Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter Riding Pictures!

From two of our rides out in the snow last week, when we had much better weather. Any comments or critiques of my riding position or anything are welcome, as I am working without a trainer. I know Sofie is still getting a little inverted at times, but she's much better than she used to be, if you look back at some of my old pictures of her. And I was pleasantly surprised by my position...not horribly slouchy, and my shoulder-hip-heel alignment is actually perfect in many of the photos. Usually I hate the way I look in riding pictures, so it was nice to actually...not be hating on myself for once. Yay for simple pleasures, eh?

Walk Pictures (our specialty)











This was from the day I took a header into the snow. See how I was perching forward? Tsk, tsk. I love this shot, though, 'cause of the super cool snow glacier.

Also from that day. They always look so innocent before they decide to take off and dump you in the snow.

Is that a bit of evil eye I detect? Hmmm. Not so innocent after all.

Trot Pictures


This is my favorite picture. Nice trot from her, and I love my position in this one.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures! It was really good for both of us to get out of the small, unstimulating arena and out into the snow and sunshine. I feel very lucky to have such a nice, picturesque place to ride.

Also, thanks to my first 8 followers! Love the number 8.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Back On Track

Well, I'm happy to report that my first post-fall ride on Sofie went much better. We free-schooled her in the arena to let her burn off some of her crazy, eventer-wannabe energy, and I took her on the trail to warm her up. She was great on the trail, as usual, and trotted away from home quite happily. The snow was way melted, and there were even a couple puddles on the trail, and exposed grass in the yard.

When I left the trail, I rode her to one of the fairly "neutral zones" in the yard. By then I was giving myself a stomach ache from anxiety, but I asked her to trot and put her on a large circle. At first she was quite resistant, balking when heading away from the barn on the circle. With my mom instructing nearby, I made sure to sit up and have my weight in my heels, and drove her forward with my legs when she balked. It didn't take very much leg pressure (she is quite sensitive), all it took was persistance and not freaking out or going into the fetal position. So we circled for a bit, with me driving her forward and doing loud, slightly growly "HEY!" verbal corrections when she balked. Then she started speeding up on the part of the circle facing the barn, like "You want forward, beyotch? I'LL give you FORWARD!". So I had to half halt on the outside rein, like "Don't you DARE."

After a few minutes of this, she stopped being such a beastie and did her circles and "straight" lines without all that balking-then-speeding-up nonsense. I then walked her to the far end of the yard and trotted her along the "long side", and her trot was really, really nice, and she felt very happy and willing. So we transitioned to a walk, and I walked her to the mounting/dismounting area and got off.

I really felt like I'd been successful, and I could actually recognize that I'd done a good job (that's hard for me sometimes). I hadn't been mean, I hadn't done more than necessary, but I'd been effective. I think if I continue to be effective, Sofie will continue to respond, and our balky/kicking out/speeding up issues will be resolved.

Now it's freakin' COLD out again, so no more riding in the snow for a while, and possibly no riding for a bit, depending on how cold it is in the indoor, and how much the cold affects Sofie's muscles.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Paint Mare Thinks She's An OTTB

Last Friday's ride started out well and ended well. The middle part, however, got...interesting.

When we drove up to the barn, Sofie and the other mares were finishing up their hay in one of the paddocks near the parking area. I had brought the camera along, so I took a couple pictures of Sofie and her friends, then got her halter and went to catch her. When I slid open the door at the end of the arena and stepped out into the mare's run-in shed, I saw that Sofie had left her friends, walked partway to the shed, and was waiting for me to catch her. This from a horse who always used to walk away when she saw me coming (and once my mom had to tail her for an hour in order to catch her). She has been letting me walk up to her and catch her, but this was the first indication of her actually volunteering to be caught. So that was awfully nice.

The ride started out fine, except that I was having trouble with my position which had been so nice just two days before. I was collapsing forward and riding on my crotch in what I have lovingly termed "my faux-huntseat". Also, my legs were going a bit too far back, which I used to have a problem with in my wither-eating saddle with the set-back stirrup bars "which make the perfect position effortless". Nah, they just make your legs go way too far back, unless you ride with your stirrups at jumping length. Pffft.

