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.

1 comment:

  1. From personal experience with horses kicking out at the canter and bad saddle fit: It may be since you rode in your old saddle and it was hurting her when she cantered she is still anticipating it. I had this one mare I was riding that would kick out at the canter. The saddle clearly did not fit and she needed different rigging on it so when we switched to a new saddle she didn't kick out the first time. The second time she did, the third and fourth time she did. After that she realized "hey this thing does not hurt me anymore" and nipped it in the bud. It may also be a sore spot in the muscle that the old saddle created that the wintec may be irritating. I seen that a lot when I did equine massage therapy, old saddle sore spots that were not apparent to the untrained hand/eye.