Saturday, May 29, 2010

Small Steps Forward


After our lousy ride last Sunday and the dog-bursting-out-of-the-underbrush incident, I was concerned that Sofie would become unmanageable in the yard, particularly right by the neighbor's yard. I had fears that The Place Where We Like To Canter (which had just recently become a place where we could walk or trot nicely in a straight line) would become The Place Where The Dog Burst Through The Underbrush, which would create a whole new training issue, when we had just conquered our old one. And I had other fears, like "What if our training, which seemed to be going so well, is just teaching Sofie that she needs to step up her evasions?" I stayed away from the barn for two days because of excessive heat, and then we returned on Wednesday. The first thing I did was hand the Sofa over to my mom, who took her out in the yard to longe the silliness out of her. We had been free schooling in the indoor to minimize stress on her joints, but obviously if the Sofa has two days off, the Sofa needs to be longed, especially since the Sofa tends to be lazy in the indoor when it's hot.

Sofie didn't seem to be afraid of The Place Where The Dog Burst Through The Underbrush, but she did have about 500 % more energy than she knew what to do with. So she cantered and cantered and kicked out and was nutty for a while, but she didn't attempt to bolt for home (and she was just wearing a halter). With the edge taken off, I took the Sofa in and got her ready to ride.

I rode mostly in the indoor, because occasionally we need to do a "focus ride" and I felt that we especially needed one on this particular day. Sofie seemed to be in a weird mood, and I think I was anticipating badness from her, and so I reacted too much to her minor weirdness at the trot and read waaaaay too much into everything (I even thought she was incredibly inverted, and my mom said she really wasn't). So neither one of us were totally happy, but nothing bad happened and eventually I rode her out into the yard. My goal was just to walk past The Place Where The Dog Burst Through The Underbrush and we accomplished that with no issues at all, on a longish rein. After that I worked a little bit on our ongoing barn sourness issue by trotting her a few steps away from the barn. She wanted to do her signature tight spinny turn back to the barn so I had to use a strong inside rein on her for a moment, but I released her when I got her straightened out and she softened. Then I tried it again and she was better, so we quit for the day.

The next day I returned to the barn and found the Sofa besieged by bugs. Bad, bad bugs that were making her bite at her sides and paw at her face (and yet they failed to make her actually move from her grazing spot, of course). The mom longed her again, and she had less excessive energy than the previous day.

I rode her mostly outside, even though the bugs were bad. She seemed like she might be a little ouchy in her hocks (maybe because she was, um, a maniac on the longeline?) and she did NOT like the bugs, so we dealt with some barn sourness and some baditude. There were times when she was quite good, lovely even, and times when she was pretty bad. But I got her through the times when she wanted to just go back to the barn and be done with it, and we went almost all the way down the trail, trotting on the best footing, and on the way back I trotted her a few strides and she didn't rush. I also rode her partway down the road, and she was quite good, except that at first she kept looking for things to spook at (I just went "Do. Not. Do. That!") and she got fidgety after we passed the first driveway and we hit footing she doesn't like (sand mixed with gravel. I have no idea why she would take issue at that footing. She has rock crunchers for feet now. And she goes out of her way to try to walk on pavement. Nutty horse.) but I kept her going for a bit and then turned her around.

We have NO issues with The Place Where The Dog Burst Through The Underbrush, apparently...she was actually better behaved there than any other place! She did a couple lovely trots through there, relaxed with her head down, reaching for the bit, staying in a nice tempo.

We finished up in the indoor, where after some initial resistance she trotted willingly in both directions, responding to just a touch of my leg. She also did some beautiful halts (that "stopping the motion of my back" thing I learned in my lesson with Sue has worked SO well with the Sofa, better than anything else I've tried. Yay!). When I got off her she was very sweet, and I was reminded of why I put up with her. She's incredibly opinionated, she never hides her feelings, she's sensitive and intelligent and forward and sometimes she uses her powers for evil, not for good. But she's a sweet, personable horse, she's beautiful, and she has so much personality. There's never a dull moment with her, and it's impossible to be bored. And even though she's not always a "sunshine and kittens and rainbows" type horse, I love how she tries for me even when she has ouchy hocks and bad bugs bothering her.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Great Lesson, Crappy Ride

I arrived at my former instructor's place at around 10 AM on 5/23 to get my borrowed horse ready for my lesson at 10:30. I had decided to ride Charlie, a 16 hand Quarter Horse-something or other cross gelding. I had only ridden him twice before, and it had been over a year since I'd last ridden him, so I figured it would be interesting to ride him again. He was cooperative, and I took the flash noseband off his bridle when I couldn't figure out how to adjust it (well, I've never used a flash) and he kept looking at me as I fiddled with it like "Please, no". I figured he probably didn't need his mouth strapped shut, and if he was absolutely horrible without the flash, I could always have Sue put it on.

