Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I'm stuck on one of those horrible plateaus. I'm pretty sure this one's for good.

I'm not fit enough to do the things I want. I flop around like a dead fish in the saddle, ineffective bordering on interfering, and I am so stressed in every area of my life that my go-to response has been to ramp up with Tris. Escalation is no one's friend, and it just leads to me behaving poorly as a rider, and Tris tuning me out. Last night's lesson was the closest I've come to breaking down and crying right there in the saddle that I've ever come. I don't have time to go to the gym. I've started trying to do push-ups and sit-ups and stretches at home at night, and the number I can effectively accomplish is so pathetically small I can't even say it out loud.

I can't get down to the barn enough to really move forward. I just can't. If I went as often as I'd like a) I'd get fired, b) I'd flunk out of grad school and then c) what little social life I have would unravel entirely, not to mention Matt would probably get while the getting's good. Also, I'd be broke. I'm just barely keeping my head above water paying for gas for 4 trips or so a week, and carpooling with Hannah has been a huge help, but I am a bad enough rider that 4 trips a week isn't getting me anywhere.

I know that one of the cardinal rules of horses is not to compare yourself to others, but I can't help it. I get dangerously close to blaming my horse because - I love him more than life itself, more than anything, but he does not make this easy. He's difficult and not inclined to cooperate, and of course I can't blame him a bit, but it's hard when you're as selfish and petty as I am and day in and day out watch everyone else get their relaxed and through horses on the bit and Tris won't take the outside rein again. Some more. For years and years on top of years.

I'm juggling every.single.penny. to try to afford a dressage saddle this winter (and trailer repairs in the spring, and US Rider renewal, and supplements, and vet bills, and maybe some extra jumping lessons). I've convinced myself a dressage saddle will help. Deep down, I know it won't, because I'm not having saddle problems; I'm having basic lack-of-skills problems. It's not a magic fix, and it's probably not even a mundane fix.

In short: Dear Tristan, I'm sorry for breaking the #1 rule of horses and losing my temper. You deserve a better mom.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Two things.

First, last night, we had a super lesson. Stepping it up another notch.

Afterward, R. was watching Tris mug for treats from over his stall guard and said "You looked fantastic. Tris was hugely overstepping, and his back was swinging, and I looked at his face and he was all, I DON'T THINK THIS IS A GOOD IDEA. AT ALL." That's my pony.

Second, I'm very happy with my cheapo ice bandages: a multiple-cell flexible ice sheet from Kmart ($2.49 each), stuck to his legs with polo wraps. His fetlocks especially have been just a bit puffy all summer. Only occasionally heat, and he's not off, not sensitive, none of it, but...y'know if 10 extra minutes after tougher work tightens his legs up again, I'll do it. So far I've just done front but I'm going to pick up some more ice sheets and do his hind legs too, or at least have the capacity to do so after jumping especially.

Until now I've been using a half set of some sedate burgundy polos to wrap him. I have white and black polos already, but I am tempted to buy him a new set for wrapping.

The real question is...snakeskin or pink camo?

(It goes without saying that more suggestions for colorful polo wraps would be much appreciated!)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's been a while, so I figured I should get back into things with two fantastic lessons in a row.

I've been working really, really hard the last few weeks to get my legs back and deeper. It's finally starting to pay off - it's starting to feel like a normal place for them to be instead of a painful stretch. The reward is that they're much more solid and effective, and that I can really access Tristan's hind end now, especially that sticky right hind.

In turn, he's never been better. His canter is really starting to have lift and spring to it, and he's flirting with really truly coming over his back in it. He's reaching for the bit, and his trot is just getting superb. He's developed a whole new level of confidence - if you'd asked me six months ago I would've said he was already a supremely confident horse. But I didn't take into account a certain kind of body awareness and confidence in his physical ability to handle the work - before, he was struggling with his own musculature and confirmed way of going, and now that we've eroded so much of that and replaced it with solid, good muscle and stretch and bend, he's starting to enjoy his own body in a way that's really neat to feel. He's still Tristan - he still gets snarky and snotty most of the time when I ask for new things - but that resistance is such a small fraction of what it used to be, and he comes out the other side much more willing to work with me.

So from last night's ride: once again, some lateral work in hand, then a 10+ minute march, march, march in the walk warmup, then collect it together for maybe 5 minutes, then into a loose trot. I really need to stop making excuses for not doing that every time. He goes SO much better and more forward than when I ask for more work earlier. 3/4 of the way through the warmup T. stopped us and said that he really, really liked about 99% of what we were doing with the warmup - we just needed a hair more tempo. I have to balance his tempo carefully in the warmup - too much and he'll happily run around like a lead weight in my hands, too little and he'll happily be all slinky with no actual push. So T. got us to just the right metronome click for his trot, which was indeed only a fraction more than what we'd been doing.

Lots and lots of lateral work in general in the actual ride. I'm flirting more and more with a proper shoulder-in. I can get the angle, and for maybe half-step I can really get the push from his hind end, but I can't sustain it, can't keep him steady in the angle when he adds in that push. We're getting closer and closer, though, and as I get more mobility in my lower leg I'll be better able still to keep the push and the angle corralled together. Lots of leg yield, too, which he is really nailing. He just needs to be kept up in his tempo through that, too - when he is he is just wonderful; when he isn't he chooses the easy way out and zips through his shoulder straight to the wall.

Not much fancy, but just a lot of good, correct work, at the end of which T. was effusive (!) in his praise, saying that my hard work on my legs had clearly paid off, that we had taken it to a whole new level, and he was thrilled with our progress. :D

I have the week off and had asked for an extra lesson, if possible a XC school, and J. obliged by putting me in a noon lesson today. I started off nervous - it was extremely hot, I was running a bit late due to unexpected construction traffic, and the other horse in the ring was a big leggy beautiful Thoroughbred, impeccably turned out, rider ditto. (I found out later they're from the Vineyard, which...made retroactive sense.)

It didn't help that Tris was sluggish to start, wouldn't walk on, and then when I asked for the canter, got hoppy - I'm sure he was a bit sore from last night. I pushed him through into a long rein canter around the ring, got off his back, then brought him back and started over. I didn't get him to a *great* place, but I felt at least a teensy bit more confident at the end.

I completely ate the warmup 18" crossrail, twice, until T. got on me about my leg, and we cantered it, and Tris fiiiiinally woke up. "Oh! We're jumping! Okay, I'll go forward for that." We only did 2-3 courses, enough to get jumping on the brain. I did the same courses as the other woman, who is I would bet running around Novice, which was...intimidating, but a nice vote of confidence. Tris was awesome, of course, even when I saw a long distance, he disagreed and took *me* to the base, and then I gulped, planted my hands on his neck, and leaned like crazy. He propped us both up and over, and I got a lecture about not counting on my horse to save me.

Then, out to the back XC fields. A bit of a run around to warm up, and bless my horse, he was completely unconcerned about the loud mower going in the next field. We played around with some small courses. Tris was, of course, a super star. I ate a few fences, one in the same way I did in the ring (got it on my second try later) excuse for the other two.

Tris popped right over the ditch, so our next "just to check in" was to "go play on the banks." Okay. I decided (somehow? why?) to canter off the medium sized one to start off with. My little mustang went "WHOOOOOOOOO," launched into mid-air, and landed bucking to kingdom come. I started laughing too hard to pull him up for 2-3 strides, till Tom yelled "GET. HIS. HEAD. UP." and then I was sent back to walk down the bank many times to think about what I'd done. Tris stepped off quietly and beautifully, of course. Sigh. Then up a couple of times, and then we were allowed to trot down. Good pony. Idiot rider.

