Monday, December 28, 2009

Dashing through the snow (cont.)


Sofie and I pose for the camera after a great ride back in November. Look, everything was so...green. And alive. Sigh. Also, note the wither-eating saddle doin' its thing. UGH. So glad that thing is gone.

OMG...this guy on the computer next to mine (I get my internet fix at the library) is playing "Harajuku Girls" so loud that I can clearly hear it through his headphones. Fortunately I happen to like that song.

Um, ANYWAY...back to our regularly scheduled programming. So after I rode around the yard for a bit back on Christmas Eve, I decided to go on the trail again. And as I started out, I got the bright idea that I could ask Sofie for a trot on the trail. WOW, earth-shattering realization, right? Well, the footing is a little uneven on the trail, and there are roots sticking out all over the place due to trees being ripped out by heavy equipment. And I had avoided going faster than a walk on the trail because....bawk, baaaaawk, I'm a bit of a chicken. But anyway. I decided to trot her, and she did great! But it was a bit of a bumpy ride because the trail was so uneven. So I walked her the rest of the way. I managed to stay snow-free until almost the very end of the trail, where there were these stupid low-hanging branches full of snow. So I ducked to avoid them, by butt came out of the saddle, and I got snow all over me anyway. Plus the saddle got snow on it, so for the rest of the ride, I had a wet butt. Oh well. There are worse things than that.

When we turned around at the end of the trail to go home, Sofie started trotting up this little hill, but she responded to a quiet half-halt or two on the outside rein, and came back to a walk. I was all, "Well, wasn't THAT sweet of you, Sofie!" and she was like "Geez, is THAT all it takes to please you? Not getting trotted away with?"

Well, yeah, pretty much.

On the way back I had the bright idea that I could turn her around and trot on a more even stretch of trail. So we had a nice, soft, springy trot through the snow (which wasn't as deep on the trail as in the yard) and then turned around for home again. I think I asked her for the trot again (or "allowed her to trot"...she doesn't take much in the way of motivation when she's outside) and she was very "up", a cute way of saying that your horse is "borderline out of control". Her head came up, and she was all "My goodness, we're TROTTING! And we're heading TOWARD THE BARN!". I went "Oh dear, this was a lapse in judgement on my part" and starting giving her "Hey, hey, pay attention! Yoo-hoo, Sofie! Okay, this isn't cute anymore, WHOA DAMMIT" half halts on the outside rein. She did come back to a walk, and I made myself give her a light rein, and we walked back to the yard in a very forward fashion. Once there, I did one more trot transition (facing AWAY from the barn!) and quite, very pleased with my horse and myself for trying something new.

On Saturday we went out to the barn. It was another nice, "warm" day. We open the barn door, and the horses are in their stalls. WTH? My mom calls the barn owner, who tells her that the woman who cleaned stalls and fed that morning (who happens to be her daughter) said that it was too icy to turn the horses out. NUH-UH. THERE WAS NO ICE, EXCEPT ON THE DRIVEWAY. Too lazy to walk out to the pastures and actually CHECK for ice instead of ASSUMING? Well, yes. (This woman is kind of a "weak link" as far as the barn help is concerned...if the horses have been kept in for a stupid reason, chances are, she is at fault.)

So my mom goes "We'll turn the horses out," since most of them were looking at us like "DUDE, get me out of here!" Sofie trotted out to the pasture slowly, like "Oh, are we going out? That's nice, I suppose." She reserves her Fireball energy for when I ride her.

DUDE, the guy with the headphones is playing "Bad Romance" now. TURN IT UP! Oh man, he turned it down now. WHY?

When we began turning the geldings out, we forgot that there was a specific ORDER of go. Bad, bad us. This mistake resulted in one gelding galloping back and forth in the indoor arena like an idiot, and another gelding standing petrified in the doorway, because he just COULDN'T go out there, that other horse might beat him up! Never mind that it was his best buddy. His fears WERE warranted to some extent, as he is the smallest gelding (closer to bicycle size than horse size) and he does get beat up quite often, or he would if he weren't so fast. So he is a little jumpy.

But eventually we did get the horses turned out, and then we cleaned stalls, since I couldn't really yank Sofie out of the pasture after only a few minutes of turnout. I don't really mind cleaning a barn, especially a different barn from the ones I normally have to clean (like my goat barn). And it made the barn owner very happy. So after the stalls were done, I retrieved Sofie.

After our unexpected time investment, we didn't really have time to longe, and my mom wanted to see how Sofie would do without longeing (easy for HER to say...SHE wasn't about to get on Fireball!). I figured the snow's depth would probably stop her from getting too crazy, so I agreed to forego longeing.

Off we went. The snow was kind of packed where we'd already ridden, so the footing was a little more challenging, but she didn't seem to mind. I worried, though. I also worried about the saddle being crooked (I ride crookedly, and the saddle doesn't quite fit, so it slips to one side a lot). I started trotting her, and when we hit the "Let's canter!" spot in the yard, she went into a canter. She went along nicely for a few strides, then pulled a bit on my hands and kicked up a little behind. I got really scared and pulled her down to a walk, and walked her around for a while while I felt all wobbly-legged and afraid.

Fireball had a ton of energy, so I had to trot her, but it was difficult finding places to trot where she wouldn't canter. So I trotted for short distances in specific places, didn't give Sofie her head, and worried for a while. It's interesting how badly you ride when you're worried/scared/freaking out...my balance goes all to hell, and I always let my outside rein go floppy. So I did some really crappy turns with my outside rein loose and me desperately pulling on the inside rein to turn her.

Finally, while I had her on a crappy circle, Sofie/Fireball/Energizer Bunny decided to canter. It was a VERY nice canter (even I, in my freaking-out haze could sort of tell it was good, and my mom said she'd never seen her do a better canter. I had trouble steering her because of my nonexistent contact on the outside rein, but I sort of laughed after we almost ran into the barn owner's house and started to kind of loosen up after that. I think I did some more trotting, and then decided to go on the trail so I could hopefully have some fun.

By this time I had a better idea of where the best footing was, so I was able to trot her for much longer on the trail. And once we started trotting on the trail I was totally relaxed, I felt like I could actually ride again, and we were both so happy. It was a great way to end what had been a difficult ride for me, and I felt much better about myself. When we got back to the yard I halted her, dismounted, and then she plunged her nose into the snow and started rubbing the foam off her lips. It reminded me of the day I tried her out, when I gave her the reins at the halt and she started eating the snow. I laughed, patted her, and took her back to the barn to get untacked, cooled down and then turned out.

I do wish I would have let her canter more...I'm not sure if she was actually kicking out in protest that first time. I think she might have been just kicking up her heels, since she didn't have her ears pinned, and she didn't break into a trot, to the best of my recollections. However, I didn't have anyone watching at that point, so it's hard to know. At least we had one good canter. And maybe I will get another chance to ride in the snow...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dashing through the snow!

Happy Day-After-Christmas to all...and happy Christmas to me, too. December 25 itself was very subdued for me (no presents for me since I now own a horse, except a couple things from friends and relatives, which I opened on the day they arrived in the mail...instant gratification!), but on the 22nd and 24th, Sofie, the weather and the snow conditions conspired to give me a wonderful present. Read on.

On Tuesday, we arrived at the barn and the weather was beautiful. Sunny, absolutely no wind, and temperatures in the high 20s. Gorgeous. It was actually colder in the indoor arena (icebox) than it was outside. So after we let Sofie race around (she doesn't race around when she is turned out, because the SNOW is everywhere and it's so DEEP and it's HARD to run in it...so she has all this crazy maniacal energy built up, and becomes a fireball when let loose in the arena) I decided to ride outside. My mom was rather dubious. "You're probably going to have an interesting ride," she said, glancing at Sofie (aka Fireball).

"Oh, she'll be okay," I said (unconfidently). "She already ran around like a maniac. And she probably won't want to go too fast once she hits the snow."

So I led Sofie outside and mounted up (with difficulty..the mounting block kept wobbling around in the snow). After reminding Miss One Track Mind that no, we do NOT go exactly where you want to go (back to the barn/over by her friends) we headed out. The snow was fluffy, but it was pretty deep (up to her knees in some places) and I relaxed when I realized she was having to work pretty hard just to walk, so Fireball probably wouldn't make an appearance during our ride.

