Journal: Launch

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-19-21-40-33.png
Spoiler alert.

I’ve been very stressed. I love this journal, and I love the blog it’s turned into, and I really love the relationships I’ve started building with other bloggers and readers.

But last week, when personal and (especially) work related drama spiraled ever higher, and that right after I had laid bare here some very personal thoughts concerning Robbye, I had to take a break. I was feeling swamped by my feedly unread count, I was feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for those who commented on my last post, but didn’t know how to express that gratitude, and most of all my job was taking all of my attention and energy, even as Robbye rejuvenated me with her sudden launch into actual-work-ethic-land.

All this to say: I’m sorry I haven’t commented on anyone’s blogs in the past few weeks. That weight is pressing on me and I refuse to let my follower’s kindness go unreciprocated.

Even more so, I’m sorry I haven’t replied to the comments on my last post. I don’t know what to say to such support; I’ve always struggled to express my gratitude, and it’s even harder for me without the ability to hug, do a favor, or send a gift or thank you card. All I can say is: Emily at The Exquisite Equine, Lauren at SMTT, Olivia at HelloMyLiviaSprinklerBandit, Emma at ‘Fraidy Cat Eventing, and Tracy at FOO…You guys are awesome. This last week, I’ve thought about your comments and especially the fact that you left comments a whole lot.

Okay I’ll try to end the mush now 😉

The post below is long and really just expresses how pleased I am with Robbye. It’s a boring post and I mostly wrote it because I need a journal, so feel free to skip it. Thank you for reading this far!


At the end of my last journal, I had ridden out in the indoor in six inches of snow. It wasn’t a productive ride, but I was pleased that I had worked through some anxiety to complete the ride.

Unfortunately, that ride was my last for almost a week. It had just been too cold here, and I’ve given up riding in the cold. It’s not fun and I’ve lost the motivation needed to do it well.

Luckily, Robbye has remained sounds and healthy. Her chronic lymphangitis seems to be aggravated by inactivity, so leaving her in her stall is always a risk.

Two Saturdays ago, we finally had a day above 20 degrees. I longed her first in the side-reins, then rode for a while with the side-reins still on. My intention was to remind her that this is what work feels like. She did work very hard, and was fairly forward, and I was happy.

The next day I rode in draw reins. She offered some resistance to the activated draw reins, which is new. At that point, I decided that I was over-using them and the side reins, and she was telling me so. I’d been desperate to get it into her head that THIS IS SUBMISSION, but obviously these tools aren’t translating 100% into regular rein work.

Although, after about 20 minutes of work in the draw reins she gave me some great, submissive round work without the draw reins activated. After one 20 meter circle with that frame, I quit happy.

The next night was our second lesson with Kim, where we learned some new strategies for achieving the submission needed for roundness. The strategies actually didn’t work that night, even with Kim riding, but I was hopeful and grateful for new tools.

(One of the tools is throwing away my equitation, which I tend to obsess over, in favor of a more floppy “cowboy” ride. It hurts me to share these photos because I’m so unhappy with myself, but I really wanted to share what Rob is looking like! For now, thinking about myself and my position are supposed to be low priority.)

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-19-21-46-19.png
I know because I’m leaning so far back that I’m asking hard here for submission. Even here, where she’s kinda halfway to round, is such an enormous improvement from a month ago. (I will not comment on my equitation, I will not comment on my equitation…)

Unfortunately we didn’t get to try those new tools for a very long and very cold four days. Luckily, a Friday with a high of 20 degrees broke to a balmy, 45 degree Saturday, and it looks like our winter may finally be over. Thank you, sun!

Saturday was So. Good. The ride started out tense and resistant, and I was immediately discouraged as Robbye and I fought about both moving forward and submitting. However, after 15 minutes of using my new tools, I was suddenly riding a round, active, forward walk. AHH! I asked for the trot, and continued a minor “bungee-ing” as I did so – and was rewarded with a round, forward active trot.

After replicating our success at the walk and trot her good way, I quit early as a reward. I was euphoric that my new tools seem to have worked, with zero “mechanical” tools used. Only my seat, my core, my arms, and a little bit of fighting and bullying.

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-19-21-41-36.png
That tail though.

(I realize now that we also started out going her worse way. This is a habit I’ve been actively trying to fix, since beginning on her good direction helps us both with the self-confidence issues inherent with learning.)

