Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hardest easy lesson

I had one of the hardest, most frustrating lessons ever last week.

I think the frustrating part was that we weren't actually doing anything hard. And yet Bobby and I could not get it.

airplane ears in full affect

Before we even started in on anything, BM honed in on tightness in Bobby's RH. She gave him a quick dig into his muscles to rub him out a little, and then sent us off at a jog to get him to loosen up.

Bobby does not jog. Bobby does not loosen up. Bobby does not relax. These are not Bobby attributes when we're in the ring. Strolling about on trails? Maybe. In tack, in an arena, with an agenda? No. Thus began an hour long mental battle for the both us.

BM put us on a circle at one end of the ring. I was to exaggerate the inside bend, even if I had to spell it out to him like a kindergartner with a wide open inside rein and over using my inside leg. If he drifted out while bending, that was fine as I then used my outside aids to push him back in while keeping a forward yet relaxed rhythm. All with my reins on the buckle so that he could stretch as low as he could go.

waiting for the resident fox to show up for pictures. the one day i bring my camera
and the stupid thing couldn't be bothered to come out.

This sounds like an easy way to run into some basic problems: losing the haunches, not getting the bend, losing the forward, etc. For Bobby, the first thing we ran into was that he wouldn't just chill the fuck out and keep diddling around on the circle at a relaxed pace. He was great at stretching, but he just wants to do everything fast: relax fast, stretch fast, everything has to be done rightawaygetitdonenow. I was more than happy to play along and half halt him every other stride to slow him down for one step before off he went again, but BM called us out on it right away.

It goes back to us nagging each other and staying on that middle ground where it's just pick, pick, pick instead of "This is how it's going to be done. I'm asking once, I'm telling the second time, end of story." Every time he lost the tempo and tried to shoot off into a big trot instead of maintaining our slow jog I halted him completely. Whoa means whoa, Bobby. That is all.

Once we sorted that out, and it took a long time, we were finally able to move back to the bending exercise. I could. not. do. it. Once again I felt like I was being overloaded with aids and I couldn't sort them out fast enough to make a difference. I finally gave up at the jog and came back to the walk so I had one less thing to focus on.

I finally got the inside bend sorted away, and then I couldn't get him pushed back over without his haunches winging out. BM told me to keep my outside leg right at the girth--in fact, since I default to bringing it back far enough to kick my horse in the stifle when asking for anything, to think of kicking him in the shoulder instead and I'd probably be at the right spot. That helped a lot and I was able to also bring my thigh into the picture and really push his shoulders around without making the hind end think it needed to be doing something large and grand as well. It also carried over into doing a super SI in our next ride.

spring is finally here!

We were able to move back to the jog and get the same results, and then BM had me do something else horrible and frustrating: picking up my reins. Kind of an integral part of riding, but something else I apparently can't do correctly. I was supposed to keep my shoulders back and down and my hands forward and independent of the rest of my body while shortening my reins.

Yeah, no. My body parts don't move independently of each other and everything wanted to lurch forward in a giant movement. At this point my ass was chafed from sitting the trot for an hour, my right ankle was completely numb and just dangling there uselessly, and my brain was fried. I've since worked on this on my own and found that if I focus on keeping my core hard and still instead of thinking of my shoulders, my middle holds everything in place while my hands get to go about their business on their own.

taking bobby's picture from across a giant field is the key to making him look attractive

In summation, our lesson was this: slow down, relax, bend.


BM is pushing us hard without actually taxing us Bobby physically. My brain feels like goo after each lesson, but once I chill out and have time to process, there are about ten million new things I have under my belt to work on which is a really, really good thing. I'm hoping to get some help with the canter tomorrow as the right lead has gotten...interesting.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The weekend strikes back

Those of you that are friends with me on facebook or follow me on instagram know what I was up to this weekend:

leaving the stable tour just before midnight.

One of my mom's oldest friends is a Cirque du Soleil fanatic, and he's been wanting to see Cavalia for ages. He lives out in the Bay Area but missed them when they were there, so when he saw they were in Chicago (where my mom lives) he invited us along. And then paid for the entire trip, VIP package second row center seats included. Ohhh-kay, if you're going to beg, I guess I can go.

