Thursday, June 30, 2011

June, Interrupted

After our splendid beginning of the month, June became rather unproductive on the Sofie front. Perhaps due to all the cantering and good work we did, Sofie wound up having a flare-up. She wasn't miserable or anything, but she was ouchy and it became clear that she needed some time off. So she had two weeks off, with just ground work, and improved somewhat. I rode again on Sunday, and she was really quite good. We mostly walked but we did some trotting and even a little bending work near the end. She paid attention very well despite a rousing game of horseshoes happening in the neighbor's yard (so random guys were wandering around, and occasionally there was a nice resounding CLANK and then an "Oh, SNAP!" or something to that effect). I figured she would be weird about it, but at least we'd be able to practice working with distractions. But she was pretty much unbothered by it. We finished up the ride working on bending both ways at a trot, with our nose actually NOT stuck waaay out, and she focused really well even when we rode right by the distracting yard. What a good girl.

She's still ouchy, so last ride we pretty much just walked. It was a windy, slightly weird day, but she was totally happy to walk around. We did some hills, she had energy in her walk, she was relaxed, and she even listened to my hands. For the most part she reached into the contact, so we had a nice elastic feel going. I did test her in the trot, both directions, but she most definitely did not want to trot and was very hesitant and slightly upset, so once she trotted a few steps I had her walk again, and went "Okay, we'll just walk for now, then." I know that was her communicating something, as there was no earthly reason for her to be going around perfectly happily and then not want to trot unless she was in some pain. So, if we need to, we'll just walk for now, since at least we can get something productive done at the walk, and get her exercised.

After that I did ride her on the road, and she was not terribly good but we managed. The wind, which had been NBD in the yard, was OMG all of a sudden. But we practiced being nervous and just going forward anyway, and not acting dangerously, and it worked out. Near the end, when I was about to turn her around, she suddenly noticed a terrifying real or imagined Something, and stopped and stared. Then she backed up, like "No, I cannot go near that real or imagined Something." So I was all grrrr, since I just wanted to turn around and now I had to get her over this before I could turn around. It was kind of a tense moment, so I had her step forward, and then I carefully turned her around, letting her know in no uncertain terms that she was not to take off (there's always that danger when a terrifying real or imagined Something is behind you). Fortunately she did not take off or do anything too stupid on the way home, although when we were about ten feet from the barn driveway she suddenly decided to be all OMG. So I kept her going across the driveway and slightly down the other side of the road, then stopped and dismounted with her right by the road. Then I ran up my stirrups and made her stand and NOT throw her head into my space or step towards me. When we had success we went back to the barn.

In other news, while our rides may not be super high octane right now, we are excelling in other areas of work. A boarder bought a biiiiig soccer ball for their horse to play with, and they left it at the barn for other people to use as well. I was interested to see what Sofie thought of it, and the only time she spooked at it was when she first saw it (I led her out of the barn, turned a corner, and there was the guy blowing it up. She jumped. Rather dramatically.). When we got our turn to play with it Sofie was mildly interested and nibbled on it a little, but she did not understand the concept of playing soccer. When I led her up to the ball she would deftly swerve it, like "Are you honestly TRYING to run me into this big-ass ball? Are you nuts?" The only way I could get her to kick it on was to hold her lead right by her halter and just walk her into it. So we weren't all that good at soccer, although it was fun to mess around with it.

But I got the bright idea to try some other stuff, basically to see what she would tolerate. So I dropped her lead on the ground, made her stay, and bounced the ball on the ground next to her. No reaction. I bounced the ball lightly off her side. Didn't care. So then I went "Hey, let's REALLY test this," and I lifted the ball up over my head. She kind of looked at me with slight nervousness and suspicion (probably thinking I was up to no good and/or losing my mind) and I set the ball on her back. Her head came up, and she was still looking at me strangely, but she did not move her feet. I rolled the ball back and forth and then let it roll off her rump, and she stood through all of that. So I did it on the other side, too, with similar success. Then the other day I had her stand, and I picked up the ball, climbed on the three-step mounting block, and did the same thing. I'm sure she thinks I'm nuts, but she obviously trusts me enough to go along with it. Which is all good.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Perfect Ride

Last week we rode in the gelding field for the first time this year. I love riding in that field and Sofie seems to love it too. It was a hot, buggy day, so much so that the horses were brought in early. I didn’t even know if I would ride, but then the air cooled off. When I got to the barn the temperature had dropped and although the flies were still out in abundance, it was definitely riding weather.