It was definitely a workout for Miss Sofie, but she was having fun. We were both happy to be outside (and not freezing to death was nice!). I walked her all over the yard and did a funny little serpentine, then decided to try her at a trot.

Did I mention that riding in snow is a workout for the horse? Because they can't really go through any decent amount of snow without using their WHOLE body and moving FORWARD. Snow is like nature's cavaletti, except you don't have to worry about the spacing and your horse can't possibly avoid it. IT'S EVERYWHERE. AND they don't really consider it work, because it's so much fun. So you don't get the typical "UGH, this is haaaaard!" response. Instead the horse goes "Wheeeeeeee!" and suddenly you have IMPULSION.

When I asked Miss Sofie for a trot, she trotted without any backward-thinking at all, and she was FORWARD. I was getting bounced way out of the saddle (normally, when posting Sofie's trot, I barely move out of the saddle at all unless I am over-posting). It was FUN. She never went all cranky-pants on me, and we wound up riding for almost an hour (I did some work in the yard, then went partway down the trail). She got a little sweaty on her chest, but not bad.

We realized how much more we pamper Sofie than anyone else ever has when we pulled out the cooler we bought her and started to put it on. She went "WHAT IS THAT?" and got all bug-eyed. We got it on her, though, and she seemed to like it.

On Christmas Eve we returned to the barn. My mom decided to longe Sofie in her cavesson, since she had been such a hellion lately. Fireball did NOT like my mom having control of her nose, and threw her head around a bit as she was trotting around (it's a fleece-lined longeing cavesson without a metal nosepiece, and she's worn it before. Definitely horse abuse, I know!). Then she changed direction at high speed, and had to be corrected for pulling a couple times. But she settled down and did very well on the longe, doing nice transitions, looky pretty, and even stretching her neck down at the canter (which she's never done before).

She was VERY pleasant while I groomed her, and didn't seem to have any "touchy" places. When we put the saddle on and started to girth it up, she got cranky. It's quite possible that the saddle is bothering her (I'm looking into different saddles) but it may just be that her sternum bothers her and she hates being girthed up. We've decided to distract her with hay while we tighten the girth, since if she is distracted by me coming out of the tack room, for example, she doesn't seem to mind the girth being tightened. I'm hoping that if she doesn't get so tense, it won't be as uncomfortable for her.

Then we went around the yard again, walking and occasionally trotting. She got kind of balky when I asked her to trot away from the barn, especially in this one place where she NEVER wants to go forward. Interestingly enough, the place where she never wants to go forward is just before the place where she goes "Wheeeeee! CANTER!". I did not encourage her to canter that time, since she was still in kind of a residual "screw you" mood from the place where she never wants to go forward, and I had a feeling if she cantered just then, she would kick out or do something stupid. So I went "NO, I don't think so" and "TROT ON" and she did.

Other than the balky moments, our trot work was super nice. I had gotten used to the IMPULSION by then, so I didn't get thrown around quite so much. I actually managed to SIT her trot out there, too. And her walk (especially going towards the barn) was incredibly FORWARD.

I'm out of time now (have to go to the barn!) but next chance I get I'll write about our fun on the trail on Christmas Eve, and whatever happens today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Walk It Out

Sofie has been doing well. She always starts out rather grumpily, since the grooming-and-tacking-up process requires us to use a currycomb or brush on her sore spots, and then we have to bring out the saddle (ugh) and girth it up (UGH!). In addition to her chest, sternum, right hip and right shoulder (always touchy areas) she spooked at something a few days ago while standing in the aisle, and slid on the concrete (making a huge scrape mark). She even went three-legged for a few seconds, holding her left hind (which made the huge scrape mark) off the ground, so obviously it twinged pretty good. She was quite calm while she was three-legged ("I'll just rest this leg for a wee bit") and when I turned her out in the arena she moved sound, and even did her version of a gallop (a somewhat lengthened canter) around the arena. But her aisle-slide obviously pulled something out of whack, because her left hip was "touchy" the last time I saw her. She wasn't lame, so I rode anyway, since if I left her alone every time she was "touchy" anywhere, she would be obese from lack of exercise, and probably worse off.

She free-longed like a maniac (cantering all over the place, striking out with her front legs during canter departs, doing a half canter-half trot gait so it looked like she was pacing, and almost running into the arena walls, and then doing crazy spins. Yeah, THAT's really gonna help that hip feel better!) but only for eight minutes. Then she started actually looking somewhat submissive, so we quit.

She loosened up and improved over the course of the ride, and by the end she was using her back, reaching into the contact and moving forward. I did a little trot work, but it was not exactly stellar, due to her right shoulder bothering her when we tracked right, and her left hip bothering her when we tracked left. So we mostly did walk work. I'm a big fan of walk work, since it's a lot easier to maintain your contact, sit balanced, plan your turns, do tighter turns, etc. And the walk is the gait where Sofie is most comfortable. It's a good gait for rehab, especially on days when she is "touchy".

Sofie's walk has always been good. She doesn't have a huge overstep or anything, but her walk is forward and relaxed. She has never had "issues" at the walk (well, except when we were trying out a "corrective" saddle pad...but that's another tale for another day). Even in the days when our trot work looked like this:

DSCF0072
Rhythm, Relaxation and Connection? Not so much...but we CAN demonstrate a beautiful example of Rushing, Tension and Inversion!

Our walk work was looking respectable:

DSCF0023
There. THAT somewhat resembles dressage!

I love the walk. The walk is the gait where we can work on our relaxation, and build those topline muscles. And I'm starting to teach Sofie some lateral work, too. She will kind of leg-yield tracking right (but not tracking left for some reason...that's also the side where she has "issues" with staying on the rail), and I'm beginning to develop turn on the forehand. I haven't done much lateral work at all, so I kind of had to just experiment, since I didn't want to use my former instructor's method for teaching a green horse the TOF (standing at the horse's head while the rider applies leg, and jerking the horse in the mouth when it tries to move forward. Ugh!).

Instead I rode smaller circles at the walk, using my inside leg and resisting with my seat a little bit to avoid speeding up. Smart Sofie has found the concept of crossing over behind much easier than the pony I used to ride. So we got some good crossover steps, and as I halted her, she even crossed over a bit at a standstill. I was happy that she was starting to learn an actual "movement" without me having to get all up in her face, and that she stayed calm and listened (even when another horse was leaving the arena). And my ride wound up being almost an hour. Now if we could just get her trot and canter as good as her walk! One day at a time...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Winter Riding & Winter Goals

I beat winter. Yes, I did. Go me.

I should probably elaborate. We went out to the barn yesterday, and I wanted to ride, but it was COLD. Mid-teens, maybe? I dunno. But whatever it was, it was COLD. Like I said. Anyway, the horses were all in their stalls (fortunately they'd gotten outside the day before, and the mares had run all over and played in the snowdrifts. Dude, I wish I could've seen that. But I'm just glad that Sofie got some exercise for once, instead of eating her hay and then going in the shelter and standing around) so I took Sofie out and turned her out in the mare pasture. She trotted around a little, but then she just started wandering around, barely lifting her feet, so I led her to the end of the mare pasture and turned her loose so she could gallop back to the shelter ("THE SHELTER! I MUST GET TO THE SHELTER, IT'S FREAKIN' COLD OUT HERE!"). Then I free-schooled her in the arena while my mom was cleaning her stall and giving the horses a little hay. She was very "up", as expected, and I was able to get her to canter in both directions without the extra encouragement of a big whip in my hand. She even took the correct lead once while tracking right.

I decided to ride, because it wasn't too horrible in the arena (since I was wearing winter boots, windbreaking outer pants and a heavy winter coat and gloves over my riding clothes) and because I typically have good rides when Sofie's been stuck in her stall. We gave Sofie a flake of hay to chew on while we got her ready. She was not thrilled to see the saddle ("Can't you people just brush me and then put me back in my stall for ONCE in my life?") but things went fairly smoothly until we attempted to put the girth on. Sofie was behaving okay, but for some reason the girth wasn't fitting. At all. My mom kept hauling on it, and it would NOT reach the billets on the other side of the saddle. "She doesn't look that fat," I said, perplexed. "We were out here two days ago, and it fit then." Actually, the girth we had been using was a bit too long, which made the whole situation very, very odd. And Sofie was none too happy about all these girth-tightening attempts.

