Lesson Recap: Separate Body Parts

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to get a lesson from my normal dressage trainer, Michele. Two lessons in a week! Exhausting but awesome.

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Kitty on shipping boots. Relevant!

Since I still felt like I was digesting Kim’s lesson, I was happy that Michele’s didn’t overlap at all. (I was also happy with the level of response, to both upward and downward transitions, I got from Robbye. She was much more forward and much more responsive, to my delight.)

This lesson was interesting. We started out doing some leg-yielding, which we haven’t worked on in…way too long. But Rob responded to my leg well, and when Michele started to change a few details of the yield, I knew that she was pleased that we had the basic move down.

For now, our biggest issue with the yield (and with bending, as well), is that Robbye likes to use her big strong shoulders for evil. So when I ask for a yield, she dumps all of her weight on her outside shoulder and lets her hind end trail back and out.

This issue was surprisingly easy to fix by closing my outside thigh and rein. Just by slowing the motion of her front half and encouraging the motion of the back half, we were able to accomplish a few very nice, very straight yields. Success!

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Apparently it’s a kitty kind of post.

We next moved onto yield against the wall. I’ve built a nice (giant, spike covered, monster occupied) wall in my mind in regards to this exercise- not only have I not practiced it for six months, but I had also completely forgotten about it.

Probably because I can’t seem to coordinate my silly body for the thing, and that frustrates the hell out of me.

Anyway, I did manage to understand a little more about what I need to do to accomplish the exercise successfully. For Shoulders of Doom Robbye, it actually takes a lot more outside aids than I expected – same as in the leg yield, I need to close those aids so that she doesn’t barrel through her shoulder. And of course I need to sit up straight but not tense, weight my seat bones, and ask for correct bend – all issues I’ve had with the exercise in the past.

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Charllye is clever enough for board games.

The best part of the lesson was that I got to see some improvements not just of the yield against the wall, but also from the yield against the wall. After spending so much energy moving Robbye’s body parts independently, we were able to achieve a really nice, round trot. In self-carriage. And forward. 

At the end, Michele remarked that she thinks we’re getting back to where we were before Christmas, and I actually am inclined to agree. We all know that working with horses is going to involve losing ground sometimes. It’s happened to me before, and it will again, but this time…I was just so excited about finally getting that frame, about having a forward horse, about maybe finally being competitive again, that when Robbye lost it all, I also lost it all too. Lost my patience, lost my ambition, lost my dedication.

This may be the worst backslide we’ve ever had, and one of the worst timed, but I know that I’ve grown as a rider from it. It was a lesson I needed to learn.

Now that I’ve learned it, though, can I get back to the progress?!

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Journal: A Whole Lot of Nothing

I’m way behind on my journal, which was the whole reason I started this blog a couple years ago. I just need to sit down and write it and try not to whine too much!

When I last journaled, I was longeing almost every day and asking for lots of long-and-low in an attempt to build her into a round front end. After a day off with an incredible migraine, I went right back to the longe. After kicking her butt on the longe (it’s really all about kicking butt with me and Rob. I should have named my blog something along those lines. “Kicking Butt: Establishing Dominance Between an Alpha Mare and an Alpha Woman”. I like it), I got on and Julie attempted to enforce forward by longeing us and smacking Rob with the longe whip when necessary. It…didn’t really work. Rob doesn’t respect the longe as a “scary” tool. I know now that incessant, loud, violent kicking works better than abusing her with the whip.

(I sound like a horse killer. Sheesh.)

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We got new fishies and the kitties LOVE them.

Saturday we were going to go on a trail ride, but Julie didn’t feel well so I groomed instead. Clipped hairy face and bridle path, trimmed her feathers and tail, considered for the millionth time roaching her mane. All in a day’s work!

Sunday I had a very crappy lesson. Nothing bad happened but…I didn’t come away with any takeaways. The way I see it – I just paid for half an hour of lesson that I could have accomplished myself. I hate wasting money, I hate having unproductive rides, and I hate that I’m upset with Michele for not being able to help us when it is truly not her fault. (I know that she’s frustrated with us too, which is another reason this lesson particularly bothered me.)