My crowning moment, though, was on my last run. I was not doing especially well with the heat, and had been drinking water, but was still getting pins-and-needles in my face and a bit wobbly in my legs and arms. I began to feel better just as T. called out our last run, and - I bucked up and went for it. Sent Tris down the long side in a nice gallop - he was tired, too, and getting a little strong - over the gate, then up and around to the coop. And, okay, first the coop had been tweaking me all day - it is very straight, and decently sized (to my eye anyway) and obviously it jumped fine but every time we approached it all I could think was "big!" and I'd had some wobbly moments with it earlier.

My course was coop to down bank, and the bank was on a slight offset angle from the coop, and in my head as I made the turn I was thinking "stay on the left side of the coop, that'll make it easier to take a straight line to the drop," and somehow on the rollback from the gate that turned into a line that the left of the fence. Tristan galloped past quite cheerfully, then turned quite cheerfully, and then I damn well went over the middle of the fence the next time. (Cheerfully, of course...)

We nailed the rest of the fences, including one that I didn't realize was on the skinny side until I approached it - a sort of garden stand series of steps. He didn't blink at anything, no matter how airy or how reflective or even for that matter, the ditch. The steps were set at the bottom of a fair hill, and he started rushing it a bit, tired again, and not wanting to bring his hocks up downhil, and I stood up slightly, and wow, it was so easy to reach down and half halt through my core, then sweet as you please get back into position, hold him with my hands and bring him up with my leg. It was like some kind of karmic payback for the stupid decisions I'd made earlier: all of a sudden I was making exactly the right decisions, in the 5 seconds or so before the fence, on pure instinct, and my God, he nailed that fence.

In conclusion: best horse ever.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Didn't head down to the barn until after the World Cup, so I got there verrrry late and had the ring all to myself, which was good: I was concentrating too much on him to have navigated any kind of ring traffic.

While pulling out boxes of kitchen stuff to sort through for the new apartment, I ended up doing a bit of re-sorting of Tristan's stuff, which meant that I was moving his other saddles a lot. I have three saddles in all: his everyday saddle, a Passier all-purpose that suits both of us well but desperately needs to be reflocked; a Wintec 2000 with changeable gullets that I bought for 70% off thinking of trail-riding; and an old, old, old (1940s) dressage saddle that I adore beyond words but will probably never be usable. It's a beautiful caramel cover, has a shallower seat than anything I've ever ridden in, only the tiniest hint of knee rolls and no thigh rolls, and I think the tree is in serious trouble. It creaks. There's also no padding left in the seat - you can feel your seatbones slide around *inside* the tree when sitting in it. Someday, if I have a few hundred dollars to spare, I'll have someone really look at it, but for now...

Anyway: I had the Wintec in storage because it never quite fit him right; the gullets were either too wide or too narrow. It was a good trail saddle, but it didn't make sense to keep it around just for that. Tonight, I looked at it again. He's really been bulking up around his withers lately, starting some muscles just behind the point of the wither that will, with time, really travel down his spine and give him more of a back. (They were my new favorite muscles two weeks ago; this week it's the filled in musculature just above his hocks - pony's learning how to sit!)

I liked it better immediately after putting it on his back; still not perfect, but it was settling better behind his shoulders than the Passier. Getting up I had to tweak the stirrups down a few holes; it still took some getting used to. It's far more built up the Passier, and it actually has padding instead of rock-hard leather. Consequently, it took some time for me to feel as deep in my seat and legs as the Passier lets me be right away. I never quite got the seat there, but once I got my legs settled it in I found that they were actually set better than on the Passier - whopping knee rolls on the Wintec, and the stirrup bars back a bit too, I think.

Ride went really, REALLY well. I think it was a bit of a perfect storm of three factors: first, he really is starting to go better and better, putting some air time and reach in his gaits and give me his back earlier and easier. Second, WOW did I have my leg on. Not until they got quite muscle-tired was I tempted to jack them up and go after him with my heel. Other than that, inner calf all the way. Which was both the saddle and the fruit that's finally starting to bear from T.'s incessant body mechanics talks and my own furious determination to work on my legs. Third, I do think the saddle frees up his shoulders quite a bit more - he was much looser much earlier through the base of his neck than he has ever been.

Cons: I didn't quite get his hind end the way I wanted it to. It was allllmost there, but not all the way. Should've gone for a few more leg-yields to really get the hind end moving.

Canter, though? Best it's ever been. Which is an excellent trend! Even got the right lead bending and through after some long discussion.

Will ride in the Wintec with T. on Tuesday night - we'll see what he thinks! Unless he has objections, I think I'll ride in it for the foreseeable future, ie until I can afford to get the Passier reflocked.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Playing catch up again...

Let's see.

Flatwork: We've been experimenting with a better level of collection which has us running into the age-old conundrum of ruining the mediocre now in order to make the next step better. Which is HARD. And always frustrating. We're trucking along pretty well now with acceptance of the bit and some stretch and looseness and reach, really good at walk and trot, building solidly at the canter, can't I just settle in with that and have a horse that's already 200% better than he was this time last year?

No. Not really. So: really setting the outside aids, lift off the inside leg, keep the bend, teasing out more and more pieces of true self-carriage, stay there even when Tristan insists he's dying, and start to get glimpses and pieces of it actually coming together for one or two strides. Back on the uphill climb part of the training plateau, where we'd been coasting the surface for a long time smoothing out the bumps and making sure his brain was coming, too.

Riding is such a humbling experience sometimes. So many people have told me "oh, it's just sitting on a horse, I could learn to do that in 20 minutes." Yes. You probably could, I tell them. I could sit you on a horse, and if you're already a reasonably athletic, coordinated person, I bet I could get you w/t in 20 minutes, and if you're very good, canter in half an hour. Then you'll spend the rest of your life trying to make it *good.* And that's the part that a lot of people don't get, refuse to understand. It's also the part that I find completely addicting.

Conditioning: We've started actually working on hills and terrain, really putting the galloping track to good use. March up, march down, then again with leg yields back and forth across the narrow-ish track. Trot up, trot down, if not on the bit then at least stretching and using the body, keeping the march uphill and the balance downhill. Ditto with leg yields. Canter with cadence and balance and a wee bit of stretch. Gallop with my position opening and closing, rating the speed and then coming back, strong half-halts to try and lift what is still a very flat gait. He really enjoys this work, and is always quite chuffed and strutting afterward.

Short version - LOVED IT.

Long version - LOVED IT. Once Tristan stopped trying to bolt. Which really was never anything *bad*, just him expressing his opinion and me temporarily getting up in my head and forgetting that yeah, I can too keep my leg on and control that outside shoulder no matter how much he tries to convince me I can't. And it was never anything but him needing to say "I still need to say HELL NO first, mom, don't you ever forget that."

Because really, once he got over that - and it was just the initial gallop 'round - he was WONDERFUL. Even a tetch lazy, not quiiiiite dragging me to fences like he had last time, which I chalk up to a week-long effort to tire him out. And it meant I got the opportunity to push him to a few fences, which was a-okay with me to practice. Jumped everything happily, only a split-second looky at the water, popped over ditches and banks calmly and quietly, so sensible about things that the clinician said admiringly "He's really kind of cool, isn't he?" Which pretty much made my day. Another rider was admiring him too, someone who really knows her horses, and I was SO PROUD of my little mustang.