Finally, we figured out that I had TWO girths at the barn that were exactly the same, except in length. I had not taken home the "too short" girth after we found it to be unsuitable the day we switched back to the Wintec. Mystery solved. Our horse wasn't too fat, and we weren't losing our minds. Well, that last one is debatable, but whatever.

I mounted up in the indoor and began riding. Anyone who has ever ridden in an indoor knows that in the winter, they function rather like big ice boxes. But it was marginally "warmer" than the not-so-great outdoors, so hooray for that. I "warmed up" Sofie, and only one of my hands was painfully cold. I have never had a problem with cold hands in the winter before, but apparently this year my hands have decided that plain leather gloves aint doin' it anymore. I will have to get some lined leather gloves, I suppose. Fabric gloves don't work with rubber reins if one wants to actually be able to change the length of one's reins without serious hardship.

I was rewarded for my bravery in the face of winter by a very good horse. She trotted willingly at the lightest signal, she maintained gait and speed with only an occasional hug of my calves, she did transitions, she bent okay in both directions (we're workin' on that), she wasn't inverted, and she was a lot of fun to ride. I only rode for 20 or so minutes, but it was a really good session.

I shall now post my riding and training goals for the winter:

~LOOK UP when I ride!

~Maintain a positive attitude without regressing into self criticism

~Make sure to sit tall in the saddle without slouching

~Continue to improve my contact, so Sofie has a consistent, soft contact to look for and reach into

~Continue to eliminate gnarly behavior and resistance by discouraging it when it happens, and creating positive experiences for Sofie

~Work on and improve transitions

~Build Sofie's fitness so we can eventually take an hour lesson with a good trainer

~Learn how to go STRAIGHT!

~Develop both sides of Sofie's body evenly (I'll be doing lots of trot work this winter, so that will be helpful)

~Play with basic lateral work

~Keep things varied so Sofie doesn't get bored (HORRORS! We don't want that to happen)

~HAVE FUN!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Baditude Adjustment

After our lovely November, with lots of nice rides outside, the beginning of December has been a bit of a rude awakening. While we haven't gotten a bunch of snow dumped on us (that stuff is coming tomorrow, apparently) it has been cold. High 20s, or low 30s if we're lucky. I do not like the cold, and the cold does not like me. I know I will acclimate, but right now, all I can do is whine.

December has been a little hard on Sofie, too. On the last day of November, I cancelled my ride due Sofie being in a very weird mood (we longed and free-longed in the Big Field instead). Then on December 2nd, we went out to the barn early (got there at 9) so I could hopefully get a ride in before Sofie's date with Chiro Lady. The couple days off had obviously helped, as she was pretty agreeable, even though it was early and she had only been out for three hours or so. There was no snow at that point, and it wasn't bitterly cold, so we rode in the yard and had a great time for around 20 or so minutes. Sofie was forward and springy in her trot, and seemed quite happy. We had a couple short canters (up a small hill - that was fun - and right by the barn, which I probably shouldn't let her do) and then we were coming around a bend, heading away from the barn, when she got balky and gnarly. I drove her forward with my seat and legs, and then she got to the place where we normally canter, and cantered. Then she kicked out with one hind leg, broke into a trot, and acted like an unhappy beastie. I kept her trotting, then walked her and took her on a trail ride, which made her happy again. I was concerned by her kicking-out episode, but figured Chiro Lady would find and fix whatever was amiss.

Chiro Lady did a few minor adjustments, but said she was much better, and seemed to think she would be okay and that she wouldn't need any more chiro sessions. She also looked at the Wintec on Sofie's back, and thought it was a good fit. All of this was nice to hear, but I still didn't know why she had turned into a kicking beastie. So that was a little unsettling.

Most recently, there has been some bad attitude on Sofie's part, as indicated by the title of this post. I rode her outside in the few inches of fluff snow, and she started out pretty well. She had energy, and wanted to trot and even canter, but a few strides into the canter she kicked out once again, and her attitude while trotting was iffy...her ears went back occasionally instead of flicking around, and she resisted going in the direction I wanted to go. This was not working. Obviously, riding her outside made her want to canter, but something was bothering her due to the cold or some other factor, and I didn't want her to get in the habit of kicking out at the canter, then rewarding herself by breaking into the trot. It was too cold to ride outside, anyway...after a few minutes out in the mid 20s, with biting winds, and my hands beneath leather riding gloves were so cold they actually hurt. So we went back into the indoor, I warmed up my hands so I could actually give rein aids if I needed to, and then attempted to ride Sofie out of her baditude.

I was nervous. I didn't know what she would do, and I realized I had become afraid of her gnarly reactions, so I had been doing whatever I could to avoid provoking them. I felt myself starting to go into the fetal position a couple of times...cringing and letting my heels come up. No, that's not a good idea, I told myself, and nipped it in the bud. She wasn't doing all that much...balking a bit, twisting her head around and making nasty faces, a little tail swish here and there. Hardly a life threatening situation. But I was still afraid, maybe because of the "What if this behavior escalates, rather than extinguishing?" factor, or maybe just because I'm easily intimidated. It just doesn't feel good to ride a horse that's resisting and unhappy. I've always been concerned about hurting the horses I ride, and I would rather avoid confrontations with a horse. Sofie would rather be eating, and she has a lot of negative associations with being ridden. We both needed to work through our issues.

Sofie began to resist less and go forward more, but I had a flashback to her out-of-control rushing days, and tensed up. Why is she rushing? Is she really hurting now? "She's rushing," I told my mom.
"No, she's moving out," my mom corrected me.
"Really?" I asked, ever the skeptic. I have a bad habit of not believing my groundperson. In the past, I was even worse. I considered myself a horrible rider, but I always trusted my own (flawed) feel, not my groundperson.

At the end of the ride, I had gotten some nice transitions, and Miss Sofie had warmed to the idea of "forward", so much so that it took one whole circuit of the arena in sitting trot for her to finally listen and walk. Or maybe because she let me tell her to go forward, it was too much to ask for her to also listen to my "slow down" aids. I sat well, though, so yay for me.

After we went home, I worried for a while. I'm good at that. Was there a serious reason behind Sofie's baditude? Was I wrong to expect her to work in an arena? Was she bored? Was she one of those horses that "hate dressage"? (I don't really believe that horses just "hate dressage", BTW. If horses hate dressage, it's because their rider/trainer is presenting it wrong...forcing a frame, asking too much, or drilling boring circle exercises until the horse's mind is blown) Was I doing everything wrong? Or was it just a combination of adjusting to the cold weather, little aches and pains, lack of respect and past bad experiences being ridden? I guessed I would just have to wait and see if she got better or worse when I asserted myself a little bit.

We went back to Sofieland, and Sofie was longed, stretched, and groomed, her sore areas (pointed out by Sofie, who is never shy about communicating when she is even slightly uncomfortable) were massaged, and she was tacked up (we got the "SERIOUSLY? Not AGAIN" look) and we were ready to ride. I carried my dressage whip so I could reinforce my leg...she respects it, and it would serve as my little helper while I re-trained my horse. I hadn't used it in a long time, since she is so sensitive, but being sensitive is no good if she is also being a beastie.

It was a success. We had some gnarly moments, but it was nothing major, and I
barely asked her for the trot at all. Mostly she trotted if I shortened my reins, or thought about asking for the trot (it's crazy how sensitive this horse is when she's cooperative. Like, dressage-schoolmaster-sensitive). Once I was walking her, and I moved my lips a little (to make sure they hadn't frozen) and they made a tiny little noise. And she trotted. My mom asked, "Did you ask her?"
I said, "Um...no, but I made a noise."

She stayed on the rail better, her transitions were good, according to my mom, she was breaking at the poll, and I felt very confident in the saddle. It's amazing how much better I can ride in the Wintec. We are no longer unable to do nice trot-walk transitions due to her not being able to feel my seat, and me bouncing when I try to sit. We only did around 15 minutes, but we finished up with her being super relaxed.

I also realized that while it may be discouraging when she has baditude, in many respects she is much, much improved from when we got her. Like when I went to take off my coat and hang it up, I left Sofie standing loose by the mounting block (with my mom nearby). My mom said "Remember when she wouldn't stand, and was constantly spinning around the mounting block, and we had to throw you up there?" Yes, I do. I guess we are making a difference, slowly but surely, after all.

