Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Can I just say again how much I love this horse? He was absolutely perfect today and...we cantered! We didn't really mean to but a loose cow (yeah, that sort of thing happens here) came up to the arena gate and bellowed at him just as I was getting into the trot and off he loped. He didn't seem to have any desire to combine any sort of misbehavior with said lope, so I let him go down the wall before easing back into a trot for the corner.
Oh...my...god...he is so smooth!
Everything else today was good also. He loves being ridden in the halter and was displaying far fewer dramatics about the evil piece of metal in his mouth. I rode with the reins on the halter again; maybe next ride we'll put a pair on the bit as well and start playing with that, at least at the walk. He was just in one of those good, really responsive moods - which surprised me as just minutes earlier he'd been screaming at the mares in the field and galloping around the indoor like a bat out of hell. I am so happy to report that he seems to really understand the difference between appropriate times to act like a stallion and times he had darn well better act like a gelding.
Oh, and he stood perfectly still for the cinch. Didn't move once today. Mounting, still antsy but I think in time he will realize resistance is futile - after many years of riding OTTB's, it truly doesn't faze me a bit if you walk off. I also did a more traditional dismount today, where I kept my left foot in the stirrup until I swung my other leg over, and he didn't care about that. I haven't mounted from the ground yet but I do need to work toward doing that. Maybe I need some yoga first...that stirrup is certainly way up there on him!
So now I've decided I'm having a good day and I should get on the SSG (Small Spotted Gelding) this evening. You may recall I've been procrastinating this for several weeks now. Never mind that the SSG has had ten times the ground work and prep that the VLC ever had, the SSG is fast, scooty and half mustang and I am a tad bit intimidated. But hey, his owner has a Stubben Siegfried for me to ride in, and really, the day I fall off one of those overstuffed couches is the day you can all laugh at me with my blessing. So I am definitely going to do it tonight (was thinking about it last night, but then we had a foaling here - and yes, I will post pics later!) - wish me luck, everybody!
It's funny how we all have our fear zones, isn't it? I am totally comfy on OTTB's. I never worry about getting on a new one. What scares me is anything mustang-y or grade with that look in the eye - you know the one - or the kind of Arab that spooks at every falling leaf. Do you have a certain "comfort zone" type of horse, and conversely do you have a certain breed or type that you always worry about having to ride?
Monday, May 26, 2008
I realized a lot of this was due to having been lazy about getting him flexible in the neck. As a result I had a stallion with a big thick neck that was locked up and refused to flex. It was like pulling on a rhino. Nothing was working. Obviously I had to fix that problem or we weren't going to progress.
So, today I went back to square one. I started off with groundwork, asking him to turn circles around me both directions and flex his nose into the circle and give to pressure. That went very well. I put the headstall with the bit on him and while he still wasn't thrilled, he wasn't as angry about it as he had been the previous night. He mouthed it and made faces but it was just normal colt stuff - not "OMG GET IT OUT OF MY FACE!" So I decided we would try to ride with the bit on, but I'd just snap my reins to the halter. After all, if he was responding to pressure on the halter on the ground, why wouldn't he respond to it under saddle? I love the bitless bridle, but because it crosses over underneath the horse's head, it doesn't provide the direct pressure I needed to fix this problem. A sidepull would have been nice, but for some reason they seem to size them for teeny tiny little colt heads - it's like they only come in cob size. I have never seen one that would fit the VLC's very large head and massive forehead.
Good about girthing today (I did go back to the western saddle), bad about standing still for mounting. It's amazing though, when I finally growled HO! right in his face, he caught on that Mom meant business. Works wonders.
Well, I can't say enough good things about how riding in the halter worked out. He rubbernecked off the wall once, I pulled him right back to it, he never balked or stopped moving, and after a few more halfhearted attempts, he flat out gave up and was perfect again. Hooray! We'll be doing the next few rides this way and then I think I will probably attach a second set of reins to the bit and start getting him used to that.
Like most of our rides, this one made me think. How often, when someone has a problem like this - a big strong horse buffalo'ing right through their aids - do they pull out the heavy artillery? More bit. Draw reins. Drop noseband. 'Cause damn it, they're not letting that horse pull them around - no sirree! Of course, what do these tactics usually produce? Yup, a horse that learns he can barge through more bit, despite the draw reins and the drop noseband! The problem here wasn't that he was trying to be a beast - he was simply inflexible and wasn't really connecting the pull on the left rein with turning his nose left - he was taking it as an invitation to stop. He's basically lazy and he's really happy with stopping! Going back to the halter made it super simple for him and I got the exact results I wanted. I was extremely pleased and he got a nice bath and I hand grazed him out back where the deep clover grows until he was dry.
And how was your holiday? Did you ride? All of my friends went on a trail ride and I thought about it, but these folks like to go out for 4-5 hours and neither he nor I are fit enough for that yet! I need to get my friend with the Cute Spotted Stallion to haul so we can go on the wimp's trail ride (an hour max, somewhere flat and well maintained!)
Sunday, May 25, 2008
The thing I love the most here is that as far as I'm concerned, she's a rescuer. If she wasn't able to work through these horses' issues, eventually they were heading nowhere good. She is proof positive about what I always say - it's not the horse. A good enough rider really can work through the issues with virtually any horse. Riding lessons for you will fix so many issues that you think are the horse's - you just won't believe the difference, particularly if you're self taught and haven't ridden with a good trainer before.
