The blog is becoming very Eeyore centric which is fine as he is my main mount now and well, life is becoming fun with him around both on the ground with his antics and under saddle with his obstinate but still somehow easy going nature.
However, Miss Thing is still around and living large. The last ride I had with her pretty much solidified my decision to no longer do arena work with her. She doesn’t enjoy it and at 20 years old now she doesn’t really have to do much of anything. I’ll still take her on trail rides and to some hunter paces as able but her main job now is looking pretty and eating grass.
What has been amazing though is that our entire relationship has changed. Ever since her partial retirement, she has started greeting me at the gate even when it isn’t dinner time. I don’t remember the last time I had to spend 40 minutes trying to catch her in the pasture. When I am outside she always looks up and notices me and if I call out a greeting she comes over instead of her usual hiding behind a tree or Pete to avoid being seen.
Last week, we had our first mutual grooming experience. She had just been put out after dinner and lingered by the gate which typically means she wants some attention. I went back in and began scratching her itchy spots. In the past, she would tolerate this and eventually move on after a few minutes. Last week though she propped a hind leg, let out a sigh and leaned into the scratches. After 10 minutes, with my hands starting to cramp, she looked over and started grooming my shoulder.
Eeyore then wandered over because Big Goof can’t be left out of anything and started grooming on Gem as well. Pete eventually joined us and all three horses began grooming at which point I bowed out and left them to it.
Honesty, I put the change to the fact that I am no longer asking Gem to do what she hates doing. The pressure is off of her and she can enjoy my company knowing full well that she won’t be forced to do dressage or jump again. It makes me a little sad that I put her through it in the first place, but then I realize that we were doing 18″ jumps and fake-ssage at the walk and trot so really she could have gotten over herself just a tad.
Regardless, are relationship has reached a new level of understanding and companionship that took 9 years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to. I’m hoping we have another decade together to putz around when able and groom/enjoy each other.
Monday was the first day without rain in over a week and with a forecast calling for t storms through the next 10 days it was my only chance to ride. The arena was dry enough for an easy walk, trot, canter ride with only one visible puddle at the near side, so I grabbed my bestest mare and tacked up while Dusty grilled steaks for dinner.
Mare is not amused by this ending of her retirement however she looked pregnant and waddling in the video I posted yesterday and needs the exercise.
Now I know Gem inside and out and it’s been 3 months since I worked her in the arena. I knew this ride was going to be bad and planned a no stress no goals 30 minute ride.
Well, of course she had other ideas and it quickly degraded to the usual battle. I sighed. After months of riding sales horses that were all obedient at their core, I just plum wasn’t in the mood for this on a cool and rain free Monday evening.
Still my favorite black tipped ears and the arena is draining super well given the deluge we have gotten all last week. I haven’t messed it up too badly!
I tried to walk, she tried to trot. When I finally let her trot it was two strides super fast followed by two strides at a snails pace then shooting forward the moment I asked her to get going again. The seesaw pace is one I am very familiar with but now that I’ve ridden so many steady horses I just don’t want to any more.
I finally let her canter to stretch her back as she always appreciates that but then I lost all steering because my 20 year old mare is still green to the basics. Or just doesn’t care what I want.
I dismounted after about 20 minutes and looked longingly at Eeyore in his stall while I untacked Gem and headed inside for dinner. He came cantering down the hill for dinner without boots and with no bute on board so I’d say he is 95% back to good. I have to decide what my next step is for him: keep the boots, go with glue ons or stay barefoot and try to toughen up those hinds while the hoof wall grows down enough. I finally got a really good look at his right hind and there is no wall left at all on the inside half of it. No wonder he hurt so bad.
The forecast is depressing for the foreseeable future but that buys me a little time to figure out what I want to do. The vet recommended bare for at least two weeks to let the hoof harden up so I’m not in a super hurry to decide his fate on that.
I really really want to ride him though and while I don’t normally complain of rain as it provides enough grass to not need hay, I want sun for the next week so I can ride.