And since it is December and there is no more color left in the world (at least where I live), I present to you some photos I took late in November when there was a lovely, vibrant sunset. The colors were brighter in person, of course. They always are.




Monday, November 30, 2009

Sofie In Slow Motion


Sofie says: "Posing for pictures makes me sleeeeepy...."

On Saturday Sofie and I returned to the Big Field for more fun in the (almost peeking out from behind the clouds) sun. She was in a pretty good mood, cooperative and relaxed. She was not sure she wanted to be caught, but changed her mind when she walked up behind her half-Friesian friend Piper, who decided to kick at her (I swear, that horse kicks more than any horse I've ever seen in my life). Sofie immediately pivoted around to face me, as if to say "You can catch me now." Funny horse.

I warmed her up with a little free-longeing in the indoor arena. I decided to just carry a lead rope and see if I could get her to respond and maintain her gait without me running alongside her with a big whip. She did well...she was not an energizer bunny by any stretch of the imagination, but she mostly responded to my voice cues and maintained her slow trot pretty well, and it was fun to try something different.

She was great for the tacking up process, which makes me think she must be happy with her new-old saddle. Actually, she did something I don't think I've ever seen her do before. I put the Wintec on her back, and she cocked a back leg, dropped her hip, and totally relaxed. Hmm. Nice. She was eager for the bit, once again...she used to be really hard to bridle, throwing her head around like crazy, though she always accepted the bit once I actually was able to get it near her mouth. When I started riding her again post-hoof rehab, we figured out that she would open her mouth for the bit if we just held it below her lips. All her head-flinging was due to her not wanting to have her head handled (something she's pretty much overcome) and maybe also frustration and trying to communicate that she would rather not have a finger stuck in her mouth when she could just open it herself, thank you very much. Anyway, she really likes her bit, and the only time she flings her head now is when her stupid human (me) is too slow to present the bit. Or sometimes she flaps her lips with eagerness...

Out in the Big Field, she was happy, but a little hesitant. She trotted without any complaint, but she didn't move out like I know she can. It felt like she was saying "I like it out here, and I want to trot, but this is as fast as I can go." And that was fine. She was trotting willingly, maintaining her gait and her rhythm, why should I push her to go faster? I know she's capable of "forward", but she had done a lot the previous day, and she was a little sore. I'm actually happy to see her slowing down when she is sore, instead of getting all tense and racing around. So I did a little trot work, until she started to feel reluctant, and then I walked her around the Big Field and the Big Yard, just enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. By the end of the ride she was moving out nicely at the walk, and we had accomplished a lot of stretching (she will stretch down at the walk, but is still learning that she can relax at the trot and canter).

I was also happy with the way I handled things. In the past (as recently as a couple weeks ago) I have gotten very upset when I had a less-good ride after a good ride. I think I have finally figured out that good rides will not continue for all eternity, and that a good ride normally means that the horse uses muscles it doesn't normally use, or works for longer than it normally does, which will naturally result in some stiffness/soreness, hence the less-good rides following good rides. Not exactly rocket science, but the mental aspect of riding has often been my downfall.

Today will be my final ride in the Big Field. Yes, it's sad to see my lovely riding place reclaimed by the jerk geldings. But it also means that the mares will get to reclaim their larger area. Hooray for that.


A BRIEF MESSAGE FROM THE DAMN FREAKING WITHER EATING SADDLE:

Hey, it's me, the Fhoenix Soft Tree dressage saddle. Don't I look gorgeous? Meghan gave me a super special cleaning. It made me feel, like, totally special. She must really love me. Except I thought I heard her muttering something that sounded like "You will never torment my horse again, you damn freaking saddle." Which made me confused. But I'm sure I just misunderstood her. She would never say such a thing about me, because I am an amazing saddle. Everybody knows that.

Oh. Wait. Meghan just handed me a note. Apparently I'm supposed to tell you that I'm looking for a new home? Wait a minute. FOR SALE CHEAP?!!? WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN????

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Good girl, Sofie!

DISCLAIMER: If this post reads a bit disjointed and frazzled, it's because this writer is a bit disjointed and frazzled due to having come into town in a truck whose brakes failed while going down a hill. Fortunately, this writer's mom is a very good driver, and the traffic was very minimal. But still, I'm a bit shook up.

Yesterday I had a lovely ride...the best one in a while. We longed, stretched and warmed up Sofie, then I rode out to the Big Field that is normally occupied by mannerless jerk geldings, but is vacant at the moment. Sofie had been in there a couple times on the longeline, but this was my first time riding in the Big Field. It was very fun.

Sofie definitely has her preferences as to where she likes to be ridden. She does not like the outdoor arena at this barn. She was always crazier in there when her feet were messed up, and she was crankier in there when I put her back to work too abruptly after her hoof rehab and made her sore. Even when I just take her in there to cool down at a walk, she gets tense and is harder to steer for some reason. So I avoid going in there now. She likes indoor arenas okay, but she gets annoyed with them because they are too small and there's nothing to look at. She likes trails, except when there is Something In The Distance that I can't even see, but she can, and she stares at it to make sure it doesn't get us. But she loves Big Fields. At the first barn where I boarded her, there was a tiny little arena with terribly deep footing, and a Big Field. She liked the Big Field a lot, but I got scared because I gave her a leg aid when she was cantering, and she started hand galloping, and then I pulled back on both reins (which of course didn't slow her down) and it felt like she was running away. So after that I was nervous, and I wasted a lot of Big Field riding opportunities.

Yesterday she was wonderful in the Big Field. She trotted without complaint, maintained her gait, and was even reluctant to slow down (part of that was due to her being in her stall all day on Thanksgiving due to crappy weather and overly sympathetic barn help, but hey, I'll take it). We went all over the Big Field, and she wasn't spooky or nervous, and did well on the hills and slopes. The Wintec stayed put (which is more than I can say for my other, way more expensive saddle) and she didn't seem to have any problems with it.

She didn't offer to canter, but I was fine with that because I'd rather not have her overdo it. I was happy to just get some nice trot work from her. I rode around 40 minutes, and finished up with a lovely, soft, willing trot transition (on her bad side, too!), a bit of bending, and a transition back to walk.

To celebrate our good ride (and liven up this colorless post), here is a short video from a very good ride we had earlier this month, showing all three of Sofie's gaits.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Back In The Wintec Again

I got to ride again on Wednesday. Hooray! We discovered that the Wintec gullet gauge (a plastic thingy that you use to measure your horse's withers to see which gullet you should put in your saddle...the Wintecs are adjustable) is completely stupid and wrong, as Sofie measured out as a Medium according to the gullet gauge. And as far as her withers go, that's probably not too far off. She doesn't have terribly wide withers. But the saddle doesn't go on the withers. And Sofie may have Medium withers, but her shoulders are Extra Wide. We threw away the gullet gauge (well, not literally, but we stopped paying attention to it) and put in the Extra Wide gullet, which made the saddle sit more level (before, it was way high in front, which I now know to be a sign of a saddle that is too narrow), and it really helped alleviate some of the pressure on her shoulders. It's still not perfect, but it is a lot better, and she still has wither clearance, and the saddle stays put. So it appears that the Wintec will work until we can find a more ideal saddle for Sofie. I sent off some photos to Kitt Hazelton, a saddle fitter based in Vermont, who has an awesome blog...http://saddlefitter.blogspot.com. I have learned a lot about saddle fitting from this blog, so I am excited to see Sofie evaluated, as we don't have any good saddle fitters up here. We do have a woman who will stick a pressure-testing pad under your saddle and then try to sell you a $300"corrective" pad...been there, done that, it was a disaster, and I ain't goin' there again. But that's a story for another post.



Sofie says: "What's all this fuss about saddle fitting? Just don't ride me. THERE, problem solved."

My ride was pretty good. Sofie was obviously feeling better (and she doesn't have a parasite problem; the fecal came back negative) and I enjoyed a nice walk/trot ride. We were in the indoor due to rain (which cleared out as soon as I was DONE riding...) but there was a lesson going on, so Sofie had stuff to look at. She was stiff to the right (only did a bit of trotting on that side), and really wanted to fall in when tracking left (an ongoing issue for her...it helped when I remembered to hold my hands wide apart like you would with a green horse - which she basically is), but she was pretty good. It felt like I built some trust (I lost some faith in her after the bucking incident...I was bucked off a lesson horse years ago, which was a major trauma for me, and it took me years to become confident again), and she seemed to get happier as the ride went on. I was really happy with her. Even though she has aches and pains and stiffness, she still went forward and was responsive (unlike the other horse in the ring who has had tons of dressage training, but is so dull she needs to be kicked so hard it makes an audible "thud"). Yes, I have a good horse. Not a perfect horse, but a good one, and that's all I need.

