Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Little Bit Rock and Roll

I'm re-teaching myself how to train right now, and it is so much fun. 

I've spent a long time in the same rut. The english sport horse world is cool and challenging and diverse and allllllll my bad habits are formed around a couple decades of experience doing the same thing. 


If say, I'm trying to bend around a turn and I'm not quite getting the response I want, I have this muscle memory that goes INDIRECT INSIDE REIN (terrible idea, 0/10 recommend) that makes the shape of the horse look the way I want it to look while the horse goes crooked and I continue my bad habit of relying on my hands. 

I know enough to know how to pull it together and fake it on a ride. I don't even have to think about it.

Faking it does not make us better. 

And see. I'm spending a lot of time in my life breaking out of ruts and changing behavior patterns. Learning to recognize dysfunction in it's expression and adapt my approach to do better. 

not related but this horse is cute AF

For me, it starts with changing my surroundings--if I physically remove myself from a rut, I can be more aware of when my behavior is sliding back that direction. In life, that means taking myself out of situations that I know are problematic for me. On horseback, that means dropping the trappings I'm comfortable with and learning to ride a different way. 

Next I set goals--what does success look like today? Tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? If my long term goal is "canter bareback through the fields with flowers braided in her mane", what steps do I need to accomplish to arrive there? (Might start with "rideable canter idk").

As I move towards the goals, I start watching for patterns. Which behaviors move me closer to my goal and which move me farther away? Which behaviors that I exhibit make my life better and which are just learned dysfunctional coping mechanisms? If I ride 6 days a week, but every ride is exhausting and draining and non-productive, am I gaining anything? Am I better served by riding less often and keeping a fresher mind?

The thing that can drive me insane about western riding is the total lack of hundreds of years of theory and a "one true way" sort of approach that comes along with the more classical disciplines.


That means I have to feel it out as I go. Find my own way. 

Lead, but softly. 

Strength tempered with understanding. 

Progress in balance. 

There are things I can respect and take away from the sporthorse masters. There is plenty to learn from newer schools of thought. 

At the end of the day, I need to find the things that work for me. I need to be the leader that my horse wants to follow. 

There's no trail to glitz and satin and recognition. It's a step by step process of creating the horse I want to ride, the person I want to be, and the partnership I want to be party to. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Looking for Release

I see horses as a mirror that allows me to see into my subconscious in ways that very few other things do. 

What drives me. What motivates me. How do I talk to myself about it. How do I think about myself because of it. What am I trying to gain.

What am I willing to give up to get what I think I need. 

We can psychoanalyze that all day (and it's fascinating on a certain level), but the practical ramifications are interesting. 

I took Zoe down the ditchbank the other day. She was predictably slow away from home, then a little scooty wanting to go back to it. She can be mildly herd bound if she's not getting out regularly and she definitely does better if we do a couple rides with a buddy before I just launch into a long solo ride as we lose daylight. 

And like. 

She wasn't bad. She was a little jiggy. She stopped when I asked her. She wanted to be pushy, so I pushed her into a shoulder fore down the trail and she was like MUM UR SO MEAN THIS IZ HARD BOO but she did it. 

I knew that I didn't handle it well. I didn't really establish myself. I didn't train my horse. I just totally abdicated all responsibility, had a crummy ride back, didn't school it, didn't reassure her. I felt irritated, then untacked and went home. 

And when you have an actual disney horse, you can do that and she's still great the next time you see her. But maybe you don't take her down the ditch bank again because your coping skills are just not that good right now and you're having a hard time. You know that SOMEONE needs to school her, but you need it to not be you. 

So you play in the arena but GODDAMN you want her dialed and soft and ON IT right TF now and since you ride like ass (a conservative assessment), she's kind of stiff and heavy and not super engaged. It's ok. It's not terrible. She's not flipping you the bird, but like. Things aren't right. 

I went home. It's cold. I'm tired. The SO says "how was Zoe" and I have to explain to him how actually, she was pretty good. It's just that I expected a lot. And demanded a lot. And didn't give her any release. 

