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.


  1. Excellent post. Thanks for writing it. I really appreciated your very detailed description of this ride. As a rider who is dealing with anxieties myself, it seems I never get tired of hearing what other people have to say about rider-confidence issues.

    ~ Julia

  2. I'm glad you got something out of it. Yay, I helped! I was actually feeling really insecure and thinking that my detailed ride descriptions were going to bore everyone to death. Glad this wasn't the case for you!