Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Canter Visuals!

Sofie and I had another good ride yesterday. We played in the snow and listened really well. We only had two unplanned canters!

Here are some stills from video taken back in October. Finally, you get to see the elusive Sofa canter!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Great Times

After our few days of hormonal hell last week we've been enjoying better times. At a certain point last week, I felt like things were never going to work out for us. I don't feel that way now.

The last two rides have been really good. Seriously good. She's been doing well in some pretty cold temperatures without her Senior SmartFlex. She's been moving fine, even at the canter. Since she came out of heat she's been chill, and it's a relief for both of us.

I'm really shocked by how well she's been doing without her joint supplement. I took her off of it as a concession to Annie's theory that IR (insulin resistance) is the root of all evil. I don't necessarily agree that Sofie is IR, but I did wonder if the sugar wasn't having a negative impact. And I think that may have been a very good decision, for a few reasons.

She's not really moving any worse now that she's not on it.

Her appetite is good. She's cleaning up her hay snacks while I brush her, instead of picking at them.

Her attitude is good. Not perfect, but she's no longer touchy and sour when I groom and saddle her.

And the really big thing? She's no longer girthy.

I can girth her up with barely a backward glance from her, regardless of whether she has a pile of hay in front of her. I can shift the saddle around on her back when I find out that it's crooked. For quite a while, she's been seriously girthy - ear pinning, head snaking back, threatening to bite girthy. And now all of a sudden it's GONE. I couldn't believe it at first. I thought maybe she was just having a really good day or something, but now it's been that way two times in a row.

On Tuesday we did quite a long walk warmup, first walking around on a long rein, then taking up contact and working on flexing. She did better with flexion than she did the previous ride. Our trot work was good, we went quite forward and even had little moments of slight flexing and bending. I'm not insisting that the trot be perfectly bent and flexed all the time, because frankly, she needs to work up to that. She's spent nine years being crooked and on the forehand and NOT flexing. It's not going to happen overnight.

I rode without stirrups for a while, and put some work in riding a very forward trot without stirrups. She was kind of charging around in her semi-out of control way typically reserved for outside riding, not really listening to me when I asked her to walk. So I had to pull her down a few times. I eventually picked up my stirrups, as she kept anticipating the canter, and I am not ready to try cantering her without stirrups. I would have no problem sitting her canter, but until my canter cue is more confirmed (dressage speak for "When I don't have to worry about my horse bucking in the canter") I will endeavor to keep my stirrups.

So I picked up my stirrups and gave the canter a go. I tried it first tracking right, since she really seemed to want to canter in that direction. The second I asked for it, though, she went "YOU ASKED FOR IT, BEYOTCH", raised her head and slowed down in the trot. I kept after her, and she went into the canter, throwing in a nice little buck. She got me forward a little, but I recovered quickly. She broke to a trot, I made her canter again, she was mad, and I made her canter forward down the whole long side before asking her to trot. I think we might've gotten the right lead once, but at this point I'm not worrying too much about the leads. One step at a time, right?

Since the right canter was not working terribly well, I tried her to the left and she cantered promptly from my leg aid with no bucking and no being irate. She was quite crooked, but we'll worry about straightness later on. I was just happy she did it without protesting mightily. Good girl!

I left the canter alone after that. We worked some on the rein-back (it needs work) and some trotting without anticipating the canter. She moved well throughout the ride and was mostly content and willing.

Yesterday Sofie kept up her happy, calm attitude, and we had an amazing ride. I free schooled her briefly beforehand and she moved well at all three gaits, even taking her right lead. I also raked the sides of the arena (there was a trench worn down the long sides on the rail. Sofie doesn't like trenches. I think the unevenness is hard on her hocks). We did a nice, long walk warmup, and then I started working on flexion, preparing her for the trot work.

There were a few weak points as far as the ride was concerned. It was not her best day for flexing and bending (it was quite cold, so maybe that had something to do with it. She wasn't off at all, or anything). She particularly did not want to bend to the right, and she was reluctant to turn left. She was heavy in the outside rein while tracking left, something that's typical for her but has been better lately. So our connection wasn't terribly good, at least in the beginning. She wasn't exactly all "sunshine and rainbows" for the whole entire ride, but that's not really something I expect from her at this stage of training. The ride was a little rough around the edges in places and not totally polished.

