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 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 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 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:

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:

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)


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, ", 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.