Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reality In Pictures

So, I have pictures from my most recent ride. They are not nearly as nice as the last photos I showed, but those were handpicked from video taken during a good month, and these are randomly taken during a ride from an iffy month, which September has turned out to be. I was hopeful that Sofie would be doing better by now, and able to hold up to more and better work, but she is how she is, and I have to respect that. I've been feeling low recently, and I'm finding it difficult to think positively. I'm a little tired of adversity, to be honest.

But our last ride did go well (even if the pictures are less than stellar). Surprisingly well. I had been feeling weepy and hopeless all day, so I was just hoping to get through the ride without emotional overflow. Sofie seemed in a bit of a funk, too. She wasn't really that much "off", or anything, but she walked away from me when I went to catch her for the first time in a long time, and her expression during the tacking up process was very unenthused. But we did have a good ride, going down the trail (at least as far as we could go before running into fallen trees) and then working in the yard. She went more forward than she has been going in the trot work (not really "forward", but less foot-dragging than usual) and even threw in a canter. She got a little upset with me for not letting her drift toward the barn, but did hardly anything threatening. I did some walk work on light contact, too, which we need to work on. She tends to think of contact as meaning "do something" and she gets tense and anticipatory. So we need to work on getting a relaxed walk on contact. We need to work on contact in general. She's been funny about contact lately. She really doesn't want to use her hind end, which is understandable, but we still need to do a little bit of work on contact.

I guess I really need to think of riding as therapy right now, rather than training. We are riding, at least, which is good. I'm just in a bad place right now, and it's hard to feel good about anything.

So. Onto pictures. To me, her expression in a lot of these is less than enthused, which is what I've been feeling when I ride her. She's not kicking out, she's not resisting heavily, she's not really pissed off (at least most of the time), there's just not really any joy or enthusiasm. I do tend to worry too much about that. Riding is therapy for her, and even if she's not thrilled about it, it's better than her standing in a field.

My equitation has gotten a little slouchy again. At least I don't have a consistent slouch in all the pictures, so I'm still ahead of where I used to be. Something to work on...

Warming up



These last two really show the difference in her neck depending on how she reacts to the bit.


Picking up my reins after a halt

Some of our walk and trot "work"

A tighter turn in a corner

Baditude! (She's wanting to drift toward the barn, I'm going "No" and using an opening rein, which she just loves, if you can't tell)

Her face is cute in this one. Otherwise, it kind of makes my eyes burn. Very disengaged trot, and I'm reverting to my faux-huntseat. It buuuurns...


Pretty horse, pretty colors.


A trot picture that isn't totally inverted!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back To Dressage(ish), and New Ideas

I saw Sofie five days in a row last week, what with our usual three day/week rides, her hoof appointment, and a couple groundwork sessions. She tolerated it pretty well, but I'm sure she was happy to have the weekend off.

Her hoof appointment went fairly well, though she was absolutely horrendously uncooperative when Annie was trimming her front feet. She was much better for the hind feet, even with her lingering left hock issues. I wouldn't be surprised if she needs another sternum adjustment (Chiro Lady is coming out later in October) as she's been a bit girthy as well. She tends to overcompensate a lot and strain her front end compensating for her hind end, and then when she starts to use her hind end, eventually it goes bad again. But her feet are still doing great, and I brought my Easyboot Epics that I bought eons ago on the advice of Annie and never used, since I generally ride on grass/in an indoor/on wimpy trails, and see no need for booting up on those surfaces. But with our recent road rides, I've started wanting to venture out a little further, and I hate the sensation of riding on pavement, especially with a horse who can't be trusted not to lose her brains. So I wanted to try them on her (with Annie's help) and see if Sofie hated them. I had a feeling she would, since she is a Princess Pea type and never even liked polo wraps, but she tolerated them fairly well, picking her feet up at first, like "What the heck ARE these things?" and moving a little stabby in front with them on, but not exactly having a fit and going "Get them OFF!!!" Apparently I'm supposed to buy pads, which will make them nicer for her. I haven't gotten them yet, but hopefully I will sometime in here.

Our yard rides have been pretty good, all thing considered. She's not where she was last fall, or even where she was back in June, which was disappointing, but we are riding, and not just walking, either. She even threw in a canter up a small hill one day, and didn't kick out (since I remembered to let go of her mouth). She's been listening pretty well, and she gets a little crabby at times, but nothing major, and I'm told she looks good when she's not being crabby.