BUT we accomplished a LOT, and it was a great ride for us.

Once again Sofie was raring to go in the early trot work, only this time she was not paying attention AT ALL. I think it was partially just energy and partially my fault. I've been so happy with our increased forward movement that I haven't insisted that I be in control of the trot speed. So she was just barreling along, paying absolutely no attention to my half halts. I had to really haul on her several times to get her to Pay Attention, and even then she was still in go go go mode. She was cutting corners and falling in, and when I attempted to move her off my leg, she'd just start trotting again. Pretty much any aid (or what she interpreted as an aid) from me, and she was off trotting. She tuning into the voice cues of the other rider in the ring very well, too. Much better than the other girl's horse, actually. But that's Sofa for you.

So after quite a few "Hail Mary", rein-centric half halts, I concluded that she needed to go forward and get some energy out of her system. I picked up my stirrups, trotted her, and decided to work on the canter. She had already broken into the canter once (NO attitude, of course...her decision). I wanted to try and get the right lead, since she'd picked it up while free schooling and she wasn't stiff behind at all. So I asked for the canter.

Instant MAD Sofa. Canter, ears back. BUCK. Canter on, break. Canter again. BUCK. Break to trot. Canter AGAIN, 'cause now I'm mad. And canter. And canter. Canter. Canter. Canter.

That was pretty much how it went for a while. She had a ton of energy that needed to be expended, and she wanted to canter, but occasionally she had to buck and get pissed because I dared to ASK her, OMG. The nerve. She would not bend, and she never did take her right lead. We basically just flew around for a while, and cantered so many times. After a while, she stopped having any attitude at all, which was really nice.

After that we took a walk break. Then we tried cantering on the left. We had attitude, of course. We bucked once or twice. But we were fairly good.

So she did a LOT of canter work, without going lame or bucking me off. She did get me forward, but fortunately she seems to stop at one buck, giving me the chance to get un-forward. Which is awfully kind of her. I continue to be fearless and able to deal with her attitude, and I even was able to reach down and rub her neck when she cantered without attitude.

Our rein-back still needs work, but I did get some good steps. I need to work on backing her on the ground. She can be sticky about going backward and set her jaw against my hand.

It was not really our day for bending at the walk, although she did do alright with flexing. She actually did a little better at the trot, and we did a few trot circles to the right that were definitely an improvement. We'll keep working on it a little at a time...

The cool part was at the end. I had been wanting some adjustability in the trot work, particularly in preparation for going outside. Sofie tends to want to get in the trot and just fly forward at whatever speed suits her. I wanted her to listen to me a little more. I wanted to trot to be my trot.

I started experimenting with half halts, kind of tensing my stomach and really controlling my posting, really slowing it down. I tried it as I turned her onto the centerline, and she actually shortened her stride and we made a very nice turn. So I kept trying it, and she listened! We went back and forth in the trot, shortening on the short sides (or wherever) and then going forward. I just really focused on controlling the swing of my hips and engaging my core to bring her down, and then to go forward I would release the tension and give her a little push with my leg and seat. She did so well, I couldn't believe our mad adjustability! We really seemed to have a good connection, too. She wasn't totally on the bit the whole time (occasionally her head came up and she got a little flat and rushy), but for the most part she felt really good. And she was willing, even at the end of a long ride (like a solid hour or maybe even more!).

So our training is going really well. I'm planning to keep working on the canter, Paying Attention, flexing and bending and also our super spiffy new transitions within the trot. The main thing I want to work on is giving her more praise. I've been so focused on my contact and everything I'm working on that sometimes I forget to really rub her neck and exclaim over her. She's working so hard for me, I want her to know she's appreciated. I want our relationship to be strong above all else. I don't want a horse who does everything she's supposed to and quietly resents me. So I need to make sure that I give her lots of praise, especially now that I'm asking for more and she's giving me more.