Charlie started out sluggish, and I had left my dressage whip (the nice, long one with the shiny silver cap that I don't get to use on Sofie hardly ever) on the mounting block. Sue had me let go with my legs and seat, stop driving and just keep everything very loose and "allowing". Charlie responded with a power walk! It didn't last, of course, so Sue introduced me to an aid she learned over the winter from another local trainer (the guy I wanted to ride with, but he's too expensive and will only go to certain barns). It's kind of a lifting, upward squeeze with your legs, and an upward push with your seat. It was effective as a "reminder" for Charlie to keep the tempo energetic, along with the loose, relaxed seat and leg to keep him happy and moving freely forward.

As far as my position went, she actually did not say anything like "Wow, I can tell you've been riding on your own for a long time!". My position only needed a few minor adjustments, happily enough. She reminded me to distribute my weight on all three points of my seat (I tend to ride a little too far back on my "pockets", apparently) and told me I needed to steady my core a bit, because apparently my back was moving a bit too much, and if I steady it, I have more power and more ability to half halt. That was haaaaaard. Core strength is not really my thing, but steadying my core did help a lot with speed control, and I think it will really help me regulate my posting, which helps regulate my horse as well.

Then we worked on suppling, and Sue told me that I need to look ahead and plan my turns, and look with intention (which I knew I needed to work on) but that I also need to make sure that my horse's eyes are looking where I look. Which really makes sense, because many times I've looked ahead, intending to make a turn, and Sofie has been looking some other direction. So I worked on looking ahead and getting Charlie flexed to match where my eyes were, which was tricky because I like to be really, really passive with my hands (unless I'm on a bolting, bucking or otherwise disobedient horse). Sue said something like "You have nice, soft hands, but I want you to use them a little more!" Yep, trying here, Sue! She also hand me use inside leg in time with the inside hind coming forward to engage that leg and prevent falling in, and outside thigh to turn the horse.

So for a while longer we worked on bending and straight lines with all that in mind. Look with intention, flex the horse to the inside, inside leg, outside thigh, keep your core steady, keep the tempo...yeah, lots of stuff. I love dressage, though, it's so cool when you get that connection. Charlie was a very good boy (even though he decided he was done after 45 minutes and I required a whip to get him going again at more than a crawl) and I was relieved that Sue has not been corrupted by the vast majority of dressage people who pull their horses' heads in all the time. I got to have my awesome floaty reins, which I hardly ever used. I really lucked out with nice, breezy weather (it is so horribly hot here this week!), and both Sue and my former instructor thought I looked good, especially for having been without a trainer all this time. And I may be able to get weekly lessons with Sue, which would be invaluable.

Later that day, we went to the barn to see Sofa. The weather sucked, it was hot and nasty, and I wouldn't have even gone to the barn if I could've avoided it but Sofie hadn't been worked for two days, so we needed to do something with her. She walked right up to me as soon as she saw me, and she was moving great and didn't seem too energetic, just a little inverted. So we saddled her up, and I took her out to the yard. She started out nicely enough, but was a little inverted and looky on the trail, and a little rushy at the trot. Back in the yard, things started to fall apart. Big time. She was looking at the neighbor's yard and generally being inattentive and silly. As we turned toward the barn, she decided she wanted to canter, then decided to bounce around and be pissed off because I had a little too much contact on the reins. I wrestled her back to a walk and continued on to the barn, when she heard some little insignificant banging type noise that normally would be less than insignificant to her, but on this particular night she spooked and bolted at it. I managed to not panic and cling to the reins, and I let them forward and brought her back with my seat. But after that she was just impossible, especially when she saw the other horses coming in, and her friend Piper being hand-grazed in the yard.