‘Gem peed six times between the time I got her out of the pasture to load for the FRC show and the time we got back home. Probably nothing anyone would comment on except for the fact that I’ve maybe seen her pee while being handled or ridden that many times total in nine years. She’ll almost always pee in the pasture as I walk up to catch her because she hates to under saddle or when being handled, but then during our actal time together she rarely ever does.
I filed it in my brain as mildly interesting and kept an extra close eye on her figuring it was a spring heat or the like.
Of course once you start paying close attention everything seems like a red flag. She seemed a bit girthy when tacking up. She was a bit reactive to being curried over her back and sides. Was she shedding or was her coat a bit dull? All tiny things that are easily overlooked but can add up.
Then she began leaving grain behind in her bowl. After a day or two of that she began to eat super slowly. She is always the first one brought in to eat and I noticed that she was barely touching it by the time the last horse was caught and brought in. In fact the other two were finished and Gem was maybe half way through hers. Odd.
Between all the blasted rain and my newly torn up arena, I didn’t ride all week. The farrier was out Friday afternoon and all seemed ok except for her lack of interest in her grain and an overall sleepy demeanor. Both uncharacteristic for her.
All things lined up in my brain added up to potential ulcers. I had changed her grain about six weeks prior and it could just as easily be the grain not doing as well for her and her not liking it or she could be in major spring heat and having ovary pain. Lord knows my uterus hates me on a monthly basis.
But I’d rather be safe than sorry and so I scratched from the h/j show I was slated to do last weekend and had Dusty order Gastroguard for me. Thankfully he is a vet and can get it through work because holy crap that stuff is expensive. How much do you guys pay for it? It was $400 for a month’s supply at his cost!! Jeepers.
Of course as soon as it got ordered Gem started looking more like herself. By Sunday she was back to gobbling her food down at Mach speed and running amuck in the pasture. So maybe it was just her heat cycle. Or the shitastic weather swinging from 80 and sunny to 45 and rainy. Yet again. Or maybe she was more tired and sore after those three jumping rounds than I gave her credit for. Jumping is hard. Jumping while spooking at everything is even harder.
I don’t know but since that liquid gold isn’t harmful mareface will be getting syringed daily for the next four weeks just in case. I’m giving her the next week off as well while she gets the first week of treatment and then we will get back to lessons and riding again with an aim at entering the FRC CT May 5th with added jump rounds at the end. I love that format and since it is only an hour away it’s a pretty solid place to show. Add to it that I adore their baby cross country fences on the other side of the road and maybe just maybe someday I’ll enter a HT there.
So that is the deal at the moment in Gem land. NQR but returning to normal again.
Spring is finally arriving down here and it is my favorite time of the year. Sure it is still oddly overcast and rainy, but it is warm and the flowering trees are starting to burst forth in all their glory.
Tuesday night I headed to RB for the first time in what felt like forever. I had texted with Trainer about Gem’s newest behavior with jumps: namely the fact that she is going over every time but then flying away on the back side. I’m not sure how much to get after her about this since it has taken us just over a year to get her enjoying the jumping game. Trainer was in agreement that we can’t really shut Gem down too much right now in fear of ruining the progress we have made, yet we do need to do something about this new behavior.
The issue we face is that Gem doesn’t do repetition. After the third or fourth time through a particular exercise she shuts down. I’m not sure if this is boredom or what but she shuts me out and decides that it is best to just race through it because you know we are just going to do it again so why bother? This is neither fun nor productive. The problem is that she needs grids in her life, yet the very essence of grid work is repetition. No amount of changing from turning left to turning right helps either. By the end of the lesson Trainer said she was going to have to set up a few different grid patterns scattered throughout the arena next time and have us randomly go through them to keep Gem entertained and focused.
She is a difficult mare, folks.
But back to the lesson….
Trainer always has me start out with flat work. I love that we spend the beginning focusing on bend, installing the half halt and working on m own position. Sometimes that is all we get to do if Gem is being particularly hard. Tuesday Gem was being really wonderful and I even got multiple compliments on my lower leg position!! It is really coming along and starting to feel more natural to carry it under me instead of letting it slip forward forever in a chair seat. After about 15 minutes of figure 8s and circles we moved to the exercise at hand.
