Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Fear Revisited

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It's better to move forward than to keep looking back. But sometimes you have to look back to see how far you've come.

A while back, I did a post on The Fear that had plagued me for so long. The Fear that came up quite often when I rode Sofie through her moments of exuberance or baditude. The Fear that started years ago when a school horse took off bucking with me and eventually threw me into a wall. At the time I wrote that post, I had hope that Sofie would help me conquer The Fear. And she has. I no longer panic and freeze up when her ears go back and she balks and swings her butt to the side, or when she throws in a little hop of protest at a canter when my reins are a little snug (in her not-humble opinion). Sofie has helped me more than anyone. But today, in the arena where I took that bad fall, a trainer I swore I would never ride with again helped me, too.

But first, Sunday's ride. Sunday's ride was challenging, because the horses had once again been kept in due to a chance of thunderstorms. They were just being let out at 1 when I arrived at the barn. Half an hour of turnout and some longeing helped to take some of the edge off, but there was definitely still some edge there. I did a long warmup in the indoor, complete with trotting, which went well except for some slightly heated exchanges. You probably know the kind. They go like this:

Me: Get off my leg. Stay on the rail, please.
Sofie: I don't WANT to, I'd rather fall in.
Me: Get off my leg. I mean it.
Sofie: GrrrrRRRRRRrrrrr....oh, all right, if it's THAT important to you. Jeez.

After the warmup, I could postpone the inevitable no longer, so I went outside with some foreboding. Sofie was inattentive and had a lot of pent-up energy, so I avoided The Place Where We Like To Canter like the plague, not wanting it to become The Place Where We Like To Gallop. I walked her around in different patterns and different places in the yard to help keep her mind occupied while I tried to work up the nerve to go faster. Eventually I started trotting her away from the barn, which she wasn't happy with, but I maintained that if she had so much energy that galloping toward the barn was not far from her mind, then trotting away from the barn should be no problem. At one point, she broke into a canter (which I proceeded to post, since I had been so intent on keeping her trotting. Note to self: posting the canter makes Sofie come back down to a trot. Must remember that in emergencies!).

It was a little hairy at first, but then she started listening better, and we ended up having a successful ride. It was not without its difficult moments (particularly when I was trying to get her to bend and stay out on a circle...that caused a few balky moments. She really does not like being confined between my leg and hand, but sometimes when she doesn't listen, she has to be for a moment), but I felt like she became round a lot of the time, and she made a nice "lipstick" of foam. We had one really nice canter that I "semi-asked for" - I sat the trot and encouraged her to go forward while not really asking. All in all, it was a good ride, and I felt like I really accomplished something by working through adversity and getting her to listen to me.

Today I had a lesson with a trainer who was on my Evil Trainer list. Basically, my first and previously only lesson with her, on a very green pony I was leasing and loved dearly, was a lesson from hell. Her methods are VERY different from how I ride and train, and sadly common in the sport of dressage. But she has an Actual Trained Horse that she uses as a school horse, which is an incredible rarity in these parts. I thought it would be fun, and probably helpful to ride an Actual Trained Horse. And it was. I felt like I "got" the concept of leg yielding a bit better, and we worked on my position a bit. I enjoyed riding a trained Warmblood for, like, the third time EVER, but it was also very tiring. I do not understand why anyone would want to train horses in the "crank 'em in, drive 'em forward" style when you could train your horse to have self carriage and actually be light. GASP. I know, I know, my way takes a hell of a long time. But seriously, I can't imagine having to work that hard every single time you ride your horse. Jeez.

So I was having a reasonably good time, but when the time came to canter, I froze. The mare wasn't going right into the canter (because I was being totally noncommital...that never works) and I got really scared and started having flashbacks. I hadn't thought about the potential mental hangups of riding in that arena again. The trainer decided to longe the mare so I could see that she did indeed canter without taking off and bucking, and I sat with my mom and watched. Then, with encouragement, I got back on the mare, holding onto the bucking strap at first as the trainer asked her to canter. After I few times of this, I let go of the strap and started holding the reins normally. Then I asked her to canter several times on the longe. I actually got a few nice transitions, and was able to ride the canter-trot transitions fairly well (I always tend to get bounced all over during those, especially on a new horse). I also started to use my seat and core more to regulate the mare's pace, so I didn't have to keep using the reins all the freaking time.

