Monday, November 20, 2017

Houston, We're Out of Pixie Dust

If you've known me for ten minutes, you know I like tack. I like buying tack. I like to turn over inventory quickly. I like playing with new things. I like knowing about lots of different things.

It might surprise you to know that there's one piece of tack that I've had my entire adult equestrian life without replacing or selling.
2011 on the Hellmare
It's a super basic Nunn Finer hunt breastplate.

And it's magical.

I swear.
2012 on Cuna
I bought it to match a bridle I no longer own.

I used it when I worked in a busy training barn.

It fit literally everything from ponies to giant Irish draught types and everything in between. It's classic. It's super adjustable. It's sturdy.

2014 on C-Rage
It's just a solid piece of tack that's good to have around. 

Naturally, when I got Zoebird, it went on her too. 
2017 on ZB
I like having something to grab on babies and the adjustability meant I just changed a few things and off we went. 

Until. 

Well. 

Zoe is no wilting Victorian heroine. She's bold and strong and intelligent and well, she has curves that she is growing in to. 

You think I'm joking. 
she's a lovely lady

In the last two weeks, we went from a 48" to a 52" girth.

And the other night while tacking up, I saw this:
look past the haircut
Look close:
uh oh
If that looks like a Zoebird lady who is about to bust out of her horse size breastcollar to you, then yeah. We're on the same page. 

Apparently the magical Nunn Finer has finally run out of pixie dust. 
nope that is definitely not her bum peeking out of an 84" quarter sheet
Any recommendations on a new breastplate? I need size "real big". 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Training the Not-Hot Horse: Brain Problems

Fall weather is here. It's great, because I LOVE cloudy days and rain and cooler weather and pumpkin spice and hot tea and basically everything about it. 
Mirrors are amazing
Except.

After spending a good number of years on hot, reactive horses who, well, REACTED to wind and weather and things blowing around and strange noises, I'm realizing just how much baggage I drag in with me on any given night. I get tense. I spook at noises. I look for scary shadows.
ZB don't care. ZB is STONE COLD.
It's definitely a conscious process as I start to re-program myself to ride Zoebird. We've done a couple sessions in the indoor that were just groundwork or lunging, because I needed to know she'd be ok. (ZS Zoebird gives Zero Shits, obviously.) I have to remind myself to breathe, relax, look where I'm going, and just ride like it's any other day.
O HAI ZB INNA MIRROR
the great thing One of many, many great things about Zoe is that she's such a solid citizen. Gusting wind and pouring rain and creaky indoor noises and dark shadows and missing a day of turnout?

No problem.

It literally is any other day to her.
awwwww
For real. I turned her loose in the indoor (since no one else is crazy enough to ride on nights like that), and we just practiced our round pen ground work while she was foot perfect.

Then we saddled up and had a lovely ride, once I remembered to sit deep, not brace my knees, and keep breathing and moving. I mean. It was fine when I wasn't doing those things, but she isn't worried, so there's no reason for me to be.
unrelated selfie because the light is terrible at night
It sounds real weird to say I'm rebuilding my confidence on a four year old who was only backed this summer.

But I am. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Unexpected Bonus

I know I've said this a million times, but Zoe is unlike any horse I've ever had before. That's a good thing. I was definitely ready for the new challenges, but they are still challenges. 
um never had a horse let me do this before <3 
For example.

I started a new job last week, which is fantastic. However. It's mentally a lot of work to learn a whole different way of doing things.

Plus daylight savings time.

Plus fall/winter weather arriving.

All of which equaled not necessarily wanting to saddle up and go for it after work in the dark on a baby.

Especially on a baby who is a little bit coming into her own and enjoying the fall weather. Nothing she's doing is bad or unmanageable, but it means I need to get on and ride or like, not.
smooshes gotta smoosh
Here's the fun part though--Zoe starts bootcamp next month, which means I'm totally not worried about the riding. I can not ride from now till December and she'll still be #Zoefabulous, because that's the kind of lady she is. Or I can get on her and toodle and have her be absolutely foot perfect, then let her tear around the round pen after and see what a smart baby knows when she's working and when she's playing. (Did that too.)
such a fancy lady!
Oh yeah. Round pen.