I made one unplanned visit to the barn one evening. I couldn't ride because I had taken my stirrup leathers off my saddle to (finally) clean them, and I couldn't get the back on (Wintec stirrup bars are a of the few drawbacks of my saddle), and I wasn't really in the mood for riding anyway. But I got to see some friends from the barn, and I turned Sofie loose in the outdoor to free school her, and she tore across the arena, back and forth, even throwing up her Arab Tail at one point. I think she needed to blow off some steam, since she hasn't been galloping around like she normally does when the weather's nice. She's been guarding, and occasionally her frustration and pent-up energy show up in our rides. So it was nice to see her just let loose for a change.

Our last ride was on Thursday. It was rainy, so I rode in the indoor with my friend who was supposed to "free ride" her horse. She normally has lessons all the time, so I hadn't ridden with her in a while. It was nice to ride with her, except when her diabolical Friesian cross mare decided she was pissed off (it happens a lot with her) and backed towards Sofie, clearly intending to kick her. But we got out of the way, and the ride was good for an indoor ride. Sofie was maybe a little sore from the tearing around she'd done the previous night, but she was cooperative and never got crabby. She was just a little...not enthusiastic. But we did walk-trot transitions, halts and backing, and even some turn-on-the-forehand work, which we haven't done in quite a while.

Friday was a groundwork day, just to give her a little exercise before the weekend. She was moving well and seemed to have energy, so I had her canter, and instead of just getting the depart and letting her stop, I "cantered" along with her and asked her to keep going. She was very good and kept going for me without kicking at me or giving me attitude. I think she enjoyed moving out a little more, and her canters were pretty nice. She will NOT take the right lead, but with her left hock being how it is, I'm not surprised.

So where from here? I'm hoping to do more on the trails, of course, and maybe, in our yard/arena rides, start asking for a bit more from her in the way of engagement. I'm still looking to get a lesson from Jesse, our super nice local dressage trainer (he's working on getting a horse for me to ride). But, in all honesty, after seeing a reining freestyle at a local horse expo, I'm getting ideas. Reining seems like more self-carriage, less Rollkur and pissed off horses, more fun. After seeing it in person, I was pretty much like "Screw dressage. This is what I want to do." I know Sofie would be good at it, if she were ever sound. And there's no reason I couldn't do it in English tack. I'm not a fan of Western saddles, having always ridden English. I'm not quite ready to give up on dressage entirely, but some of the disciplines I saw there gave me ideas of different things to do with Sofie, and we can always use new ideas.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Killer Girl and Her Canine Accomplice: a tale from the road

So, remember how I was all Ms. Smug Person when I wrote that last post about how I'd solved all our trail riding issues? Um, yeah, this is Sofie we're talking about. No matter how many breakthroughs we have or how much progress we see happen, we will ALWAYS have "interesting" moments.

We returned to the road later on Monday afternoon. It started out just fine. We walked down the first hill, and I saw the school bus up ahead. "Oh, good," I thought. "We can see if Sofie is okay with school buses." She didn't seem to care (typical for her), even as it drew closer. Then it stopped and put up its flashers. Still not a problem. I began to realize that a kid was going to come out of it. I began to think things like "Oh, crap." Sure enough, I was right.

School bus = not at all scary

Girl getting off the school bus = terrifying

We were right across from the girl's house as she got off the bus and ran across the road, and, simultaneously, a German Shepherd started barking. "Oh, shit," I thought. Then I saw he was tied to the porch. So not as big an oh, shit, but it definitely still qualified. Sofie froze, staring rigidly at the girl and her dog. I tried to pull her head away from the terrifying scene. Not happening. This went on for a while, the staring and standing there. Gradually I realized she was just standing there, not bolting or doing anything stupid, so I just sat there and waited for her to start moving again. Killer Girl went to her mailbox to get the mail, which was newly terrifying. Sofie thought about running for it, but she was too scared, so she just went a little sideways as I tried to keep her facing forward. Killer Girl looked at us a little oddly. I said "Hi."

Finally we managed to go forward. She trotted a little and was very tense but didn't do anything too bad. I thought about turning back around and just going home, but realized that if I turned her around right then she probably WAS going to bolt or do something stupid. If I could just keep her straight and forward, she would be less likely to get fast and stupid on me. I figured when she had calmed down a little, I could turn back.