Anyway, when I first transitioned back to my Wintec, my legs did go forward in accordance with the position of the stirrup bars. But since I've gotten used to the saddle again, I've been able to somehow have a near-perfect shoulder, hip and heel alignment without even thinking "legs back, legs back, legs back". Weird. So anyway, on this particular day, my alignment was off, maybe due to tiredness, as I wasn't particularly nervous (at least not at first).

My "faux-huntseat" back in April '09. WOW, was her neck ever short back then.

So I started trotting her away from the barn. All was fine. Then we got to The Place Where We Like To Canter. She veered towards the barn owner's house (and the barn) and started cantering. But it wasn't her typical nice, upright canter. It was more of a flat-out, gallopy canter. She wasn't spooking or bolting or being evil, she just wanted to go fast, apparently. She looked, in my mom's words "like an eventer who'd seen the first fence".

I pulled her down before we ended up going down a fairly steep slope (I did not want to find out how much faster she could go, k thanx). I was fairly unnerved by her mad acceleration skills, so I had kind of dropped contact on the inside rein, thus leaving a door open so she could continue to head for the barn. I had to pull her around with the other rein, which I hate doing, but it seemed like a better course of action than, well, a course of inaction.

Then I walked her around for a bit, told my mom about the gallopy canter incident, was told that I needed to let her move out since she obviously had too much energy, then decided to take her to the far corner of the yard and trot her there, hopefully walking through The Place Where We Like To Canter. Then I decided to just let her trot through The Place Where We Like To Canter, since she had a lot of energy, and I didn't want to have to hold her back, which can make her a bit annoyed. I should have taken her on the trail at that point, let her plow through snowdrifts, and then done more yard work. But instead, I proceeded.

She trotted maybe a few strides, then went into a gallopy canter. Then she kicked up with her hind legs. I went waaaaaay forward, and she stopped, and I lay on her neck for a second, wondering if I was going to lose my stirrups or not. Then I became a victim of gravity and went over her head, headfirst, and ended up on my back (or something...fuzzy on the details). I sat up and looked back at Sofie, we looked kind of startled, like "What are you doing down there?" I told her she was an idiot, got up, and led her back to where my mom was standing.

I was really upset, because 7 or 8 years ago I was bucked off by a school horse who had some lingering soundness issues from when he was leased by a girl who overjumped him. I gave up riding for a year, and it has taken me a long time to rebuild my confidence to any decent degree. So whenever I ride a horse that kicks out, or bounces around to any degree, it makes me very nervous. Getting bucked off my own horse was kind of my worst nightmare. But I got back on and took her on the trail, so I could avoid The Place Where We Like To Canter.

I walked her to the part of the trail with the best, most even footing, and then I asked for a trot. She showed no signs of pain or evil-ness, and though I could tell she wanted to canter again, she listened to my very light half-halts and stayed in a trot. She was perfect for the rest of the trail ride, and even halted when I asked her, something she used to be terrible at on the trail. I walked her to the front yard, and trotted her once at my mom's urging. She was fairly good, with only one little balky "grrr" reaction. I'd been riding for almost an hour by that point, so that was probably just her saying "Hey, I'm getting a little tired now, I don't really wanna trot right here, but okay, whatever." Then I rode her back to the dismounting area, being a little firmer with her than I usually am when she tried to veer or drift.

After analyzing the fall, I feel a little better about my horse. I don't think she wanted me off. I really don't. She can be argumentative, she can be resistant, and she is not the type to suffer in silence. She is also a high-energy horse, and she doesn't burn off her energy by galloping around the pasture. But the fact that she is letting me catch her - and meeting me halfway - indicates that she is starting to look forward to our rides. She has learned to stand quietly in the aisle for grooming and saddling, even when she has a lot of energy. She fooled me. I didn't think she needed to be longed that day. Longeing probably would've helped. I could have also taken her on the trail after that first gallopy incident. She's always calmer on the trail, and after she's been on the trail.