I'm going to see a mare tomorrow that was also reformed by the right young, talented rider. This mare was decreed to be "untrainable" by a Big Name Hotshot Kinda Trainer. Um, yeah. Well, now she's basically dead quiet and works cows and trail rides and crosses bridges and...you get the picture. The whole thing makes me giggle. I think Big Name Hotshot round penned her to death and shook ropes at her and all of that silly shit, and this girl's had the common sense to just be quiet with her and not expect bad behavior.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
It's a saddleseat saddle, left at the barn by a boarder many years ago. Use your imagination and picture a 16.2 AQHA stallion with a cutback saddle on. It's hysterical. I seem to recall many years ago there being some kind of AQHA saddleseat classes, weren't there? Or was that just weird shit that happened at 4-H shows? I swear I remember it. Either way - good God it looks ridiculous. But at this point I was happy for anything that allowed me to get my damn legs on the horse and definitely was not pinching him in any way.
Of course, he still doesn't like the idea of the English girth. I do not know why it is worse than the Western cinch, which he is fine about now. I have fleece girths on both with elastic on the english girth. I guess just because you can do the western cinch so loosely to begin with. He's so round that if I put an English saddle on him, I have to at least connect it with contact on him at first or it rolls right off. He didn't kick at me but he did paw way out in front of him twice. I growled, he stopped.
He was antsy about mounting again but gave up and stood after a few tries. He's funny - he will resist something a few times and then just give this big, long-suffering sigh and give up! It cracks me up. Oh, poor, poor abused colt! You might actually have to walk-trot in a bitless bridle with a petite woman on your back! My heart bleeds. Do you have any idea how many colts your age are being ridden into the ground by some 200 lb. man with a twisted wire snaffle in their mouth and spurs? You'd better be grateful, young man. You do not know how good you have it!
OK, first comment on saddleseat saddles: How the hell do you people ride in these things? They are freakin' SLIPPERY! My landlord had helpfully dumped a pile of sheet metal next to the arena door and when the VLC sidestepped away, I thought I was going to slide right off. Fortunately he realized that while the Scary Sheet Metal Pile looked funny, it was not actually moving or making noise and therefore was safe to pass by. It was nice to have my legs on the horse and stirrups the right length again.
We did have another couple of balky incidents tonight but he gave up more quickly. I am not being shy about going right to applying the rein ends to his ample butt, and he's figuring out that it's easier to trot on the wall than make mom mad and get growled at and smacked. I think he's bored with the arena, and I think now that it's warm out and he actually has to break a sweat, he's testing me a bit to see if he really has to keep trotting. Answer: Yes.
He really hates it when you pull on his face, so I am trying to redirect him mostly off my legs. This doesn't come naturally for me. I'm more of a traditional hunt seat rider, not an AQHA hunt seat rider - pitching them away is not exactly second nature to me. I am comfortable on high-headed Thoroughbreds that you ride right between your legs and your hands and they're fine with that. Well, that's not going to work here. The VLC wants to be pitched away all the time and I know that I need to ride him like that, but it's something I have to remind myself about all the time. Like let's say he's getting really fast at the trot. I can circle but there's only one place I can circle (I can do half-arena circles but nothing smaller - we have this fence in the middle of the arena that is open at the two ends and has one opening in the middle) and that's kind of a big circle, not really small enough to slow him down very much. He does not care for half-halts. This is when he's most likely to overreact and just stop and grow roots, ignoring my legs. If I had a normal arena, I'd spiral in for smaller circles, spiral out when he slowed down - that's something I can do on very long reins, but I just don't have the room to do that here and it's frustrating.
I think I am going to try to talk my friend into hauling us down to the big public use arena this week, where I can do all of those things. The only question is, how will he behave at a new place? And with other horses riding with him? And if I don't find another saddle to use, will other riders fall off their horses laughing at my saddleseat Quarter Horse?
Tune in soon...and in the meantime, tell us all how you're doing with your horses!
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
(As Juliane pointed out, being in a hurry is why I got attitude. Touche.)
Anyway, he just started out with that look in his eye. You know the look. The F-U, Mom, I really don't want to cooperate look. Of course I thought, okay, it'll be good to work with him in that mood. After all, what if he's in a mood the day he has to go to a show? Better learn to work through it now, right? So I forged ahead.
I'd decided tonight was the night I was going to hang a bit in his mouth, so I set up a plain ring snaffle on a working headstall. He already decided that looked like a good toy - as I was grooming him, he picked it up by the bit and swung it. There you go, colt - your mouth is exactly where that goes! However, when I actually put it on him, he was less than thrilled. Well, that's an understatement. He wanted it out, out, out of his mouth. Now. Even though it was loosely adjusted, he shook his head to the ground and slung it around and tried to rid himself of the annoying thing in his mouth. He bit the post, he made faces like I was killing him. I only left it on ten minutes but I'm pretty sure I managed to put him in an even pissier mood with that little exercise! I'm really clever that way.
Then he decided he was going to regress totally and refuse to stand to be mounted. I started off doing the natural horsemanshippy thing where if they don't stand, you send them out to longe. Well, we probably did that six times. He wasn't getting bored with it or apparently learning a thing. Finally I decided it was time to revert to Traditional Horsemanship.
"Goddamnit, HO!" I finally yelled and smacked him in the chest.
