One step forward, two steps back

Freddie: becoming an expert walker
Last Friday, I rode Freddie in the outdoor arena for the first time since she had her meltdown. Richal had set up a dressage-sized arena within the outdoor, so I was able to keep to Freddie contained (sort of). I was really proud of her- she didn’t act like a fool! She walked relatively calmly and halted quietly several times. 
What a sky over the barn!
Freddie had her hooves trimmed and her missing shoe replaced on Tuesday. Yesterday morning, I headed to the barn bright and early to see if Freddie remembered how to trot.
Maybe bell boots will help.
I stuck my running martingale on her mostly to see if it’d help me emphasize half-halts, which Fred typically ignores. We headed to the outdoor arena, where the dressage arena was still set up. Freddie walked quietly for about five minutes, then started jigging anxiously. I tried my best to sit quietly and stay relaxed; I gave her a half-halt any time she moved faster than a walk. Freddie escalated from jigging to pogo-stick trotting. I pushed her forward into a real trot. She flailed and went faster. I half-halted. She started the most awkward canter ever. I grabbed the breastplate’s handy neck strap when I felt her hump up her back; fortunately, she was just performing a very uncoordinated flying lead change. (Yay?) 
We eventually settled down and onto a 20-meter circle. After she walked quietly in both directions a few times, I asked for a trot. There was minimal zooming, and for the most part, she trotted her smooth and slow trot. I circled her maybe three times each direction and called it quits.
You will be a sporthorse.

I’m headed to ride after work today; let’s hope baby Fred remembers the happy part of yesterday’s ride, when I was scratching her neck and telling her “Good girl!”, not the part where I was mumbling rude things about her intelligence and parentage while she careened around the arena…

Freddie freaks out

After Freddie had a little meltdown in the hay field last week, I decided to keep things low-key for our next few rides.

Ruining a perfectly good photo by shaking her head.

On Sunday, we headed to the outdoor arena for a walk. She’s had some trouble containing her excitement in the outdoor before; she walks quietly for a couple of minutes, then totally spazzes out and tries to run off. She was marginally better on Sunday, by which I mean she walked for about 10 minutes before beginning her nervous jig. I tried to stay relaxed and keep my reins loose so she wouldn’t have anything to pull against. Major fail, as Freddie took that as a sign to trot as quickly as possible. We spent the next half hour having a come-to-jesus about the nature of half-halts and walking. It was ugly, but when she walked an entire lap each direction as well as over some ground poles, we headed back to the indoor to cool out in the shade. Freddie promptly pitched a fit and took off careening around at a canter and bucking. The indoor is very small, so I didn’t feel like I was in any real danger and I sat the temper tantrum until Freddie settled down. Then I closed the gate between the arenas from her back, which didn’t bother her. Weirdo.

Indoor is boring! Need more running!

I rode Tuesday before work, sticking to the indoor this time. Freddie was about the same as she was on Sunday; totally fine for about 10-15 minutes, then totally amped up and ready to run. More careening, more bucking. 

Such noble. So majesty. Much Thoroughbred.

During our Thursday morning ride, Freddie was definitely better. She stayed (mostly) relaxed for our ride; I also shortened it, thinking that maybe 45 minutes was just too long for green bean Fred. I stuck to the indoor and tried to keep her busy with arena figures and walk-trot transitions. She had a few very moments of stretching down and reaching for the bit; I was very happy with her. 

Freddie is proving to be much feistier than I thought she would be! She is pretty sensible, not spooky, and not mean. She’s just very ignorant. I’m currently riding her every other day, and I think having a regular schedule will help her immensely. (Doesn’t it help them all?) 
As long as she doesn’t buck me off and break my good arm before work, I think we’ll be okay.

The Importance of Having Fun

I went out to the barn yesterday planning to do a transition-heavy dressage school on Moe. I did- it was very unexciting. I don’t even think Moe’s #1 fan Elizabeth was impressed. Dressage just isn’t exciting when you’re simply trying to remind your horse that downward transitions shouldn’t be a downward spiral and that the working walk is a thing
Gina was feeling friendly when I turned Moe out and deigned to accept a few treats in the field. I caught her before she could flee and decided that she and I were going to have some fun. (There’s no fun like forced fun, right?) Since someone had parked a grill in front of the tie rack, I took Gina inside the barn and cross-tied her.
You might wondering what I was thinking, given that I’ve avoided cross-tying her since I’ve owned her due to an unfortunate freak-out, flip-over accident before I bought her.
I was thinking that the ceiling is too low in the barn to allow her to get far if she reared. I was also thinking I didn’t trust her to be tied to the PVC fence outside thanks to her history of randomly pulling back.
“What? I have always cross-tied. Give me a cookie.”

