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Unapologetically Thrilled

You know, it amazes me how much my mental attitude has changed over the summer. February 2018 I took Gem to the FRC Schooling Rounds at the 18″ cross rail division. We trotted everything. I circled her between fences a few times. We made it over the course without knocking a rail. I left each time feeling like a complete and total jack ass. Sure we went over everything but it was ugly and messy and I felt like a complete joke. A part of it was the company I was keeping. A part of it was the fact that I was on a 20 year old mare that I had been riding for almost a decade and here we were barely making it over 18″ sticks. I can’t remember if it was this show or the jumper show prior to it that I literally said out loud during the round “Gem we are a joke, lets get this over with”. I retired her after that.

Saturday I drove back to the FRC Schooling Rounds and entered the 18″ barely there, cross rail division with Eeyore. We trotted most of everything, knocked number 7 hard because Eeyore likes to jump by braille (TM by 900DollarFacebookPony) and I left that arena feeling elated. I felt like I gave him a good ride for where we are and I was proud of both of us for going int here and getting it done.

Trainer AB was at the rail and had a huge smile on her face as we exited. She said she couldn’t have asked for better and that we were done. I was a tad disappointed that I only got one round in as I really wanted to go again, or even better go in at 2′, but the sun was relentless at 12 pm and Eeyore was overheated as it was. Our warm up had taken an hour, Trainer AB had taken him around the course first and he was pretty darn over it all by the time I got on for my round. He deserved to be done.

I never felt like an idiot or a joke on that course. I felt like I was having fun. A lot of fun actually and I didn’t give a rats butt if they were ground poles or 18″ or 5′. Eeyore was being a GOOD BOY, a hot and tired GOOD BOY, but a GOOD BOY nonetheless and thats all I could ask for from him at his first show.

The atmosphere that a year ago would have made him come unglued, was taken in stride. He walked away from the crowd of horses to stand in the shade without complaint. He stood at the trailer without rearing, though he did paw until Dusty threatened his life and then he settled down to sulk.

I have thoughts and feelings about the warm up. It sucks. People are rude. I wanted so very much to run over one specific trainer, but alas she moved out of my way. Sigh. That would have been the icing on the cake for me. I could have done without the same trainer, who really just needed punched int eh face lets be honest, standing at the rail and flapping like a bird, screaming nasty things at her poor kiddo students and then clapping loudly right as we went by her. Poor Eeyore just about had a stroke over that and I couldn’t blame him for it.

My own need for everyone to follow the rules, be organized and polite did not cope well with the horrors of the 18″ division warm up. Trainer AB, ever the Type B laid back persona, told me to use it as motivation to move up the levels as the warm up tends to not be quite so awful the higher you go. Kids on half wild ponies with trainers who stand right in front of the jump you just called out your approach to and refuse to move making you either run them over (my choice though Trainer AB said it would have been in poor form) or pull up right in front of it. Riders who don’t get the whole “pass left shoulder to left shoulder” thing. Riders who don’t understand that the jumps are flagged to be taken in one direction only.

But….even with my eyes the size of dinner plates and my anxiety at an all time high trying to navigate a small warm up arena filled to the brim with children only half in control when I myself am only half in control…we did pretty ok in there. Eeyore w/t/c both directions without throwing too much of a fuss. He only acted out once when a horse flew past us and it took him by surprise. Otherwise we managed to tackle the cross rail in warm up and not run into anyone on accident (or purpose, sigh).

Trainer AB wanted to take him over the course first as a good introduction. Neither of us had ever taken him over more than a gynmastic line and had zero idea how he would do. The crowd at the in gate, those waiting around in the shade, the announcers. All of it was a big question mark and given how he can sometimes be a bit of a jerk for a lesson where he likes to buck at the gate and decide he is in charge, we both decided that her in the rions first wasn’t such a bad idea.

It wasn’t needed though. He was AMAZING. He could have cared less about the crowds, the noise, the brightly colored jumps. Right now we are working on him not flying around on the forehand and dragging us to every jump, so she trotted every fence and had a nice round. She told me to do the same for my round and while I had some issues – he nearly halted after fence 1 and we were on the wrong canter lead coming around to fence 4 – I left feeling on top of the world.

I’m not sure where we are going from here or what our plans will be. Trainer AB mentioned a CT, so I think I’m going to look through the schedule and see what I can sign up for coming up soon.

