Wednesday, September 28, 2011


On Monday I went out to see Sofie after her weekend off, and she was agreeable to coming in. It looks like the mares are getting more hay now, so I have stopped feeding snacks/feeling sorry for her (not that she was being neglected in the first place). She’s standing better in the aisle and not being obnoxious about looking for food, and her latest hock scrape was healing up just fine. She didn’t seem overly stiff, so I pretty much just groomed and tacked up. The sky was rather dark, but I ventured outside anyway, walked her over to the mounting block…aaaannnnd it started raining. So, we turned around and went back inside. I threw down a few poles, pretty much just guessing at the spacing, and got on. I started out with the usual “Excuse me, stay on the rail” reminders as she worked out of her little stiffness. Once she moved out of her slow, creaky warm-up walk, she stretched down nicely and seemed to be moving well over her back. She felt very loose and relaxed, with a little bit of power behind the movement.

After I picked up some slight contact I started working on leg yielding, which has become my new favorite thing to do. She moves over easily tracking left. Sometimes she is a little stiffer tracking right, but she’s learning, and once she gets the idea she can go back and forth quite easily. So I worked on moving her off my leg in the walk, and it went well. She’s not doing a true leg yield yet, as I suspected (I had a ground person there to confirm). There’s no crossover, and she’s not quite straight - she’s leading with her shoulders. I might be overbending her neck just slightly and letting her fall through the outside shoulder, I’m not sure. But, even though it’s not technically “correct” and wouldn’t score well, I feel it is a good training exercise and a positive start, since she is moving off my leg, and she understands the basic concept, which will make things so much easier. And it really improves her suppleness. I could see a few times in the mirror when she was bending beautifully throughout her body. It really is more productive than riding circles, and probably less detrimental to soundness (not to mention, constant circling is BORING). I think it’s great for our connection, as I’m now getting her bent around my leg, rather than “hand riding” mainly with the inside rein. It really is a nice feeling, and maybe if I keep working on it we can eventually do real leg yields! Wouldn’t that be nifty?!

I’ve also been moving her off my leg slightly before asking for the trot, just to help with suppleness and connection. Our trot work was pretty good, somewhat mixed and needing relaxation at times, which I think has something to do with her anticipating the canter. So there was some trotting with her nose stuck out, which was fairly correctable and I managed to get her “Sofa round” at intervals, at least. I practiced moving her off my leg in trot as well, with mild success. I’m happy with any kind of response at this point, since she’s just getting the concept, especially in trot. Everything is harder in trot. I did pretty much no circling, just straight lines, “leg yielding” (add dramatic air quotes there) and serpentines, which were pretty nice. It wasn’t perfect all the time, but we established decent relaxation and lightness.

Of course once I had that I had to work on the canter and pretty much let it all go, but I wanted to see how the canter would be in the indoor. It was actually much improved from where we started with her getting extremely nervous, rushing horribly in the trot and just flying around. She was still a bit unsettled, and the head did come up, but she was so much better. I think we blew maybe one or two departs and I had to just bring her back, but the rest of them were pretty decent. She didn’t quite lift up decisively at the instant I asked like she has been able to do outside, but she took only a few faster steps and her canter quality wasn’t bad. She was a bit fast in the canter, and she tended to break to trot before the corners (probably because she was already rushing and didn’t want to have to turn at that pace, reasonably enough), and her canter-trot transitions were pretty rough. Her head was waaaay up, but she came back to me pretty rapidly, and I was able to get her at least somewhat relaxed and round after each canter, which was all I wanted at this point. She did get a little crooked sometimes on straight lines, but I was able to correct it somewhat with my leg.

I did do one canter to the right, and it was actually the best depart she did all day! It was just super nice, prompt and lifting rather than flattening. Her canter quality was really nice too. She even looked pretty in the mirrors! Wrong lead, of course, but damn, our counter canter is nice. Maybe it’s because of all the suppling work I’ve been doing on the right side?

Towards the end of the ride I did get her to canter through two corners. She was going pretty fast, but reasonably balanced and not leaning in horribly. It’ll be nice when she’s able to canter relaxed corners and circles in there (the arena is so huge, we should be able to circle as large as we need to). She just needs more time to get comfortable with the surface, and not worry about it so much. She’s trying, and I’m very proud of her.

After the canter work, my main goal was to get her to relax again as she was somewhat spastic in the trot - tentatively relaxing and half halting, then speeding up and getting tight because she was over thinking it. I pretty much tried to leave her alone as much as possible, half halting when she got too fast, and rubbing her neck to try and reassure her. It took a bit of repetition, but she eventually relaxed (or realized she was kinda tired) and went around at a trot, at a nice, easy tempo, very round, needing hardly any aids at all to keep her there. I trotted her on both sides and did a few easy turns before stopping and getting off.

