horribly over and under corrected Annie in maintaining straightness the first time. We did it a second time and although we met the distance perfectly, Annie took out the whole bloody jump. I ignored the jump and kept her straight on the landing side where Anthony called out, "Do it again and it's going to sound like I'm trying to kill you, but change nothing about that. Ride it exactly as you did." I kinda raised an eyebrow but did it again, working hard to keep Annie in both reins evenly. We hit the correct striding again and executed the exercise perfectly WITH straightness after the jump. Hooray!

I patted Annie, brought her to a walk and joined Anthony in the middle of the arena. He explained the second time through wasn't my fault at all. It's moreso that Annie needs more time jumping to understand she needs to lift her feet vs floundering and trying to scramble over the jump. He commended me on my riding and told me not to doubt myself, which was nice.

Overall, it was a good lesson. It was a new concept of being very even in both reins and Annie wasn't very happy about it because she used the loose rein as an escape from pressure so when I took away her options, she wasn't quite sure what to do with herself. Thankfully, by the end of the lesson she was much more willing to let me feel her mouth and be an influential part of her, haha.

"Whew, that was hard work. Let's go home."
Anthony was pretty happy with us both and although it wasn't our best lesson, it felt good to hear that Annie looked good and we were chugging along nicely. It certainly was the most jumping I have ever done in one of his clinics, and when I told Riding Buddy how it went (mostly the things that went wrong, haha), she said, "It doesn't sound like it was that bad if he let you jump a bunch!!" Which, is true. Anthony might be a jumping instructor, but if things aren't there on the flat he isn't gonna let you jump. Annie and I spent most lessons strictly flat and finally were able to jump a cross-rail in April and then graduated to our first 2' jump in June. 

It makes me happy that we were able to do the thing, esp since the first day of his clinics are usually mostly flat based while the remaining two days are more jumping-esque. 

I was sad it would be our last Anthony lesson for 2018, but it also made me that more excited to begin more lessons in 2019. Onwards and upwards! 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Plugging Along

Trying to get cute pictures but she looks dejected and abused instead.
Annie got two days off following the very long and technical trail ride - I try not to ride her more than three days in a row, especially if they are long/ difficult rides. For the most part, I've been able to keep a pretty decent schedule in regards to giving her time off to marinate in some new questions, or to just enjoy days off. I feel like it's an important and integral part of riding a horse - any age or discipline.

As the season has started to wind down, I had been lowering the intensity and frequency of our rides, which seemed to be working out well enough but then I realized something...

I realized that pretty damn soon snow is going to hit and Annie will be off until the white powder melts and the arena is useable once more.

So we're gonna keep doing this as long as we can!!
So - as long as the sun is shining and the footing is good, we will continue pursuing a ring-riding education for Annie and plugging along on the trail like we have been. The pressure of showing is off the table, which makes it a bit easier in regards to schooling more effectively. I'm not worried about making a deadline or being able to execute x, y, z appropriately. I just school as it comes and suss out the details we need to suss out without worrying about x, y, or z. And that's kinda nice in a way.

Recently we've been kinda dealing with old devils - Annie has come out a bit fresh (cold weather) and we've had to revisit the whole "no you cannot just throw your head in the air, grab the bit and jig down the driveway". If long-time readers remember, I had been using treats to get her used to the idea that "the longer we stand, the more treats you get". And it worked out very well and I was even able to ditch the treats... until the weather got cooler.

I'm not hugely interested in using treats to teach my horses to stand or to behave - this is moreso because I didn't grow up around horses using them in any kind of scenario besides the occasional cookie for being a good pony after a ride. It's kind of embarrassing to me in a way, but at the same time, if it works why not use it to my advantage and continue to work towards eradicating it from our program. As a friend of mine has said, Annie has trained me, haha. Which, might be true I guess but it has helped and as such, I've readded it into our program for the last few rides to remind her.

Spud is always mean-muggin for treats.
The riding itself is mostly going well - there are little things we need to suss out, as per usual, and I find myself flopping between "This is going well!" to "But this person is doing x, y, z with their young horse why aren't we." It's a silly thought process to get into, and I've done so well the past month or so in just concentrating on me and my horse. And that's kinda where I need to keep my head-space.

So, we just keep plugging along. Refining the canter and getting Annie to be more forward and honest to the leg. The last few weeks I had noticed she started to revert back to old habits on me, but the school in the Dressage saddle was pretty good. We did a lot of walk-trot work to get her a bit more honest to my leg. And we also worked on TOH, TOF, and backing. She likes to back crooked, so we did some work on that and even pushed a few halt-trots out of her.