And actually what I interpreted as "her being heavy" was really "me refusing to give". 

And "her being stiff" was more accurately "me being rigid". 

As I explained all that, I realized that stupid mirror thing was happening again. She's fine. She's just being a horse. But when I don't have the emotional capacity to provide good training, she's going to be a bit lackluster. 

When I respond to her responding to me with an unyielding YOU WILL GIVE, all I'm doing to her is what I do to myself. 

Which is never give myself room to fail. I demand more, push harder, get through it, and when I do that, I penalize myself for my very humanity that is begging for a little mercy. 

I'm hard. I'm strong. It's a weakness. 

She's better than that. She's so just... I dunno. Inherently kind and pure. She brings her whole self every day and does her very best. She deserves someone who says "you can have an off day and it's ok and you're still my #1". She has earned that a thousand times over. And it's true--she can have those things. She just needs me to recognize it. 

She needs me to release.

Now switch the pronouns in that statement. Like the mirror does. Show me how I talk about myself. 

What am I willing to give up to get what I think I need.

I can have an off day and it's ok. That's a really hard concept for my overly-driven, very-intense self. 

I can tell my trainer that I need her to put a few rides on zb and then we'll take a couple lessons. 

And then I can go to the barn after work and ride my beautiful disney horse in a halter. Feed her cookies and say I'm sorry. 

I'll do better for both of us. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

2020: A Year in (Unusual) Review

My favorite part of blogging is the perspective I get from looking forward and looking back, especially at the end of the year. Usually I go through month by month and link to my favorite posts and put the best pictures of the year together and come out like "wow, you really did something" and "look what you need to do to move forward". 

Look who goes barebacksies in a halter!


I think we've all been living in the same 2020. I didn't even blog every month. Barely every quarter. 

Rather than doing a monthly summary, I'm going to roll with the 2020 summary post I've seen making the rounds, that I believe is credited to Alberta Equest

2020 Summary

What's the best thing that happened to you in 2020? 

Personal: HAHAHAHA OH MY GOD. Um. I'm an extrovert. I'm REAL BAD at shutdowns. I have a VERY HARD TIME with like. Not leaving my house. My life being out of control. It has been really hard for me to work through isolation (/living with my own idiosyncrasies) and seeing how those issues impact the BF (we live together) and how my own character weaknesses create my biggest problems. 

So like. I have a whole new appreciation for my own flaws and a roadmap forward to working on them. 

Also some great new coping mechanisms. 
is truck collecting a mechanism?

Equestrian: I spent a lot of time away from the barn this year. That solidified for me why it is I go there, which has been really good. I didn't have an amazing achievement, didn't go to a show, barely took lessons, but I really am starting to feel settled/comfortable with the way my horse fits around my life right now. It's not what it used to be but it's still very much something that matters to me. 

I was really struggling with the lack of proficiency I feel when I'm riding at a lower level than I remember being able to, but it's letting me take the pressure off and just enjoy my personal horse. It's a new thing for me, and damn, I like it. 

What's the worst thing that happened to you in 2020? 

Personal: I really dislike the passivity of saying things "happened to me" when I am an agent of my own life and I like to think I have some influence on the things I put myself in the position to have happen to me. Obviously, the whole pandemic didn't "happen to me", it happened to the entire world and I'm just a very small, very privileged part of that. 

But a lot of things kind of just happened this year. 

I guess for me it was having people I care very much about be isolated in a way I can't overcome and know that they have to be alone for reasons out of both of our control.

Equestrian: I watched a couple of friends go through really challenging situations with their horses and wasn't able to be there with them/for them in the way I would like to. 

What was your biggest purchase in 2020? 

Personal: Ummmmmm we'll go ahead and call my beloved Truck Truck a personal item. I was the sort of kid who had a dream truck and gave zero fucks about fancy dress parties and now I can officially say I have the truck of my actual dreams. It's a strangely lucid thing that I am really excited about. Almost offsets how expensive trucks are. 



