You know what I was trying to explain yesterday? Well, last night proved a good example.
It was cold. Extremely cold by SC standards with a nasty wind on top of it but I wanted to get a ride in before the five solid days of rain in the forecast. I didn’t really have much of a plan going in likely just continuing to get comfortable with his canter and transitions into and out of it.
I wasn’t even thinking as I brought everyone in for dinner and then threw Gem and Pete hay while I took H’Appy out to ride in the arena. He was perfectly fine until we entered and he looked around realizing they weren’t in sight.
It’s been a long time since I’ve left them inside while I rode and it didn’t even dawn on me it would be an issue. As he spun around the mounting block it quickly sunk in that I had my hands full.
After working a while to reinstall that standing still was not negotiable, I mounted up and we walked off. He was tense and felt ready to explode but I knew it was just being nervous out all alone in the world. I didn’t agree that he should feel that way, but I understood.
I forced myself to remain as calm as possible, making sure my weight was in my heels and my hips were open and allowing him to relax instead of getting tense and creating more tension in his back. One piece of advice I got a long, long time ago and stuck with me was that the rider and horse should always equal 10. When he comes out at a 2 I need to bring the energy in myself up to an 8. Last night he was already a 9, so mine needed to be a calm and quiet 1.
We walked. He cried out for his friends a few times. He curled behind the bit and shook his head. I thought about how to react and how to help him.
Circles. Bend. Square turns. Walking over ground poles. Halting a million times. Always keeping him moving. Always making him check in to see what we would do next.
It took a while but eventually he started to halt when I asked with a light squeeze on the reins. Lots of praise.
A while later he started to walk off again without a tantrum. Lots of praise.
A while later he lowered his head and relaxed.
It wasn’t the ride I had planned or really even wanted. I wanted to canter. I wanted to trot. More importantly though I wanted yet another positive experience to continue to build his trust in me. I wanted him to continue to learn that I’m fair and I’ll reward good behavior.
I’ll hop back on him again Friday after work. I haven’t decided yet if the horses will go in the barn or not. I need to work on him being able to ride all alone, but I also don’t want to blow his mind so I think I’ll leave them out and maybe try an every other ride situation.
I’d also love to trailer out to my old Trainer’s barn to string together some jumps in a small course. It would test his brain off property which is something I haven’t done since July, so hopefully I can squeeze that in between Dusty working Saturday and celebrating his birthday Sunday.
Gem was a pretty straight forward ride. Okay…those of you who have met her can stop laughing now. Seriously. I’ll wait.
Done? Good. Lets move on.
Honestly though, while she was a twisty, turny pretzel and was OPINIONATED about literally everything she could formulate an opinion about, the actual act of riding her didn’t take up a whole lot of my grey matter. A huge part of this was due to the fact that I had been riding her for almost a decade and knew exactly how she would respond to any stimulus, or lack of one, but most of it was due to the fact that Gem had one response: get tense, hollow and speed up. Put leg on? Speed up. Take it off? Speed up. Ask for bend? How about we speed up instead. Point to a jump? Lets go faster! You get the point. I had to focus a lot on what my body was doing and how I was asking for things, but it wasn’t what I would call a puzzling ride. A frustrating one, mostly, but not mentally challenging.
Maybe it will make more sense as I start talking about the Big Orange Butthead.
I find H’Appy to be the polar opposite of Gem in nearly every way. Which was sorta the point of getting him. Where she was physically challenging to stay with, he is a pretty easy and comfortable couch to sit on. But where she was a bit of a mental coast, he requires me to call in to service tiny neurons that have been hibernating for a long, long time.
My rides of late have been a lot of mental checking in with myself and trying to figure out the pieces to his puzzle and not only in a “is he lame again or just being lazy?” scenario. It took me a long while to figure out the best plan of attack, and then actually convince myself to do it, during his early ride temper tantrums. I need to sit silently, calmly and ignore the bejeesus out of him while expecting him to do what I am asking. When I do that and ignore all his evasions and keep on carrying on like he is behaving under me, he very quickly settles down and does what I ask of him. Not letting myself get bated into a tug of war game I can’t win is hard, but worth the self restraint.