For two days I fiddle farted through the cold, not doing any riding. And trying not to think about riding.

Wednesday and Thursday I tried changing the subject by setting up some jumps – I need to start jumping again if I’m going to get over this stupid fear. So I set up what is now a big jump for me – probably around 2′, with cavaletti on each side to make a tiny hogsback. It looked scary – all 2′ by 2′ of it. So we did it once, I was scared but pleased with myself, and I didn’t want to mess it up so I quit there. Sheesh.

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Crappy picture of our crappy hogsback.

Thursday I planned to tackle it a million more times, but Robbye managed to break her reins (totally my fault but ugh…worst timing ever. Couldn’t it have happened when I was in a good place, psychologically?) while I was setting up the fences. So instead of one larger fence, I made several small ones (18″, mostly. Baby steps!), put on Robbye’s halter and roping reins, and jumped that way.

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The tack of champions, people.

Which ended up being a great confidence booster, because if we can do it without a bridle, of course we can do it with!

That Friday I took another day off, then Saturday I set up a course of poles on the ground and rode them bareback and with just my halter and roping reins. It was fun and pointless.

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(This is what happens when I have a pointless ride. I take stupid selfies. The horror!)

Sunday Julie and I took a trip to The Tack Trunk, my childhood tack store, which it closing/moving at the end of this month. Very bittersweet for me – but I managed to spend a gift certificate and some more money besides, so that was fun. We also visited our local Dover store, which we had never seen before. It was nice, but no Tack Trunk.

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(Bye forever, Tack Trunk…)

After that trip, I didn’t feel like going out to the barn. And I didn’t feel like riding the next day…or the next. I ended up taking an entire week of from riding, which is very unlike me. I cleaned my stall, I handed out cookies, and I didn’t do anything else. Maybe Robbye needed the break and maybe she didn’t, but I know that I did.

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Take a week off of riding and get a whole lot of ponies cleaned. Aww, happy plastic ponies :3

Saturday, I was ready to get back to work. We were hosting a clinic at our farm (!!!!) on desensitization on the ground, which I’m still working on documenting. I was planning on riding before the clinic (I was just auditing/photographing), but when I got to the barn there was…a lot of mayhem. I wanted to back out, but I ended up riding and am proud that I did. It felt a lot like a show atmosphere in a familiar environment, and I was forced to work through my nervousness. Good lesson for me.

Sunday I rode with draw reins and Rob put in a great effort.

Monday I had my first official Zero Day, but the Zero part of it ended up being a bust because Robbye was FORWARD. So I basically sat in two point, with no saddle or bridle, while she galloped around. MY MUSCLES.

Tuesday I had my lesson!

Last night I worked on what we had learned at our lesson. Overall, I am very pleased. I got a few great upward, butt clench transitions – I would have taken even one, so to get three or four was a great accomplishment. Her downwards are not immediate, but I can feel her immediately trying. I know that it takes muscles and effort to stop correctly, so I’m happy just for her to immediately react, even if that doesn’t result in an immediate cessation of motion.

So that’s the past three weeks of horsie for me. I think that my small psychological downfall was inevitable considering how stressed out I’ve been about her progress. But the break and especially the lesson have brought me back up to hopeful and excited.


As a sidenote: if you haven’t yet read SprinklerBandits’ Ammy Manifesto, please go do it. It’s inspiring and uplifting. I know I really needed to read it!

my creativity: worked on my pony room, wrote lots of blog posts, got out my big camera and took clinic photos, started a blog for work

Lesson Recap: Trying a Trainer

(I’m way behind on my journal, but I don’t have anything to say about the past couple weeks and, in fact, am somewhat depressed about our [lack of] progress. So instead of catching up I’m going to write about my lesson tonight – a lesson with a new trainer we’re trying. Maybe I’ll catch up on my journal tomorrow.)

In my first lesson with Michele, two years ago now, she completely changed my equitation. She critiqued literally every piece of my body – moving me from a bad hunter perch to what (I hope!) will someday be a good dressage seat.

