It’s a scary world out there when you’re all alone

19 February 2015 Comments

My trainer has been at a show the past few weeks, so Fin and I have been on our own.

On the weekends, when we’re riding in the daylight, things are peachy.

At the walk, our baby leg yields have started to turn in to real leg yields: staying straight and starting to actually cross over with the hind leg. He’s figuring out how to move his haunches and shoulders independently, and we’re working on developing an actual shoulder fore. At the trot, we are doing baby leg yields (moving sideways but not really crossing) on circles and straight lines. We’re staying straight during them now, rather than leading with the shoulder, but he’s not as confident about the lateral work as he is at the walk so I haven’t started asking for more sideways/crossing yet.

We’re doing a little cantering, as well. I want our upward transitions to be sharper before I ride him in the dressage arena, but we’ve gone from big 30 meter-ish circles down to being balanced and comfortable at 20 meters once we are cantering. Given his large stride (the hunter riders would be green with envy), this is saying something.

Since we have been playing with some of this new stuff on our own, it’s been a lesson in communication for both of us. Fin really wants to do the right thing, and when I ask him for something new and he’s not sure how to respond, he gets tense and tries to rush out of it. Something like improving the leg yield is not a problem, because he had the general idea of sideways from our baby leg yields. But when I asked him to just move his shoulders or haunches independently, while staying on the same track, tensed up and tried to blow through the aids and turn it into a power-walking leg yield.

I figured out that I needed to be quicker with my praise and ask for fewer steps before letting him out into a normal, straight walk. As soon as he figured out that, yes, all I wanted was one quarter to take a step in one direction and keep it there, he relaxed and we were able to start adding a few extra steps forward each time. By the end of that ride, he was walking down the long side moving his haunches in, haunches out, shoulders in, shoulders out, without any tension between each movement. By the end of the next ride, he’d figured out how to stay in shoulder fore. Then we lost that the next ride, but that’s babies for you.

With a trainer present, these things would go a little more quickly, because we’ve have more help on the timing. But I’ve also noticed that, as the two of us figure things out together, he’s starting to learn that mistakes are ok. He still gets tense when I ask him for something new (or, in the case of last night, for something we hadn’t done in a while: turn on the forehand), but he doesn’t get as tense as he did. I think it’s partly that I am quicker to break it down into smaller steps, but I also think it’s partly that he’s learning it’s ok to just try, and if it’s not exactly right, it doesn’t mean he needs to get tense and try to rush away from it.

The only real problem we are having is at night, under the lights. He thinks the world outside the lights is fun and interesting and much more captivating than working in the arena. I think it’s full of hyenas. We are still doing very long walk warmups at night—I don’t want to shut down his forwardness through my tension, so we take 10-15 minutes for him to be a little distracted and me to let go of work and start focusing on the ride. Last night was the exception—there were birds flying in and out of a bush or a plastic bag rustling in the wind or something, and both of us were a little jumpy if we rode past it when it made noise. I finally put us both to work, to get our minds off it, and we were fine.

Imagine that.

We have the rest of this week to keep playing around before my trainer is back. I think she’ll be happy with us. We’ve definitely made some small but important advances on our own, but the real victory is just that he and I are figuring each other out and starting to trust each other. Six months ago I would have given him these last couple weeks off rather than take over all the riding, with maybe some lunging to keep him fit.

Still—I can’t wait until we get longer days and don’t have to ride under the lights any more. We’re doing it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my favorite thing.

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It’s the little things

10 February 2015 Comments

My regular lesson is during the week, in the evening after work.

I’ve started getting on Fin early and we have a good, long walk warmup under the lights. It gives me a chance to let go of work and just relax, and it’s good for Fin to just chillax and not have every ride be immediate work-work-work. We work a bit at the walk, and then we halt somewhere out of the way of anyone who is taking a lesson and we just hang. Then we work at the walk. Then we chill.

Sometimes we do more chilling than work, and sometimes we do more work than chilling. It just depends on life.

Last Wednesday, when I went to bring Fin in, he was on a mission. In true Fin style, it didn’t appear to be any mission in particular. Just a mission. It probably involved food, but mostly it involved walking very quickly towards anything that caught his eye. Which was everything.