I pulled Sofie from her stall and brushed her, then free schooled her for a bit so she wouldn’t be quite as fresh when we headed out to the field. She was a bit fidgety in the aisle because of all the flies, but she managed to stay in “park” relatively well while I got us ready. Then we went to the indoor, where I opened the gate to the field and mounted up. We went straight out from there.

Sofie brightened up and was looking around as we headed out of the run-in shed and into the field. She was drifting around, wanting to see everything, but she was totally calm. I walked her around the edge of the entire field to warm up and check the footing. One low-lying area was muddy but the rest of the field was in great shape. After our walk-around period I asked Sofie to trot. She went forward willingly, with energy but no craziness. She didn’t start drifting or getting strong. When I asked her to walk she made the transition nicely. I was already very pleased with how things were going.

I trotted her to the far end of the field where I asked her to canter along the fence line. She went right into it quite eagerly, no resentment. She did take the left lead where the right one was called for, of course, but we were going straight so I wasn’t worried about it. She cantered pretty fast (for her) but nicely balanced and she came back to a trot before the corner when I asked. I turned her around and cantered her the other way and she was excellent. She didn’t veer off toward the barn or worry about the woods outside of the fence. She just went.

We went all over the field, and she did everything right. We went down the “bad” fence line and she stayed much straighter. Then we turned around and I asked her to canter facing the barn, which she was quite happy to do, of course. She really flew, but I never felt like I was out of control and she came back to the trot easily. I walked her past the barn and decided to canter her away from the barn. This was a definite test, since I was going to ask for the canter in an area where she’d been really sticky and resistant in the past (Sofie has her “I want to CANTER now!” places as her “You want me to trot? How DARE you!” places).

I got her trotting without an issue, and I just thought about asking for the canter when she went into it. She cantered beautifully, straight ahead, and she kept going when I asked. It was so exhilarating to be able to just have her canter wherever, no restrictions. No limitations. It’s such a basic thing, but for quite a while I have limited myself in various ways, and Sofie has helped me lose my limitations.

After that last canter I patted her a bunch and then tried one more experiment. I started her trotting toward the barn, with minimal rein contact, and then I applied my seat. She went back to the walk with just seat aids. I was thrilled. I gave her a long rein and rode for just a few more minutes. We went past the barn without drifting too obnoxiously, did an awesome rein-back and one more trot transition and then we were done.

It was one of those rides that shows me how lucky I am. Everything came together for us that evening. The field was free, and the weather changed from hot to cool, with the finest mist in the air. Sofie did everything I asked, and we felt like a team. We were both happy, and everything was smooth, easy and wonderful. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and it is so rewarding when things work out like that.

I could really feel our recent progress in that ride. Our field outings were always fun, but they were usually a bit of a wild ride, with Sofie taking off in canter, zipping around and getting strong. She sometimes reminded me of a racehorse. I kind of enjoyed her craziness, but there’s something wonderful about controlled energy. I could keep her in the trot with half halts, just by bracing my back and controlling my posting when she started to speed up. She drifted less, and there was much less of a magnetic pull toward the barn. She had energy, but it was controllable. She let me direct her. There was no irritability, no swishing or balking, no head flinging or other resistance. She never once cantered without my asking. For us, it was a perfect ride. Even though it’s not always like that, I could not be happier with my horse. I love my Sofa.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Riding Photos

Showing off our bending.

An "interesting" moment...I think she is preparing to do a canter depart here. This is how she elevates her front end. ;) But look at that engagement!

Inviting her to stretch down.

Nice "open" frame with nose stuck out!

I like this picture. Nice bend, the angle almost makes it look like she's in half pass!