He gave me a surprised look...and promptly gave up and stood still for mounting. OK, so much for being open minded about new methods, in the future we will go straight to the chest smack.
Once I was on, he started out fine. We walked our usual circles and figure eights. The trot was quick but I was expecting that as it was cold and windy outside and he'd had two days off. I figured he'd start to soften up as he got the edge off like he usually does. Instead, as we came through the center to circle, he just plain...didn't turn. Um, what?
Thus began Rubbernecking Night. And I admit, I was annoyed as hell because, damn it, I wanted to get OFF and go watch myself on the news, and now I knew I had to do the responsible thing and work through this. He'd be good and trot along and then all of a sudden, he'd veer toward the middle like a 25 year old lesson horse having a pissy day. This was a completely new behavior. Well, I think we saw shades of it on ride number 2, but here we were at ride number 13, and ride 12 I had been trotting him around on the wall with one hand on the reins, chatting with my friends and not even having to pay attention.
We have a fence in the middle of the arena and he ignored my directions and simply drifted to a stop facing the fence. Now we were stuck. He wouldn't turn left. He wouldn't turn right. He wouldn't back up. He didn't care what I did. It was like sitting on a stuffed horse. Uh-oh.
I looked at the ends of my reins with the little leather pony whackers on them. Clearly they were going to have to be employed and I was going to have to face the consequences. I sat back, heels down and smacked him.
I think he yawned.
So I smacked him harder.
He twitched an ear. I was sure I could see his ears growing longer as this went on.
At some point I remembered that I used to ride a filly by his sire, and she also had an amazing ability to grow roots and totally ignore any temper tantrum taking place on her back. You had to outwit her, confuse her, and distract her to get her back into forward gear. I leaned forward, grabbed the cheekpiece and turned his head. Finally I got the all important forward step and then he gave up and walked out of it.
Before we quit, we (1) trotted down the wall once and stopped when I wanted to stop, not when he wanted to stop and (2) walked a very straight line without succeeding in pulling away down the wall he didn't want to go down.
I know exactly why this ride happened. I was in a hurry. I wanted to get done and get off. That's never the frame of mind to ride a greenie in. It also happened because I had been sloppy about some major building blocks of his training. He's so quiet and well behaved normally that even though I knew he didn't have much of a bend to the left, I hadn't really been making an issue of it. Oh sure, we'd trot circles that direction, and I'd reward him mightily for turning his nose into the circle, but I hadn't really worked on loosening him up in the neck. When he decided tonight to simply set his neck and refuse to move it, I didn't have any strategy other than trying to outpull him and you know how well that works!
So, now we know what we need to work on! My friend is coming to visit tomorrow and bringing me a Wintec which should fit him, which would be great. I know I ride for crap in the purple cordura saddle and it should make a huge difference to have an english saddle on him where I can get my leg on him and I don't feel like I'm tipping forward due to those strangely far-back stirrups.
Then again, it does occur to me that if that is our bad ride, I probably shouldn't complain, right?
Sunday, May 18, 2008
I am pleased to report that I am a bit ahead of schedule. I said I was going to have a solid walk/trot on the VLC and be riding him inside and outside in the round pen by Memorial Day, and we're already there. Plus we've done our first bareback ride! The progress has very little to do with me, LOL. He is just a great horse and I got lucky!
I need to add some goals here. The way it's worked out is that the VLC is so freakin' easy and enjoyable to ride that I have no problem at all riding him regularly. I want to ride him! He's easy, he's sweet, he's smooth, what's not to like? I've ridden 15 year old show horses who were less broke than he is after 12 rides. So now I have to kick it up a notch. Now I have to make myself get on the Small Spotted Gelding - who has a stubborn streak, and is pretty darn fast, and is half mustang and for some reason that alone makes me nervous. I seem to have a deep seated belief that all mustangs are wild asses, probably due to the fact that in all of these years, I've never ridden a mustang. Not once. I have heard lots of wild mustang breaking stories from trainer friends...but, again, this is a half mustang that was born in captivity and has actually had much more consistent and extensive ground work than the VLC. He doesn't know he's a mustang, and he's a large pony, and I love that size!
So why am I procrastinating just getting on? I think I've decided that I can't possibly get lucky with a greenie that does nothing wrong twice, and this is the one where my luck is going to run out. So I'm gonna put myself on the spot - I will get on the SSG by Memorial Day. I will.
OK, what about the rest of you? (And if you've already posted, or put it on the message board, just update us again - I have a mind like a sieve lately!)
Ellen, how's your herd? You have got your hands full! So glad SOMEONE is making an effort to break out the old broodies. We need more like you - those old girls need the help!
Fssunnysd, got that saddle on the horse yet?
Masquerade, I know you're on the same schedule as I am - how's the walk/trot coming?
Skint, have you got that mare coming when you call yet? (The VLC comes like a well trained dog. Carrot whore.)
Beautiful Disaster, how is the silly mare doing?
Which_Chick, you started yours about the same time as mine, how's yours doing?
ChipNCharlie. did the PITA boarders move out and can you use the arena now?
Whoa Mare, how's it going? I want to lose another 10 lbs. too - today is day two of eating in a manner that will accomplish that and not stuffing my face full of Taco Bell because it's cheap and convenient!
Icepony, I know you got on the horse - did you do it again? :-)
Fanoffugly, have you gotten on the big one yet? Neb, have you taken a lesson yet, or at least investigated trainer possibilities?