This started off with four trot poles set on the short side of the arena in the center-ish. The tricky part for me was making the turn off the rail, dodging all the really fun looking but death defying jumps throughout the arena and forcing Gem to trot through the puddles left by yet another rain storm. There was a lot going on that made the path hard to get right enough to put Gem;s eyes on the poles before we got there. The other learning point was that I need to get better at lowering my hands and pushing them slightly forward to allow Gem to drop and stretch her neck as we went over the poles.
On Gem’s part, she didn’t change her pace or rhythm going over and was a really good girl once she understood what we were up to.
Trainer had me working on alternating between posting and two pointing through the poles and really concentrating on sinking my heels down while giving with my hands. Having the neck strap was a big eye opener for me which I will get into in a bit.
Once we had gone over several times, Trainer added a small cross rail at the end. The first time up Gem gave it the hairy eye, but still said yes and went over. I don’t even know if I can explain properly what I was feeling but it felt so good! Like coming home, you know?
My issue with my jump position was two fold: 1) in an attempt to “release” and not hit Gem in the mouth I would throw my hands way out by her ears which would not only throw her away but also lead to 2) my upper body would be thrown too far forward due to this which would also cause my butt to come too far out of the saddle. All this lead to the bigger issue at hand: instability and an inability to really follow Gem wherever she decided to go.
Of course this all wasn’t solely due to me sucking. A big part of it was that Gem was so squirrely in front of a jump that I had to basically sit on her until we were mid air and then do whatever I could to get over to the other side. Now that she is firmly saying YES every time I ask, I could focus on fixing my own bad habits born out of necessity.
And that is exactly what we did and it felt so good. I felt invincible up on her. Like I could handle anything she threw at me and that made me more aggressive to the jump and made Gem more confident as well.
And all this was due to the neck strap.
Coming into the ground poles, I would post until the jump and then grab that neck strap, sink my heals down and sink really low to the saddle. All this gave me a base of support I have never felt before and even got a huge grin, clap and exclamation from Trainer. It looked as good as it felt although I have zero media to prove it. Having the neck strap to grab meant that my hands stayed low and back while still giving to Gem and this had the domino effect of letting me sink into my heals and keep that butt low. Trainer kept yelling out “sink low to that saddle”.
Once my base felt secure, I knew that no matter if Gem tried to duck left, right or go flying away in a hand gallop that I would be following her and could control the situation. I never lost a stirrup. I never felt scared.
AMAZING doesn’t even come close to it. ADDICTING is better.
Once we nailed the single cross rail, Trainer added a second one one stride out. The first time through the new set up, Gem was pretty unsure but again said a hesitant yes and went over.
Lest you think everything was sunshine and roses, throughout all of this Gem and I were arguing. Going through the mini grid was the easy part (ha!! who am I?!). The before and after were what nailed us every single time. After the first few go throughs, Gem decided that she had this and I was no longer necessary. She would land at the end of the grid and then try to take off a million miles an hour back to the start. The problem is that this leads to motorcycling around the tight turn off the rail, between the oxer and then to the poles. A shitty turn led to a shitty entrance to the grid and a shitty run through it.
I really had to sit Gem back hard to get her to stop and pay attention to my direction. A few times I even halted her to get it through her head that I was still making the calls here. As we kept going, it kept getting worse and worse. Finally Trainer had me mix everything up. Instead of exiting the grid, turning right, making it back around in a circle to the start again, I would turn her right and make a 20 meter circle or make her walk through the middle of the arena all the way back to making a left hand entrance or do a figure 8. Anything except head right back to the start of the grid so that she had to listen to me for direction.
It was both frustrating and a crap ton of fun all at once and I couldn’t keep the grin off my face at the end. The difference in both gem and myself from a year ago continues to astound me. As she gets easier and more rideable, I can focus on myself which makes me more stable and effective which boosts her confidence in me and what I am asking and that it turn makes her say yes more often and the cycle continues.
Sunday was a whole other story and this folks is why I keep my Gemmie around. Well, that and nobody else would want her and I’d never forgive myself if she ended up in an auction or feed lot.
