Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reality Bites

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that Courage is a reactive, opinionated, sensitive thoroughbred. He survived on the track for a long time by taking care of himself. He's slow to trust and quick to get defensive.
and he rocks the hell out of this browband
For a lot of people, he's a hard horse to read. I've had more than one trainer dismiss him out of hand because while there are some cool things about him, his defensiveness makes him seem like quite an asshole. Which. I mean. Yeah.


At the same time, the opposite response is to always assume he's a dumb horse with a pure, reactive pain response, which is also missing the boat a little. Sometimes he hurts and that's the behavior and sometimes he's protecting himself and that's the behavior.
and sometimes he's just adorable
The magic to Courage is learning how to understand him enough to know the difference. What do you ride through and say "you will" and when do you get off and look for other answers?

Obviously, an integral part of this is understand how his brain works--the "average" horse gets tired and doesn't particularly want to work, if you will. So if you up the work load and ask for more, you're going to get some resistance because prey animals like to conserve energy so that they can run away from predators.

Whereas Courage is a result of hundreds of years of domesticated, specialized breeding. He'd never last two minutes in the wild (where's my grain bitches) but he will 100% work his tail off and has never understood the word "tired".
def understands "fabulous" tho
And the hard part of riding him isn't "kicking enough to keep him going". It's the mental gymnastics of "why is he offering this behavior at this time". It's the ability to divorce my pride as a rider and trainer from his behavior and keep the conversation about the horse. It's letting go of artificial expectations and listening to what this horse has to say right now.
the only moment that matters
Please don't read this as "I'm perfect and sooooo good at everything", because I'm not. I definitely let myself get too wrapped up in goals/expectations/ideas about performance and then need a good, hard reality check.

What's more, Courage is a damn complicated horse and it's not worth it to everyone to sort him out. But. I got him straight off the track. I took his prime resale years. He's now a twelve year old horse with no particular accomplishments to his name, which is not an overly great track record. I owe it to him to do my absolute best by him because I chose to bring him into my life.
high proficiency at the velcro game tho
There's no guarantee that if I stick it out with Courage, that he'll be the next great show phenom or whatever. The odds are definitely against us.

I'm an amateur. I'm not here to win all the things and make myself look good. Horses are the part of my life that help me make sense of the rest of the world.
sometimes you can't help yourself
That doesn't mean barely scraping by and doing the bare minimums and complaining if I don't get the max payout. It means putting in the time and the money. It means effort, energy, dedication. It means looking past the surface for answers underneath, listening to my intuition, and challenging myself to be a better and stronger person.

Courage is reactive, opinionated, sensitive, and defensive. He's not for everyone.

But he's mine.
And because of him, I will learn to do better.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wherein SB Spends ALL the Money (not including tack)

It's been slow on the horse front lately. Two weekends ago, Courage was on a field trip and got a (metaphorical) bee up his (figurative) bonnet. He generally ties like a champion, but he pulled back HARD and SEVERAL TIMES.

And of course, all that had to be like four days post-bodywork by his usual lady.

I gave him a couple days off, then tried riding again.

We mostly went sideways and in a hurry.
carefully cherry-picked nice moment
Apparently, trying to rip one's own head off is not recommended for the body sore horse. But also apparently, the week before leaving town is a FANTASTIC time to hemorrhage money straight into your horse.

We did vaccinations and then a few days later, standard spring "teeth and sheath" funsies.
spent all my booze money on getting him drunk wtf
I had a good chat with the vet about Courage's proclivities and maintenance. He was a model patient, even though his teeny tiny dose of sedation made him too drunk to walk back to his stall and we got stuck in the parking lot for a while.
not actually a joke
The following day, we had another vet out for bodywork stuff. I say "stuff" in the most technical sense of the word which means that I'm not 100% sure what to call what they do, but it does make a huge difference for Courage. What I can say is his normal lady does more muscle manipulation/therapy and couples it with cool high tech tools. This lady is more focused on spinal type stuff. Hard to say. They compliment each other well and I value having multiple eyes on my #wildmustangdressagestallion and hey, always fun to try new things.
ears like this the whole time. watching her and his body.
There used to be this super cool older gentleman who came to our area and while he was a vet with a scientific explanation for everything he did, there was this soothing force field around him that horses really responded to and he made huge differences with simple things. This lady trained with him and Courage responded to her similarly to how I used to see horses act with the older guy.

