Monday, June 30, 2014

Courage Goes Full Cowpony (minus cows. for now.)

Alyssa has been learning the ropes of eventing this summer. Yesterday, we turned the tables and decided to play western pony with my little man C-rage. It started out as a fun idea to dress him up (which I will take any excuse to do), but it turned in to a really fun training exercise and now I totally want a western saddle.

Although I guess I should get that whole jump saddle thing sorted out first. (Maybe we'll talk about this tomorrow.)

Me: "He's doing something western. OMG TAKE A PICTURE!"
Anyways. Alyssa brought a shit ton (slight under approximation) of western tack, since she actually rides/shows western. I picked out what to use based on very strenuous criteria--what looked cutest?

I like geometric saddle pads with sparkles, ALL THE BOOTS, and slobber straps. Also my horse really doesn't need to go in a curb.

So apparently this is what he does when I don't pull
As we tacked him up, we realized that he has never been in a western saddle before. Ever. As evidenced by the fact that he was a little panicky and tense. I threw him on the lunge line and let him scoot around until her figured out that the giant leather contraption wasn't going to eat him, and then hopped on.

Alyssa gave us a bit of a mini western lesson, which was super cool. We talked about moving forward and the horse being responsible for himself and then we just went. I didn't steer at all and let him pick the path. He could do anything he wanted, as long as he trotted.

I will say that I might take the jumps out next time I try that, but it went really well. It was an extension of what we've been working on in normal tack, but this was a really easy way to just plain NOT MESS WITH HIM and let us figure it out.

Cuz who needs reins?
I was also totally blown away by how he carried himself. I expected ears up my nostrils, but he just relaxed and reached forward, pretty much the whole ride.

Then Alyssa hopped on. I'll admit to only walking and trotting, but she thought loping looked like fun. (See what I did there? I said loping. That makes us legit.) He did his usual "good-enough-to-get-by-without-actually-giving-it-up" routine.

Rewarding the release
Alyssa made him canter and canter and canter (oops, can't help myself) with the same idea we'd used at the trot--just go forward and take care of yourself, giant horse.

We also practiced one rein stops a little bit. I'd always thought that they were sort of barbaric and strange, but she explained and executed them in a very soft way that made sense.I will say, western certainly isn't my first equine language, but I really loved what we were able to do. It's basically all the same things we've been working on under jump tack, but it's a little bit different approach. I think it worked well for both of us and I can't wait to try it again.

Plus we're that much close to goal: chase cows. :-D

Friday, June 27, 2014

All By Myself?

He is the best at ass shots.
On Thursday, I found myself swinging my leg over my little guy even though there was no one else on the barn property. I used to ride Cuna by myself all the time, including long trail rides with no set end time and no contact person who knew where we were going.

It's different with Courage, though. He's a good boy, but he's really green and I just don't trust him with my life the way I did Cuna.

I decided that it was fine. I mean, I was wearing a helmet and we were just doing flatwork. What could go wrong?

Also Courage. He laughs at that too.
FYI, the universe laughs when you ask that kind of question. We very much had an "establishing alpha" kind of a day in which Courage created some new evasions and nearly dumped me. I stayed on, got mad, and rode through it, but it got me thinking.

How far is too far? I suppose it's one thing if you're a pro on your own property and you have to ride alone or not work, but as an adult ammy who has no vested financial interest in getting my horse more or less trained, what is the deciding factor when it comes to riding without someone else on the property? I don't even mean a trainer or eyes-on-the-ground necessarily--just someone to dial 911 in case it comes up.

So I'm curious. What makes the difference for you? What makes you ride or play another day?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

So Much More Than Money

Still makes me melt
My boys have meant a lot to me. I was thinking about how they came to me, and I just thought it would be fun to do a quick survey to fill out in the comments.

Horse Name:
Age When Acquired:
Experience/Training at the Time:
Purchase Price:

One per horse, obviously. I'll go first!!

Horse Name: Hakuna Matata
Age When Acquired: 17
Experience/Training at the Time: Kick-ass novice event horse who'd been hanging in a field for the year.
Purchase Price:$1500 with extensive trial period.

Not so very long ago
And we can't forget the little man!

Horse Name: Absolute Courage
Age When Acquired: 8
Experience/Training at the Time: Washed-up race horse
Purchase Price: Free (as in, I cleaned stalls for his trainer all summer)

I'm curious to hear about everyone else's horses! I just love the stories and facts of how we get together.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Lesson Success. Finally.

He is the best at lessons with S
After much hemming and hawing (by me), S came out for a lesson on Sunday. You probably remember her as our fantastic biomechanics coach. She's also the only instructor that sees my little man on anything like a consistent basis and I really just needed straight up feedback on what in the world I was supposed to be doing with him.