After a ridiculously disgusting Saturday (seriously weather yo-yoing from 79 Friday to 45 and raining Saturday then back to 75 and sunny Sunday is ridiculous. Take your meds please) Sunday dawned gorgeous. Just that morning I saw that RB is hosting a spring H/J show March 10 and I plan to be there so it was time to get jumping.
With my new found bravery, I set the jumps at 2′ verticals and set three in a generous circle with two on the long side and one set perpendicular on the short side. I really like this placement for Gem. It allows me room for my newbie errors which avoids me inadvertently punishing Gem, but still keeps me honest and steering. By having it on such a large circle, it forces me to ride her straight away from the jump and then set up my turn which helps fight my really bad habit of only riding up to a fence and then leaving Gem hanging on the backside with no directions.
Gem came out well behaved and listening. Sure she still wanted to go faster than I did, but she actually listened to my half halts and would slow down for multiple strides at a time. It felt good and rideable on the flat so I proceeded to the jumps and went right to start.
Gem was amazing. She locked on, never said no or tried to run out and while it wasn’t always pretty going over she did try her best.
After the first two jumps I settled myself and really focused hard on my own position. I paid attention to sitting back before the jump instead of leaning forward (a very bad habit I do for fear of not getting into two point fast enough once she does jump), sinking those heels down, shoving my butt back (while I two point nicely on the flat it goes out the window in favor of standing in the stirrups over jumps which isn’t good) and grabbing that neck strap. It felt good to know she was going over so I could focus on myself.
After a few go rounds of doing each fence individually I focused on doing all three in a row with the turns. Going right she nailed it every time, coming back to the trot between fences so we could make the turn. I praised that crap out of her each time, loudly telling her how amazing she was and giving her great big pats.
I may have over done it because it definitely went to her head. Shortly thereafter she began celebrating after each jump and began to get a bit harder to get under control on the back side.
After a really good go to the right where she hit every jump near perfectly, made the turns and listened I gave her a walk break. She was starting to have that sweaty horse smell to her and I wanted to reward her effort.
Then we went left and it wasn’t near as good. Left is her harder side as it is and by that point she was feeling pretty proud of herself which typically translates into her believing I am no longer necessary and that she has it from here. Plus she was also just about done with me.
She stayed with me going into the first jump but then took off after and it took me circling all the way back to the start to get her to trot again. Needless to say we didn’t make it over the other two fences that time.
The next time she listened well enough to make the turn to the center jump but then I lost her after when she yet again took off. I’m not ready to start getting after her after jumps since she is finally saying yes 90% of the time now. Instead I let her canter back to the start and tried again all the while praising her for saying yes and going over.
It took a few more attempts to get her over all three going to the left but once she did I quit for the day. I was really proud of her for going over, trying hard and the fact that the jumps were set at 2′. I was never brave enough to go that high before.
I texted Trainer and set up a jump lesson out at RB which will be the first time I’ve trailered there since early November or maybe late October. Its been a while. But I want to be able to work a more complicated course before we go to the jumper show there in March. My plan is to hit up as many classes as possible this time: cross rails through 2′ both the hunter and the jumper classes both to try and stave off boredom as well as to get us as many low key miles as I can. I really believe Gem actually deep down enjoys this jumping game after all. It gives her a purpose in the arena and I can really feel her start to understand and take to it. She gets super proud of herself once she completes a task she didn’t think she could and it is big confidence boost for us both.
Also, the month is coming up fast and I don’t have any hours entered for the volunteer challenge. It’s going to be an easy random drawing with no names in the invisible hat. If you’ve volunteered in February get those hours submitted!
Was it fun to go back to the very basic of basics and spend 45 minutes fighting to get a true halt? Nope.
Did I have moments day dreaming of selling her and riding a better behaved horse? Yup.
Did I deserve a shit ride that night? Probably.
Friday night was the first time I rode Gem in two weeks. Not smart and I know that. Between the rain and the flu and then Wyatt stealing Wednesday night from me, it was the first shot I had.
Beyond the two weeks off, it was dark, the wind was gusting hard and it went from 50 and raining Thursday to 79 and sunny Friday. So many reasons to have a tense and unhappy Gem.