In short, not preoccupying myself with what he was going to do meant we both got to buckle down and really learn. About jumping fences downhill - leg on, open the body a bit for balance, keep his hocks under him. About really packaging the canter for an up bank. About slipping the reins and finding gravity with my feet for down banks. About softening for a bit after an uphill fence to keep momentum. About focusing my eyes just beyond, but not too far beyond, a fence to encourage a better flow for the whole thing. About trusting him to work out his distances a bit once I've found our canter and show him how to carry himself up to the fence.

Biggest "best pony ever" moment of the day might have been when we were asked to lead another balky horse through the water. Yeah. Tristan. Who thinks water is the devil, who had to have another horse lead him through this exact water four weeks ago. Marched right through in front of this little mare, only a hair-second thought of taking a drink, and then waited, standing quietly, in the water. SO PROUD of him.

In short, as always, best. pony. ever.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lesson! Summary: good hard work, some boneheaded decisions on my behalf, and ultimately some very productive canter work.

Started off with a lot of walk work, and he was much less stiff than I would have expected thanks to Caitlin hacking him out on Monday. He was still clearly a bit tired, though, and a bit muscle-bound. He was also already a bit sweaty - hot day!

So, walk, walk, walk, bend, stretch, off the inside leg, spiral in and out, little bit of leg yield. We're working on shortening the reins and keeping a steadier, more elastic connection, so I concentrated on that. When we picked up the trot I just let him feel his way into it for a minute or so, making sure he wasn't ouchy anywhere - he felt more or less fine, perhaps a bit shorter in the right hind, but nothing major. When I picked him up we started to work with T. on really getting him into the outside rein, pressing him forward and gathering him up with my right hip bone and right hand. It took a while to get him really steady in that new level of contact, but once he did I was really liking the power I had access too. He's not a "light and springy" kind of horse, he's got a much more drafty and solid feel to him.

After working the trot for a while, I decided to work on my sitting trot, which was....ehhhhhh. Not great. I was hitting his back far too much, couldn't quite settle in the rhythm. He wasn't exactly pleased, and the quality of the trot work took an instant nosedive. We worked it out to get closer to where the rising trot work was, and then I asked for a canter.

His first left canter depart? GLORIOUS. In fact, so wonderful I got all caught up in supporting him with my legs and asking for bend around the canter and...had to haul him back to the walk in order not to slam into another rider. I kicked myself up down and sideways for that one. Poor decision, poor ring management, and I ruined a great canter transition. I took myself to the other end of the ring and tried to get the trot back to where it had been before I asked for the canter again. Took a while.

Anyway: canter work was generally really great. I'm starting to solve the long legs/light seat problem, inch by inch, as I work toward a seat that's deep but not heavy, and legs that are long but not propping. Wouldn't you know, the closer I get to that the more jump he can achieve in the canter as I can really support him. So I could really start to dig in with hips-to-hands, half-halts, and leg support to balance the canter, kick him UP off my inside leg to get him straighter and cleaner and not leaning.

One problem that cropped up last night was that he's really starting to go well on the bit in a canter circle, but asking for that same bend, same reach, and same jump on a straight line was reaaaaaalllllly hard for him, and he dropped into the trot, all flustered, when I didn't give him enough support. So that's something to work on for strength!

Back from the canter to a long walk break, then picked him up again to work on the sitting trot again, and T. got involved - which he had been quite a bit all lesson, actually, I don't know if he saw us go XC on Sunday and thought aha! now we're cooking with gas! and decided we need our asses kicked on a more regular basis? Which is both a good and a bad thing! Anyway - T. really cleaned up my position in the sitting trot, and we had a few strides of loooooovely smooth sit for me and reach for him.

Then we worked canter transitions. I worked on staying back and staying deep, keeping my support in the outside rein and the bend in the inside, and T. said that magic thing that always helps us when I've forgotten it, which is to think of the canter transition as a down transition, not as going faster. I like to picture water flowing downhill; there's more energy there, but it's just a natural forward motion, smooth and easy. A few attempts at that and we started getting consistently nicer transitions, and ergo, nicer canters faster. Some of them REALLY nice.

We finished after a good right canter transition and circle, took a short walk outside, and then he got hosed off quite a bit - VERY sweaty boy who'd worked very hard and was pretty pleased with himself.

So, my homework: shorter more elastic reins, longer leg, better support on the outside, canter transitions as down transitions, and recapturing that smooth sitting trot I had so briefly.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cross-country school at Scarlet Hill Farm!

Short version: WHEEEEEE!

My day started at 4am; drove the truck down to the barn, hooked up the trailer (took an embarassingly long time, usually I can hitch it myself in 2-3 tries...) pulled it out and started packing what I hadn't the night before. Tris could tell something was wrong when he didn't go outside with his friends, but bless him, only objected mildly and got on the trailer with a minimum of fuss. Trailered up well, came off the trailer at Mach 10, and I only hung on to the lead rope because of the knot at the end as Tris tried to pull me THROUGH the chest bar. I have some very impressive bruises already coloring in, and I don't typically bruise.

Ah well. Tacked him up while he paced in circles and stared bug-eyed at the world, Hannah made sure his splint boot velcro straps were trimmed to her satisfaction (:P) and off we went - a bit later than the other horses, who were already trotting around when we got there. Tris was high as a kite, so I walked him around for a bit longer, and had a trot in which I asked nothing more than that he start to calm himself. Then we pulled up and T. described an arc for us to gallop. I thought seriously about asking someone to hold Tris so I could go puke in a bush.

Our turn came, and we started trotting, and then I sucked it up and asked for a canter. Did NOT approach gallop, was not going to go there, and that decision paid off when we had a long discussion about turning at the top of the hill to head back down. Muscled through it and jigged to a halt. Then over a warmup fence, which he charged in a bit of a long spot, but which thankfully reassured me a bit that his jumping brain, always good, was still installed. (Every other kind of brain had leaked out his ears at this point, however.)

Next, a short course, and Tristan stomped and cavorted and fidgeted and paced and generally acted like a total jackass while the other horses did it, and oh my God, I spent the whole thing thinking "T. can't possibly ask us to do that on our first XC school in 2 years, can he? Oh my God, he can. Oh my God, I'm going to die." Once again, I contemplated puking in the bushes. T. at least gave me some smaller options, we went.

First couple of jumps okay, and then I got totally lost and panicky up on the hill - couldn't see a line to the logs that the others had jumped, much less the line away from those, so I sort of went around them in a really stupid way and got all up in my head coming toward the next fence, a BN-sized house with a green roof and flopped all over the place and Tristan took his out, cut hard right. Many times. Squirreled and cut and...sigh. After I don't know how many cut-off approaches I finally got good and mad, about the time T. crested the hill and started talking me through it step by step, and we had one prop/deer jump through the middle, circled for it again, and then went, I kid you not, SIDEWAYS over the corner of it. It must have been really interesting to watch.

One more approach, one more cut out, and now I was PISSED; circled again, and we went over it with a huuuuuge flyer, but straight and true, and T. started calling out leetle elementary jumps for us, building a rhythm, not letting me think about it, using my gritted teeth and my anger to build confidence, and bless him, it was perfectly done. Tristan started to find a rhythm, he started to jump them straighter and cleaner, and I could feel him start to widen his brain and take it all in.