I'm really happy that I'm able to just enjoy her right now. I don't feel like all is lost. She went on her new hormone-balancing supplement last night (she gets six more whole ounces of pellets each day...lucky Sofa!), so we'll see how it helps her.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hanging In There

Sofie continued to be a little off, a little tucked-up and ripply in her flank area through Friday. I went home on Thursday, in the early afternoon, and we went back to the barn early afternoon on Friday. She looked okay, but still slightly tense in her flank area, and she would occasionally show a slight colic symptom (just enough to really freak me out, all over again). She was eating well and pooping, so after squirting 10 more ccs of Banamine into her mouth, my mom convinced me to go home. I really needed to be home at that point, but I still felt like a terrible horse owner for leaving her when she still wasn't 100 %. It's always so hard to know what to do. But by then she had survived several days without actually colicking and dying, and the vets we talked to said that if she was eating, drinking, pooping and peeing normally, she just needed to work through her hormonal issues. She was definitely hormonal, for sure...distracted, herdbound and TOUCHY.

So I went home, checking in with Judy occasionally, and we tried to figure out what to do with our hormonal mare. We had already figured out that Regumate was not an option. Daily injections....not happening. $300 for a two to three month supply? Not gonna work. We had already decided to try an herbal "hormonal mare" supplement, but which one? There. Are. So. Many. Out. There. We were both in internet-research sensory overload, and we needed a little time to go home and think things through. It's overwhelming, trying to figure out which supplement to try for ANYTHING, let alone something vitally important. But we decided to try an all-herbal supplement with raspberry leaves, chamomile and wild yams, and we also have some chaste berry on order, which could be sprinkled over her feed or fed free-choice. All those herbs sound like they should help her out, and at this point it's worth a try.

For now, she's back on all her supplements, except for her Senior SmartFlex. I'm keeping her off of it for now, on the off chance that the sugars are exasserbating her issues. She's still moving well, even after being off it for five days, and frankly, right now her hocks are the least of my worries.

Today she seemed to be doing really well. She was relaxed, and interested in her surroundings. Her attitude was good for the most part, too. I free schooled her, and she started out a bit short strided but warmed up and moved out pretty well. She ate a snack of hay while I groomed and tacked her up, and she didn't seem to mind the saddle or girth.

We had a good ride today. She didn't flex quite as well as she has been (of course, we hadn't ridden since Tuesday) and was rather heavy on the left rein. She wanted to fall in and get crooked, but she moved off my leg well. She moved quite forward in the trot, a bit inverted at times, but she did occasionally reach into the contact all on her own, and she accepted a steady contact. She thought about bouncing around a couple times (she might've been anticipating the canter, haha), and later on in the ride she had her ears back in a few of our trots, but that was after her girth was tightened (and the person who tightened it for me cranked it up two holes on one side, which it really didn't need...), which could have been a factor. Regardless, she went forward, and she seemed content for the majority of the ride. Our rein-back needs work again...she was pretty heavy in the mouth, and very stingy with her backward steps. Oh, well. I did experiment with half halts a couple times, and she actually shortened her stride, which was cool. I didn't canter because I wanted to take it easy for this first ride. If she's still doing well on Tuesday, I will try cantering again.

So, we had a good day, which is a huge relief. I didn't really even want to go to the barn this morning, because I had no idea what I would find. So it was good to go out there and have some fun again. We should have a few weeks in here to just have fun and relax, and she should have her new supplement by next week. Hopefully we'll be able help her feel better next time she's in heat. She was much better this time around, just from being off Devil's Claw and on Magnesium, which is somewhat reassuring.

So let's hope for no more hormonal hell!!!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I don't even know how to begin this. I'm mentally and emotionally exhausted, and there are some very grim possibilities in my head that, if I think about them too much, absolutely dissolve me.

Sofie and I have had two more forward, canter-included rides. Considerable attitude was present, right along with promise. She was energetic during rides and free schooling, but yesterday, in the aisle and out in the field with her friends, she was high-headed and starey. She seemed okay after my ride, but in the field, she was doing a lot of standing and staring. There was a weird buzzsaw type noise happening, and disembodied noises do get to her, so I didn't worry too much about her distracted, slightly tense state.