I told her what we've been through recently. I told her what we've worked on. I didn't realize how upset I was about all this until I was very matter-of-fact-ly explaining it to her and realized just how badly I wanted to cry. And I'm not a crying person. And neither is she.

So I didn't, but I feel like I should get some bonus points for keeping it together.

Sprenger on the hunter bridle. Works.
Anyways. She basically said that it sounds like we're looking at a couple of issues combined. In no particular order:

1) Courage is opinionated about life and doesn't quite accept me as the alpha in our relationship.

1) Courage doesn't quite understand how to use his body in relationship to a jump just yet. He's green.

1) Despite his amiable demeanor, Courage is really picky about how the bit/HIS FACE are handled.

1) My cross country anxiety isn't helping anything.

Interesting note: of the three issues, only one of them is all me. S, while an amateur herself, pointed out that the trap ammies tend to fall into is immediately mistrusting and blaming themselves in all situations. While that isn't bad, it allows horses to skate by with some slightly bad behavior and sets them up for worse problems in the long run.

So lesson.

We started just doing lots of forward and back transitions. The focus was on PROMPTNESS. In order to address the greenness/alpha issue, I needed to set him up, ask, and then KILL HIM IF I HAD TO ASK AGAIN. Because he is clever, I only had to do that once. The entire ride.

Hole punch not available. Knot tied.
Next, we added in a highly sophisticated piece of equipment used by respected equine professionals around the world: a neckstrap. Because I'm a tack 'ho, I have a purpose made one. Obviously. Anyways. We adjusted it so that it was short enough to sit about halfway up his neck (measurement very approximate) and I got a crash course in it's uses.

Then we jumped.

Specifically, we trotted over poles. To address the "DON'T TOUCH MA FAYZ" issue, I had to ride forward (!!) around the turn to the jump, then put both hands on the neckstrap and just sit there. He could do anything he wanted and I just had to not ever touch his face for any reason on the approach, the jump, the landing, or really even several strides afterwards.

So felt like we galloped this, but just canter
As S pointed out, it's not even that I really catch him in the face (other than the deer leaping). It can be as simple as putting him back together too soon after the jump and not letting him finish the mental process. Or pulling on him on a crossrails derby course. Or whatever. Mentally, that's where he's at and we have to address it.

The poles went up to crossrails, then verticals, then even an oxer. We trotted into the oxer (with placing poles on both sides), and cantered the vertical. Every jump, I had to come around the corner, grab the strap, and GO.FORWARD. I don't know why riding freely forward is so damn hard for me, but that's where I'm at.

Now oxer certified. Finally.
Courage was good. He started out really apprehensive, but especially in our last round, he started to accept the exercise and really take me to the fences. His eye got softer and the ride got a little easier.

S says he needs hundreds of these jumps right now. Not big or hard or scary, but freely flowing forward, so he can build new memories and learn what he's doing.

We both need it.

Me and my neckstrap, we're getting acquainted.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Progress Via Trotting Pictures

I always love a good pictorial progression sequence, so let's look at how Courage's trot has change over the past nine months.
July 2013. Days off the track. Stiff, neck straight up, willing.

Sep 2013. Starting to move, but still really tight in his body. 

Feb 2014. Body feels better. Now to get broke.

Mar 2014. We've had some lessons.

Late Mar 2014. In a lesson. Learning about connection.

June 2014. Starting to carry himself more correctly.

Mid June 2014. Connecting his whole body.

I tend to get down on myself for not being a good enough rider/trainer/horse person to get my horse to progress, so I'm posting this to remind myself that it's a long process and he's come a really long ways. His last race was less than a year ago. He took the winter off. He's nine years old, and he's still really new to this whole "sporthorse" thing.

So yes, there's more to do. Yes, I have lots to work on.

But hey. Look how cute my horse is! That's what it's all about.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So Badass

Oh yes we are the best at this
I keep meaning to write some better posts (really I do). Work is insane right now and I haven't really seen a computer, but here's a couple of shots from our adventures today!

Also he stood tied at a trailer and was a star
Trail ride with our kickass endurance friend! Courage and I did our first trot and canter/gallop in the hills and it was way too fun. Kind of trippy riding an uphill horse up a hill, but I'm excited to get used to this new normal.

Oh and if you like sparkles, check the summer sale Dark Jewel Designs is having on their super fancy bowbands!! 15% off with the code FIREWORKS14!!! 

Um yeah I might need more sparkles.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wherein Courage Gets His Mojo Back

Going forward
We put in a couple more solid flat rides over the weekend. I don't want to jinx it, but I think I finally have my horse back.

Nothing like consistency.