So we kept going. She was so tense and high-headed and her walk was so fast that she felt like a freakin' Tennessee Walker. But she was pretty good for me. She got nervous again when we came to her least-favorite house, which happened to have a bulldozer and a dump truck working in the back yard (WHY, I ask?), but she's pretty good about heavy equipment, so we got through it. We didn't make it all the way down the road, but we did get quite a ways down, and we made it past Killer Girl's house without further incident (partly due to the timely support of a fellow boarder and friend who came along in her car and served as an escort).

So it was "interesting". But we got through it, and I feel proud to have been able to deal with all that and still go on. Win.

More updates to come. No time for now. Later!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Relapses and Relearning

Fall has brought colder weather, and with overnight temperatures in the 40s, Sofie is sometimes quite stiff and cranky when I go out to the barn. So far I've been able to ride her each day, but there have been days when she just looked awful as I started to move her around. Other days, like yesterday, she looks good, even at the canter.

I managed to get to the barn one evening for another group trail ride, which was fun. Afterward, I rode Sofie in the Big Field, and everyone decided to join me. Sofie was unnerved by a quick little eventing pony cantering back and forth, and I struggled to get her to listen to me instead of focusing on the other horses. I kept her away from them for a little while, and then I turned her toward the other horses. Nervous about being left behind, she trotted forward. I let her trot, and she went into an unplanned canter. Her canter didn't feel too bad (this ride was on one of her bad days) and I wasn't holding her back, but she starting flinging her head for one reason or another (maybe "Ouch, this hurts a little!" or "Wheeeee! I'm cantering!" or "Look out, stinky geldings! I'm a free bitch!" Who knows?) so I pulled her up before she could pull me out of the saddle completely. I really need to get a better seat, but I have plans for that.

Our dressage work has been fairly nonexistent this month. We have had some fleeting good moments, but there were a couple of rides, in particular, that really brought up some of my old insecurities. Getting Sofie past the Scary Corner was difficult, and it felt like she wasn't paying attention to me at all. She didn't want to trot when I asked, she spooked and drifted and spazzed about the Scary Corner and the neighbor's yard. I felt like I had no control, and I felt like we weren't communicating. I kept grabbing for the outside rein to pull her head around, and that was it. She was too stiff and crabby for me to do transitions or circles, and I just felt like I had nothing. I relapsed into my old, critical, whack job way of thinking. I was upset with myself for not being better for her, I was worried that I had accomplished nothing with her, I was felt like other people were judging me even when they clearly weren't. I've mostly managed to conquer that self-destructive tendency since I've gotten Sofie, but relapses are natural. Sofie has them too, both physically and mentally. Bad days are sure to happen for both of us, and the only thing to do is to learn from them.

After a couple "going nowhere" rides, where we were both bitchy and fearful, I went back to the barn to try to make something good happen. I knew I needed to try something different. What I was doing wasn't working. I found Sofie stiff, but probably okay for at least a walk ride. I tacked her up and walked her a few times around the indoor, then rode her through the gate. I kept my reins long, and we walked along the fenceline toward the Scary Corner. I was sick of fighting with her and getting frustrated and making a big deal out of everything. I just wanted to have fun and get her moving.

We'd been having issues with the Scary Corner for a while. At the very least, she would look hard at it, and stop as I turned her onto the trail. At the worst, we could barely get near it. If there were blowing bushes or big squirrels in the vicinity, she used it as an excuse to act up further. She locked onto any scary thing.

On a long rein, with hardly any direction from me, she walked right through the scary corner and turned onto the trail without even being asked. I just about started crying. She was so good if I just let her be.

We've been doing more trail riding since then. She's less able to handle dressage-type stuff right now. Hock issues tend to exacerbate other issues she has...the slight barn sourness, the 'tude, her problem accepting contact. We have all winter to play around with dressage when we're stuck in the indoor. Fall begs for trail riding, anyway.

Yesterday I finally decided to suck it up and go back on the road. I hadn't ridden her on the road for a couple months, and our last road rides had not been good. She had pretty much treaded a serpentine the whole time. It had felt like I was fighting to keep her moving straight and forward every step of the way, constantly pushing her over with a leg or bringing her head back in line with a hand. She had tried to drift over onto the road and people's yards. And she'd been spazzy about certain things. It almost seemed like she was looking for things to spazz over.

