Strategy for Happiness

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My life got a whole lot happier after I decided to keep Rob. I’d like to think that hers did, too.

As soon as she came home, I put her on full board. I no longer needed to go out to the barn six days a week to clean her stall.

I also immediately forced myself to take a huge step back from the attitude I’d had about riding and training for the three and a half years I’ve owned Robbye – namely, one of constant progress, weekly consistency, and an honestly grueling weekly schedule which didn’t care a whole lot about weather.

Instead, I decided that I was going to do some major chilling out.

Honestly, I don’t know what my goals are anymore. My “huge life bucket-list” goals, at least when it comes to competition, used to be earning my bronze medal and completing a recognized horse trial. Now, those goals seem expensive and silly. Do I really care about showing recognized? I’m not sure.

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As I backed off of my goals, I backed off my schedule too. Do I really need to train five days a week? In February?! Hell, no.

There were several work weeks in the middle of winter where I didn’t go out at all. It was cold, it was raining or snowing, or I had a meeting. I didn’t feel well physically or I didn’t feel mentally up to having a dressage ride.

I’ve slowly been fighting down the guilt this new schedule causes.

You know what’s helped the fight the most? Realizing that we’re not doing any back-sliding.

Hell, we’ve been making a ton of progress lately! Every ride is like a happy surprise – this is what my “young” and “green” horse is like after five days off?! What fun!

Fun. Fun. Riding and owning a horse is fun!

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What Happened in January

 

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Like probably 90% of those of us who actually experience the season, I struggle in the winter. My (picky vegetarian) diet means I’m constantly cold. I’m beyond grateful to have an affordable indoor, but my desire to ride plummets with the temperature. The stalls are harder to clean – both because everything freezes and because the horses are in and aren’t getting worked. Riding itself isn’t as fun – lack of turn out makes crazies, much longer warm-ups and cool-downs must be budgeted for, and there’s about ten times as much hair to groom.

The worst of it, for me, is the lack of sunlight.  When the sun sets at 6 so does my desire and motivation to accomplish anything. I can’t even read or watch Netflix – all I want to do is sleep…Sleep and sulk.

Even my non-horsey hobbies suffer. I can’t get motivated to go to board game night when the sun will have already set before we get there, so I’ll just yawn my way through the evening, half asleep. I can’t stay awake long enough to read a novel, and I can’t get up enough motivation to craft or sew.

Obviously writing is out of the question, as evidenced by the last three months of radio silence from An Amish Warmblood.

When Robbye came home from training early last fall, I thought we had finally crossed the hump – the three years it took for us to find a loving and a workmanlike relationship.

The show, where we won our dressage class, was one of the high points of my life, as sappy as that sounds.

I felt like, at that point, I had accomplished what I had set out to do with Rob. We had completed this test which was submissive, brilliant (as much as a Training level test can be, anyway), and undramatic. We had won a class of more than ten people! We had proven to the world that neither of us were failures, and that we could do more than embarrass ourselves!

So that was nice. Very, very nice. But…what do you do after that?

The correct answer is: make new goals and start working on them. Look for the next “hump” and get over it. Improve, improve, improve!

But this show had happened in mid-November. As winter began and I desperately needed goals, excitement, and motivation, I had just achieved what I’d been struggling with for three years.

So I did nothing, and spiraled lower.

I know it’s such a first world problem. I accomplished my goals with my HORSE, and now I’m as depressed as I’ve been in years! How silly it sounds.

But there I was burning money, gas, and precious precious energy every day to go to the barn and do…nothing. Clean my stall. Hand out treats. Sulk.

At the end of January I sent Robbye back to training, happy that I wouldn’t have to clean her stall every day anymore.

In mid-January I put her up for sale.

I wrote a long list of her favorable qualities – and wow, what an experience that was. Virtually bomb-proof. A happy trail partner. A decent, if green, jumper. Extremely tolerant – a “pony club” mount. Broke to the harness and cart. Great at giving newbie rides and taking treats and pats from non-horsey people.

Above all, a talented, promising dressage horse.

I collected an album of photos. Here’s one where you can see her impressive build – one that would be great for a man, a growing boy, or a larger AA. Here’s one where you can see her flashy wide blaze and her gentle eye. Here’s one where she’s jumping beautifully while I flail on top of her.

Here’s one where you can see how god damn pretty she is.

The interest poured in (not to me – thank goodness – but to my trainer). One woman was particularly interested and wanted to talk to me. She was a mom and wanted a mid-level eventer for her teenage daughter.

