Tuesday, November 3, 2020

A Progression in ZB

You know what we haven't done in a while? 

dun dun dun

A progression post! 

When I met ZB, she was a loveable 4 year old with an impossibly smooshy nose that seemed almost too large for her rather-slender body. She was 15.2 on a tall day and had the best lil attitude about absolutely everything. 

Summer 2017 - 4 years old
(layover at her Auntie's house)

Everyone warned me that drafties grow until they're 8 so it worked out that my whole life fell apart shortly thereafter. I mean it didn't work out for me for a long time (tho it did eventually), but this is a REALLY NICE PHOTO that ZB's other auntie took the next summer annnnnnd yeah you can see that her dimensions have changed a lot. 

Summer 2018 - 5 years old
(it's two zbs!)

I was going to post a summer vs winter picture for each year but 1) apparently I don't take a lot of winter conformation shots without tack on and 2) uhhhhhh let's just agree that some of those winter growth phases DO NOT need to be more documented haha. Instead, let's look at summer 2019 when the pieces actually started to come together for my little lady. 

You'll have to use some imagination on this one--I have a habit of not living in state in the summer (or at all SOB) so this was my best conformation shot in like 4 months. Whoops.

Summer 2019 - 6 years old
Looking like a little powerhouse

I now realize I probably should have been more diligent about documenting her growth--I think she's about 15.3 in front and 16.0 behind now. My logic is that I can get on her from the ground so she can't be that big. SOME PEOPLE are fond of pointing out that if your horse is roughly the same diameter as your couch, it keeps your hips more mobile. Whatever her height, she's the right size for me. 

She does seem to have leveled out the exponential growth at least--her balance is more consistent and hey, she looks like this:

Summer 2020 - 7 years old
All sport-horsey and cute

We're going into her 7 year old winter now feeling fit and sassy. We both like variety and adventures, so we're spending time learning to neck rein and do a western jog but also working hard on the canter (and omg transitions) in her english tack with plenty of trail rides and jump days thrown in. She is coming together SO nicely and I can never emphasize enough just how lovely she's been to work with for the entire process. 

She has a fantastic back end, a natural over track at the walk, solid bone, and an amazing brain. I could talk about how her conformation impacts her athleticism or how her breeding informs her dimensions, but you know what's most important? 

She's just so much fun.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Pressure and Release

 An interesting thing has started happening lately. 

Right now (I've been in town for almost a month omfg!), Zoe is in the most consistent work with me that she has been in a long time. She's worked harder before, but that was with weekly training rides by a competent professional. I am not a competent professional, nor have I played one on tv in a long time. (Or ever, let's be real.)

Point is. ZB is working harder and more often than she has in a minute. 

As much as I go on and on about her lovely, can-do attitude, I have definitely been wondering lately about what horse I'd have when the pressure went up a little. 

And another thing--the first summer I had ZB, a lovely trainer we did a clinic with pointed out that to move her along in dressage, I'd need to sensitize her to stimuli. 

Make her hotter, if you will. 

I was a few months off a hotter-than-hell horse and that sounded like the worst idea on the planet to me. 

So I didn't do it. (And then my whole life fell apart and I basically quit riding, but who's counting?) 


That creates a twofold issue now--we're adding pressure and I'm dialing up her sensitivity. I'm saying REACT QUICKER and MORE REACTIONS and both of those things are new.

Her response is a mixed bag--she definitely handles pressure better than any horse I've had before. She's willing to step up and try hard and give me good work, day in and day out. 

She also (very fairly) has some of her own ideas about how that should go down. 


I'm having a fabulous time problem solving our way through it. I dialed up her reactions (great!) but then when I tried to do a bareback-in-a-dress photoshoot after work one day, she was like OMG LIONZ, which was kind of funny because I'm pretty sure she'd just SMOOSH LION if she actually met one. 

It's not a bad thing per se, it's just a different item to address.