Then later, when I was handwalking her after her bath, one of the neighbor's dogs saw her walking past, and it turned out he was loose because his owner didn't think anyone was doing anything in Judy's yard anymore, so the dog burst through the hedge and I had to let Sofie go because I knew there would be no stopping her. The dog chased her for a bit, then went back to his yard after I yelled at him. Sofie thankfully did not step on her lead rope or slide/fall on the concrete aisle when she ducked into the barn. But it was the perfect end to a horribly sucky time with my horse. I know I handled it the best I could, what with me being tired/hungry and Sofie having too much energy/thinking she needed to go in for the night. But it reeeeeally sucked, and I'm trying not to worry too much about any potential training issues that might come out of this, and I'm really trying not to take it personally, because it's really not personal. But it feels that way.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


As the title indicates, I've been enjoying some good progress with the Sofa. She seems to be coping well with her arthritic, probably fusing hocks and the nasty summer heat we're having hasn't slowed her down in the least. And today I FINALLY got to have a lesson with my all-time favorite trainer...not on Sofie, unfortunately, but I had lots of fun and learned several things that I think I can apply to my work with Sofie. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

5/14 My first day working on Sofie with my mom gone on her trip. Grooming and tacking up goes well, even with lots of distraction - another horse coming in and out, a lady showing up to do a saddle fitting, and Judy's shavings trailer arriving. Sofie handles it well and stays ground-tied for the most part. I start out my ride in the indoor and Sofie doesn't quite feel 100%. But we get our warm-up done and then go outside since the Sofa is bored, bored, bored going around in circles. Outside, she has one of those days where she wants to do her own thing and she doesn't want to listen. She drifts in toward her much-loved barn and the right side of her mouth feels like concrete. She spends much of the ride with her head counterbent to the right as I try to soften her mouth. She is not thrilled with this turn of events but fails to "act out". She does become rather barn sour, and tries out balking, but she's not very good at it, so all she does is shorten her stride and invert. I quit when I get a few straight steps heading away from the barn and feel good about how I didn't lose my patience or dissolve into my old mental standby - "I must be ruining my horse, she hates me, I'm a horrible rider, I don't deserve to have this horse".

5/16 For the first time in forever, I have issues bridling Sofie. She takes the bit nicely, as always, but after I fasten the throatlatch and noseband, she nips me on the arm. I smack her in the nose a millisecond later, and she appears startled and apologetic. Well....maybe just startled.

After thinking over the previous ride's issues, I conclude that I was putting too much emphasis on her getting soft on the right rein, and that the real issue was that she was bulging into my left leg. It's called inside leg to outside rein, genius, and it's, um, just, like, a fundamental part of dressage. So I start out in the arena (where she also drifts in, especially down the one long side) and really push her over with my inside leg. She is sensitive and smart enough to get the idea pretty fast, although she needs reminders. Lots of them. Especially when we go outside. She is definitely still drawn to the barn, so she requires a LOT of inside-leg-to-outside-rein. She also requires reminders that no, we don't just pick up a trot when we turn back to the barn, even though you're right, that would get us there faster. She does much better if instead of clinging to the reins and nagging "Please don't go faster, just walk, just walk, no don't speed up" I let her have her head. If she starts trotting and won't listen to a polite aid, then I do pull back on the outside rein, hard enough to get her attention. Then I release, and repeat as necessary.

The Sofa doesn't know if she likes these new requirements, but I just stay persistent since my new requirements are pretty basic and definitely not over the top. She starts to get the concept, she just needs reminders. I don't do a lot of trotting in the yard since I'm still working on getting her straight facing away from the barn at the walk, and I'm avoiding trotting toward the barn. So I take her for a trot on the trail, and she moves out nicely. Wheeeee! I also ride her partway down the road. She strides out with an eagerness that I haven't seen from her since before her hock trouble started. After we reach a certain point she starts to get a little fidgety, so I make her go on a bit longer and then turn back for home. The ride ends up being our longest one in a while (45 minutes) which accounts for her fidgety-ness.

5/18 Even though it is a hot hot HOT day, Sofie free schools energetically, even throwing in a walk-to-canter transition. Then she becomes convinced that the one long side of the outdoor is evil. I catch her and try to lead her down it, which results in her making lots of bolty-spinny circles around me. The second time, she is better, making normal circles at the walk. I quit with that and start bringing her into the barn, and she spooks inexplicably in one of the small paddocks en route. I go into the barn, put on my helmet and gloves, and take her out the one of the "scary corners" in the yard. All the wants is to eat grass. I take her back in the barn to get her ready to ride, figuring Fireball has had her fun and won't come back for more.

Once again, she threatens to bite after I tighten her noseband, but backs down when I raise my hand. As we get started, it's clear that the moving-off-the-leg lesson has sunk in. She moves off my leg very well in the arena and stays on the rail better than ever before. Of course, after a couple minutes of this she reverts a bit to her old ways, but I'm excited to see a glimpse of what could be.

