Saturday, October 15, 2011

Plans for Now and Later

I’m happy to report that Sofie is feeling better, and her soreness seems to be manageable at this point. She warms up a little cranky, but with light aids and encouragement she is able to work out of it. I’m optimistic that we will be able to keep riding through fall without interruptions, and I came up with a plan to preserve her soundness and keep her going through this ouchy phase.

Going forward, the new plan is:

-No hills (slightly uneven ground is fine, as are teeny tiny slopes. Perfect flat ground is not important, just no major hills until she’s no longer sore)

-No cantering (until she offers it without getting angry/defensive/upset!)

-Limit circles, more straight line work (some turns are fine - and necessary - but no excessive bending!)

-Lots of rewards! I will be super nice, kind and encouraging. I will be respectful of the effort she makes even when she’s not at her best. It really makes a difference.

Last Sunday I rode with Kathy, my main riding friend at this barn. We started out in the indoor for a few minutes as Kathy finished up her canter work, and Sofie was moving fairly okay but was defensive when asked for the trot. I just did a few transitions, and trots on long straight lines. Sofie wasn’t really round but she wasn’t too inverted, and I felt she was “Sofa round” and doing a pretty good job considering the insubstantial warm-up. I did trot one big circle, just to find the balance and connection, and then Kathy was ready to go so we headed out. The ride was nice, and she seemed to enjoy herself pretty well. I did have to get off and lead on one downhill that was steeper than I thought. She was definitely not comfortable on the hills, but the ride was pretty low-impact. On the way back we rode in Kathy’s dressage arena for a minute, as I wanted to see if Sofie was doing any better in the trot. She was still cranky in the trot at first - pretty much letting me know she was sore, and I’d better not ask her for too much or she might have to do something about it! She doesn’t really want to be crabby, she’s just trying to cope with her situation. I’m glad she communicates, as I don’t want to overdo it when she’s hurting. We did a little walk-trot work, and she listened well and did good transitions and was reaching into the contact pretty nicely. She was Sofa round, at least! The corners seemed easier, too.

The next ride was when I started to really implement my plan. I used our trail ride as a warm-up, and chose the trail near the barn, which is pretty flat and not too long. I walked her most of the way, testing out the trot a couple times. She went into it with no crabbiness. I practiced our leg yielding along the way, and then we came out of the woods and headed back toward the barn. I had planned to ride in the front area, but we passed an empty pasture that looked inviting, so I turned her through the gate and headed for the flat areas. She was rather wobbly, not wanting to go straight when we turned away from the barn, but she improved as we went along. After a little long-rein walk work I had her pick up the trot. Sofie was nicely forward and pretty willing. She only rushed a little bit (we once did canter work in this field). Her ears went back a few times, when I asked for a bend or just when she anticipated something, but she felt much better than the previous ride. She was moving fine, listening well and we could pretty much go around reasonably straight and at least Sofa round, if not better!

I did plenty of straight lines and some bending, just to keep her round and balanced. She was a little unbalanced tracking right, of course, not quite aligned in her shoulders at first. But with a little bit of work she really improved, until I trotted her away from the barn, making a half circle, and she really softened, moving light and balanced, with the proper bend and without falling in at all! It was really nice.

With that accomplished, I wanted to do a little work in the far corners, which was a little challenging for her as it meant turning while heading slightly downhill. The first couple times she rushed it a bit and popped her shoulder the wrong way. I got her listening and fixed it tracking left, and we got a good corner! So then I just needed a decent right corner. I trotted her toward the corner, telling her “If you do a good job, you’ll get to be done!”

I didn’t expect anything, of course, but it was almost like she listened because she slowed down, balancing on the downhill and bending slightly right through the corner! She then continued straight down the fence line, still in a nice rhythm and balance. Yay! She got major praise for that, and we walked. I was true to my word (well, almost) and we were done except for turning around and practicing walking straight, away from home, on a long rein. She was a little wobbly at first but much better than before, and when I got several straight steps in a row we were done!

I dismounted, petted her and while I was standing with her I looked around. It was really beautiful, with the pastures bordered by autumn leaves and the sky a deep, reserved blue with almost purple-tinged grey clouds. It was one of those perfect rides, and I felt like I had been good and fair to my horse, and she just did a great job. There’s nothing like that feeling.

It's been so beautiful at the barn lately.