Twisty, how is Stanley and have you held it together for that lap around the ring yet? Stanley sounds adorable by the way, you should post pictures. (HTML is what works for those wanting to post links - you can't use the IMG tag but you can use the regular link tags)
3CatCrazy, did you get back on your horse? (I got a 4th cat, BTW. I am more crazy than you!)
Queen Skankarella (great handle!), how is your greenie coming along?
Artdoc, are you on track to start riding yours next month? How is your knee feeling?
DC, have you gotten on yet? If you need a blog reader for moral support/ground person, post your location - odds are we can hook you up!
Barngal - did you start your Big Cool Guy back to work? How is your knee holding up? (I swear, one day we'll just blog about our age related aches and pains and whine to each other. My damn back is killing me.)
4Horses&Holding - you've got your hands full too! How are they all coming along?
Char, how are you doing? I think you should make your mom ride the spooky gelding if she gives you any crap, LOL!
ReadyToRide - how is the Appy metamorphosis coming along? Has he figured out the jog yet? (The VLC has not. He now wants to long trot - or stop. I was pleased that the trot was more relaxed tonight. He is figuring out he can cover ground without being quick.)
Char, did you find a place to ride?
Truthseeker, did you manage to adjust your work schedule so you'd have more time to ride?
Lisa, how is your filly doing? We are aiming for our first show in August, too!
Gorillakeeper, have you put those cool boots into stirrups yet?
Liri, is project horse realizing the sunscreen is not pepper spray? :-)
Crazyhorse, you're already ahead of me if you can put a western saddle on the Doofus yourself. I need to go to the gym, too! How are you guys doing?
Ellie, is your boy staying sound?
Morganhorselover, did you get your mouthy boy to knock it off? That can be a hard, hard habit to fix.
Dante, you and your pony sound like a match made in Heaven! Have a fun summer.
Danielle, hope you were reading the day we determined, um CnJ determined, that my colt was leaning because I was leaning. Yours probably is too! Throw a little more weight into your outside stirrup and outside seat bone and see if that fixes your going-left issue.
Liz, well, we can all read your blog to see what you're doing! BTW, guys, I think blogging is a really good way to keep yourself on track. People will bug you if they don't hear from you. Trust me.
ApocalypsePony - how is the VSG and has he figured out that you are not a mountain lion?
Jackie - retraining those sour overschooled show horses is a pain. How is your girl doing? Starting to listen to heels that don't have points on them?
Cutthecrap - Have you started working with your OTTB mare? How is she doing?
Heidi the Hick - I know you're progressing on your certification. Are you riding three times a week? That is about what I've been riding... 3-4. I need to step that up (not all on the VLC but the others who need it)
Quietann - Have you survived the dreaded hacking out alone session? I feel the same way. I don't like the open but I REALLY do not like it when I am alone!
I Am Who I Am - Have you ridden yet? That birthday is coming... :-)
Horsegal984 - Are you going to do the May 31st show? Let us know, and of course we want pics!
Redsmom - Did you do the May 10th show? How did it go?
BigPaintHorse - Showing really isn't that scary. That is why they have schooling shows, where you can wear what's comfortable and it's just not that much work. I'd start there!
Oh and congrats to KarenV who just got herself the most gorgeous OTTB gelding ever...with a show record a mile long. He is a bit thin but nothing stays that way very long at her house!
And the rest of you...come on, let's see your goals! If I am going to risk humiliating myself on an international level by chickening out of any of mine, so can you! ;-)
I am gonna hit publish post and then I really do have to get on that very quick little part-mustang critter within the next twelve days...
Friday, May 16, 2008
With the VLC, our "thing" is picking up feet. He will pick them up readily enough and keeping them up long enough to pick isn't a big deal. However, the other day, he had his first farrier appointment since I acquired him. Uh, apparently holding them up for longer than 10 seconds is a huge drama. He isn't mean but he pulls away. Who knew? Fortunately I have a patient (and big, and strong) farrier and he got done.
So now I know that I should be working with this. But I have a bad back (whine, whine) and really, I'm not strong enough to outmuscle him anyway, so he'll just get his hoof away from me and win and that is bad too (excuse, excuse). So yeah - I'm am procrastinating. He gets his hooves picked but I haven't tried to make him hold one up for longer than that takes.
What are you procrastinating about?
And anybody got any great tricks for convincing a 1300 lb. colt that he really CAN balance on three legs? (That don't involve hobbling him. Sorry, I just won't risk it.)
P.S. If you missed it in the comments, I did ride #10 last night bareback in the round pen. He was PERFECT. Even let me get on from the panels on the second try with no one holding him. Did not even react when all of the loose horses in the pastures started running and bucking. Just stopped a few times to watch. Gosh, he's great.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
This is my karmic retribution for leaning forward my whole life. A greenie who stops if I lean forward. THAT will teach me, won't it? This is just not something that happens with Thoroughbreds, LOL. Darn Quarter Horses...
I figured it out and started to sit back, close my legs on him and anticipate what he was going to do. The good news is that he gives up easily - he just expects me to be awake up there or he might just drift to a stop when he gets tired. I am asking for longer trots now, and I am not sure he is that thrilled about the prospect of actually breaking a sweat! Twice he did his old trick from the first and second rides of going into reverse. I half-heartedly swished the ends of the reins around his butt but admit I chickened out of doing what I probably should have done and smacking him a good one. He quit and went forward and got rewarded for going forward.
