Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Anthony Lothian Clinic: Day 2

With Day 1 down and out of the way, I was feeling a lot more confident about Day 2. It seemed like my worst fears had been stomped down and I could focus and enjoy my horse, the lesson, and follow the instruction without being too guarded or worrying if something would trigger a reaction (nevermind the fact that Annie has been schooling just fine aside from the one day I previously mentioned).

It had absolutely poured rain overnight, and when I crawled out of bed around 7:30am, I inwardly groaned knowing that I undoubtedly was about to be cold and wet for a majority of the morning. With my lesson at 9:15 and a good 50 minute drive ahead of me, I was less than enthused to be getting up early on my only day off for the week. So hard done by, having to get up early for a riding lesson. 

I did run a bit late at the horses in the morning which meant I didn't get a chance to nebulize before trailering out, but figured I could nebulize at the grounds if needed. Since Annie was pretty soaked, I threw a cooler on and crossed my fingers she would be dry enough by the time we reached the grounds. The rain continued for the entire drive, and as I sped up my wipers, I tried to not focus on how miserable riding in the cold and rain would be. 

Upon arriving, I parked close to the indoor arena, having noted that the current lesson of the day was taking place in there. Annie unloaded like a much more civilized beast and went right to snacking on grass by my feet before we ventured to the indoor to view the current lesson (and to stay dry!).

Unfortunately, the lessons got a bit back-logged and mine ended up getting bumped to an hour later. Which, no biggie, it happens. One of the awesome things about Anthony is that he isn't under a time crunch - if you need longer than your slotted 45 minutes to figure something out, he'll happily coach you until things are in a good place. I've been one of those lessons before, so I can both understand and appreciate the delay.

I ended up not nebulizing, because of the time delay I figured I'd wait until we got closer, and then before I knew it, it was time to get on. Time management is difficult when you aren't exactly sure what your ride time is and are too focused on being late that you end up being late anyways. Oh, anxiety.

I needn't worry though, because the lack of nebulizing was a non-issue. Annie was perfectly happy to go round and we were able to get some good work in. Because it was her first time back in the indoor arena in (oh man I just looked back... it's been a while) several months and even longer since she was ridden in it, mare was SPOOKY.


Coffee cups on the mounting block were a NO GO and it took a little bit to get the hamsters back on their wheels and all cylinders firing once again. It was a good opportunity tho, because it made me realize just how much I hang on my inside rein (esp tracking left... which is our bad canter steering way.... a coincidence maybe?? Maybe not). 

Anthony instructed me to drop my inside rein, focus on making her an athlete (forward and steer) and ignore the rest. Spooking wasn't the issue, the issue was lack of forward and lack of steering. My resolution to this was to pull the inside rein, which off-balances her and over-bends her - as Anthony put it, "If you are coming up to a spooky liverpool, are you going to grab the inside rein and overbend?" 

Point taken, sir!

Once Annie stopped being so offended by the arena drag and the coffee cup, we went to work on the previous days lesson. The basis of this lesson was keeping her engaged in the bridle but not deep and down. A majority of our work was also on my tendency to push the inside rein into her neck and/or keep it tight against the neck. It was really hard trying to retrain myself to slacken that rein and to straighten her head/neck. The flat-work went well enough that Anthony suggested heading to the outdoor to pop over some jumps and I was quite surprised (and flattered, bc long-time readers might remember how hard I've worked to make it over some jumps in his clinics! I've spent a fair amount of clinics just flatting because we weren't "quite there" yet.) he gave me an entire course to play with.

  • Bend should be something you can turn on and turn off.

  • When things go wrong, I tend to bend her vs steering her. Bend isn't a bad thing, but it isn't going to help us go forwards or help us steer.

  • I ride with my hands off-centered to the right (inside rein tight against the neck), and therefore am consistently telling her "right, right, right" when I am meaning straight. The aid for "turn right" doesn't change when I am asking, and this is where a lot of the resistance to the right aid comes from. By asking her "right" all the time, I am making that cue lose value and confusing her.

