Saturday, April 13, 2019

Zen As F*ck

Our first clinic of the year is this weekend (in fact, we already had a lesson ;) ), and I while I am pretty excited to be getting some regular instruction again, I am kinda... nervous about it. The first clinic is always nerve-wracking - getting back into the swing of things, getting the horses out there and doing the thing, riding at a venue we haven't been to in a while. It feels a bit... momentous and scary but at the same time, there is a sense in relief of having someone there for guidance if shit hits the proverbial fan. I mean, isn't that the reason we have lessons? To improve?

An Annie in the wild.
As always though, my insane ability to stress and over-prepare has reared it's ugly head. And while I can appreciate the fact the trailer has been packed and ready to go for a few days pre-clinic shenanigans, I have had to remind myself to calm TF down a few times.
It can be hard tho, putting yourself out there for criticism, even if the instructor is someone you trust, value, and respect. For someone like myself, I always want to be better than last time. Showing the clinician that, "Look, we followed all of your instructions and look how amazing we are!" or "We did 18" cross rails last year, and we are so prepared for this 3'0" course now." Which, isn't always the way it goes.

And we might never be ready for that 3'0" course (Annie might be, but I am firmly in the wimp category, haha) and that's OK. Because our clinician this weekend has never ever made me feel like a

Following our last ride in the arena last Tuesday (April 2nd), we were bombarded with really ugly weather. High winds and a significant amount of rain led to exactly zero pony time until the following Monday (April 8). With the idea of the clinic looming over my head, I knew I had to get the mare worked because showing up for the first clinic of the season on a horse that hadn't been ridden in a few weeks was probably not the best idea.

So I did what any logical person would do when their horse has had
almost a week off.
However, when I pulled up at home I saw a suspicious package sitting outside the front door. One look at the label and I knew exactly what it was and it changed my trajectory of "Get the mare ridden srsly okay" into "Omgggg ride the mare in this fancy new bridle bc its purple and cute omg."

Two Horse Tack was gracious enough to send me a 2-in-1 bitless bridle (one that I had been pining over for months) and there will be a review up once I can ride in it for a few months to really explore all angles (durability, longevity, etc).

I jetted out to the barn, armed with the new bitless bridle and game for a trail ride. Unfortunately, riding after work makes it a bit difficult whilst also owning a puppy and I couldn't justify spending 3-4 hours at the barn trail riding with having Cedar stuck in his crate (the dogs do come to work with me in the afternoons, but still!). The one trail I had intended to ride was an 80 minute circuit and with the recent rainfall, I wasn't sure how stable some of the hills would be, as they often get eroded throughout the year from being frequented by 4x4'ers. I scratched it off the list and decided I would ride the trail around the local arena - the footing is relatively good and at a recent Fairgrounds Meeting it was disclosed that the trail looked great with no fallen trees or maintenance required after our Winter.

I tacked up, deciding to use the criss-cross configuration of the bitless bridle as it provided a bit more "bite" than the sidepull alternative. Annie had had nearly a week off, and I kinda valued my life (a bit), so I went with that choice. Although I clearly didn't value my life that much considering I rode bitless and dragged Spud along.

The cutest
She started off a teensy bit hot, and definitely did not appreciate the chin/jaw pressure. I kept the reins level, with light pressure, and encouraged her to seek down into the contact. She did well after tossing her head in protest a few times, and until she saw someone else walking their horse. She decided to sidepass a bit, snorting and yanking her head around, protesting my attempts at asking her to look to the outside (away from the horse). She got a little prancy but we managed to pass the other person without incident, and Spud toodled along with us quietly.

After that, she seemed to settle more but definitely was more amped than I would have liked. Despite this, I appreciated the forward energy in her walk. As we approached the arena, I had a momentary thought of popping off and changing the configuration to just a sidepull and possibly just schooling her in the ring. Annie, possibly sensing the idea, made a quick left hand turn down one of the several entrances to the trail. I shrugged, deciding that we'd do the loop and then stop at the ring afterwards to change out the attachments and school a bit if I felt it necessary.

I did have to laugh at her practically dragging me to the trail - she does love exploring and I'm glad the weather has improved so we can ride some of the trails now!