As I ride him and he starts to shift his reactions under me, I am always having to think “Okay, he is now doing this so what can I do?” He gets both easily distracted and easily bored, so I can’t just power around the arena at the trot for an hour and call it a good ride. Transitions are a must. Changing geometry, different patterns, new shapes are a must.
I’m not really articulating my point very well here and it is frustrating me as I try to write this. With Gem I got on and I rode. Not always pretty and not always well, but I rode and I checked out on my life and it was easy in that regard. With H’Appy I end the rides feeling a bit mentally tired from always checking in with my position, my aides and then coming up with solutions to keep him engaged and working. With him this shifts throughout the ride multiple times as his energy levels and dedication to the effort waxes and wanes which keeps me always thinking, planning and changing it as it progresses.
Sure, having a trainer would help relieve me of some of this, but I am really enjoying this new to me part of riding I never had before. When Gem was new to me I was a lot less educated than I am now and I just fuddled through it. With H’Appy I’m really trying to approach him more systematically and make new mistakes rather than repeating old ones. It means I’m a bit more fatigued at the end of the ride and having to do more research on exercises to work through, but it also means that my comfort level with him is expanding and I am learning a lot about both of us.
I feel deep down in my gut that H’Appy could turn out to be an amazing horse for me. Just enough difficulty to keep me learning, growing and not getting complacent, but easy enough to regain my confidence and feel able to explore new adventures. I also have a nagging and very depressing sensation that he will not be sound enough for long enough to ever reach that potential, but I am trying to drown that voice out. Time will tell how all this plays out, but for now I ‘m enjoying the mental workout he gives me even when our rides last all of 25 minutes.
I’m sitting outside my work having locked my keys inside the building with no way to get home or back in. Editing may suck on this because I’m using my phone with frozen fingers.
That gives you a bit of insight on how crazy life has been for me lately. My brain isn’t functioning very well.
But I’m still here as are the horses. At least 90% of the horses. H’Appy keeps losing pieces of himself in an attempt to drive me to my grave.
I rode him Friday when I saw the above and I think he was ever so slightly off in that hoof. I texted the farrier who had no idea how he could have managed it but there isn’t anything to do so I’m mindfully ignoring it while squirting Thrush Buster up there and painting the hoof with keratex. He is either going to live until he is 50 to plague me or die in the next year. It’s a toss up.
The ride itself was pretty good despite my concerns over the hoof. I added a 2′ vertical along the opposite rail of the cross rail and managed to clobber it a few times before making it over. Typically he is pretty careful and excited to jump and the times he hasn’t wanted to leave the ground were when he was hurting which is why I think the hoof hurt him. Dusty said it wasn’t there that morning so whatever he hit it on happened during the day.
Anyway. I continue to be pleased that he never says no to a jump or takes a second look and our rides have followed the same theme of late. Namely his early ride temper tantrum continues to be a thing of the past but will show up once he gets fatigued which I understand. More conditioning work once weather allows will help that. Even when it does show up he isn’t as committed to the effort as he once was and I’m quick to end it as soon as he caves in so hopefully he is learning that good things happen to good ponies.
Canter work is also a priority for me. I really really want to start cantering courses but in order to do that I need to get a whole lot better at steering and controlling my body in the canter on the flat. I think once I get more comfortable in the canter itself and learn to set the poop down instead of bracing through the stirrup, the course work won’t seem so intimidating.
In other not news, Pete and H’Appy continue to play much to the annoyance of No Fun Gem.
And really that is all. Life is boring around here folks. I’m currently gathering my surgery cases for case submission as the final part of my boards certification process and that is about all the stress I can manage.
Shopping is my nemesis. I’m cheap and prefer used to new, but I like high quality goods that will last long enough to delay the shopping experience a good healthy while. I’ve already dumped more into H’Appy’s current tack set up than I did in total over 10 years with Gem, ugh.