We hadn't actually used said implement since Zoe graduated to the big arena for canter practice. It's out of the way and I hadn't really thought about it and I'm not really a "round pen" person in terms of wanting a horse to pointlessly run circles.

But when it's late and I'm tired and forgot my lunge line in the tack room? Oh hell yeah I'm learning to be a round pen person.
#effor
In our clinic, I learned that the canter is the key to improving Zoe's other gaits. Getting the canter under saddle right now takes more brain cells than I can rub together on some work nights, but 10/10 I can ask her to be responsible for her own balance and do a bunch of transitions in the round pen.

Another challenge I've been dealing with is that Zoe's bugaboo is loose horses running around--if the pasture horses take off when I'm working her, she gets very distracted. She hasn't been naughty about it under saddle yet, but it's definitely a topic we come back to.
unrelated but how cute is she?
I really don't like getting after horses a ton with a lunge line and dragging on their face/mouth. I also don't like the idea in a big arena that she might learn to get loose under duress if I were to lose control of the lunge line.

But you know how to eliminate those variables?

Oh yeah round pen. NIFTY.

So yup. Put her in the round pen. Horse outside went a little nutso. Zoe was like WUT R THAT MUST CHECK OUT and I was immediately able to send her forward and put her to work and get her attention back on me and work through it in a couple minutes without ever pulling on her face or worrying about losing control.
you're getting weekend pics because 1) we are adorbs and 2) the lighting is hella better
Also cool is just dealing with Zoe's brain in these circumstances. She's a naturally forward going gal, but she's happy to come back when I ask her to. Instead of like. Checking out and leaving. (One of us has baggage. #itsme).
this angle hides how dirty her tail is
I'm definitely looking forward to being back in the saddle and doing the "normal" sporthorse training stuff, but I love all the value I see coming out of our quick evening sessions too.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Not Dead, Not Quite Alive

We got a perfect storm of daylight savings time (hate), winter weather starting (ick), and real life getting kind of nuts (ok fine I guess). 
such a lovely lady
I haven't gotten in the training hours I'd like to with Zoe. 
but our selfie game is pretty incredible
I showed up as it was getting dark while a storm was blowing in the other night. Even in the stall, I could tell my sweet baby mare was #Zoewild and all I really wanted was a proof of life photo, so after grabbing said selfie, I stuck her on a lunge line and watched her run like a loony. 

I mean. As much of a loony as a Zoebird can be, which doesn't even register on the scale of "horse I've had in the past", but I definitely respected the little lady's self-expression. 
mmmm that ombre' tho
When she'd gotten the wiggles out, we did a little ground work and called it a day. 

And you know what?

It was fun. I smooshed her smooshy face and she was friendly and sweet. 
unrelated adorable picture
She officially starts grown up training with my dressage trainer here in a couple weeks, which will be really nice for my very-full schedule right now. We have a clinic coming up that I'm excited about. 
saddle situation=not resolved
We aren't doing anything ground breaking or cool or amazing. 

And it's still fun. 

Every day. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Wherein Zoe Has An Opinion

Zoe is a fascinating horse for me--she is so cool, yet so different from any horse I've ever spent time with. She has this fantastic "let's do something" attitude. She is 110% try. And she's just so... straightforward?
SMOOSH CAMERA

This past week, I was stressed about things outside the barn and it definitely impacted me when I showed up. I was tense and spooky and not a great influence.

Zoe is a champion, so she still brought her A Game and was lovely.

But then Friday was cold and windy and blowing in a storm and I was alone at the barn, so the smartest thing to do seemed like putting Zoe on the lunge line and go a little forward. Every time I asked for an upward transition, she was a little resistant. Not naughty per se--just a little head shake and DONT WANNA and then she'd go.
sass!

Which. Eh? She's no self-propelled OTTB. She's certainly allowed to be a horse. Horses have opinions sometimes.

