Journal: Vacation Mode

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My last journal was about my successful hunter show (still so excited for that!). The week after the show, I was in full honeymoon/vacation mode – we were leaving a week after the show, and I found it very difficult to maintain an semblance of motivation.

So Sunday Rob got a rest, then Monday we had a wonderful bareback ride in the rain. The ride was an incredible bit of sensory overload – warm Robbye, cool rain, and a nice double rainbow for the eyes.

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Tuesday we had a short dressage ride; my mom and brother came to watch, and I really wanted to show my mom the progress the two of us have made. She did seem impressed! Then, Mom and Connor cooled her out. I just love that I can put non-riders or out-of-shape-riders on Rob and trust that she’ll take care of them.

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Two more days of lazy no-rides, then Friday we had a GREAT longe with lots of transitions, and particular emphasis on the downwards. She was awesome. I was very pleased.

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Saturday I tried to replicate that work under saddle. I shortened my reins a tad and focused on working through my core, and Robbye really stepped up to the plate. Longing really does a lot for Rob – both mentally and physically.

Sunday I flew through my barn chores and then it was time for THE HONEYMOON. Which was amazing. I’m still planning on documenting it here, for my own sake.

The next Monday was my first day back home, and of course I didn’t feel like riding. I was in vacation mode, still! So I spent a day grooming – buzzing her roach down, clipping her face, giving her a good curry. She was in a horrible mood – I should have seen the next few days coming…

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Playing with her head just to show off her nice haircut. How sweet!

Tuesday was our first ride back. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was bad. There was a lot of random stopping, kicking, protesting, and general brattiness. Her upward transitions were absolutely nonexistent. It was like she had regresssed a year in the week she had off. This is the TRUE vacation mode, right here!

We did end with some good work, and the next day I tried riding bareback in an effort to create less of a “work” environment. I thought a more relaxed ensemble would inspire some more compliant work. Unfortunately, Rob was still in vacation mode and, riding bareback, I was left with fewer tools to fight with.

At this point I was mad. I had just spent a week having so much fun, and here I am, not excited to be back, having to fight to enjoy my hobby. Those rides were not fun, and she was being a bitch on the ground, too. Time for a intervention.

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So…back to the longe! The longe is such a safe place for us. It’s a perfect way for me to instill dominance, forward, attentiveness, and roundness all at the same time. Robbye also seems to appreciate the structure – I think it’s an activity she genuinely enjoys.

I completely kicked her ass on the longe. FORWARD TRANSITION FORWARD ROUND FORWARD PROMPT-WHOA FORWARD TRANSITION TRANSITION TRANSITION FORWARD FORWARD FORWARD.

And she was great! Willing to work and trying very hard to please. We got a good workout, and I honestly felt like our relationship immediately improved.

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Mom and Rob!

She and I just really can’t like each other unless I kick her butt every once in a while.

So that was a great workout, and a great exercise for our relationship (and my sanity). Friday we did the same thing but shorter, then she got two days off to think about her life.

Monday, it was time to get back to riding. So I longed her as usual, but with her saddle on instead of her surcingle. Then, I got on her, changing nothing else. Julie longed us, providing a little motivation with the whip when necessary.

It was good. She wasn’t as forward or as prompt as I would have liked, but there was no kicking, no bucking, no brattiness. She was submissive and fairly forward, so I was happy with our progress.

Tuesday, our trainer, Kim longed us. Now that was an experience. It’ll get its own post!

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Journal: We Don’t Need No Arena

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Robbye’s been getting more and more ring sour. I really don’t blame her – we’ve been drilling dressage and not much else for months now, and I’ve been too much of a wuss to leave the arena. Well more and more we’ve been moving those dressage rides out of the sandbox!

At the very end of May, we had a great ride in one of our fields. I downloaded a Tabata app, put on an audiobook and snapped her rope reins to her halter, and off we went to do some trot and canter sets. I was really pleased with how she did at the sets – moved out even as she got tired – and it really was a superb workout.

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Unfortunately, we ended up having a little too much fun. We were on our final set and both wanted to gallop up the final hill. I said, “Go ahead!”, and she said “Woo hoo!” with a couple little bucks, and I said *thump* as my sweaty basketball shorts slipped right off of her and landed on the hard, dry ground. Ugh.

You know, sometimes falls are nothing. Land on your feet or your butt, pop right up, sand and dirt are soft! And others hurt. It seems to me like it’s one or the other, with nothing in between.

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Unfortunately, this was a hurt fall. I actually didn’t get back onto my feet for fifteen seconds or so, which is unusual for me. I also whacked my helmet pretty good, and since I wasn’t riding with any tack I really didn’t want to get back on and risk falling onto a broken helmet! So I took a few days off while a new helmet was shipped to me. It worked out well, since I was so sore.

(Unfortunately, the day after my fall was our annual Mud Run. I LOVE this event but it’s not fun with a sore back, shoulder, and thigh!)

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Me and Zeke with two of my brothers and their SOs. Cutest prom photo EVER.