So as hard as it was, I think I took an important step forward today. The Fear isn't powerful like it used to be. I tried for so long to fight it, but sometimes help comes from sources you'd never expect.

If you haven't already, be sure to read the latest Sunday Success Story on the Eventing-A-Gogo blog (http://eventing-a-gogo.blogspot.com). It features our favorite little arthritic paint mare!

Friday, June 25, 2010


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Just a cool shot from a recent ride in the Big Field.

Before I write about my recent rides on the Sofa, I just have one thing to say...


Yes, my Damn Freaking Wither-Eating saddle is GONE! It's someone else's problem now! For those who don't know (or remember, or care) the Damn Freaking Wither Eating saddle is an uberfancy, expensive treeless saddle stuffed with empty promises, broken dreams and Memory Foam. It did work quite well for the pony I leased before buying Sofie, but it hated Sofie, and the feeling was mutual.

That was the best news ever. I think it's been on consignment for the better part of a year, and NO ONE wanted it for $1,200. I had recently e-mailed the woman I had it on consignment with and asked her to mark it down to $975 (while weeping uncontrollably...I paid $1,400 for the damn thing!). She responded, telling me to "hang in there", that someone had it on trial (it had been on trial twice before, and NO ONE bought it) and that she would do her best to get it sold for me. I didn't hear back from her for more than a week, and assumed that this new person didn't even want it for $975. Then yesterday I got an e-mail that read "How do you want your $1,000? Paypal or check?". Best. News. Ever.

Monday's ride went really well. It was a little hot and buggy, but we still had a good time. Within the first two minutes of riding outside, though, things became interesting. I literally walked her out of the arena, down the gelding fenceline and toward the Scary Corner, which apparently was Extra Scary at that particular moment. She looked at the Scary Corner, spooked, spun and bolted toward Judy's house. It wasn't a particularly long bolt, nor too fast (just a nice little leapy canter). And I was not at all unseated by the spin! Nice to know I have a good seat. So I got her back down to a trot, then a walk, and, a little unnerved, considered my options. I very nearly took the coward's route and turned her back toward the arena, but couldn't go through with it, because that would be a win for her, not me. So I turned back toward the Scary Corner and, with slight difficulty, got her to turn onto the trail, walking right past the invisible scary Something in the bushes. We went on to have a nice trail ride, and then we returned and worked in the yard. She was quite good, even when she didn't want to be. She was a little perturbed because of the heat and the bugs and my "demands", but she cooperated and we had a nice ride.

So. Thursday's ride. Sofie was twitchy and ADHD, and the weather was lovely and cool and windy, so longeing was definitely in order. She did her version of a gallop and kicked out at my mom (so then she got to move even faster, hehe) but eventually she settled down enough to where I thought maybe I could possibly ride. I did a fairly long warmup in the indoor, testing her out by asking for a little more from her (fairly tiny demands like "Get off my inside leg" and "Walk a little bit faster"). She tends to react a bit when I ask a little more of her, because in her mind, I think she expects me to push her too hard. But I think if I just ignore her protestations, they will extinguish over time. After doing a bit of trotting in the indoor, I decided to go outside and see what happened.

She was amazing. After walking around a bit and cantering in The Place Where We Like to Canter (which went well, except that she threw in a little hop of protest because I had the audacity to put my inside leg on when she started to drift. But I didn't react to it, and she cantered several more strides after that and was perfect), I got inspired and decided to work on transitions. Sofie really did not "get" transitions when I first got her. Once she was in a trot, she wanted to do the Neverending Trot. Which, of course, translated into way less control, especially out in the yard. I remember her haphazardly zooming around the yard on many rides, with me more or less relegated to passenger status. Well, not anymore.