Also, her ultra-high-energy day coincided with my crappy-riding day. I doubt I would have come off if I had not been leaning forward. I'm sure I was leaning forward, because that was my tendancy that day anyway, and also because when she did her gallopy thing, it made me nervous. Nerves = fetal position. It's quite possible that I was clinging to her mouth, also, which could've made her kick out in frustration - "Hey, lemme go forward already!" All she really did was kick out. At first I thought she kicked out several times, but it happened awfully fast. Perhaps it was only once. She did not buck...her head never went down.

It could have also been a saddle problem. I know my saddle doesn't fit her perfectly, and when we reviewed the pictures from Wednesday and Friday, we noticed that the saddle was slightly farther forward on Friday. Perhaps my leaning forward and her increased shoulder action at the canter made the saddle uncomfortable. Or maybe she's not quite sound at the canter and was kicking up because something twinged. Who knows. I do know that I have got to stop leaning forward. My last two falls have happened because I leaned forward. Also, I need to stop letting her canter in The Place Where We Like To Canter. If she has that much energy, she can canter in other places. I need to get her to listen to me when I tell her to speed up or slow down. And I need to not be afraid of her resistant reactions. That's going to be the hardest thing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Energizer Sofie

We're still having gorgeous weather up here. The weatherman says that winter is coming back next week, but I REFUSE TO BELIEVE HIM. HE IS WRONG, THE MAN IS WRONG.

On Tuesday, we went out just to do groundwork and a little grooming, since the weather was supposed to be better on Wednesday. We free-schooled her in the arena and she was an absolute maniac, galloping (well, more like hand galloping), snaking her head, doing crazy spins and bucking. Apparently she is getting in shape, I thought. What have I done? We worked her until she stopped acting like she wanted to trample/eat us, then groomed her a little. She was kind of surly and a little sore (gee, I wonder why?), but when I turned her back out she just kind of stood there, mindblown, like "That's IT? We're not going to go play in the snow?" So I scratched and petted her for a bit before she decided to finally walk off.

The next day Sofie was willing to be caught, and pretty cheerful about it. She was very calm standing in the aisle, so we didn't longe or free school or anything, figuring I could have a longer ride if we didn't "take the edge off". We lowered the bit one hole since she had been chewing on the bit lately (like, you could hear her teeth making contact with the bit) and it seemed to be a little high in her mouth (perhaps because her head is fuzzier than it used to be...we've had to let her halter out two holes since winter hit). Sofie doesn't like the bit too low in her mouth, but this adjustment seems to be "just right" for Miss Fuzzy Head.

Out into the snow we went. We walked around for a bit, and my mom took pictures (I'll be posting those in the next couple weeks, most likely). Then she said "Ask her to trot away from the barn."
I was reluctant to do so at first, because I didn't have my whip, but then I thought, sure, why not? And she trotted happily, without balking or being pissy! And then she cantered. Away from the barn. I was a bit unnerved by the change in pace, but then I realized that it was actually a very good thing, and that she hadn't kicked out or anything. So I decided to walk her to The Place Where We Like To Canter, have her trot, and see what happened.

We trotted a few strides, and I could feel her starting to think about cantering, so I sat the trot (rather badly, but she was undeterred), and she broke into a canter. The snow was pretty deep, so her canter was HUGE. Her gaits are so magnified in the snow, it feels like I'm riding a Warmblood instead of a little Paint horse. Her canter, especially, was AWESOME. And it was surprisingly easy to sit, so her back must have been up, too. So we just had mad fun cantering through the snow, and I brought her back to a trot before we turned toward the barn. I think we walked a bit after that, then I asked her to trot away from the barn. She did it, but she was incredibly wiggly, drifting left, right, left, right. She really does not "get" straightness, especially away from the barn. Ah well.