Back down to the others, and for the rest of the (two hour) school, though I was not infrequently nervous, especially about galloping way off from the others, I was not scared again.

So, next up: ditch. Scarlet Hill had a neat little ditch complext that was a half-ditch (one side riveted, other side natural), an E ditch and a BN ditch side by side. Tris and I were tasked to trot over the half-ditch, since it was his first ever. And my God, he NAILED IT. Big strong surge of a jump, not a moment's hesitation, a clear enjoyment of launching himself into space. Never even thought about looking at it (though to be fair it wasn't very looky). One of the times over he was so pleased with himself he threw his head down and started bucking, nothing bad, just exuberance. GOOD. BOY.

On to banks next, up and down something I think was a low BN? I'm not great at eyeballing height. We trotted up to it and LAUNCHED into space over it. I am sad to admit I did not grab mane in time and probably caught him pretty good. He didn't especially seem to care. Turn around, trot down, no hesitation at all, just dropped down. Trot up again, and he offered a canter so I took it, and he jumped up much better - more economical, more clean, more straight. Down again was quieter yet, a more true drop instead of a jump off. No hesitation, no spooking, no questioning. GOOD BOY again.

Then we did a bit of a course: up the bank, over a series of planters into a field, up over a stone wall out of a field, up a stone wall at the top of a hill, back down, over the same stone wall into the field, down through the field, over a baby coop to get out of the field, down the same bank. Bank up went well, and Tris jumped me right the hell out of the tack over the planters into the field, I gathered just in time to point and boot him over the stone wall, and half-halted hard enough that he trotted up the hill and over the stone wall. Fine by me; these were all easily jump-able from the trot, and I wanted more positive than challenging today. Less of a launch back into the field, and we had a bit of a discussion about hand-galloping down the hill to the coop. Landing was a wee bit spooky, with tall grass a few feet away from where he put his feet down that he didn't want to run through. Bank was a bit more of a launch, but he was quite pleased with himself overall.

Then, water. Oh, Tristan. I knew he'd have issues. He HAAAAAATES water. Luckily, issues were minimal; after a few minutes of planting his feet and spinning around hard, T. had C. and her big bay horse trot past us; I kept kicking; Tris eyeballed the big bay horse and trotted after him. Didn't give me another problem about it after that - we trotted back through a few times and even picked up a canter in the water to come out.

Lastly, a big long course. Down to the banks, up the hill to do the same loop we'd done before, back up to the same loop we'd started with that Tris and I botched so badly. No rosy glow for me; I was as nervous as I'd been, and starting to get very tired to boot. Tris, who'd gotten himself quite wet cantering through water, was shaking like a miserable wet dog (hard enough to jar me out of the saddle) and pawing and generally making his displeasure at his wet state known.

Nothing for it: started off down the hill. Jumps all went much smoother than the first time around, and this time he felt more balanced down the hill; we held the hand-gallop over the baby coop, and down the bank, and up the hill he felt like he had a little more in him, so I opened him up. Something clicked in his brain, and he was ON. Next was a transition pile of logs, tiny, he flew over it out of stride, chaaaaarged up the hill in a fast hard gallop, taking me to the next fence: he wanted it, and he wanted it bad. All of a sudden I had a cross-country horse underneath me, and oh. Oh, that was amazing.

Up the hill, and there were those log piles I'd skipped the first time. I had a brief moment of indecision, then pointed him at the BN one; he checked back in, I said go, and ZOOM. Down the hill, circle around, attacked the little house like he'd never had a problem with it, down over the ditch, then through the water - checked back in again just before we went in, but I responded in the affirmative, and he dug for another gear. Zoomed through it. Pull up, many, many, many pats, and he was done.

He was almost insufferably pleased with himself, prancing and motoring around, ears pricked. T. actually used the word "astounding" to describe how Tris started to eat up the course on the last run. No one could believe that was his first XC school in so long, much less his first ditch, bank, and water. Oh, and have I mentioned that he's 15, and wasn't really ever handled until he was 11?

I. Love. This. Horse.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Not much to say about last night's ride: light, clean, straight, and I felt like I made good decisions all around. Tris came out forward, we warmed up in the walk for a looooooong time - I didn't fuss with the reins or the headset, just focused on his hind end and back, how's that for a revelation - and he moved off well into trot. Canter was malleable both directions, and the left lead is really starting to come along.

We are starting to play with a shoulder-in, too; I can get a solid sort of three track shoulder-in (hind leg on track, diagonal pair even on middle track, front leg off on another track), we just need to open up the angle a little bit more and he'll be there. Which means still more work on my stabilizing outside leg - though that is really starting to come along. Though last night I was really getting it on spiral in and out, keeping the leg there and not letting him trick me by hollowing to the outside as soon as I put it on, pretending he could only move off my leg by flipping the bend. Lies!

It was also lovely to have a leisurely ride, no rush to tack up, ride, untack, and sprint to get back to Boston to study or something. I even wish I had stayed longer, thoughCaitlin tried valiantly to tempt me and I demurred in the moment. Next time, I'm not leaving the barn until the hockey game is over.
Lesson: very good. Tris came out much more limber and willing to walk on, which makes the fourth or fifth ride in a row he's been like that. I am beginning to suspect either that he's turned some kind of fitness corner OR that my redoubled efforts to keep him constantly supplied supplements have paid off. Perhaps some combination of both.

It was pounding rain, so one of those "ride for fifteen minutes then go stand with T. to get advice and direction for a few minutes" lessons. Which was good for us yesterday. My focus was on fixing the long legs/light seat conundrum (I'm getting small glimpses of the solution, but really wrapping my legs around him still makes my seat feel too light) and on keeping a good, solid, consistent hold of the contact. We've been slipping into a tendency lately where he gives, and I throw the reins at him because I'm so happy he's given more. I'm either too heavy or throwing them away, I guess. But T. worked very hard with us on really setting the bit in his mouth, and then rounding him up TO it, the operative concept being that there has to be something for him to go to. I had to get over my nagging worry of blocking him in front, because with leg support he really can figure it out now - he's over the "but if you have any hold at all I can't moooooooove" phase.

He's also changed tactics in the lazy department: instead of killing the motor when he gets round and bendy, he is, as T. put it, "popping the clutch." He disengages in a very subtle way, then slowly loses energy over the course of the next five minutes. So: rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.

Canter was AWESOME, we're really digging in and working on it. Spent a long time really working on a hips-to-hands balancing to make him SIT DOWN. The left lead transition is really starting to come along, but he still flails all the hell over the place in the right lead. We did a lot of walk-trot, halt-walk transitions, focusing on staying deep and keeping bend, with the hopes that nailing it in those lower gaits will start to translate up the scale.

Before the lesson I was fussing over him and noticed that his right front fetlock was a wee bit swollen and warm. Nothing that would leap out, clearly just above the joint and not tendon-related - all in all it looks like he wrenched it a bit in pasture. He wasn't tender on it at ALL (believe me, I poked and prodded for quite a while, and then T. did as well) and he came out perfectly even and sound. I am mildly worried, but not desperately so. Something to keep an eye on.