Equestrian: I keep saying I dialed back the horse spending this year, but a quick review shows that I bought bought a jump saddle and a western saddle. So there's that. I made it official with a loaner jump saddle from the ever-intrepid Roxie's mom and then when we decided to get a little ranchy, she pointed me in the direction of a saddle that actually fits ZB really well. In an odd twist for me, I didn't sell any other saddles to accommodate the purchase either so I should probably clear some inventory... soon. Maybe. Iunno what else am I going to put in my garage... 


What was your biggest accomplishment in 2020? 

Personal: I'm on a challenging career track in a male-dominated field and I had some huge professional achievements this year. I could give you some work highlights and things I am proud of, but at the end of the day, the thing that matters most to me is having the respect of my crews and leadership. I feel like I'm in a really good place with that. 
putting that horse girl carhartt coat to work

Equestrian: Ummmmmm. Well. My goal with Zoe is always just to have a pleasant, well-rounded horse that I can bomb around on and she came through in a major way this year. I've been on the road a lot, my barn time is limited, and every time I see her, it's just solid, consistent fun things. 

So. It's not a show highlight. It's a life highlight.


What do you feel COVID robbed you of in 2020? 

Personal: Friendships. Oh my god. It's not that you can't have friends in the time of covid, but the little get togethers and spontaneous hangouts and the quick weekend road trip to see people I care about are all just gone. I care about my friends and I hate that in order to protect each other, we're forced into an all-encompassing isolation. 
gonna eat this sad pizza by my sad self

Equestrian: I could say I was kind of dabbling with the idea of going to a show, but realistically, that wouldn't have happened this year with how other pieces of my life played out. In a lot of ways, I am singularly lucky that my horse life was minimally impacted by the larger tragedies swirling around us this year. 

Were you subject to any COVID impulse buys in 2020? 

Personal: HAHAHA see also my entire amazon account. 

Equestrian: I can actually pretty much justify both the saddles I bought as things that would have happened anyways. I got a really pretty pad that I definitely didn't need but #yolo. Ummmmm oh yeah there was also a COVID sale for hufglocken and I got a super nice Mattes pad too. A draft size western bridle. At least 3 girths. 
it just occurred to me how funny it would be to put all the impulse buys on her at once
but who has the time?

It a little bit bothers me that I'm publishing this in 2021 but that's one of those things I'll just have to let go. We're moving forward. Things are good. I have a few more low key goals. Maybe next I'll write a post for that! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

I Pivoed Myself

 Y'all have probably heard of this nifty little robot camera gadget called a Pivo. I thought it sounded cool and I bought one. I read half of one how-to on using it and figured if I needed help once I got going, I could google it. It works exactly as advertised--tracks the horse, struggles with multiple horses, and if it loses you, just ride in front of it again. 

Cool. Whatever. Pretty much everyone on the internet has one now and there's an entire facebook group devoted to people who are too stupid to read the instructions. You don't need me for that. 

You definitely needed this level of cuteness tho

The Pivo comes with a handy dandy remote that I think most people carry with them and use to turn the tracking features on/off as needed. Right? Like you maybe don't want a 30 minutes walk warmup of you talking to your buddy but you probably do want the 5.5 minutes you trotted around in the good light trying to get a decent screenshot. (Just me? Whatever.)

But since I'm lazy level pro right now, I don't use the remote for the simple reason of I didn't bother to bring it. Ever. It's somewhere. Maybe at home. I literally plop the pivo on the mounting block, try not to kick it over when I get on, and go for a ride. I trot around for a bit (and yeah by the time I'm WIPED OUT, apparently it's been like 5.5 minutes), and then I pop off to stop the pivo while we take a quick break. 
Nobody wants to screenshot long videos

That means two things:
1) I get adorable photos like the one above. 
2) I have a chance to review the footage MID RIDE.

This has turned out to be BY FAR my favorite feature. (Even more than screenshots, because the light in the indoor is crummy so even a really good screenshot on a pretty decent phone camera is still not good.)
Real talk tho: I'm a working ammy. I think I took 1 lesson this year. I ride 1-4 times a week, depending on my work travel schedule/the weather/my mental state. I have ok feel, middlin' reflexes, and bad riding fitness. ZB is the perfect ammy horse in that my schedule is A OK with her (and if I'm there more than 4 days she's like OMG MUM GO ON A TRIP I TIRED HOKAY). 