There are a few more pieces I’d like to change out though which means more shopping and spending more money. Before hitting the various online and app based used tack places to search through crappy ads with bad pictures and important information missing , I thought I’d hit up the blogging community. You all are much better tack hoarders than I am and I was hoping to snag some used items from one of you instead of a complete stranger.
The two items I’d really like to snag right now are new irons and a set of iron covers. Seems like I need to do a better job protecting my new precious saddle with its luxe leather. The iron covers are nicely priced on Etsy and I am fine ordering from there, but maybe one of you makes them and wants some side hustle money? I’d buy the Bates ones, but they are purple and I’ve already sunk low enough to use navy. Purple is not going to happen. Seems like once you start down the purple road your brain turns to a purplish mush and you go insane.
Irons are more difficult to figure out. The Bates saddle I took on trial before ordering mine had wonderful stirrups on them. Unfortunately I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture or ask the brand before returning the saddle. I’ve done some research and I believe they were the Compositi wide bed with shock absorber like below:
I’m not set necessarily on that specific brand, but I really liked the wide foot bed, the aggressive tread and the slight give it had. The only two things I wished it had were a 90 degree eye so it laid correctly on the leathers and were a bit heavier than the plastic composition.
They aren’t even that expensive online, but again maybe a blogger has a pair they aren’t using and want some cash with show season around the corner. Anyone have anything similar they want to sell before I buy new?
For the past several months, the very thought of riding H’Appy brought about much trepidation. Bringing him in from the field was never an issue, much unlike his predecessor who hid behind trees on the regular, but once in the cross ties a fight to keep all my appendages in functioning order and attached to my body would ensue.
He would paw. He would eat the cross ties. He would whip that big orange head of his around and try to bite me. He would weave side to side trying to squash me against the wall. He would try to step on me. Tightening up the girth was an adventure always leading to pinned ears, angry faces and homicidal ideations on his part. You can imagine how that set the tone for what was to come on both our parts.
Last night was the perfect night to ride. The day had been sunny, warm and dry. The arena is still partly under water from the deluge earlier this week, but it was workable. I wanted to ride. It gave me pause though because the timing was not right. I’d have to bring them in for dinner and let the others out while I tacked him up. Or I could bring only him in and tack up before feeding but then the others would be hanging by the gate. The last time they did that, H’Appy started rearing in the cross ties so bad I threw him in his stall.
But I wanted to ride and a quick check of the weather showed rain today through the weekend. This would be my only chance this week and Hubby had agreed to cook dinner so I could ride. I drew in a deep breath, changed into riding clothes, grabbed his halter and decided I was not going to tip toe around his schedule. I was going to ride.
And you know what? He came up to me in the pasture and led in quietly. He stood int he cross ties while Gem and Pete stared into the barn feeling starved and deprived. He let me brush him all over with a cocked hind leg. I grabbed the saddle and he looked at me, but didn’t move. I tightened the girth and saw nary an ear flick in my direction. We waked off to the arena, through the gate and past his friends, and he never once planted his feet, pinned his ears or tried to eat me.
This was the third ride in a row where he was a GOOD BOY.
I went into this ride wanting to work on the canter. I hate the canter. My entire riding life has lived in the trot and I am very comfortable there at 12 mph flying down twisting, single track trails, up and down hills and over streams. I’m not so comfortable at a 6 mph canter in a flat arena. Time to fix that. He was already in a listening mood, so I worked a while at the walk to loosen us both up and working really hard on my seat.
My seat has two modes: rigidly braced and loosely driving. Neither are good. I really want to correct this and focus on a light, following seat at all gaits so that I am more neutral in the saddle unless I am asking for something instead of either blocking or yelling. So at the walk, I really concentrated on this. I’ve gotten pretty good at not being rigid and braced at the walk, but it has recently swung to me trying to move for him and that drives us both crazy. Last night I really allowed my hips and lower back to relax while sitting tall and sucking my navel in and just moving with him.
This will be super shocking to you all, so brace yourselves here. By doing this, H’Appy gave me a wonderful forward, marching walk that was in front of my leg without me forcing it and he even began to stretch down into the contact. It was a baby stretch down, but man did it feel good! I completely messed it up by not having contact to reach into, but baby steps here folks.