I rubbed Sore No More in before and after the lesson, made sure he got a looooooooong walk warmup and cooldown, and mixed him a bran mash with 2 grams of bute paste. (Somehow my bute powder has disappeared from my tack trunk. Not cool.) He was decidedly less than pleased by the bute paste, and made every face you can imagine - twisting his jaw, sticking his tongue straight out the side, shaking his head around, rolling his eyes back in his head. If he could have gagged dramatically he would've.

Ride again tonight - keep an eye on the fetlock - and then Dover Saddlery on Saturday for a big shopping trip (new tall boots, ugh). Cross country clinic on Sunday at Scarlet Hill. I'm going to mail my entry form for the Area 1 Safety Clinic this weekend. I'm also toying with the idea of an Intro to Foxhunting clinic coming up in's the same weekend as Valinor, so that's a tough decision - haul and volunteer, or find a buddy and do the clinic? Both are very appealing. :(

I'm going to see about finding a dressage schooling show in July, then the Flatlands show in August, then in the fall for sure we'll do a hunter pace, another dressage show, and mayyyyyyybe, if the summer goes REALLY well, an off-property schooling horse trial. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Aaaand the other piece of Saturday's fun: jump judging.

I understand the principle of jump judging, and I know the rules, but I had never actually done it before Saturday. It was really terrific fun. Well, as much fun as standing in the pouring rain/swarming mosquitoes for 5 hours can be.

I was paired with a very experienced jump judge, who was an old school, very sarcastic horsewoman who smoked like a chimney and luckily declared she liked me. She was kind of hilarious, in a wonderful way; I didn't even mind the cigarette smoke - it kept the mosquitoes away. She also really, clearly knew her stuff; she made small comments after each rider went through that were always spot-on, several of them things I hadn't seen, and I learned a LOT.

My Training fence was 17a&b, a lovely carved and stained bench, two stride, to a big log that was curved in such a way as to *look* hanging, but actually was stable. They were very straightforward gallopy fences with a relatively clear approach and no spooky elements; perhaps a verrrry slight bending line if you didn't get your approach quite right, but nothing to worry about at all. My big lesson watching those fences was about the balance on approach: I got to see, in minute detail, where exactly each rider chose to half-halt and rebalance and prepare the horse, and to see which ones left it too late and took a bit of a flyer. No stops, no problems at all at our fences.

The Beginner Novice fence was #3; after a bit of a run uphill, riders had to come around a Novice log, and down a shady lane into an open, sunny clearing with a very straightforward log in it. Nothing spooky at all about it, and indeed we had one rider who had stops at fences 1, 2, and 4, but rode ours nicely. So again a very easy one to judge. My lesson for this fence was about rhythm and staying in front of the leg. There was much more variation in the rides to this fence than there had been at Training; BN riders are a much broader variety. Some came in half-halting for all they were worth and choked the horse up; some came in clearly very tentative and dreading the whole thing, and didn't know how or were too afraid to really boot the horse to carry them to the fence. You could tell the move-up riders five strides out; they had an air of confidence and the horse had clearly already settled into the galloping rhythm.

My partner made an excellent metaphor: driving a car down a road filled with potholes. If you go too slow, you're going to dip into every one and jar yourself. Too fast, and you'll skip over the top of them and eventually crash into one when you dip at just the wrong moment. A good in-between rhythm and you'll feel them, but won't skim them. It really sunk in for me how important riding a good galloping rhythm around the course is.

King Oak treats its volunteers faaaaabulously, too: gave us a really thorough briefing, drove us out to our jump, brought bug spray to us when we asked, thanked us over the radio repeatedly, and came around a few more times through the day with extra snacks. All of that was very much appreciated, as the day alternated between cold pouring rain and hot, muggy mosquito swarms. I was either shivering in fine tremors or pacing and swatting away half a dozen bugs at a time.

Looking forward to my next jump judging opportunity. :)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quick rundown of the trailering, which I was so worried about. It was not without incident, but in general went well.

I trailered two horses, who will be known as Big Mare and Little Paint. I'd been in agonies for weeks beforehand about whether Big Mare would fit in my not-huge trailer, given that Tristan can flip his head and lift his front legs and nearly hit the ceiling, and he is teensy.

Big Mare did indeed fit, just barely. I'm not sure she was wild about it - rolled her eyes and planted her feet a bit when it came time to reload at King Oak - but she was not scraping the ceiling, and we got the butt bar done up. Little Paint jumped right on.

About 40 minutes into the trip, I looked in my rearview mirror - as I do very frequently when trailering; I can see horse's heads and the hay bag through the front window of the trailer - and noticed I couldn't see Little Paint's head. Just withers with some sticky-up mane. Well, okay. "H.," I said, "I can't see your horse's head." H. looked. She was not concerned, and it was entirely possible he was stretching out behind the hay bag, or even snoozing.

20 minutes later, still can't see his head. Call E., Big Mare's owner, who is following us; she doesn't have a good enough view inside the trailer to tell either way. I make the executive decision to pull over, though H. is still unconcerned. We find a Wal-Mart parking lot, jump out, and...Little Paint has somehow put his head UNDER the chest bar. (H. didn't tie him very tightly at all, apparently?)

Bless the Little Paint's brain, because he was just standing, perfectly calmly, waiting for someone to rescue him. So we did - unhooked the chest bar, and he lifted his head and started attacking the hay bag.

Continued on totally without incident (unless you count being behind a big Econo van with literally some person's entire worldly possessions strapped very precariously to the top, and clothes flying off of it with every gust of wind, oh my god) and arrived at King Oak.

Unloading was another small piece of excitement...H. did not unhook Little Paint's trailer tie. He very politely told her so, twice, and on the third try shrugged, stepped back, felt resistance, and did what any sensible horse does in that situation, ie panicked. Popped the leather crownpiece of the halter and came flying out. I reached up, put my hand over his nose as he skidded out, turned him toward me and pulled his nose down, and he heaved a big sigh of relief and stood beautifully to get a new halter on. Seriously, what a great brain he has.

Saturday morning we arrived at the showgrounds to find it POURING rain, and I made perhaps my best decision of the weekend: hooked up the truck immediately and pulled it forward from its overnight parking space so that the entire rig was pointing downhill. At the end of the day, we loaded up the horses (neither was wild about getting back on, but they both did quite nicely after lodging a short, polite formal protest) and tried to get out of the field (which was now a muddy pit).

The only, only thing I would change about my truck is to make it a four wheel drive. It's one of my big anxieties about trailering, getting stuck. And yes, King Oak already had the tractor out and ready, anticipating just my situation, but - still. So I built up some momentum, crested the hill with the truck, alllllmost crested with the trailer...and skidded out.

Okay. Back down the hill, then back up the hill so we're pointing downhill again, then more momentum, and this time I'm anticipating the mud even more so I start jigging the steering wheel juuuuuust slightly so we're not going in a straight line, and the truck diiiiiiigs in and there was a split second where everything felt greasy and then, breakthrough. It's a difficult feeling to describe, but I can feel, through the seat and through the gas pedal, when the truck starts to get some bite. And once I felt that, even though we were still wiggling, even though the truck was snarling and spewing smoke, even though we had attracted at least 20 bystanders and no doubt some event organizers a bit peeved about what I was doing to their field - I was no longer worried. We inched up and then made it.

The ride home was totally uneventful, we were all chatty and giddy and happy in the end-of-event exhaustion. When we got back to the barn I pulled the truck up and left it while I rode Tristan. They cleaned my trailer out I think better than I EVER have, and I popped it into a perfect parking space on the second try.