When my new helmet arrived I was raring to ride again – a good feeling! A fall with no lingering fear will probably help my confidence considerably.

Two days in a row, we had stupendous dressage rides in the fields. Julie did some driving dressage work with Yogi while I rode, and Robbye was 100% focused on me even as the cart clattered around.

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What a picture. So romantic!

Sunday was our hunter pace, then Tuesday I had an uneventful lesson where we worked on getting a consistent roundness and correct bend. Kim had a ton of nice things to say about our progress, though it’s gotten to the point now where it’s hard to see the day-to-day changes.

Wednesday I longed, and Robbye was amazing. Nailing transitions, moving out, acting like a pro. I think she likes longeing.

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Friday we jumped in the outdoor at “show height” because… Saturday we went to a hunter show! I’m very excited to tell you all how that went 🙂

It’s Show Time! Ohio Standardbreds and Friends Hunter Pace

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In case you were thinking my horse was small – here’s proof to the contrary >.<

Immediately off of the trailer, Robbye was…out of control. Her anxiety just completely takes over her, and she can’t focus on me to save her life. She doesn’t bolt or kick, but she completely ignores me, screaming and trotting in circles, to the point of running into and over me. That’s just absolutely not acceptable for any horse, much less for one as big as her.

(I don’t understand where all of this anxiety comes from. Since I bought her at barely three years old, Rob and I have traveled frequently. Trail rides, shows, fun little events like this hunter pace. Why does my calm, cold-blooded mare get so scared when we go somewhere new?! Maybe it’s because I get so scared. That’s probably it. )

And she was so distracted and nervous that I couldn’t get a chain over her nose to be able to control her. I have lots of “lessons learned” from this trip, and one is that I’m going to put the chain on in the trailer, right before she gets off, from now on. She respects the chain and I usually only have to bop her with it once, so…it’s worth it for my safety.

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Slowly reconnecting with her brain…

Ordinarily at this point at a show I’d tie Rob to a trailer and let her scream herself silly. Well I’m trying to learn from you all, and not just from the people I watch in real life, and I know many of you use hand-walks to calm your horses at strange locations. Why have I always just left Robbye to cry herself silly? Probably because I was busy crying MYSELF silly! But the hand-walking worked very well; as we made our way among the trailers and lots of sane, happy horses, Robbye inched away from insanity and back toward grazing and her usual cold-bloodedness. By the time we got back to the trailer she was only crying once in a while, and was willing to eat hay like the big girl she is.

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The pace course was gorgeous.

(I also used the hand-walking as a sort of dominance warm-up time, since her submission is our #1 issue right now. We’d take a few steps, halt, then back. Take a few steps, halt, then do a turn on the forehand. Walk a few steps, then graze for a minute. This got her paying attention to me, submitting to me, and relaxing.)

Anyway, I know this is all super riveting, but it was actually a great break-through for both of us!

I had decided, knowing that there would be an empty dressage court, a warm up arena looking a lot like a stadium course, and a hunter pace covered in cross country jumps, that I was going to pretend this was a horse trial. So we tacked up for dressage, then proceeded to absolutely rock our “dressage test”.

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Sane horses can eat at the trailer.

This is the first time ever that I’ve been able to replicate our under saddle work away from home. Ever. And considering the way this day started – completely out of control – I am absolutely thrilled. She was round, forward, willing, and happy. I felt confident, brave, and really really proud of my horse. After a long dressage school, we walked straight through the trailer parking – with zero drama! – and popped over the warm up jumps for our “stadium round”. They were only about a foot high, and I was in my dressage saddle so I’m sure I wasn’t pretty…but man, was it fun. When Rob realized it was time to jump she just lit up, and happily galloped over the little fences. I’m calling it a clear round!

At this point she was completely pooped and so was I.

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Aren’t we a cute team!

We each got a short break, then it was time for our actual pace. We didn’t do all of the fences – just the small ones – but I am just so proud of both myself and my mare. Though she was tired, she was very willing, and offered some gallop even at the end of the 30 minute trail ride.

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We care more about documentation than winning the pace. Selfie break!

(It really was a great workout for both of us, too. I really pushed her to keep working even when she was tired, and pushed myself to not feel guilty about it!)

Really, I would have been happy if we had headed home after our dressage school. We got past her new-place-crazies, I got on by myself and worked through her giraffe stage, ending with the quality of work I would expect at home. The fact that we followed that up with a great little jumping round, and then followed that up with a trail ride, and on that trail ride jumped some more!? 

What a successful day. I was brave. She was brave. We had fun and definitely learned a lot.

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 🙂

Clinic Recap: Ground Desensitization

The barn where Robbye is boarded is a small, private farm about ten miles outside of the city. I am so lucky to have an incredible facility: indoor and outdoor with great footing , impeccable care, no drama, and a clean and safe environment. But we only have 11 horses total, and my club of three compromises a full half of the boarders.

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So weird to see our indoor fill up!

What I’m trying to get at is that we don’t get the kind of bustle that a big barn does. We had, until last week, only one trainer, who usually comes once a week. We don’t all haul to shows together. Usually there are only one or two of us riding at a time, or even in the barn at a time. And we have never hosted any events.