And so I took the mom’s call and sang Robbye’s praises for half an hour. I told her about how she can go out in the field alone or in a group and is happy. How she doesn’t like to roll and is dirt colored anyway, so grooming is a breeze. How she can be tough to get round and forward but once she gets there – oh boy is she there.

I told the mom how much she loves people. How she nickers every time I walk into the barn, and watches me walk around the barnyard if I leave her in her stall or the crossties.

I told the mom how I had taught Rob everything. Cross-tying and putting on a bridle and jumping ditches and walking through tarps and crossing creeks and doing carrot stretches.

The next day, I cried, talked to my barn owner, talked to my trainer, and then took Robbye off the market.

T1 & T2 Schooling Show – Details and Reflection

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I want to put a few more show details down here for my own documentation purposes. It’s a lame post – I know – but I really value this blog as a journal as well.

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I know that our halts need work – getting square is really a matter of luck at this point – so I feel like a 6.5 on our first halt is both generous and lucky. I’m also happy with a 7 on our free walk; as Robbye has gotten stronger and rounder, she’s lost a bit of the fantastic stretch she used to have.

A 4 on our left lead canter feels generous. We botched the lead twice and only ended up cantering on the left lead for probably 5 strides. I was proud of myself for maintaining nice geometry in my circle even as I struggled to pick up the correct lead. I’m hoping that I learned from this particular mistake and that it won’t happen again.

That final halt 10, though. #schoolingshows!

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I felt all of these were very fair, and the “very patient correction to L canter” comment gave me a warm fuzzy. I really appreciate judges (and trainers, and bosses, and … everyone) who can turn a failure or mistake into a compliment or gentle lesson.

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I am very happy with these numbers. All of the scores below 7 are issues I know I need to work on – the halt (I lost her haunches), the canter to trot transition (it’s still a bit of a “run her into the ground” type transition, instead of being back-to-front), the trot to canter transitions (still a tad hollow), and the stretchy movements (need more stretch!).

The 8 on our medium walk is reassuring; I’ve always felt that Robbye’s weakest gait is her walk, and I really struggle to get any impulsion out of her since she prefers to walk as slowly as possible. We really worked it for this walk section and I’m happy the scores reflect that fact.

And there’s another high score for our final halt! I need to figure out what we do differently in our final halt and do it in our initial one. I bet you anything it has something to do with the tension I release for the second one…

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Again I felt these scores were fair for a schooling show. Truly, to get three 7s and a 6.5 on impulsion and submission is huge for me and especially for Robbye.

The “obvious leg aids” are just something I need to deal with until 1) Robbye is more sensitive and forward and 2) I’m a better rider. I’m very happy to have more obvious aids if it means replicating the work we got in this test, and I’ll willingly sacrifice my Rider Aids score for it, at least for now 🙂

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Our final scores are just…mind-blowing. From reading your blogs, I feel that these would have been perhaps 60%-65% at a recognized show – scores I would be extremely pleased to earn.

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The rankings, too, are very heartening for me. There were 8 people in T1 and ten in T2. When I saw these numbers, I just hoped to placed in both classes – I know it shouldn’t be, but being competitive is important to me. Along the same lines of “don’t embarrass myself” and “make my trainer proud”, I want people to see my partnership with my horse and recognize it as a good one. The recognition that comes with ribbons is validating for me. So to beat ~15 other scores is huge.

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Yes, I fell off at this show. Well, no, I didn’t fall off – I got dumped. And that really sucks. I heard later that Robbye was a huge disruption as she galloped through the warmup arena to get back to her stall.

That’s embarrassing, and embarrassing is the last thing I want at a show (especially one where I’m there representing my trainer).

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After crashing into a fence at a jumper round more than a year ago and subsequently taking a huge step back from jumping entirely, I never imagined that a fall could make me stronger.

But this particular crash awoke some passion that I don’t think I’ve felt before, and that passion led to a quality of work that I definitely haven’t felt before. I used the fall and the way I felt after it for me.

My goal for this winter is to make that quality of work my every day. Every day should be passionate and 100% committed – like I’m heading into the ring to score a 70%, or to win in a class of 10.

And if I don’t have the passion every day – that’s okay! But I won’t be riding. I want that work I got after my fall, and I’m not willing to let Robbye compromise at 50% anymore. If I’ve learned anything from the struggles – and now success! – that she and I have endured as partners, it’s that I am in charge. When I decide what happens, we’re both happier.