In my first lesson with Kim, she threw all of that away and told me to ride like a cowboy.

Robbye was in a crappy mood. She was hormonal and ouchy in her ovaries – which, believe me, I can completely empathize with. I’m certainly not blaming her for expressing her discomfort. But it was a a horrible day to have a first impression to a new trainer…and on another hand the perfect day for it. She’s seen us at our worst, now, people!

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Look! One picture! And it’s from a week ago!

So of course she was completely sucking back, plodding along like she’s half Belgian draft or something. I’d ask her to move on and she’d resist, whether by ignoring, kicking, or throwing her head. Then when I finally got her going, she would blow through my whoas.

With Robbye, it always seems to come back to a dominating relationship. I absolutely 100% have to be in charge of her, and I have to remind her every single time she crosses the line, even a little bit, that I am the boss mare.

So, after five minutes of watching us plod along, Kim had me absolutely wailing on Robbye’s sides with my legs. BUT – she also had my initial ask being as quiet as possible. Her cue, and now our cue, to walk on is literally tightening my butt cheeks and nothing else. When Rob inevitably doesn’t respond – thump on her sides as violently as I can until she’s galloping.

And I mean these were cowboy kicks. Like I couldn’t keep my stirrups. I felt like I was lifting my feet so they were at ear level.

Then when we finally got a committed forward, it was time to ask for a whoa. Here, she wants my cue to be much more of an obvious whoa. But then if she blows through it, I immediately have to yank her off balance. And then do it again. And then run her into a wall.

I know all of this sounds harsh. But Robbye is big, she’s insensitive, and she’s dominant. And, worst of all, she has no work ethic.

(Or maybe the worst of all is that she’s a mare…really, that accounts for a lot of our problems.)

She can deal with harsh punishments. And she will, until she realizes that this is her job and she has to be serious about it.

So that was the main takeaway. I need to ride like a cowboy, and think like a horse (or like a man, as Kim put it. Horses are a lot like men, she says.). And I can’t let Robbye get away with dominating me anymore. If I’m at all serious about this, we’re never going to progress with our relationship as it is.

Sigh.

Of course, there were lots of other points and cool things, too:

  • Kim rode Robbye. It was the first time Robbye has ever been ridden by a trainer, or really anyone other than my club. It was enlightening, to say the least. Kim kicked her butt just like she had taught me, and then after about 10 minutes had her going in a nice frame. A FRAME! It’s there! It’s possible!
  • She told me that Rob is a tough horse. It feels nice to hear that,
  • She also told me that she can tell that I’m serious – which is even nicer to hear. I think that’s the one thing I have going for me at the moment – I’m truly dedicated and willing to put in the work.
  • She wants me wearing tall boots. I didn’t know that in dressage, the stiffness of tall boots helps a lot with cues.
  • The way she wants me to ask for a framed up head and neck is much different than what Michele taught me. Instead of holding the outside rein and playing with my fingers on the inside rein (which I assume will be the norm eventually), she instead used rather significant pulls on Robbye’s mouth, alternating reins, to make her constantly think and stay light. When Rob inevitably lowered her head, tucked her nose, and started using her neck muscles, Kim gave the inside rein all the way up her neck. Like, completely released! This is very very different than my strategy with Michele, but Robbye seemed to respond very well. A few times, when I released the inside rein she rounded up even more than she already had!
  • One of Kim’s show horses is a draft x – which is really nice, because she has that cold-blooded experience that’s just a little different than the ubiquitous warmblood.

This new “don’t give Robbye even an inch” strategy is unfortunately really going to mess with my Zero Days goal. But, Kim also emphasized that I shouldn’t ever ride Rob when I’m not 100% ready for a fight. So maybe on my crappy days, I’ll do something other than a bareback ride. I can make a zero day out of dusting cobwebs or something.

Overall, I’m very happy with the lesson and am excited that we have something new to work on. And to have a horse who moves off simply from a butt clench?! After three years with my big, thick-skinned mare, I’m excited to install some sensitivity.