After a brief trot tour to see how he was going to react to transition work, a bit of head tossing but nothing major, and it was on to the work of the night: the canter.
His canter button is really amazing. Sitting a few steps of the trot, bringing my heel ever so slightly back and a light graze on his side and he is off! I focused hard on having a quality trot before asking for the canter and some times managed it and sometimes not. Over all though he was ok. I forgot to steer the first few times and ended up nearly plowing into the arena fence, but he was game to keep trying. I worked him left and then right concentrating on forcing myself to sit deep in the saddle versus being braced and rising ever so slight out of the saddle, lowering my hands that want to come up to my chin, letting my legs hand loosely but on so as not to nag him…oh and that whole steering thing.
I’d give myself a B- overall. Nothing horrendous happened, we picked up the correct lead every time, and I managed to keep his flubby body in the canter until I asked to trot at which point he told me to screw off and halted instead. Steering needs a lot of work. Sitting deep needs a lot of work. Not letting him plow onto the forehand or go flying off into the distance needs a lot of work.
But I kept my head screwed on, thought about my position, planned somewhat ahead on my track of progression and had fun.
In the interestingly ironic and yet predictable way that life works, I made the same mistake with H’Appy as I did with Gem that I swore I would not do.
Namely, I ignored the fact that we didn’t know each other and jumped in head first only to land on that head in short order, figuratively speaking.
With Gem, I was bold, brave and stupid. She was green, lacked confidence and intelligent. It led to a lot of fights, tears and declarations of a sale that never happened. Things didn’t improve with her until I moved to WI, had her in my back yard and was forced to slow way down due to 90+ hour work weeks and no sleep.
When I unloaded H’Appy I was timid, cautious and a lot smarter. He was bold, brave and wicked intelligent. It led to a lot of fights, a few tears and a declaration of a sale a time or two. Thankfully I’m extremely stubborn and hate giving up, so he is still with me.
The thing is that even promising myself I wouldn’t push things too fast, I still did. Here I was with this new orange horse who I paid way too much money for and I felt this internal pressure to now do all the things with him. I bought him specifically to do all the things, he was purported to be able to do the things, and I had a bit of a need to prove to myself that some issues were truly a Gem issue and that I wasn’t the worlds worst rider.
So I pushed this new to me horse in a new to him environment to do things. It didn’t go very well.
I’m a slow learner, but I can learn and so right now as we get back under saddle and moving forward again, I’m taking all the pressure I have placed on us off.
I’m riding as able and working on what feels right to me in the moment. Some days that is jumping. Others it is simply walking with a few trot transitions thrown in. If he is listening well and calm, I canter. If he isn’t, we walk and halt and work on square turns and halting off my seat.
I want him to learn that I am fair, predictable in my requests yet persistent and a voice that can’t be tuned out. I want him to trust me not to get himself killed and I want him to continue to be bold and brave, two characteristics that made me choose him over others.
It means a lot of small rides with small questions scattered with bigger demands and higher standards.
To that point I went to ride Friday afternoon and found a compliant gelding in my cross ties. He had new shoes put on Thursday and I’ve learned to give him bute in his dinner the day the farrier comes to help with any soreness from the procedure. Of note, farrier is much happier with the status of his feet these days and thinks we may get him out of pads eventually.
I had one thing I wanted to really work on: the backside of the fence. You see, I have this annoying habit of being so insanely happy to just get over a fence that I celebrate and throw riding right out the window as soon as we get over. When I jumped earlier in the week, I found myself careening around the arena going nowhere and I thought “hmmm…maybe I should do something about that”
So Friday I kept the small cross rail and added a single ground pole 180 degrees opposite of it on the rail. I wanted to trot over the jump and the pole and by adding this I not only had something to aim for (helping my lack of steering) but also something to make me come back to a trot.