I rode anyway and should have had low expectations given all the above and nearly a decade of experience with her. Instead I planned to jump. I even added a third jump and jacked it all the way up to 2′ (I know I’m a wimp).
As soon as I got on I knew that plan was screwed. She was jigging instead of walking and the moment I asked for trot she tore off at a gallop. Sigh.
Now, the bright side? A year ago I would have slid off her in defeat. Not now. Instead I changed my plan. If she couldn’t be trusted to walk or trot we would work on halting.
She has been amazing at halting for several months now. Friday night? It all went out the window and it was like we went back in time 12 months. She would walk through my aides. When she did finally stop moving forward she would swing her big old butt around to face wherever she wanted, mostly the gate, and then back up.
It was annoying.
I hung in there though and kept persisting. Once she stopped moving and right before her butt swung around, I praised the ever living crap out of her. Then we walked quickly forward before she could do something stupid. Repeat.
For 45 minutes until she finally halted three times in a row and didn’t move a muscle until asked to. Then I called it quits, went inside to cook dinner and wished I liked alcohol. I could have used a hard beverage.
When Trainer invited me to a cross country school I was really excited…until I found out the venue was going to be Windridge. Not that I have anything against the facility. It is gorgeous and rolling. It’s not a schooling course though. They have nothing below starter and all the jumps are beefy. However, they started a new winter series and announced an 18″ division. I said yes banking on the fact that those new jumps would be out specially since they were to host the first event the previous weekend and another the next Wednesday.
When I pulled in and looked around though there wasn’t a single 18″ fence to be seen. I knew immediately this wasn’t going to be about jumping.
It ended up being a great day even if I only jumped one actual cross country fence in 1 1/2 hours. Gem jumped four others without me (someone else climbed up) though so she got some good schooling in.
I’m not really sure what has happened to my mare, but guys…it’s been eight years in the making and holy crap does it feel amazing. We started by warming up walk and trot in a flattish section of the field. Less than a year ago this simple task would have been a complete disaster full of spooks, bolts, hollow tenseness and probably me getting dumped.
Not Saturday. I’m starting to feel like a broken record but….it’s all so new to me! She was relaxed, forward without rushing and listening perfectly. Our transitions were spot on and it was overall pleasant. Trainer was impressed!
The other girl with me was riding Training level so while those two got a few jumps planned out, I wandered over to the warm up fences. They have three stadium fences and a few log piles and I popped Gem over the stadium fences a few times going both up and down the slope.
Then we moved on down the course and Trainer spotted a little red fence with a log on top and wanted me to try it. I couldn’t. I completely wussed out and handed the ride over to the other girl who was asking to try.
She promptly fell off.
I felt bad yet slightly vindicated. Does that make me a bad person? Probably.
Several attempts later she got her over and then promptly stopped asking to ride her. Sorry, Gem. Few people ask twice to take your ride.
As we wandered around I could tell Trainer felt bad. She knew there wasn’t anything I was going to jump out there and didn’t understand why the 18″ fences hadn’t been put out.
I told her I was ok though. I knew it was a risk going there and I was just so happy with how rideable Gem was remaining with big open spaces, lots of standing around breaks and another horse. Any one of those things would have resulted in a terrible ride as recently as last summer and yet here she was being fun. I had no regrets.
So instead she had me working on riding Gem deliberately, getting walk-trot-canter transitions throughout the field along a specified track. We were working on the tasks between the jumps which is something that has always terrified me with Gem’s history. It was fun and Gem was being so good. We cantered and trotted up and down hills and around jumps all with the focus on me being deliberate with the track and Gem maintaining the same pace regardless of the terrain.
Eventually we found the fake ditch I had done last time and she had me work Gem over it going both directions. Gem was hesitant and this is where my biggest learning point of the day came in.
Trainer told me that I actually have to give Gem permission to do what I’m asking her to do or else it isn’t fair. I tend to ask them get super defensive and in effect block Gem from answering correctly which is counter productive. To be fair to myself, when it comes to jumping Gem isn’t always honest and I respond by riding defensively in order to, you know…not die and die. But it isn’t helping
So I approached it again, put my leg on, grabbed the neck strap and asked her to jump. She was still squirrelly and hesitant but she went over and didn’t get punished by my rigidity. The next time she went even better.