Guys, it was fucking amazing. I had steeled myself against being judgmental against the riding as you will when seeing people fake it in movies. Yeah, no. I can't say I was as wowed by the haute ecole at the end as most of the audience was, but everything else was incredible. 11/10 would recommend. I can't say enough good things about it.

i was pretty giddy to be there, won't lie. 

I flew out first thing Saturday morning and landed back in Rochester Sunday afternoon. I was exhausted by the time I got home and even with a nap and a full night of sleep, this morning's 6am alarm went off way too early. Once I finished feeding, I chiseled Bobby out of his mud coat and got on fingers firmly crossed he'd be sound.

On Friday when I last saw him he was not sound. We'd had a tough-on-me lesson the day before (post on that to come), but we never even made it to the canter so I was kind of really a lot freaking out. If he can't even hold up to flatting on our cushy indoor footing, how the fuck is he going to show on stone dust? Fortunately Farrier was there doing another horse so I asked her to watch him go quick.

please stop being a fungusy gimp.

She agreed he looked uneven on the RF which was what I was feeling. I got off without doing anything more than the brief w/t/c soundness check and Farrier put the hoof testers on him. Of course, being Bobby, he tested worse on the LF. The LF is the worse navicular foot, but the RF is the leg with the old soft tissue injury and the still-recovering leg fungus. Farrier didn't come to any great conclusions.

Bobby isn't big on reactions on the ground. He's got such good ground manners drilled into him that he thinks it's his job to stand like a statue and never move. He jerked his hoof once each time Farrier hit a sore spot, but when she came back to the same spot he didn't so much as twitch. Occasionally he'd look back at me like, "Should I be doing something? Is this okay? I won't move again, I promise." Ugh, Bobby, for being such a drama queen under saddle, you're difficult in your own way on the ground.

I packed his feet and Farrier said to just keep riding him as normal. If he continues to be uncomfortable we'll go back to wedges. If he comes up sound, then great. This foot shit is a serious mind fuck, let me tell you.

we ride! for one day at least.

Fortunately he was sound this morning!

Unfortunately, I apparently can't take a weekend off without forgetting everything I know about riding. BM has given me about six months worth of things to work on in my past two lessons so I should have a wealth of things to draw on. Yeah, no. I couldn't get my tired brain to dredge up anything useful for a good fifteen minutes of wandering uselessly around at the walk. Even at the trot it took me way longer than it should have to start riding with a plan instead of being like, "I have legs. They push me up to post. That is all."

I did rally though. Once I started working on bending Bobby at the shoulders keeping my calves against his side instead of giving into his "Your leg means nothing or it means zoomies. There is no in between." I was able to get him moving really well.

hubby picked me up from the airport in my new car! so long, old saturn. 

Once again I ran into the flying change problem at the canter. He popped right over unasked for down the first long side--totally drama free, completely correctly, and in perfect balance. He was more than happy to pop right over as soon as I shifted my seat which again wasn't what I was asking for. If he's going to be change happy, he needs to remember there are other ways to get the lead. I can't do another change through the canter in the test to correct the lead, so he's got to work with me. I gave him a scratch anyway, then calmly brought him back to the walk and picked up the left lead again. Then, minutes later, I went to do a simple change across the diagonal--the move required at Second level--and he felt the half halt right before I asked for the walk and changed again.

I know having a horse that excels at changes is nothing to bitch about. The fact that he's decided that not only are they easy, but they're actually really fun is great. It's just not great when I'm not asking for them. I don't want to shut him down so, as always, we have to work on the whole listening thing instead of the anticipating thing.

"leave the dressaging to me, lady. you know nothing."

Of course once we got over to the right lead to actually stay there, he couldn't canter anymore. Honestly I don't even know what gait we were in. It felt like none of his body parts were moving together and yet everything was stuck nailed to a board. I finally just got into half seat and kicked him into a hand gallop. BM is always telling me to let him fail, so I let him fail hard. You can't make this circle without falling over or crashing into something if you won't bend, Bobby. You can't run fast if you're cross cantering. I was finally able to sink back down into my seat and work with a more forward, looser horse. It was a hot mess getting there, but the end result was where it needed to be.