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“No, That Is Over Two Feet”

Tired. No, wait. That isn’t a strong enough word. Exhausted is more like it. Why, you ask? Because I am old and because I can’t say no to Trainer AB.

Wednesday night I had a lesson at 8:45 pm. I got home around 10:45 pm and was in bed well after 11 pm. I’m too old for that. Was it worth barely being able to form a coherent sentence during work the next day?

You bet your bippy it was!

The only picture I was able to grab before it got too dark

We worked on familiar themes: balance and tempo. We are trying to get Eeyore to rock back a bit more, use himself a bit better and slow down. All of this gets filed under “hard work” by Eeyore who would prefer to fly around on the forehand thankyouverymuch.

I’m really liking the progression of the lessons lately. I warm up as I see fit with Trainer AB watching from the rail and shouting encouragement or advice if/as needed. It puts me more in charge and gets me engaging my own brain. Wednesday night, I could feel Eeyore wanting to explode under me. He had reacted to the failing light more than I’d predicted having ridden in the dark at home without issue. Instead, he became jumpy and easily distracted by anything and everything. I asked if she’d mind if I skipped right to the canter to let him blow off steam and got into two point to let him go. She said she was happy with my choice. He settled after a few trips around the arena and was able to put in some good work after.

Following the warm up, we begin dressage work. Right now that is focused on the 20 m circle, using it to help rock him back, round his back, give at the poll and slow down. It’s getting better. We are now able to hold it for longer and when we do lose it, we gain it back quickly. My biggest issue was his tendency to want to look around through the shadows at every tiny noise and movement. It was bugging him out a bit that it was so dark.

I’m not sure who loves the water more, Einstein or Wyatt.

The right remains the weaker side but I’m slowly closing the gap. Cantering right is easier than trotting at the moment and he is starting to get a better balance. I worked a lot on the sitting trot and my biggest homework here is to remain centered in the saddle. I had a tendency to slip to the outside and lean in trying to bend for him and that’s not very helpful.

I like starting with the dressage work because it forces me to really engage my brain and think about the timing of my aides, using my entire body to speak to him and holding him accountable for the task at hand. You can’t really get away with wavering off the circle without it showing and Trainer AB calling you out for it. It also really helps to settle Eeyore. It’s hard work for him to use himself in this manner and makes the hamster do double time in his head as well. Generally I end the dressage portion with a more in tune and supple horse under me.

From there we get to jumping which is typically a gymnastic exercise of some sort. This night we worked through a one stride vertical combination. The big key here was not letting him get flat and fly through it. I had to half half between the jumps which required me to stop becoming a deer in the headlights when I jump and you know, actually ride.

We introduced M to one of the local parks to hike. It was a gorgeous day to be outside.

Eeyore tends to get quick before a fence. I think it’s part excitement to be jumping and part easier for him if he Superman’s through versus really uses himself properly. I’ve gotten a whole lot better at being able to think my way through the ride, anticipate and be proactive versus reactive on the flat but this still eludes me over fences when I’m still surprised I didn’t die.

Wednesday night started no different. We raced towards the first jump and then through the one stride to Superman our way out. We made it and left the rails in the cups but it wasn’t pretty. On the re approach, I made the decision to circle him in the corner and get him under control more before letting him jump and got commended for this decision. It’s the first time I wasn’t panicked and could make smart choices.

I gave a hefty half half right before the in and stalled him out which made the in a bit awkward and then he got mad and barreled across and over the out. Again, we made it but ugh.

Waggy being super cute stealing my spot on the couch for her afternoon nap

The third time I gave the half half a bit earlier and then, wonders of wonders, with the horse actually in front of my leg we got a good jump over the in, I kept my brain on and gave a half half during the one stride between and was rewarded with a glorious jump over the out. It was the single most awesome feeling in the world.

After that Trainer AB declared us officially ready for course work and invited me to join her at a schooling show Saturday afternoon. She told me she’d like me to enter the tadpole 18” division to start and I was surprised that she acted like I was going to rebel or be insulted. Small jumps for the win! She said that she’d rather me do a full course below height to take that out of the equation so I can focus on the technique and getting around.

That’s when I asked how tall the verticals we went over were set. “Aren’t those two feet? 18” isn’t that much smaller. It will still seem plenty big”

“Uh…no. Those are set bigger than two. I think I set them at 2’3, maybe 2’6 tonight.”