Outside, we make a circuit of the yard, do our shallow turns and straight lines, and work on our inside-leg-to-outside-rein connection and our basic obedience. For too long, I kind of let her do her thing out in the yard, first because she was so much fun to ride, and then because she was so sour that I had to use the magic pull of the barn to get a trot transtition without theatrics. I was afraid of her at that point, so I did not insist on obedience and my control was kind of questionable. So the Sofa probably wonders why I'm now insisting that I pick the pace AND the direction. She complies with my new demands, albeit sometimes lacking a smile on her face. But I understand that she's not always going to like what I have to say, and the important thing is that she complies and is rewarded for trying.

I decide not to ride her down the road as I'm concerned that Fireball might make an appearance. Instead, I ride her down the trail, picking up a trot over the best footing. I decide to go all the way down the trail. There is a huge tree limb over half the trail, so I try to leg yield Sofie over. She decides she would rather push through it, so the branch gets hung up on my leg for a sec. Sofie continues on, and I give her a pat, knowing that many horses would probably freak if a huge, like, tree thing seemingly grabbed at them.

5/20 I arrive at the barn late on what was supposed to be a hot day. It is pleasantly cool at the barn, so nice that the horses don't want to come in, but we bring them in because it's not too horribly early (5:00) and I want to ride Sofie in the gelding's field. The Sofa is miffed that she doesn't get to go in her stall like everybody else, so she is a bit of a handful when my mom longes her out in the yard. She moves great, though, showing a nice, forward trot and canter. She even canters on the right lead (partly because she was falling in on the circle and couldn't hold a counter canter on the smaller circle she was making). She reeeeeeeeeeally wants grass, so she attempts to grab some while cantering. She almost gets it, but the clover she went for just wasn't quite tall enough.

I figure out, while talking with my mom, that I was tightening Sofie's noseband one hole too much. Not exactly crank noseband territory, but the Sofa is very sensitive. I adjust her noseband correctly, and she makes no move to bite me.

I ride her for like two minutes in the boring, dusty indoor, then head for the Big Field. We walked around it to finish warming up and then started some trot work. We trot down the field, up the field and across the field. I weave her through some bush-things that were growing in different places, ride her up little hills and slopes, down little hills and slopes, work on having her move off my leg - occasionally it feels like she actually starts to cross over a bit. I also move her off my leg in the trot. She is more confident going away from the barn, and she keeps a nice, steady tempo going toward the barn - no rushing, just nice and soft but not too slow. She flexes at the poll at times, rounds her back a couple times (and NOT because she was pissed off and thinking about bucking!). That field is sooooo good for doing LONG straight lines in all different directions, and the hills really help her engage her hind end.

There's one fenceline that she decides she does not like to go down (coming up it, she's perfect) and this was the only "ugly" part of our ride. She starts trotting and drifting away from the scary fence with the trees all in shadow, so I really open my outside rein, keep my inside leg on her, and try to keep her from drifting too badly. I'm sure it was NOT pretty, but at least I kept her from totally leaving, and the second time was better. Ah, Sofie and her "problem areas"! We end the ride with some leg yielding, then a lovely, flexed-poll, correctly-bent few steps of trot away from the barn. So much fun.

So there you have it. I'm SO happy with the progress we're making. I really feel like I can deal with my horse now...we may not fit into someone else's definition of perfect, but we don't need perfection, we just need progress, and eventually we will get there. Where is "there"? I have no idea. But dressage is a journey, and that journey is all I had in mind when I chose Sofie, my project horse.

Next time, I'll write about my first "real" dressage lesson in eons, and what I will hopefully be able to transfer to Sofie when I ride her later today.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Field Fun

The day after my somewhat questionable ride on Fireball, I returned to the barn and found Sofie quite stiff in the hocks. I free schooled her in the outdoor, which is large and enables her to do more straight lines than in the smaller indoor. She had trouble holding up her right hind for me to clean it, even though I held it low to the ground. At that point I wasn't sure if I should even ride, so I free schooled her again in the indoor, after which I decided to tack her up and try for a short ride. We stayed at a walk, first in the indoor and then out in the yard, and just practiced our relaxation, steering and cooperation. I even walked her a little way down the road. She never got crabby during the ride, and seemed to be moving better when I turned her out, so I think I made the right decision, and it's good to know that I can ride her even when she is stiff, as I'm sure she'll have good days and bad days.