So: trailering anxieties are not disappeared, but they are seriously diminished.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In lieu of an actual thinky update, a few bullet points:

- Tristan is awesome. No surprise there.

- My left leg is substantially weaker than my right, and now that we're working more and more and more from the seat and the legs it's starting to light up holes in my aids with big neon signs. To wit, spiraling out tracking left is hard, as is spiraling in tracking right. To say the least. Slowly getting better, though, as my aching hips can attest.

- I want a dressage saddle so badly I can taste it. Unfortunately, it's rather low on the financial priority list.

- In talking with L., we're going to set up a weekday soon to take Tristan over a bunch of XC jumps in hand, especially the ditch and the banks, before we introduce them under saddle. He's jumped most everything in a haphazard way, but I want to do it *right.*

- I'm hauling people to King Oak this weekend. We'll see how my trailering anxieties hold up. Fingers crossed no panic attacks. :-/ Only thing for it is to keep doing it, though. And once I'm in the truck and driving I'm usually fine.

- I'm struggling right now with a bit of a dichotomy: when I really get my leg in the stirrup at the canter, I lose my seat. Vice versa. I know the answer here is that I'm not truly deep in my leg, I'm just propping off the stirrup and that's what's lightening my seat, but damn, it's proving to be a long uphill slog to get the same feel in the canter as in the sitting trot or the walk, that plugged-in, legs-as-weights sensation. Tiny, subtle shifts in balance and weight are still missing.

- I'll miss the Flatlands show in July for family time, but I'm eying the XC Safety Clinic at Scarlet Hill in June, and the Flatlands show in August. In the fall, who knows, maybe an off-property dressage schooling show, if we can find one? I'd like a crack at a Training test, especially after we've had all summer to work on our canter.

- Speaking of the canter, the transitions. I'm feeling in a lot of my riding right now like I know where to find the answers, I just have to work harder to get them. I know the feeling I'm looking for in that transition, and I have pieces of what it takes to get Tristan there, but so far a good, uphill, soft, relaxed canter transition is eluding us except for a split second at a time.

- Solutions, as always: ride better.

Friday, April 16, 2010

First things first: BEST PONY EVER.

He was a little stuck in the warmup last night, didn't want to move out, and I could feel the right hind lagging. So we marched, alternating leg pressure to time with his hind legs, asking for nothing more than a teensy stretch and bend in front. He was still sluggish moving into the trot, and we finally had a discussion that led to a bit of a hand-gallop, and after that he was easier to work with.

Lots of changing bend in the trot, and he's really coming into that nicely, switching over smoothly instead of going flat and hollow for a few strides of don't-wanna. I think I've gotten the knack too of supporting with the outside leg while switching to a new inside leg to really clearly tell him what I need.

Canter was really our shining moment, though. Once I found a good 20m circle to work (jumps are set out in the course for Sunday already, a bit tough to navigate esp. when L. was packing up the leftovers in the truck and was a moving target to avoid), he came into my hands beautifully. Downhill, yes, but not nearly as heavy as he could've been, and amenable to at least the suggestion of lifting his withers. He's coming sooner and sooner after the transition, too; used to take several strides to re-organize, and now in the first or second after a head-flinging transition he'll settle in.

Part of the transition is my difficulty: I really, really need not to give in to the temptation to tip forward and "help" him into it, putting my outside leg too far back. It feels like it works, but it just works in the wrong way. Sitting reallllly up straight and back gives him no options but to add more power and straightness to the transition to make it work.

I was happy with my body (straight and following) but NOT my seat and only occasionally my legs. I was asking him for difficult enough self-carriage that I had to keep leglegleg, and while on the plus side he was responsive to that and trying his heart out, on the minus side I got my brain tricked into inching my legs up and up and digging heels in, my old bad habit, instead of wrapping them down and around and supporting that way. And when I really SHOVED my legs down, I lost my seat. It was really hard to get that balance just right.

He was going so well, so quickly that after 10 minutes or so of working the canter, I put him on a long-rein stretchy trot. He was powering around so beautifully, and so clearly not yet tired, that I thought...well...and sat back and asked for the canter on a long rein.

And he gave it to me.

He just balanced almost on the buckle, reaching his hind legs under him, not flinging his neck up, not hanging on to the reins, just lightly and perfectly there in my fingertips. And every time I just twitched my fingers and gave a half inch, he took it eagerly, and oh, that canter - it probably didn't look like much, but I could feel, deep down inside it, a beautiful smooth rocking. And he was keeping it happily and easily, with only a little leg, and all of a sudden it was easy to sit, and my legs were long, and I had this almost-scary moment where I thought that this must be why people like hunter-under-saddle.

Didn't quite nail the down transition, but we made up for it in the change of bend and picking up the canter again going the other way: he came through instead of up, and was if anything even lighter and smoother. It was just so much FUN. We went around the ring just maybe twice, with a few 20m circles, and then he was done. He was so pleased with himself, and I couldn't have been happier. We went for a very short walk out back, he drank half the stream dry, and got a good rubdown and many many peppermints.

So, in summary? Best. Pony. Ever.

(I almost want to push the show forward just one week - look what we're working on, look what we could bring next week! - but that's part of the point of a dressage show, isn't it? A moment in time, and then you get another snapshot a few months later, and you compare them and are blown away. So the temptation to put it off until you can really nail it is kind of avoiding the whole lesson. But still, damn, for just a little longer...!)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

First things first: turned in my show entry for the barn's schooling show last night. Beginner Novice A and 2'0" jumps. Talked to T. last night and he said I should be concentrating on building from positive right now instead of challenging myself, which settled the decision in favor of 2' instead if 2'6". Which made sense to me, so: easier jumps it is!

Warmed up, and Tris was a bit snarky in the walk work, but settled into some really lovely trot. We worked on introducing even more roundness and collection, reallytruly getting him on the outside rein. Mixed success on that one; I still have a tendency to hang on the inside rein when Tris does his brick wall impression.

In the canter, my lower leg was MUCH better than it was in Sunday's jump clinic, so huzzah for that. (At least in the beginning of the lesson.) Consequently our canters were much better.

We ran the test, which went better than I had expected. I am falling into a tendency to wait on transitions until the exact right moment: there's something to be said for the requirements of nailing a transition at a letter, come hell or high water. I really quite like the test; it's a good one for Tris. Lots of kick-kick-kick and settle in, just truck along. It rewards good geometry and a workmanlike attitude, which is pretty much my niche. Tris, though dearly beloved, is not a horse to show really brilliant moments in dressage tests. He's much better at consistency and evenness.

T. mostly liked the test too, had a few pointers: I wasn't quite as accurate as I should have been, Tris's free walk didn't really click in until the second half, and my circles were a bit lopsided in the open part of the ring. But not bad at all other than that.

We walked for a bit after the test and Tris did NOT want to pick up and work again. We need to break a bit the pattern of warmup - walk - work - done. He's not amused when he gets two breaks, and usually the second work isn't great at all. It's important for both fitness and training though that he learn that he CAN and SHOULD come back on the bit even if he's a bit tired and has decided he's done.