 

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So I may be riding less than 6 days a week this winter. And yes, this goal completely contradicts my 2015 goals to have zero days.

But the fact is that I want to work hard. I want to devote 100% to this relationship and to our progress, even if it means fighting sometimes, or falling off sometimes, or taking days off sometimes.

I know what I’m chasing after now, and I know how good it feels to catch it.

I’ve Finally Given In!

The Story So Far, Part 3: Success!
Robbye’s first time being backed

When I bought Robbye, I was determined and excited to train her. I thought I knew what I was doing, to a certain extent, and didn’t have any lofty goals. I wanted a horse I could enjoy riding in local shows, and maybe do a BN event once a year or so.

But a combination of Robbye’s personality and my own ruined those carefree plans. She’s too stubborn and work-averse to learn quickly or easily for my really-really-amateur experience, and I’m too goal-oriented and hard-working to remain content at local hunter shows.

Plus, I got bit by the dressage bug – something I never expected.

So we started learning dressage. And…kept…working. For two years we’ve struggled, and made little progress. I’m too much of a noob and not nearly aggressive enough to counteract her personality, and she’s too hard of a ride for my inexperience to thwart.

From July 23 to August 11 I rode exactly zero times. I’ve lost my motivation and my drive. Two years is too damn long to struggle with so little fulfillment. I went from riding 5 or 6 times a week to riding once in a month.

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Even this just. Isn’t. Good enough. Not after two years of working on nothing but forward and submission

(It doesn’t help that my riding friends are all out showing, making beautiful advancements on their babies, and altogether having a great summer, while I toil away just hoping not to backslide. How long has it been since I really felt like I had a successful show?)

I didn’t have a plan except that I needed a break.

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PINK ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH. AUGH. I’m so frustrated with myself.

Then Kim made her case for training, and it sounded like a godsend for me. Robbye would move to her place, so I’d get a break from the daily chores and daily driving. My silly mare would also get the kick in the pants necessary to get us finally making some serious progress – and, hopefully, she’ll get some buttons installed that I’ve never used, so wouldn’t have any idea how to train!

Best of all, Kim’s training comes with two lessons a week for her students. And not on Robbye – on her own horses. Schoolmasters.

So Robbye and I can be learning separately, and then at the end, hopefully, we’ll be able to make a good team again.

I’ve been too proud to put Robbye into training. Or…maybe that’s not it. Maybe I just felt like I’d lose the satisfaction from training her all on my own, and that riding and showing would lose all of its pleasure for me. But I’ve reached that point anyway, so there’s nothing left to lose.

I know that I’ve misplaced the heart for horses I’ve been living off of for the past three years…but I’m feeling  optimistic that a month or two of boot camp will be just what I need to get it back.

Journal: Keeping At It

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There a lot of things I want to change about myself in these photos… But the progress that Robbye has made is just STAGGERING to me.

Early this winter, when the weather was horrible, I was still trying to get over a horrible fall, Robbye seemed to be stagnating once again, and riding just plain wasn’t any fun, I made an ultimatum: if we weren’t making any progress by spring, I’d put Robbye up for sale.

The thought of doing that now makes me want to cry. The fact of that matter is – six months ago I didn’t like Rob very much. She’s obstinate, dominant, and not very affectionate. She didn’t seem to have any desire at all to work.

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Kim, Newton, and Julie

And then we found Kim. Kim had new words and new ideas for us. She made me throw away the equitation I’d worked so hard for, and forced me to maintain dominance over Robbye.

And it’s funny – now that the mare and I have a more “horsey” relationshipI like her a lot more. I know that I have to kick her ass once a day or so. But that’s okay. The same thing would happen if she and I were both mares in the pasture. I can love her and be her boss. In fact – I’m realizing I need both in order to attain either.

I won’t be selling Robbye this spring. We’re finally making progress, I like her a lot more, and I think she’s starting to enjoy work, too.


After my learning to longe lesson, Robbye was instantly more compliant. That’s one of the great things about longeing – I think – it’s work that directly translates to under-saddle work, but it’s also an inherently dominating exercise, where I can really make Rob work the way I want.

I had one ride where I longed – and made her work – then immediately got on and made her work under saddle. This was a great ride because I made her work past her mental checkout point! She’s not a baby anymore – working for 40 minutes is NOT going to hurt her, as much as she thinks it will. I’d been treating her like a three year old even as she approached six.