  • When doing a down-transition, forward is the goal. Make her an athlete.

  • Left hand off/away from the neck.

  • Do not allow your steering to slow you down. Steering doesn't mean slow.

  • Encourage her to look up.

  • She makes your job of a going into 2pt before the jump difficult, as she doesn't like to commit to the fence until she gets to it. With adding power and steering, that will eventually go away. For now, your job is to ensure she stays committed and straight. (She likes to stall down a gear or two if I am not right on her butt until the take-off point).

  • "Can you imagine if this was your warm up round? We'd be having even more fun."
It was very interesting to see the difference in both Annie and myself when I sat down and compared to previous clinics. I think a large portion of it was that I actually rode my horse. Which, might sound silly in one vein but I have a tendency to sit there and wait for instruction from the clinician vs actually committing to a plan and riding it. I think a lot of it stems from anxiety - not wanting to be wrong or making the wrong choice, but at the end of the day, there are certain things (a, b, c)  I need to still do so that x, y, z works. Because without a,b,c I end up having no x, y, z but also an issue of d, e, f to now deal with. If that makes sense?

May 2021 vs
May 2019
Nearly the same stride.
Interesting how much allowing her poll to come up affects her uphill
balance. While the bottom photo may look "prettier", she is very 
tight and restricted in the shoulders (notice how much further her front left
 is reaching) and throatlatch, as well as downhill.

I really wanted to jump on Day 2, since Day 1 was largely flat and by the time we wandered over to the jumps, Annie had pretty much zero fuel left in the tank. It took a lot of brain power for me to just do the things, even though that uncertain part of me was nagging, "Just wait for direction. She's drifting left... need to wait for Anthony to tell me to correct it." I was a lot more proactive than I have been in the past and it paid off in dividends. Anthony was quite pleased with the efforts and remarked that had our final round been our warm up round (and that it can be our warm up round), what fun we would have playing around for the remainder of the lesson.

She felt pretty good to jump - I concentrated quite hard on keeping her straight, in an even tempo and chugging along. You know, all the basics. Like I outlined above tho, it can be hard for my brain to remember all the things, because for some reason I convince myself that sitting up there like a monkey is the best possible course of action when in a clinic. Being proactive paid off tho and although there was some "meh" parts of the course, overall it flowed relatively well and we didn't have much issue. I was pretty proud of myself for staying attentive and proactively riding my mare - silly as it sounds, it is something I struggle with.

Overall, a very positive and impactful two days worth of instruction. I was doggone tired and absolutely riding a clinic high - the ability to participate in one relit a fire of desire I had forgotten I had and made me doubly proud of my mare and all that she has accomplished over the years. Certainly a great way to start off the clinic season - hopefully Annie continues to be game as the summer unfolds.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Anthony Lothian Clinic: Day 1

Can you believe it has been 21 months (1.8 years) since I took a lesson, and nearly 24 months since I took an Anthony lesson?


The year of 2020 threw a lot of curve balls to a lot of people - most clinics were cancelled and barns were closed. Any ounce of horsey time was precious, and a lot of us went back to our roots, braiding flowers into manes and tails and hand grazing for hours on end. In my circumstance, having an ill horse put an additional layer of frustration and heartache as I tried my hardest to navigate her COPD diagnosis and attempt to leg her back up into some semblance of fitness once she was fully cleared to be restarted.

I have like... two photos from Day 1, so you'll
just have to enjoy old photos from schoolings/ rides
previous to this clinic that I didn't blog about.

Any fun days or clinics that were able to proceed within the COVID regulations were off the table, as Annie's health ping-ponged back and forth and I had a massive lack of funds to facilitate anything "fun" after a year of nearly consistent vet bills. 