Last Sunday, the club started the day at the county tack sale, which was really fun. I’ve terribly missed our club outings. Kathy sold a saddle (!!) and Julie bought a helmet, so it was a successful trip. I was so close to buying a new pair of Ariat tall boots, but they were too wide. Probably good, since my pull-ons are perfectly fine, if annoying.

We grabbed lunch, then headed to the barn to ride and clean stalls. I used my new tools again and the results were incredible. After about five minutes of longing and five minutes of “establishing dominance”, Robbye dropped her head, lifted her back and gave to the bridle. We moved through w/t/c with the same great results, and I was pleased to find that even if she threatens to giraffe, I’m usually able to fix her with a verbal threat and a little bit of rein bungee-ing.

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-15-21-30-30.png
Still a bit of tension in her neck. Unfortunately the day I had a videographer, she wasn’t nearly as relaxed as she had been…probably because I was a lot more tense.

We even threw a few stretchy walk breaks into the ride. She never came back to the work immediately, and we did have a few minor fights, but the submission was there even after breaks, when Rob believed she should be done. This is incredible progress for us.

We spent last week and this week practicing the same concepts, and slowly our “fighting” step is turning into an “asking” step. I’m figuring out the tricks, and she’s realizing that it’s easier to be submissive. This Monday, I decided to ride bareback (with a bit and bridle). I acted just as I do when we ride with a saddle, with the same warm-up, the same insistence on forward and round, and the same duration and intensity. I tried to pay attention to how my floppy sitting trot feels without a saddle and stirrups so I can replicate that in the saddle.

OH BOY, was it a great ride. By the end, all I had to do was hold my outside rein and wiggle the fingers of my inside rein and she’d drop into the bridle. At all three gaits.

Last night we had our third lesson with Kim, which I’ve written into a separate post. Spoiler alert: Kim was astounded and very very pleased with our sudden progress. I believe her exact words were,

“I look away for two minutes and suddenly – look at you!”


Kim definitely has a different strategy for myself and Robbye. For Kim, submission and forward come before everything else, including equitation. For me, and for my partnership with Robbye, this approach makes sense. Yes, we’re going to fight. I’m going to have to force her to do something ten times before she’ll offer it up herself. But from my recent reading, this is normal dominant horse behavior, and it’s actually a healthy equine relationship. So I’m working to be okay with the fighting, the pulling, and the severe drop in pretty equitation, just for the time being.

Heaven knows it seems to be working.

Advertisements

Questioning

Note: I wrote this after my lesson last Tuesday, but then before I could publish it I a) received a pep talk and b) seemed to make a breakthrough with Robbye. Plus the weather broke, which is the number one psychological barrier in my riding. Well, in my life, really.

So I’m not feeling nearly as down, but I still want to post this here for preservation’s sake, and to gather opinions.

After our lesson on Tuesday, right when I was ready to leave the barn, two of the ladies there stopped me to talk about Robbye. I don’t know if they planned the discussion or intended it to feel like an intervention, but it did.

They questioned whether I should keep Rob. In fact, for them, there’s no question at all: they 100% think I should sell her and buy a horse with more experience and/or more potential.

On one hand, their intervention was a great compliment. They see how motivated and serious I am, and they think I’m stuck with a too-green, too-lazy, dead-end moody mare. I am not upset with these ladies for having the discussion with me, and it does feel like they care about me.

The thing is that on a lot of points I agree with them. As much as I love Robbye, I wish I had never fallen in love with her. I wish I had passed on her and chosen a horse whose good work ethic was obvious.

On the other hand, I have enjoyed so much pleasure from the training victories I’ve had with Robbye. I know I’m a green dressage rider and that I should be on a schoolmaster for the next five years (at least!), but that honestly sounds boring to me. Honestly. I don’t think I’d get the satisfaction, or have the same motivation. I’ve always said, and honestly felt, that I’m willing to move slowly, knowing that my training is sub-par since I’m still learning myself.

Anyway, what it comes down to is that I can’t sell Robbye. She’s not really good for anything how she is, and I’m not willing to risk her being neglected or sent to the meat market. I’d rather have her PTS than send her on a crowded trailer up to Canada.

I also can’t justify spending what a schoolmaster is worth. It’s not fair to my husband to spend so much on my hobby when he buys video games during Steam sales and little else.

