Back in the Game

Bravo has been knocking it out of the park lately in so many ways. A few weeks ago we hit a snag due to some less than ideal pasture conditions, an excess of energy, and too much lunge line exuberance. Multiple fixes helped smooth out these issues and even though nothing could be done about the pasture conditions, we have been reaping the benefits and really making progress since making some changes.

I returned to our roots with a groundwork refresher, per Tracy’s suggestion, and closed down the barn a few nights so I could allow Bravo some free time loose in the arena. He responded well to the groundwork but surprised me by not getting wild at all when I turned him loose in the arena. There were much less theatrics than he had been delivering on the lunge line.

 

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Fun with props

 

Heeding Austen’s advice, I have completely omitted lunging and took a chance that he would keep a better lid on the crazy while being ridden. It worked!! He has been perfectly well behaved ever since. We can revisit lunging when the round pen finally drains (probably sometime in June…at the this rate). Can’t say that I miss it from our pre-ride routine but I do want him to know how to do it and behave. We did make it out to the round pen one day when there wasn’t standing water and I got to take another update shot. I love looking at these and seeing how he is changing.

 

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1 year difference, top is most recent

 

He saw the chiropractor and I think that may have helped make him more comfortable while working. It feels so amazing to have the “problems” that we have now under saddle. He has always been great for the walk but had been pretty resistant to trotting and we hadn’t cantered since I bought him. Now, our “go” button is working much better and he only takes exception to being asked to trot the first time in the ride. His resistance is nothing major- a head toss or running out through his shoulder. As his strength improves and he adapts to consistent riding, I’m confident this will fade, too. The newest issues are leaning and running through his shoulder while trotting and not yet understanding a cue to move laterally. We are cantering a little but he is lacking strength and coordination. He has been stumbling behind occasionally especially in the down transition so we will take this slow.

 

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Always up for a walk

 

The best part about all this progress is I think we are officially ready to start taking  lessons together! He has been ridden by my friend in three lessons so far, but he and I have yet to take our first lesson.

For documentation purposes, here’s a list of what’s going well and what needs work:

What’s Working

  • He’s so chill- he doesn’t spook at the crazy arena pigeons
  • Doesn’t mind the radio playing in the arena
  • He reacts but doesn’t overreact to the whip
  • Forward and responsive to the leg (most of the time)
  • He did really well with three other horses in the arena, multiple times
  • No bolting, bucking, or ear pinning
  • Swinging, forward walk is default

What Needs Work

  • Standing still at the mounting block (he doesn’t walk away, he moves his hip away)
  • Lunging
  • Focus- very short attention span
  • Whoa (a bit swap helped, but I want him to react to my seat/tone)
  • Accepting contact
  • Beginning lateral work- moving away from one leg
  • Steering
  • Shoulder control- bulging and leaning everywhere
  • Balance especially in transitions

 

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The magnesium supplement seems to be helping, too

 

My diligence and patience with him is finally paying off right now. We feel ready to consider the next level, which, in our case, is actually tackling some of the things listed above! What fabulous “problems” to have, all things considered…  YOU GUYS! We have RIDING problems to fix. 😀

 

 

Bringing up Bravo: Ramping Up

Bravo’s new diet is going well and he seems to be a little less on edge. Despite the ridiculous weather around here the past month, Bravo is sound. So, it’s time to get back to work training this little guy to become a trustworthy riding horse!

 

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I have only been able to free lunge him in the round pen one time in the past two months due to weather and he was pretty distracted and unruly. A friend of mine offered to help me out with Bravo and even ride him in some of her lessons. She is a very talented rider but does not have her own horse so it is a great exchange with mutual benefits. I wanted to get together with her and tag-team ride Bravo at some point so she could get an idea of  where he is right now in his training. I was open and honest about how green he is and left it up to her to decide if it would still be worth it to her to ride him in some of her paid lessons.

 

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We met up at the barn last Friday and I reminded her how feral he was so we decided to play it by ear. I started out lunging him and he was WILD. Staying in a circle around me was not a concept he was familiar with anymore. He played a bunch and every time I asked for a trot he would ramp himself up to a canter and threaten to bolt away and squeal and buck. Eventually, he settled a bit and held a nice trot and started listening to my commands. My friend asked me when the last time I lunged him was and I told her that I haven’t lunged him in the arena in at least two months. We both agreed that given that scenario, he really was being quite a good five year old. She was definitely still game to get on so we got everything adjusted and she climbed aboard. It’s a lot of fun watching your horse be ridden by someone else- nerve-wracking- but fun. He had one moment as they were starting where he thought about playing while under saddle. He didn’t really do anything but he squealed and she just calmly urged him forward and he knocked that shit right off. I breathed a tentative sigh of relief and realized I had been holding my breath.