I was to stay in town that night, sleeping over at a friend's house. At around 7:40 I got a text from the barn owner. She wanted to talk to me about Sofie's supplements and her "attitude". That worried me. I didn't like the sound of that. I tried calling her but couldn't get through to her cell phone. My friend and I were driving around at 9:00, and I learned she'd been out to the barn earlier that night (she has a horse there as well), while I was attending a class at the public library. I casually asked her how Sofie was, and she said something that worried me. I couldn't get a straight answer out of her, so I asked if she wanted to go back to the barn. She did, and we went there.

Sofie's stall was bare, no output of any sort. I immediately started having flashbacks to Christmas Eve eve. She had drunk water and eaten most of her hay. Her belly wasn't overly tucked up or spasming. I let myself into the stall, checking her over, and she was touchy. Very touchy. She seemed defensive, almost angry, clearly saying "Do not touch me". Gut sounds were present, she wasn't dehydrated as far as I could tell, she wasn't sweating or pawing or fractious. But she was not right. I turned her out in the indoor for a minute, and she did poop right away, so that was good.

Sofie does have a sense of timing. Both her colicky episodes have happened when I was able to look after her.

I went up to the house to talk to Judy, who offered to let me spend the night at her house so I could check on my horse periodically. I gratefully took her up on that.

As we were talking, she told me what had been going on with Sofie. Apparently, according to the boarders who brought the horses in a couple nights in a row (Judy has been sick with a nasty flu), Sofie had been coming in and running around the arena, dodging people who tried to catch her, and turning right around to try and come back out as soon as she was let into her stall. Not normal. And they had also seen her being aggressive toward the other mares, and not letting them come to the door to be let in. Definitely. Not. Normal. As I was hearing all this, I immediately thought, "Hormones." All signs pointed to hormones. My online research did not give me a good feeling, as it turns out many of the things that can go wrong with ovaries and cause mares to be whacked out require surgical removal of the ovaries. And surgery (plus shipping to a university) is way above what would be reasonable for me to pay for.

I checked on Sofie at 11, 1, 3 and 7:30, and she remained somewhat dull and unhappy looking, but okay. She went out with her friends at 8 and did her stopping and staring routine for a while, but eventually settled down to eat. She looked fine when she was eating out with her friends, but when I went down at 11, she was alone behind the barn. She had that slightly unhappy look, and was looking at her sides. She also pawed a couple times as I watched.

At that point I decided to call the local vet office to see if I could talk to one of the equine vets. It turned out that one of them was out on farm calls, and heading to the area where Sofie's barn is located. I talked to him briefly, and arranged for him to stop by. I also called our neighbor, and she went to tell my mom what was going on.

After that I completely fell apart from all the not knowing. Not knowing if I should just wait and see. She wasn't as bad as she was on Christmas Eve, and she came through that fine. I felt terrible for spending money, and for rearranging my mom's day. So I cried semi-hysterically for a while, but in the end I knew I made the right decision. I did not feel like waiting and seeing, and the vet was going to be in the area anyway. It was the right thing to do.

My mom arrived at 1, to my intense relief, and I told her everything I knew and observed. She agreed with my decision, and I brought Sofie in and walked her in the arena until the vet showed up a few minutes later.

The first thing he did was check her back, running this weird plastic thing over the acupressure meridians (I think that's what they're called) for the ovaries. She sank, and tightened her belly, and generally conveyed pain. He listened for gut sounds, and then decided to ultrasound her to check for gut motility, and hopefully check her ovaries as well. She didn't mind the equipment, but light sedation was required (and he also felt it would help her relax, which would help with the pain), and Sofie took offense at that. Big time. She did her typical rock-hard neck, try-to-escape-down-the-aisle routine. So out came the twitch, and she got her drugs. Gut motility was good on the ultrasound, but he wasn't able to check out her ovaries. He opted not to palpate her, saying he felt the risk and reward was not good. If we do need her palpated, the senior Dr. Aho has done hundreds and hundreds of cows and horses and will be able to do the job.

So we don't quite know what's causing her to cramp like this, except that it is certainly hormonally driven. Basically, this cannot go on indefinitely. It's far too stressful on her and on us to go through this again and again, and also, it is too easy for her body to tense up from the pain, thus shutting down gut motility and throwing her into full-blown colic.