Then I asked her for canter and she gave an honest-to-goodness crow hop (!!) before setting out (and I yelled at her and made her RUN REAL FAST FOR A REAL LONG TIME because NO CROW HOPS).

And again. She's four. She's a mare. The weather was changing drastically. Her work has gotten a lot harder lately. She might be a little body sore. She might have popped a little baby attitude. Besides, it was a crow hop and it was not repeated. We're not exactly talking about a giant red flag being towed behind an airplane here.
cannot get enough smooshy face in my life

Later that night, I was texting a friend about saddle fit and hoop trees and how fast babies change.

And while everything that had happened could be quite simply explained by Zoe being a baby mare who's a little body sore and having a case of the dont-wannas on a crappy day, it just seemed like maybe a dark orange flag fluttering in the breeze. I haven't had her that long, but everything I know about her is that she's very, very genuine. She likes having a job. She likes going to work. She loves attention and people and cookies and everything about being an ammy horse.

For a horse like that, who does something out of character?

Hm.
also she got her first hat from Leah and T 

On a hunch, I grabbed a different saddle I had sitting around my garage and headed out to the barn Saturday. I started to tack up normally. Sat her usual saddle on her.

Instantly pinned ears.

Hm.

Took her saddle off. Put back up saddle on.

Pleasant ears.

Then took her to the arena and stuck her on the the lunge line.

Her first walk/trot transition was a little stuck and head shaking.

Then she went nicely forward and every transition after that was smooth and flowing, both on the lunge and under saddle.
awwww 

Again. She's four. The weather just changed. I was definitely in a better frame of mind Saturday than I was early in the week. All of those factors could be are related. Further testing is required etc.

To me, learning Zoe's tolerance level and how she communicates is so critical at this stage. It allows me to make better choices going forward. If I'm going to cultivate her awesome work ethic and develop her trust, she needs to know that she can express discomfort and not have to work through pain.
Can you even?
You cannot.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

You Would NOT BELIEVE the Thing I Did at the Barn

Winter is coming, yo. As a working ammy, that means riding in the dark and cold and being short on time and needing to make the best of it. 

Normally, I'm pretty heads up about getting ready--I have blankets professionally washed and prepped before summer and I'm super organized.
that is not a clean blanket
But.

Rehoming Courage meant not putting much effort into dealing with his gear. Then getting Zoe meant lots of trying things on and shuffling things around and buying new things annnnnnd the net result of that is that it basically looked like a hoarder exploded in my tack area and "my tack area" was becoming a majority percentage of a generously-esized (shared) tack room.

First things first.

I'd sort of tried a single blanket on Zoe a month or so back and squinted through the fingers I put over my eyes and was like "yeah maybe that'll work", but since winter is legit going to happen, it was time to find out if it would work or not.
yeah no
Courage was a 78" horse that had to spend a lot of time in 81" blankets because I already owned them and homeboy could deal. Zoebird is an 81" horse (right now) who really and truly doesn't fit in 78"s. Fortunately, my 81"s are pretty clean still because they got less use. The 78"s might be finding new homes.
81 is ok. she won't grow, right?
Then there was the slight issue of "someone exploded in the tack room". 

It probably took me a good hour and a half, but I trimmed stuff in the tack room down to the bare essentials in my trunk. 
a clean trunk always makes me think of the preternaturally organized Carly
I cleaned the trunk itself and reorganized what's actually in there so I can find/see it. I cut back to ONE set of boots, ONE set of polos, two helmets, and grooming kit essentials, plus ONE cooler and then I was even able to fit the wash bucket and clippers in the trunk instead of leaving them on the floor. 

And then... 

I wish I had a before pic for you. 
uh actually this was before it got really out of hand
plus you can't see the saddle rack(s)
I had a giant pile of saddle pads, two saddles, a ripped up neck cover, and god knows what else strewn across three saddle racks in complete disorder. Not including the strap goods explosion. 

And now we have this:
tidy
That's right. One saddle (the one that fits), the saddle pads I use with it, one girth, one breastcollar, one dressage bridle, one toodle bridle. And my lunge line. 