I have never seen Courage be so calm, relaxed, and focused during an adjustment.
not murdering anyone #winning
She found all the same problems spots that we normally have, plus a few others. We talked about his history, his lifestyle, and the other vet's comments on him. He's been just not... great... in terms of movement lately. I mean, he's not unsound that I can see or feel, but he's not holding adjustments well and he doesn't look as good as I think he should when he's moving freely.

I mean, I was willing to admit it might just be me being hypersensitive, but something isn't quite right. Plus, Courage and I have been doing a lot of simple ground work and not pushing the riding and hard work lately and he's turning back into the horse I remember him being and less of the overreactive lunatic I've seen the past six+ months.

at long last, lady
And because Courage is a horse that doesn't mind the hard work as long as it isn't hurting him... that's something to think about.

Before starting on Courage, chiro vet just just checked him out and all the indicators for pain in his front feet and hocks lit up. After working on him, we talked about a plan of action. I was already tossing around hock injections as an idea because high-mileage 12 year old warhorse. She wants to give him a couple weeks to see where we're at. Some of the adjustments she did are things she only has to do 1-2 times on a horse to see a permanent change.
soft eyes

We also discussed doing front feet xrays to see if they will help my farrier out. She's all "might help see angles/some horses do better with non-standard angles so i dunno" and I'm like BITCH PLEASE IM AN AMMY TAKE MY $$$. So yeah those will be scheduled here shortly.

She also said that he's the type of horse who either does AMAZINGLY well with acupuncture or who will have NOTHING to do with it. Imho, the horse gives zero shits about needles and was fine with her connecting acupressure points with her hands, so he'll be great. Also imho acupuncture is hookum, but I'll gladly shell out for hookum to see what it does for my horse. #adultammystrong
(And now that I think about it, proprioception is something Courage and I both struggle with and logically it actually kind of makes sense to stick needles in shit so you feel it moving.)

Annnnnnd that's where we're at. To me, it's worth it to spend the money to look for answers because dammit. I like this horse.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

New Faces, Old Problems

say hello to Bowie
I continue taking advantage of opportunities to sit on horses. Part of that is to broaden my skills as a rider. Part is because I want to suss out if I'm missing out on something in terms of horses. I mean. I know Courage isn't the easiest, but I need to know for me what I'm ok with. 

I'm learning a lot right now--for example, as much as I don't think Courage is an "ideal" rehab horse, other options aren't necessarily better. Courage is very much a horse where you need to sit still and stay out of his way. He's not a big mover and his back doesn't swing a lot naturally. 
and he really loves the velcro game his auntie taught him

It's not ideal for dressage. 


I think I got back to riding much more quickly because of it. The horse I sat on yesterday was a big-moving (for me, not compared to "big movement" horses) young warmblood gelding. And like. When said big, loose-moving horse loses his shit, it is very lost. VERY. Oh and also said horse is super quiet and normally totally fine, but horses are horses and sometimes you just have to run and buck and leap and spook like an idiot. Because horse.
and then i ride like a super defensive monkey

So it's not only a gauge of "what do I want to do" but also a range of "what nope responses am I okay with". 

Courage is a known quantity to me. I know he can't buck for shit. I know he'll bolt if he's scared, but I also know he's not a dick about it and he'll try to warn me first. He's not a spook. He doesn't spin (usually). I'm okay with those things (unless it's a show warm up in an open field by the road. Long story.) 
plus totes adorbs

Other horses certainly have less dramatic responses. The two lovely mares I rode were more like "ehhhhh I put my head up and nooooooo" and less "LEAVING NAOW BAI". That was a nice switch, but conversely, they were a lot more physical to ride. Which is not a bad thing. It's just a thing that rehab girl here has to think about.
oh no! she's a bit curled! 