I also did some work over the trot poles at random intervals during the ride. I actually got the spacing right for once, and she did very well over them. She was a little wiggly on the approach - poles are not her favorite thing ever. But they did make her use herself and look pretty, so I think we’ll keep using them! She only tripped over them once, near the end - just pure error on her part, she didn’t pick up her feet enough so she about fell on her face. After that she was more careful.

The rain hadn’t really come in, so I took her on a short hack outside. She was bad about heading out - just very drifty and not listening, so she got a few thumps and definite half halts. She got better, though. We enjoyed a nice canter along the fence line and then headed back. She got her face brushed, liniment on her hocks, a brief massage and then she helped me put the poles away and clean up poop. Then I took her back outside. One of her “friends” gave her trouble at the gate, so poor Sofie was caught between a metal gate, a bitchy Mustang and me yelling (at the Mustang, but Sofie still worries). Once I got her successfully inside I took off her halter and went after the Mustang, who actually turned and ran, making me feel quite superior (I have always dealt with bitchy dominant horses this way, and they learn that you Do Not mess with me, which makes things a lot easier).

I went back to Sofie, who seemed grateful that I’d rescued her from her friend (she’s smart enough to realize these things). So she stayed for a few minutes and some hugs before walking off to wait for someone to feed her.

I’m very happy because I feel like I finally managed to train productively and work through issues without becoming overly aggressive or discouraged. The ride was by no means issue-less, but it was full of progress and improvement, which I love. I feel like Sofie and I were friends that day, which is really important to me. I haven’t always been fair to her this year, and the cool thing about her is that she went right back to being my friend when I got my act together. There’s nothing better than feeling like you are friends with your horse, and that friendship can be easily earned. With people, you can try so hard and do everything right for them, and they can still disappoint you. Horses don’t do that. They are not always easy to understand, but once you do understand, progress can be quickly achieved.

Monday, September 26, 2011

And Canter!

It’s almost the end of September (how?!?) and the temperature is dropping. Miss Sofie is starting to get fuzzy, and she still seems to be enjoying all the turnout. I’ve even seen her outside of the shelters during a rainy spell. She’s still managing to remain fleshy on sparse grass and a bale or two a day (shared with five to seven mares). It’s a good situation for her.

She generally is a little stiff when she comes in (one day she was noticeably off when she first hit the concrete, but she soon walked out of it). I haven’t been trail riding her quite as vigorously, as she’s been having trouble on downhill stretches. So I’ve stuck to the flatter trails. Our dressage has been fairly decent. I still need to work on my equitation, as I’m sure I’m slacking off when I’m outside and don’t have mirrors. But I’m making an effort.

I’ve been working more on having her move off my leg, and she’s doing pretty well. I don’t know if we’re doing any true leg yields yet, but she is more responsive to lateral aids than a lot of horses I’ve ridden, so that’s a plus. She’s doing well with backing up, and I also did some counter flexion one ride, which seemed to help. It’s nice to try different things. In addition I’ve been working more on ground manners, particularly moving over when I ask. Sometimes she can become really obsessed with food and forget to pay attention, which makes me mad.

Um, Sofa, you are not exactly starving here, so you do not need to be obsessed with hunting hay wispies on the floor! Thanks in advance.

The most exciting thing we have going on is that we’re cantering again! She kept rushing into her canter departs after the move, and was just generally so anxious about it that I left it alone for a month or so. Then on a recent ride, after working in the indoor for a while, I went out on a short trail ride. The air was brisk and Sofa was energized and in good spirits, so I decided to try asking for the canter. There’s a super nice, wide grassy trail near the barn that I knew would be a good canter place, and so I asked for the canter as she trotted up a slight hill. She did take a few slightly faster trot steps, but then she went into the canter nicely! She did a good job and seemed to enjoy herself. I asked her twice more, once toward the barn, once away from it, and each time her depart was prompter. We then walked back to the barn, very happy.

I’ve been working on it during each ride, and progress is very good. One day we went down into this nice, thinly wooded valley. Sofa was FORWARD. OMG, she was in her OTTB mode and just zooming around. It’s amazing how forward she can be when her arthritis doesn’t keep her down! She can be pretty hot. Of course we weren’t all that polished, but she did listen to me fairly well and some of her departs were nice. It’s just fun when she’s zipping around like that. I finished up with a short trail ride and then some trot work in the valley, trying to get my point across that we do not always canter! It was a LOT of half halts.