After the first walk transition, during which Sofie trotted through my aids ("Huh? You want me to walk already? Clearly, you don't know what you're doing, and I should just cart you around at my chosen speed."), she started to listen really, really well. We just did many, many walk-trot transitions all over the yard, which got her mentally and physically engaged. I could actually ride her anywhere in the yard and point her in any direction, and she complied. She drifted a couple times, but other than that, she was pretty freakin' perfect. We trotted uphill a couple times (once because she drifted, so I went "A-ha! I shall make the wrong thing difficult!"). After a while, I decided to attempt a large circle to the left at a trot, and while the first attempt was less than pretty, after more playing around with transitions, she got really light and soft, and I guided her around the circle, really doing hardly anything, and she did the best circle she's ever done. The reins were light as threads, but there was a palpable connection happening. I definitely felt her go on the bit and use her hind end several times that day. It was a great feeling, especially after all the troubles we've had in the yard. She really let go of a lot of her preconcieved notions and listened to me. She's really coming along!

Yesterday I hadn't planned on riding, but I wound up doing so because the horses only got out for three hours because of "threatening weather". I personally think there's a greater chance of lightning striking the barn with all the horses in it than of it taking out a random horse out in a field, but whatever. No barn is perfect, and I do love my barn, but sometimes certain things can get annoying. Anyway, I decided to experiment and just tack her up and ride her without any warming up/energy expending groundwork. She stood great, and was totally cooperative for grooming and saddling. It probably helped that two of the other mares were being tacked up at the same time, so she had stuff to watch. She also stood for mounting.

It was a good ride, but we were stuck in the indoor with two other horses, so Sofie wasn't as thrillingly happy and compliant as she had been the day before. She was still really good, though. I was tired and annoyed at various people, so I saw the ride as being a little worse than it actually was. I didn't nitpick at her, though, which was good. She was fairly round through most of the ride, and I trotted her around the arena a couple of times in both directions, and also did shorter trots and transitions. I didn't run into anybody or cut anybody off, which is always good when one rides in a group. I pissed Sofie off a few times by insisting on a little more energy, but by the end of the ride her little reactions had extinguished. She's not as forward in the indoor, and I have to make sure it doesn't turn into full-on laziness or me nagging her all the time. I think I will start to carry a dressage whip again, at least in the indoor. I can always drop it if Fireball makes an appearance, right? I asked for a turn on the forehand in each direction, and she responded each time. She can't really do a "correct" turn on the forehand at this point, and I don't expect her to. I'm just happy that she can and will do it at all under my weight.

So, yeah. Thank you, transitions! Thank you, hills! THANK YOU, SOFIE!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Picture Happy

Pictures? On this blog?! Surprising, I know. I do try to have pictures, but I am not exactly blessed in the picture-taking-and-uploading department, so typically "trying" does not translate into actually "doing". BUT NOT TODAY!

These pictures are from a recent ride in the Big Field. I have to say, it's pretty frickin' amazing how far we've come, considering where we started from. We may not be able to nail our Second Level (or Training Level, really) dressage test, but dressage is not just a sport. Dressage is training, the gradual improvement of a horse - any horse - that you love and wish to improve your relationship with. I know dressage has done wonders for Sofie, and I believe the most important part of dressage training is patience. So many people don't want to give the horse the time it needs. They want it now - the frame, the movements, the qualifying score. And maybe they can get those things, but they miss out on what is truly special.

When Sofie came to me she had issues. She was not the sweet-natured, beautiful dressage horse she is now. At least on the outside. The potential was buried deep underneath the physical problems, the psychological scars. It's coming to the surface now, and it makes me so happy.

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And these are my favorites:

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Long winded update post! Wheeeee!

I've been a bad blogger lately, so I must now write what will undoubtedly turn out to be an incredibly long winded summary of all my latest dealings with the Sofa, despite my best intentions to be succinct. And I have no pictures yet, either, so anyone who actually reads all this to the shall earn my vast appreciation!

6/10 - Sofie was quite good even after being ridden for the better part of an hour the day before. I rode out in the yard and she was good about leaving the barn and doing what I said. Towards the end, I attempted to work on turns on the forehand, which had gone sooooo well the night before, but the Sofa doesn't really understand why she should bother halting and turning in a stationary way out in the yard. The yard is for fun, and going fast! Well, at least walking around in a forward way. Anyway, I got a few decent turns from her, but after that, she decided that she was not into stopping, because I was just going to make her do weird little stationary turns, which she was SO OVER. So I had to get her to halt so I could quit for the day, and I got a little too picky, wanting a straight halt, not a crooked one, and this and that, blah blah blah. Which eventually made Sofie pretty pissed off, so much so that she voluntarily trotted away from the barn. So I was upset with myself, but it really wasn't a distaster or anything, and I got over it.