Straight line from elbow to bit. It can happen.
I haven't readdressed jumping yet. I'm waiting until my farrier can come out and do his feet again. It's just as well. I want to get him even more rideable than he was. I mean, we were staring a training issue in the face and it manifested as a confidence issue. Sigh. Need to get that taken care of.

Like a boss
Still. Two good rides now where I was able to feel like we were advancing in our training and working through issues without any of that weird anxiety he'd been showing me.

In fact, we ended one ride by trotting through some poles.

He acted like it had never been a big deal.

In fact, he seemed kind of proud of himself. It's like he remembered that he was THE BEST AT TROT POLES.

Say with me: hot damn. Sexy Courage.
I've spent so much time on this blog talking about rider confidence and my issues and how to work through them. It is a fascinating psychological exercise to try and do this backwards. I'm used to talking other riders through the process (and myself, fairly regularly), but to try and explain it to my little man was enlightening.

We're learning to trust each other.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

It's not like we're both magically healed, but I think we understand each other a little bit more.

And that is how we get our mojo back.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Plan of Attack

Still the best at posing dramatically
The Courage I am riding today is not the Courage I rode yesterday.

Think about it. I'm training him one way or another every ride, and especially because he's green, his understanding changes VERY rapidly. So yes. I went from having a gung-ho, willing (albeit lazy) partner to one that is anxious and tense (and still lazy).

We saw two very different questions
At this point, I'm addressing it entirely as a training issue. I have an apparent cause--he felt overfaced when we asked him to jump an oxer within the context of a grid in a lesson. He didn't know how to answer the question and it shook his confidence a bit. I don't think the jump bothered him as much as peering into the deep ravine of his own cluelessness and having to end a session without feeling like King Kong.

Because I have that, I'm not too worried about other physical problems. I mean, of course I want to do a full course of UlcerGuard, have the expensive chiro out, and buy a French custom saddle, but since the budget doesn't accommodate those things without careful planning (or the French part at all), I'm taking things one step at a time.

Not a panic response. Waiting for room service.
One: Ulcers.

He lives a very low stress life with lots of turnout and very limited grain. He could be presenting with ulcers, but I sort of doubt it. My experience with ulcers is that the horse is ok, then presents the pain, then tends to kind of check out/get frantic and escalate. While it's possible that Courage is just expressing himself differently... I just can't get excited about this option. I'm certainly open to picking up a tube of GastroGuard and giving it a whirl if the behaviors persist, but in the face of apparent cause/apparent solution, I'm still thinking it's a training problem.

Two: Body soreness/Chiropractic problem.

This is possible. It's even likely. I noticed exponential improvements with him after letting his body reset with a winter off. That being said, this horse ran for like 6 years with the same body he has now and he was pretty much fine. I've had him checked over a couple of times and he doesn't generally have major issues. If my incredible, magical chiro was still around, I'd totally schedule him, but that was true well before all this. I'm still mourning his retirement and haven't found a suitable replacement.

I think those withers got taller
Three: Saddle fit! Go custom!

I sort of wish it was this. I do love me some tack shopping. Because I do have a range of saddles available, I pulled some out and tried them on him. I concluded that my saddle isn't the best fit for him, and found one that was slightly better. That said, I thoroughly checked his back for soreness and got only licking and chewing.

So while not perfect, it's obviously fine. Maybe that's the magic of my half pad. Maybe I'm such a delicate fairy that hovers above the saddle it doesn't bother him (ha! no). Maybe whatever, but Courage tells me his back is just fine.

Blurry video still by me
With those things in mind, I continue to address our situation as a training issue. It's changing and (dare I say?) improving. The tension is less on the flat. The jumping is coming along. Courage jumped his biggest fences ever today and was a total rock star on the line.*

As long as I'm seeing steady progress with just letting up on the pressure, I'm not too worried about the world falling apart.

*For the curious: I choose to lunge instead of free jump because we're dealing with anxiety. I want the ability to circle him off and have more control if things start spiraling downwards. For sure, badass free jumping pictures are on the agenda eventually, but now is not the time.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Now for sure these would be more exciting if I (or anyone, really) was in the saddle, but here they are!! (All photos by horselessinhalifax)

First jump on the line. Learning to use his neck, yay!

Slightly bigger jump. Starting to jump across instead of up.

Pats for being a good boy

Working on landing over a BN jump. It's not perfect, but not a deer leap.

Possibly the sexiest picture ever taken. Scope much?
We'll get there. We've knocked out a couple of educational flat rides this week and we'll incorporate more lunging over fences today. It's not my favorite concept ever, but it's obviously helping out the little dude. What more could a girl want?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Training Moment

When your horse is really naughty, there are only still shots
Here's a theme I've been picking up from instructors lately: Don't take it personally. Keep emotion out of it. Don't let him change the conversation. Just keep doing what you want him to do until he gives up and does it.