The loop was uneventful. Annie settled into a quiet rhythm and we managed to get a little trot set in on one of the less slicker parts of the trail (one portion borders a marsh which is frog habitat and when it overflows it spills over onto the trail). She felt good, and seemed to appreciate the freedom the bridle gave her.

We wandered into the ring and I switched the criss-cross for the sidepull attachment and did a quick trot and canter. She felt much more amicable in the sidepull, although drifted a lot more than she does in a regular bridle.

Heading back, we ran into another group with horses and I ended up having to throw my phone in my pocket (was on the phone with Show Buddy) because Spud decided he wanted to walk right in front of Annie to try and say hello. Of course when this happened, Annie decided her legs grew roots and she could no longer move. Oh, horses. A quick pony club kick and we were on our way.

Following our Sunday hack, I wasn't able to ride until later this week due to vet appointments (Cedar's final shots and Roxy had to get a tick removed ugh), doctors appointments, and school. The only way I was going to be able to get a real ride in before the clinic was to haul to the grounds, which kinda worked out perfectly. It gave me the ability to load the trailer up in advance, plus gave me some good info as to what a trip to the grounds would look like since I want to start hauling a few times a month to cut down on the amount of time I spend hacking to and from, as well as save some wear and tear on Annie's legs (altho, walking to and from the ring is pretty minimal wear and tear).

After class I headed out to the barn and grabbed all my gear, hay, and the horses. Both horses quietly loaded and waited patiently as I finished packing the trailer up.

At the grounds, both dug into the massive bag of hay I had stuffed for our weekend lessons and I fought off hoards of disgusting mosquitoes, who happily buzzed between me and the horses. Poor Annie's tail didn't stop.

Awkward, but happy to be nibbling hay.
I let Spud loose in the ring and clambered aboard. Annie felt... opinionated, haha. And this is something I've been noticing when we ride away from home. It'll be kind of hard to explain but basically, by the time we get to the arena to do work, Annie has had 20minutes of warm up time. While we do some walking exercises on our way there, it certainly is not similar to the walking work one does in an arena. When I hop on at an arena without letting her have her "mosey time", she feels tight, hot, and opinionated. It doesn't feel dangerous, but just kinda fractious energy and she feels ready to pick a fight.

When we ride at shows, I often walk her on the buckle for 10-15 minutes before she feels "ready" to work. And I suppose some of it is "my fault", the other part of the piece is that I need to start hauling to the ring and showing her that life is tough and sometimes we gotta go to work right away. Of course, it goes without saying I'm not meaning we head into the ring and cantering away we go. We warm up at the walk, but it isn't moseying and it isn't on her terms. It's asking for stretching, asking for contact, etc etc.

And because I felt how tight her back was, I knew it would be an interesting ride if I wasn't able to get myself organized, calm, and collected. I felt a moment of, "Oh shit, we have a clinic this weekend." "We don't feel ready. I shouldn't have done this." "Oh crap what if ____ happens."  "I KNEW she'd feel like this."

We lapped around the arena once, on a loose rein and I just kinda pep-talked myself. I'm all about emulating that whole zen ninja shit Carly talked about in her last post, so I kinda just went "Well, you're allowed to feel that way, but it isn't gonna affect the plans I have for our ride and it isn't going to dictate how I feel."

So we started off with a bunch of walk-halt-walk transitions, which Annie was Not Happy about. She would fling her head, root down and gnash the bit. I refused to take the bait, and just sat quiet, focusing off on the distance, and not letting my body get rigid. We walked off and she braced, I kept the contact following, soft, but inviting to be taken.

We moved into some turn on the haunches and she humped up a bit beneath me, cracking her tail in protest and rooting down into my hands. I had asked for one step of her haunches to the left and instead, she flew around a half circle, backed up several steps, attempted to walk forwards (I reminded her to halt), backed a few more circles, rooted the bit, and then stood.

And I just sat there, like the most Zen Thing you've ever seen.

I attempted again, and she swung her hip into my leg, so I tapped her haunches with the crop, asking her to move off of my leg. She repeated the same process as above and I still stayed quiet, just a Zen As Shit.