Here's a short video of me riding Sofie in the Wintec. This was from the day she wasn't feeling so good.

video

Sofie's trim went well, except that Anne said she was a couple weeks overdue (barefoot trimmers want to trim horses before there is any significant growth, which is more natural for the horse. I knew that, but I didn't think there had been any significant growth. Ah well.). Sofie was less of an impatient little beastie than she usually is (it helped that we fed her hay snacks, and there were people wandering around for her to watch). Actually, towards the end of the trim she really relaxed and practically fell asleep.

And we didn't have to hold that beastly gelding, either, as another boarder who likes to help out with stuff like that volunteered to do it so we could get home. So that was great. We got "nice points" for volunteering, but we didn't have to get killed. Booyah.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another Before & After

Just sent an e-mail off to the manufacturer and US distributor of my wonderful wither-eating saddle (also known as the Damn Freaking Saddle). We'll see what they have to say...I'm hoping for a partial refund, as I really don't want to have to sell it to some other poor unsuspecting person.

I haven't ridden in five days. Sofie's been a little...off. She's been a little stressed by the mares being in a smaller area, and the geldings being close by (a temporary situation during hunting season...'cause it's not open season on mannerless jerk geldings, unfortunately), and she's been gassy (not normal for her) and a little uncomfortable-seeming. Stevie, one of the people involved in Sofie's rehab, did some work on her yesterday and said she was a little uncomfortable in her tummy (just what I want to hear...my mind immediately goes "OMG SLOW ONSET COLIC...wait is there such a thing? I dunno but I'm FREAKING OUT!") and recommended we put her on probiotics (great, another expensive supplement for my cheap horse...don't ever buy a cheap horse, guys!). Fortunately, the barn owner had some left over from her late mare, Penny, so we can put her on them and see if they make a difference. We also took a fecal to our neighbor to check for worms, since it's been abnormally warm and the mares are confined to a smaller area and Sofie's not necessarily smart enough to not eat near manure.

She's getting her feet trimmed today, and we'll see if Anne has any other suggestions/possible causes for uncomfy-ness. We're also bringing in and holding the other horse Anne trims at my barn (well, my mom is. He's a big mannerless JERK, and she's a bit more badass than I am when it comes to dealing with horses on the ground. Me, I'd rather be on their back when they're spazzing/being jerks than where I could possibly get stepped on/trampled).

Sometimes I think, geez, why did I get a horse that was obviously such a project? The rehab game can be frustrating, but I believe in Sofie, and I'm learning a lot. It would be a shame to not learn. Learning is way better than being able to ride with any kind of regularity.

So in honor of the never-ending rehab journey (say it with me: FUN!) I present Sofie's Before & After: Conformation Shots


This was actually taken when the woman who sold Sofie to me first got her. Just add obesity, cracked hooves, and possibly an even bigger bulging underneck muscle.


And this was taken in late October. The difference is pretty remarkable, I think.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spoke too soon...

So the lesson I was all excited about? Didn't happen. There were too many actual due-paying Pony Clubbers who wanted a lesson, and they couldn't schedule me in. Also, I would've had to pay a major fee due to the fandango being a "mounted meeting" and not a "clinic". Basically, the only difference is that at mounted meetings, non-members have to pay through the nose if they wanna join in. But it was just as well, because the lessons were group lessons, in a small arena, so the instructor was rather limited in what she could have the riders do. Also, the lessons were 1 1/2 hours. Sofie would've been bored out of her mind, and I wouldn't have even been able to ride in the entire lesson. Some other time.

The other un-good news is that my saddle has GOT to go. Last weekend I had two rides cut short due to it sliding forward and eating Sofie's withers and shoulders, which pissed her off to the point that she started bucking at the canter. I managed to not get bucked off, because when I fell forward, she stopped. That was very encouraging, since it was a perfect opportunity to get me off if she really wanted to, and obviously she didn't, she just had to communicate her discomfort. I walked her around and even backed her up before getting off, so she didn't get any ideas about being rewarded for bucking.

Then my mom got back, and we tried our damnedest to put that damn saddle in the right place, girthed it up tightly, and my mom put her on the longe line. Within two minutes of longeing, the saddle was eating her withers. And she was bucking at the canter, even without the weight of a rider. My mom took the saddle off, and no more bucking. DAMN FREAKING SADDLE. I am going to write a complaint to the manufacturer, because this saddle is definitely not living up to its promises.

Yesterday I finally got to ride again, as we took my trusty Wintec all-purpose saddle out to the barn. I don't know if it's going to work in the long-term, but she didn't buck at all, the saddle stayed where it was supposed to, and it seems to fit okay. I didn't enjoy the ride as much as I should have, because I was worried about Sofie bucking, and trying to get used to a different saddle, and a different stirrup length (because I can actually LENGTHEN MY STIRRUPS in the Wintec and still be able to RIDE, unlike in that OTHER SADDLE). Sofie did fantastically at the walk, and did well at the trot when she finally relaxed (she's been a little anxious ever since the mares were put in a smaller space and the geldings moved to the front field for hunting season...so they won't get shot, because *cough cough* it would REALLY be a shame to lose any of those FINE equine citizens). I was even able to do some nice trot-walk transitions. It seemed like she could feel my seat better in the Wintec. The canter was a little hairy...Sofie has decided she will only canter in two places in the yard, and is starting to anticipate canter transitions. I'm going to try working her in the back field, now vacated by the geldings, where hopefully she will listen a little better. I just have to remember not to worry, and reassure her when she gets anxious instead of getting annoyed with her.

Soon I will have video from two Sundays ago when she was absolutely brilliant...and possibly pictures/video of us in the Wintec. So stay tuned for more colorful posts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Warm Weekend, Big News

Early November '09 is being seriously good to me. No snow yet, and temperatures in the 40s and beyond. So I've been able to ride outside, and postpone the inevitable confinement to the indoor arena. Last weekend I rode three days in a row, which I've never done before. But I wasn't about to waste that nice weather!

After our iffy ride on Friday, I went out later on Saturday to watch a lesson, and decided to ride down the road. Sofie was dubious, but once I headed down the driveway she got happier. At first I was a little nervous (I don't normally do things like ride down the road on a "fresh" horse, but the day was warm, so I figured I would be all right) but I had a good ride and rode farther down the road than I ever had before. There was hardly any traffic (even though it was a Saturday afternoon) and the shoulder is nice and wide. However, Sofie would actually rather walk on the pavement than on the nice, wide shoulder. Especially when the shoulder narrows as we get closer to the barn, she tries to drift out onto the pavement. She has always had a pavement fixation, even when she had crap feet. Maybe she likes to hear the "clip-clop" noise as she walks? Damned if I know. But I do know that I prefer not to ride on pavement, since the potential for my horse slipping on the stuff is something I would rather not contend with. So I steer Miss Sofie away from the pavement, and she goes "Hmmph. You're no fun."

After we got back to the yard I wasn't quite ready to get off, so I asked her to trot. She balked and and protested a bit, but I kept my leg on and she trotted off. Then we got to the "scary corner" (there's always a scary corner in any remotely square or rectangular shaped riding area. The huge YARD where I ride Miss Sofie is no exception) and she stared at the trees, trotted faster and then broke into a canter. We cantered through the front yard, then I brought her back to a trot, made her bend in a couple different directions, stopped her, backed her up four steps and then got off.

Sunday's ride was excellent. The weather was absolutely perfecto, and we did more cantering than ever before. Sofie was NOT pleased at the idea of being ridden for the third time in a row, and was a bit of a butthead during the saddling and mounting up process, but once I got on and started riding her around she realized that she had lots of energy and was pretty happy to move out. After her initial "I don't WANNA trot, beyotch" reaction to my initial "Please trot" aid, she was excellent. We cantered several times tracking left, and she kept improving in her relaxation and responsiveness. Then I decided to try to canter her tracking right, as she was quite eager to canter that day. The right is her weak side, probably due to both of her right feet having abscesses in the past. And I've been using the magical, magnetic pull of the barn to encourage her to canter, and there's not quite as much of an inviting, open stretch of yard going towards the barn when we're tracking right. But we had success! The first time I attempted to ask, it didn't happen, but the next two times, she went into the canter with no tail-swishing, balking or any other resistance. And she took the correct lead both times! Hooray! She couldn't hold the canter very long on that side, and it felt a little weak/unbalanced, but I was incredibly pleased that she was willing to canter on her "bad" side, and is starting to take my direction instead of going "No way, beyotch, I'll canter on MY terms, not yours". She's been such a good girl lately.