It ended up being a good ride, but the amount of time it took me to sort out my body parts and what the fuck I was supposed to be doing was unacceptable. Mental toughness, it needs work.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

There are worse problems

Guys, damn it.

After my post yesterday about how good it's going to be to switch to strictly dressage lessons, and how BM has taken away my best friend crutch Inside Rein, we have overnight run into a new problem.

My fucking horse has figured that shit out and moved on with his life. "You want me to go into the outside rein? Fine. Stop laying on the inside rein? Fine. Bend off your inside leg? Fine. Fix the straightness with the outside leg? Fine."

Bobby. STOP. I thought we were going to have months to focus on this! You're learning the things too quickly and I don't have the learning to keep up with you!

hubby: "he looks like a cavalry mule."

He was quite saucy this morning coming out of his stall, but he didn't make a fuss when I put him right to work on pushing him with my inside leg into the outside rein. No. He just did it. I was like, "Uhh....uhhhhh....." and then figured I should be an active rider, didn't linger, and changed direction. It took a touch longer to the right which was a change from the other days, but still went down without much correction.

It carried over in the trot. He was so light and just with it right off the bat that after a few circles and trips down the long side both ways we threw in some serpentines to get a really good bend going off just my leg--far harder for me to commit to than him--and finally stepped into the right lead canter.

The right lead felt like a drunken sailor on a sinking ship yesterday, and while we started off with a little fishtailing, I focused more on getting him rounder today and that packaging him up helped get both ends under control. Once he felt with it, I asked for the medium keeping in mind BM's advice to bounce him up and ooze him forward. #ohmylort did we get it. He bounced his flat crouped booty and opened his stride right up. It lasted all of five strides before neither of us could hold it anymore, but I think I've got the 1+1 aids sorted in order to ask properly again.

basically the best at dressage. obvi.
also, LOL, pulling on the inside rein even when there's no inside rein!!

Across the diagonal, testing that I could get the change where I wanted it and not just wherever Bobby felt like giving it since diagonal at canter means change time. Hold the right bend, he holds the right lead. Straighten him out and cue, and he pops over. I do love that R-L change. It's always there for me.

To the left, he immediately felt straighter so we didn't do too much before I asked for the medium that way. Sit deep, bounce him up, both legs on, and send him forward. I could feel him sit and reach the first couple strides and then I suddenly felt him jump for a step before carrying on. It wasn't a buck or double pump like he sometimes throws out that wrench my back, and he carried on still completely in balance so I didn't even connect what had happened until I glanced down and saw we were on the right lead.

I must have poked him too much with my outside spur which is his change aid, and he took it and rolled with it. We were approaching the corner quickly so I was greedy and asked him to switch back over. Easy peasy, no fuss, so I immediately halted and shoved cookies down his throat.

always cookies all the time.

Who is this horse that's so in-tune to my aids and does what he's asked--inadvertently or not--without throwing a royal fucking shit fit?! I don't know how to ride this creature!

I let him have a long stretch break before going back to a collected trot which was where I wanted to work out of for the end of the ride. He was feeling so pumped about his changes and his candy and praise that he was looking for every twitch from me as an excuse to canter. I eventually got him serpentining all over the place, making him settle the fuck down and that my leg meant change the bend not canter, until he was like butter in my hands. He was super light, super forward, super still wanting to canter at the drop of a hat, but he let me channel all that into a touch of legs and off he went into his newly discovered extended trot where there's no lugging on the reins and we actually stay way uphill for a Bobby Horse.

If he can just keep a lid on his psychoness this season, we're going to have some fun at Second and maybe not entirely embarrass ourselves if we can get to the goal of one Third test by the end of the year!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Curse of the inside rein

Another foot crisis narrowly averted. After Bobby was trimmed way back, he came out for our lesson Thursday looking like he was okay with doing such strenuous tasks as walking and standing around without shifting uncomfortably. He actually felt really good, and BM said she didn't notice anything aside from the usual stiffness in his right knee he gets when the fungus leg blows up overnight. (Fuck the fucking fungus leg, omg. That's its own post. It will be like, "I'm completely healed!!!" and then two days later it's like, "JK here's MOAR FUNGUS!!1!!")

when you forget about the lake dividing your
horse's pasture and don't put your boots on so
you have to ford your way out on horseback.