I worked mostly on canter transitions, especially the trot 20m, canter 20m, down the long side piece that's in the test. Just a few minutes in holding the right lead canter got ugly, and I kept pushing him HARD, got a little more pissed off than I should've, but was still progressing, not regressing, even breaking multiple times. Once he gave me his neck and stretched out, I brought him back and we had a power trot on a long rein around a few times. Et voila.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Two rides to talk about, with good meaty work (mostly).

First ride: lesson on Thursday. Dicey to begin with; I had emailed with J. about taking the spot (had to miss Tuesday b/c of class) but never got confirmation, and I am occasionally nervous about talking to T. about these things and then thought I got a yes but he didn't say anything for the first 20 minutes and...anyway, it worked out eventually.

Started in the walk for a loooong time, 15 minutes of stretchy and get-your-ass-in-gear, working the hind legs up, not letting him get away with anything with his shoulders. It was occasionally frustrating - he often wants to escape into the trot instead of marching in the trot, so I had to walk a fine line between keeping his energy contained in the walk and stifling him. The walk is tough to work on sometimes, because you can end up breaking it by over-restraining, especially with a lazy horse like my pony.

Trot work was good, not great; took a little while to even it out, he was trying to laze along whilst hopping and doing a brick wall impression. T. got on me about really wrapping my legs around him and using them to channel that, pressing him up to reach for the contact instead of kicking him per usual, more of a steady go-go-go with nowhere to escape, and he had a couple of really nice patches. The head-jerking from the weak right hind was only very minimally present, so it seems I've found the fix for that. Hooray!

Canter: overdone a bit per usual. Left depart felt good, right depart felt up and down but at least present. He stretched and loosened in the left - we're starting to get whole 20m circle tours in which he thinks it's okay to give his neck to me and will spiral in and out and I know that sounds like baby stuff but you really have to ride this horse's shoulders to believe it. Right was at least cooperative; not as good as left yet, I think he's only slowly getting stronger on that right hind. He has the thrust but not the lift, which is what he needs now to really work on that canter. I also need a better seat + leg cooperation to help him get there: homework for both of us!

Yesterday was...okay, I guess. He was tired and a wee bit sore, and I would've given him bute afterwards except...the tub that the vet dropped off expires in 7 days. So I didn't want to open what I'd be asking him to replace anyway. Anyway: curried a yak's worth of hair off of him as well as a pig's worth of mud, and he was VERY pleased to get all that attention - we're talking 30+ minutes of currying alone to really dig in there. Lip drooping, legs squared, ears floppy, other things all hanging out...he likes to be spoiled.

The downside was that this was all during dinner, so while tacking up he stomped his foot and tried to snake his head for his grain; a loud "Tristan, NO" and he whipped his head back to center and stood rigid, clearly sulking for all his worth. Did not move a muscle except to open his mouth for a bit, and gave the world's weariest sigh when I led him off.

Riding outside, I'd just intended to get him somewhere good and be done, but that somewhere good was frustratingly difficult. He was very hoppy in the right trot, kept trying for canter, so I let him blow out for a few laps, somewhere just below a hand gallop standing up in the stirrups, knuckles on his neck, trying to loosen that back up. He got one more brief canter and then no more excuses; he's capable of saying eff you, so the fact that he only said "eh, okay" when told to stay and work on his trot was my sign that he could now. Trot eventually settled into something SUPER nice, low neck, hind end up through the withers, power and cadence. Felt really really good, both ways, though a bit more discussion to get there and stay there to the left.

Then I ruined it with the canter. Surprisingly, right lead went rather well; picked it up easily, held it for me, softened a bit, didn't try to throw his shoulders to China. Left lead was...ugh. So choppy I kept double-checking my lead, refused to relax his neck, actively bolting out the right shoulder (across the ring and almost into some HUGELY tall jumps, the horse does not stop for nothing, he really would have gone through them). So I kept after him, and worked the transitions instead of the gait, and when he gave me some semblance of a calm(er) transition with an obedient 20m circle, we were done. Bit of a hack to cool out, then his first hosing down of the season, hanging out for a while to make sure he was cool enough to get his grain.

I've got an entry form for the home show on the 18th, am settled on the Beginner Novice A test and I think 2'6" fences. My other option is 2'0" fences, horse will trot over and/or through. I'll confirm with T. at the jump clinic tomorrow, and then fill out my paperwork and check. Trailer also came back certified sound, so we will hopefully start to get out and do some trail riding (turkey farm!!) and cross country schools over the next few weeks.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First things first: not lame!

I explained the things I'd been noticing to T. before we even got the lesson started, and he watched us warm up - head-jerking, inconsistent contact, etc. - and put us through our paces veryvery thoroughly, with improvement in spots. Then we talked about it for a while.

The upshot is: shortness in the right hind. Which is not unusual; it's always been his weakest limb. T. did not see any discomfort or pain, more of a mechanical stiffness/habitually limited range of motion. Which is to say, he's fifteen, and this is the first time in his life he's being asked to really truly swing his hind end. Probably evenly split between his stifle and his hock. He can reach and extend without pain, he'd just really rather not. So add a dash of laziness on top of it all.

So what's happening is he's coming up short with the right hind - not necessarily a problem tracking right, but tracking left he's not getting the thrust he needs to (as T. explained it, most of the lifting power comes from the inside hind, most of the thrust from the outside hind), then offloading the problem onto his left front, which is throwing him off balance and making him jerk his head up.

Solution is, as always, kick-kick-kick-kick. Bend him inside, half-halt outside, push him onto the outside rein and then make damn well sure the outside hind is doing its fair share. Supple with the left wrist, bend around the left leg, half-halt the right hand, kick-kick-kick-kick the right leg. Several circles of come-to-Jesus and we were going 2-3 strides evenly and with power; once we could get that more or less consistently, we had a bit of a walk break. Picking up again, I worked HARD on the same problem in the walk, where it was a bit easier to convince him to swing through. He wasn't exactly pleased at all of this, mind, but once I closed off every available exit door, he sighed and farted and acquiesced.

By the end of the lesson, he'd loosened up nicely, and we had some really glorious canter complete with spiralling in and out both directions, and a big powerful swingy trot on a long rein a few times around to stretch out.

So: old horse, new tricks. Though as T. points out, we're kinda victims of our own success. It's not like this is new for Tris, more like by the time we used to get to this level of the work it was the last five minutes of the ride, and he was already warmed up and loosened. So he wasn't really having to work very hard to muscle through it. Now, we're warming up with the work we used to finish with, and he's not quite supple enough to support that work so early in the ride. It's just a time-patience-work thing, though; strengthen that right hind, get the joints used to moving, loosen up the joint fluid, and blow his little mind. He's already on glucosamine and I just started him on MSM about 3wks ago. We're getting more bute on Friday from the vet; for the next little while, I might make him a little bran mash with bute after days he's worked hard.

Horses are so neat sometimes; every small little thing adding up and figuring it out and working on it is always like putting together an incredibly intricate lifelong puzzle. I love it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Long time, no talk. Mostly very very good, straight uphill as Tris is starting to learn to not just accept the bit, but push through his hind end, up into his back, and in line with his shoulders. He's getting stronger, and the canter is coming along nicely.

Alas, tonight, after a week and a half of scheduling disasters that left him mostly-off-with-just-C.-riding, I went out and while grooming him, discovered a whopping big edema on his chest, about the size of my fist. Further investigation revealed a tick buried in him at the origin point. Fifteen minutes of some rather excruciating digging with tweezers and I still couldn't get all of it - the area around it was swollen, and it was dug in pretty good. Tris was a trooper, only shifting his feet occasionally to show his displeasure, and checking for my face after kneeing me in the forehead once. We had words, and he was very sorry.