She felt good, but is still quite inconsistent in the bridle. It's frustrating, but I know it's something that will get better once I ride her in both reins vs just the outside rein (blog post on that coming!). It's so damn hard - this whole riding thing sometimes haha.

The irony in this picture was not lost on me. I ended up turning
Annie around to back-track to get this photo.
We finished the ride with some counter-canter loops that are in first level tests. She felt awesome in them, and I was pretty surprised she did them with a decent amount of balance. Good girl, Annie!

The only thing that went "wrong" I suppose was when I went to catch Spud - I left him loose in the arena during our school as it serves as a good distraction for Annie. The naughty little mini had managed to grab my hoodie and gummed on my pockets (which had treats in them). I hadn't noticed, because I was concentrating on riding, haha. I shooed him away from the hoodie, went and tied Annie and didn't realize the gate was verrrrry slightly open.

You can see where this is going.

Yup. Spud was deeply offended I shooed him away from the treat bearing hoodie and took one took at me, went off galloping towards Annie, slowed to a trot and exited stage right.

Going... going.... gone.
Thankfully, he stuck around and after convincing him he wasn't *really* in trouble for eating the treats, he let me catch him and we headed home. I was kinda gobsmacked that he fit through the gate tho, unless Annie nosed it further open after I tied her. Lesson learned I guess, haha.

Overall, it was a good ride and I was happy with her try. It can be hard tho, to settle for what you get sometimes without looking over at the "greener" side of other people's training programs with their own horses. I just have to keep reminding myself of how far we've come and I think a lot of our issues are due to the fact Annie was started so late - and not just started late, but handled late as well. We're kinda floating around in 4 year old territory, despite the fact she's 6 - which is something a few clinicians have told me.

And speaking of clinicians, Thanksgiving weekend (Canadian), Annie and I took a lesson with Anthony. Because of the holiday and making dinner with my Grandma, I wasn't able to attend all three days of the clinic but took advantage of one lesson just to see how we've progressed since we last saw Anthony (in June).

A nice Fall hack - much stretching was had.
Before the clinic tho, we managed to put in the Dressage ride mentioned above and a nice and quiet hack across the highway. We drug Spud along for both rides, as per usual, and both horses were very well behaved. Annie attempted to make up her own trail (we go this way, ma!) but I shut that down with a simple nudge to the belly, haha.

I figured it would be a nice day for a hack, and I wasn't wrong. But holy cow the subdivision was just a-buzzing with activity. We had a few large vaccuum trucks pass us, one semi hauling a 30' flat deck, and another semi (body only) that utilized it's air brakes as we passed. The horses weren't concerned and I was glad they don't care about traffic, esp as I hollered a few times at the dogs to join me on the side of the ditch while we waited for them to pass. At one point, we had to stand and wait for the semi and flat deck to turn the corner, as he needed to swing wide across the road.

It was a nice 5k ride and I took advantage of some traffic cones laying out on the road to have both Annie and Spud walk between them. Annie hesitated the first time we went through (heading out to the trail) but went quietly and hilariously enough, the second time we went through (heading home) she completely froze and snorted before cautiously stepping through. I had to laugh. Seriously mare, we literally just went through them earlier in the ride!!

Not like we literally just walked through it 30min ago or anything.

"Oh OK, I'll just stroll thru but I'll snort the entire time."
It's been a good few weeks of riding and as sunlight fades earlier and earlier, it makes me grateful I am able to spend so much time in the saddle developing and influencing my "young" horse. Things will continue to get better and things that we once found difficult will become easier. We may be chugging along at a slower pace than most, but we're chugging along nonetheless. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

It's Called Balance

Husband and Wife.
After riding with Heidi, Annie and I plugged in one more schooling ride (on Sept 25... see how far behind I am?!) just before she would be heading to a chiro/massage appointment. The ride itself was good - we worked more on trot/canter transitions and trying to implement some of the things Heidi mentioned. Her canter felt really good, which was nice, so I didn't spend a lot of time drilling things into her so we rode pretty lightly before heading home.