Now for the BIG NEWS. I'm getting a lesson on Sofie this Saturday. With my all-time favorite trainer, the only trainer I would trust with my little messed-up-but-improving-all-the-time grade Paint mare. DUDE I CAN'T BELIEVE IT. OMG FREAKING OUT.

Let me explain. While I was leasing the little pinto pony gelding, Sue, my all-time favorite trainer in the universe, would occasionally come out to my trainer-at-the-time's barn to teach lessons. Sue can get on any horse, no matter how crappy or crazy or messed up it is, and make it look amazing. She doesn't do what a lot of trainers do, which is pull the horse's head in to make it look like it is "on the bit". She somehow creates a situation with her body and her aids where the horse reaches for the contact, starts using its hind end, and goes on the bit. For real. She can work with and improve any horse, and I've never seen her stress out a horse or push too hard. She works on your position and the way you ride (OMG, does that actually AFFECT your horse? WHO KNEW, right?) and actually explains things, instead of just telling you "Circle left. Now circle right. Pull his head in more, he's not on the bit enough!". She is incredible. But she very rarely teaches at my barn due to insurance requirements. Occasionally the local Pony Club has her out for their mounted meetings, and that is happening this Saturday. And I ran into one of the Pony Club setter-uppers this morning in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and I totally got in on the mounted meeting as a "guest".

I haven't had a lesson on Sofie EVER, and I am so excited for this opportunity. Of course, I am also nervous and imagining all kinds of disaster scenerios, since my mom will be out of town and Sofie might be a little nutty since there will be New Horses there, and there will also be people from Pony Club there that I....do not necessarily get along with. But I have to just make myself look forward to it, and not worry. It will be what it is, and I will make the most of it. I must be positive and visualize Sofie being at her best that day, and Sue loving her.

It will be a good experience.

I will not ruin it for myself with my incessently worrying nature.

Well...I will try.

Friday, November 6, 2009

SURPRISE! Your horse has terrible feet!

My first post-chiro ride on Sofie was a bit difficult. She was a little out of sorts (maybe the sternum adjustment brought on bad feet memories?) and I was a lot out of sorts, pretty much psyching myself out from the beginning. I would have done okay, but I left my breeches at home, and was forced to ride in sweatpants, which were slippery and made me very insecure (in an already slippery and not very supportive saddle). Remember my post where I talked about riding out in high winds? Well, yesterday it was about 50 times windier than that. The kind of wind that knocks you sideways when you're walking. Sofie was fine with that, of course, but I was way insecure in my seat and so I got tense and started taking up on Sofie's mouth a little, which she doesn't like. However, my mom said she was actually breaking at the poll and going on the bit a lot of the time (this is why I need a groundperson, as I always assume I'm riding terribly and ruining my horse). She got a workout, including some cantering, and I got her to back up three steps, softly and without resistance (she had been having issues with that). After I turned her out she got a drink and then walked back up to me so I could pet her. So obviously she doesn't hate me or anything, and I was forgiven my poor riding. I really need to chill. I used to be even worse than I am now, but I still get really upset when I make mistakes.

I think I'll take this opportunity to go back to early July of this year. I had moved Sofie to my barn of choice, and after going through some major herdbound anxiety, she was doing better. However, she was still rushing at the trot, breaking into the canter a lot and occasionally throwing in a crazy random tight turn. I was mostly riding her in the big outdoor "arena" (actually a square shaped field which is part of the mares' turnout area) and she was so nutty in there that I was afraid to ride her out in the yard, except at a walk. She did the best when I warmed her up in the indoor, then rode her to the outdoor where I did the majority of my work, and then I would cool her down in the yard. That may be why she prefers the yard now...or maybe it's just more interesting.

Some days were better than others, and we were making progress. But something just did not add up. Why was she so good at the walk, yet as soon as I brought her up to the trot she became mildly insane? I thought it was something from her past, or maybe I was setting her off with my nervousness. Or maybe she just liked to go fast? But she wasn't exactly a live wire in the field. She only galloped when the other horses did, and she would lie down more than what seemed normal. Now I look at pictures like the ones below, and I can see that she was in pain.

DSCF0060

DSCF0066

DSCF0069

It kind of hurts me to look at these pictures now. I'm just very, very thankful that I stumbled upon someone who could give me answers, and solutions.

Back in July, we met an equine massage/physical therapist/saddle fitter out at the barn, and had her look at Sofie. She found things wrong with her, of course (it's always wonderful to have an equine professional look over your horse and make you feel guilty for riding them), and she scrutinized her feet. "When was she last trimmed?" She asked, looking critical.
"A couple days ago," my mom said.
"Her toes look too long," said the equine massager/PT. Then she told us about a barefoot trimmer who took care of horsey feet with "the whole horse" in mind. We made an appointment for an evaluation, as we were into the natural hoof care idea, and we figured it couldn't hurt to have her evaluated in the interest of longterm soundness. We knew her feet weren't great, but we figured they were okay and that the examination wouldn't turn up anything major. Ha. Fools.

We met Anne, a little wirey grey-haired woman who looked like she weighed maybe 100 pounds soaking wet, and brought out our horse. Anne picked up one of her front feet and started making noises. Not good noises, either. She checked Sofie's feet with a special heat-testing thing. Then she called my mom over and asked her to feel Sofie's sole. Apparently it was such a pathetic, crappy excuse for a sole that it was actually somewhat pliable. Not good. Not good at all.

Anne's diagnosis was simple. "This horse has no sole." We knew she had flat feet, we knew they didn't look good, but Sofie had never been lame, never appeared footsore. But those terrible, awful feet were the clear reason for her rushing....she was trying to get off her feet. I thought guiltily of all the times I'd trotted and trotted and trotted and cantered and cantered and cantered her, pounding those poor, sorry feet, trying to get her to calm down. Who knew how long she'd had those feet. Did she have flat feet all her life, and wear down her sole during those ten mile trail rides her previous owner took her on? Had she been footsore for months? Years? I was overwhelmed. I thought, in that moment, that my horse was never, ever going to be right. But Anne had a plan.

I was to stop riding for a month, and handwalk Sofie for an hour every day I could get out to the barn. That would be her only exercise, other than wandering around during the day in her pasture. She would get grass and supplemental hay during the day, and two flakes of hay at night, plus a little Nutrena Quik and her supplements (joint supplement, vitamin supplement and PLEASE CALM DOWN ALREADY supplement). And we cast her feet. THAT was a very interesting process. There is an article about hoof casting that can probably explain it better than I can (as you might have surmised by my frequent use of the word "thing" or "thingy", my technical knowledge is lacking). Go to http://hoofrehab.com/hoofcast.htm.

What I remember most vividly about the hoof casting process was how Sofie went from taking off down the aisle, dragging my mom along with her and sending the expensive hoof casting gel stuff flying, to standing with her lead rope on the ground, letting Anne and her assistant pick up her feet, stick stuff on/in them, and giving us a glimpse of the Sofie we know and love today. Previously, we had thought she was not a candidate for ground tying (she had "issues" with standing still. Have I mentioned that before?), but ever since then, we have been dropping her lead rope, and she's been standing. Who knew? But Anne is an amazing horseperson. I have learned more from watching her work with my horse (and one of the *cough cough* mannerless JERK geldings at the barn) than I ever could if I watched a zillion Parelli tapes. She's awesome.

I think that's enough for this post. Coming soon: Adventures In Handwalking, and more on Sofie's Hoof Rehab Journey.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sofie Meets The Chiro Lady, and The Post-Purchase Exam

In our ongoing quest to pour more money into our little grade Paint mare, we made an appointment with a local vet who does chiropractic and acupuncture, as we were quite sure that Sofie still had some "issues" (who doesn't?). It was quite an experience, but it turned out to be a very good one.