Yesterday I went back out to the barn, and she was stiff again, though not as much as the previous time. I started out by handwalking her in the yard, doing some hill work, some trotting and a bit of backing, as well as just basic groundwork, i.e. Pay Attention, Don't Walk Directly Behind Me, and the all-important Don't Barge Ahead Of Me. Then I walked her partway down the trail and found that there was a major break in the gelding fence, so I took her back to the barn, turned her out in a small paddock and went to tell Judy about the fence. I caught Sofie back up and free schooled her in the indoor, then when Judy came down to the barn I turned her out with the mares so I could help Judy bring the geldings in. Then I caught her again (for the third time that day...fortunately she's gotten over being hard to catch!) and led her to the aisle so I could start grooming her. Sofie was quite confused when she saw the geldings were in (she tried to drag me to her stall) and she was upset when she saw Judy filling the cans in the feed room (she kept shaking her head, as if to inform me that she, Sofie, had yet to be fed and was Not Happy about it).

Since the geldings were in, I decided I couldn't pass up an opportunity to ride in the Big Field, even though I wasn't sure how Sofie would be, since she was a little miffed at not being fed and a little distractable when I warmed her up in the indoor. But she was an absolute gem. I walked her allllllll the way around the Big Field, then practiced trotting her away from the barn. She moved nicely and cooperated VERY well, even though she was a little insecure about trotting in the "wrong" direction. We did a little trotting toward the barn, too, and I stayed relazed on her even when she went a little more forward, and she listened when I told her to walk (though she needed a few strong half halt "reminders" on the outside rein when she failed to pay attention to a light aid). There were lots of gentle slopes that we could use to our advantage, so even the walk became a bit more of a workout for her. Her belly actually came up a bit, indicating she may have actually had to (gasp) use herself! It was fun to have some a huge space to ride in, without the "problem areas" we have to deal with in the yard. I plan to get back out there as much as possible, since we can obviously ride in the evening without drama from Miss Sofie, and I no longer crash after 3:00 in the afternoon now that I am eating better.

My mom is going out of town for six days, starting tomorrow, so I will be dealing with Sofa on my own, but I'm no longer panicked by the idea of not having my usual support system. My old fears about being able to see when Sofie is "off" and being able to cope with whatever issues we may have undersaddle have been alleviated now that I've had plenty of practice doing both. I know Sofie better than anyone else, and if rides like the one we had last night are any indication, we work pretty well together.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Sofie has been doing well. Our interactions are always a mixed bag of moments of cooperation, brilliance, baditude and snarkiness. Fortunately her idea of "acting out" doesn't typically escalate past the amusing/annoying level, and I no longer react to her displays of willfulness undersaddle with blind panic. And even though my equitation pretty much looks like crap (as I noticed while walking Sofie past Judy's house), the ability to relax and think clearly is invaluable when dealing with the Sofa.

Riding with Max and Jessie on a nice, warm day with a wind that kept the bugs away, we started out in the outdoor, with predictable results. Sofie does not like the outdoor. I don't know if it reminds her of an arena where she had a bad experience in the past, or if she just doesn't like being ridden in "her" field (the outdoor is part of the mare's turnout space), but she had a crappy look on her face the entire time we rode in there, she walked sloooooowly and trotted even slower (part of that was due to stiffness, I'm sure, but it was also due to resentment). Fortunately, she never acted out, as she has been known to do when ridden in the outdoor, so I considered that a big win, and Max and I took our lazy horses into the yard, where they immediately became perky (of course). Sofa started walking out again, and we had some difficulty getting on the trail (we were thinking about going to The Place Where We Like To Canter and our steering was out) but we enjoyed a nice trail ride.

Coming back from the trail, we trotted back to the barn (bad, I know) and then we had issues with wanting to do our own thing and not wanting to be told what to do. She did a beautiful power trot (well, compared to the slightly off jog she had been choosing to do) toward the barn one time, so I was thrilled that she felt good, but this not listening thing was so not working. So I took Sofie past Judy's house to break the pattern. She thought about trotting as we walked toward The Place Where We Like To Canter, but she listened to my aids and once we hit the aforementioned Place, she actually walked nicely. At the far corner, I asked for a trot, and we trotted diagonally towards Judy's house. She listened as I asked her to turn both ways, and trot a few steps away from the barn. Her trot was better than it had been since her arthritis flared up, even when turning. I was happy that she had listened to me, so I walked her away from the barn, dismounted, and that was it for the day.

After that day, a cold front came in, so on the next ride I stuck to the indoor to avoid biting winds and potential Sofie fireworks. She was quite visibly "off" when we started free schooling her, but worked out of it enough to where I felt I could at least do a light ride. We did lots of walking and a little trotting, and she tried really hard for me and never got nasty, even though she was stiff and probably a little uncomfortable from the cold. I got a little frustrated midway through when I had issues with Sofie falling in tracking lefy, and I inexplicably forgot that she was really trying hard despite her issues. I was upset with myself over that, but worked through it and finished the ride without being unfair to Sofie.

