After the semi ok, but not really great cross country schooling, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about the immediate horse future and the long term goals.
I’m not stupid and I don’t have rose colored glasses. I know Gem isn’t the perfectly right horse for me. I know most would have walked away a long time ago. This is supposed to be fun, so why torture myself?
As Gem ran circles around me Saturday morning in her pasture, the thought solidified in my brain. I’m going to lease her out to an endurance rider for a few seasons. Let her return to the trail. She is way too young physically and mentally to retire, I fully believe she would hate it, yet I don’t really want to do this with her any longer and I can’t return to endurance at this point in my life.
There. Plan made.
But then I got to the show and Gem patiently let Wyatt pick her hooves clean, brush her out and fuss over her. She carried him in warm up with others trotting and cantering by without putting a single foot wrong. She was careful and calm during his class even walking past the scary hay bale jump.
As I stood waiting my turn, she napped. Her head would bob and then snap up as she woke up. No screaming. No pawing. No moving all around. Horses crammed in front and behind us and she didn’t take notice.
In warm up she was relaxed, listened to my aides and popped over the cross rail without hesitation.
In the arena, she fed off my nerves and poor judgement and held me accountable but wasn’t dirty or mean. She got the job done.
I watched all these other people kick my butt on lesson horses. Little 8 year olds in pigtails who cantered the entire course. I thought how nice it would be to have that. To get on my horse, canter easily around pretty much being useless except for steering cuz a monkey could pilot it without issue, and then gather my many ribbons and go home.
Then I went in on Gem and my entire perspective changed. Was it easy? Nope. Did I look like the worlds biggest slow poke idiot? Probably. But here’s the thing. We did it. Together. And the feeling of accomplishment that flooded me when we soared over the final jump in each round is irreplaceable and unmatched.
Sure I would likely be jumping higher on a different horse. Yup, I probably would still be heading to a HT in December. But you know what? My lower leg position wouldn’t be as solid. Gem has taught me that. My hands wouldn’t be as relaxed. Gem taught me that too. My eye wouldn’t be as good at looking for a path many, many strides in advance. You guessed it. Gem taught me that.
I’d be a lot farther in my riding, but I doubt I’d be as good (relatively speaking) as I am currently at it. So Gem stays. For now anyway. Until she pisses me off again. I’ve been threatening to sell her for near on 8 years now. I doubt she believes me any more.
The flat work had gone extremely well and while there is still a ton to work on, the differences were easy to see from when we started way back in February. Trainer was super happy with the work we put it and I was really proud of Gem for working so hard to try to give me the correct answer. I’mm to a point now where I feel like I can start to push Gem a little more. Before she was a little delicate. Too much pressure would send her over he edge and it would take a week or more to bring her back. Now she can take it.
It was time to get jumping though.
The same course was still set from last Wednesday only this time Trainer set up a cavaletti with a ground pole on either side to make it wider. She wanted to introduce a jump without standards to Gem to see how she would handle it. I hadn’t even thought about that difference in stadium versus cross country.
She first had me take Gem over the cross rail we had been over a dozen times before. I kept my legs on, looked up at the gate opposite the jump and rode towards it. Gem went over but it was hesitant and squirrelly. Trainer just shook her head because she saw me ride it hard and yet, even though Gem has jumped this same jump before, she still got all squiggly before it.
It is a little frustrating when she is all “maybe I’ll go left, maybe I’ll go right, maybe I’ll stop, fine I’ll go over but I’m going to keep you guessing if I will or not right up to the base”. Trainer remarked that Gem requires steering the entire time including in the air and that makes it very hard. I used to blame it 100% on me and my lack of confidence going towards the fence, but on Friday I had no butterflies, no hesitation and was not backed off at all. Gem was still the same.
We came at the jump again and this time I booted her pretty good right before it to make sure she kept up her pace and went over. Well, this caused her all sorts of confusion and she lost track of her legs and tripped right in front of the fence. We managed to make it over, but it was ugly. The third time was decent enough for Trainer to set us loose on a small course.