So I decided to test my new theory that long reins = perfect trail horse. Right from the start, there was no hesitation from her about leaving the driveway, no last minute protesting. The drifting and looking around was reduced to a very manageable level, and she seemed to be having fun. We were both relaxed, and we weren't fighting and getting pissy at every stride. She even went past her least favorite house (I have no idea why she finds it disagreeable...the house with the American flag and the huge flamingo never gets a second look) and the recently logged place (The Sofa hates tree carnage) and we went all the way to the end of the least to the turn. There is a short section we have yet to ride on, but I hate riding on pavement (I have a pair of Easyboots, and Annie is coming to trim Sofa's feet on Tuesday...gonna ask her to show me how to put them on and see if the Sofa hates them or not. I suspect she will, but if she doesn't mind them, they might give me the peace of mind to be able to ride on pavement) and I couldn't see what the footing by the seat of the road was like through the long grass. But it was still the best we've ever done.

Back in the yard, I did a few trot transitions, and she was absolutely excellent about trotting away from the barn. She was moving well and was in a nice frame (even though I hate that word) with light, floaty reins. To the left, she wanted to drift, but I got her to move off my leg without protest, and that's where I ended things.

Sometimes you have to relearn things, I guess. I knew Sofie had issues with contact. Before I got her, she was ridden in a Tom Thumb bit and a tie-down, and the woman alwaus rode her on contact. I don't even know her full history, but from the way she reacts to a taut rein, I suspect that she was pulled on a lot, whether they wanted her to slow down or speed up. She will kick out at the canter if I hold onto her mouth too much, and I'm sure her behavior on the road this summer had to do with my hold on her mouth being too tight. Sofie is a great communicator, and the best trainer I've ever had, but sometimes I don't listen well enough and I don't understand what she's telling me. At least now I do, and I'm sure we will have lots of fun on the trails this fall.

One of my favorite pictures from last year. Yes, I need new pictures! Will work on that...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yay For Fall!

September is here, and the horrible heat and humidity of summer has gone away, taking some of the flies with it. It's the best time of the year to ride, and Sofie is feeling better just in time.

We've been going on trail rides, once with FIVE other people from the barn...that never happens at my barn! People riding, that is. Sofie was happy to see other horses actually being ridden, I think, and she was very good when I mounted up in an arena full of horses (three horses pretty much fill up our indoor, and with six...oy). We didn't go all the way down the trail because she was rather off that night, but it was interesting to ride with other people and actually see other people riding. And I rode Sam again, since he was already tacked up and his owner was all "Does anyone want to ride him?" (There was lots of horse-switching going on). He decided to be a spooky idiot since he wanted to be done, and took off multiple times at a trot and once at a canter. His canter was nice, but I wound up having to haul on him before he could go through an open gate and take me all the way back to the barn. Idiot. Sometimes it's good to ride other horses just so I appreciate the Sofa more.

Sofa has been nice and relaxed, even in cool, windy weather. On the first cold, blustery day I did some work in the indoor, not knowing if I would take her outside, but she wasn't inverted at all and was stretching down nicely, so I took her out into the yard. She was alert, but not inverted and still in a nice frame (even though I hate to use that word, ack), and she only startled once. I did keep her away from the Scary Corner, though. No reason to ASK for a spook/startle/drift/bolt/whatever.

I've been working on flexion and better contact the last couple rides, and it seems to be working. I've been able to take up contact on her mouth without her tightening or inverting, and I've been able to get a little flexion on both sides. The left side of her mouth is hard, so our contact tends to be uneven, but it's getting better. She actually had a nice, even "lipstick" of foam after our last ride.

I also started playing around with transitions the last ride, mostly on the trail but I also did a few in the yard. She's still "off" at the trot under weight, and she's still short-striding when I free school her, but she's willing to work now. I'm looking forward to doing more with transitions, since that seems to be a great way to get her engaged, mentally and physically. I'm also looking forward to doing more trail riding this fall...maybe venturing out onto the road again, and it looks like we might be able to get to the railroad grade if this guy will let us walk through his yard. That would be awesome!

I'm also considering trailering Sofie to a nearby barn with a huge, mirrored indoor and a pretty excellent dressage trainer who periodically trains up here (he was in Germany riding Oldenburgs for several months recently). He's a really nice guy, and I really want him to see Sofie again, as he saw her way back when I first got her and he was always a fan of hers, even though she was a total mess back then. She might not be up to an actual hour lesson at this point, but I would like to ride her there at least. It's a totally different atmosphere there - I call it "The Land Of Dressage Queens". And I think it would be an interesting adventure for us.

Even if Sofie doesn't make it there (I'm hoping to make it happen, but if her soundness doesn't improve, she won't be going anywhere) I can still arrange to rent one of several possible horses and take a few lessons with Jesse. And that is definitely happening. I've wanted to ride with him for a long time, and I'm finally going for it!