 

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She handled him so well and we kept it light and easy. He is still a very green bean, unsure in his rapidly changing body, but he tried hard and took care of us both during our rides. He’s quirky and wiggly but I know with consistent riding he’ll improve quickly. I’m super grateful for the help and I am also committing to ride him more consistently this year. Even though I know there will be a whole lot of ugly to ride through, I was bursting with pride watching my friend ride him. I can see flashes of the horse I hope he grows up to be when he really learns to carry himself.

 

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Bringing up Bravo: Seasons of Change

So, July was a total wash. Aside from celebrating 6 months together, Bravo mostly took a training sabbatical and focused on gobbling up my money ulcer meds and gastric supplements to treat undiagnosed, but highly suspected tummy troubles. The bad news is: this is the second time I have treated him for ulcers in the 6 months I’ve owned him. The good news is: it worked… again!  My personal anxiety had rocketed in late June as training progress screeched to a halt and even felt like it switched into reverse. We were just at a critical juncture where I was very worried that the regression was a direct reflection of my training abilities- I suddenly found myself with a giant, grumpy, aggressive, nearly unridable horse.

As I mentioned in my last post, I created a short list of corrective actions to try- starting down the medical route first. I had already purchased the blue pop rocks from back in March when I treated him with Nexium. We’ve just finished a 30-day full treatment and I am tapering him off of the omeprazole and crossing all of my digits that the gastric supplement he also started will be enough to keep his gut happy. Okay, yeah, I didn’t consult a vet about any of this. Irresponsible? Maybe. Gambling? Definitely. The encouraging notion here is that if I can figure out what he needs to stay ulcer-free, we are going to be just fine! It was never a training issue- the behavior was purely pain/discomfort related. The last two weeks I have had my smart, sweet, brave youngster back and we have been able to make HUGE training strides in a short amount of time.

 

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Airplane ears for front end lift?

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Another thing the health setbacks threatened to derail was the significant growth and development Bravo has shown since I got him. I’ve never had a young horse so watching him grow has been nothing short of mind-blowing to me. Social media friends of mine will have already seen these, but I’m afraid it’s 100% a ‘sorry-not-sorry’ scenario because I simply cannot get enough.

 

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PROGRESS EYE CANDY

 

I can’t stop, won’t stop looking at photos from February and thinking what on earth did you see in that malnourished toddler?!?!?

 

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Baby Derp

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Looking like a proper adolescent!

 

I am still hard at work on building top-line and improving posture but we have made enough progress here that I have felt comfortable adding in riding sessions! We mostly just walk and I keep them short and sweet. We have successfully weaved cones and walked ground poles in addition to always schooling mounting block etiquette, square halts, and prompt responses to my leg. No cantering under saddle or lessons with a trainer yet, but I think we are getting close to being able to do both!

 

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No longer malnourished

 

Reflecting upon six months of horse ownership, I can only say this: we never had a honeymoon period and I expected one. It feels like we’ve been through a lot, even though I know it pales in comparison to others. I am very tentatively starting to let my mind wander towards hopes and dreams for us in the future.

Maybe we’re just the kind of couple that has to save up for their honeymoon. 😉

Wish Granted

Last weekend seemed to be the last breath of summer in this area so I didn’t need anymore of an excuse to leave work a little early on Friday and head out to the barn. Harley has been growing a pretty woolly coat the past month and he’s often already sweaty before I ride. So, I made a plan, and Friday was the day! I gave him a bath which he didn’t really appreciate and then I took him out to graze in the sun which he liked much better.

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After he dried my trainer insisted on taking photos of how clean he was for five seconds.

 

 

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We also tried to take cute photos with the barn’s fall decorations but my friend lets her pony do whatever he wants and thinks it’s cute and makes no effort to stop him so after he rolled the large pumpkin into the parking lot with his nose, ate the straw, and yanked down the corn stalk, I was pretty much in favor of being done with that activity.

I hope you got a good look at that chestnut chest hair above because promptly after those photos were taken, I tried my hand at clipping a horse for the first time ever!