I tacked him up and took him out to the ring, where he still had that “ZOMG the world is AWESOME” gleam in his eye.

He never put a foot out of place. He was just acting like an ADD two year old.

We had some nice moments at the walk—some good stretches, staying straighter much longer, some nice changes of bend, and some baby leg yields.

But he was also acting like an ADD two year old and when I stopped to let him chill for a few minutes—usually his favorite activity bar none, because work is hard and standing around is easy—he was on the go again in less than a minute.

When my instructor wrapped up her other lesson, she looked at Fin and she looked at me, and I looked at Fin and I looked at her, and we decided to skip the lesson. For all that we’d had some really good moments in the trot, he was just not very focused. And I am still building my confidence with him, so what I do not need is for him to have young-horse-playful moments that I overreact to. We will get there, but we didn’t need to get there that night.

She rode him later in the week, and I scheduled another lesson for the weekend. Now that we are having better weather, the smaller arena has dried out enough to ride in. And while it’s overall area is smaller than the dressage arena, it is wider—which makes it a much better place for me to work on cantering with him right now, because we can ride a larger circle and balancing is easier.

As we were trotting around early in the lesson, she was all praise for his training ride—the temps had been cold (*cough* for Houston) and the horses in all the paddocks/fields were galloping around like loons, and he was a rockstar throughout it all. He wanted to look, but he didn’t try to join in all the fun.

As she’s telling me how super my horse is at ignoring shenanigans in adjacent paddocks when he is working, a horse in the pasture next to the small arena snorted.

And Fin startled and scooted forward. Because snorting horses are scary, apparently.

I managed not to fall off while laughing at him, and I think that’s a huge accomplishment.

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My horse is an odd duck

2 February 2015 Comments

Fin, it turns out, is a delicate flower who does not grow much of a winter coat and has to be blanketed in temps under 50 or so.

The up side to this, I guess, is that I may not even notice when he finally sheds out his winter coat, since he doesn’t appear to have one.

This last week has been beautiful, and he got a reprieve from wearing his blanket. But with temps dropping down into the 40s and 50s this week, I went out to the barn to throw a blanket on him.

He’s out in a 5 acre field, and thanks to all the rain we’ve had recently, it’s currently bisected by a ditch full of water.

Since he crosses water just fine when he’s not under saddle or on the end of the lead rope, I knew that wasn’t the end of the world—he sometimes needs to be convinced to come up to the gate rather than making me tromp after him, but his pasture mates are pretty reliable at coming up to see who’s at the gate and what they want. Fin will follow along behind them, if only to make sure someone isn’t bringing extra food that he could be eating.

Still, it can be annoying to stand out there for five minutes calling the horses in and waiting for one of them to wander my way. Especially when I forget to bring my wellies and have no choice but to wait for them to come in. Well, I suppose getting soaked in the ditch is a possibility, but not for something as non-critical as putting a blanket on Fin.

So I was happy when the horses all galloped in as soon as they saw me, and I was even happier when I realized Fin was in the lead. Hey! He now recognizes me as a Lady Who Feeds, and he comes running for that. (Delicate Flower is getting extra feed right now, due to the cold—for Texas—weather and his apparent extreme Delicate Flower-ness.)

I brought him in, put him in the round pen, gave him his extra feed, and puttered around a bit while he ate.

Then I went to catch him.

I went to catch the horse who had galloped up to me from the far end of a 5 acre field, crossing the Dreaded Water in the process, and who was now standing in a 50’ round pen.

Fin tried to play the “you can’t catch me” game. In a round pen. After galloping up to me in a 5 acre field.

Fortunately, it turns out that if you stare at him in disbelief and ask him “What are you doing, dork?” he will stop and give you a sheepish look and allow himself to be caught.

I know I should be glad things played out the way they did, because I would not have gone chasing after him in the field, but still. He’s an odd duck. I like him, but he is a very odd duck.

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We’ve been doing things, really

28 January 2015 Comments

I had some extra time off in December, so Fin and I went down to my Dressage trainer’s for a mini two-day “clinic.”

He got to experience the overnight thing at a strange location, and we got to have a couple lessons with my Dressage instructor, who doesn’t get to see Fin often (it’s a little far to trailer regularly).