It was still chilly yesterday when I rode. Sofie free schooled well but was bratty during the tacking up process. I knew she would probably be a fireball since it was coldish and she had only gotten out of her stall for 6 hours the previous day due to crappy weather. She walked out boldly and trotted way more forward than she normally does in the indoor. I debated taking her outside, where I knew there might be fireworks, but decided that I wanted to take her out, so I went. I walked her outside, and she immediately drifted over to her new favorite place to trot and canter, started trotting, and then cantered. It was a nice canter, but she was a little strong and she was clearly not listening to me at all. So I decided to take her on the trail, and achieved this with difficulty. I had to get after her several times when she tried to take off (at the trot, but still) and she did NOT want to go down the trail, making it clear that she would prefer to take off towards the barn. I got her onto the trail, but just barely, and I'm hoping this won't become a habit. She started out wiggly on the trail (I think because it's uneven in places, and uneven footing is hard on her now) but improved, and I asked her to trot once we got to the best footing. She always trots nicely on the trail, and the straight-ahead track makes it harder for her to think about turning back to the barn. After turning around at the first turn-around, I tried going down the other fork of the trail, but found that the footing really sucks, so I won't be doing that again.

She walked nicely through The Place Where We Like To Canter, I trotted her a short way and she was fine, but then we started having issues again. If I trotted her away from the barn she turned sharply back toward it. She just had way too much energy, and I couldn't let her use it because she just wasn't listening, and I can't have her getting so out of control. She can't just be throwing in canters and tight turns, it's not good for her hocks. I felt bad about it, not because I thought I was hurting her or anything, but just because it sucks when we can't agree on anything and it feels like I'm always telling her "no". I want us to be a team, and both feel positive about what we're doing, but obviously we need to work on our control a bit and she's not going to like being told what to do because she is a snarky mare and she has a mind of her own. There were some positive aspects of our ride, but we're going to have to work out our issues and that's not going to be a whole lot of fun sometimes. Our issues may not be all that bad, considering how many factors were stacked up in favor of Sofie turning into her favorite alter-ego, Fireball. But I know we have some basic control issues out in the wide-open yard that is our favorite place to ride, and we need to work on them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Trying New Things

The last couple of rides have been very good. Sofie is still coping with her stiff right hock, and her ever-present attitude is still very much intact, but we are up and riding again, and figuring out our limitations (and often being pleasantly surprised by what we can do).

On my birthday I watched the Kentucky Derby at Judy's with my BFF and a girl who boards at Judy's barn, and then we brought the horses in. Sofie, Alex (a pinto pony gelding), Jessie (Judy's Appy mare, sometimes ridden by my friend) and Lilly (a QH mare owned by a boarder's mom) got pulled out of their stalls and tortured, I mean, tacked up. Sofie stood calmly, looking around at all the horses getting messed with ("Hey, I'm not the only one!") until I put the saddle on her back, when she started walking out from under it, and promptly stepped on her lead rope, jerking herself with it. Her eyes bugged out a bit, and she stood fine after that, not even reacting to the girth being tightened, except for a sideways glance on the last adjustment, like "Are you SURE that's necessary? Seems like overkill to me."

We all rode in the newly-dragged indoor (Yes! Judy's little yellow tractor is up and running again, and the arena got dragged!). Sofie walked around sloooooowly (it was 7:30 and warm, and she probably would have rather been relaxing in her cool, clean, hay-stocked stall) occasionally gawking at the other horses since we usually ride alone and she doesn't know Lilly and Alex very well (actually, she knows Alex all TOO well, since we got in with the mares once and she had to beat him up). Eventually we trotted (well, jogged) in both directions, and we even turned a corner tracking right without any crabbiness. Then Alex's rider was nice enough to open the gate to The Outside, and my friend and I left the arena.

We walked along the gelding fenceline, looking at Judy putting hay out, and we managed to get to the trail without trying to turn back to the barn or thinking about cantering (the trail entrance is right before The Place Where We Like To Canter, as well as the Scary Corner), so we went down the trail for the first time since the snow melted. Sofie was not happy about the swarms of bugs that swarmed her poor face and ears, but we got through them and also avoided whacking my knee on trees (although we had a few close calls). We handled the iffy footing in some areas (Sofie doesn't put her head down and pick her way through those areas. She speeds up her walk until she's almost trotting and haphazardly bulldozes her way through) but we couldn't get to the end of the trail because there was a freakin' huge branch down. Sofie was ready to go right through it, but I didn't fancy getting whacked in the face, so we did our signature "Oh snap, we gotta turn around, so STOP going forward, Sofie, and turn around" turn. She is excellent at those, even with a bad hock. She did NOT like Jessie getting right up on her butt (for some reason she liked it on the way down the trail, but on the way back it was way offensive) so she pinned her ears at her and my poor friend had to try to hold Jessie back (Jessie has a HUGE walk, and she has no mouth, so that went great).