It seems like really superfluous advice when the little man started out with a solid twenty minutes of brilliance and connection.

Lucky for me, he also had some anxiety to work through. When I picked up the trot the second time, I had a tense, bracing horse who ran through my right leg and threatened to just lose it if I even thought about getting after him. Interesting. This was the horse that Lins had to ride on Sunday. I haven't really met him before, but it looks like we'll be getting acquainted.

Unelated photo of how sexy my horse is right now
I was actually impressed with my ability to just sit there. I kept asking him to bend, kept riding him into the contact as we did twenty meter circles and serpentines. All easy stuff, all things he knows how to do. He wanted to get in a fight. He wanted to freak out. I don't know if he thought we were going to do something really hard or if he just wanted to be done or what his deal was, but we kept trotting forward.

Eventually, he gave it up. There was no big explosion, not even a scoot. He just relaxed his back and let himself bend and took a couple of deep breaths. I patted him and we cooled out walking through his field on the buckle.

This is what I love about being an ammy in a low key environment. There's no pressure or goals or shows or anything. He and I can set the schedule and if we need to slow down and take our time, that's totally ok. Courage needs to figure out that this life is a-ok and if there's anything I'm the best at, it's going slow and making things easy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cross Country Lesson: Keeping Me Humble (and I didn't even ride!)

He's the best at... something... 
After my less-than-stunning crossrails debut at the derby, I thought it was perhaps in my best interests to enter the clinic at the same location the next weekend.

And then shit starting hitting proverbial fans and I thought that maybe instead of me, redheadlins could ride C-rage and all would be well. After all, we had a productive week--he gave me some of his best flatwork yet and I lunged him over a jump to help him learn how to use his back end and jump forward instead of deer leaping.

I guess we could mention that other than hopping over an X a couple of times, he hadn't actually jumped since the deer leaping incident, but eh, what did it matter for a cross rails clinic that I wasn't riding in? To be perfectly honest, I was just hoping the instructor would notice what a rock star my horse was and not let the other "crossrails" constituents hold him back. Hell, I'd probably have to turn down an obscene amount of money just to put my glorious steed back on the trailer to go home, right?

Just rocking his fancy new OTTB pad!
So yeah, obviously nothing went wrong with that attitude. ;-)

About that... Courage came out calm and happy. No screaming, no crack giraffe, just happy grazing and flirting with some mares. Perfect. We saddled up and lins hopped on. They warmed up great. I was super excited to watch them cruise around like badasses.

Of course, the trainer (who has never really seen Courage before) had him start on the same exercise as every body else--walking through ground poles.

So easy
And it sort of all fell apart. C-rage was just not keeping it together. There was flailing and leaping and pissing off and general unpleasantness to the point that the clinician got on and rode around for a good 10-15 minutes. He was able to get through the poles eventually, but my horse was checked.the hell.out.

Ok, well, he's never been the best at poles. No worries. Linds gets back on and they proceed to a tiny little log. I was back to being all pride and confidence because I have jumped little logs and he is totally brilliant at them.

Welllll... We're working on not rushing/flailing/panicking/leaping/etc, so the instructor has lins doing some simple figure eights in front of the log to get the little dude focused on her instead of freaking out. Then they go to the jump and he slams on the brakes. Hard.

Well, ok, kind of surprised him, whatever. Try again. BRAKES AND REVERSE OH HAIL NAW HE AIN'T GOING THERE.


Before the wheels came off
What? The instructor ends up putting him in a halter on a lunge line and having Lindsey get off. And yeah, instead of blowing away his fans with how brilliant he is, Courage got to lunge over jumps, then take a break, then lunge, then stand.

It was the right call--he was able to stand quietly with me in between sessions and watch the other riders go and figure out that he didn't need to have a massive brain melt session. It was incredibly educational to watch the other trainer work with him. Courage was able to walk off that course calmer and happier than he walked on and I have some great homework to really help him improve his mental game and learn to use himself so he can be successful in the future.

The instructor was very positive about him and the two of them really seemed to communicate well. I actually think the lesson was money well spent.

And really, it all makes sense. I've been asking him to step it up to the next level and he isn't quite sure what to do, which is hard when you're an overachiever, don't I know. I think he scared himself a bit deer leaping and he just needs to back off and take things slow again while he gets life figured out and he learns not just how to get through this obstacle, but how to develop a process to get through more and future obstacles. It's a good thing, just not something that most people brag about in public.

Which I guess I just did.

Oh well.

It's the sort of frustrating that just makes me want to go back to the drawing board and try harder. #overachiever

Seeing a theme?

PS Yes there are pictures. Unfortunately, all of my friends seem to have developed a case of "social life", which is severe but not very contagious if you're a curmudgeon. ;-) I'll get pictures eventually.

Friday, June 6, 2014

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