That’s when the second learning point came up.
Trainer asked me what I’m focused on going over a jump. It’s been many months since I’ve looked at the jump (at least one bad habit gone?) and I do look out in the distance. My answer? “I’m focusing on not dying” she laughed and said it’s time to start focusing on my exit. When I jump I’m so focused on just getting Gem over that I forget to ride the backside. When I took the ditch with a very specific exit strategy, Gem felt more confident as a result and we had a much more balance ride.
It all boils down to me being a better leader at all times for my not very confident mare.
From there it was on to the water complex which had a broken pump so had mostly no water in it. More broken record here, but a few short months ago there was no way she would have stepped into this let only trotted through. Saturday though she did. I got nailed again for being tense and not letting Gem do what I asked of her, but once I loosened my death grip on the reins and let her trot she was floating and amazing.
We practiced trotting through, turning right, picking up the canter and cantering back to the starting point. The wheels fell off here a little as Gem took it as a race back to the beginning and then got cranky when I made her do simple things like have steering ability and not fall on her face
We followed the other girl around for another 20 minutes or so of watching her knock the socks off the Training level course. I’m not sure what her goals are but she was hitting the mark every single time out there.
After just over 90 minutes we called it quits and I waited for the next group to show up. A student of hers that is doing her first 1* this year was coming to ride Gem over some starter level jumps and I was excited to watch and learn. Part of me wanted Gem to be amazingly perfect and fly over everything, but another part wanted her to have the same issues with a better rider so it wouldn’t be all my fault for how she is. Mean? Maybe?
Trainer jacked all the fences up to 2’3″ height and Gem didn’t say no and made the height look easy. Guess it’s time for me to man up and get used to a bit height sticks.
Then they moved to the course and a simple bright blue starter roll top. It took several attempts but she got her over. It was super eye opening to watch her go with this near pro on her. What I can feel under saddle looks about the same on the ground. Gem is squirrelly. She doesn’t go straight very well and I could see her thinking about noping her way out of it with each stride. It took a ton of leg to get her to go over. Once she popped over the first time she got super proud of herself and Trainer laughed telling the rider “let her think she is an Olympian after that”. The next time over she hopped it no problem and raced away like the king of the world.
Then they tried the starter box but Gem never went over. It was the largest she ever saw and it wasn’t going to happen. You can get an idea from this one though how she goes left a little, then right, then stops. You just never fully know where her body is going to be.
There was a starter green bench next to it and they re routed to that instead.
I talked to the rider on the way back to the trailer and she had good things to say. She had a lot of fun on her, but admitted she was difficult. She felt bad because she couldn’t stop having contact all the way up to and over the jump because the moment she would soften Gem would take that as an excuse to duck out. I know that feeling all too well and I struggle with it. But Gem is smart and hopefully she learns that going over is easier than saying no.
The other thing she commented on was the fact that Gem has no clue to look for jumps yet so each time it catches her off guard and she is surprised. Gem is so busy looking every where but in front of her that she never sees it coming. Her last horse took 6 months of solid xc schooling to learn to look for it so all hope isn’t lost I suppose.
I left wishing I could leave Gem with her for a month of training. Not only do I not have the cash for it but she is in college and couldnt do it anyway. Maybe this summer when she is on her break I can ship Gem off to her. Something to think about.
Regardless, Gem got more than a 15 minute ride in Saturday and some serious education 🙂
Thursday night was the first time all week I could carve out time to ride after work. I had two goals for the ride: hold Gem more accountable and practice both bend and straightness, both things I got nailed on during the lesson.
Trainer basically had me doing exercise one for the lesson, so I looked up the third one to begin alternating with number two. It was the perfect post lesson exercise: a long figure eight over a single ground pole. Per the book, the goals are to ride the long diagonals straight, have bend through the arcs and hit the pole on an angle. This would meld everything from the lesson together nicely.