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We had a lesson on April 28, and Kim could not stop gushing about how well we had done our homework (YAY!). Robbye was much more forward (!!), and we spent the lesson learning how to add some nuance her new frame – mainly, by re-installing bend. It was tough for both of us to think past the frame, since that’s all we’ve been working on for so long, but it felt SO good.

I also need to work on a few equitation pieces, now. I need to re-install the toes forward/heels out position that’s so hard for me – I think this is probably something I’ll struggle with my whole life. I need to ride with my thumbs on top – a habit I’m working on establishing now. It’s easier now that I see why we ride with our thumbs on top.

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Not sure what her expression is here, but I like mine!

Saturday, Zeke came to the barn with me and took some great videos. I saw some things I need to change in my position, and am excited to practice them. Robbye was in a great mood, and gave me two canter transitions without inverting herself – something she’s never offered under saddle before. Longeing for the win!

We’ve been working on my new jumping position a bit too. I’ve been jumping a lot – and even jumped a log that was laying outside of the arena, which I was proud of. Then, I did as many laps around the arena as I could in 2-point. (This was an activity Robbye really enjoyed – all I asked of her was that she continue trotting at a nice forward pace.) A few rides after, we ventured out to our largest grass field, where we did trot and canter sets. Robbye loved this activity too – it was a nice change of scenery for her, I think! That ride informed almost all of May; I’ve been doing very little dressage-in-the-sandbox.

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This is the life.

The next week, I move some (very small!) jumps into the same field. Robbye thought it was fairly boring, but it was scary for me, and that’s what I’m trying to get past. By the end we were both bored, so that was a win!

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I’ve been riding less than normal – about four days a week instead of six – but I’ve been proud of the progress I’ve made. I think I’m gaining a bit of my cajones back – I rode down the road one day, the jumps are getting back up to my “normal” height, we dragged Newton across the creek one day (which, by the way, Robbye was great at. She really showed her draft disposition that day – not something I see often). Yesterday, I rode bareback and we “hacked” around the farm – every time she let her attention leave me, I’d ask her to round and work. I’m determined to teach her how to work even when she wants to be distracted.

Kim says it’s time to get back to showing. I’m scared, but I also think she’s right. We’ve worked too hard not to show it off 🙂

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

"Humility speaks truth to power. Knowing your weaknesses has 
advantages, because knowledge is power"
-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’ve written reading notes for the first two sins, Ignorance and Timidity, and now it’s time for the third!

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Puterbaugh’s third sin is

Pride.

Puterbaugh declares that pride has no advantages. Though you (me!) may think that it can be good to feel pride, Puterbaugh believes that it will always, always detract. I’m not sure if I 100% agree with his assertion, but that’s the context for his chapter.

In what ways am I guilty of pride? I took very few notes for this chapter. Though I am a proud person outside of equestrianism, I learned the hard way in high school that it’s not a good way to present oneself. Consequently, I’m constantly checking myself to make sure I’m modest.

And of course, I find it impossible to maintain any pride around Robbye. She is the ultimate humbler. Plus, journaling, especially in a public space, requires oodles of introspection; Puterbaugh defines pride as a lack thereof. It’s hard to be proud with a partner who provides constant reminders of my ignorance and with a hobby which requires constant self-analyzing.

One area I can definitely use work is in the context of aids and punishment:

Punishing your horse without first considering that you might have made a mistake is an act of pride…The best riders are not so quick to blame the horse. Rather, they first question the clarity of their aids.

try to remain vigilant regarding my aids, and I certainly am conscious of my own ignorance, but it’s hard not to get frustrated when I feel like I’m asking perfectly and I’m still not getting the response I want. I need to try harder to look at first myself, and then Robbye.

How can I fix my pride? Puterbaugh recommends overcoming pride by using our reason: “Realize that dressage is difficult, and that all riders struggle on the long journey to become proficient”. Realize that everyone learns from someone; even the great stars and best teachers owe debt to other stars and teachers.

(Although I realize now that I probably highlighted this part not because it’s humbling, but because it’s uplifting. Wow, does that tell you something about my head-space or what?)

If geniuses need help and develop only slowly over time then what does that say about the rest of us? Dressage is a discipline that gives up its secrets only grudgingly. They have to be earned through grit and determination. Nothing of value comes easily.

What else did I learn about pride? Overall, I seemed to learn very little in this chapter. I hope that’s because I’m humble and sensitive to my own pride – and constantly working on it, since I know it’s a vice that I already have – and not because I’m too proud to recognize it.

Journal: Launch

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.