6/12 - Was too tired to ride after trying (unsuccessfully, until the last fifteen minutes) to sell things at the farmers market, so I just free schooled Sofie. She was moving great, and even took her typically unused right lead much of the time. She became rather nervous and herdbound afterward, as one of the stupid geldings was galloping around like a maniac because his owner was playing with her other horse, not him. So getting her to stand for foot-cleaning was a bit of a challenge, but I did get her feet cleaned.

6/13 - Went out in the evening to ride in the Big Field. Found the horses already in. The Big Field was a bit slick from all the rain, but I went slowly and in straight lines for the most part. Sofie chose to canter along one fenceline, and was a little peeved at me for having contact on the outside rein to keep her straight, but she needs to have contact sometimes. I dismounted after maybe fifteen minutes, since there were lots of distractions going on and the surface would not have been forgiving if she had done something stupid. Evil Trainer was back in the arena, working a horse, so I took Sofie back in there and enjoyed her abrupt transformation into Perfect Dressage Horse as Evil Trainer cranked her client's horse's head in and drove her forward with a heavy driving seat and leg.

6/15 - My horse was insane. I shall elaborate. She was fine at first. I brought her in and free schooled her, after which I had to leave her in the arena while I brought out my riding stuff. When I got back in the arena, the mares decided that it was the PERFECT time to race around and jump and buck. They. Went. Nuts. And Sofie spazzed out because she could HEAR the fun they were having, but she was TRAPPED in the arena, and could not get to them. So I stood back and let her spazz, and when the mares quit racing around, I caught Sofie and took her to the aisle to get her ready to ride. And she would not stand. I mean, seriously. Would. Not. Stand. She was completely taut with tension, head up, neck locked and loaded. I had to keep backing her when she tried to walk forward, and she kept shaking her head at me, but I started brushing her to try and calm her down. Not happening. She had just lost her mind completely. She was so insane, she actually squirted pee in the aisle, which she never does.

So I wound up taking her back to the arena and free schooling her AGAIN, until she calmed down and started to drop her head. Then I took her back to the aisle, and she was still tense and distracted, but way better, and after shutting all the doors, I dropped her lead rope and was able to pick out her feet, which was a HUGE win that day. I had planned to just try to get her feet picked out and then call it a day, but a nagging voice in my head pointed out that if I ever want to take Fireball to a show or clinic in the distant future, I sure as hell better be able to deal with her on her insane days. And I went, "Dammit...you're right." So I decided to ride her, just to prove to myself that I could do it. She was obnoxious as I tacked her up, shaking her head at me every two seconds. I took her to the indoor, thinking "I don't care if I only ride for five minutes at a walk, I am NOT pushing her today. This could end badly, for sure."

She was a little weird as I walked her around, and I debated whether or not I should move up to a trot. But I wound up doing it, and she was really quite good. We had some falling-in obnoxiousness and one little "incident" where she swung her hindquarters to one side and made a nasty face as I trotted through a corner, but she did not kill me, which, frankly, was pretty miraculous considering the day she was having. And afterward, she was much calmer, so I think it did help. And the most important thing was that I didn't just give up and throw her back outside, I worked through it with no one to hold my hand or talk me through everything, and I rode. Go me.

6/16 - Sofie was much better, but still a little weird at times. She was stiff in her right hock (perhaps because I had to free school her TWICE the previous day?) and not in the greatest mood. I was nervous about taking her outside because I'd been riding a lot in the arena due to weather (and insanity) the last few times, and I didn't quite trust her because...well, did I mention insanity? But she was bored with the indoor, so I took her outside and we both had fun. I didn't do a whole lot in the yard, but she listened to me and wasn't beastly. I took her on the trail, and she seemed happy to be going on a trail ride. We hadn't gotten far when I saw two wild turkeys ducking under the gelding fence, heading onto the trail. I tensed up, because I hate turkeys, and I also imagined Sofie freaking out, deciding to run for home, and then getting mad at me for "holding her back" and crow-hopping. Yeah, great use of visualization, no? But fortunately nothing happened. Sofie raised her head, then continued down the trail, like "Oh, that's alarming - no, wait, don't care." Further down the trail we had to deal with a water hazard, but Sofie always finds the least wet place to walk through. On the way back, we saw a mother turkey with a little baby that was quite alarmed to see Sofie coming and flew off into the woods.