As for my primary goal, I’m very good at being super hard on myself when I ride. I’m constantly checking on my various body parts and internally chiding myself for letting my lower leg slip forward, white knuckling the reins, tilting forward etc…. The inside of my head isn’t the prettiest place at times. What I am bad at is doing the same for Gem. I should be making sure her body parts are doing what I ask. Instead I have a “good enough” approach. I wanted to go straight down a side and instead we weave. Good enough. I wanted to begin my circle here but overshot it. Good enough.
It isn’t good enough. I need to hold Gem to doing the task at hand. So I entered this exercise determined to ride as deliberately as Trainer makes me in lessons.
I started it even in the warm up period before tackling the exercise. Instead of toodling around on Gem as I get myself under control, I immediately held her to walking a straight line. Instead of stuffing her into turns at the last minute because I forgot to plan ahead, I made sure each turn was thought out several strides out and ridden with purpose.
Gem responded by immediately softening and listening. Who would have thought that by giving your horse actual directions to follow that they would become more rideable? *Head desk*
After I did the rectangle a few times in each direction, I headed to the ground pole and picked up the trot. And Gem was amazing. The best I’ve ever felt under me.
She rode straight along the long diagonal as I focused on a specific fence post to aim for. Since she was balanced and sure of her direction, the ground pole was met in stride and rode as if not even there. What really impressed me was that she actually had real bend in the turn. I was working hard to plan the turn several strides out and do as Trainer tells me all the time: ride her like an old lady driving on ice.
Gem is super athletic and can handle being jammed around tight corners but that doesn’t mean it is right to do it plus it kills all momentum and pace. By planning my turns more carefully she can more easily maintain her balance and rhythm through the turn.
Once we went through my planned arc I could actually feel her body straighten again under me as I switched my focus to the far fence line and picked my line down the diagonal and over the pole at an angle. It felt amazing. I’ve never actually felt her be so bendy and malleable under me before.
After 15 minutes I called it quits. She was being so good it felt more harmful than good to keep repeating the exercise. She had this one mastered and deserved to be done for the night. Eventually I’m going to have to stop doing that and ride her longer or we will never gain any endurance back but for now I’m happy to give her a big pat and tell her how good she was.
This ride left me grinning all night long. Hopefully I can remember how much better things go when I ride very deliberately and we can continue moving forward and having fun.
The word of the day Sunday was BEND. We had none the last few times I rode on my own and I was growing frustrated trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Turns out a lot. Go figure.
We stuck to the near end of the arena, using my ground pole chute from a few days before as the farthest point. It is much easier to keep Gem contained in a smaller space than let her gain speed in the arena at large. The lesson was a tale of the bi polar horse. The first 30 minutes Gem was lazy. Like walking as slow as physically possible while still doing what I asked lazy. It was a nice change of pace and allowed me to get some good work in.
First Trainer had me ride a large rectangle working on keeping Gem straight until the turn and then creating the bend in the turn while quickly regaining the straightness after. The teaching point here was that you can’t work on bend if you are never straight in the first place. I had to work on keeping her between my aides on the lines I chose and needed to be more deliberate in my path. It wasn’t good enough to get from A to B. I had to get there on an exact path that I planned in advance and then turn exactly where I wanted.
From there we added in a circle using my chute to anchor the circle at 20 m. Trainer immediately called me out for over compensating with my upper body as I tried to create the bend for Gem by twisting like a tornado. Not useful. Instead I was to have just enough bend in my shoulders to allow me to look 1/4 of the circle ahead at all times and just enough in my waist to shift my weight in the saddle to cue Gem to bend around the inside leg.
Since Gem was being lazy, she actually accepted my lower leg on her side pushing her out into my outside rein. It felt delicious. Is that a word I can use when describing riding? Typically any inside leg results in going faster, so I have to use it judiciously. However, without the proper aides our circle tends to turn into a spiral getting ever smaller as I can’t push her out with my inside leg and catch her with the outside rein. Sunday however I could at least for a few small steps at a time and it created a lovely geometry.
The biggest learning point in the first half was to be more deliberate with my path, my turns and in riding in general. I tend to not hold myself as firm when riding and I need to be greedy with everything.