We went out to the barn a little early to catch, groom and longe Miss Sofie. Then I grazed her on the lawn while we waited for the Chiro Lady. While we were waiting, a big stock trailer containing a mahogany bay Andalusian mare pulled up. Her owner had hauled her to the barn to have blood work done, because her overweight horse with a thick winter coat was sweating occasionally. "See? She's sweating a little right now," the overwrought woman said as her FAT, FUZZY mare stood in the BRIGHT SUNLIGHT. It was a real OMG DEAD HORSE WALKING DIG THE HOLE ALREADY moment, if you know what I mean.

Crazy Andalusian Owner liked Miss Sofie, however. She looked her over and said she was a nice little horse. So then I said, "Well, wanna trade?" No, I didn't really. That would be disloyal to my little grade Paint mare, who is way more interesting than a freaking gorgeous expensive Andalusian.

So Crazy Andalusian Owner took her pretty, pretty mare away, and I led Soapdish (that's one of her nicknames) into the barn so she could be made uncrooked (or de-crookedized? I like making up words). The Chiro Lady asked some questions (age, occupation, history, etc.) and then ran a capped pen all over Sofie, which she tolerated fairly well. She did not like it when Chiro Lady started messing with her head, and got popped in the face when she started throwing her head too close to Chiro Lady's face. "You can throw your head, but you can't throw it into my head. That's rude," said Chiro Lady.

Chiro Lady honed in on Sofie's worst areas, and the first area she worked on was the sternum. I knew she'd had girthiness issues when we first got her, but it turns out that the sternum is an acupressure point for hoof soreness. Sofie had a fit, dragging me around the aisle, biting at the Chiro Lady every chance she got, and generally violently protesting being messed with in that area. Chiro Lady eventually got it adjusted to her satisfaction and moved onto a specific part of Sofie's neck (C7, I believe...whatever that is). More violent biting-and-dragging-me-around reactions. It was way worse than her cranio sacral/myofascial release sessions...and she really, really doesn't care for those.

Then Miss Sofie had an epiphany ("Hey...that feels better now. Huh, maybe they aren't just torturing me for giggles...") and suddenly became calm, sweet and Sofielike again. Chiro Lady dragged her big stepbox over, and Sofie looked at it like "Huh, that's a weird mounting block type thingy. Oh well." Chiro Lady said, "She's not afraid of much, is she?" and climbed onto her big stepbox thingy. The rest of the adjustments were minor and Sofie stood relaxed with a hind leg cocked.

Chiro Lady was very nice, and extremely thorough. She manipulated Sofie's legs, bending them all sorts of ways that I didn't think horse legs could actually bend, did neck stretches and wiggled Sofie's butt around. Basically, we got a post-purchase exam thrown in with our chiro session.

Yes, we never did a pre-purchase on Sofie. She was cheap, we knew she was going to be a project (how much of a project, we had no idea, but hey, we learned a LOT), and in the end, we just didn't want her to fail a pre-purchase, because we really wanted her. In the end, I think that decision was right, despite all the expert opinions that say it's a terrible idea. We would never have bought her if we had known how bad her feet were, because we didn't know they could be fixed in a few short weeks. Sofie was meant to be my horse, and no hoof testers were gonna stand in the way of that.

Chiro Lady had nothing but good things to say about Miss Sofie. She said she was very flexible, her legs were in good shape with no damage from being pounded on pavement and hard ground for ten miles at a crack, and she had no back issues. She will probably need a couple more adjustments, but Chiro Lady said that whatever we are doing is working, and suggested stretching her shoulders and encouraging her to stretch down on a long rein under saddle (which we are already doing and will continue to do). Also, Chiro Lady was pleased with Sofie's weight. All good stuff.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In honor of Halloween...

...Sofie was surrounded by scary, strange things when I went out to ride on Sunday. When I went out to catch her, a pack of sugar-crazed little kids were shrieking and beating an apple tree with sticks. Sofie had her back turned to them and was clearly unconcerned. She even walked up to me and let me halter her without any reluctance.

Usually, no one else is out at the barn when we go to ride, as we tend to go during the hours when normal people who aren't trying to make a living with a sheep farm are in school or at work. This time, however, one of the other boarders came out about the same time we did to ride her BIG, black QH gelding named Bud. Bud is a very, very, VERY mellow western pleasure horse who does not consider himself to be a hot, studly stallion (unlike many of the other geldings at the barn) and Sofie is not a little tart of a mare, so there was no sexual tension between them. However, Sofie did get rather wide-eyed when Bud was led back into the aisle after his ten-minute ride. Either she was thinking "I got totally screwed on the Rider Lottery...I want to be HER horse!" or just "Holy CRAP, that horse is BIG!" Either way she got pretty high-headed, but I realized after the fact that the underside of her neck no longer bulges like some freakish steroid-using bodybuilder's biceps when she raises her head. I really should have gotten a picture of her former neck. Trust me, it was scary.

We got Miss Sofie tacked up, and I did my usual five minutes of wandering aimlessly around the indoor arena as Sofie fell asleep. Then I had my mom open the gate to the great outdoors, and rode out. The neighbor's kids were still whacked out on sugar (and getting louder and more violent by the minute), but Sofie wasn't worried about them. We trotted and cantered around for a while, and during the course of our ride, the scary things mounted up:

-The neighbor with the sugar-crazed kids fired up his tractor
-The neighbor across the street fired up his riding lawnmower
-A horse trailer pulled up, and a New Horse was unloaded (if you've ever boarded a horse, you know how crazy things can get when a New Horse shows up)
-The New Horse, a little POA mare, went out with the mares and proceeded to squeal at the geldings like a little tart, causing the geldings to act like idiots (even more than usual)
-The people who brought the New Horse laid out metal roofing materials so they could work on the barn roof

And this is why I love my horse. Even while all this craziness was going on, she was still doing everything I asked. I asked for the trot in different places (when she was still having her "I don't WANT to trot, dammit, how 'bout I bite you instead?" moments, I would always ask her to trot going toward the barn, which greatly reduced the aforementioned "bite me" reactions), I enjoyed a nice long canter through the front yard, and when she got momentarily worried about all the scary stuff, I got her to walk and then relax.

The only really sticky moment was when I made the mistake of trotting her a little too close to "the fray". She was trotting along just beautifully, and then she saw the horse trailer, which worried her. Then she saw the maurauding children, the guy on the tractor, the New Horse being fought over by the Stupid Geldings, AND a bunch of metal roofing materials laid out by the barn, with people standing by them. Too. Much. She got total sensory overload, all the scary things monopolized her attention, and we lost steering for a moment because she developed Brick Wall Neck and Concrete Mouth. I didn't blame her for being a little overwhelmed at that point; there were just too many scary things for her to lock onto anything and figure out that it was okay. We somehow got turned around, and then I guess I got her down to walk and we wandered around a little bit and relaxed again. I don't really remember the specifics because I was too busy trying to steer a horse that had an acute case of Brick Wall Neck and Concrete Mouth. But she was really very good. She didn't have a violent spooking reaction, or wheel around and bolt. And I got some confidence that I can handle her in weird situations.

I don't know of too many horses I've ridden that I would have trusted enough to ride them outside in the open on a day like that. She got an extra-long grazing session, and then got to go meet the New Horse and eat extra hay that was put out to make the introduction of the New Horse easier.

Next time I will hopefully write about Sofie's hoof rehab and all that good stuff. Wednesday is Sofie's first chiropractic appointment, which I'm looking forward to. Hopefully she will like it better than her cranio sacral/myofascial release sessions (yes, I have to write about that, too...).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Skipping Ahead!

Before I go on with the Saga of Sofie, I must skip ahead to the present because I have had some wonderful rides lately, and had a particularly excellent one yesterday. I also have some current photos of us riding around the barn owner's rather picturesque yard (probably the last good photos you will see for quite some time, as our confinement to the indoor arena is imminent...say it isn't so!).

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I know this picture is already on the sidebar, but I adore it, so I'm double-posting it. I'm allowed. A lot of work went into the making of this picture!

The last couple of months have been dedicated to slowly building Sofie's fitness and putting muscle where it belongs (on the whole topline, not the underside of the neck!). We fixed her feet back in July (more on that in the next post), and I was given the "all clear" to ride. "You can't ride her too much," my wonderful barefoot trimmer told me. Well...apparently I did ride her too much.