The theme of my lesson was: It's time to actually ride real dressage.

Ugh. You guys. You think dressage is fun and stuff until you're not allowed to cheat at it anymore. And then it's not that fun at all.

I usually get on early enough that I can warm Bobby up with a little w/t/maybe-c on my own. That way we're not wasting time on just getting the muscles juiced and can focus on the nitty gritty. This time BM got there while I was still doing chores so she could get on another horse first. That meant she was there from the start of my ride and asked how he felt.

Insider's tip: If you don't want to stop cheating at dressage, do not tell your trainer your horse won't connect to the outside rein.

ok, but we're both really good at snacking so
that should count for something, right?

BM started reeling off a list of aids to apply to rectify this problem--you know, basic "Stop fucking with the inside rein, put both your legs on, hello where is your outside rein connection, touch that inside rein one more time I will cut you, etc."--and it was information overload. Not because it was really anything difficult, it was just too much too quick and too different from the simplistic "pull horse, kick horse" mentality I usually coast around in.

I had to stop and have BM place my hands, arms, and legs exactly where she wanted them. Yeah, not the first time a trainer has had to do this with me so I can't blame the ole TBI on this one.

"This is like easy math, right? It's 2+2. Don't overthink it."
"That's too much math for me."
"Okay, then make it 1+1. Inside leg plus outside rein."


jumped that baby gate to finish out today's ride.
because my horse is not going to break dammit.

We spent a lot of time at the walk. Mostly walking to the left because Bobby loves hanging on the left rein so he was reluctant to let go of it. Me too, Bobby. Me. Too. The main theme, besides don't ever touch the inside rein that's not for you don't do it, was to stop nagging. "Tweak it, and if he doesn't respond then correct it and move on. Stop lingering on middle ground and picking at each other." So hold the solid outside rein connection and put the inside leg on. If he twists his head to the outside instead of bending around my leg, then I get to do one quick tug on the inside rein to tip his head back in and immediately release it and let the leg go back to bossing him around. No constantly pulling on the inside rein to "bend" him.

This is hard because he doesn't particularly respect my leg. Probably because I'm not big on using it and err on the side of reallyfuckinghandsy. Real talk here, folks. Once we got permission to move on to the trot, we worked out of a serpentine to get both of us on the leg train. Not touching my reins to steer was a tough mental exercise, but BM had me put both reins in one hand to prove that he was moving beautifully with zero help from my reins. He literally didn't even notice the change. It's nice to know he's trained somewhere in there, I just suck at riding.

At the canter, same thing. I was allowed to use my ring finger on my inside rein if I need a bit more roundness, but it was all bouncing from one leg aid to the next to keep him straight, keep him forward, keep him bent, keep him in the connection. He can't lift his shoulders if his shoulders are falling in or out. Touch with the outside leg at the girth. Just touch though and just at the girth because Bobby associates outside leg aids at the canter with a flying change cue and wants to swap.

Speaking of, his changes these past few rides have been delicious. I only do one each way to not get greedy, but I've been starting with the L-R which has always been his angry one and he's been jumping over without any drama. Super clean and super quiet, carrying on at the canter like nothing happened. This whole riding the hind end forward thing is magic. Who knew?!

is this a real dressage horse?!

Of course by myself it's been slower going. I can get the same work, it just takes me longer to do my math. Especially on Friday where Bobby came out feeling quite fresh and I had to keep throwing in half halts so it was like 1+2 which is advanced stuff bordering on the complexity of fractions. But I sorted myself out, and this morning things came that much quicker. I have to beg Bobby sometimes to give me some amateur points and make some best guesses on his part. I am not a reliable Captain. We need to work together. Co-First Mates or something, I dunno.