I also have no interest in mindlessly drilling her like YOU WILL DO 5000 TRANSITIONS because fuck that noise. I'm not that person and I don't want to be. Like if you are that person, maybe get an RC car or something because you will break a living being. #shade

Which brings us back to our usual training path. 

do we have a usual path

My biggest thing about not wanting to "sensitize" my non-reactive horse was that I did not want to create a dragon-monster-horse that lost it's shit over stupid things like a stereotypical dressage arena princess. Zero interest. Got ZB to not have that horse. 

But we're fooling around western and you know what a good western horse is? 

dramatic in photos? wait no


Dialed in to their rider on a low wavelength energy. It's not about being hot and reactive--it's about being keyed in and responsive. 

It's about the rider being clear and consistent, providing the same subtle aids. 

It's about the horse being soft with it's mind and body, carrying itself forward. 

got kickass pictures too. cake=had and eaten.



Please tell me you saw that. 

I'm working on becoming the best version of myself. Say after me:

Clear, consistent aids.
Clear, consistent aids.
Clear, consistent aids.

It's a lot harder than you'd think. Remember how we had a jump lesson like a week ago and my position was totally bangin' and I was totally mentally like "GOOD JOB SELF YOU ARE SUCH A SUPER RIDER WELL DONE"? 

Well then we had an impromptu jump night and all the things I did right in the lesson, I managed to do wrong. See also: run at fence, pick to the base, fling entire upper body at miniscule X. 

And definitely always go for the long one

Strangely, our performance was less brilliant that day. Even my gung-ho, jump-loving baby horse was like NO MUM IS NOT SAFE 4 JUMPIN and slammed on the brakes. Whoops. 

The cool thing with horses is that they don't really hold grudges, tho. I cleaned up my ride, and she gave me different results. Clear, consistent responses to clear, consistent aids. 

It's almost like. 

Who is training who?

Welcome to uncharted territory. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

We Take a Lesson!

I've been able to ride consistently enough lately that I actually felt ok scheduling a lesson last week. 

And then I thought. 

Let's make it a jumping lesson! 

literally the cutest

Here's the entire history of Zoe jumping: 

1) we spent a lot of days on the ground/lunge line learning how to go through poles and not fall down one winter 

2) One day, my barnmate was like "does she jump" and I was like "iunno let's find out" and apparently she does. 

3) Since that day, we've had about 4 random days where we popped over wee single cross rails to the tune of less than 10 jumps each time. 

4) and then we were signed up for our first ever jump lesson 

outfit on point, as always

Not gonna lie, when I saw my trainer setting up an entire course of jumps, I was like "uh yeah so do you realize this horse has never jumped more than one fence in a row IN HER ENTIRE LIFE and yeah I was thinking some trot poles and a crossrail or something?" 

Trainer was like "oh yeah totes this is for the lesson after you no worries". 

And that's the story of how whether or not it was intended for the lesson after us, ZB and I jumped AN ENTIRE COURSE for the FIRST TIME IN OUR COMBINED LIVES. 

Also that's my first course since uh............. 

Wow like 2015? I don't even know. Been a minute. 

And it was the cutest thing ever. 

I could go on and on about how she's the most fun to ride and how cool it is to have a horse that lets me sit in the middle and steer because she thinks jumping is THE FUNNEST OMG MUM and how cool it is to like, "work on my position" because I'm not just desperately clinging on and trying to avoid death. 

But you probably guessed those things anyways from how it's ZB. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Long and Short

When I typed out "I've literally never had a bad ride on zb" the other day, it made me think. 

What is a bad ride? What causes a ride to become a bad ride? 

For me, a bad ride is emotionally turbulent, accomplishes no clear goal, leaves horse and/or rider more frustrated than when they started, or ends in injury for horse or rider. 

That's not to say that every ride has to be all-positive, all-the-time, 100% training focused. I mean, if you've been around here at all, you definitely know that I spend more time toodling than working my horse and I am 100% more focused on playing horse soccer than I am on going to horse shows. And while I certainly gush about ZB's (many) (many) excellent qualities, she's also a bit of a moose on the ground and not always the most motivated under saddle. 

Albeit a very cute moose

A bad ride is more than an "eh not feeling it, let's redirect and trail ride today" where not much is accomplished. I would actually call that a pretty decent ride as long as you identify the issue and make intentional choices to address it. 