Carrying over from the flat work, Trainer set up three small fences: the cross rail, the cavaletti and a vertical. She told me the order to jump them, but that was all. I had the entire arena to do my thing in and she wanted to watch my decisions as I made my way around the course. I could trot or canter depending on how balanced Gem was.
And this is where I got sorta frustrated. When I very first started jumping with Trainer, she stressed allowing for bigger and deeper turns to give Gem more time to notice and realize the plan. So going around the course that was my thought. I made big sweeping turns, got deep into the corners and chose to overshoot and come back rather than turn too early and lose my rhythm.
Trainer kept shouting out to steer, turn and better prepare. I told her what I was thinking, but then when I went around again and made my turns sharper and didn’t overshoot I got told I needed to give her a better set up. I honestly didn’t know what the correct answer was as either way seemed to be wrong. I was steering and I did have a plan, it just never seemed to be the correct one.
For Gem’s part she jumped as she always does: needed more leg support than I have access to, required precision steering and would duck out or stop if given the smallest opportunity. Thankfully, I didn’t give her the chance to duck out and kept my legs on her blocking the path, but she never felt locked on or enthusiastic about the whole thing.
After a few trips around, Trainer ran out of the ability to stall any longer, said it was time to leave the arena and begin work in the wide open over solid obstacles. Honestly, I’m convinced she was nervous about the two of us. I mean, in the arena we pretty much stink and I had been pretty vocal about my concerns on cross country. For my part I was on the verge of telling her never mind about the whole thing. We had already been riding for an hour, it was getting really hot out and I was chickening out big time. I didn’t let the inner voice win though, and nervously followed her out the back arena gate….
This is an issue that Trainer brought up in my last lesson. We were just starting the jumping portion and I did what I always do: got defensive in front of the jump and completely took my leg off her. This gave me the same response I always get: Gem stopped and refused to jump. Not her fault, since I was telling her loud and clear that I didn't want to actually go over it. Now, a more forgiving horse would have jumped it anyway since she was clearly pointed right at the middle of the thing and knew fully well what my intentions were. But she isn't a forgiving horse.
At that point Trainer piped up. While Gem isn't a forgiving horse, she is an honest one and was telling me three strides out she needed more support to go over it. Even then she kept going up to the base asking for help which she never received and finally at the last minute she politely refused. No buck. No dropped shoulder. Just a polite "well, if you don't want me to then screw it I wont".
My defensiveness stems a long way back. When I first got her she was a witch. A little bit mean, a whole lot obstinate. Back then she would pull dirty stunts at the base of a jump even when I had my leg on and was fully committed to making it over. Heck she would pull dirty stunts just about anywhere anytime. She would act as though she would do the thing and then drop her right shoulder, spin 180 degrees and bolt. I ended up on the ground more times than over the jump. This behavior taught me to be scared, timid and not 100% committed to going over.
But that was years ago. She no longer acts like that. Sure, she doesn't go out of her way to help me, but we came to the agreement many years and many miles ago that she would do her job and I would do mine and we would stay out of each other's way as much as possible. The mare hates it when I nag and I hate it when I have to.
The problem is that I am still riding her like she used to be instead of the way she is now. My defensive riding has no place in her non aggressive behavior and yet I am still holding on tight to past grudges. I know that when I ride her more assertively towards a fence, that she will go over it. In fact, she has yet to refuse any jump that I am committed to going over, even if it is attached to a train.
Once Trainer demanded that I ride the horse I currently have, Gem moved around the course like a dream. She locked on to the jumps several strides out and pulled me towards them. She didn't balk, she didn't hesitate, she just soared over and went where I directed her to go.
It is a seismic drift in our relationship and way of going and one my body and mind has been slow to adjust to. The issue is that now I am beginning to punish her for her kind behavior by being restrictive and tense. Sure, she taught me to be that way but now she is trying to teach me to be trusting again and I haven't been listening.