I had booked Annie and AJ into the chiropractor for Thursday (27th) morning since I needed to drive my sister to the airport anyways. The poor ponies had to get up a wee bit earlier than I'm sure they thought was humane, but loaded up quietly for the trekk. Unfortunately, we were still pretty early for the chiro so I caught some sleep in my truck while the horses borrowed a friend's set of stalls for a few hours.
It sucked waking up that early.
It sucked so much.
Both horses got adjusted and I'm happy to report that Annie, while out, wasn't particularly terrible. A few adjustments to her hind end and her sacrum like usual and we were off and running. I was happy to see that she hasn't continued to rotate her pelvis like before, so she didn't require that invasive adjustment. The chiro was super pleased with how she looked and even commented how much she has blossomed into herself. I laughed and reminded her, "You did say she'd look like a pencil until she turned 6 and you were right!!"

Amanda, the chiro, recommended a day off before resuming regular riding activities so Annie had the Friday off and we went back to work Saturday. 

Our last three rides had been pretty intense schoolings, so I wanted to drift away from the ring for a bit and throw in some good old fashioned hacks and trail rides to mix things up a bit. I find riding in the ring day after day stagnant, plus it is a lot of hard work for Annie and I, who have to hack a total of 40min just to get to and from the ring itself. With no other places to ride in a ring, we try to get there as often as we can, but sometimes I just can't be bothered with the long 20min walk there and 20min back.

Now that she is getting her winter coat, her white
flecks are becoming more and more prominent!
So on Saturday, we did still plug back over to the riding grounds... but instead of riding in the ring, I grabbed a half-rotten log from the side of the tree-line and dragged it into the open meadow in front of the ring. It was pretty small, about 1' high and maybe 5' long... not good for much but perfect for just playing around with. We did lots of trot/canter transitions and did quite a few loops over the log, asking for a change in direction (and lead). She was mostly good about this, but I could feel she had that pained behind the leg feeling. I was proud of myself tho, because I usually just let her carry on with a sedated pace and we end up chipping our distances, but there were several times I gave her a good squeeze or boot and she ate up the distance and made it to the "fence" perfectly in stride.

It was a good exercise for the both of us, because I haven't 'jumped' her since the last Anthony clinic in June and I was itching to get her over some sticks. Plus, it mixes it up for her to have a new object in the way. I was pretty pleased with her - she did really well with our alternating loops. She did try to drift back towards home a few times in the meadow, but I just popped her back over with my outside aids and she was good.

Hacking to the grounds.
Once we finished playing around, we did the trail around the fairgrounds. I treated it like a mock x-country run and trotted/cantered where I could. She was super, and although didn't offer any lead changes, when I brought her back to a trot and did a simple change she complied when needed. 

She was great about going up and down the hills at a steady canter, altho I was probably more winded than she was. Seriously, how do eventers do it? Haha. The change in altitude across the trail made me painfully aware just how out of shape I am, and poor Annie just plugged along while I tried to ride in a somewhat effective two point and just let her do her thing, haha.

After that, we simply cooled out riding home and mare got many cookies for being a good pony!

Our next ride was Sunday, and after being busy at the lot and doing Grown Up Things, I was itching to ride. I had offered to ride with a friend, but she ended up not being able to come and it kinda worked out in a weird way because I am an idiot. I said we could ride at 7:30 together... and when I headed out I ended up having to turn back because nightfall came QUICKLY. We ended up having a very short 20min ride wherein Annie was prettty sure the shadows were going to kill us all. I'm glad I didn't drag my friend out for a very short and kind of insane ride, aha. She was a good sport about it tho, and even when I had to navigate in the pasture via phone light to turn them back out. I love Autumn, but I don't love how early it gets dark :(.

The shadows are being cast from a street-light we were passing under.
You can even see Spud's shadow :)
I was better prepared on Monday tho, and had another friend lined up to ride with me in the afternoon. We were going to do a decently sized trail ride and I had hoped to expose Annie to more in the bush and what "real" trail riding is all about without her feeling panicked or unsure. A lot of our trails are old, open logging roads. And we have just as many enclosed 4x4 trails that are quite grown in and narrow. These paths are a lot more technical than your average logging road, and they are what I truly consider "trail riding". Lots of water crossings, mud, fallen trees to step over, alternating walking conditions (sand, mud, rocks, etc), lots of hills, weaving through trees, etc. It's the difference between driving your car on the road vs off roading in a lot of ways, and it makes some horses kind of backed off.

Annie has been pretty good about it, but I am not confident to go out alone, esp with all the bear activity around. It's best to go with a more confident and tried and true partner, which we have done several times over the year. Plus, trail riding with friends is so much better than going alone anyways.