Regardless, we pushed forwards and I was cautiously optimistic that we could potentially return to the lesson scene in 2021. I didn't plan anything, although my hands were itching to etch plans in ink rather than pencil.

I tentatively booked the clinic back in April, wanting to get Annie a bit more legged up before committing. Her breathing was superb and we didn't have any coughing episodes, save for a random afternoon wherein she was eating mash and gave one loud cough (which I panicked and obsessed over for nearly several days). For the most part though, all systems seemed a-go, and I was tapping my feet in anticipation of attending my first clinic in well over a year.

As the days drew closer, we put in a few more rides and I had a rather unfortunate school six days before the clinic was scheduled to run. She coughed a few times (3) at the canter. All were spaced out and sporadic, and I noted that they were very first undersaddle coughs I had heard all year. 

I tried to do my best to stay positive, but it honestly felt like a slap in the face despite nebulizing clear and otherwise looking outwardly healthy. We did a few more nebulizing sessions to see if I could coax whatever it was out, but she nebulized clear each and every time and did not showcase any other telltale signs of a flare (excess mucus production or flaring nostrils).

We did another light ride before the clinic, testing the gears and seeing if I could replicate the undersaddle issue, but she handled the ride just fine (ie. zero coughing). Admittedly, I was nervous to see how she'd do and part of me was uncertain if we'd find ourselves in the middle of a flair mid-clinic and result in having to scratch Day 2... or even most of Day 1.

How to appropriately prepare for a clinic 101.

Exuding confidence, I know.

Before I knew it, Saturday came and after a last minute scheduling change thanks to work needing me longer than I had anticipated, I hauled out the 50min to TBC to have my first riding lesson in a very long time.

Annie unloaded a bit fast out of the trailer, but once she took a look around she seemed to say, "Ah, this place. Cool." and happily went about her business munching hay as I started to get her brushed and tacked up. We were a bit early, so I had time to muck about and organize myself a bit better since my nerves were firing on all cylinders. Annie was unbothered, even despite the fact we were the only horse and rider at the fairgrounds.

As Anthony and his helper moved some jumps around, Annie and I warmed up in the ring and I was pretty pleased to find that she was pretty chill about being in the arena. I anticipated a spook or two, since we haven't been out to the grounds in a long time, but she humored me and was pretty unbothered.

I went over the last year and a half with Anthony, detailing out the issues we faced in 2020 and my heart spilled over with pride when Anthony remarked, "She looks amazing this year." You see, Anthony is someone who is quite honest about things - he doesn't sugar-coat and he won't ass-pat. I appreciate this quality, because while it may not be things you want to hear, he doesn't pretend or overlook certain things. 

I found this feather on the ground just before I mounted
up and took it as a good omen. I have a lot of positive vibes
surrounding black feathers, so this gave me a boost of confidence.

Long-time readers may remember Anthony's (and a few other clinician's) comments regarding Annie and her overall weakness. Physically she is very immature and unbalanced despite being an "older" horse. Most of the time she was mistaken for as a 3 year old (despite being actually 5 years old) when I first got her, and I'm sure those who have stuck around for the last four years remember how hard cantering and how hard bending and how hard circles were for Annie. And it didn't make a lot of sense to Anthony, who knew how much blood, sweat and tears I poured into Annie's fitness and schooling. It made no sense to him that it didn't make a difference how hard I worked - the horse just wasn't responding as fast or as positively as she should be to the changes.

However, this clinic Anthony remarked that Annie exuded a lot more maturity and he complimented my horsemanship. He did mention that it was interesting that she was so sick, and pondered the possibility of Annie having some kind of auto-immune or immune-suppressive issue all along, since she has always been kind of weedy, under-muscled and gawky looking. 

It was an interesting perspective for sure, but I could have cried with the compliments he threw my way - all of the time and effort I have put into Annie and her health and her wellness and her happiness... it was being noticed. And not just noticed, but it was an actual physical, tangible thing. It was actually acknowledged by more than just Anthony, as a few other people over the weekend went out of their way to comment how Annie was going and looked.