With show season gearing up (less than a month to the first show now!), I think switching to dressage lessons is going to be really fun, really helpful, and really hard. We're basically the best at small jumps thanks to last year's training overhaul, so I'm excited to be the best at fundamental getting your horse correctly on the aids riding. Some rides Third feels like it's going to be easy to step up to, and some days I have to count not crashing into the wall because my horse won't steer off my leg a success.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Slow Your Roll

Where have I been in the week since I last posted?

Conducting the mother fucking crazy train is where. Toot toot, all aboard, one way trip to My Horse Is Dying Land.

me: bobby, are you sound enough to be standing here?
bobby: can you please fuck off?

Last Monday we trailered out to Mendon Ponds Park for a couple hour trail ride. Bobby was happy to be out and about. We, once again, set off down a new trail. It started in the woods and wound through there for about forty five minutes before crossing over to the grassy ponds side. We walk ninety nine percent of the time we're there because it's a hilly area and Bobby may be super ring fit, but he's not yet super traipsing about the countryside fit. I did, however, let him move out to a trot on a nice clear stretch...where he immediately felt very footy on the packed dirt. 

I pulled him up right away and that was that for trotting this trip, but I spent the whole rest of the day along the lines of "It's fine, he's due for a trim, I'll let the farrier check him out. Maybe the navicular has gotten worse and he'll need wedges put back on. Maybe I should have never jumped him this winter. I really think this is the end end of our eventing career which means he probably can't hunter pace again either. He probably won't ever even be sound enough to trail ride. OMG, what if he can never leave the arena again?! OH GOD IT'S TIME TO PUT HIM DOWN THE END IS NOW."

Things spiraled out of control quickly, guys. I'm not proud.

"hi, my name is bobby, and my mom is batshit crazy."

I packed his feet as soon as we got back to the trailer, and then gave him Tuesday off. He was fine for our dressage ride Wednesday (No, like, really fine. He was fucking fantastic.), so I went ahead with our jumping lesson Thursday. 

I got on and immediately felt the footiness again. Not lame, but a distinct minciness up front. BM put us through an A+ flat warm up, and we scrapped the jumping to work over a line of raised cavaletti. He felt great through that--essentially a giant canter stride, but so adjustable and light--but once we stopped and took a break in the middle of the ring he started shifting from foot to foot. We ended the lesson super early, and I packed his feet again and gave him some Bute. 

best frat boy friends

He had Friday and Sunday off. On Saturday I threw a lead rope around his neck and jumped on bareback to see how he felt. He felt sound then, too, so we popped over the tiniest of crossrails once before I jumped off and chucked him back outside. 

Monday was really nice out so I threw my dressage tack on and climbed aboard to see how he felt. 

Awful. He felt fucking awful.

He felt crippled throughout his whole body, and I lost my shit and started sobbing. It didn't help that I was full of raging hormones, but there's nothing quite like feeling you're directly responsible for your horse's soundness downfall and he's never going to recover from it ever.

Once I was over myself, I pulled his bridle, taught him a fun trick which he picked up on in approximately twelve seconds, and then brought him in to pull his mane, give him a bath and some Bute, and pack his feet again. 

will do anything for cookies
I didn't even look at him Tuesday. I threw him right outside and left. The farrier came today so I was forcing myself to act like a rational human being to outside people until I got her opinion. 

He was right at eight weeks, but he was so long. He'd grown a ton of foot--too much foot. For a horse that now has foot issues, it had messed with his angles too much and was making him uncomfortable. Bobby usually zones out or falls asleep while getting his feet done, but this time he was super engaged in the process. He kept licking and chewing as she went and shifting around to adjust to his new feeties. 

He walked off so much more comfortably, and Farrier agreed we'd need to take him back to no longer than six weeks. Between the navicular and a host of other problems--a possible bone spur, a previous soft tissue injury, and wonky as fuck conformation--we're not going to be able to get away with any sort of mistake anymore. 

Are we officially done forever and ever with eventing with no chance of a once a year comeback? Yes. We are. The navicular changes are only ever going to get worse. We can probably slow them down, and we can certainly make him as comfortable as possible, but we've shifted from "Let's see where we are and what he can handle before making any firm decisions" to "We need a serious maintenance program in place with set limitations." 