Um…what?!?!? No wonder I almost peed myself coming up to them. They had looked huge but I don’t question Trainer AB and Eeyore did just fine so I figured they were set to a wimpy 2’. Huh.

Love this face.

We talked about the show a bit. It’s a real show but I’m too late to sign up for the CT so I’ll just do the schooling rounds. I did theM with Gem once before and had a lot of fun. The nice thing is that the schooling rounds are mostly after the CT has ended so a lot of people have left and the atmosphere is a bit more sedate. At least it was last time.

Anyway….she said that we will take it step by step. First see how he handles the crowd and atmosphere. If he is completely freaking out and unsafe (I doubt he will be given his attitude at the trail head earlier this week when horses were everywhere) we will walk across the street to the xc field and play over there instead. If he handles it ok, we will enter the warm up and do some fences. Again, if he is a spaz and not handling it well theN we will work him there until settled and then call it a day. If he is ok, we will go do some courses. Depending on how we handle the 18” division, we may enter starter (2-2’3”) after. It all really depends on his stress level.

This conversation made me love Trainer AB even more. I really appreciate her step wise, low pressure attitude and how she focuses on his well being and my fun-o-meter. She pushes me outside my comfort level sure, but always in a way geared towards building my confidence. Tiny wins, like my position becoming much stronger and more solid, are celebrated just as much as the big ones, like finally making it over the pipe of death.

I’m super excited for Saturday and I can’t wait to try a full course with him. Trainer AB is setting the course so I know it’s going to be technical and interesting as well as true to height so we will see! Plus ending the week with a show will be the icing on an already amazing f horse week for me: trails, lesson and a show?! Who’s life am I living?!?

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Ok…White Flag Waved. Advice Needed.

Trailer loading. I’m about to rip my hair out.

Eeyore loaded ok enough when I got him but then decided it was optional and became a royal pain about it. He wasn’t scared. He would walk right up to the ramp then cock a hind leg and stare at me with a definite “make me” look on his face.

More tail pics to break up my whiny text. He won’t ever be a slim man but he is getting more definition these days.

That’s when I put him into boot camp. I left the trailer hooked up for a week and every single night I’d load and unload him until he began walking right on and standing still to get the butt bar up and then remaining still until I told him he could back off.

Lesson learned.

Or so I thought.

Currently, he loads at home no issue. I walk him towards the ramp, tell him “walk on!”, throw the lead over his back and he marches right up and in without hesitation. It’s great.

Learning how to grab and go

My issue is on the other end. We go and ride, be that a lesson or on the trail like this week, and then I try to load him up to come home. He marches to the end of the ramp, cocks a hoof and rests with a distinct “make me” look on his face.

So then I have to open the front window, grab my dressage whip, thread the lunge out the window, attach the other out the open trailer back and to his halter.

Then I look at him, make the lunge line taut, give him the tiniest little breath of the whip on his butt and say “walk on!”

He sighs and marches right on no hesitation, waits for the butt bar to come up and then eats his hay. No issue. Not tense. Not scared.

Meet Pheonix. The cops brought him in to Dusty’s work to be euthanized but he talked them into signing him over instead. I’m currently working on bringing him home to join our family once he stops oozing and bleeding so much

It’s frustrating because I can’t work on this every day for a week straight. I can’t trailer him to some random place every night just to unload and load again. I don’t want to be that person who looks like a moron who didn’t train their horse to get on a trailer either.

I don’t know what to do. I thought it was maybe my driving. Maybe I’m so bad he doesn’t want to get back on at the end of it but I’ve really paid attention to it, read up on some facts (like never accelerate until the trailer is perfectly straight behind the truck after a corner or turn), and even did a test: put a coin on the center console and make sure it doesn’t slide in any direction during the drive. It didn’t. I’m not perfect but I do pay very close attention to going slow around corners, stopping slowly and in advance of any light and turns, and avoiding pot holes and bumps when able.

If it is my driving, I’m not sure who’s he would approve of.

Any advice? I know he won’t leave me stranded because as soon as I get my rig all situated he immediately caved and walks on. He isn’t stressed during travel either as he always unloads dry and calm. Other than more time I’m not sure what else to do here.

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Erasing the Past

It hit me yesterday morning: a throbbing in my heart signifying a need to get lost in the woods. My last foray with Eeyore had ended in a broken toe and a significant loss in confidence. But that was almost a year ago. Before the lessons. Before our relationship had grown to where it is now.