I'm definitely becoming a better, more aware rider because of the opportunities I have right now. I'm incredibly grateful that I've gotten to sit on some legitimately nice horses and ride through my issues. 

And hours after my lesson, I'm sitting here trying to convince my back it doesn't have to be pissed about the big horse.  

It doesn't believe me. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

New Adventures, Part the Second

Courage is a challenge, plain and simple.
but a pretty one
There are a lot of things that are consistent with him though. He learns much better from the ground than in the saddle. He needs me to be calm. He's a thinking horse, so if a concept is introduced clearly and then he gets to think about it, he will be better the next time. He will try for me, but the trying frequently looks like tension instead of Valegro (dammit).

He's also a horse who is VERY tight in his back.

So how do I mechanically explain to him from the ground that I need him to give through his entire topline?

I started by putting him on the lunge in his vienna reins on a 5m(ish) circle. I asked him to come forward and give to the bit at the same time in the walk.

surcingles for lazy days

For my specific horse and his specific conformation, this means AT LEAST tracking at the walk and trot with his neck actively reaching down and his poll comfortably below his withers. 

I really like the lunge line for this stuff--horses learn from the release of pressure, and it lets me release the instant he gets something right. I keep him in vienna reins to limit his range of "leaving" responses. We work in the indoor to limit distractions. Our first session was short and just w/t. 

 Our next session built on the same concepts. Ask him to step up underneath himself on the small circle and stretch down to the bit. The MOMENT he gave me that, I released several feet of line and let him move out to a bigger circle at whatever speed he wanted. Frequently, he'd slow down and think about it vs shooting off.

The picture above shows exactly what I'm trying to achieve--hips lowered, bigger angle in his hind legs than his front, soft through his entire topline. It's just a stride, but this is a weight lifting exercise and he needs time to understand the concept, then more time to get stronger.
 But of course, these things are never easy. After two sessions of like HELLZ YEAH I AM THE BEST TRAINER EVAR, Courage regressed. His go-to evasion is to bend out and push his hips in on a circle, which is essentially just leaning in and giving me no options.

He's not being naughty. He just found a response that I couldn't/didn't correct and since that meant there wasn't pressure, it must be right. I mean. It's the path of least resistance.
not always the path he chooses
Fortunately, I've done pretty extensive ground work with him and have a range of tools available. The next time we addressed the problem, I brought my trusty $9 knock-off carrot stick. Then we did an exercise I learned from watching Tik Manyard teach last year--put the top of the stick on the horse's shoulder and ask them to walk a small circle with the stick as a neutral cue.

This is tricky with Courage. I don't lunge him with a whip because to this point, whips haven't added to the conversation in a constructive way. He's sort of okay with the stick, but likes to overreact to new things to see what happens.

I have an impossible time capturing good media of ground work, so you get this sub-par picture.
 After some theatrics (far less than expected, actually), Courage was ON IT. We started in the walk, with the stick passive on his shoulder. I was careful with my body language--my line of direction stayed slightly in front of him and I kept stepping forward, not back to encourage him to go forward.

First, he got a "stop and take a break" full release for walking calmly with the stick on his shoulder.

Next, he got a full stop and break release for putting his head down while walking.

Then it got tricky--he was tentative about the whole stick thing, so he REALLY didn't want to give through his topline, which he has to do to use his back end correctly. I switched to taking pressure off/giving him a slightly bigger circle to reward the release of putting his head down.

It took a while, but he started to give me the same stretch and engagement in the walk that I had been getting the week before, but now less the "throw shoulder in and speed around" response.
champion genius

Trotting was the next puzzle--I wanted him on a slightly bigger circle but I didn't want to chase him.

However. He's sensitive and the concept was starting to make sense. I was able to put him on more of an 8-10m circle and just point the stick at his shoulder to keep it out. That also transferred well to pointing at his hips to ask him to move them out.