We also had some residual issues from the goat episode. There is a different goat chained next to the arena, which he normally ignores, but when it got caught with its chain around a metal box, he spooked again. It wasn't a big spook and we continued on. Of course I wonder if I spooked him because I heard the noise and it startled me. Time for the ipod and/or ear plugs for me - I am quite sure I am spookier than the horse!
Then, my friend with the CSS (Cute Spotted Stallion) came in to talk and noted that she was surprised that the other night when I rode the CSS, I rode right past the goat without any problems. She admitted she had been avoiding the goat and that she'd almost warned me but then thought better of it. I wasn't surprised that he went right past - I didn't know he had any issues with the goat, you see, so I wasn't anticipating! With the VLC, I know we have a goat issue and I was anticipating. You get what you expect to get. Damn it.
I have many stories like this. I remember riding a horse for a trainer one day, at her direction, while she was gone. She returned and asked how the horse had gone. I said she was great, I really liked her, and she had a nice lead change on her. The trainer's mouth fell open.
"You did flying changes? And she didn't buck???"
No, she didn't buck. Not once. I wasn't expecting a buck, you see. I just rode confidently forward and she nailed her changes, because my information was that she was an experienced horse owned by a novice rider and that's how I rode her.
I think this is one of the HARDEST things about overcoming fear - overcoming the anticipation! You know what has spooked your horse in the past, or what has triggered a misbehavior, so it's freakin' impossible to ride confidently and not anticipate the worst. At the same time, you know that YOUR fear is scaring the horse! As it was explained to me many years ago, the horse cannot conceive of the idea that HE is what is scary. Therefore if you are on his back and scared, he assumes you have caught wind of a predator he hasn't noticed yet. That's why when you get on a horse and are scared, the horse does everything you feared he'd do! You are freaking him out with your fear. It's a vicious cycle and hard to turn off.
Is this something that is a problem for you? How are you dealing with it? I have historically used the strategy of telling myself that I'm not on a greenie, I'm on a 20 year old schoolie who needs to be sorted out because the kids have spoiled him. For some reason, bucking/spooking/bolting is not scary if you think you are on an old coot who is f'ing with you, as opposed to an actual green horse...even though they're the same behaviors! At least that's how it works in my head.
Forget training the horse...how do we train/psych out ourselves?
P.S. I sheepishly admit that CnJ was right...I was leaning to the left around my corners, damn it! I put more weight in my outside stirrup and he stopped dropping his shoulder so far. *sigh* I do need someone to come out here and pick on my position but I need to find an English saddle that fits him first as I know I ride ridiculously in the purple colt breaking saddle. Anybody out there got a cheap, beat-up wide tree hunt or dressage schooling saddle they'd like to sell me? If it fit your warmblood, it'll probably fit the AQHA moose here.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
So here's my advice, something I figured out back in the days when I was teaching riding (and, ironically, specializing in helping nervous/scared riders). Nobody knows how to consciously relax. What it is really about is allowing your body to act as a shock absorber for the horse's gaits. For example, a lot of you lock your knee and ankle into place in the "proper" position and try to hold it there. The problem with this is, while it looks lovely at a standstill, at any gait faster than a walk, you've killed your ability to absorb shock and move with the horse. When the horse gets a little fast, your braced, locked leg position makes you bounce - particularly at a sitting trot or canter. Your bouncing pisses off the horse and he goes faster. You bounce more. You do not know why it feels so awful and out of control. After all - your heels are down. Your toe is directly under your knee. You are sitting up straight. Why are you in imminent danger of eating dirt?
Here's how you fix this. If necessary, get someone to lead/longe the horse for you. Take your feet out of the stirrups. Out. Walk the horse, feel the horse's motion and try to just follow it with your seat bones. You cannot use your stirrups for this exercise - you have to have your weight in your butt. Now step it up to a slow sitting trot and try to keep following the motion. This is best accomplished on a horse with a true western jog. Borrow one if necessary. You will feel when you have it right - when you are relaxed and following the horse's movements. Now you can take your stirrups back but I want you to think of them as nothing more than a footrest. Imagine they are made of something delicate and if you press on them, they will break.
If you have to exaggerate at first and slouch a bit, that's ok. Think of your back like a noodle. Everything in your body is absorbing the shock of the horse's movements. Watch the Halfpassgal video. That girl has a loose back. She can sit a big warmblood trot because her back is totally loose. Now, she IS like 20 or something. Is it a hell of a lot harder to have a loose back at 40 or 50? OH HELL, YES! However, as with anything, it can be done. Practice at slower speeds until it feels right.
Once you do relax your joints, you will be amazed at how much easier everything becomes. Another joint that people like to lock is the elbow. This completely impairs your ability to have good hands and follow the horse. Your elbows are hinges and must operate like well oiled hinges. Elbows, ankles, knees, hips - all hinges that must open and close as you ride. Any time you lock a joint as a response to being nervous or unsure, you're impairing your ability to ride and annoying the horse.