It was a bit of a chilly day, but the sun peaked through the trail in several places which warmed us up well. It was a nice ride and we took some paths I hadn't been on in years - I didn't have a huge amount of courage to attempt old trails I wasn't sure were still useable. It was fun to wander the old trails tho and they were in pretty good shape.

Annie was pretty hilarious when we rounded the one corner and met up with Geronimo - she adamantly attempted to sniff his butt for several minutes into the trail until she decided she was over it and everything was a-ok.

She did really well for the most part, and only got kinda goosey feeling when we had finished a water crossing and a random dog that had joined us trotted right behind Annie's hocks, breathing heavily and whining (it had wanted to pass us on the trail, but the trail was quite overgrown and she wasn't able to go around and instead... followed wayyy too closely). Annie kinda cocked her hip as she walked a few times, but didn't offer a kick, altho I wouldn't have blamed her if she did.

Windblown mane.
 It took her a few moments to get herself together tho, as she tripped over a few logs and slipped a little bit in some mud. Once she realized the terrain was changing, she paid more attention to her feet and didn't mind following Geronimo a few feet back. I was pretty pleased with her, esp since our last trail ride she was a bit of a hot head for no real reason (other than wanting to be in the front).

It was a nice relaxing ride tho, and I didn't have to over-ride her or correct her. She knew what was up and followed. We let her lead a bit too, after yet another water crossing and Vickey told me to head right instead of going left (back on the trail we had just done). I made a mistake and instead of going right on the trail, I went right onto a creek that had dried up (it was been oddly warm here the last few weeks so a lot of things are dried up). Unfortunately, the creek was very muddy and unbeknownst to me, DEEP.

Annie walked OK for the first few steps, but then staggered, slipped, and threw out her neck to save herself. The mud sucked her up just below her knees, and she tried her hardest to get us to the side of the creek bed, onto higher ground. Unfortunately, trees outlined the sides of the creek so only her front half was up out of the mud. Vickey called out, asking if I was OK. I guess it looked like Annie was gonna go down, and to be honest, I thought for sure she was going to lose her footing and down we'd go.

She held herself up and not only managed to clamber up the side (I did my best to direct her but I wanted to stay out of her way) and once we were able to get some traction, I turned her along the side and crossed back over to Vickey and Geronimo, who were waiting with a very gobsmacked look on their faces, haha.

So uhm, a billion points to Annie for saving my ass.

The rest of the ride went without a hitch, save for a random moment Annie got a bit goosey again. I'm not sure what happened, but it was almost like a cold wind blew up her butt and she kinda just leap forward, haha. I just told her, "Waaaa-aaalk." and she complied, back on a loose rein with no issues. No muss, no fuss.

The one section in the middle where the paths cross is where
we had made a bit of a wrong turn and ended up in a
partially dried creek bed.
I was pretty happy, esp during the spots on the trail we stopped the horses so Geronimo could have a breather (he isn't as in shape as Annie and has seasonal heaves so his air capacity isn't what it once was now that he is older) and instead of fidgeting around like she sometimes does, she just stood with her head low and quietly waited for us to continue. Good girl.

With that, I gave the mare two days off. I had planned giving her Tuesday (2nd) off, and on Wednesday (3rd), I had a course for work so was unable to ride that day.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Playing with Clicker Training

I also washed the inside of the trailer on a particularly cold
and wet day.
Aside from the usual schooling and trail riding, I've started to implement some clicker training exercises with both horses. Not for any reason in particular - other than I think it's cool and I figured it would be something a bit different and possibly help bridge gaps in other areas of their training. 
When I first started out, I didn't know how either horse would react to the idea of clicker training - some horses (like dogs) are very inquisitive and overly-friendly while others could simply care less and are perhaps a bit more withdrawn. I knew which category Spud would be in, since he is constantly looking for cookies and snuffling prospective cookie hiding places (ie. my pockets). I didn't really know where Annie would fit tho - she kinda does her own thing and while she enjoys treats and cookies, she doesn't turn into a Cookie Monster like Spud does.

The first day I played around with the clicker, I wanted the game to be simple and easy to understand. I had intended to get a tennis ball, but forgot, so used a plastic bag on the end of a lunge whip as my "target". The only thing the horses needed to do for a click and subsequent cookie was to touch the bag.

Before starting, I separated them and worked Annie first. I introduced her to the bag and did some yielding exercises as well as rubbing the bag all over her (something she is used to, but figured why not). She wasn't necessarily as keen to touch the bag, and I think the swarming midges were giving her a rough go. I swallowed several, so I didn't really blame her that she just wasn't into it.