Then she decided to canter, which would've turned out very well except that I let my outside rein get loose, so she started drifting left. I tried to keep her turning right, but the outside "door" was wide open, and Sofie is built like a cutting horse. So she made a neat little ten meter turn (on a hill) and ended up facing the barn again. So I brought her down to a trot to maintain some semblance of control. I really need to have a solid outside rein at all times with her, because it's easy for her to turn whatever way she wants if I leave a "door" open.

By then she was getting a little hyper, and she was a little anxious about leaving the barn area for whatever reason, so I decided that instead of doing more yard work (and probably getting her more hyped up), I would take her on the trail and get her to relax. I also figured that if she had that much energy, we might as well plow through snowdrifts. At first she was a little nervous, but soon she relaxed and we had a nice trail ride. We did a little trotting on the trail, and went all the way to the end. The snow was only really deep in a few places.

Coming back from the trail, we went down the one "long side" of the yard, tracking left. She has been bulging into my left leg less and less, and she did beautifully this time. She wasn't trying to turn toward the barn prematurely, she just went straight down the "long side". I was really happy with this.

I decided to check in with my mom in the front yard, so I halted Sofie. My mom came up, still holding the dressage whip (which I, uh, hadn't needed). We were just talking and petting Sofie, who was standing relaxed. Then, apparently for no reason, she jerked her head away from my mom like she'd smacked her on the nose. Whenever my mom made a move to pet her, she jerked away again and stared at her distrustfully. Suddenly I realized that Sofie could see her reflection in the shiny, silver cap on the whip. She was just standing there, half asleep, when all of a sudden she looked at the dressage whip and went "OMG THERE'S A HORSE IN THAT WHIP!" I about died laughing, and my mom took the whip away and we petted Sofie (thereby rewarding her for spooking and confirming her fears...brilliant idea, I know).

Finally I walked her back to the mounting/dismounting place, doing some turns and circles on the way. I ended up riding 45 minutes, and I was happy to quit then since she had cantered willingly, without kicking out, AND gone down the long side without going "Are we turning now? Now? How about now?" She barely even got sweaty. When she's feeling good, she is the Energizer Sofie...she can go all day long, and fast.

She had not forgotten the horse-trapped-in-dressage-whip incident...when my mom came through the barn door with the whip, she stared at her, like "Don't you come near me with that thing." This is unfortunate, because my other dressage whip is not as long or nice as the horse-eating one. I don't usually need a whip, but I do occasionally. So I guess I'll have to put some duct tape on this one, or something. That's always an elegant look.

The only downer of Wednesday was that I discovered my left riding boot is splitting. I am very attached to my boots; they were my first pair of "real" riding boots (previously, I wore paddock-boot-looking shoes from the thrift store, or rubber riding boots). They are synthetic, so they don't need to be mollycoddled (cleaned), they were only 70 bucks, they fit great, and they looked really good. As of now, the split is a superficial wound, but my mom thinks that they are not long for this world. I am more optimistic (in denial).

I'm going back out today to hopefully have another great ride. Full report coming soon to this blog!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sofie's Winter Fun Day

Sunday was awesome. I had so much fun, and Sofie did, too. Our "reprieve from winter" weather was still happening, and Sofie was nice and agreeable when I went to catch her. She didn't run up to me or anything (she's never done that except for once when she was new at the barn and the other two mares were shunning her, and even then she didn't run, she walked) but she sniffed me and let me pet her and then put the halter on, after which I petted her some more to reinforce that being caught is GOOD.

While we were grooming her in the aisle, some people came to throw bales down from the hay loft for the barn owner. No problem, since we weren't planning on using the arena on such a lovely day, anyway. We brought Sofie up to where she could see what was going on, and continued brushing her and getting her ready. I really appreciated her reaction (or non-reaction, really) to all this commotion. Footsteps coming from the hayloft. Bales being thrown down and making huge banging noises, then falling, seemingly out of the sky, onto a blue tarp. Then they were brought past her on a wheelbarrow. Many horses (like the pony I used to lease) would have freaked out. But Sofie merely watched, intensely interested. Occasionally she would streeeeeeeeeeetch her neck out as the hay went by her, hoping to grab a bite (or a bale) for herself. Everyone thought she was quite adorable, of course.