We'll treat the discomfort when it arises. We'll see how trail riding pans out with a heavy focus on staying on the best footing. We'll stick to our dressage-only show season. We'll play over jumps in the arena with less regularity until that, too, gets taken off the board. This horse loves to work. He loves having a job and using his brain. We'll let him keep going as long as he holds up to it. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My Horse is Perfect: A Poem

My Horse is Perfect

My horse has perfect ground manners
He doesn't cross tie
And you shouldn't walk behind him because he'll kick you
Don't clip him unless you Ace him
Don't Ace him unless you twitch him
He doesn't like needles

My horse is perfect to trail ride
He's afraid to lead
But don't leave him behind
He can't go out by himself
But he hates groups
He won't cross water
And he doesn't know how to walk without jigging

My horse is perfect at shows
He just needs his own separate warm up area
And don't crowd him in the ring
That's what all those ribbons in his tail are for
It's your fault your horse got kicked
He should have won that class
He got on the trailer this time after all

My horse is the perfect turnout partner
Don't let him go out with that horse though or he'll rip its blankets
And he can't go out with that horse because they won't stop biting
I think that one is the one that almost broke his leg last year
He didn't deserve it though I'm sure
Because my horse is perfect

Dedicated to That Person in every barn.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Weekend Activities

you know it.

On the riding front, it was limited activities. Bobby had a massage scheduled for eleven Saturday morning so I jumped on him quick before then. He was surprisingly really, really good. No drama about a thing, not even the canter. He wanted to break to the canter when I cued for the medium trot, but once I started posting instead he went prancing around like a mother fucker.

For the massage, he was--as always--sore in a million different places in his hind end. He's got previous stifles issues, a mile long back, and he does a lot of dressage work. Massage Lady wasn't concerned with anything out of the ordinary. He was more sore in his neck than usual, but that seemed to show up right after he got vaccinated about two weeks ago. He also likes to play Fighting Giraffes with his pasture mate where they bash each other with their heads and necks so, again, nothing too concerning. She gave his back an A++ though and said his new saddle is perfecto!

giraffe chomp mark. 

He was still stiff overall in his body after his ride as she watched him go on the longe before working on him. I was bemoaning how tight he's been lately, and she reminded me that this type of weather is the worst for Lyme positive horses. I don't know why I didn't put two and two together and think of that myself. He's had it for so many years now that I guess I just kind of forgot about it. We should have one whole day of warm up this week though. I mean, that's basically spring, right? Ugh, fuck you, New York. I hate you.

contemplating life after his massage. 

We ran a bunch of errands to round out Saturday, and then Sunday we hooked up the trailer and used it to haul ten million pounds of landscaping timbers home. While it was so conveniently parked in the driveway, I gave it a thorough scrub down both inside and out. I also bossed Hubby around and made him do some quick fixes to it to get it ready for show season. He put a new spare tire on (Hubby loves changing out tires, just ignore all the swearing.), dug out a bolt to secure my saddle rack (ask me how long I've been trying to get him to find me the right size in his super special only he understands organization system), and I had him rip the old western saddle racks out.

ugly things

The last owner had welded them onto this aluminium sheet and the welds were barely holding. I couldn't actually put anything heavy on there for fear of ripping the thing off the wall. It's hard to find someone to weld aluminium, and they were such a giant waste of space anyway that I said fuck it.

drilling holes for a second english saddle rack
higher up and out of the way

It left an ugly strip when it finally came off. We'll put a new sheet of light steel or something there one day, but for now it got smoothed down with the grinder and bandaged with tape. It wouldn't belong to me if it wasn't a least a little bit ghetto.

much better! just needs the second saddle
rack put in once it gets here

The rest of the day was spent doing way, waaaaay too much yard work. At least I got my own wheelbarrow out of it? Do I really need my own? Probably not. Did I really want my own. Yes I did.

Today's festivities include painting my kitchen cupboards and a trip to Mendon with the brown stallion. Even if all we can do is walk because the ground is so saturated, neither one of us can do one more day in the indoor.