I let her go and worked on Spud, who was happy to oblige and work for his cookies. He figured the game out in no time and we even put some distance between myself and the lunge.

Our second session was the same, and Annie was a bit more involved but kinda didn't seem to care for the game. So I switched it up and decided to start working towards having her side-step over to the mounting block. There are several horses I know of who will wait for you to step up onto the block just to swing their hind-quarters away. Annie doesn't do it, but I thought it would be neat to teach her how to position herself at the block vs me putting her there.

We started on the ground and slowly tapped her opposite hind-quarter over her back until she understood to step IN to me. She wasn't very sure about it, but caught on quickly. When she stepped over, she got a click and treat. She definitely thought this game was better than the target game, so over the course of two more days we refined it and added my "mounting block" to the picture.

She's picked it up so well and I've used it a few times now without the whip, asking her to swing her haunches over by clucking and lifting and lowering my right hand. It's pretty cool and kinda useful.

With Spud, since he was keen on the target practice I started to add even more distance between us and he did pretty good with that. So I started to attempt teaching him to smile, which has gone pretty well so far. He still needs to lift his lip a bit more, but he is trying and slowly getting what I'm asking.

It's been a cool little experiment away from riding and there are a few more exercises I want to do with each of them when riding is no longer possible (winter is coming you guys :'( ). 

How about you - have you done clicker training with your horse? Was it to improve a behavioral issue or just for fun? What did your horse learn?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

An Appendix and a Spainard Walk into a Ring...

In riding Annie, a high percentage of my time is spent hacking out or schooling alone. Most weekends I am able to ride with N, as she lives out of town and drives back in every weekend to ride AJ. But, for the most part, I'm alone unless I make plans ahead of time with someone. Which, works sometimes but not all the time - especially when schedules do not align.

That being said, I typically don't ride with Show Buddy or Heidi & Navarro (the Andalusian) unless I'm trailering out to Barn C or the local grounds in the next town. There are quite a few other people I enjoy riding with, and I mostly don't see them unless we're in the same clinics or shows. It kinda sucks, because I love riding with these ladies, but a 50+ min haul each way is not always feasible on my end. 

Anyways, when Heidi messaged me wanting to ride together and then offered to haul Navarro and herself to me and Annie, I excitedly bounced up and down and waited for Friday to come.

When Friday did arrive, I met Heidi at the entrance of the subdivision and drove with her to the barn. It was an exciting day, because not many of the people I ride with have seen my horse's digs, the set up of the subdivision, or the training challenges I face (20+min hack to the riding arena each way). So, it was pretty fun to be able to show Heidi the dirt road I tried explaining to her after I had cantered Annie down it the first time last year, or the RV that always manages to spook Annie, or the trail to the arena with giant hills I fail to capture decent photos of. 

While I threw on an extra jacket, Heidi unloaded Navarro and thus commenced Annie pacing the fence-line bc "WHAT IS HAPPENING, ANOTHER HORSE IS HERE WHAT." I think it kind of blew Annie's mind a bit, because we rarely get friends coming up the driveway, much less a loaded trailer with horse friends in them!!

Annie says, "OK, friend. Cool. I'm bored now."
I laughed, went and haltered her and brought her out to say hello to Navarro. Annie was verrrry interested in her new friend, while Navarro kinda couldn't care less, haha. Once they sniffed noses tho, Annie was less "FRANDS ARE HERE" and more "Ah, okay, you are also a horse like me". So I pulled her away and went to get tacked up. She cocked a leg, but kept a careful eye on the direction of Navarro because having friends is exciting.

I wasn't sure how she'd do once I mounted up, because in past history when we have had friends meet us at our barn, Annie gets a little hot and excited to GO, so I wasn't sure. I brought along some treats and once I swung a leg over, reminded her to stand and fed her some cookies. I needn't worry tho, because Annie could have cared less and walked off like a civilized beast. 

Navarro pranced off, excited to be in a new place and as she jigged along, Annie hurried her steps for a few strides and felt a little butt-scooty. I simply pulsed on my outside rein, reminding her to lower her head and elongate her neck. She complied, exhaled, and walked normally. A few times, she looked over at Navarro like, "What ARE you doing?" as she pranced alongside us for a few minutes, haha.

I was also highly impressed Heidi dressed Nav in a matching purple pad.
Eventually, she settled and both mares plodded along quietly while Heidi and I chatted and I pointed out various markers along the way.