It is going to take more than one good lesson to release the years worth of defensive tension from my muscle memory, but I could start to feel it ebb away by the end of it and hope to continue being a more willing partner moving forward. Well, as long as Gem holds up her end as well and continues to be a trustworthy mount.
What about any of you? Was there ever a point in your partnership where you had to let go of the past and move towards the future? What helped you make the transition from riding the past to the present?
I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house. It just pisses me off.
My mom offered up to watch the kiddo so we could go ride. I wasn’t going to pass an offer like that up, so Dusty and I loaded up and hit the trails on the 4th. Any trail time is good, but on a typical work day? Even better.
Turns out we weren’t the only ones trying to beat the heat and get a ride in before the festivities began and we pulled into an already teaming parking lot. Of course, it wouldn’t have been so bad if people actually parked with any thought outside of themselves. It was a bad omen for the rest of the day when we saw several way too large rigs pulled in diagnonally taking up multiple spaces and making the trail head a maze.
Dusty told me not to let it ruin my day, a bad habit I have of letting things like this get to me. So I did.
We headed out to repeat the same loop we did a couple of weeks ago. The footing was even better and we made good time when we could before Pete got tired and asked to start walking more. The big old guy is starting to wonder why he was pulled out of retirement.
Things were going well until we came to an access road. We were walking along due to the gravel footing and I just happened to look behind me and saw a woman running. She showed no signs of slowing and never called out that she was coming up behind us. Had I not looked back I wouldn’t have known she was there until she spooked the crap out of the horses.
When she nearly ran smack into Pete’s butt she turned and called her off leash dog to her. I won’t even get into my complete hatred of dogs and horses mixing here because that would take a while, but this woman didn’t even apologize. Instead she stood right next to us shrieking for her loose dog and then proceeded to take off running again once he was in sight behind her. She was darn lucky our horses are both idiot and dog proof or they could have had some serious injuries from getting trampled or kicked.
From there it went down hill although we still enjoyed the ride immensely and the horses were most excellent. Pete handled the terrain better than last time although I think he was a bit foot sore with all the rain making his dinner plate hooves soft.
The trail has two road crossings at the end and both can be a bit hairy as cars tend to go flying down the country road. We came to the second one and saw a large group of six riders on the other side immobile. We paused on our side and watched for a little bit but the group were just chit chatting and effectively blocking the entire trail on the other side making crossing the road impossible. Our side wasn’t safe for just chilling out at: a small clearing right at the road without any shoulder and with a deep ditch on either side. We were growing restless and needed to cross but no amount of nicely asking them to move away from the road was producing results.
Dusty hates confrontation and while I don’t go looking for it, well depending on who you talk to, I won’t back away either and started ramping up to tell them they had until we crossed to move or get bowled over. Dusty asked me not to make a scene and fortunately for him they deemed it time to move right about then any way.
At this point I was a bit tired of dealing with stupid, rude and self absorbed people. We ended up back at the trailer with two very sweaty and hot horses and stripped tack quickly to go use the single hose available. We walked over to find three of those same ladies already there. We settled in to wait for our turn while the horses enjoyed grazing.
I was doing just fine until the remaining three from their group came walking over and completely cut us off. I glared. Dusty asked me to bite my tongue. I was doing pretty well with that until the one lady looked at me and said “sorry our group of six got here before you” in a condescending not really sorry and making me really angry type of way. My mouth dropped to the floor. “Um…no your group of three were here first. The rest of you cut us off by some sort of group association and should actually be behind us in line” Dusty groaned but the woman just turned away.
So there we were waiting our turn behind six horses at the hose on an extremely hot morning. If I had been at the hose, I would have watered my horse quickly and efficiently so that everyone got cooled off quickly. Nope. These ladies held their beer in one hand, the hose in the other and talked, washed off their boots and girths before their horse and in general didn’t give a flying crap about anyone but themselves. I was seething mad by the time the last horse was being led away.