For literally YEARS I was told to "stop pumping" at the canter. Well, I honestly didn't know how. I have always had a good feel for the horse's mouth, but because no one had EVER explained the concept of my elbows and hips needing to open and close, I followed the horse's mouth by following it with my whole upper body. NO ONE ever explained this to me effectively. (Boy did I pay for a lot of BAD instruction. Bet a lot of you did, too!). I actually figured it out for myself watching a friend ride who was an extremely good rider and always won equitation while I was at the bottom of the class. I noticed how, as she cantered, her hips moved forward and back underneath her upper body and her elbows opened and closed, so that she was able to sit upright and yet maintain perfect contact with the horse's mouth. It was a lightbulb moment. Several years after this realization, I beat her in an equitation class. Boy, that was a good feeling, but I could have fixed this fault many, many years earlier.
So many trainers are amazing riders but they cannot explain things and they make these statements that the student has no ability to understand. I have heard trainers shriek things like "close your angles!" at six year olds. WTF, dude. It's a six year old. You need to use six year old friendly terms. You compare stiff body parts to noodles and you pull up on the button on top of their hunt cap (shoot, they don't have those anymore, do they?) to show them what straight feels like. I will never be a superstar rider - my collection of open show trophies is probably as far as I am ever gonna go (I will be watching from the stands with a cold beer and a happy drunken smile on my face when the VLC shows) - but I will say that I can explain better than a lot of the BNT's I've seen. (I often think a lot of that comes from NOT being a "natural rider." If riding comes easy for you, it is just not as easy to explain how to do it as if you went through the same struggles and challenges as your students.)
All right, I hope that helped someone. I also think music as you ride is a must. There really is nothing wrong with riding with an ipod as long as you're not so cranked up that you're unaware of what is going on around you, or if you're along at home, pull out the boom box. Music DOES calm and distract you and it's easy to do things like say "I am going to posting trot for the duration of this really great song with a beat that I love." You can make playlists of whatever works for you. Make it as cheesy as you want, nobody else is listening! I have TONS of old disco and dance and 80's hits on mine. I defy ANY of you to slow down and walk while listening to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Just try it. I'll bet you trot no matter how scared you are!
(Suggestion for other relaxation tactics AND for music you just HAVE to keep riding to are welcomed!)
Sunday, May 11, 2008
How did everybody else's weekend go? I need to get on the Small Spotted Gelding. I did get on my other friend's Cute Spotted Stallion yesterday, on his 5th ride. He makes the VLC look rocket fueled. We are both so lucking out with our greenies this year!
Good grief. I have not been to the E.R. due to a horse since 1987 (knocks wood violently) and in that time period, I have jumped and played polo and ridden plenty of greenies and horses that came from dealers and auctions with no history available. It is not that I am rider of the year, but I use a lot of injury avoidance tactics (i.e. giving them a chance to blow off steam before mounting, riding anything iffy in the indoor arena) and I will not ride a horse if it doesn't feel right. You know what I am talking about. Sometimes you get on, and you can just feel the hump in the back or every muscle coiled, looking for a reason to explode. If that happens to me, I get off. Usually very quickly. Then we longe/turn out and reevaluate whether or not the issue has passed after doing so. Oh, and I BAIL if they rear. I am not fixing rearing. Somebody else can fix rearing. I do not want a broken pelvis and massive internal injuries. I have great respect for those of you who can pull 'em sideways and down and fix it (see halfpassgal on Youtube) but I know my own limitations.
(And sometimes I accept that the brain has left the building and we're just not going to ride today. We will longe or do ground work or get ponied. If this is happening 2 days a year, I don't think it's a problem. If it's happening 2 days a week, yeah, the horse has you cowed.)
Injury avoidance is not always easy, depending upon who is around. I used to have to work this polo pony who was known for blowing up bucking when you mounted. Everybody thought I was a freak when I longed this horse before getting on him to warm him up - but you know what, that made him not buck. He was just a typical cold-backed horse who needed to adjust to the saddle and girth and loosen up before you got on. I'd rather bear the disparaging looks than go flying - but when I see these people getting hurt again and again and again, I wonder if part of the issue is that they're making the other choice.
Have you chosen to do something you knew was not a good idea with a horse for fear of the barn bitches or a strict trainer giving you hell/embarrassing you/comparing you to others? Have you pushed yourself to jump fences you're not comfortable with, to ride at speeds you're not comfortable with, to drop stirrups when you knew you weren't ready, etc. - just to avoid the scorn of others? Are you, even now, keeping a horse you know you are never going to feel comfortable on because of peer pressure?
Here's something I think happens a lot: Trainer sees gorgeous horse. Trainer wants gorgeous horse. Trainer convinces ammie to buy gorgeous horse. Gorgeous horse is perfect for trainer - will NEVER be the right horse for ammie. Ammie would be WAY HAPPIER with a 15 year old TB with floppy ears that has auto changes and never overjumps. But that isn't what Pushy Trainer wants decorating his/her barn...and Pushy Trainer wins. Ammie with broken arm watches from sidelines all year and writes checks with good hand...
So let's talk. How has peer pressure affected your riding? For those of you who have learned to ignore it, how did you come to that point? Or conversely, do you think peer pressure can be a good thing sometimes in pushing you a little bit out of your comfort zone? I do think the right kind of peer pressure is good (hence my posting of my riding goals for the VLC this year) but there's a wrong kind of peer pressure that gets people hurt. To borrow a cheesy phrase, sometimes we all need to learn to just say no!