The next time I was out I rode her around the perimeter of the property, and she was quite hyped up. Her mind was just not all there, and she was very inverted and rushy. I managed to not remember the previous ride when we were cantering around like crazy, so I was a little annoyed with her for not settling down. I did a little canter work in this circular area carved out of the woods, and it was pretty much all over the place. Some of her departs were okay, other times she rushed off. And in the trot work she was very anticipatory. Once again, a lot of half halts. We ended up back in the front yard, and she was more relaxed there, but I was glad to get that ride out of the way.

The last two rides have been a major improvement. The skies have been overcast, and both times I thought I might get stuck in the indoor, but the rain held off and I was able to have a lovely ride outside. It’s been cool, such nice riding weather. The time before last I hacked her over to the neighbor’s outdoor dressage arena to do some work. She was so much better than the previous time, no crazy rushing at the trot. She was much more reasonable. After a short warm-up I did a little trot work and then started with the canter transitions. Her departs were clearly improving. Except for the occasional rushing off or slight delay, they were really nice. I just did straight lines and worked on her response. I had to work on her anticipating in the trot, which got a little frustrating. Eventually I just let her go forward and she improved. She wasn’t round the whole time by any means, but it still felt much more disciplined and it was a huge improvement.

Afterward I rode her down to the valley, where I did some walk-trot work, as well as some backing and turn on the forehand. Ugh, turn on the forehand was rusty. She wanted to just blow through my aids and not remain in place. I don’t think her mind was totally there. The trot work was pretty decent - some of it was really nice, and other times she wanted to rush or drift or whatever. Eventually I asked her to canter, and she rushed off (she was going down a slight slope, and I don’t think she felt balanced) so I took her back to a walk and got her settled, then put her back into the trot and asked again in a more level spot. That time she nailed it! The transition was so sweet. Big pats for that, and we went on a nice trail ride in the woods before heading back home.

Last ride she looked stiff in the aisle, and had another new scrape on a hock (she loves to get superficial wounds). I gave her a massage and went on a short trail ride to start things off and get her loosened up. She seemed happy to be out there, and was quite forward, but she kept tripping. Her mind was clearly elsewhere, or she just didn’t feel like picking up her feet. I practiced leg yielding on the trail, and she did quite well with it. Eventually I picked up the trot for a bit, and then worked on halting when she was all “Are we gonna canter? I KNOW we’re gonna canter!”

I was going to ride either in the front yard or on the wide grass trail, but as I was heading that way I saw an opening into a field the barn owner is developing. So I went “Hey, why not?” and turned her in that direction. She was kind of distracted by the neighboring horses at first, but I walked her around a little and then asked her to trot. The steering needed a little work, but it wasn’t too bad.

I asked her for the canter heading toward the barn, and she went right into it. I let her stay in the canter for almost the length of the pasture, and it was just freeing to canter across that wide open space. I haven’t cantered her for any real distance in a while, and it was exhilarating. The wind was roaring even! When we got near the end of the field I gave the tiniest half halt and she came back to me instantly. I would’ve loved to do that some more, but the trainer in me felt a balance was required. So I walked her briefly and then asked for the canter going away from the barn. She rushed forward (the only time she did that during the whole ride) so I brought her back and tried again, and that time she took off promptly. She was, however, not straight at all, almost counter bending and drifting away from the fence. I tried to get her to move over and was only slightly successful. She broke to the trot, and I quickly did a refresher on moving OVER.

The low points of the ride were occasional rushing, occasional not moving over and most of all, not going straight! I tried to work on her staying straight on a loose rein, and I don’t know if I’ve been neglecting that aspect or what, but she was just terrible. She just pinball-machines back and forth. It’s a long-standing issue, and it’s one I’d like to correct as it drives me nuts, but I’m not quite sure how to make real progress.

Other than that, the ride was quite good overall. The canter work and moving off my leg were the major high points. I even attempted a canter circle, and I think we actually sorta managed it! I’m sure it wasn’t geometrically correct, and the thing was HUGE, but we actually got some bend and we kept going even though we were bent! She got much better at moving off my leg, and we did some really awesome sweeping turns up and over hills. It felt like she was really engaging and she was nicely round. Her canter departs, except for that one time, were just bang on. She was super prompt and lifted into it like she has in the past. Obviously backing off was the right thing to do.