Holidays and the End of the Year

It’s December 30, and I’m not feeling any better about my situation with Robbye. It’s so frustrating because I was feeling SO AWESOME about our progress before the indoor was closed for a week. How can we lose so much in a week?

It’s also the end of the year which means I’m sad about the goals I made for 2014:

Easily Achievable
1.       Jump 3’ bareback and bridleless – Got up to 2’6″ish, which I guess is pretty good.
2.      Complete a dressage test with happy results – Walnut Creek Stables CT 3/30
3.       Complete a show jumping course with happy results – Walnut Creek Stables CT 3/30
Stretch
1.       Complete a horse trial – Entered but scratched
2.       Complete a recognized event (horse trial or dressage) – Same as above
3.       Complete a Novice CT – Did begin a Novice jumper round, but we were over-faced. Did complete half of a 3′ jumper round, before I fell off. Our dressage wasn’t even close to Novice level. Or even BN.
 Get us Both More Experience
1.       Trailer out 20 times – Ended with 17, with the final being my traumatic trip to the STB World Show.
2.       Compete or exhibit 8 times – Ended with 7, with the final being that same traumatic show.

So ya, only crossed off 2 of the 8.

But then I’ve been reading all the bloggers talking about their years in review…and so many people are disappointed. Which makes me feel better about our failures at jumping and dressage. We ARE moving slowly and I’ve always said that I’m okay with it. Why suddenly is it bothering me so much? Maybe because I got a taste of what I will have, dressage-wise, a few weeks ago.

I did have a (comparatively) really good ride last week. We jumped around the indoor and I focused on relaxing, paying attention to my equitation and letting Robbye manage herself. I put one jump up “high” – which was probably 2′ – and a vertical with no fill. And this fall I was doing 3′ with fill! Ugh. Anyway, it was a step in the right direction I guess.

We had a lesson on Friday where Michele confirmed that we’ve lost ground. At least now I know that I wasn’t making it up! She did say that our downward transitions are much better – which now that she’s pointed it out, I can see it too. It used to take us 15 strides to go from a trot to a halt, and now it takes us probably 4. Improvement! She also said that even though we’ve lost the wonderful frame, we haven’t lost the build up to that frame. So we still have the bending/straightness, the engaged hind end and the tracking up. We just need the round back and lowered poll/relaxed throatlatch again.

I think I’m going to try to longe in sidereins for a few days during this second round of holiday days. Maybe that will remind her what her dressage job is.

Hoping 2015 brings us a new beginning!

January

My second catch-up post. Hopefully there will be another with pictures from the past two months.
I’ve been working on my own straightness, both in lessons and out. I like to twist my body to try to manipulate Robbye’s and…that’s not how riding works. I need to focus on keeping my own body perfectly aligned with hers, except when I specifically need to move my shoulders or head in order to correct her. No other times!
We did have one jump school this month. In preparation for a CT I entered (which we didn’t end up going to because of the weather), I set up a fun little “scary” course of 18″ jumps. Robbye was great and didn’t even look at any of the scary stuff. I think know that my confidence has a lot to do with her confidence…I just need to remember this at shows.
We also kicked transitions’ butts this month. Michele has been very impressed with our upward and downward transitions, including to and from the canter. Woohoo! Unfortunately, we lost the progress we had made getting Robbye round and on the bit. I stopped longeing her on the side-reins once a week, and I think that made a huge difference. I did start back up, however, and for this week’s lesson I actually spent the whole lesson with side reins on. It was amazing. I felt like we were total “big girls”. It was nice, too, because Robbye actually spent a lot of the time with slack side-reins…I think she’s starting to figure out that this is where I need her to carry her body.
Unfortunately, that awesome lesson was the beginning of another week of extreme cold. This winter has just been extreme in terms of temperatures. Fortunately, I’ve found other ways to keep myself occupied. Zeke and I went to a movie with his work on Tuesday, a professional talk (Dayton .NET Developers) on Wednesday, and a talk about sediment at the Cincinnati Terminal Museum last night. Tonight we’re going to see the Dayton Philharminc. (AND ALL THESE EVENTS WERE FREE!) I also am using a gym membership, which has been fun. I even got two free personal training sessions – I used the first on Wednesday, and specifically asked for dressage-muscles-workouts. I was please with the workout, although I wasn’t as sore as I thought I’d be! I’m looking forward to my second workout on Monday. My PT is also collecting some price information for me for Monday so…we’ll see about that. I would love to join the gym, but I just don’t want to spend the money. I don’t know.
I’m reading through Centered Riding right now. I really should take notes on this blog of specific things I need to work on. That book was written for a stressed, detail-obsessed rider like me.