And when we switched to the other side, it was even easier.

That was our entire session for the day. I immediately dropped the stick, pulled the vienna reins, and loosened his girth.

pictured: a different day

This works for him not because I am a ground work goddess, but because I've slowly built it up, piece by piece. A couple times a month, we take a fun day and do simple ground work in a rope halter. He has clear, consistent boundaries and he understands what I'm asking. I try to only add one new skill at a time. It's never about getting after him or wearing him out--it's a way for us to work together and get on the same page.
Sometimes we do cool stuff like sending him over jumps. Lately, I've been working more on the push him away/pull him back thing to see if maybe it will help his tendency to be hard to catch.

It may. It may not.

I do like how enthusiastically he participates when he understands what I'm asking. I'm curious to see where this takes us.

And let's be real. I love the challenge.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New Adventures, Part the First

Last week, I took advantage of some very generous offers by barn mates to take lessons on different horses. One of my goals this year was to ride 10 different horses and when people hand you the reins to impeccably trained personal horses, well, you don't say no.
especially not to this face
The first was this lovely mare from last week. She's completely adorable and basically perfect. I've seen her go a lot of times and always just assumed she was your "typical" stock-type paint that was a little bit dull.

Not so.
meet Cocoa!
She is absolutely the cutest, most sensitive little mare that is 110% solid try. Oh and her owner has done an AHMAZING job with her. Seriously.

Once my trainer got me on the same page with this little gal, I had so much fun. She's a training/first level horse that was a reiner sometime in the past. She also thinks like a pony, so I had to be careful to be very soft/giving with my hands, but keep her FORWARD and remember that she likes to drift to the gate. So honest. So fun.

And then while Courage recuperated from bodywork, I got to snag a lesson on a solid-first, schooling-second Friesian cross mare who is also super cool.
and Ms Nikki!
This mare has a ton of excellent training, but has primarily only had one rider. She's a bit suspicious of new people, so I had to sit quietly on her and help her believe I wasn't going to ask for more than she could do. She was super sensitive to my movements and very light off the aids.

This is what I love about having our trainer on board--she knows where I'm at and she knows where Courage is at and she's able to work on me on other horses without being down on Courage. He and I have a complicated relationship, but it's a little too intense right now and the best way to dial it back is to sit on some other horses and remember that yes, I can ride. Sort of.

Both the mares let me figure my stuff out without doing anything dangerous. They had their own ways of going and their own evasions, but they were straightforward and safe.

And then it was time to get back on my man C-rage.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Get Your Tack Ho Score

I can neither confirm nor deny the rumors and Teresa and Leah and I renamed our group chat "Tack Ho Cult" after Carly started throwing around accusations about our proclivities. All I can say is that when I proposed compiling a list of how you know you might be a tack ho, the suggestions started flying.

And no, husbands who are reading this, DEFINITELY NONE OF THIS IS TRUE NOR BASED ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. It's all hyperbolic. OBVIOUSLY.

Without further ado.

Give yourself one Tack Ho Point for each of these that applies to you:

...if you find a bridle you forgot you had

...if "I love my tack and it looks good on my horse" is a legit reason not to sell him

...if buying a new bridle is a better idea than switching bits between the old ones

...if you sell your couch to buy horse things

...if you time your purchases to arrive on days your SO won't get the mail first

...if you own more saddle pads than underpants

...if you can write a dissertation on breech fit without looking anything up

...if buying a bridle is your solution for having too many browbands
y'all remember Otto
...if your tack is so recognizable that people refer to it by name. Double points if they still recognize it after you sell it.

