Sunday, July 31, 2011


After our promising start to summer, and our disappointing continuation, it seems that Sofie is coming back.

We’ve resumed cantering in our rides. At first, when I asked for the canter there were some fireworks. Early on Sofie was literally hopping mad, stomping her front feet into the ground, getting all angry and eventually plunging into the gait for just one stride before breaking back to a clumsy, still somewhat ouchy trot. I picked up a whip for the first time in a while, which helped when I needed a correction. What helped the most was not being afraid. If I can just keep riding, we can eventually get through anything.

It took several rides, but Sofie became more willing. Her soundness improved, and I knew we had gotten somewhere when we got through a ride with no bucking! She still has moments when she rushes and her ears go back, but overall she seems pretty content to work. I think we are both happy to be cantering again. To the left, she’s pitch perfect - she picks up the canter from my aid with no objection, and her departs are feather-light. She’s well balanced, and we’re working up to longer intervals. To the right, things are a little more rough. She’s showing some weakness on that side, and needs bending work (but not too much). Sometimes she gets upset about being asked to canter to the right, and she will not take the right lead. She’ll only give me the left lead, even when I’m just free schooling her in the indoor. I’ve been doing some canter work to the right, and pretty much ignoring the lead. At this point I think it is a soundness issue, and it requires a long-term fix. I don’t know if I will ever be able to fix it fully, especially if we continue on this cycle of lameness and recovery. It’s not ideal, but the most important thing is that we do what we can and have fun together. I can’t always canter her, so when I can I will, no matter if it’s not perfect.

We had our last ride at Judy’s on Saturday. It was hot already at ten in the morning, but the bugs were merciful as we rode out in the yard. She was nice and willing with only a few deviations, and we walked, trotted and cantered away.

I will miss Judy’s. Judy makes the place seem like home, and her home is always open to her boarders. I know there aren’t many places like that. It’s convenient, and it’s a nice place. It’s been good to us, and we’ve learned a lot there. Grown a lot there. Judy’s is where I became confident, where I began to stop limiting myself. Judy’s is where Sofie and I bonded. I will miss the barn, the nice, large turnout areas where Sofie is happy with her small mare herd. I will miss the yard (even the scary corner), the Big Field and the cozy tack room. I will miss a lot of things about that place, but there are a lot of good things about this new place, too. Maybe not the same things, but still. It remains to be seen if it will be better or worse. It will be different, I know. But the most important thing is Sofie, and this barn will enable me to better afford her. The facilities will make it easier to exercise her even when she is in a flare-up. She’ll have more turnout and we’ll have more opportunities for growth. I think it will be a good thing. It’s just a big change, and a little nerve-wracking.

We move tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Life continues along with the lack of updates. Summer rolls along, and the time that is gone has been productive in some ways and not in others. We’re still limping our way back to how it was in early June. That’s the hope.

We haven’t gotten there yet. We’ve had some good days, some good rides, and some bad, frustrating, painful days. I didn’t ask Sofie to canter for six weeks, and we did what we could. She got fat and I felt like we had lost everything I’d worked for. We did have our small accomplishments, like riding bareback successfully, in the indoor arena and even outside. Sofie didn’t seem to resent it like she had the only other time I’d tried it. I am a nervous bareback rider but she took care of me and I gained confidence. I rode bareback several times in a row in early July and had fun with it. Sofie and I dubiously enjoyed playing with the soccer ball until it got broken (not by us; Sofie is careful with her toys).

We had some bad rides, when occasionally I became frustrated or couldn’t get out of the dressage rider perfectionist mindset. When I failed to account for lameness and did too much bending work. The crabbiness resurfaced, worse than it had been in a long time. Months. It was disheartening.

Riding a horse with arthritis that flares up is not necessarily fun. It does provide opportunities for learning. I learned that sometimes it takes a while for her to warm up, and she warms up best if we just go on a trail ride. I learned that neither of us is happy in the long run if I get sucked into a grim, overly critical training mindset with no rewards, only scrutiny.

Training is a balance. It is absolutely a balance, and it is easy to screw up that balance. In the beginning I didn’t ask much of her, for a long time. We were getting to know each other, and she was healing. I was a little too soft, a little too passive. I became intimidated. It took a while to get over that. To take charge.

This year I feel we’ve really gotten somewhere, both in our relationship and in our training. We know each other well, and it feels easy between us. I can deal with her, and she really tries for me. But I still haven’t always found the balance. I’ve been all correction and no reward. At times I’ve been snippy and hypercritical. Recently I feel like I found the balance, although there will always be deviations from it.

Sofie does need corrections. She does need training. She needs to move as correctly as possible and develop both sides of her body. Sometimes I do need to be firm with her. I can correct her when I need to, but I also need to reward. An enthusiastic reward when she does something right, when she answers my correction, is so important. It really helps, especially when she’s cranky. It helps both of our moods.

I didn’t buy Sofie because I wanted to compete, I wanted to learn and I wanted to build a relationship. I bought the right horse. This summer has been frustrating and a bit discouraging, but I’m not ready to move on. There is that possibility in my mind, the possibility that she might never be sound and keep getting lamer, but for now we are still moving forward. We owe it to ourselves to keep going and explore new situations. Have new experiences.

At the end of the month Sofie will be moving. We have been so happy at Judy’s barn. We’ve grown a lot here and done a lot of things. But between unfortunate financial realities, and the realization that I don’t think we can continue to grow here, we made the decision to move Sofie. It was a difficult decision, because I know how happy Sofie is here and I know how much she loves her little mare herd. But it wasn’t feasible anymore.

We will be moving to one of the fancy barns in the area. The Land Of Dressage Queens, as I’ve referred to it here before. I knew and liked it mostly for the huge indoor arena, with mirrors and nice footing that is well maintained. I’ll still be able to ride year-round, which is very important to me. I’ll also have far more space to work in, and more opportunity for straight line work.

Sofie will be outside 24 hours a day, which I’m very happy about. I know Sofie will be unhappy for a while, at least until she adjusts to it. She likes her stall. A lot. But it’s better for her to be outside, and everything I’ve read says that more turnout helps with arthritis. There is plenty of shelter, and pasture board is more affordable than stall board.

Unless she doesn’t get along with the herd, she’ll be in with the “fat mare group”, a herd of seven or so mares who are easy keepers. None of them are overly large, and I’m hoping she’ll find a friend. The field is nice and big, with sparse grass. All the mares look in good weight and appear happy.

One thing I had not seen firsthand was the trail system. O.M.G. I went on a hike with a boarder who showed me some of the trails. From the first ten feet, I was sold. Groomed trails with nice footing, mostly flat with some hills, through all kinds of woods. All on-site. They go on for miles. I cannot wait to ride them with Sofie. I think she’ll love them. And we need more trails, especially for the times when she can’t do dressage. Then we can just ride. She can go straight, no turning, and be outside. It’s going to be wonderful.

I also enjoy myself at this barn. I get along with the people there, and it’s nice to talk to people about horses. There are dressage riders there, as well as people who just trail ride, and everyone I’ve talked to has been extremely welcoming. It will be nice to have people to ride with. It remains to be seen how we’ll settle in, but I think it’ll be a good fit.