Ya'll, this horse has been a trip.

Beyond worth it, but a fucking trip.

I love her (and the mashed 'tater behind her) immensely <3

I could have honestly just ended my lesson right then and there, because my heart was just soaring. I have a lot of people in my corner with Annie, and although I have a very supportive community around me, it just felt plain good to hear an outside perspective who doesn't get the chance to see us very often. It made a lot of the tears and frustration and uncertainty worth it. Annie will always be Annie - she will never not be weak and will never not have balance issues, but we're chugging along and things are slowly gaining traction. And how cool is that?

As for the lesson, we worked mostly on the flat with a few cross-rails at the end. Nothing too crazy - by the time we transitioned to the jumping, Annie was pretty tired since Anthony had me ride her more uphill than usual, which is quite hard for her.

The notes from this lesson are as follows:

  • I ride with a lot more value now. I still don't ride her as assertively as Anthony would like, but my riding now is a lot less randomized in expectations. The things I ask for are, for the most part, more concise and clear.

  • Ride her less deep - when we are training horses for Dressage, we expect them to be a in a deeper frame but then we hit 2nd and 3rd level and all of a sudden expect them to be more uphill. Ride her in a 2nd level frame, encourage her to look up and where she is going. She is already a downhill horse, you are not encouraging her to be an athlete riding her deep and down. For jumping, we need an athlete not a horse that pokes around maintaining the status quo because they know their head in one spot means they get left alone.

  • Make her honest. The expectations need to be laid out and followed. She likes to falter when I transition to sitting trot or ask her to collect at the trot - the expectation is still to go forward.

  • More power. 

  • A higher frame carriage is hard for her.

  • You have only two jobs - steering and speed.

  • Let things get messy, this is why we school.

  • This horse needs to be ridden at the walk in meaningful contact and with swinging gaits. If you can commit to this as part of your riding, it will improve your other gaits. 

  • You lose steering in your left canter because you ride with your inside rein on and your inside leg on all the time. The aids mean nothing when they are used so much and have so little meaning. When you school, play around with doing nothing and asking her to only maintain her speed - she needs to carry you, not you carry her.

  • When you change gait or speed, she drops the head/neck down. Encourage her to look up.

  • There is a place for rest break walks (head low, dropped, on forehand), but there is also a place for meaningful marching into forwards contact.

We practiced a lot of circles and worked hard on encouraging Annie to bring her head and neck up without retracting hard at the throatlatch. We lost our steering into the left canter embarrassingly enough, but it made me realize just how much I rely on the inside rein (why is it that I pull on the inside rein when I need to use the outside rein... ughhh). 

Proof of clinic, pre-ride, with bits of hay hanging 
from her mouth, haha.

Annie worked quite hard, as I recognized I ride her a bit underpowered for what she needs. She finds a lot of the collected work quite difficult and I mentioned to Anthony that I almost have to nag every step out of her some rides. He suggested utilizing a dressage whip and educating her on it's use - we did an inpromptu in-hand lesson after I was finished riding and we went over a basic explanation of using the whip and how to appropriately train a horse to respond. For example, a majority of people will use it as a correction and only as a correction vs using it as an aid as it should be (I know I'm guilty of using it as a correction only). Anthony showed me how one tap = walk, two taps = trot, etc and how to place the whip along different areas of the body to dictate it's movement. 

We did get to pop over a cross-rail a few times, but it was made a bit difficult since Annie was pretty done by the end of the lesson (she quite literally obliterated the jump the first time through... oops). We got a good response towards the end, and finished the lesson there as she had worked quite hard and amicably.

And the best part? No coughing! No respiratory issues whatsoever and it made me so fucking happy. I'm still not planning anything too far into the future since things can change in the blink of an eye, but it feels like that monumental climb up a mountain is becoming less and less difficult. Feels like I'm well past the first leg and the summit is much, much closer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Happy 2nd Birthday, Maizey

How tiny!!!
Also, she was FERAL with a capital F.