Dr. Aho suggested a couple different options (Regumate and spaying), neither of which are terribly doable. I don't like the idea or the reality of Regumate, or the (high AND ongoing) cost. If her issues are coming from cystic ovaries or a tumor, spaying would be the only real option. I really hope it doesn't come to that, because it will be a horribly hard decision to have to make.

For the short term, it looks as if she will get through this. She's been relaxed and had a good appetite ever since she came out of her sedation haze. She's had two doses of oral Banamine, the first at 3, when she was still a bit groggy, and the second at 7. I had no trouble giving it to her, even when she was fully conscious and likely had an idea what was coming. That alone is miraculous. I am so grateful to Annie for all she's taught me. Annie is amazing, and I'm just glad a little of her amazing-ness is rubbing off on me.

I did talk with Annie tonight, and she suggested a diet change. Apparently there is a supplement that is good for insulin resistant horses, and it's well balanced for any horse. Annie has a lot of horses with issues at her barn, including hormonal mares. Frankly, if this supplement isn't astronomical, I'm willing to try it. I would love it if a diet change could solve these problems. I don't know if it can, but I know Annie really knows what she's doing, and it always pays to go with her. And if there's something I can try before thinking about drastic measures, I will do it.

I really hope this can be fixed. I do not want to lose this horse now. I have to stay strong and not think too much about the worst case scenario. What's helping me is the knowledge that no matter what happens, I have been changed for the better by this horse. I am a stronger, more confident, more capable person because of her. I have learned so much from her, and the people I've come to know through her, that I know will serve me well, not just in my work with horses but in life. I fully believe we found each other because we both needed to. Whatever happens, I know our time together has been important, and I will go on and do good things. I will give myself more credit and put fewer limitations on myself, because I am more than I thought I could be, and I know that now.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Canter On!

Somewhat belated Sofa Christmas photos that we took for my Christmas card...

Our recent rides have gone really well. We’ve been making some steps toward where we need to be, and though we still have a long way to go, I’m feeling more confident that we will be able to get the basics down. I really just want to have speed control, straightness/bend, self carriage and connection, and get her to use her hind end properly. I want her to be light and happy and use herself better. For a while I’ve been wanting our work to be more correct, and now that I’ve been taking lessons from a dressage trainer who knows what they’re doing, I feel like I have a better idea of what we need to work on.

Two days after Sofie’s colic, I rode her briefly at a walk, not really asking much since she was quite stiff. We did more trot work during the next ride, and she was still stiff (from not having her super-ultra joint supplement), but fairly agreeable (ears back at times and not the happiest expression, but not actively protesting and doing everything I asked).

The next day I was planning to go ride Choo-Choo, but I was still pretty dead-tired from the colic episode, and I just didn’t feel like going all the way to the Equestrian Center and working on dressage. The weather was absolutely beautiful, and I really wanted to ride Sofie outside while I had the chance. I wasn’t sure whether I should ride her through the snow, and I was a little concerned that it might adversely affect her, but I decided to just evaluate her and decide. She moved out quite a bit in the trot when I free schooled her, spazzing a bit when she heard the Ferrell Gas man pull up in his huge truck and start clanking around the barn. She continued to be rather high-headed and alert in the aisle (she was off her SmartCalm at that point too), and I had no idea how much (or how little) she was going to listen to me when we got outside, but I wanted to ride outside, so I tacked her up and went for it. She walked along fairly well, and we headed in the direction of the trail. I wasn’t sure how she would be on the trail, but I decided to take her on the trail anyway, since we were by the trail entrance. At the last minute, she decided she needed to get away from the scary corner, and went sideways, trying to avoid turning onto the trail, but I kept her going forward.

We headed down the trail. I sat on a very, very “keen” (a nice, subtle way of saying “might take off at any moment”) Sofa. Her head was up, and she was looking around at alllll there was to look at. The wind gusted through the scary, scary woods, fueling her “keen” state of being. Wind doesn’t scare Sofie, unless she’s looking for an excuse, which I think she was at that point. She started trotting, and I let her trot for a little bit, eventually pulling her down. She held it together pretty well until we turned the corner leading past the gelding field fenceline and into the woods. She started trotting again, and soon she made an effortless transition into the canter. I pretty much just sat there, going “Hey, this is fun!” I mean, there is nothing more fun than cantering through the snow. I was having a great time as she cantered on. Gradually I realized we were heading into the woods, and she was still cantering, showing no sign of slowing down. “Hmm,” I thought, “Perhaps I should see if I have brakes.” It took a few pulls to get her down to a trot and then a walk, but I was successful.