So on second diagnosis: not an edema, an abscess from the tick bite. He always gets them, though usually before on his face. I cleaned and swabbed away with Corona, showed a few people who will be at the barn all weekend so they'd know to keep an eye on him, and rode.

Riding He was stiff and fussy in contact, and sort of jumpy-forward, not power-forward, which I had some trouble channeling. I was also not navigating the outdoor ring very well, couldn't find a good circle until halfway through the ride, and all the changes of direction and bend so early were not sitting well with him. But eventually he settled in to work nicely, and we even blew out for some gallops down the long side.

The problem, though, was his trot to the left. Something funky's going on. It could be a veryvery mild lameness or it could be his new style of resistance. He has switched sides again, and was superb to the right and a beast to the left tonight, so that could have triggered this newly weird bracing to the left. But his head is jerking ever so slightly, and he's not nearly as consistent in the contact as he was. He showed a tiny hint of this in my lesson last week, but T. didn't say anything, so I set it out of my mind. This time, though, C. saw it as well, and I don't know. She agreed that it's tough to place. If he's still doing it next Tuesday for my lesson with T., I will bring it up and get his word on whether it's my riding, Tristan's resistance, or we need to give him a week+bute or something first-line like that.

The slightly good news is after the ride, the abscess was better, had clearly drained a bit, and the Corona stuck on nicely. I am away for the weekend - again! - so C. will keep an eye on him. I don't think this will need hot compresses, just scrubbed out with hot water and swabbed with Corona to keep the wound site itself clean.

Sigh. Not exactly what I was hoping for on such a gorgeous day...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Again with the sucking about keeping this up.

First: unexpected jump lesson on Tuesday, and it was awesome. Tris came out spunky and a bit tight, but forward and ready to rock and roll; he hadn't been ridden in four days. He warmed up great, and I got to work on floating my seat and half-halting him to a better tempo instead of booting him forward into one. The trick with him is balancing on that edge, keeping that gathering without letting him think he gets to slip back down a gait to make it easier.

Jumping went well - when I ride better, he jumps better, surprise. Some of his new maneuverability in the canter translated beautifully in the rollbacks we were trying. I had a couple of reallllly nice jumps, and only one truly awful one; he took a teensy bit of a long spot, I wasn't as deep in my stirrups as I could've been, and just...never got into two point. T. described it as parasailing. Quite the flyer.

At the end, we got to just canter around and jump what we wanted, and Tris was a bit tired and punky, kept breaking his canter or not rating, and after each jump I was thinking about many things and kept getting a teensy bit more and more into my knee rolls and out of my stirrups. Which resulted in a brief time out as we circled and re-organized, and had 2-3 quite decent last jumps. But for reference: the loose ring he's going in now is not going to be enough bit to jump anywhere but the indoor. It is a bit too subtle for my black-and-white pony.

Last night was...not nearly that good. It wasn't even 5% that good. It was one of the worst rides I've had in weeks and weeks. Started off not awful: bending nicely in the walk, then springing in the trot but not quite through, and still tense enough that he wasn't blowing out like I was hoping. He was also reluctant to move off the inside leg, though he had outside leg down cold - spiral in was great; spiral out was a negotiable thing. I just couldn't quite fix it, and am still nervous about riding in traffic, so couldn't really shove him out the way I wanted too.

I asked for canter earlier than I usually would to try and blow him out - sometimes that will loosen him up. And it. was. AWFUL. It felt like riding a washing machine that's out of whack. He was off balance, high-headed, cranky, and my seat immediately went to hell and my legs came up, we had horrible fights about not running through his shoulder, no semblance of softness to speak of, hard to keep him there more than a few strides, constantly got the wrong name it. I was practically in tears after a few attempts - and it didn't even accomplish what I hoped. I settled for a decent down transition and a bit more forward swinging trot, and gave him a break.

Picking him up again after his break felt better. Still not what I'd call "good," but his trot came back quickly, and I asked for a better contact - really into the outside rein instead of just curling his neck. He was tracking up a teensy bit more, though he never quite got where I wanted him. Canters were...well, better, but again that's not saying much. He was at least getting some circles through, and not trying to fling his head around and crash into the other horses, though Bobby, who was cooling out, was not convinced, and tried to swing and double barrel Tris when we came around one circle. So that was fun. Can't really blame him; it probably looked rather out of control.

He got a teensy bit soft at the end of each canter, and I called it done on that work for the day. Back to the trot, then a break. After the break, walk-trot transitions on a circle and through leg-yields to try and inject more energy into his walk, then some stretching in the trot, and then done.

I don't know what to do about his canter anymore. I can't ride it well, and we keep taking one step forward and three steps back. I don't know if he's stiff from the cold, or if it's mental, or what. I spent most of the ride home nearly in tears sorting out what I'm doing wrong: I'm out of shape, I'm not riding him enough, he's getting older and stiffer, and in the end, I've had this horse for over four years and we still can't canter decently. I can't go down to the barn any more than I am; I'm already struggling to pay for gas each month and staying up until midnight to read for class, not to mention getting to M.'s and crawling straight into bed. I can't afford to put him in any kind of extensive training, and at this rate, if we don't get his canter in a place where I'm not worried about him bolting sideways out of the dressage ring, we aren't going anywhere this summer. Shipping out to ride Intro tests just doesn't seem worth it to me. I just don't know.

Friday, January 15, 2010

...oh well.

Got there last night to find four other horses in the ring, and my crowded-ring skills are very rusty. Tris was a bit wigged out by so many horses, and disinclined to get right to work. Problem is, until he's warmed up and forward, steering him can feel like trying to turn an aircraft carrier. Which, as you can imagine, creates additional problem in a crowded ring.

In retrospect, I probably should have just worked on our space management to get him over it; instead, I tried to get work done. I have lost my dressage whip in the wilds of my parents' basement, and had been borrowing a school one; all the ones normally on the wall were now being used, so I had to try to get a reluctant Tristan forward without the occasional reminder of the whip. Which didn't work. (Spurs tend to create an artificial aids arms race with Tristan, and I have been avoiding them, but who knows, might be time...)

He tried to spook in every corner, occasionally flipped his head up and his shoulder out right into the path of an oncoming horse, and while we had some really lovely moments, overall I was not pleased with either my riding or his willingness to cooperate. I should've expected it - never in his life has he been good two rides in a row - but still. At least I was in a better mood than earlier this week and could more or less shrug it off. The only really humiliating part was that T. was teaching lessons to people who were riding their horses much, much better than I, and...yeah. Ouch.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Quick update, my first ride in over a week and a half:

- Forward really is the key to everything.

- I can't really describe in words how satisfying it felt last night to be working on sitting Tristan's trot down - half-halting and posting slowly to ask for scope and a bit of suspension and more through his back. Really good thinky stuff instead of fighting and stiffness.

- Last night, for the first time EVER, I had actual control of his outside shoulder in the canter. Just right, but - when I put my outside leg on, he spiraled in. I had him between four aids, on a 20m circle. I even said out loud to L. how weird it felt, having my horse that completely underneath me. Consequently, his canter smoothed out it was like all of a sudden riding a hunter hack and not my motorcycle mustang.

- \o/