My ideal plan is to make Robbye my guinea pig. I’m learning how to train and how to ride on her, making a hundred million mistakes on her, and will become a much better horsewoman because of her. In five or ten years, I can buy another baby – one who has the breeding and the build to suggest much more potential. At that point Yogi will be ready to retire, so Robbye can become Julie’s pleasure mount and I can try again with a horse who hopefully can take me where I want to go.

The ladies’ rebuttal to that plan is that I’m not getting any younger. If I want to get to the top – or even mid-levels of dressage or eventing, I can’t spend 15 years of my life wasting my work on a horse who isn’t helping me.

But do I want to hit the top levels of these sports? Eventing, no. It’s too dangerous. Dressage…I’d like to move up the levels, that’s for sure. I’ll never have a horse who can win, but I’d like to chase qualifying scores and earn some medals. But is there any reason I can’t do that at 35 instead of 25?

Anyway, Robbye is helping me. I’m learning so much from her – really, I’m learning everything from her. When I think of how much I’ve learned and changed in the two and a half years I’ve had her…

Really, it all comes back to two facts:

  1. I don’t want to buy a trained horse. I 100% understand the appeal, but I want to train and I don’t mind waiting and working.
  2. Robbye can’t be sold as she is. It’s too risky for my conscience.

Am I crazy for dismissing their suggestions?

I want to keep Robbye. I wish I hadn’t bought her, but I don’t want to sell her.

Lesson Recap: New Tools

Tuesday evening I had my second lesson with Kim. My first lesson with her was fairly dramatic, and though I was extremely pleased with her instruction and felt like I learned a ton, I wasn’t happy with Robbye’s behavior. This time, I had a much more forward and thinking Robbye, and Kim even said that she was happy to see this different side of the mare. (Luckily, the really bad Robbye only comes out twice a month or so, when she’s really hormonal and ouchy.)

My main takeaway from this lesson was a new, dramatic way to ask Robbye for the “headset” part of the frame. (So nice that she showed up with a forward, tracked up, raised-back trot so that we could focus on her head and neck, where she likes to put all of her resistance.) First, I hold a very steady, constant outside rein. Kim gave me a cheat for this step so I didn’t have to think about it: take the outside excess stirrup leather  out of its keeper, then hold it and my rein in the outside hand. It worked really well to both teach me what that absolutely steadiness feels like and also allow me to forget about it and focus on other things.

wpid-20150228_162220.jpg
It was warm enough for just the cooler blankie. Almost done with you, winter!

Once I have that “perfect” (attained via cheating) outside support, I then “bungee” the inside rein to ask for give in the neck and throat-latch. The movement is much more dramatic than the “playing with your fingers” that Michele has taught…but “much more dramatic” seems to be Kim’s way of going!

(The bungee-ing is not jerking but it is a substantial movement. It’s actually a lot like revving a lawnmower – there’s no hitting her mouth, but there is a lot of movement in her head.)

So, at the halt, walk, or trot I hold a very steady outside rein and bungee the inside one (all while keeping the rest of my body relaxed and motionless) until Robbye gives. Of course, even a tiny bit of give gets a release. However, apparently I’ve been releasing way too much; Kim says I “shouldn’t give her the whole cookie. Just a piece of the cookie.”

wpid-20150302_190724.jpg
This called, “Mom made me single-tie because I hate standing at trailers and now I’m depressed.”

At the walk and trot, we did get moments of nice roundness, but we never got more than three strides or so. This is fine – it was a new exercise and she really did seem to be both thinking and trying.

(I did ask why she doesn’t seem to get this concept of a round neck and relaxed throat-latch. We longe in side-reins and she works perfectly. She gives at the halt beautifully, and in draw-reins she rounds on her own without me even activating them. But she can’t make the same connection under saddle and during motion, despite seeming to try. Kim didn’t have an answer.)

wpid-20150220_175239.jpg
“Howabout I just carry my head like this instead.”

Some other smaller notes I learned:

  • Kim doesn’t want me posting into the trot like Michele has me doing. Michele asked me to do it in an effort to attain an instant forward, powerful gait. Kim actually seems to expect more – she thinks Rob should surge into her trot whether I post or not.
  • Kim had me sitting most of the night. One reason was so that I could give “cowboy kicks” whenever I need to emphasize the forward power.
  • My sitting trot needs to be more floppy and relaxed, “like a little kid on a pony”.
  • I’m gripping with both my knees and my lower leg. This is a new habit; symptom of the new fear, maybe?
  • The super light aids that Kim wants still need work, though they’re better. Again, she expects more from Rob.
  • Kim recommends feeding sugar at the beginning on our rides to encourage chewing a relaxed jaw. I always assumed this was a myth and never did research on it – does anyone else do this?
  • Kim mentioned once that I need to keep my toes pointed more forward (which I’ve heard a million times) and also that I need to put more weight in my heels. Coming from EQ-land, I’ve worked to put more weight on my toes and butt, instead of through my heels. So I was surprised to hear that!