Everything else was neatly cleaned off, hauled home, and packed away for the winter. I'm not getting rid of it, but I need it not to be collecting dust and stressing me out at the barn for the next couple months. 

Bet you didn't see that coming. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Newton's a Bitch

Let's just take a moment to appreciate how I rode through C's antics for FOUR YEARS and never really even came that close to falling off.
hm that's sky
Cough.

Well.
is it douchy to post screen shots? maybe? 
So. 

After the clinic that completely kicked my ass, I spent a day crippling around not going to my barn. Then yesterday I thought a fun idea would be to toodle bareback (despite clinician being like MARCHING WALK NOT TOODLE NO) (whatever) (#toodle4lyf). 

So we toodled and chatted.

Helped trainer teach lessons.
ZB NOSE ON TRAINER LADY YAS
I was feeling all happy and confident and comfortable and like lalalala not paying attention.

Annnnnnd I thought Zoe saw the nice lady walk up to the arena gate, but she did not.

So she stepped slightly to the left like O HAI LADY I IS ZB.
comfy comfy couch
And between me having zero tone in my muscles and Zoe being roughly couch-shaped, I slid off the side.

Landed on my feet.

Grabbed mane to catch my balance.

Tripped over a ground pole.

Fell on my ass.
shame selfie. Zoe not impressed.

Giggle.

The lady was absolutely mortified (for existing, apparently) and I was dying laughing.

Zoe was pretty confused why I was not on her anymore. I smooshed her smooshy face, then got back on.
U HOKAY MOM
ZB WILL GET ON THIS
So there you go. Apparently bolting OTTB doesn't begin to unseat me, but slightly side stepping baby draftie is my undoing.

And yes, if I was sitting up and riding and MARCH NOT TOODLE and ONETWOTHREEFOUR, I probably wouldn't have fallen off. Oh well. Had to happen sometime. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Zoebird Goes to a Clinic

I signed Zoe up for her first-ever fancy dressage clinic for last weekend. I mean. The mare is W/T/barely C so it seemed a bit preemptive to be like "yeah totes I'll pay $$$ to have someone tell me she's not broke", but I'm really, Really, REALLY picky about instructors I'll ride with and I wanted to support the clinician coming in. (Background: last time she came, a friend who has a hot, sensitive off-breed horse rode with her and the clinician went through stuff it took me MONTHS to work out on my own with C in about 30 seconds. WUT TAKE MY MONEY.) 
tired clinic baby

Anyways. I went to audit/check out the route and parking conditions on Friday and watched lovely riders on lovely horses have lovely rides and while I still liked the clinician, I was kinda like, "What am I doing here?" 

I mean. As much I as love my smooshy mare, a finished dressage horse she is not. We like toodling and adventures. We aren't super cool and good at stuff. 

The organizer kindly offered to let me come a couple hours early so Zoe could hang out and acclimate before our ride. 
open bars=social hour

I need to start getting used to this, but Zoe was so low-drama that it was absurd. She's all O HAI EVERYONE IM ZB and that's that. Literally put her in the stall with hay and didn't hear a peep out of her. 
MUST SMOOSH

It was the first off-property "work" outing for both of us and one of us was definitely having some OTTB PTSD (me) and so got ready plenty early just in case there was shit to be lost (also me). 
stall+paddock

Zoe was all "O HAI CHICKENS IM ZB" and "O HAI HORSES" and that was pretty much it. I did put her on the lunge line and then I saw ZOEWILD.

Which means.

She cantered TWO CIRCLES with her tail up. 

Then was am "AM TIRED WALKIN NOW".

Time to go! I hopped on and was having an almost out of body experience like OMFG AM I DEAD BUZZING AHHHH and Zoe was like "Y R THIS EXCITING WE R WALKIN". 

Giggle. Baby mare. 