H’Appy was feeling good and argued that cantering was both more fun and easier than trotting politely. This translated to more work for him but that’s his fault. After warming up using the arena at large, I started going right taking the crossrail at the trot, cantering away keeping my eyes on the ground pole, bringing him to a trot before it, trotting over, trotting to the crossrail and repeating. They were far enough apart to be taken straight and then bending after versus creating a circle including both elements.
Or at least that is what I tried to do. He thought launching over the ground pole and trying to fly off into the distance was a better plan.
It took a while but eventually he was trotting the pole and the crossrail going right. His canter felt so amazing though that I let him canter the exercise a time or two before taking a walk break and switching directions.
Guys, that was the first time I cantered a fence with him. It felt AMAZING! That’s a whole other post though because I have a lot to say about it.
Going back to the left was once again a discussion that we can’t rush to the good part and canter the entire thing. It took a long while to get him trotting it and once we had it down I trotted around three times and called it quits.
He was starting to get that horse sweat smell and was breathing pretty hard at this point so it was the perfect time to end it. I gave him a ton of praise as we walked back to the barn.
It was super fun and rewarding. I’m learning to be a lot more strict with him and planning ahead really helps that. I don’t want to drill him with the exercise but I think the idea of it is something we will continue to work on for a while to help us both out.
I also think that while I’m missing having lessons, for right now I’m not going to sign up for any. For one, chubby wouldn’t be able to handle an hour long session right now at his fitness level and I don’t want to cause injury or stress by asking him to do something he isn’t physically prepared for. I’m also liking having the ability to adjust on my own per how we are both feeling. This ensures a positive outcome versus riding with someone who wants us to do x even though we just aren’t able that day.
I’m really starting to enjoy this orange beastie of mine and looking forward to the future.
Exhaustion after a long day of treating feet and a preceding night of poor sleep.
The Dynamic Duo hanging over the arena fence to watch the show.
Gale force winds picking up out of the blue.
A missing right front shoe.
All obstacles thrown at me last night and last year I would have let any one of them stop me from riding. But I’m really trying to embrace living more and so instead of calling it quits and retreating back inside, I saddled up and rode anyway.
H’Appy is getting used to me and I am starting to get used to him as well. Part of the issue is that he has a naturally much larger stride than my little Gemmie and I need to let him do him without shutting it down all the time. The other part of the problem is that his head can be pretty firmly up his butt at times and he needs convincing that I really do mean what I ask.
Like trotting nicely instead of trantering or slamming down to a walk in a corner because he doesn’t want to any more.
It is getting there though. We didn’t have the typical first ten minute fight. Instead he came out really good and then after I gave him a walk break he decided returning to work was optional.
Sorry. It isn’t.
We worked on the second exercise which is a single ground pole in the center of a figure eight (so in the middle of the long diagonal lines) working on staying straight across the diagonal, slicing over the ground pole at an angle without losing rhythm, and having proper bend in the far turns.
It took a few turns through the exercise to get him listening, but once he caved in to the work it was really great.
Then I decided to let him walk which was right about the time Dusty got home from work and entered the arena to talk/watch. H’Appy decided this meant he was done (it had been maybe 20 minutes) and he clung to Dusty (who he hates by the way) to save him.
Asking him to trot again was a bit rough and that is when most of his evasions came out: curling behind the bit, shaking his head, rooting. I rode each out (man but I do love this saddle with all my heart) and eventually he relaxed once again.
Which is when I decided to jump him for the first time in like four months. I had set a 2′ vertical but as we approached and he locked on I wimped out and turned him off. With Trainer’s anger ringing in my ears for teaching him to say no, I asked Dusty to make it a cross rail and he attacked that like a super star.
After we trotted in to the fence, he cantered away very much proud of himself for hopping over it. We did it a few times each direction and then I called it a night.
He really likes jumping and I think I need to suck it up and grow a set so I can ride him better over fences. The baggage is real but he is teaching me that he will say yes when I ask. It’s what he does on the back side that I need to worry about more than the approach or going over but I can only work on that if I, you know, let him go over the darn thing.
It should be nice enough to ride again Thursday and as long as he either gets a new shoe or is sound in the boot I plan to set up a small course with my four jumps and play around with him giving him a fun day.