6/18 - Got to the barn at 10 AM to try and avoid the worst of the heat. Sofie seemed happy to see me. She stopped eating grass when she saw me coming, and even walked up to me as I got closer to her. This made me very happy, although it also made me nervous because a couple of the worst rides we've ever had have occured on days she walked up to me. She was very calm as we groomed her (just like she was that one day last winter, until I started riding her and she was all "Yaaaaay! Let's gallop! Let's kick out 'cause Meghan's holding me back! Oh SNAP, what is she doing on the ground in front of me?!"), so I had my mom longe her out in the yard. She was quite good, taking the right lead a couple times and not freaking out when she stepped over the longeline while trying to eat grass, creating a weird pulley rein type thing.

She was super lazy in the indoor, so I decided to try riding without stirrups during the warmup. I used to do no-stirrup work frequently, but then I got my stupid treeless saddle that was slippery and impossible to ride in, and I lost confidence in my ability to ride without stirrups. But the Wintec is very supportive, and the Sofa is very smooth, so I got used to it again fairly quickly. I even did some trotting, and was able to sit the trot just as well as I can with stirrups. So I think I will try to do some work without stirrups each ride, at least in the indoor.

Sofa was bored with the indoor, so we went outside. It was hot and the bugs weren't great, but we were happy to be outside. We went down the trail and threw in some trot work. The puddle was dried up, and the turkeys were elsewhere, but we did see a deer bounding into the woods. Sofie tensed up, but didn't attempt to bail. It was really nice and cool in the woods, and we did more trotting on the way back.

After we got back to the yard I trotted her away from the barn, and she was drifty but felt much straighter than she has been. I then walked her back to the barn and thought of riding her back into the indoor, but then decided to trot her down the gelding fenceline instead. She wanted to turn and canter back to the barn, but I kept her straight all the way down the fenceline. She started revving up as we approached The Place Where We Like To Canter, and I half-halted, not wanting her to get too crazy. Then I softened the reins, sat the trot and let her canter. She cantered quite forward, but I enjoyed it, and given a light rein and encouraged to keep going, she soon came back to a trot (this approach is much more effective than going "OH SNAP PLEASE DON'T GO TOO FAST"). I then halted her and got off, and she got a bath and the opportunity to eat some grass before going back out with her friends.

So overall, everything's pretty frickin' great in Sofieland. I'll try to be more prompt with my posting, and also maybe write some more interesting posts in the near future.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Perfect Timing

I swear sometimes Sofie is equipped with an impeccable sense of occasion. She seems to miraculously know when someone I want to impress (or, ahem, stick it to) is watching, and she delivers.

Like when a girl who never has anything nice to say about my riding (and always likes to give unwanted advice) decided to watch me ride Sofie. I'd only owned her for a couple months, and this was before we fixed her feet, so she was still racing around at the trot and breaking into a canter all the time, inverted as hell and not steering or rating. But for some reason on that particular day she was calm and relaxed. Though she took a few wrong leads and wasn't bending properly, her lovely free walk on a long rein prompted my harshest critic to actually compliment me.

And the time Anne came a little early to trim Sofie's feet, and I was still riding around out in the yard. It seems silly, but I really respect Anne as a horseperson, and I really wanted to show her that I knew what I was doing and I wasn't one of those dressage riders who subject their horses to Rollkur and Neverending Circle Torture. Sofie had been acting up at the trot, but she moved out willingly as Anne watched, and she stretched down into the contact as I bent her in both directions.