Then I started thinking about how we had to turn around eventually. “If she was that forward heading away from home,” I thought, “I hope she doesn’t take off when we turn around, because I don’t really want to find out how fast she can go.” I also quickly debated how soon to turn around, and decided that I could prolong it, but that would only give her farther to run. I opted to turn around right away, since she was now walking calmly. Once we faced in the direction of home, I left the reins loose, and kept my seat as quiet and relaxed as possible. She was very good, much to my relief. She did break into the trot a couple times, and I quickly brought her back down before she could start cantering with no warning or obvious transition, which she’s shockingly adept at. I could tell she was having to work to walk through the snow, and I knew she was thinking “You know, with a little more momentum I could have us back home in no time.”

We got back to the yard and I rode for a few more minutes, working just on walk/trot and flexion and listening to me. She was quite good overall. My mom came out of Judy’s house towards the end of the ride and told me how they’d been watching us out the window and had seen Sofie take off in a canter and then accelerate to a hand gallop (Sofa doesn’t gallop) and disappear into the woods. “I was hoping you had the situation under control,” she said. “I figured if you didn’t come back in a few minutes I was going to have to go see where you ended up.” I wasn’t aware that she’d been “galloping”, since it was so smooth and elevated and round (she was going through snow, after all. Snow = instant awesome Warmblood gaits), so it was interesting (and entertaining) to hear about it from her perspective. It was definitely a fun ride, and it was good for us to just get outside and go a little wild. I was happy to be out there enjoying my horse, who has made me afraid at times but also taken away a lot of my fear.

Back in the arena, I kept working little by little on flexion, listening to me, bending, rein-back and trot work. The weather continued to be freakishly warm, and quite a bit of Judy’s yard melted out, then froze solid when the temperature dropped. I still managed to get another outside ride in, though. The ground was like concrete but there was no ice (except a couple very avoidable patches on the driveway), and the day was cold but not windy, so it was doable at least for a light ride. Sofie was very careful on the hard surface, only thinking about breaking into a canter once (and she was easily dissuaded from that idea). I used the opportunity to work on flexion outside, as well as the big one, listening to me. I had to use strong rein aids in most of the downward transitions, when she wanted to just keep trotting and was tuning me out. I don’t like having to do that, but the alternative is letting her run the show, which I’ve been doing (in varying degrees) for too long. I haven’t been getting upset or feeling like I’m hurting her when I make a strong correction, though, which is helpful, since I’m not being abusive or unfair and I don’t need to give myself a hard time over it.

The ride was kind of rough at the edges, but she went forward when I asked, didn’t balk at any point, and eventually listened to my hand. She even flexed a bit at the trot in both directions, but I kept any bending work to a minimum on that frozen surface. Although the ride was a bit rough, she really did a great job on challenging footing, and she showed improvement in some areas we used to struggle with.

The last two rides were excellent. Well, excellent relative to our standards, but excellent nonetheless. I started carrying a dressage whip so I could reinforce my leg when necessary (and not fall into the trap of nagging her, rather than risking a confrontation). I tapped her behind my leg early on in the ride after I asked for a more forward walk and she failed to respond, which sent her into a trot. It took some convincing for her to come back down to a walk, and she continued to have lots of energy throughout the ride. She moved more forward than she has all this winter (except on the trail, heehee!), and her ears were moving back and forth, instead of sullenly back like they have been. She just felt really good. I mainly rode on the rail, but I also incorporated some circle work, and she flexed a bit at the trot, accepting a steady contact and circling fairly well. She’s not able to perform a full circle without some falling in or drifting out, but I’m not too concerned about it being perfect. I don’t want to overdo the circle work and make her sore. I’d rather just work on it a little at a time. Eventually we’ll get there.

The latest ride was pretty awesome. When I say awesome, I don’t mean anything perfect, sunshine-and-rainbows or attitude free. It was an awesome ride relative to us, and our issues, and it was an awesome ride for me and my confidence.