We walked right through The Place Where We Like To Canter without incident, and I walked her around the front yard for a bit longer, enjoying how relaxed she was. Then we trotted a bit, even trotting up a slight slope. I was really happy with how that ride went because I was really nervous beforehand about riding without my mom around (even though it's not like she constantly instructs me) and riding later than I normally do (since Sofa doesn't necessarily like to be pulled out of her stall and ridden - who would - and the last time I rode after 5 PM it was kind of a disaster). Sofie must have known it was my birthday, because she is rarely that perfect.

On Monday I rode with Max (the BFF) again (this time, she was mounted on Judy's TWH gelding, Gypsy). Sofie was definitely stiff in her right hock, but moved soundly and I didn't see any reason why I couldn't ride if I avoided doing tight turns (which I try to avoid anyway). She was so quiet that my mom asked if I even wanted her to longe her. I said YES emphatically, because I have failed to longe Sofie before on days when she seemed really quiet and paid the price (like the day she decided she wanted to be an eventer, then kicked up her heels and sent me over her head). That would prove to be a prudent decision.

As our ride started, Sofie decided she really liked Gypsy (she actually whinnied at him when Max brought him into the indoor. She NEVER does that, so I wondered for a minute if she was in heat or something. We wandered around the indoor, walking and then trotting (or pacing, in Gypsy's case) then went outside, since Gypsy is notoriously lazy and I assumed he'd be good.

Sofie perked up as we left the indoor. Right off the bat, she moved up to a trot (apparently we have a new place where she likes to make gait changed without consulting her rider, how nice). And then she transitioned effortlessly into a smooth canter. I sat there, a bit surprised but happy. She threw in a little bounce with her hind end, but I wasn't unseated and when I tried easing up on her mouth a little it was not repeated. Then we trotted onto the driveway and I began attempting to resume control. My mom was watching, so I looked at her like "I told you so".

We headed out into the yard and had some technical difficulties when Gypsy didn't want to walk through the partially blown down blaze orange snow fence. Then after he made it through, Sofie promptly saw an invisible and possibly imagainary Something in the distance and spooked at it. Onward we went, and onto the trail we headed, where Gypsy promptly spazzed out. He insisted on looking at everything, which further contributed to his spazziness. Then a couple of the idiot geldings in the gelding field trotted up to the fence. Geldings that are above Gypsy in the pecking order and who probably beat him up on a regular basis. He spazzed, and we wound up turning around. Sofie's opinion of Gypsy was severely tarnished by his silliness (I could tell she was thinking "Hey, dumbass, they're locked in, they can't get you").

After that we rode for a bit longer around the barn area, and Sofie didn't really have on her listening ears. She kind of wanted to do her thing, and I was getting a bit of a weird vibe from her. She was probably just pissed off that I wasn't letting her eat grass, or maybe she was sick of Gypsy, but she kept wanting to trot back to the barn (she cantered once, too, but it was short-lived) and she just didn't want to listen to me all that well. I kind of had to finesse the issue with her a bit, and have her walk away from the barn for a few strides, then let her trot towards it again. I handled it the best way I could and I think I did the right thing, because there's no point in getting into a fight with her. It's not as if we haven't been able to get where we need to go, and we have been able to walk through The Place Where We (Used To) Like to Canter, it's just that now we sometimes have issues in that other spot. I'm sure lots of people would say I'm being too soft with her, but if I were to start jerking on her and going "You WILL do exactly as I say" I think we would get some fireworks going.

But the main thing is that we tried new things (riding at night, riding with other people, cantering again) and it all worked out. So good girl, Sofie, even though you are always odd and you can be bad sometimes, too.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

Today is my 18th birthday. Yup. In case any younger people are reading this, no, I don't feel empowered, I don't have all the answers, and I'm not any cooler/less insecure/uncertain. Just a little older. It is a milestone, though. I can now vote for our lovely array of politicians. I can't get drunk in a bar yet, but I don't care about that anyway (and even if I did I couldn't afford it because of Sofie's, ahem, spending habit). I have survived to adulthood, which is a big WIN for just about any species. Kind of the whole point, actually. Don't get eaten, survive to adulthood, find a mate and procreate. Ugh...let's not go there, shall we?

