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.


  1. It sounds like you guys are doing great. Sofie seems to be in much the same place as Jackson. I've been working with him a lot on getting the correct lead at canter and he's pretty good now but his transitions are still far from smooth. So, I also don't ride his canter bareback or w/out stirrups yet. I need to stay on during the transition. The trick I used with Jackson when teaching him to get the correct lead was to carry my whip on the outside and when I asked for canter I also gave him a small tap so he learned to jump away from the outside leg and into the correct lead. It worked really well. You might try it with Sophie and see if it helps her understand the aid.

  2. Wow! It sounds like you guys had a few awesome rides :) Keep it up :)

  3. You certainly did accomplish a lot. Yay no stirrups and resolving girthing issues :)