Pony Brigade

I rode my friends pony lasy Monday. Well, it may technically be a horse, but the mare is not very big. Maybe 15h’s.

I get to my friend’s barn, which is spectacular by the way, and find my friend, two of her friends, and her mom waiting for me. We chit chat and bit and then go out to tack up the horse.

My friend is tacking the mare up, and I ask her if she was planing on riding her first. She explains she can’t because of an injury (which she’d told me about a few days ago, but I had assumed she was off light-duty at that point). So it’s just me that’s riding. I was a little embarrassed by that since I felt like worthless goon watching her tack the horse up, but by then we’re ready to go. I take the mare into the indoor arena and hop on. I assumed everyone but the girl that owns the mare would wander off at that point….

Nope. They watched. I’m riding around feeling horrifyingly self-conscious. I’m flopping around, my stirrups are too long, and the mare feels like she has a knot in the middle of her neck.  I haven’t ridden in weeks. The only consolation I was holding on to was that the mom must’ve left because the viewing room was dark.

This mare is rather cunning and athletic… nothing I’m doing is working to get her connected back to front. I can get moments of non-bracing, but she won’t really release her back. My friend had explained that this is the problem she’s been trying to fix, along with several trainers and clinicians who’ve attempted to fix it. I try a few exercises that had worked like a charm on Ava, but the mare fights me on it. I didn’t want to start a battle I didn’t know if I could win, so I drop it and try something else.

I ask for the canter…. and nothing. I ask again and we trot along faster. I hear one of the friends tell me that that’s normal, but I suspect it’s how I’m asking.

I ask for the canter again and get surprised by couple quick little bucks. Then we’re off into the canter.  It scared me a bit, but then I’m super proud of myself because it didn’t unseat me. Confidence booster.

The mare tunes the rider out and braces her jaw any time you do a straight line for more than 5 steps, so I ask for a lot of circles and changes of direction. I drop her back down into trot across the center and pick up the new lead without any issues. She has moments where she listens and is easy to ride. Moments where it’s like riding a freight train with no brakes.

There are 6 eye balls watching my every move. I feel like I’m failing the big exam.

I try some shoulder-in on the mare and she floats down the rail.

I finish up my ride and was saying to my friend that this mare is a challenging ride. There are a few holes, and the mares past has made her defensive to the bit. But overall, my friend has done a great job with the training. I’m impressed by how easily the mare moves off the leg and understands the outside rein. Everything is there, it’s just that the mare locks her neck if you don’t constantly remind her not to.

We put the mare up, and we’re walking back to the viewing lounge when my friends mom pops out. She had watched the whole ride. Ack! She chuckles and tells me she shut off the lights in the lounge so that I’d feel less nervous about her watching me.

We’re talking in the viewing lounge about the mare and I’m commiserating with my friend about the issues she’s having. While talking the mom says it’s a shame I won’t give lessons. Me? Give lessons? HA! I tried telling her I suck, but I think she thought I was being modest. But, I look at where my training is at (Second level) compared to the whole of dressage (Grand Prix), and I’ve barely tapped the surface of understanding dressage. I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to teach. There’s so much I don’t know. And every day I learn that there’s even more I don’t know.

They asked me to come ride the mare again. I was thrilled they liked my riding enough to ask me to come back out. I really want to figure out how to unlock the mare.
It’s really bugging me to figure it out.

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Ellie the Lease Horse

I hope you haven’t forgotten about Ellie. I’m still riding her, but she did have a week of no riding while I dealt with work and depression about Ava.

The last few rides have seen an improvement, I think.  She’s getting better at seeking contact at the walk.

At the trot, I’ve found that if I let out the reins at the beginning of the ride she’ll start searching for the bit. She didn’t before. I was really nervous about giving up more rein to see how far she would stretch out and down at the trot.  I’m starting to trust the horse more, but I still don’t know her that well so I was nervous. She responded much better than I had anticipated. She had moments where she honestly stretched down and released her back some. She also had moments where she lost her balance, but she let me rebalance her without freaking out and curling her chin to her chest.  I need to get her to push more from behind and level her balance (front to back) out more, but it’s a start. It’s hard when they’re just not strong enough to use their backs for very long.

