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...

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