I can hardly believe another year has just flown by - it seems like it was just yesterday that we were headed to pick up an unhandled weanling in another province. 

I remember longing for a foal from this particular stallion for eons, and having been so close to making that a reality, only to have mother nature throw in a cruel twist of fate. In more ways than one, I try to live by the adage that "everything happens for a reason". Had I gotten that colt four years ago, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to fall in love with Annie. And even moreso, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to fall in love with Maizey.  

Admittedly, the "plans" I had had for Maizey were dashed rather quickly, given her ringbone diagnosis and poor prognosis for a riding career, broodmare life and overall quality of life. It was (and continues to be) a very tough pill to swallow despite the evidence to the contrary.

This will forever be one of my favorite photos.
Momma Bannie and her baby<3

Her birthdays in particular are a means of celebration, but also a moment for me to pause and reflect on the 364 days previous. I am elated to witness the progress in her overall health and wellness, as it appears to be well above the assumed outcome when she was radiographed in early Spring last year. 

But at the same time, I am guarded.

I am painfully aware that a long life is not in the cards for my sweet Moo. The abundance of osteoarthritis in her pastern is painstakingly obvious, and being that she is so young and still growing, her body will certainly slow long before she or I wish.

That's not to say her birthday isn't celebratory. Instead, it is a double-edged sword in that we are closer to finality than we were at the start, but also, each and every birthday she passes is a milestone that professionals had stated she never would see.

Questionable attire on my part, but hey... I was
busy riding beforehand and then changed into a cooler

We continue to cherish each and every day that comes, and I continue to treat Moo as if she is still a normal young horse. We have shied away from a lot of classical training components (ie lunging) to reduce the strain on not only her legs, but her affected pastern. 

As part of our video conference with our Vet, we've made the decision to send her out to pasture in June to grow, eat grass, and fart around. Radiographs and other diagnostics will follow in July, when the Vet rescheduled to come up, and we'll see what options we have and if the area is in the process of fusing or not. I have a lot of things to mull over, but am choosing to wait until we cross that bridge.

The bestest Moo cow <3

These days, Maizey and I have been busy revisiting a lot of old questions (namely The Tarp of Death) and have also added a few new questions (bridling!). She is still a sweet natured lady, but also has a bit of stubborn streak if she doesn't wanna. She is pretty amicable though, and is handled by a friend's autistic sister with ease - in fact, she seems to act even sweeter when K is handling her. Go figure. 

Regular things like trimmings, tying, sacking out, and basic leading skills are worked on sporadically over the week. I try not to do too too much with her, as she is still just a baby. Most sessions are about 15 minutes in duration, unless we are hand-walking and in which case we can toodle for 45-60 minutes. She hasn't had the opportunity to be ponied since last year, as N retired AJ due to some medical issues. He is still happy to show Maizey the ropes (tarps really aren't that scary, Moo!) and be a form of support for her, which is great.

0/10, worst carrot ever.

At the end of May we will be hitching up and hauling AJ and Moo 45min out to a summer boarding pasture. It is a great opportunity to let the horses be horses, and especially in a young and growing horse's case, it is a perfect way to "let them grow up", being that they will learn to navigate a varying amount of terrain (and strengthen their bones and tendons as well as build muscles), learn herd dynamics (also finding buddies to play with and how to play appropriately), and of course, eat as much grass as their bellies can take.

As always, a close eye will be kept on her transition from paddock to (true) pasture lifestyle and if things don't work out, we can always bring them home. For her sake, I am hoping she'll be able to stay out there until the Fall. I imagine she will look a great deal more grown up after a few months at pasture.

One day, one month, one year at a time.

All of these small steps are inches closer to where we want to be, and I am, admittedly, holding my breath for the best outcome for us both.