We got her ready, and went out into the yard. After establishing that we do NOT just turn around and go back to the barn, even though that DOES seem like a good idea since we always end up back there anyway, so why not speed things up a wee bit, we went around the yard, working on our little training issues, like Get Off My Left Leg, and Don't Counterbend To The Right While You're At It, and Can We Please Go Straight? She did much better (except for going straight...we can do a nice circle, but when we try to go straight, we do a micro-serpentine), and I was actually able to give her a long rein part of the time without her wheeling around and trying to go back to the barn, or completely meandering. We still have a tendancy to drift to the left, and we still counterbend when we try to correct that, but not as much as before. Progress.

Then we worked on our other training issue (Yes, We Really Can Trot Away From The Barn, And We Will). I trotted her toward the barn in the front yard, where the snow is shallower, then transitioned to the walk, and while she was still thinking about trotting, I turned her away from the barn and asked her to trot. Her transition was great, then in a few strides she figured out that we were going in the wrong direction, and balked a bit. I tapped her with My Little Friend (the dressage whip), and she trotted on after a little hesitation. I will continue to work on this, and sooner or later we should be able to go both ways equally well.

I did a little more trotting in the yard, and then headed out on the trail, since the snow looked like it had melted a bit. The first 20 feet or so were a little deep, but then it got shallower. As soon as I got to a relatively level place, I asked for a trot, and we trotted happily for a bit, then walked as we hit a drift, then trotted again. I didn't get as far on the trail as I would've liked, because a seriously deep drift came out of nowhere, and she struggled a bit to get through it. I could see more things that looked suspiciously like drifts up ahead, so I turned her around. I got a good ways down the trail, though, and any trail riding is better than nothin'. One of the things I like about Sofie is that even on the way home, she is still looking for more trails to go on. She'll look off into the woods, like "I could fit through there." And I'll steer her away, like "Not without breaking my knees, Sofie."

When we reached the yard, she broke into a trot all on her own. I brought her back to a walk and checked with my mom to see whether she had visibly strained herself going through Monster Drift, then decided to walk her back to the front yard since I'd ridden 40 minutes already. But then we reached the Scary Corner. It is not scary in winter, apparently, but it DOES signal to Sofie that we are about to reach The Place Where We Go Fast. Apparently I cantered her in that place a few too many times, because Sofernutter decided she was going to get to the front yard a little faster, and broke into a BIG trot (the snow was pretty deep there, so she had to POWER through it). I was rather surprised at her sudden burst of energy, since she had been perfectly willing to walk through the snow unless told otherwise. But the BIG trot was getting bigger, and I could tell she was thinking "Wheeeeee! Let's canter!"

I decided it was a good idea to pull her down, since I had not asked for a trot (and I definitely had not asked for a canter) and she was supposed to be cooling down at that point, anyway. So I pulled her down with a wee bit o' difficulty, and we walked to the front yard. She was certainly not tired, but we felt she had worked sufficiently hard, so I dismounted and took her into the barn where she got her tack taken off and her lavender cooler put on (she was quite sweaty because it was like 40 degrees outside, and also because she insisted on charging through the snow like a nutty thing). I walked her cool in the arena, and she admired the new pile of loose hay and broken bales, which I let her take a bite from occasionally. Then she got to go back outside in the sun with her friends.

I was very happy that she had such a good time, and that she was obviously feeling better. These "snow workouts" have been so good for her mind and body. She gets so bored in the arena, and poles on the ground don't have the same effect as snow (actually, she hates poles). I'm feeling optimistic about the coming spring, summer and fall. I plan to do a lot of trail riding, which is what she really enjoys the most. I think that will help keep her fresh and willing to humor me when I want to work on transitions, figures, lateral work and all that crazy dressage stuff (some of which we can also do on the trail). I just need to make sure I can consistently stop her, and conquer my irrational fear of riding on pavement, and we'll be all set. To celebrate our day of winter fun and progress, here's a video from back in October showing some of our canter work.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Reprieve From Winter

Yes, we still have snow. But our "January thaw" is officially happening, and Sofie and I are very grateful for that. She was getting stiff and sore from the cold weather, she was bored, bored, bored with the indoor arena, and I was getting way too irritated by small things, like the horses being kept in when the weather wasn't truly horrible, and worried about Sofie's longterm soundness. After all, she was "used and abused" for quite some time before I got her and put her on a sensible conditioning program, fixed her feet, worked on her body and gave her a joint supplement. We seriously needed a break from winter.