And back to our regularly schedulted programme (hey, I'm British!). Sofie must have sensed that my super special birthday was coming up. Or maybe it was just the Old Horse Joint Supplement kicking in and making her hocks feel young again (or at least making them NOT feel terminally ill and close to death). This week was the first time in over a month that we actually got back to our normal, every-other-day riding schedule. On Tuesday I warmed her up in the indoor again and returned to the lengthening exercise that had worked so well the previous time. She was SO good, never even thinking about acting up at the trot. I lengthened-then-trotted her twice tracking left, AND once tracking right, and she was excellent. Then I took her outside for a little bit, and she was okay for that - I had her on long reins, so her steering was not all there, and she was thinking about the grass/the barn/her mare friends out in their paddock happily NOT being ridden, so we kind of just meandered about. Even on a long rein, she still thought about trotting, and finally did, neck arched prettily against my hand as she looked at the grass. But she didn't act up, and that was all I cared about, so we called it a day.

Then I brushed her, hand-grazed and hand-walked her, and Anne came out to trim her feet. And Sofie decided she didn't WANNA stand, didn't WANNA hold her foot up for Anne, didn't WANNA, didn't WANNA, didn't WANNA. She. Was. Awful. The mom and I were both embarassed by her behavior (which I don't think was because of her poor, poor arthritic hocks. She had too much energy, and she just didn't wanna cooperate. As much as I like to give her the benefit of the doubt, and look for the underlying cause, she was just an uncooperative BRAT.) and Sofie got to back down the aisle several times, and finally Anne had to back her down the aisle AND make her spin around, after which she stood her up loose in the aisle, put her foot on the hoofstand, and corrected her every time she moved her head. After that she was okay, but jeez, what a mannerless jerk she was.

Thursday we went out to see how she was doing with her new feet (she got her hind toes taken back and squared off, which supposedly helps with breakover for arthritic horses). She let me catch her, and when I took her to the outdoor arena to free school her she stood with me after I unclipped her lead rope rather than going for the grass. So I petted her for a while, and then we free schooled. She was stiff behind (maybe because of all the bouncing around/shifting/trying to walk off while Anne was working on her, and the subsequent backing down the aisle) but got better, and seemed fine with her feet. So I rode again, (yay! How nice to be able to ride one's horse...) starting off in the indoor (the best place to get a relaxed, focused warm up, which I think is a good way to communicate that I Am Your Friend, I Mean No Harm, So Don't Harm Me, K Thanx...anyway, after that I started my lengthen-into-trot work, and I asked for a little more, spending less time between trot transitions. She wasn't sure she liked that, but she did okay. I decided to take her outside, figuring if she wanted to trot out there, fine, she would probably be okay.

And she was. I rode with a shorter rein (because I wanted to actually be able to STEER, k thanx) which worked well, and I tried to keep a soft feel on her mouth and nip any resistance in the bud, rather than getting into a pulling contest. Right off the bat she trotted a good 50 feet voluntarily, with no baditude. I brought her back to the walk and got her to walk through what she has decided is a Scary Corner (she always stares WAY off into the distance, I don't know WTF she sees, or thinks she sees). Then we walked to the far end of the yard (which she doesn't like doing, so we always go left, right, left, right to see if we can just go back to the barn already. As we neared the far end of the yard, she decided she'd rather get to the barn faster, so she moved up to a trot. On a hill. A tiny little hill, but a hill nonetheless. I sort of went "Are you SURE you want to do this? I don't think you're gonna like it." And she was all "Yeah yeah yeah! Oh wait no I DON'T LIKE THIS!" and raised her head and bounced her hind end a little, but I just went "Let's walk," and we walked back to the barn through the other Scary Corner. After that we trotted some more (she has a new place where she likes to trot, since we don't go to The Place Where We Like To Canter anymore) and then it was quittin' time.

We are still a long way from where we were a couple months back, and I don't know if we will get there again until the fusion occurs. But given the x-rays, and the way she felt not so very long ago, I'm very happy with what we've been able to do. I remember thinking when she couldn't even handwalk happily or comfortably that we might end up putting her in the ground right before my birthday if she didn't get better. But she is better, and so am I. Since finding out that I have built up intolerance to all the foods I was eating on a regular basis, which was spiking, then crashing my blood sugar and making me an overly emotional mess, I have improved my diet, and I'm able to cope much better with stressful situations (instead of NOT coping with non-stressful situations). I'm able to sit relaxed in the saddle and take things as they come, which is a very good thing when you're riding Sofie.

"I'm not a difficult horse, I'm a project horse. Like Project Runway. Which reminds me, my cable bill needs to be paid."