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
But yeah, #7 was another great ride on the VLC. Here's the fun part. The first couple times we trotted, he had the little foot dragging jog and wasn't showing much desire to work any harder. I was just thinking that I was going to have to scrap my hunt seat plans for him (although the thought of buying a nice Chavez saddle dripping with silver didn't exactly pain me...) when, previous ride, he decided to trot out going to the left. Well, I guess he liked it as tonight we had this beautiful long trot both directions!
In fact, he would have cantered if I'd let him but I checked him back. I just don't want to do it yet. He's not balanced at the trot - it's not time.
I'm so pleased he has a motor though! I didn't think he had it in him.
I think next ride we will do some trotting figure 8's. He is trotting circles using half the arena with no problem, so I think figure 8's will be fun and give him something new to think about.
Oh, and both directions, he halted from a trot in just a few steps and stood motionless until I asked him to move forward. What a good boy!
All right, tomorrow night I gotta work with the SSG again...maybe I'll get on. We shall see how it goes!
Who else is riding during the week even though they are tired and have to kick themselves in the ass and make themselves do it? Tell me I'm not alone here!
The Small Spotted Gelding (hereafter SSG on this blog) is an interesting little creature - created by poor fencing and a mustang owner who did not seem to realize stallions have this urge to breed and will go through poor fencing to do so. The mare, or in this case, filly owner had no idea her filly was old enough to get pregnant - and honestly, I wouldn't have thought so either. Filly was a yearling. The full story is here. Anyway, the end result was Ditto - who is half mustang, half some-sort-of-PMU-spotted-drafty-critter. Ditto is now three and it's time for him to do something for a living. His owner has done a good job with groundwork so progressing to actual riding shouldn't be that hard...but since he's a 13.3 pony, she asked me to do it. The goal here is not any specific discipline - just to create a career for a cute, but grade, gelding so that he will have a good home for life.
Now, the SSG is far more my comfort zone in terms of size. However, he has approximately 40x the energy level of the VLC, and a wicked spook on him. I was watching him blast around the arena yesterday and thinking it is time to invest in a pair of schooling chaps to stick my ass to the saddle! Or what are those things you all talk about, the Kerrits sit tight breeches? Ha ha, what's next, a seat belt? At least I can laugh at myself...
After watching him move, I no longer think hunter pony. Honestly, he's got the neck set of a saddle horse, he's a hot potato with high movement and he's very quick on his feet/surefooted. If there was a pony jumper market out there, we might be in business. As it stands, I think he screams gaming pony - which would be just fine. There's a good market for that in these parts. While I've done a bit of gaming on my old polo ponies (I used to have this amazing Truly Truckle mare that could go to a barrel race and place against the "real" barrel horses no problem), I've never started a horse specifically for that. Then again, aren't the first 30 days about the same for anything? It's all about just developing balance and consistency at a walk and trot.
As his owner pointed out, he is very good in the roundpen and I think we will do session 2 there. He does not want to bend to the right and in the arena, is one of those horses who tries to run out of the longeing circle when he's not next to a wall and does so by running backward. I did the usual corrections - got myself behind his hip, moving him forward, but we had a bit of a battle on it before he gave up and went a few times around without successfully shooting into reverse. (Lesson for the day: Don't try to longe difficult greenie with huge mud boots on. Nearly took a header several times as I dashed to get behind his hip and correct his behavior.)
The good part is that he truly couldn't care less about being leaned over. He stood quietly next to the mounting block while I laid all of my weight over him on both sides. From watching him, I do not think he will be a bucker - it's the spooks I'm going to have to watch out for, and perhaps the backing-as-resistance, but the VLC already got me warmed up on that. I think I'll be on him by the end of the week, but tonight will be devoted to the VLC and the VLG that we just saved (see other blog post here).
Monday, May 5, 2008
He is just so smart. He's making this so easy on me!
Anyway, the little balking incident made me think. Twenty years ago, when I had no fear about a horse's reaction, I probably would have overreacted. I would have booted him a good one in the ribs, or smacked him with the little leather pony-beaters on the end of the reins. He would have jumped around and been scared and gone the direction I wanted.
And...it would have been totally unnecessary. You know, you don't need to beat them over the head with a hammer about every little thing. Back when he was cowkicking at the girth? Oh yeah, he got in Big Trouble about that - because it was actually dangerous. But there's a ton of little stuff you can work through with a lot less drama than you see a lot of trainers - my younger self included - apply. If you can fix the problem and still keep the horse calm and the head low, why wouldn't you do that?
Well, I guess it does not look as cool.
So, the thing I realized tonight is that despite having less of a seat and less balance and less guts than I used to have, I think I'm actually a better trainer today. I think I am using my brain more - because I have to - and that the experience I have may actually be more useful with a lot of horses than that velcro butt I used to possess. And I'll bet I'm not the only one.
Is this true for you too? Are you, despite age, despite loss of balance/guts/seat/muscles - a better trainer than you used to be? You know, if the main thing that mattered was having balls the size of Toledo and the ability to stick any buck, we'd be bronc riders - not horse trainers.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
What would you still like to accomplish in your riding career if fear were no object? If you could totally get over it and just ride the way that you know you can?
I'd have to say I'd love to do a little cross-country jumping...if I could ever get over my fear of riding in the open where there is no wall to bounce off of to stop! You know, the kind where the fences aren't too big. Like they do in Europe on the riding vacations for all of the scaredy cat Americans. LOL.
How about the rest of you?