The plan was to ride to the ring, as Heidi wanted to see what a "typical schooling day" looked for us and also wanted to see the cross-firing issues (if any) and ride Annie to see if she felt anything maybe I was missing or couldn't. I agreed, happy to have the opportunity to have someone else ride her and feel what I feel, especially since Heidi has done the whole "bringing up baby" thing before and I could probably glean a few things from her previous experience.

I think the whole thing gave Heidi a lot of perspective into how much planning it takes for me to go school my horse, and the amenities we have/ don't have available. Which, is pretty neat. And it was kind of funny to see Heidi's face light up at the massive hills to and from the grounds, "These are GREAT for building butt muscles!"  

Heading home, post-school. 
We got to the ring and after taking a series of phone calls that would not end, I finally hopped on my beast and rode around. She felt resistant, tight, and behind the leg. I worked quite a bit at the walk, asking her to move out and let herself relax a bit. She kept trying to pull towards Navarro, so a few times I gave her a good boot in the ribs. 

She complied after some time of stretchy trot and we managed to actually get some productive work in but she still felt kinda... tight. She threw one tantrum re: left lead and bounced around cross-firing. I took the opportunity to boot her forwards and kick her over with my inside leg to push her ass back in. She was not happy about it, but eventually quit changing and cantered around like the civilized beast I knew she could be.

We finished off with a bunch of simple changes, wherein she struggled with her right lead on the diagonal, but we got it and ended it there so Heidi would have a chance to hop on before the mare's engine ran dry.

Heidi watching us go round.
I got on Navarro, but mostly just watched Heidi ride Annie around while she elaborated on some things. Annie started out tense in her back, but once she realized the aids weren't any different and the asks/wants weren't anything out of the ordinary, she settled.

Heidi got some great work out of her, which made me realize how much I still ride Annie with kid gloves. Not to say that I let her get away with things, but I still think of her as a green baby horse when I should start to up the pressure and up the asks into demands. So it was neat to see someone who doesn't have the baggage of bringing her up/riding her consistently to get on and get those buttons I've been harvesting for a while to work effectively and efficiently. It made me realize the buttons are not only there, but they are ready to be plucked and used.

There were a few things Heidi gleaned into riding Annie - mostly that she doesn't feel like a green horse anymore and that she is willing to accept the pressure. She is sensitive, yes, but she can take a joke and she can work under pressure without caving. 

It's hard - to know when to keep pushing vs sitting back and saying "Well, she's still young so we'll just chip away at X, Y, Z slowly" vs "Today we start the process, tomorrow we revisit it, next week we refine it and now and forever amen it's a part of our 'can do' list." 

They got pretty photogenic.. for like one whole picture haha.
The other thing Heidi mentioned was about Annie's canter. She mentioned she is quite downhill when she canters (which is true) so she worked on bringing her shoulders up and setting her back on her ass - she did this simply by lifting her outside rein and it was amazing to see the transformation in Annie's canter quality. By being so on the forehand, it makes it easy for her to switch in the hind, and it also makes her more apt to canter sideways since she's diving downwards and I didn't have the know-how to correct the issue. Part of it was lack of consistency on my outside rein, which Heidi gave me shit for when I got back on to ride the more elevated canter (#inanabusiverelationshipwithmyinsiderein). Which, is also why I was able to canter her straighter and without cross-firing when I made sure she was connected to the outside rein

Once Heidi finished up riding her, playing around with lengthens, I hopped back on to play around with some suggestions from Heidi as she watched from the ground. It was fun to play around and have someone be able to help a bit from the ground, simply because I don't have the ability to have consistent lessons.

We finished up with some forward trot, pushing her into the leg as we did transitions before calling it a day. Both mares were pretty pooped, so the plan of riding the trail around the grounds did not happen, but it made for a fun ride regardless.

During the ride, Annie kept trying to sneak smells of Nav's neck and Nav
was decidedly NOT into it, haha.
The remainder of the ride back, we laughed and chatted and let our mares toodle along quietly back to the barn.

It was a refreshing ride - having someone compliment my mare and all the hard work I've put into her, as well as ENJOY riding her made me feel pretty damn good. And to be able to get some helpful advice that actually worked for me and my mare was above and beyond what I could ask for.  Rides with friends are damn fun, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to show Heidi around my neck of the woods and how it all works for us. The other plus side was that the 20+ min walk to and from the grounds didn't nearly feel so long with a friend tagging along :)