...if you've been referred to as "the saddle pad girl" at your GMO meeting

...if complete strangers email you to ask for tack advice and you don't mind

...if people you barely know consistently tag you on sales posts that remind them of you

...if you know your horse's measurements by heart but can't even come close on your own

...if people at shows know you by your outfit, not your riding

...if you've ever picked up a new discipline just so you can buy new tack

...if your favorite holiday all year is "Black Friday Sales"

...if you have a reliable system for finding the best price on any equine-related item
the pretties
...if your favorite part of horse shows is the vendor village

...if your friends ask you to shop for them

...if your version of hell includes orange leather and/or Australia post

...if your browband lady knows you personally and can predict your wants. Double points if you have more than one supplier.
whhhhat no
...if your gelding regularly gets mistaken for a mare because of his outfits

...if your biggest goal for a horse is to be a tack model

...if you or your SO has to build a shed or custom organizational system

...if the value of the tack in your car easily exceeds the value of your car

...if you look at equestrian real estate and immediately think of how much tack you can put in the barn

...if you buy a jump saddle for a horse that doesn't jump

...if your friends hear you talking about new boots and automatically know they're for the horse, not you

...if you know more about your friend's tack than their personal lives

...if your friend doesn't respond over text, so you start calling dibs on all their tack

...if your auto correct knows to suggest Le Mieux, Ogilvy, and Topline in context
hello great outfit
...if all your suggested ads are tack

...if you have to buy a present for a baby shower and you get mad that it ruins your tack ads

...if you sulk because the show photographer didn't get pictures of you because you wanted to show off your cute outfit

...if you get accused of being in a Tack Ho Cult, so you start one

Ok, tally up your totals!!

1-10: you're probably normal

11-20: welcome to the dark side

21-28: no one should leave you unattended at the trade fair

29-37: you're probably in Tack Ho Cult already
and you know what this is
What's your score?

I'm... um... 34

Monday, April 3, 2017

Trouble in Paradise

Lest you think I've reached this new, happy zen status and everything is peachy, well, it's not. 

Last week, I had a lesson. In true Alyssa fashion, Alyssa took gorgeous pictures of it and you'd never guess that any attempt to turn right had us flailing sideways into the fence. That was not awesome. Then I showed up on Thursday (admittedly in the middle of a giant storm) and C-rage wouldn't let him touch him in his stall.

Because wild mustang.
pictured: not Thursday
I snapped. I'm not proud of it, but there is only so much a person can take and I've been hanging out dangerously close to that line lately. 

And by "snapped", I mean I texted a few friends that I was selling his stupid bay ass. And had a full-on meltdown at the barn. And my barn friends were like "whoa um here try riding some other horses". 
i steal her
So I did, over the next few days. The lovely painty mare in the picture above is freaking perfect. Tries so hard. Super well trained. Admittedly, her owner has put years and years into getting her that way and has the patience of an absolute saint.

And then another friend let me play with an OTTB she has for sale. He's a cute mover and a nice horse and a little needy and unsure of new people and yeah, I realized all my years with C have done a lot to make him the way he is (easy on the ground) and that yeah, the asshole thing is where it's at for me (dammit). 
oh and this one year progress hot kinda blew my mind
One thing that has been very upsetting for me is realizing that showing Courage doesn't even sound fun to me right now. But showing last year was pretty traumatic and abruptly cut short and never resolved and now I'm not in a good place physically, so yeah. A show would be overwhelming. 

But you know what's not overwhelming? 

A field trip to a friend's house.

So we did that. And you know what? Courage was great. I felt like steamed poo so I didn't ride, but I could have. Courage was brave and uncomplicated and yeah, he was a little up, but he settled and put in some quality work on the lunge and then he just hung out and looked around calmly while our friend rode. 

He wasn't obnoxious or insecure or annoying. He got on and off the trailer with no fuss. He stood tied like a champion.

And really. If I'm thinking clearly, I know that Courage's big tell for pain is that he quits turning right. And I know that he really does best with monthly body work and I know that I've kinda skimped on that lately because I don't think he's working that hard, but since it's his body, I guess he gets to make that call. 
consider it made
His body work is scheduled. I'm not riding him, not even to loose-rein-toodle, until after that. I'm actively pursuing other horses to ride. I need some time to breathe and I need to not be a jerk to my horse, especially since I'm the one who got him in to this situation. It is my responsibility to make it right. 

After all, it takes a special horse to rock the hell out of this browband. And that matters to me.
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