Cute pony counter canter!

I absolutely love how she looks here. She's never been that round in the canter!

Nice straight line from bit to elbow...and nice fetlock hair.

Yes, we're still on the wrong lead.

And we're off!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Full Speed Ahead

May was a hard month for a while there. The weather shifted constantly from hot to wet to cold and never really segued into summer. We dealt with a couple potential flare-ups that fortunately didn’t require too much time off. And there were a couple really bad rides when Sofie was unable to bend or do what I wanted and I was unfair to her. I somehow lost sight of everything I’d learned, and I overcorrected with my hands and tried to correct everything at once. I wasn’t kind to her, and I felt sick about it afterward. The next time I saw her she was lame, which made me feel awful. I had hoped that I was the only one still feeling the consequences of my actions, but she was too, and that really wasn’t fair. It’s fine to be ambitious and try to improve my horse, but training is only beneficial if I pay attention to how she’s feeling and respect her when she tells me she can’t. I lost sight of that for two rides, and she paid for it. There wasn’t anything I could do but give her a massage, cry into her neck for a while and do better in the future.

Thankfully I did start to do better. I limited sugar in my diet, which helped me level out and not be such a psycho bitch to the ones I love. Sofie’s lameness went away quickly and within a few days she was rideable again. I started out with some light rides, just going down the road one day and then starting to work in the yard again. She responded to light rein aids and didn’t get worried. She forgave me and trusted me. Our bond didn’t fracture; it held. One day I went out to the mare’s turnout area and Sofie was lying in a sandpit. I had to put a fly mask on one of the other mares so I went to do that. In minute or two Sofie came hurrying over. She stopped and pivoted to face me, making sure I didn’t take the wrong horse. It’s so cute when she lets on that she likes me. She’s been walking toward me more often than not when I go to catch her, and I love it.

Our rides have been awesome. She may look a bit off when I free school her, and she may start out feeling a little stiff or slow but she has been doing everything I ask. I haven’t been carrying a whip as she seems to anticipate and get chargey when I have one. She’s been listening extremely well it. I’ve really stepped up and am giving her more confident direction, and she’s paying attention. I don’t always have flexion or bend, but if she’s steady and I have a connection with her mouth I don’t worry about it. We’ve been emphasizing “forward” lately.

The most exciting thing is that I have a canter cue. I have half halts. Basically, I have so much more control than I used to. I can now trot her through all the places she used to like to canter in, and I can keep her from charging or taking off. She still picks up the canter on her own sometimes, maybe once every other ride or so, but the majority of our canters are my decision. The last three rides she cantered from my leg alone, no whip, without bucking. She will canter away from the barn, straight and forward, and I can’t even describe how awesome that is. I’ve always loved cantering her, and I feel like all our work is coming together. It’s exciting. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid to go fast, I’m not afraid of her reactions, I’m not afraid to take charge. I’m not afraid, and she’s not crazy. It feels like we are working together now.

I have been mostly riding in the yard, but I did ride down the road one day the “other” way. We had only been that way once before and Sofie was very relaxed. She only got a little nervous at the very end (we hadn’t gone that far the previous time).

We still have a lot to learn and work toward, which is exciting in a way. I’m trying to learn turn on the haunches (or at least some version of it). I want to continue our road work. Each ride I work on eliminating her drifting, and our bending always needs work. I haven’t been able to get her to pick up the canter on a bend yet, or canter a full circle. And the right lead remains elusive for us. I haven’t really worked on it yet as I think she needs to be fitter (and very sound) before I attempt to correct it, as I think it will take quite a few canter departs for us to get it right. As it is, she’s very adept at counter canter, and I don’t really mind. She prefers to take the left lead both ways when free schooling also. I did get her to take the right lead once while free schooling recently, and I also got her to change onto it twice. I also might have gotten her to change onto it while riding, but I’m not sure. I will need eyes on the ground when I do attempt to correct her lead preference issue.

There will always be improvements to be made, but we’ve both come a really long way and I’m really proud of that. I’m happy.