Except that wasn’t even the end because they didn’t actually move away from the hose area and I had to plow my way through telling them that they will be lucky not to be kicked if they continued to stand in my path. Rude people make me want to teach Gem to kick on command.
It was bad enough that my very non confrontational, much easier going then myself, husband even made comments. That’s a rarity. As we sprayed our two off we noted that these same people were the ones who parked diagonally across multiple spots making an already busy parking lot near impossible to either park or drive in. Shocking.
Trail etiquette people. It’s important. Or you know, just don’t be an asshat when out in public. That works too.
Lessons do not generally make me nervous. I find them challenging and fun and since Trainer is so awesome I always know that while we will be pushed to do better, it won’t be scary. Wednesday, however, I found myself with some butterflies.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted Gem to be tense and rushed or not. I mean, if she was then Trainer could help me but then it would mean something other than she just doesn’t do well in the large boundary less field at home. Maybe she was in pain or just hated this new discipline and I’d have to make some hard decisions. If she was perfectly behaved then we could move forward, but then it would mean that I wouldn’t get any tools to help at home.
Trainer wanted us in the jump tack, which made my wimpy little jumping heart happy. After the onslaught of babble about the CT, we wandered to the arena and I started off with “Do you remember how Gem was when you first met us at my house back in February?” She sighed, made a face and told me she was sorry I was having to deal with that. Me too, Trainer. Me too.
Right off the bat she called me out on my position. It’s frustrating. I’ve been riding for 30 years and I can’t even sit on the darn horse right. The lower half of my body has gotten a lot better, but my upper half still has a lot of work to go. She said that our number one priority this summer is going to be loosening up my arms. She kept telling me to be looser, looser, looser and when I finally got there and felt like a wet, sloppy noodle she told me I was nearly free enough. Ugh. It feels so odd.
Gem held it together at the walk really well. In fact she nearly made a liar out of me. Then we moved into the trot and the wheels fell off. She was braced, rushed and hollow. We zoomed around the circle like a Boeing 747. I was trying my best to remain calm and not get anxious or tense or angry, but it was just so darn frustrating to be going like that when I know we can do so much better.
Trainer called me out on a lot of things,but mostly I think she felt bad for me. It was obvious that neither Gem nor I was enjoying ourselves and as we kept getting worse I was getting ready to just call the whole thing off and go sulk in the truck like a 4 year old.
Instead, Trainer kept correcting me: post lower to the saddle, lower, lower….good now slow down the post, s l o w e r… good now sit taller…good now quit bracing with your inside leg, bring it back under my hip, wrap it around her….now slow that flying monkey down to a walk as if your life depended on it. Walk. Now. Change directions.
By the end of 30 minutes, Gem was deemed rideable enough to jump. There are so many things to talk about that I’m going to write up Trainer’s analysis in a different post. We talked a lot about Gem, myself and our relationship as well as our goals and how to get there. It was enlightening.
Once we were cleared to jump, Trainer set up a course at 2′ for us to work over. It had a lot of turns. The goal for this jump session was to work on my approach to the jumps and to quit giving Gem such a long approach. Giving her so much time helps me to prepare, but it also gives her a lot of time to get both bored and squirrelly.
The first jump was meh. Gem was game, but I was not and not only did I take my leg off, I also stared straight at the jump. Both told Gem that I had no interest in going over so she stopped. I wouldn’t call it a refusal since I didn’t actually ask her to go over it. Once I put my leg on she went over no problem and didn’t stop at another one the rest of the time. She really can be such a good girl.
After we warmed up over a couple of jumps, Trainer gave me the course: a gate with solid panel, left turn to a two cross rail bending line set at three strides (if I cantered them which I did not), then a sharp right to a vertical (when she pointed out the course I said “you mean that super tall vertical that is set tonway ober 18”? And to which she responded “Go jump”), a right turn to another cross rail then a sharp left back over the original gate for a small course of 6 jumps.