And after the stretchy trot, she gives a big rib expanding, flappy nostril sigh like the weight of the world just lifted from her. She seems looser and more mentally relaxed from it too.

I’ve introduced shoulder in and haunches in this week (walk only). She previously had some shoulder-in training, but she’s insisting that she’s had none. Ha. The little faker.

When I rode her Tuesday, I was playing around with haunches-in (walk) down the rail. It started out with her bouncing between my left and ride aids. When she couldn’t escape that way, she tried stopping. So I bopped her with both heels (she had dug in at this point).  I swear you could see her gears going on how to get me off her. I have no desire to push her past her comfort level right now, so I straightened her out, of haunches-in, got her thinking forward again, then circled and re-established the haunches in. That seemed to work. I definitely don’t want to start a fight I’m not sure I could win, so I figured it’s better to just go forward and get her out of the balking mentality first. She did better on the next attempt.

What I found interesting though is that after the balky little tantrum and re-establishing the haunches-in, she had so much more swing in her back at the walk. She felt freer through her body. It didn’t last very long though.

I do want to add… After riding the horse for three week, I don’t think the curling, hiding from the bit thing, is the owners doing. The mare is wound tighter than a drum. And it seems like (I may be wrong) that the horse is attempting to protect something that either hurts, or used to hurt. I’m not quite sure yet which one it is.  <– the owner vetted the living daylights out of the horse a year ago for a back issue. Nothing was found, but this is why the horse hadn’t been ridden in a year. She isn’t exhibiting the problems she had a year ago, so it’s either healed or is only exacerbated by collected work.

However, the horse has some nice training training on her.  You can ride this horse completely off your seat. She has an amazing leg yield with just a slight shift of weight. I can turn her on a dime by rocking my shoulders back and shifting my weight in the direction I want to go. She’s very weight sensitive and light to ride.

I don’t know… We’ll see…. I really like this mare. She’s smart, sweet, has an opinion, but is ultimately a people-pleaser. She internalizes her fear until she’s a wretched mess of clenched muscles, but she’ll let you convince her things are okay as long as you don’t let her behavior affect you. And she tries extremely hard to do what you ask. When she doesn’t understand she gets very frustrated, but she’s super easy to ride if you break things down for her in small chunks.

It’s a lot of driving for a hobby

Ava’s doing well. I had the chiropractor adjust her Tuesday. I didn’t realize the chiro gave the horses vitamin b shots. If I’d known I would’ve warned them about Ava’s aversion to shots. Everyone survived, but I felt like the parent who was told that her kindergartner bit the other kids. 
BO: “Your horse was naughty today.”
Me: “How bad was she?”
BO: “Nothing we couldn’t handle, but he must’ve hit a sore spot on your mare.”
Me: “A sore spot? Oohh, riiiiiight. Yeah, must’ve been that.” *shifty looking*
O_o

The vet I took Ava to for her stifle called me the other day. He said he might have another option to try with ultrasound. And in addition we can try treating Ava by injecting the stifle and then attempting to bring her back into work slowly. The other option is take her to MSU, have the stifle scoped and hope the surgeon see what’s wrong and determine if he can fix it while in there. If I go with treat and see, then I can’t have the stifle scoped until 8 weeks after that. I’m indecisive about which avenue to take.

I rode Ellie again tonight. What a fun mare! She’s still stiff and bulges into my left leg/rein. She’s actually the exact opposite of Ava… Ellie wants to lean on the left shoulder and bulge her barrel into your left leg.

My main concern is that Ellie isn’t able to come over her back while she’s crooked and leaning. She holds herself stiffly in a ‘frame’, but there’s no back involved in it. I’m not quite sure yet how to really get her to unlock.  For now, I work on moving the left shoulder to the right, leg yields to the right to get her weight more on the right shoulder, and lots and lots of bendy lines so that she can’t lock and brace around the middle of her body. Then I ask for as much forward as I can get without losing balance so that she’ll step under herself as much as possible. I worry she’ll pull or pinch something with how stiffly she carries herself right now.

I hope as she gets more fit, and she becomes more flexible through her body, that her back will naturally start releasing. I hope.