Missed a Month

Well, I haven’t journaled for almost a month. I have missed it, now that I start writing again. Unfortunately, Robbye and I didn’t accomplish a whole lot in November:

Yep, she spent two weeks being sick. Ugh. It was not fun.

Anyway, here is the short and sweet of what we spent November doing:

9: Went for a short road ride, then Robbye gave pony rides to two very very beginner riders. She was a very good girl.

10: We had some drama-free o/f work, then rode down the lane. Had a fun gallop on the way back from the lane.

11: Free jumped in the indoor. Robbye had way too much fun and was going out of her way to jump the jumps.

12: Had dramatic dressage ride. No longer remember what the drama was!

13: Had a lesson all about relaxing. Something I probably really needed, judging by the description of the ride the day before. Michele had me ride basically without reins, and just to pay attention to letting myself stop micromanaging. This is something I really really need to work on, or Robbye and I are not going to have a happy relationship.

14. I took the day off for my birthday. Well, really, I took it off to spend six hours at the vet with my cats. Sigh.

15. Spent the evening at the barn for dog agility practice. When I went to bring Robbye in from the pasture she was very lame and depressed. Could barely move, although she did put a bit of weight on the leg. She was swollen from her hoof all the way up to her butt, and had a temperature. Of course the leg in question was the one that stocks up normally, which made the whole situation even scarier. We scheduled a vet appointment for the next morning.

16. Spent the day at the barn waiting for the vet. He diagnosed lymphangitis, and prescribed antibiotics, painkillers, 20 minutes of cold hosing twice a day, and 20 minutes of hand walking twice a day.

17 – 21. Went to the barn twice a day (it was a rough week) in order to hand walk and cold hose. She got better very quickly, thankfully. After the first day she was still lame, but wasn’t nearly as depressed or pathetic. On the 21st, my vet told me that I could gradually (over ten days) work up to regular work, starting with twenty minutes of walking under saddle.

22-27. Gradually increased work, usually doing 20-30 minutes of basic gaits without asking for engagement or mental work. I really tried to make it easy.

28: Robbye got a day off, which I think she needed at that point. Julie and I went on a drive with Yogi (a holiday tradition).

29: Another day off for the holiday.

30: Finally feeling like we were back to work, we spent the Saturday afternoon jumping in the sunshine. The jumps weren’t high (18″ and crossrails), but I decided that we really needed to start working again. We fought a bit – she didn’t want to listen – but in the end it was a good ride. After two weeks off, this felt like a normal ride.

1: Robbye got the day off, but Julie and I went to the SPHO-OH year end awards. They were awesome! Julie won champion year end high point elite equitation, champion year end high point elite pleasure, and fourth place year end driving horse. I was surprised to win fourth place in year end adult Showmanship and adult equitation. The prizes were awesome and there was minimal drama. Woo!

2: I had late meetings, and Robbye got another day off. Dang.

3: Robbye and I had a short and sweet ride in the indoor. I rode bareback and just with a halter and leadrope, which I’ve been doing a lot during her rehab. She really has gotten very responsive to my legs and seat in terms of gait/tempo, although I still can’t steer with my seat. This is definitely something I’d like to work on more.

Anyway, the ride was great. I worked on canter transitions (without using the reins, which is hard for me!) and she did a great job. Somewhere along the line Robbye learned walk to canter transitions without me really teaching her. I guess this is the reward for training your horse…they become easier to ride and easier to train!