I’m excited to have some new tools in my toolbox. We do seem to be making progress again, and I’m trying to remain hopeful. I was very happy after my lesson! But there were some questions raised which I’ll put in a different post.

First – something I’m really curious about: I feel like everyone is always talking about getting the headset without getting “real” roundness in the back. But Rob and I have the opposite problem – even when we accomplish the tracking up, the forward, and the round back, her nose sticks straight out and her under-neck muscles bulge out. I feel like Robbye’s the only horse on the internet with a round back half and a hollow neck! Does anyone else have this issue with their horse, particularly in a dressage context? 

Wordless Wednesday: Engagement Photos

The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0062

Robbye got to be one of our “props” for our engagement photos last summer. I was so pleased with the outcome that I wanted to share them here! The Carrs did both our engagement and wedding photography, and did an incredible job.

edit: I probably should have explained the robes/hoods. We bought Jedi and Sith robes off of Etsy and used them in our shoot. We may or may not be the dorkiest people alive.

The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0011

The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0028 The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0033

The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0094

The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0006The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0085
 The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0069The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0058The_Carrs_Photography_annye_zeke_engagement_0082

Reading Notes: The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage (Timidity)

"Spurring, when needed, should be done lightly but insistently,
and must cease its action the moment of compliance. The 
effect should be like someone tapping your shoulder with their
finger. No matter what you're doing, your attention will be drawn
to the one tapping you."
-Puterbaugh, The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage

For my birthday, my wonderfully thoughtful sister Abbie gave me a new book: The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage, by Douglas Puterbaugh. I posted my reading notes for the first sin, Ignorance, a couple of weeks ago, and learned a lot about myself and my relationship with Robbye by writing it all out.

sins cover

Puterbaugh’s second sin is

Timidity.

For the purposes of this book, Puterbaugh focuses on the effects that timidity has on the dominance (or lack thereof) between a horse and its handler. Perfect for me, since I struggle with dominance so much.

In what ways am I guilty of timidity? Timid riders tend to accommodate their horse’s idiosyncrasies. However, this is not doing the horse any favors – in fact, the handler is failing to provide for the need for leadership that the horse naturally has. Naturally, the dominant horse establishes boundaries within the herd. Young horses learn what’s expected of them.

Additionally, to the horse’s instinct a human is never his equal. She can be above or below him in the hierarchy, but never on the same level. As much as I wish Robbye and I could be equal partners – it’s actually kinder to her to act as her superior 100% of the time. She needs that authority instinctively, and she also needs it in order to learn how to be a better horse.

Puterbaugh also declares the perils of compromise. If a horse is cooperative in some ways but not others, a timid rider will take what she can get (or “end on a good note”, as I like to do) in order to avoid confrontation. To a horse, this is a free pass for more and more disobedience. Boundaries and demands have to be 100% obeyed.

How can I fix my timidity? Dressage is all about submission. That sounds bad written down – but really, a submissive horse with a dominant rider is just a tiny herd. And herds are happy, natural groups – that include plenty of trust. Dressage builds trust just as it builds submission. That trust is built with practice. And practice – that I can do!

Timidity is also fought with appropriate discipline. Puterbaugh emphasizes that

a reprimand is deserved only when the horse knows better and is willfully disobeying,..You want to teach your horse, not bully him.

Overreaction to perceived mistakes, says Puterbaugh, is a symptom of ignorance and an expression of temper. Before a reprimand is dealt out, a rider must know if the horse is willfully disobeying or is confused or distracted. Of course, this is so hard since discipline also has to be perfectly timed!

(Puterbaugh also emphasizes that discipline should get milder as it’s used – it’s better to start off strong and work down to less. That’s what Helge taught us too!)

What else did I learn about timidity? Horses don’t work out of gratitude – if his handler doesn’t establish boundaries, then he’ll instinctively make up his own. Without a clear dominant handler, horses will constantly question authority…especially after they inevitably succeed at insubordination with a timid rider. In the herd, a horse confronts insubordination by confronting it. As riders, so too should we.