So last Wednesday, after a nice half hour or so out in the Big Field, during which we cantered twice, once just because, and once because of scary birds (so very scaaaaary...yeah, right, Sofie) I felt we had done enough out there, so I dismounted and led her back into the indoor. I considered quitting for the night, but I felt like riding a bit more, and I figured getting back on her would help with our ongoing Barn Sourness Eradication (capitol letters make it more Official Sounding), so I brought out the three step mounting block and got back on. Another horse was being led around, but otherwise we had the arena to ourselves.

She walked around pretty nicely, not falling in too obnoxiously or being mad because we were supposed to be done. I picked up the reins and tried a couple trot transitions, and she was quite good. Around this time, I noticed that the trainer who was there to teach a lesson was standing in the office, looking out into the arena, but I didn't really give it much thought.

Since she was being so good, I wound up doing more trot transitions. She was moving forward, on the bit, moving fairly straight and even bending through the corners. I tried a trot-halt transition, then back to trot. More trot-halt and halt-trot transitions. Sofie liked this game. Our transitions weren't super crisp (trot-halt was pretty prompt, but she did take a few walk steps before going back up to a trot) but they were still quite good. It was totally freakish. It was like my arthritic, opinionated little Paint mare who would rather be bombing around a Big Field had turned into a little dressage horse. I mean, we had rhythm, relaxation, forward, straight, bending, and SUBMISSION big time. She was seriously all "What do you want next? I will do it, and it will be SWEET." And I was like "What happened to you, Sofie?" Then I thought about who was watching and went "OH, I GET IT."

Because the trainer watching through the office window was the only trainer who's ever worked with Sofie and I. Our one lesson was a pretty major disaster, since she wouldn't listen to anything I told her about Sofie, and she decided that my horse was just a bitchy mare with a bad attitude, I needed to push her more, she wasn't hurting, she just didn't want to cooperate, blah blah blah. Really, because I didn't think you were an equine vet! So how would you even KNOW if she's hurting? And I know you're like a big time TRAINER, and I'm just a kid, but I'm the one who's been working this horse through her NUMEROUS issues for more than a year, not you. So maybe you should listen to me just a little, okay? But no, she just had to keep asking me "How do you know?" when I told her my horses doesn't like this or that, or my horse gets bored easily and needs variety. "How do you know?" Um, because I actually LISTEN to my horse, which you clearly have no idea how to do.

So then she went on to tell me that she hates mares. Which is always great to hear. And later on in the lesson she actually told her that her gelding tries to buck her off during EVERY SINGLE RIDE. Which, you know, just FILLED me with confidence in this person's ability to ride and train.

So with this firmly in my mind, I rode Sofie for a bit longer, enjoying everything she was giving me freely and happily. I even did turns on the forehand in both directions, which I haven't done since her hock issues surfaced, and of course she did them to the best of her ability. Then I got off and gave her hugs and petted her and then took her in, thanking her for her perfect sense of timing. I really love my horse.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Captured On Tape

All has been good in Sofieland. Although her right hock has been acting up (I think it is in the process of fusing, which is not an especially nice process) Sofie's attitude hasn't wavered. Even when she started bobbling behind and head-bobbing slightly at the trot after a 30 minute ride in the back field, with lots of trot work and hills, which really got her using herself (apparent in the video taken that day), she never acted upset or mad. She was still willing to do whatever I asked her. I ended the ride a short time after feeling her become "off" and made sure it wasn't a tendon or hoof injury, but no, just the dumb right hock.

The day after I had another good ride. She was rather anxious and herdbound for some reason, but not too unmanageable, even when I rode her down the road (things got a little dicey, but we pulled it out in the end). The big event of that last ride was that she cantered all the way from The Place Where We Like To Canter to the front yard, almost to the driveway. I stayed off her mouth, and her hind legs did what they were supposed to. And later I walked her through The Place Where We Like To Canter without a repeat performance.

I'm just really impressed with her attitude as of late. She's trying really hard for me, and she lets me give her hugs and hold her face in my hands. When I first got her, any face-holding resulted in head-throwing.