Toward the end of the ride, I did another away-from-the-barn canter. She went into it so beautifully, then of course she flung her body to the right. But I put my leg on, and she moved over! Like, way over, where she was supposed to be! It was such a response, it just made me so happy because she was getting it! She drifted a couple more times, but each time she moved right off my leg. I was super pleased. After that I did just one more canter transition and then went for a walk around the field. I worked a little more on going straight (grrrr) and then did a little trot work in a far corner. She did a lovely little canter transition from an outside “Okay, turn now!” aid (grin). Eventually I ended it with just a little more trot work. I try to finish up with her listening to me, being round and NOT flying around and over thinking it. She wasn’t perfect, but she had some really nice, round stretchy moments and wasn’t too racy. I was proud of her for working so hard and never being grumpy. Lately she’s been a lot more generous and temperamentally sound than I have. I’ve been getting frustrated at times, and sometimes I allow stress to make bitchy. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing by training her, if I can’t always keep my emotions out of the way. But I think it’s good for her to have boundaries, and I honestly don’t want her racing around all the time. I don’t think that would do us any favors. Of course I should do better, and I should not become frustrated or discouraged when I’m trying to train her, but the beauty of it is that she is always there, and she doesn’t keep an inventory of my mistakes like I do. Whether or not I deserve it, she always gives me a chance. And I’m finding I don’t need everything to be perfect. All I need is to feel moments of progress. Even if we’re still kind of a mess, those moments are the fuel I need to keep going.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Riding Photos 9/7/11

I was able to get some photos of a recent ride. Since my training epiphany that I should be using a lot less hand and a lot less aid, Sofie had been much more relaxed and consistently quite round and responsive. I actually enjoyed watching her in the mirrors when I rode in the indoor! The ride before this I did a lot of transitions, but this ride I mainly trotted after a short warm-up. Sofie was a bit stiff the day these pictures were taken, and she wasn't quite as focused outside. But I was pleasantly surprised (actually thrilled) with the pictures. For not being at her best, she really improved throughout the session.

This ride was basically trot work, with a few transitions, halts and some changes of direction. I did some bending work but very few circles. She wasn't reaching into my hands quite as well as she has been, but I think these pictures show the way I'm trying to ride.

Ignore my equitation. It is abysmal. All I can say for myself is that I do better when I have mirrors! Just look at Sofa, she's a lot prettier than I am in these pictures.

The warmup. She's not really tracking up or using her back yet, but she's "Sofa round" and working out of her stiffness.

Starting to get some semblance of actual dressage-resembling-work.

Sofie says, okay, I'll fall on my forehand if you'll collapse forward...

Beginning to use the correct muscles. This is Sofa round - very much in front of the vertical, but with a relaxed neck and definitely a change from inversion.
Sofie stretch!

She's beginning to have a really nice shape to her neck, all on a pretty loose rein.

I like this one. She almost looks like an Andalusian cross, or something! Love the impression of power. Love the loose reins, also.
This is just the ultimate picture. Look at her neck! The positive muscling, and just her whole shape. She's round over her entire topline, using herself properly, and all without heavy contact or a ton of circling. This is voluntary. This is just letting it happen.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sights Around The Barn

The Barn. It is large. I discovered this when I backed up to take a picture of it.

The indoor. This is pretty much only a corner of it.

The front field where we ride sometimes.

Sofie after a ride.

Dirty, sweaty conformation shot!

Sofa on the run!

Sofie after a bath.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Making New Friends

When I moved Sofie to the new barn, I went through a lot of anxiety due to the fact that I would be taking her away from her friends. I felt very bad for having to do that, and I worried that she would have trouble settling in. Clearly, Sofie has come a long way, because she settled in just fine. And she wasted no time in getting acquainted with the alpha mare in her new group, a bay Mustang.

I was not at all surprised by her choice of a new best friend, as Sofie loves bay alpha mares. At Judy's she became friends with the alpha mare, a bay Friesian cross, and became second in command by association. So after an initial few days when the Mustang mare was territorial and bitchy toward Sofie, she quickly became tolerant.

Sofie is in love with the Mustang, and she follows her around and nickers to her all the time. The other mare's owner thinks she is adorable, while the mare looks at Sofie like she's the biggest dork ever (which she is, but she's cute). I knew Sofie had secured her place in the herd when she walked right up behind the Mustang and then drank at the water tank beside her, totally ignoring the mare's dirty looks. The Mustang never once kicked her, and though she still pretends to not care about Sofie, Jesse has witnessed the mare sleeping with her head resting on Sofie's back. Awwww.

I've also been fitting in okay at the new barn, and I ride with the Mustang's owner every weekend.