The first time I gave Gem a huge lead up to jump one and Trainer yelled at me for it making me circle and try again. I did and it went pretty ok. We went over everything and Trainer remarked again how she loves that Gem is the same horse before and after a jump. She called me out for pulling Gem up right before a jump. Gem locks on a few strides out and pulls me to it and I need to just let her. She is not rushing, even if it feels like it, she is just getting her energy sorted to make it over. I need to let her do it.
We did the course twice and called it a day. Gem did excellent both times. Trainer did tell me a few times that I was making good choices and I added a circle in once when Gem was getting sassy and throwing her head when I wouldn’t let her run through me.
I do need to work on ignoring the jumps better. She kept telling me to be looking at the next jump about two strides out from the current one and I wasn’t so gray at doing that the first time around. The second time I really got a better feel for it and was able to really look around to where I was going a lot better.
We ended on a super good note with all three of us happy. Trainer told me that she loves watching Gem jump. She can see her brain going a million miles an hour trying to sort it all out. For my part, I’m trying to get more comfortable with how Gem jumps. With the higher jumps, specifically the panel and vertical, she has two separate motions: her front end goes over and then when her hind end is going over the jump she pops it up higher to clear. It feels odd like: ok here we go up and then pop she throws her hind end up. Trainer said that her Arab/Welsh gelding had the same technique and it was really difficult to sit so if I can do it well on Gem the other horses should be really easy in comparison. We also plan on beginning to canter our jumps next time. Eeek!
It just isn’t worth it. Not worth the time, not worth the frustration, not worth ruining our relationship over. At least not right now.
There are dozens of reasons why riding Gem at home isn’t working out. The most important are the frequency she gets worked and the area she gets worked in.
Gem has always been worse behaved at “home” than trailering out. In fact, when we lived in WI the one barn had 200 acres of trails on property. She was a nut job on those. Trailer out to the trail head? Wonderful, well at least as good as she gets. Rides in the “home” arena were always a crap shoot. The entire first month at a new facility was always awful as I had to re teach Gem that she did in fact have to work for me 3 hours a week and that that didn’t qualify as animal abuse. I can still remember in perfect detail the first time I rode her in the grass arena at the last barn we were at. We would reach the far end of the field, she would break into canter and try to take me right back to the gate so she could leave. Fun? No, but with persistence she eventually learned that by doing so it just got her to a closed gate and circled back to work some more. Eventually she does stop doing that and the rides become more even and more purposeful. But back then I was riding her 3 days a week in an enclosed arena with fences and gates and all those other nice physical boundaries.
Now, however, I ride 1-2 times a week if I am lucky and have a completely open 5 acre grass field to ride in with no fencing or other solid boundaries. It is a recipe for disaster and one I am tired of dabbling in.
I had really wanted to ride Wednesday, but didn’t walk into the door until 7:45 pm. I had about an hour of light to play with, but hadn’t seen Wyatt all day and that is more important, so when he asked me to play Play Dough there was no way I was saying no. Friday was my next shot. Work was slammed and I got home at 9:30 pm. Saturday Dusty worked then had plans to run in the afternoon. Finally, I got my chance on Sunday. Last week wasn’t a fluke either. My weeks almost always look something similar in one way or another.
Things started off pretty well Sunday morning. She had her halt back which was nice to see. I know she is getting bored with all the walk trot, 20 m circle, serpentine, figure 8 stuff so I thought I would get her cantering early on. She loves a good canter to stretch her back. I asked her for canter out of a decent trot and she gave it to me. Then she proceeded to grab the bit and run across the 5 acres towards her pasture. Ah hell no mare. I asked for bend, when she didn’t respond I asked for trot, when she didn’t listen I one rein stopped her ass and made her stand still all pissed off until I asked her to walk again. Then we walked up and down that field halting and walking and halting and walking.