The dad got video of us out in the Big Field, and while I still have to go through it and get some stills with my equestrian eye (there are some awesome ones to be gotten, I know that much from watching it), here are a few dad-picked stills for the meantime.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Back in the field/Stuck in the indoor

On Wednesday I went to the barn around 5:30 and assisted Judy with bringing horses in so I could ride Sofie in the Big Field normally occupied by the geldings. Sofie was happy to go in her stall, but when I released her and she realized there was no grain in her feeder and only half a flake of hay in the corner, her expression turned tragic ("Where is all my food?!").

It was a nice, cool evening, and I worried that Sofie's alter-ego, Fireball, might make an appearance out in the Big Field, so I free schooled her for a good, long time in one of the empty paddocks. She had a good time, grabbing bites of grass, throwing in lovely canter transitions and spazzing because one of the Pony Club moms was setting up jumps in the outdoor arena.

Back in the aisle, we worked on getting ready to ride and not eating the garbage can (that was HARD, especially when Judy brought out the OTHER garbage can OMG). Yeah, she's not afraid of garbage, she just has, like, a fascination with it.

She watched intently as Alex, a pinto pony roughly the height and width of a bicycle was ridden around in the outdoor. There was quite a bit of activity going on that night, but she only got a bit high headed watching everything. Warming up in the indoor, she was distractable, listening to the sounds of Judy's grandkids running around and the Pony Club mom coaching her kid. The mom and I elected to take Sofie outside, since disembodied voices are slightly less weird when one is out in the open instead of in a box.

She was excellent. Just excellent. She went where I told her to go, never acting up or protesting. I walked her down the Scary Fenceline, and we did lots of trotting all over the place. She trotted away from the barn without balking or wiggling all over the place, and she kept a nice rhythm when turned toward the barn. At one point she spazzed a bit and got a little anxious about leaving the barn area, but instead of getting out of control she let me turn her away from the barn, and she used her energy productively, trotting a sizeable hill with no issues at all. I made up patterns, weaving her through brush and tall grass and weeds. Toward the end of the ride, I wound up doing some work on a loose rein. I started out trotting her toward the barn, and I let the reins go to the buckle and rubbed her neck, which tends to relax her, and sure enough, she slowed to a walk and stretched her neck down without any bit pressure at all.

Then I experimented, turning her different ways and giving her a loose rein. I was actually able to keep her straight, even heading away from the barn, and at one point I actually turned her away from the barn on a loose rein. It was pretty cool.

Just before I quit for the night, I was trotting her on the buckle, and she decided to throw in a canter. Away from the barn. I have no idea why she chose that particular moment, since she usually won't canter away from the barn, but she did, and it was niiiiice. She kept her head down, too, and she was nice and relaxed. I did fleetingly think gee, I hope she doesn't decide to buck because she could definitely get her head down right now! But she doesn't seem to have issues at the canter unless I hold her back too much. Anyway, it was an awesome ride. She was definitely at her best.

Yesterday's ride did not go as well. Sofie was in a bit of a mood (she actually ran at my mom while she was free schooling her, which she hasn't done in quite some time) and I was totally out of sorts for some reason. We were stuck in the indoor, too, because it was raining, and Sofie was just not into it. I can't really blame her, because the indoor sucks (especially compared to the Big Field) but I can't just not ride her when the weather's bad, or she would be a fatball. She kept drifting in really badly tracking left, which we keep having to work on, and for some reason I couldn't deal. So I kept picking at her, and getting mildly annoyed, and reading way too much into her weirdness (the more I focus on her minor evasions/bad behavior, the worse she gets). She never did anything major (she might've swished her tail a couple times, but that was it), she just wasn't a happy camper. She was moving great when my mom free schooled her, so I don't think she was too terribly uncomfortable. I think it was more just not wanting to work on boring stuff in the indoor, and both of us feeding each other's iffy moods. There's just not a whole lot we can do in the indoor, with her stiffness (and limited turning ability), so boredom is obviously going to be an issue.