Fin was a star both days, and by the end of the second lesson we had some really, really nice moments.

Then he had a couple weeks off, between the holidays and the weather. Temps got down to the upper 30s and it rained, which is practically an emergency situation in Texas. There was frost on my windshield one morning! It was awful!

The Hunter/Jumper trainer at my barn is braver than I am, so she started working him as soon as the temps warmed up out of the 40s. I waited until this past week. when they reached something civilized (50s/60s… even 70s this week. Am I allowed to mention it was 80 today when the East Coast is experiencing Snowmageddon? No? Forget I mentioned it).

She is really doing a fantastic job with him. Even in the few weeks since my mini clinic, I can feel how much he’s progressed. We’re all working on teaching him to stretch down and into the contact and to start using his back (vs. traveling very upright in front, a la the Saddlebred/Dutch Harness Horse side of him). The nice thing about him is that, despite what his breeding might suggest, when he is very straight between the aids he naturally wants to stretch down and start using himself well. Now we’re working on building the strength for him to do that consistently, and he’s really coming along well.

I realize it’s a little unconventional to have two separate trainers, but the nice thing about this situation is how well it all works together. Fin is getting a super, super foundation from the H/J trainer; it has nothing to do with a particular discipline and everything to do with teaching a young horse to move and carry himself well.

We’re signed up for a clinic in March, so our focus for the next few weeks will be to build up strength and endurance for both of us. After that, the schooling shows start ramping up, and we’ll go out and play around at Training at a few shows and see how that goes.

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Thank God for Enablers

30 November 2014 Comments

Fin and I went on a trail ride today.

More importantly, we crossed water—twice!—without me having to dismount. He half jumped the first crossing, but the second (much wider, and full of scary floating leaves) he hesitated at for a few moments and then walked through as nicely as you could ask.

The H/J trainer has been working with him in puddles at the barn, when we get rain, and I had a chance to ride him through some in my last lesson, too. But you never know how well lessons at home will carry over in the big scary world, so I was thrilled with how he did today.

I almost forgot that I’ve had him for a year, now.

When I saw his ad last year, I wasn’t even looking to buy a horse. But while cruising Facebook, I saw an ad for a half-Arabian chestnut with three white socks and a big blaze, which made me think of Ro. I hit play on the video, mostly for sentimental reasons, and then I hit play again. And again. And again.

I could feel myself about to make a stupid, sentimental decision, so I sent his ad off to a few people I hoped would knock some sense in to me. I was sure I just liked him because he looked like Ro.

Two days later, I bought him and we brought him home:

He was even better in person than he’d been in the video, and even though he was young he clearly had a great brain.

We started him under saddle—and when I say we, I mean the H/J trainer while I cheered from the sidelines and rode here and there. Fin’s a very different ride than a lot of the horses I am used to, and it’s taken me a while to become comfortable with that—although we’ve been doing much better this fall, and especially in the past few weeks.

But his brain is as good as we thought it was, and despite being young and green and only a year under saddle, he’s done everything we asked him to do and has taken care of me as much as I’ve taken care of him.

We’ve done a few shows, gone on a few trail rides—including a big, busy charity event—and we’re starting to really click and understand each other.

Up to today, when we loaded up and went for a trail ride and he ambled along like a pro. Except when he had to stop and snort at a fallen log. And act like he’d never seen cows before and thought they might, possibly, eat him, even though he was living with a few when I bought him. But he walked through water, so that’s all good.

We wouldn’t have been there at all without the H/J trainer’s help, who has brought Fin and I along amazingly well. Or my dressage trainer, who, despite only having worked with Fin a few times due to the distance I’d have to trailer him, has offered her support and advice each step of the way. Or the support of everyone at the barn, who have cheered us on all year. Or, especially, all the enablers who looked at his video a year ago and responded with exclamation points galore, while I was trying to talk myself out of the buying him because I thought I was being sentimental.

He’s not Ro, of course—and I’m glad for that. I get the blingy chestnut that I love so much, but he’s teaching me other lessons and stretching me as a rider in other, good ways.

I can’t believe how far we’ve come in a year, and I can’t wait to see where we go next year.

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