I need a good exercise for her canter to trot transitions though. She slams hard onto the left shoulder on the downward tran. She refuses to trot and will either quit and balk, or continue in a bunny hopping like canter that is walk speed (it’s not pretty). If I can just get her barrel to bend around the left leg then she could make the transition into trot more easily…  it’s going to take a bit of finessing though. I tried leg yielding to trot, and it did help, but not as well as I had hoped. I have heard it takes some time to fix this, but I would like a few more exercises to try. I’ll have to research that.

Anyway, it takes me 45 minutes to drive from work to Ellie’s barn. It’s 35 minutes from Ellie’s barn to home. It’s an hour drive from Ellie’s barn to Ava’s barn, but only 20 minutes from home or work to Ava’s barn. It’s a lot of driving… but I can’t afford to board Ellie near me so I’ll just have to make due for now. I was really going into withdrawls not riding. It’d been 3 weeks… too long in my book. 🙂

I’m just happy to be riding again. It’d be even better if it were Ava… no wait… it’d be awesome if I could ride both and they were at the same barn. That’d be the perfect scenario. =D

The lease horse

The lease horse, Elie,  is a pretty, bay OTTB (Off the track Thoroughbred). She’s small, standing about 15.2h, but is well put together. The mare was antsy in the cross ties as all her buddies were taken out to pasture, but she wasn’t ill-behaved. Actually very pleasant to brush and pick out feet.

The owner told me that the mare hasn’t been worked in about 10 months. I was expecting airs above the ground.

We tacked her up, and the owner lunged her for a few short minutes to see how the horse was going to behave.  The mare was excited, but not unruly.

So the owner hopped on and put the mare through her paces. I could see the mare was stiff (expected after 10 months off), and a bit bracey/hollow.

So then I got on. We had to wrap the stirrup leathers twice, plus put the buckle toward the top holes. I get so embarrassed having to do that.
My friggin’ dwarf legs! Ha.

I get the horse walking forward. The horse is very stiff. Tighter muscles on the left. She was jazzed up after the owner had cantered her, but listening well. I asked her to trot and we took off in a lopsided, odd canter with lots of head flinging. So I brought her back down to walk and tried again with less leg and she picked up a nice trot.

I think the owner likes her to go slower than the mare is actually built for… just a general impression. And the mare has a weird way of holding her head and slightly ducking behind the contact. Which is at odds with her barging into the bit when you ask for a downward tran or a halt. So she’s not quite comfortable with the bit, nor with seeking the contact, right now. I think part of that is lack of muscles and stiffness.

And last impression, the mare was happy to calmly walk around on a loose rein. She was overreactive to some aids, but not hot (bouncing off the ceiling) like I assumed she’d be after 10 months off. The mare has an odd way of tuning out some aids while being overly dramatic about others. Oh, and she doesn’t understand the outside rein at all.

Over all, this lease horse is AWESOME!  I didn’t want to get off the horse, and I can’t wait to go ride her again. Once I get her back in shape and loosened up some, I think she’ll be even more fun.

After riding the lease horse I swung by and saw Ava. She was happily eating hay in her stall. The sun was shining in on her (it was barely 50 degrees so the sun felt good). I hand grazed her for a while and we walked around the barn a bit.

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Ava's stall.

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Grazing. Barn with indoor arena behind Ava.

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Stalls. Ava's is the first stall on this side.

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Trying out a horse to lease

I’m pretty excited today. A friend of mine has offered to let me ride her mare while mine is healing. I’m going to go try her out this morning to see if we click and whether I can handle the horse.

The mare is a OTTB, with a couple years of dressage training. The mare hasn’t been in consistent work in at least a year, but prior to that I think they were working on First Level. I’m very lucky to have an opportunity to ride a horse that already has some dressage training.

The drawback with this horse is that the mare is very hot, opinionated, and athletic. The plus side is that the mare is hot, opinionated, and athletic. 😉 I’m good with hot… I seem to mellow them out. Probably my boring personality puts them to sleep. Haha

I’m so excited to be back on a horse. It’s been three weeks since I’ve ridden and I’m going through severe withdrawls!

I hope this goes well.