At first, everything was great. Sofie was thrilled with her new feet, I was thrilled with my new horse, and I had four or five marvelous rides of trotting and cantering all over the yard with its slopes and hills. I rode on our limited trails, and Sofie eagerly peered into the woods at every turn, and occasionally ran my knee into a tree while attempting to blaze a new trail.

Then Sofie turned cranky, and began to really resent being asked to go forward. Her ears were always back, and she would swing her head around like she wanted to bite me in the leg. I could get her to do stuff, but something was not right. There had to be a reason for my previously willing and enthusiastic horse to suddenly be resistant and bitchy. So I stopped riding her, and she went on the longeline to build some fitness without the weight of a rider. Gradually we realized that her topline pretty much sucked, and all that trotting and cantering on little hills had probably been too much for her atrophied muscles.

I started riding her again for ten or fifteen minutes, mainly at a walk. I began to figure out how to minimize the crabbiness (look up and plan ahead, give her something interesting to do, ask for the trot when you're riding toward the barn, not away from it, etc.). Lately I have had almost zero crabbiness, and she's been a lot of fun to ride. I think she's enjoying the rides, too, or at least the hand-grazing that happens afterward. She has almost no grass left in her pasture, so when I take her back and turn her out, she's been hanging out with me for a few minutes, like "Are you leaving already? But I was having fun!"

Yesterday I wasn't sure if I was going to ride outside. The wind was whipping like crazy, and someone was also target-practicing. Now, Sofie does not mind wind or gunfire, and she practically fell asleep after a few minutes in the indoor arena. I was getting major "I am so bored I could fall over and die" vibes from her, so I felt confident that she would not run away with me or spook violently or anything, and I took her outside. She never spooked as the wind blew crazily through the yard, and she didn't even care about the line of T-posts laid out to be put in the ground for snow fence. We did serpentines through the T-posts (a great visual aid for turning), had a lovely, long canter through the yard (at this point in the rehab process, Sofie decides if she wants to canter), trotted around a bunch and ended up riding for almost an hour. Our "long" rides have been around 40 minutes lately, so that was an improvement!

I was so happy with my horse, and with myself for being able to figure out how best to work with her without a trainer constantly instructing me. I have a fear of working on my own, without my mom around as a ground person, but lately I've been riding around without much input from her, so maybe I can eventually put that fear to rest.

And now....PICTURE TIME!

(Just walk pictures this time, as our camera was being too impossibly slow for my mom to take any trot or canter pictures. But Sofie has a nice walk.)

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Check out that reach! Pretty good for a little Paint mare! And what is that thing on the upper part of her neck? Could that be muscle? In the right place?

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I am an awful sloucher. Please forgive me. It's an ongoing problem. I fixed it earlier this year, but then I got distracted by my horse trying to bite me while I was riding.

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SOFIE! You blinked! And I look like a sick person (and I WAS sick that day...). Ah well, the fall colors are pretty.

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Me: Sofie. We are not going back to the barn right now. Please. Turn. This. Way.

Sofie: I might steer better if you weren't looking down at my neck. Just a thought.

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Her eye looks kind of demented in this one. Not sure why. Perhaps it's because I'm slouching terribly. How attractive. Nice scenery, though.

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Walking by the barn owner's house. Sofie is looking in the window to see how cute she is, and I'm looking to see what an ugly sloucher I am.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures! Next post will be all about the disasters that used to be Sofie's feet.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Early Days

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My new horse was delivered on a Thursday. I gave her a couple of days to settle in, and then I went out to ride. I was excited and anxious. I had no idea if she had ever been ridden in an arena, and I'd heard horror stories of people buying endurance or trail horses, attempting to ride them in indoor arenas, and being run away with. But she'd been turned out in the arena, and she wasn't really spooky. She was just...kind of insane.

We brought her into the barn and tied her in a stall so we could groom and saddle her. She found it very difficult to stand still, and constantly stared at everything. Not spooky, but very, very anxious. Sofie is a small mare, around 14.2 hands, but back then she carried her head very high, and when she tensed up, she got BIG. Somehow we got her saddled, and led her to the arena. She was "rarin' to go", but not in a good, enthusiastic way. I know now that she was anticipating pain, but I didn't know that at the time.

I was scared. I didn't want to have to deal with this horse on the ground, or get on her back and ride her. Based on her behavior that day, if she'd been a horse I'd been trying out, I would have said "no thanks". But I kind of had to get on and ride her, because she was my horse. So I did.

Ever seen how jockeys mount Thoroughbreds before a race? That's kind of how our early rides started. Sofie would take off at a fast trot as soon as I settled into the saddle. She wasn't bolting, bucking or doing anything horrendous, but she was anything but calm.

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She basically flew around that little arena, totally inverted and tense. As you can see by the picture below, her neck really wasn't all that bad. The muscling was all wrong, but her neck was actually pretty long and elegant on the rare occasions when she relaxed.

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Her walk was very good, even back then. I think this picture was from our second ride, and already she's reaching for the contact a bit at the walk. But there was a limit to what soft hands and good intentions could do. I had a lot to learn before I would be able to really help her.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

When The Search For A Horse...Ends

I had been looking for a long time. Probably eight years. It seemed like it was taking forever to find a horse that was sound and sane. Our horse-buying budget was low, but not impossibly low. Most of the horses we looked at were barely rideable, and the ones I felt comfortable riding were either out of our price range or lame in some way. There was a nice little mustang mare with a really comfortable trot, but she was way too green for a relative beginner who'd lost confidence after getting bucked off. There was a Thoroughbred who was a wonderful ride, but his ground manners were awful and his owners were spending thousands of dollars a year in vet bills to keep him sound.

So I kept taking lessons. Eventually, I found my way to a real dressage trainer's barn, and then found a truly amazing trainer to occasionally take lessons from. I leased a little paint pony for a couple of years, and learned a lot from him even though he was no dressage schoolmaster. I improved him to the point where he had a decent canter, would take the correct leads, and was starting to "get" lateral work. I offered to buy him repeatedly. I said "name your price", but he was not for sale. Other people were riding him, and I had no control over what happened to him. Then the horse market crashed. Horses were cheaper, and more were available. I decided I needed my own horse.

In February of 2009, I was looking through the horses for sale on a website a local barn owner had told me about. I found a picture of a grade Paint mare on a trail ride, standing in a lake. I couldn't really judge her conformation from the shot, but it didn't look like she was built any worse than the pony I'd been doing dressage with. She was eight years old, good on trails, traffic safe, and she crossed water, according to the ad. She was also $750. I figured she was worth looking at.

When I first laid eyes on Sofie, the horse we'd driven two hours to look at, one thought crossed my mind: This is not a dressage horse. I was not of the popular opinion that one must have a Warmblood to do dressage. But the horse I was looking at was obese, with a long back and short legs. Her neck tied in low to her chest, which was massive, giving her a front-heavy appearance. The muscling on the underside of her neck was incredibly over-developed. And her feet had long, overgrown toes and insubstantial heels. They had every kind of hoof crack known to man. "When was she last trimmed?" My mom asked.
"Last fall," the seller replied.

At least she was honest.

We asked the seller to ride her first, so I could see if she was insane, and evaluate her movement. I was expecting western pleasure-type gaits. So when she walked off, her degree of forwardness took me by surprise. "Her walk looks kind of weird. Is she okay?" I asked my mom. I was used to my little paint pony, whose walk was rather lethargic.

The seller moved her up to a trot. This little Paint horse with the opposite of the ideal conformation for dressage was tracking up! How is she doing that? The seller had trouble getting her to canter, but her canter was not flat, forehand-heavy or four-beat as expected. It was uphill! Now I was really intersted. So I put my saddle on over her rolls of fat (which you could literally pick up and play with) and test rode her. She was forward, sensitive and not spooky. I could sit her gaits. She would need training, for sure, but I wasn't looking for a schoolmaster or a show horse. Her feet were crappy, and that was a concern, so we researched and called farriers and sent pictures to farriers and researched and researched. We had to decide quickly, because all of a sudden lots of people were contacting the seller about the mare. We went out to see her again, and she was fun to ride again, and she looked like she had personality and the potential for a sweet disposition. She was too interesting to pass up. I had wanted a horse I could learn from and enjoy, and I got that in spades, though sometimes more learning than enjoying.