One of those moments of clarity I found in between Courage and Zoe was this understanding that a partnership depends on being the person your horse wants to be with and finding the horse that you want to be with. It sounds oddly simple phrased that way. 

But like. 

It's not that every day is butterflies and rainbows. 

It's that when I'm toodling around bareback in the pasture on a loose rein on the first cold fall day of the year and my horse goes COMPLETELY TENSE OMFG WTAF IS HAPPENING, I choose to slide off, do some ground work, address where our attention goes and when, and then choose a successful note to end on. 

Could have been a bad ride. Might have gone ok. I addressed it in a different way. 

That not to say one shouldn't ride through resistance because you 100% should, some of the time. It's important to set yourself up to win the little battles so you never really have the big battles. The other day I hopped on and ZB was definitely "eh not feeling it" on the going to work issue. 

We started with halt/back/halt/walk transitions to confirm "you must comply in a soft manner", then added trot into the mix, which got the whole Going Forward/Stepping Under pieces engaged. Then lateral work for straightness, then figure eights with bend/counterbend for direction changes with consistent balance. 

And all of a sudden, I had this lovely, soft, balanced horse who was on the aids and I asked her to stay soft and step up into canter (vs hollow and run), and wouldn't you know, she did it. And we could repeat the transitions. She wasn't strong/consistent enough yet to hold it for more than a few strides, but for the first time, she totally got it. 


That wasn't the most promising start, but it became a good ride. 

I'll admit I'm 100% spoiled here. Ms. Zoebird has this ridiculous Disney horse attitude and shows up for work 99.99% of the time. She's good natured, hard working, and lovely to be around. She makes it easy. Even if she really just needs to OMG MUM G2G BUCK AND DO RUNNIN, she lets me know that's on the table and tries so hard to make sure I get off first. 

She's never going to be your international eventer and I dunno if she wants to dressage once the dressaging gets hard, but she's the horse that made riding fun again for me. 

People have bad days. Horses have bad days. 

If you're both having a bad day, it's maybe not the best day in the history of ever to get on. 

More than that tho--good rides are about good fit. Good goals. Good camaraderie. 

On a personal level, it has mattered a lot to me to take showing off the table. Instead of sort of patching together an uncertain partnership in pursuit of indifferent public approbation of my skills, I've gotten to zero in on the things I want out of riding and what I enjoy. 

It's not that showing is bad, because it isn't. 

It's that having a good ride is so much more natural when "good" is a finite term that I can see and feel and touch. It's that moment of appreciating my horse and knowing that I'm in the right place at the right time. It's the ability to take a day or a month or a season to teach her goofy things that make me laugh.

The other day, I wanted to win a shiny satin ribbon. I'm spending a little more time polishing show ring skills than I did before. I have a goal of taking a couple lessons to advance our skills that I think I can finally accomplish. 

Maybe we'll give showing a go next season. 

Maybe we won't. 

Either way, we have many more good rides to look forward to.  

Monday, September 28, 2020

That New Leather Smell

It's weird how our foray into learning western stuff re-energized me for all things horsey, but here we are. And like. I know I never stop going on and on about how great ZB is, but seriously she is the actual greatest and I love her so much. 

So anyways. We've been westerning. I dragged my moose sized western saddle out and I can't really tell if it fits or not. To trot around for 20 minutes, it's fine I guess, so we started playing with a little more complexity in our neck reining adventure. 


I decided to clean up my tack explosion area at the barn and realized that since I'm not riding often or hard enough to justify juggling two saddles and ten pads on one saddle rack and the top of my trunk, that I ought to just take the dressage saddle and to-die-for otto bridle home where they're safe. 

And then I tried riding in my jump saddle. 

I realized these things:

1) I hate my stirrup leathers more than life itself
2) Neither of my girths fit my horse
3) The girths are so bad I literally can't use my $$$ custom mattes pad that I impulse bought in a 'rona sale this spring

And see, despite my total moderation in tack purchases lately, I have (un?)fortunately cultivated a lovely group of very tack savvy friends. 