The hour long drive to the trail head was perfect for a pep talk: I had ridden Gemmie hundreds of hours and miles alone on these very same trails. A horse that spooked at everything. A horse I fell off of many a time. Yet I never worried about taking her out. So why was I so worried about Eeyore?

Adventuring!!

Well, the past wasn’t so kind. The last time I was at this trail head with him he reared at the trailer, nearly bowled me over as I tried to tack him, screamed his head off the entire time, plowed through me down the trail to catch any other horse he could possibly locate ahead of him, reared and spun when we tried to part ways with a horse on trail causing me to dismount for my safety and then crushed my toe. It was a painful two miles back to the trail, in more ways than one.

That was then though. You have to ride the horse under you, right? Not the last horse you rode. Or the the last time you rode this one. You have to ride this horse in this moment.

So I unloaded him and got him ready. He stood there politely, grazed a bit and then stood still to be mounted, though the big rock I tried to use as a mounting block scared him for some reason. The trail head was slammed too. Horses everywhere. He looked but he never called out. Never cared.

The woods are calling me home

I always run the green loop in a counter clockwise manner. Mostly because everyone else goes clockwise and I prefer to pass head on than from behind. It’s a nice 6.5 mile, hilly trail with a lot of creeks and access to the lake which is perfect when the temperatures are nearing 90F. We started out and he was a bit hesitant but moved on down the trail which starts following a road then crosses to hit single track in the woods.

Once we hit the single track I realized something. He was being perfect. I snagged a few pictures and rode on at a walk. The ground was like cement and I didn’t want to bruise his feet. And he wasn’t spooking at anything. He wasn’t rushing forward. He wasn’t sucking back. In fact, he was on the buckle only 1/3 of a mile out. I never could do that on Gem.

On teh buckle without a care in the world

Slowly, as we made our way down the trail I could feel myself relaxing, breathing, enjoying. We made it past the new part of the trail where they logged and re routed down an asphalt drive and dove back into the woods where the footing became more sandy and forgiving.

I asked him to trot and he asked to canter. I said yes. We flew down that trail in a soft, rateable and controlled canter and I felt tears sting my eyes. When had I ever felt this free on trail? I laughed out loud and brought him back to a trot to navigate a tricker section then down to a walk.

As I ran my hands through his spiky mane I felt myself putting down some heavy baggage I didn’t even realize I had been carrying all this time. Baggage from Gem. Baggage from my early days with Eeyore. I rode him on the buckle as deer jumped out, a red tail hawk swooped down for a kill and the trail zig zagged along the ridge.

They destroyed my favorite trail by logging it and re routed down an asphalt drive instead of in the woods

We came to the lake and I asked him to go in. Gem always hated the water. Eeyore plopped right in and took me right out to swim. I hugged his neck and breathed in the very scent of him as we danced in the water, coming back out on shore dripping and exhilarated.

The ride continued. More heavy bags were left behind. We passed logs and stumps I knew Gem would have spooked at, the trail cut off where Eeyore threw a fit and broke my toe, went over bridges he didn’t even slow down to notice and through creek crossings he stepped in like a gentleman. We came across other riders and pulled over, stood still and then moved on again. He asked each time if we could turn around and join them and when I said no he obliged.

When the single track turned into a gravel access road, I kicked my feet out of my stirrups and sat swinging my legs as he trudged up the hill. He was on the buckle and I was swinging free. We rode like that for over a mile and he could have, at any time, taken advantage. He could have bolted. He could have dropped a shoulder and spun.

He didn’t. He kept walking along as I spoke to him and we both took in the sights.

As we entered back onto single track in the woods, I set down the last of my baggage. Left it all right there on the trail. I patted him and thanked him.

He hadn’t been on the trail like that in nearly a year minus the hunter pace with friends this spring. The last time he refused to go over bridges and I had to lead him across creeks on foot. He was almost dangerous when asked to pull over and allow another horse to pass coming on. I hadn’t trained him to do any of these things since then. Hadn’t worked on any of these trail skills. We’ve been in the arena working on dressage and jumping. These aren’t skills he picked up from me.

Say what you want about horse brains and training. Tell me a horse never chooses to be bad or good. Tell me it’s always a training issue. I’ll likely politely nod and agree to disagree. The fact here is that Eeyore chose to be my partner yesterday. He chose to listen instead of fight me. He chose to enjoy the trail with me and in so doing he helped me erase the past.