The instructor had us doing some interesting stuff:

1) Diamond shape - circles, especially on babies, kinda get all over the place and aren't super useful. Instead she set out 4 markers and had us make a diamond shape around them. This made me be very honest about where we were and where I was placing her feet. Leaning in/out was super obvious and the straight lines between the markers were telling. 
go around markers

2) Following her nose - Zoe isn't trained/balanced enough to really understand moving off my leg to correct straightness issues at this point, so instead, I had to keep Zoe's body in line with her nose all the time. If we leaned in, then point her nose out and steer out. Or the reverse. The diamond shape was helpful for this. If you're bulldozing cones, you're leaning in. FYI. 

3) Shoulders up - At this point in her development, ZB is a bit downhill and pulls herself around with her shoulders. To help her overcome this, it is critical to keep her poll the highest point. If I ask her to stretch down at this point, she'll just trip over her own head (it's... happened) and run downhill. The stretch will come after she learns to lift the base of her neck. For now, head up. 

4) Giving - at the halt ONLY because of aforementioned tripping-over-own-head issue, we did a cool exercise where I'd ask Zoe to halt, then hold one rein steady and give the other forward. This isn't a seesaw on the mouth thing or whatever--just give one rein and wait for her to soften. If she went backwards, I'd ask her to step up and halt again because we never pull or go backwards onto the bit. If she lost ambition, I would "fluff" her with my leg but not have her step forward. Once she gave on one rein, we'd switch to the other. 

5) Forward - I love toodling and it showed. "Walk to the rhythm of the trot" was something I head a lot. Also MARCH and ONETWOTHREEFOUR. At this point, I need to be very concerned with rhythm for Zoe and that rhythm needs to be CONSISTENT and GOING FORWARD. --This one is kind of funny for me because I have so much baggage with C that I had some anxiety about really moving out. In the context of this lesson though, I got tools to manage the forward (HANDS UP REINS SHORT) and it all felt really comfortable. 


6) Half Stop - at a more polished stage, it would be a half halt. At this point, we want Zoe with me and listening to me so when it feels like she's lost her balance forward or is pulling down on the reins, ask her to stop and then the moment I feel her slow down, go on again. This was tricky for me, because again, I'm used to hot horses so I kept asking for a BIG stop and she'd stop. And then we were stopped. Ooops. I definitely need to get more sensitive and release AS SOON AS she gives vs getting too excited about whoa. 

7) GoStopGO - Clinician had us canter left HANDS UP GOING FORWARD and it actually felt really good. Then she's like CANTER RIGHT and I definitely did not tell her we'd never cantered right before. Zoe gave the same effort she's given at home--plowing forward at the trot and almost falling down, but not quite cantering. Clinician wanted her quicker off the leg with her hind end going quicker. Aka. Make her hotter. This is something I DEFINITELY would NOT have done on my own because again, OTTB PTSD. But instead, we did a series of very crisp, prompt W/T/W/T/W and revved the engine, creating a desire to go forward. Then we attempted to go W/T/C in about 5 strides and if she didn't get it right away, came back and revved the engine a little more. It took a little bit (mostly for me to accept that this wasn't a scary idea) and then BAM canter right. What's more, with the front end lifted and the forward moving thing, it was actually a super fun canter to ride. 
canter!
After the first canter right, we did the giving exercise again. Zoe had a full-blown Zoemeltdown. 

Which is to say. 

She stood there and flipped her head for a while. And then she was like FINE and stopped. 
#zoewild meltdown

When we finished, we were both completely exhausted but Zoe had a big, soft learning eye and my little mind was blown. It was so good to push ourselves a little and find out what we were capable of and working towards. I needed someone to a little bit hold my hand and a little bit kick my butt to move us forward. Plus, Zoe is just such a different horse from anything I've ever had--it was so good to get more input on how to ride her more effectively. 

And because I am just so proud of my baby mare, here are things the clinician said about her:
Oh, she's really smart. 
She's going to be so easy to get on the bit.
She moves forward so nicely! 
She is going to be a really fun one.

Oh yeah. That's just a grand prix dressage trainer saying lovely things about lil Ms. ZB. 

It was a great experience for both of us and I'm excited to do our homework to get ready for next time. 
and now we are so tired

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