Friday, May 2, 2008
In honor of his birthday, I decided we were going to do ride #5. He was not sure how that was a birthday present, but I promised him lots of cookies afterward - if he was good. I told you guys he was a snot about his girth yesterday. Well, today I warily passed my hand under his stomach to get his cinch, watching for hooves all the time and he decided to do something new. He defiantly threw his head - and whacked it right into the post he was tied to.
Um, not so smart, big boy. He was VERY surprised. Apparently it does not feel so good when you whack your head into a wood post about ten inches in diameter. He was so surprised that he stood without incident for the rest of the saddling. I love it when they train themselves!
That was the only bad thing he did all night. He was absolutely perfect under saddle. We worked on doing nice round circles, and we trotted all the way around the arena once! He gave the goat that was tied outside to graze a look and a sidestep, but that was all. Not one whinny at the mustangs outside. Not one moment of misbehavior. Oh, and we worked on halting and he was so much better than yesterday. He totally seems to get it now that the second you stop and stand, I drop the reins and pet you.
Have I mentioned how much I love this horse today? He is a lifer. I would not sell him for a million zillion dollars. :-)
Oh and before I rode him, I went out and rode one of Save A Forgotten Equine's OTTB rescue mares, Little Miss. This mare is a doll! She was an animal control seizure but now is normal weight (actually she is overweight, LOL). If anybody would be interested in a small (15.1) bay TB mare with a very good brain, let me know. She is sound (hooves still being rehabbed, but legs clean and feels totally sound u/s), light sided but not stupid, has a wonderful "ho" on her, and needs someone to love her forever. She is a thin skinned princess who is bothered by the bugs, so she needs someone who will baby her a bit with a fly sheet. She is in the Seattle area and SAFE only does Seattle to Portland area adoptions so that someone can check on them and ensure they are truly safe forever. I had her pic on the other blog already but I'll post another cute one here today.
Hope everybody has a great weekend full of wonderfully uneventful rides!
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Tonight, after a busy week, I finally managed to put ride #4 on the VLC. We had sunshine and beautiful weather, so I thought it would be a good time to venture into the great outdoors. I put him out in the round pen to investigate and ran around feeding the others for a while. He trotted around once, slowly, and then set to snaking his neck through the panels and vaccuuming up every blade of grass within reach.
I headed out, brushed off his filthy self (of course, he had to roll and coat himself from head to toe in filth...hmmm maybe it's a good thing we didn't take pics tonight!) and tacked him up. While he was less wiggly about the girth and saddling in general, he did revert to cowkicking at me twice. It was right at the beginning, as I reached under for the girth, so he got smacked and growled at. He then decided that pawing violently with a front foot might be a better way to show his displeasure (mind you, I had not yet actually pulled the girth snug and it was hanging in a loop under his belly. Drama queen.) Of course, he was not allowed to do that either. He finally gave up with a big sigh and allowed me to proceed to tighten the girth. I do it slowly and always let him move around in between pulls. Once it's tight, he doesn't care a bit or show any discomfort, and I have been pulling out both front legs to make sure the skin lies flat. I just think it's a naughty baby behavior that he will get over with time, although I am going to buy him a fleece lined girth this weekend and see if he minds that less than the neoprene. I know some horses just hate neoprene girths.
I chased him around a bit at the trot. Probably 5 minutes tops. The footing is quite deep in our round pen and he was quickly huffing and puffing. It was obvious it wasn't going to take much to ensure he was safe to get on - he is a marshmallow. (So am I. We both need to get more fit!) I pulled out the mounting block and got on and we proceeded to swim around the round pen. Seriously, it felt SO weird going through the deep footing. I had to remind myself again to just pitch him away and let him put his head down for balance. I did not want to try a trot again in the deep footing, so we just worked on walking, circling, and stopping. He barged through the first two stops a bit and then the third time, he was really good. We do need to spend time practicing that. The nice thing is once you get the halt, he stays in it until you ask him to move forward. He's listening very, very well to leg and never shows any resistance to it.
Here's the funny part: I am normally a little leery about riding outside because of the unexpected things that happen. After all, we are right next to pastures full of horses and adjacent two very wooly llamas that sometimes bolt off at a surprising speed. And, Murphy's Law being what it is, of course two horses took off running at full tilt while I was riding. The VLC raised his head and paused to look, but didn't get upset. He ignored other horses whinnying, and couldn't have cared less about the llamas. You know what he had to give the wall eye to and sidestep away from?
You ready for this?
His own poop.
Yup. It was going to bite him in the ankles if he stepped on it. He had to sidestep into the middle of the round pen the first time to get away from it. (interesting note: he's going to have a lovely sidepass once we actually train this into him!) When I got done laughing, we went back to the wall and after several more rounds, he managed to at least walk next to it. I do not think he ever stepped over or through it, though!
Silly, silly, very large colt!
Overall, though, no complaints. How are all of you doing? Those of you who put first rides on recently, have you gotten back up there for ride two or three? How are you doing dealing with your own fears? I seem to be totally fine on the VLC now...I know it sounds corny but I already feel like we're a team.
Of course, now I have to start scheduling in time on the other three year old I promised to start. He's in my comfort zone size-wise (about 13.3!)...watch him launch my butt, LOL!
By the way, tomorrow is the VLC's third birthday! I think we'll do ride #5, add a little trotting and celebrate the fact that no wacko yearling-riding AQHA trainer got ahold of him and ruined his legs at 16 months. :-)