That made last weekend even more special: my club-mate, Kathy, and our barn owner, Carolyn, organized a clinic at our farm!

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Robbye didn’t participate, so I photographed instead.

We ended up having 11 horses and half dozen or so auditors for a three hour clinic on desensitization. The clinician was a local trainer named Helge (pronounced like “Helga”), who is a trainer popular with the trail riders because of his natural horsemanship-inspired trail rides. He emphasizes confidence above all else while riding, which many re-riders obviously appreciate.

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Lizzie and Kathy tackle a pipe with empty, rattling cans attached.

Other than the bad rap it gets on CotH, this clinic was actually my first experience with natural horsemanship. I have to say: I was very pleased with Helge. Generally his techniques lined up with what I have learned from dog training (I have much more experience training dogs than I do horses), which I found particularly interesting. The parallels between training predator and prey aren’t usually that obvious, in my experience.

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This horse was particularly tolerant.

At one point, he was teaching the clinic how to back their horses. The ask happens in four steps, Helge says:

  1. Hold the lead rope slack in one hand the the training stick in the other. Face the horse’s chest and ask for the back by waving the stick between your hip and chest.
  2. If the horse doesn’t respond, move to tapping the slack portion of the lead rope with the training stick.
  3. If the horse doesn’t respond, move to tapping the metal snap of the lead rope with the training stick.
  4. If the horse doesn’t respond, move to tapping the horse in the nose with the training stick.

If at any point in the process the horse backs, there is an immediate release. And, Helge emphasized, the transitions between the steps have to be abrupt and obvious – he believes that faking out the horse, or failing to commit to an ask, is not fair to the horse.

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“This tarp is NOT scary!”

He also understands that of course no one wants to hit their horse – or even tap him on the nose. His rebuttal is that he’d rather hit the horse once and teach the lesson, never having to do it again, than ask half-assed every single time. One, assertive, dominant ask.

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Horses fail to react while Helge’s assistant shot a gun inside.

Helge used many different “toys” to demonstrate desensitization: a giant ball, a bull whip, balloons and flags, a firing gun, a pipe with empty rattling cans, and more. The approach to familiarization was the same for each toy, however. First of all, the handler must always be calm and confident. Second, if at all possible have the horse follow the scary toy. This makes the toy less intimidating, since it’s not chasing the horse, and also encourages the horse’s curiosity. Finally, a release is always granted immediately after the horse moves toward or accepts the scary situation.

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Hoola hoops aren’t scary either!

I think my main takeaway lesson from this clinic is that horses are a lot less flighty than we expect; in a comfortable environment with a calm, confident handler, even something that we, as humans, expect to be scary to a horse is really…not a big deal. There were zero equine freak outs at this clinic. Several miniscule spooks, a couple of hairy eyeballs, but no drama. Even at the gunshots.

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Scared of the ball, but not being dramatic.

The clinic was an excellent example of a horse taking his behavioral cues from his handler. If these handlers could replicate their demeanors in a saddle and in a strange place, they’d have virtually bomb proof horses. This is a lesson I’ve been trying to learn for three years now, especially since I’m an anxious person with a mare who is particularly sensitive to me. This clinic was incredible proof that the lesson is valid.

(And it was a great party, too – I can’t wait to have another one at “home”!)

Sur Isaac

My aunt’s OTStB, Yogi, is in this blog quite a bit. He’s Robbye’s buddy, he goes on most of our club adventures, and is quite a character. He lives at the boarding barn with the rest of the club.

However, Julie also has another horse: Sur Isaac, or “Newton” is a ~2008, probably full-blooded Arab. We think he was bred for western events, and we think he was shown in halter at some point. Beyond that, we don’t know a lot about him. He lives at Julie’s house for now, and has a really great set up with a shed stall and small run. She eventually wants to do Combined Driving Events with him!

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Newton sneaking into his tack room garage.

Besides being very…opinionated, Newton and Robbye are complete opposites. Newt is hot hot hot, reactive, and clever. He’s dainty and extremely agile. And he’s PONY SIZED.

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Newton’s first time in this second life of his carrying a rider. I seriously doubt he had ever had a rider before us. (Sorry for cutting off his adorable head! Julie was afraid he’d bolt off if she walked too far away. This was pre-professional training.)

We don’t think he was ever ridden before, and we had difficulty breaking him to the saddle and to a rider. Julie tried breaking him to a cart and harness, and he resisted that too. For that reason, Julie sent Newt to a trainer for 60 days this November/December. Hailey did an incredible job with him, and a couple weeks ago Julie rode him for the first time.

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Adorable.

He was incredibly well-behaved. No bolting, no silly spooking, and no jumping into laps. He was a little hesitant at first about the increased weight (Hailey is tiny!), but he was willing to walk forward, bend, and accept some contact. What a change from two months before.

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Hard to believe he and Robbye are the same age. What completely different horses.

Julie has been paying our barn owner a small fee to trailer over and use our indoor, so hopefully I’ll have more successful Newton stories in the future!