And we got one. This week has been lovely, with temps in the low to high thirties. It was sunny and beautiful, and warmer outside than in the arena. So we ventured out into the snow. It was deeper than it was back in December (duh), but not too deep for Sofernutter. The first day out we just walked, since she had been having issues with stiffness and "off-ness". When we went out again, she was a bit "touchy" while being groomed and saddled, but she seemed better than she had been. So we went out again and had more fun in the sun (and snow). We worked on bending and not falling in while tracking left (which we'd been having major problems with in the indoor). I trotted her a bit, too, and she felt much better and more forward than she had been feeling. She was willing to trot towards the barn, but when I asked her to trot away from the barn, I got balking and kicking nonsense. I know this is a training issue since she will trot away from the barn on the trail...she is just used to me asking her to trot towards the barn in the yard. Well, no more. Today I'm riding with the dressage whip so I can reinforce my aids. I know we can work through this, I just have to be strong and not get nervous, as I am apt to do when my horse starts bouncing around underneath me.

Thanks for the compliments on Sofie's feet in the last post. I'm seriously proud of the progress they have made!

Will write a longer post when the time presents itself. Right now, I'm off to the barn!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sofie's Hoof Rehab: The After Photos

I had a nice little post written, but my stupid evil library computer froze, and Blogger didn't save my post. And now I am out of time. So these photos will have to do. They were taken later in November, after a trim. I thought it was a good time to post them since I have hooves on the brain (Sofie was recently trimmed, and Anne, her barefoot trimmer, showed her hoof to the owner of a hoof-challenged horse and proclaimed that "This is what we want for YOUR horse's feet!"). I honestly never thought she would be a hoof model since her hooves were so bad when we got her (and we didn't even know the full extent of their badness). So I'm quite happy about that. I just hope we can fix all her other "issues", too.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy 2010 from Sofie

Cuteness. I should always take the camera to the barn; I kept trying to take pictures of her crabby faces and as soon as I whipped out the camera she gave me cuteness instead.

In 2010 Sofie hopes to be able to eat more and work less. She can't wait for the snow to melt and the grass to start growing again, and for it to be warmer, which helps with her assorted "issues".

In 2010 I hope to be able to get to the bottom of the aforementioned "issues" and build Sofie's fitness. I have a rather lofty goal (for us) of hauling Sofie to a big arena with mirrors for a lesson with a really good dressage trainer. It's a short haul (under ten miles) but we need to have all our ducks in a row before we spend that kind of money (the lesson would cost $55, plus renting the arena for $10/hour, plus paying someone to haul Sofie in their trailer). I was just going to beg and plead said dressage trainer to come to Sofie's barn to teach us, but I kind of like the idea of being able to ride her in a huge arena while we're still stuck in our little indoor (because of snow, or mud). We'll see what happens. Like I said, we've gotta get our "stuff" together first.

Like, we need to find a saddle that fits this back:

Because while this back is exceptionally comfortable to sit on without a saddle (I could barely even feel her spine) if I ride faster than a walk bareback, I bounce all over Sofie's back, and she gets really annoyed. So even though she pulls a face whenever I walk a saddle out of the tack room, she is clearly a fan of technology when it comes time to actually mount up and go for a ride.

We did have one excellent ride in the arena last week (she never once got crabby, and we even did a trot serpentine) but as of yesterday she was a bit "off" tracking right (though she showed a distinct preference for tracking right). So we'll try to figure out what's going on with her and fix it. We've done it before.