Annie: "You suuure you don't wanna pick a fight?"
Me: "You do you, girl, but I'm not gonna stop asking for something you know how to do."
Annie: *annoyed* "But I don't wanna." *pouting*
Me: *zen as fuck*
Annie: "Fiiine."

After that brief discussion (wherein I refused to be involved in), we moved on to some leg yielding, baby-shoulder ins, bending to the outside/inside, and a million and one walk-trot transitions. Annnnd...

She was awesome.

Post-ride. Annie got let loose to roll 4000 times while
Spud got lunged.
It took her a little bit to relax in the back, but once she realized I wasn't going to pick a fight, she gave up and went to work. I was able to actually sit on her during the trot without her humping up her back and feeling flat. She certainly wasn't as rounded as she could have been, and her contact waffled, but she felt good. The crop helped quite a bit, especially during the transitions where she wanted to dive into the walk and fall flat. A quick tap of the crop had her bouncing back into a trot, which although wasn't what I was going for, was OK and I let her trot a few steps before asking for an active walk. It took a few tries for her to understand what I was asking, but a few of the transitions felt great.

I hadn't intended to do any canter, but figured why not. Our first canter right felt terrrrible. It was this rocking-horse-going-nowhere-downhill mess, so I got up into a half seat and pushed her into a longer stride. She felt sticky tho, like her front end was stuck and her hind end was just bouncing up and down.

So I brought her down to the trot, did a few lengthens and tracked left. The left lead canter felt loads better and I let her be more open in it than usual - asking for a thundering gallop* (*Annie doesn't know how to gallop, so it was more like a fast canter lol) on a few long sides. It took a few times of me asking her to bring her front end up, but she felt loads better than to the right. She even sat on her ass for a few strides when I played with some collection. She broke, but I ignored it and showered her with tons of pets and good girls.

Don't worry, I tamed her mane before the clinic.
To make sure our right lead wasn't broken, I tried it again and had a wonderful response. We looped around the ring and on the long side, she kinda pulled the reins from my hands and started to lengthen herself out. So, I let her.

She has had a natural tendency to feel super behind the leg and stuck (esp at canter), so I let her take a careening gallop down the long side where she refused to respond to a half halt before the corner so we kinda motorcycle turned to the short side, haha. I didn't mind it tho, I'd rather have her feeling a little uncontrolled but forward. The sinking feeling in my gut during our first canter was not fun.

We finished off with some sitting trot, asking her to do short serpentines, as well as another exercise I'm not really sure what to call. Basically, we go down center line and come off of it into a 10-15m circle, cross center line to the opposite side and loop back down to center line, come up again and come off the opposite side into a 10-15m circle.

I remember thinking, "Whewww, we are so tired now, we must've rode at least 40 minutes" and looked down at the Equilab tracker to reveal we had been riding a whole 28 minutes, haha.

We are out of shape.


  1. So first of all I want that bitless bridle.
    Second, I loved this whole zen as fuck thing. Good for you. Irish has a tight back (he’s an appendix). Always has and he just needs the few minutes of free walk and trot and then is ready. I used to plan for 20 minutes free walk as warm up for a show.

    1. Isn't it neat?! I'm excited to continue using it.

      I'm just trying to not be bothered by her... emotions, haha. She is typically pretty laid back and quiet, but sometimes I can feel just how tight and sticky she /wants/ to be.

  2. All about that #ZenNinja life. And I loooove that bridle!!

    1. I'm proud to finally be apart of the team!!

  3. Finding that zen feeling is such a breakthrough thing! I'm psyched for you that you've found that side of yourself. It's a definite victory to celebrate - especially with a sensitive mare =)

    1. It really is. I kinda am like "come what may, because we can get through it and I know we can."

  4. that purple looks so good on her! and yessssss for hanging on to that zen feeling :D

  5. Good for you for not buying into the temper tantrum! Sounds like a lovely ride once things got moving. I love my 2 horse tack sidepull!

    1. #zenasfuck.
      You have one too?! I'll have to stalk your blog now!

  6. Purple is a great color for her!