Harley was awesome and didn’t even bat an eye at the clippers. He stood completely still and was a total dude about the whole process. I thought it wise, for my first time ever holding a clippers, to stick to something simple so I planned a tidy bib clip to start out with and later I could extend it if need be. I think I did a pretty decent job for my first time! But, I have no idea how you guys do things like make shapes/designs or straight lines for that matter…

 

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Saturday early afternoon I came back out to the barn for a ride and the barn was eerily empty for such a beautiful day. Sometimes Harley gets more concerned when he’s all alone in the arena but on Saturday he was a perfect angel and did not put a foot wrong. We had the BEST ride we’ve had in months. It was wonderful. He was relaxed but forward and even when I spanked him with my whip once a little harder than I planned, he let it go and didn’t get tense. I did not wear the theraband around my back but spent the whole ride focusing on getting that same feeling like I was wearing it and sitting up and back and relaxing my shoulders. He was much more accepting of my contact and I remembered to half halt firmly but release quickly and to keep doing that throughout the ride especially when we started to get disconnected. I find I’m often so concerned about the tension in our rides that I let us both get away with not having that conversation in the contact. I really enjoyed such a quiet, productive ride where I had the chance to feel through the connection when his focus was on me and when it wasn’t.

Sometimes this really nuanced message gets lost in the hustle of trying to “do things”. I have been frustrated lately in my lessons because they seem so focused on completing a pattern or getting a shoulder-in. That’s okay for some rides, but I often feel like I’m skipping over fundamentals to do it. I’m struggling to merge the two functions. And wondering, is it better to slog around doing imperfect “patterns” until they finally click? Is repetition the key? Or, is that connection the key to the whole thing and the minute you lose the connection you should stop trying to complete the pattern until you’ve recovered the connection? A little of both, probably, but I just don’t enjoy that feeling of running around like a chicken with my head cut off in the hopes that eventually one of those aimless circles will be a perfect 20m with correct bend.

Oh, dressage…you’re such a perpetual, addicting, mind screw.

 

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Physical Limits vs Mental Limits

Monday I wrote about ways that I am pushing some physical limits in my life and today I want to talk about some mental limits that I’m struggling with lately in my riding.

A few weeks ago, I had an amazing lesson on Louie where my trainer even video taped part of my ride to show me how much my seat has improved and what a positive influence it was having on the way Louie was moving.

 

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Alas, what goes up, must come down. Tuesday’s lesson was a total bust and I’m still trying to process what was going on. I think I may have been in my own head too much- trying to reproduce something I came across in a very exploratory frame of mind by instead forcing it or rushing it. Louie was being a little lazy and when I couldn’t get him to feel how he felt last ride, I kind of crumbled. When Louie started phoning it in, the wheels came off and we were a mess out there. She asked me to do some canter transitions to balance him in the trot and he was. not. there. He was super dull and giving the bare minimum amount of effort and I was suddenly completely at a loss for what to do. I could feel it- or rather the absence of it- and I just kept trying to force it. I was able to finish with some decent canter work only after a heart to heart….er…whip to rump discussion with Louie and my trainer explaining to me that I wasn’t even asking him to keep it together- I was just giving away all of the impulsion out the front. Weak sauce.

After the lesson she told me something I already knew, but after that performance, probably needed to be told again. She said something to the effect of, “you are not a beginner anymore, when people start lessons they look to their instructor to guide everything they do. When more advanced riders take a lesson, they come in and ride and I help when they need it but they do what they need to do for their horse before I say a word. You have more than enough tools in your toolbox to get him where he needs to be without me- you have to ride him like he’s your horse. If I ask you to do some exercise but you can feel he isn’t balanced enough to do it, get him there- do something else you know will help him.” She’s right, of course.

So, what happens when the EquiNovice isn’t exactly a novice anymore? I’ll tell you what happens- responsibility!!!! UGH, what a drag! As long as you are new you feel like you can make mistakes, second guess yourself, be hesitant, and it’s all acceptable because, well, it is- you’re new. Coming to grips with not being new is a bigger mental hurdle than I thought it would be. I need to level up my mental fortitude to match my skill or it’s going to be darn near impossible to continue to advance.

I don’t imagine this was a particularly enjoyable lesson for my trainer to teach and it is in stark contrast to my last lesson which I think she probably did enjoy. But it means a lot to me that she continues to push me to be better. Yes, I pay her for every lesson, but she could just as easily feed me empty compliments and let me putz around on good natured Louie every week. I’m never going to show him; never going to be reflected publicly as her student; and may not even get to take lessons from her for very much longer. But she still cares about my development as a rider enough to tactfully have an uncomfortable conversation with me and push me to be better. That’s a quality instructor.

 

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Mental limits: must push for more progress! Onward and upward and don’t let a few bad rides get you down.

 

 

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