We did do a fair amount of trotting, and she was actually better at the trot than the walk. She even volunteered the trot a few times, so she might've had excess energy, too, which would make anyone fidgety. I kept putting too much weight in the right stirrup and making the saddle uneven, which made me mad, and then I got mad at myself for picking at Sofie too much when she wasn't really doing anything wrong. I basically just had a crappy outlook that day, and I hate that feeling because I used to have such a huge problem with always picking at myself and my horse and needing everything to be perfect, and Sofie has really helped me with that. I don't think I'm relapsing or anything, I just had a bad day. Which happens. I wasn't abusive or anything, and I did get a nice trot circle to the left, some nice halts and backing, and some nice long and low at the trot, reins on the buckle, with her nose down as far as it could go and her still moving forward. This from a horse that used to just get really inverted when I put the reins forward. I need to just let myself off the hook, because I didn't really do anything wrong, and even if that was a "bad" ride, it was still was still so much better than how we used to be. A year ago she could not stretch down at the trot. At all. A month or so ago, she wouldn't trot without balking and pinning her ears and threatening to blow up. Where we are now, on both our good AND bad days, is a great place to be.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Priceless Ride

Horses = expensive. A good ride = priceless.

Yesterday's ride was really, really good. Sofie free schooled well, showing off her nice trot and lovely canter and only being a bit naughty, stopping in corners and frantically stuffing her mouth with grass. She wasn't at all reactive to grooming and saddling, which was nice, and she walked around the indoor well. I decided to trot her in the indoor before going outside to see how she was feeling. She trotted willingly in a relaxed frame in both directions, so we went outside to have some fun.

The neighbor guy was building a cute little shed in the Scary Corner, but Sofie wasn't terribly fazed. She didn't like the garbage bags across the road, which seagulls had gotten into and trashed ("What is happening to the neighborhood? There's, like, garbage everywhere!") but they didn't require spooking. They just required staring. Lots of staring.

We meandered about, finding places we could trot away from the barn, since we're keeping the trotting toward the barn to a minimum. The best place is The Place Where The Dog Burst Through The Underbrush, because it's a nice straight line and she's been very well behaved there ever since The Dog Incident (yes, my horse is chronically weird). As I trotted her down the gelding fenceline, she started revving up as we reached the Scary Corner (which she's not really scared of, it's just an excuse to go fast, wheeeeee!). I frantically half halted, then released as I felt her sort of respond, and she flowed into a canter. Fortunately, I was off her mouth, so we had no issues with her getting mad at me because I was holding her back. Her canter was super nice, and I relaxed into it and enjoyed the ride all down The Place Where We Like To Canter, then brought her back with my seat before we turned for the barn. So The Place Where We Like To Canter has been resurrected, but I'm not too worried about it because I actually wouldn't mind cantering sometimes, and as long as we don't get into a pattern of always cantering there, I think we'll be fine.

We went down the trail, where we trotted when the footing allowed, and managed not to scrape my leg too badly on the big branch thing that sticks out, or slice open Sofie's leg on a big spiky branch thing that she insisted on walking right over. We freaked out a little at a bird bursting out of the underbrush, followed two seconds later by a freakin' gynormous grey squirrel jumping out of a tree, but we didn't do anything too drastic. I trotted her on the way back, too, and she actually was more relaxed and had a nicer tempo than she had heading away from home.

Then we worked on a serpentine in the front yard, starting in walk, then moving up to a trot. She did well at staying straight and turning (she can't really bend properly at this point because of her hocks, but I don't really mind as long as she tries) and going where I told her to go. All through the ride I had her trot away from the barn in different places and although she wasn't always thrilled with the idea, her ears weren't pinned, she didn't get all mad (except for one time, and it was quite minor). She's still drifting left, right, left, right as we head away from the barn, but not to the degree she was before. And now when that doesn't result in her getting her way, she trots, as if that will make me reconsider, but instead I go "Yes! Let's trot away from the barn, good girl!" and she goes "That was so not my intention."

I'm sure we will have bad days, but this shows me that I'm on the right track with my training, and I'm sure we'll have plenty more good rides, too.

I need to get new conformation shots (I need to get new pictures, period!) but here are some conformation shots of the Sofa from last fall.

"What d'you mean, square up? I want grass. That's why we're out here, right?"

"The. Grass. Is. Right. There. RIGHT THERE!"

"Okay, fine. Take your stupid picture, beyotches."

"Hey, look, I can make myself look really croup high! Ha. You'll never get a good picture now!"

"Just kidding. I'll be good. When have I ever not been good?"