Lesson tonight! We’re trying out a dressage saddle that I got on loan right before she got sick. I hope it works – would be an amazing Christmas present.

Lost a Couple Weeks

Ugh. Having a crappy month, that’s for sure. I think it’s probably a combination of my mood and Robbye’s mood, but I think it also may be more than that. I’ve started treating Robbye for ulcers, and I’m hoping to see some improvement in her demeanor and work ethic. Hopefully.

The rides since I last wrote have been 90% crappy, and as a result I really haven’t felt like writing about them. Here’s a short recap:

Friday before last: Lesson where we worked hard on working hard. We’re starting to get her round and on the bit. About halfway through the lesson I accidentally dropped my stirrups and just knew that I wasn’t going to be allowed to pick them back up again. And I wasn’t!

Saturday before last: Bareback, we worked on some of our exercises from our lesson. Overall an okay ride.

Sunday before last: Our jumping lesson with Adriene. It was…dramatic. And crappy. And very disheartening. The exercise was something I believe we should have been able to do easily, but we absolutely couldn’t manage it. I don’t want to write about it – we didn’t learn anything from it. The main lesson Adriene wanted to teach me was that I need to stop making everything more complicated and stop getting emotional when Robbye is disobedient. These both boil down to RELAX.

Monday before last: Took the day off, sad.

Last Tuesday: Practiced Adriene’s exercise, made a little easier (added a stride and just used ground poles). She was okay, but I was still frustrated, and she still threw a temper tantrum.

Last Wednesday: It was really cold and I was discouraged. I didn’t ride.

Last Thursday: Robbye and I fought about dressage.

Friday: Robbye and Michele and I fought about dressage. We started out working on roundness and on-the-bit-ness, but that soon turned into combination Robbye-issue-resolution and Annye-relaxation. I again heard that I need to calm down, not take things personally, and RELAX. The lesson was not good, but I’m trying really hard to learn this hard lesson, especially since Michele and Adriene both tried to teach it to me, independently and within the same week. I’m really putting a lot of effort into being relaxed!

Saturday: I wasn’t relaxed. Robbye kept leaving the ring and whacked me pretty hard on a fence. It wasn’t until after this ride that I decided to really consciously work on the RELAX lesson.

Sunday: Took a trip to Twin Towers. It started out crappy – Robbye was slow and distracted, I was scared, and she was running out of everything. We had a huge fight at a fence (one we’ve done before…), and I think I may have finally gotten through to her. At one point we had an amazing gallop across the park – I really felt like we were doing cross country! We jumped the jumps that showed up in front of us, and we really got moving pretty good, too. It was just enough well-behaved awesome to get me excited about riding again.

Our ride last night reinforced the feeling. I was very careful to be relaxed and calm, even when there were scary things (tractors) on the other side of the treeline. I worked on steering with my seat and laying off of the mouth contact, and, though she did leave the arena once, it was much less dramatic than the last few times. When I cantered, I got a regular lazy slow canter…until I really asked for a canter – and then I got her gallop from Twin Towers! It was instant and magnificent, and we jumped out of the gallop a couple times just for fun. We also did our ground pole exercise, with me making an effort to RELAX, lay off of the reins, and steer with my seat and body.

So, lessons from this funk:

  1. I need to buckle down and kick Robbye’s butt sometimes. She’s big enough and old enough that she can deal with a CTJ meeting.
  2. I need to give myself a break sometimes. This is the first really hard thing I’ve done in my life – it’s going to take a long time to learn, and I’m going to have setbacks. I have to be able to forgive myself of that.
  3. I need to RELAX all of the time. My being tense only makes our issues a million times worse. It makes me a bad rider, and Robbye picks up on it and takes advantage of it.
  4. Robbye is fit. I can ask her to gallop across the park and she won’t die. If she has to jump four 2′ jumps along the way, all the better!
  5. I still love Robbye. I still think she has a lot of potential. At the beginning of this funk, I considered that maybe we weren’t a good match…but I don’t think that now. We have a lot to work on, but we’ve both made so much progress, and it’s worth it to me to keep working with her.