That means I get on and bomb around for 5 minutes working on whatever THE THING I think I need to do is. Last night, I thought "we will work on forward!"

It was hard. I was huffing and puffing and contorting myself and nagging with my legs and god only knows what the reins were doing. 

Then we took our mid-ride break and I watched the video.

And I thought. 

"Well gee whiz. Sure is hard for my perfectly nice horse to try to figure out what I want when my reins are two miles long, my hands are bouncing all over the stratosphere, my legs never really come on or off her sides, and my body is oddly contorted."

In fact, you might even think that if I was clear with the FORWARD aids, then I could be long in my legs, strong in my core, following with my elbows, and soft with my hands. 

What a concept. 

Reset Pivo. Round 2. 

It's not that I'm magically a better and fitter rider with the video review. It just shows me what my issues look like. That helps me pick a couple things to correct on that night based on how I'm riding in the moment. I have to be real honest about whether the things I'm doing are actually making a difference to my horse. 

Or if they are dumb things and the difference they are making is bad. 

oh that's a bit better

I'm not a great rider. I'm not going to become one on my current schedule. 

I'm ok with that about myself. 

It is my ongoing goal to be the best I am able with the resources I have on hand, and to do that, I need to be very clear and fair with my horse. She can be her best self when I set her up to succeed. 

now that's almost something

After watching the videos and reviewing the stills I pulled out of them, I can make some informed choices about our next ride. I can say that the best work we had all night was when we did lateral work and compression and then pushed forward and asked for stretchy trot. 

I definitely think the things I'm asking for right now are hard and require schooling, more for strength than for repetition itself. 


I also know we both get bored of doing the same thing over and over. Will there be indoor jump video in the near future? 


Thursday, December 3, 2020

Everything Slides Faster on Ice

I could write about how I finally decided ZB's western saddle actually didn't fit, and then how I maniacally shopped for one that would, then somewhat unintentionally bought one, then was pleasantly surprised that it included fittings and a cute teal pad and now I want cute teal boots to match and figured out I need a shorter girth. 

that back end <3
But like. 

What's more important is that then I went on the ultimate horse girl spending spiral and ended up with a horse-hauling truck so WHOOPS THAT HAPPENED. 
when all your wildest dreams come true

I'm still processing that particular event (and uh paying for it) and this blog is about the cutest horse in all the land, so let's look at her. 

so cute

We're on a western kick right now and a large part of it is that I don't have to be super prepared about outfits when I can just wear cowboy boots and jeans from work to the barn. 

Another part is that I am really enjoying the process of tackling something new. 

also soccer

I have to think through every ask and every give. I have to know what I want and work with ZB to figure out how to show it to her. I have to know when to push and know when to release. If the goal is "polite, balanced western jog", what are the steps I need to take to get from here to there? 

It's also really cool because it ends up being the same skills--I'm looking for her to be balanced back to front and move forward softly. I want the cadence slower and I want her to self regulate a bit. She can't stick her nose out like a pony and run on the forehand if I want her to go on a loose rein and be accountable for herself, so I have to be very clear about the steps I need her to take. 

ground tying is fun

That means I have to step up as a horseman. I have to be accountable for my movements and expectations. I have to be clear, calm, and consistent. If I want a particular response, am I asking with a particular aid? How am I setting her up to succeed? 

This is ZB and I we're talking about, so that training has to be interesting with a lot of variety. She struggles with the canter (especially transitions), so we school those on the ground with a quick lunge warm up. Or in english tack so I can influence her balance and stay off her back. Or ignore it completely and go for a hack under the stars during a full moon.

I think we're about ready for prime time in the canter (aka actually schooling the lope vs just bombing around from time to time), but first I'm definitely going to resolve the cinch situation. 

Or maybe we'll just do it bareback.

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. 

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