At that point I let her trot away from her pasture and made her walk towards it. That lasted two laps when she then picked up the canter instead of the trot and tried to toss her head and run all the way back home. I shut her down immediately.
But here is the thing. I was having ZERO fun. None. I was frustrated. I was angry that she couldn’t just freaking walk down the damn field. She is 19 years old. 19! This isn’t our first ride. She can freaking WALK!
I took a deep breath, got off and was done. I did throw her on the lunge line and watched her w/t/c both directions mostly to see if she was lame somewhere I wasn’t catching, but also to just get her listening and focused. She wasn’t happy, but she was 100% sound and capable. While I know some people will judge me for ending the ride on a bad note, go ahead judge away…this is me not caring, at the time it was the best decision. My relationship with Gem is what is the most important to me. Not an all out brawl to see who can win. I don’t have the right tools in my box to work with this. I don’t know what to do when she blows me off and I’ve asked nicely, held my position, then asked again a little louder and louder and louder until I have to scream it at her. All I can do is get into a fight and maybe squeak out something decent, but in the process ruin everything I’ve been working on building towards. The short term gain of her minding me in that field Sunday isn’t worth the long term loss.
Trainer can come to me, but right now I don’t want her to. I have no interest in paying $55 to spend an hour being miserable trying to get my mare to walk. If I had an arena to work in, it would be different. If I could consistently ride her 3 days a week at home, it would be worth it. But to ride her once or maybe twice a week in the big 5 acre field? No, I don’t think it is. Instead, I am going to continue to trailer her to Trainer’s barn. She behaves there, or at least behaves within our current skill level which allows us to work on things like bend, geometry, leg yields and jumping. Having free access to the barn is amazing and I plan to trailer out more often to ride on my own there. Take advantage of the dressage court and jump arena to practice for now. I need to find out what the barn hours are. They have great lights on the jump arena, so I can ride year round and after work even when it is dark, but I don’t know what time it officially closes to the public.
Anyway…those are a lot of words to say that I am putting a hold on any rides at home until such a time as I can ride much more consistently and/or set up an actual closed off work space to help with defining boundaries. It isn’t fair to either of us to hop on once every 10 days and expect work to happen in a large field where she has room to make really big mistakes that I can’t fix. Someday we will revisit using the field, but not until we have a lot more rides with Trainer under our belt.
While all the rain this year has allowed the pasture to grow and the hay supply to be abundant, it has also allowed the insects to go a little wild. It is to the point where they are having issues eating their grain between stomping and biting at the nasty little buggers. I’ve also noticed that their hooves are starting to chip from the combination of being softer from all the rain and the trauma of all the stomping.
We have been spraying them with heavy duty fly spray frequently but it seems like it only works for a day and then they either sweat it off with the high temps and humidity or it rains and washes it away. Even the supposedly water proof stuff isn’t lasting more than 48 hours.
Past use of feed throughs didn’t produce any results for us and just kept Pete from eating.
I’ve started looking into fly sheets for them. Riding Warehouse has a good variety at a reasonable cost. If we go that route it has to be an open enough mesh to not cause overheating in the hot sun and high humidity. It’s in the upper 80s and low 90s and is only going to heat up from here. I’d rather them get bitten than have heat stroke. Plus most of the bugs seem to be on their legs.
That lead me to look into just getting fly boots or those newish shoo fly bags. That way the legs are protected and they won’t overheat. But I’ve never been fond of wrapping the legs up and I’ve read that people have issues keeping them on.
So that leads me to asking you all….fly sheet versus fly boots versus shoo fly versus something I haven’t thought of?? They need some relief and it is too early in the season to ignore. I don’t have a barn, so stalling them with a fan isn’t an option and Dusty looked at me weird when I suggested we buy a massive outdoor fan and put it in the pasture.