So, I warmed her up at a walk, letting her stretch and moving her off my inside leg when necessary. She’s typically light to lateral aids, though we haven’t done any official leg yields with straightness and crossing over and stuff like that. After a few minutes I picked up a little contact, and worked on flexion, with the idea of preparing her for the trot work. It worked well; she accepted a steady contact throughout the trot work, with a little flexion here and there. She wasn’t as forward as she had been the previous ride; she was a little stiff. But she worked well and agreeably for the beginning of the trot work.

After a while she started to feel a bit less willing - she was still doing everything I asked, but her attitude was a tad bit resentful. I used my voice a couple times, clucking to her when she needed to go forward a bit more, and that put her ears back right away. For some reason, although I frequently use voice commands when I free school her, she really doesn’t like it when I incorporate them while I’m riding. I’ve been slowly phasing in little clucks when I ride, and she invariably puts her ears back and makes a face when I cluck to her. Gradually I’ve realized that she never really escalates her displeased behavior, so I’ve stopped being intimidated.

At one point I clucked to her as she was trotting, and she got upset and revved up a bit, like she was thinking about cantering. I thought about asking her to canter, and she decided to canter, throwing her head around and generally acting like she wanted to stomp me into the ground. Halfway down the long side, she broke into a trot, and I put my heel into her side and went “No, you keep cantering!” She picked up the canter again, still giving me considerable attitude, but she didn’t buck. She cantered straight into the corner, and I stopped her just short of the blue barrels and gave her a long rein.

I had been thinking about asking her to canter in the indoor, ever since the hormonally driven crazy psycho day when I found out she could indeed canter in the smaller space in balance. She’s been moving better, she’s sound right now, and I was finally confident enough to commit fully. After a walk break, I did some more trot work, and then I sat down, put my outside leg back and kissed to her. She took the canter instantly, and I felt a lot of energy, though some of it was distinctly tainted with baditude. Her canter still felt kind of “wild and western”, a little crow-hoppy, a bit all over the place as she made sure to tell me where I could go. But still, things didn’t escalate, and I never felt afraid or in danger of being thrown. I felt confident, fearless. I felt like a cowgirl on my bitchy, opinionated little Paint mare who is the best thing that ever happened to me.

After our canter, I let the reins out to the buckle and she powered along in the trot, stretching down consistently, even when I had to make a steering correction. After a little more trot work, I walked her on a long rein until Annie showed up to trim her feet.

So, for the first time since June of 2009, we cantered fully by my choice. After Sofie’s feet got fixed, and we discovered all her compensation issues, I got into the habit of letting her canter when she wanted to, figuring she knew what she could handle. Eventually I lost my nerve, and I couldn’t even think about asking her to canter without becoming anxious. At the end of our one and only lesson with Idiot Trainer (just before Sofie’s hock arthritis was diagnosed), I asked her to canter without conviction, while leaning forward, too scared to think or ride properly, knowing I made the wrong decision. She didn’t canter. She kept trotting, and eventually kicked up with both hind feet, saying “Enough.” After that, it took me a long time to get confident enough to ask again. In the fall, I started to ask for the canter, making sure to set myself up for success.

So it takes time. I don’t like to rush myself, or my horse, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. We may have very little in the way of correct Dressage with a capitol D, but we started with a lot of issues, we’ve had a lot of setbacks, and we have something to show for our time together.

I have made mistakes. I let her take over a bit at times, and now I’m in the process of retraining her. Is she always happy with this new development? No. She doesn’t like being told what to do, and she’s a bit set in her ways. But I’m working to teach her what I want and need the best way I can, and she’s learning.

I’m excited to keep working on the basics, and now the canter. We need to work on the right lead, and make sure she uses herself evenly instead of always taking the left lead. We need to work to extinguish her bad reaction to voice commands over time. I need to establish steering at the canter (I was pretty much concentrating on staying on, and I didn’t think to steer, so she kind of cut in).

I’m amazed at how fearless I’ve become, and how capable I feel. I tend to be rather fearful by nature, and I’ve struggled with my confidence on and around horses for a long time. I used to panic at any slight hind-end bounce or baditude from Sofie. Now I’m able to ride through it and even enjoy it. I love this feeling.