Our latest ride was also good. She came into the barn and was noticeably off when she first stepped onto the concrete aisle (not the first time she's had a few hobbling steps on the concrete). She definitely needed to get out and move, so we set out for Kathy's dressage ring. Sofie was slow and creaky at first but happy to go down the trail. I walked her at first in the dressage ring, eventually moving up to trot work. Sofie was a bit cranky about going into the trot and bending in the corners, but I just rode lightly and gave her lots of encouragement. She seemed to realize it was okay and we got some nice little trot work done. She found a rhythm that worked for her and we did some transitions, halts and a few turns/diagonal thingies (isn't that just a great descriptive term for EVERYTHING?). I'm not sure what happened, if all the leg yielding and working to keep a consistent bend on a slope was actually beneficial, or if I just have a better understanding and feel for the aids, but corners are SO much easier for us now! Before she was rushing, counterbending and not aligned in her shoulders, so our corners were really bad, but now I just half halt a bit, and use inside leg pressure, plus inside rein close to her neck, and outside rein slightly away from her neck. Once we have the bend, if she drifts out too much I just turn her with my outside aids. OMG it is SO much nicer, and easier now!

Eventually I worked up to a full trot circle (tracking right) which came out well, so we rode home under a slightly threatening (but lovely) sky. I considered going in the indoor to finish up, but it didn't start raining and it was too nice outside. So, we rode in the front yard area. I took the opportunity to test out our newly impressive cornering skillz in this one corner that Sofie does not like for whatever reason. I'm not sure if it's because the ground is slightly uneven/rocky, or just...because. But in the past it's been pretty impossible for me to get her to soften and bend through the corner.

Sofie was happy and much more forward (yay!) and we practiced going away from the barn and being straight, with success. Then we tackled the Bad Corner. The first time through, tracking right, we didn't quite get our bend right, but it was in no way horrible. I turned around, and we went back through tracking left, which went well. She stayed straight as we continued on, too! So, we turned right and went back through. And we did it! Not a perfect corner, but she wasn't rushing, wasn't counterbent and was actually straight with maybe a hint of proper right bend! Yay improvement! After that we kept going straight, and I trotted her around for a few more minutes. Sofie was moving well, and reaching very definitely into the contact (she was almost slightly heavy!). We did some straight lines, some turns, and we might've gone back through the Bad Corner just for fun. Our steering was excellent, she was round and everything was good! We ended trotting away from the barn, and I took my hands and legs away from her and she stayed straight! We ended right there because she had done everything so well and I was so pleased with her. What a good Sofa!

I'm so happy that she's been able to keep going, and that she can still have her exercise. I feel like the work we've currently been doing is very beneficial, and not too stressful. I've also gotten myself together, and I am proud of how I've treated her in our last few rides. I have been truly supportive, encouraging and fair, and I can tell it has made a huge difference in her willingness. I've not always succeeded in the past. I have let my emotions overflow, I have gotten pissy with her and I've even yelled at her and jerked her in the mouth. She doesn't deserve that, and I can't believe I ever did that to her, but she forgives me all that stuff and just keeps teaching me things. And recently I've realized how important that is to me. Other stuff, not so much. So from now on, I will be kind, and I will be fair to her. I will be that person for her, because if I know I was good to her, everything else in my life just seems more manageable. She is there for me, even when others aren't. She deserves nothing less.

I also hope to manage her condition better, and preserve her soundness. I will no longer overwork her when she's at her best. I hope to be more reasonable with cantering, circles and long rides, and avoid the crash that happens when she hits her limit. My thinking being, if I am careful with her when she's sound and able and ready to do anything I ask, maybe I can extend those times when she's feeling good and everything is great. I went a little overboard with the two hour rides, cantering and bending work this fall, mainly because I was excited to be at this barn, and we both enjoyed getting out to see everything. I love exploring with her, and I love cantering with her. But I think moderation is called for in this case. I'm sure she will have soreness, no matter what I do, and she will not always be sound, but we can sure try.

When I was feeling discouraged, I looked back at my calendar for this year, where I mark all our rides (and any downtimes). And I was surprised to see that, this whole year, she only had one week off from riding in May, and two weeks off at the end of June. Other than those minor interruptions, I've ridden her every other day, all year long. True, there were some times when she was sore, short-striding and all we could do was light bareback rides, but I was still able to ride. She used to routinely need a month off from riding every three months, so it seems she is improving. And if I manage her correctly, she may do even better in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad she's starting to feel better :)
    She's is a really pretty mare!!