In less time that it takes to talk about it, I have:

1) Custom-made Gary Mundy stirrup leathers with my initials stamped in them on the way
2) 3 (count 'em) girths to try out
3) A bonus anatomic noseband that is oddly sized to mess with

Stay posted for the prolite vs county logic throw down

Well that is surprisingly perfect

Oh look it's the indoor time of year

I'm one of those weird people that like CANNOT EVEN if things aren't working. I didn't realize how much it bugged me that my tack wasn't quite right. 

Which is dumb. 

Because after playing musical girths and messing around, I got on with a saddle and rode like an adult and ZB was super champion of the world. Seriously. I don't know why she's like ROCK SOLID HOKAY MOM I BE GOOD GIRL literally every time I have EVER sat on her, but it's insane and amazing. Still. 

Seriously horse it's been over three years now and WE HAVE LITERALLY NEVER HAD A BAD RIDE. 

And I don't even feel like I'm jinxing it by saying that out loud. 

And then because I am a dumbass, I pulled her saddle off and walked away to put it on the rack with her loose wearing the fancy new bridle in the middle of the arena. 

And yeah it was totally fine she just stood there and watched me. 

when ur mum is a dum dum but u still love her

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Summer Fun

In the vein of "what sounds fun today", I spent a lot of time this summer in a distinctly old west style locale. 

Is that a buffalo walking down the street?
Yes that's a buffalo walking down the street.
His name is Jackson.

And I thought. 

Ms ZB is literally a purpose-bred ranch horse. 

Oh and she's looking completely fabulous

Why not teach her to western?

So one night, I googled "how to teach a horse to neck rein", read one of those horrible how-to articles on some random site, and decided to go for it.

Worst case scenario, we can't figure it out, I feed her cookies, and all is well. 
Did I mention she's looking fantastic? She totally is.

I mean, I don't have a western saddle that's moose shaped and given my status as a tack snob, I can't make do with the cheapest thing on ebay.

But also ZB is a literal couch and we have plenty of easy, slow work we can do before we need to, I don't know, zoom around and sort cows and rope a calf while practicing mounted shooting. 

Bareback it is! 

My preliminary research indicated if your horse was already reasonably broke and had a good idea of direct reining, the neck reining wasn't terribly different and horses usually picked it up pretty quickly. 

I'd call that summation accurate--ZB is one smart lady and as long as she stays focused on what I'm asking, she's quite lovely about the whole thing. It honestly wasn't much of a transition for her in terms of steering. (Now, in terms of how we pretty it up, I dunno. Might take some lessons lol.) 


Did you know that riding a horse is kind of like riding a horse and any imbalances, weaknesses, or flaws that you mask with your usual equipment might show up in a whole different way if, say, you dropped most of your tack and tried to provide clear, simple aids? 


I know that. 


I mean it's literally what I talk about when I transfer the skills learned kicking her ball into letting me pop on in a different setup and start muttering a different language and asking ZB to cooperate. 

But it's funny how much the whole bareback-on-a-round horse tells on my tendency to evaporate my right seat bone and curl up my right side when I'm trying to stay balanced and in the middle and strong with my core and consistent with my legs so I can let the reins mean something. (Pro tip: you honestly don't do a whole lot with the reins. It's really more how you ride OH WEIRD WHERE HAVE I HEARD THAT BEFORE). 

gonna be cowboys


Riding is fun, ZB is fantastic, hope your summer is great. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Magical Thing About a ZB

 I've been working out of town, which severely limits barn time. 

But I have a ZB. 


So when I had 48 hours in town a few weeks back, Nadia asked if I wanted to haul out to go trail riding and the obvious answer was YES. 

ZB has never hauled a ton and definitely not in the last year. 


And it is so freaking cool to have a horse that I just loaded onto a trailer she'd never seen, took to a place she hasn't been in a long time, hop on, and go. (Ok hop on=train her how to back off a straight load, which took a minute, but then she got it.) 


She led. She followed. She crossed boggy ground, walked by scary things, and never batted an eye. 


By the end, she was SO TIRED, but gamely hopped back in the trailer and headed home like a total champ. 

And then used her new-found "backing off the trailer" skills. 

TL; DR she is the absolute best and hopefully next I will write about some of our exciting continuing adventures.

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