Then the second half happened and Gem woke up and got angry that I was still asking her to work when…gasp..she began to sweat. Mare hates the sweat. As soon as she starts, she shuts down and quits. Silly Princess.
We had just taken a short walk break where I got nailed for throwing her away and not continuing to ride (oops!) and took the trot back up when my nice, calm and quiet mare became speed demon. Sigh. The next 30 minutes were then spent getting her head screwed back on and paying attention.
When the circle became too much for her and all we were doing was zooming around throwing in half halts every 2 steps, half of which were being ignored, Trainer had me go back out on the rectangle adding in a 10 meter circle at each corner with the goal being to maintain the pace and not fall into it. We were semi capable of this, but still I heard the tell tale “slow down, slower” from Trainer about half a million times.
Still, there were good things to come out of the second half. First, I didn’t give up. Sometimes when Gem is like this my head shuts down and I get tense, braced and want to get off and cry in the corner. Sunday though I actually laughed at her. I knew she was tired and that this was getting hard for her which is why she acted out however I also knew that if she just calmed the heck down and did what I asked it would all be over and she could go chill out int he pasture again. The biggest teaching point here was that I needed to be patiently persistent in what I wanted. Gem could act out all she wanted but she darn well better stay on my circle or rectangle or whatever and maintain the bend. I had to keep asking and asking and asking until she realized I wasn’t going to go away ever and she had just better cave and do the thing.
By the end of the hour, Gem was pretty sweaty and I was really happy with all I had driven into my head. Basically it boils down to me holding both of us more responsible to getting the work done. No more letting her get away with pushing out on the circle or falling in. I need to be firmer about exactly where I want her to be at all times while actively working and that is a big shift from what I have always done.
With endurance, Gem and I had come to an understanding. She was in charge of her feet and tackling the trail in the safest and most efficient way possible and I was in charge of setting the pace. If she needed to canter a certain section, as long as our pace didn’t change, she could. I didn’t mess with her very much and she didn’t challenge my sense of direction or pace requirements. But this is a whole new ball game and I need to get more firm with every part of her. Our path is just as important as the speed in which we get there now and it is a big mental change for me.
No picture. No video. No idea why I called the phone number, set up a date to see her or drive the hour to do so.
But I did.
I could say that I made a mistake. She was 150lbs underweight, belly bloated with worms, huge chunks of hair missing, hooves grown over shoes that hadn’t been taken off in over a year and a very shut down attitude towards the world.
In the early days I swore I made a mistake. I left the barn in tears more often than not. I tried my hardest to get her to do anything. Even just walk. But she wouldn’t. She’d stand perfectly still while I nudged, clicked, tapped with a crop, kicked, yelled. Not a hair would flinch on her body. And then right when I gave up trying, she’d bolt wildly around all crazy.
Not necessarily safe but not mean either. She just had no interest in pleasing me at all.
The best thing I did was move to WI away from the prying eyes and pieces of advice of only partly sane horse people. Once there she was housed in my backyard (we had a sweet set up of renting the second house on a boarding facility until we got evicted when the land owner gambled our monthly rent away and the property was foreclosed on) and I had all the time in the world to slowly work with her and show her that I wasn’t going to leave or ask her to do anything unfair.
It took until year three of our time together before she let me in. Then everything changed.
In the last eight years Gem has taken me from clueless, but loving horse owner who was mostly a passenger to a much more educated, independent horsewoman and an active, thinking rider. It hasn’t always been fun. It’s likely never going to be pretty. But it has been worth every second of effort I’ve put into her.
Part of me wishes I had blogged at the beginning but mostly I’m glad I didn’t. I’m sure everyone would have just told me to sell her back then and what a shame it would have been to lose out on all these experiences.
Gem went from not able to walk under saddle to bolting madly to having a trainer tell me she’d never be able to canter to becoming a 100 mile endurance horse cantering the first 30 plus miles nearly straight and is now jumping 2′ fences and schooling over starter sized cross country fences.
She isn’t easy but neither am I. I think we do okay together and even with all my complaining on here about her I have no interest in looking at the world through any other ears. Here is to many more years with my Gemmiecakes!