You’d think Gina was drugged. She stood super quietly while I groomed and tacked her. I took her out front with no real plan in mind. She felt relaxed, so after letting her walk and stretch for about ten minutes we picked up a trot. She was moving well; we trotted figure-eights, circles, big loops and straight stretches all around the property. When we were both feeling good, I asked her for a canter. 

Gina has the most lovely canter of any horse I’ve ever ridden. It’s easy and comfortable to sit. I can do no-stirrup canter work on this horse all day. But yesterday, I just sat in two-point and let Gina choose her pace. We cantered around for about five minutes, took a short walk break, and cantered another five minutes. Then we cooled out and headed back inside.
The whole time I was on, I didn’t ask Gina for a thing except minor steering and gait adjustments. I didn’t ask her to be on the bit, or to bend, or to do anything except move
I had fun. A lot of fun. I think Princess Pony had some fun, too. I’m hoping to get some more rides like this on her: easy, low-stress rides that don’t involve much thinking and definitely don’t escalate into arguments. I’m even thinking of getting some ground poles out to canter her over. Maybe this is the year we conquer Gina’s seemingly-groundless angst over jumping!

Brain Transplant

Gina has been my problem child horse pretty much since I bought her. She’s haughty and imperious and petulant to boot.

At our last barn, she was turned out on about six acres with two to three geldings. She ran the show, regularly nipping and kicking the boys just to remind them who was really in charge. She got two meals a day, but was hard to catch anyway. (We’re talking two-hour-chase-in-July hard.) She did inexplicable things like pull back while tied, totally unprompted. She just seemed cranky. There’s no other word for it.

I will immediately buck you off upon mounting.

With that history, is it any surprise I think Gina’s had a brain transplant somewhere between moving into the cow pasture and moving into the new barn? Somehow, she’s become this pleasant creature who approaches me in a 20+ acre field. Two people have gushed to me about how sweet and friendly my horses are. (Moe, sure, but Gina?! What?)

I am a nice horse. Bring me the cookies, human!

And let’s talk rides. I headed out three times last week: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Since I’m going to try to like…accomplish stuff this year with both horses, I typically ride them both when I’m at the barn. Gina was pretty pleasant on Wednesday. We’ve been working in the flat, grassy area near the road. It’s perfect for dressage schools and I enjoy the traffic whizzing by. (It’s kind of soothing.)

Friday was kind of an epiphany. I’ve been working both horses at the walk for the most part, since they’re so out of condition. Moe likes long walks in the woods, but Gina gets bored. (Moe has the IQ of a loaf of bread; he likes anything.) She needs more to think about. There’s only so many circles, serpentines, leg yields, and halt-walk transitions you can practice before she turns into a giant, twitchy sourpuss. Instead of sticking with the plan of walk 25 minutes, trot 5 minutes, I left my watch in the car and walked Gina until I felt her round through her back and start to come underneath herself. Then I let her trot. And pushed her at the trot. I envisioned Anne chiding me to push my shoulders back, lift my inside rein. And lo and behold, Gina put in a very solid 10 minutes or so of trot work. She was a little heavy on her forehand, but she was trying (and mostly succeeding)! She felt so perfect that we even cantered- just one huge circle in each direction, but it was positively joyous.

Saturday was fundamentally a repeat of Friday, except with the addition of Johnny. He caught and groomed Moe for me; he even picked Moe’s hooves, which is quite an accomplishment for him. Moe was good, but kept moving around to mug Johnny and me for treats. While I was riding, Johnny sat next to a big tree and watched; Gina was deeply suspicious about this spectator, but was fine once she had something else to think about.

Where are the promised cookies, human?

I finally put together her dressage bridle; I found my missing loose ring French link snaffle. I’m excited to have that bit on her again. (She’s been going in Moe’s eggbutt Dr. Bristol and doesn’t really like it.) I’m also excited at the prospect of showing her on the local dressage circuit.

Mostly, though, I’m excited to have a horse I can catch and ride again!

30 Day Blog Challenge: Day 7- Five of Your Favorite Flatwork Exercises

Day 7- Five of Your Favorite Flatwork Exercises

Since meeting my friend and trainer Anne a little over two years ago, I’ve grown to appreciate flatwork. I used to do it grudgingly and quickly, as a necessary evil to be performed before jumping. These days, I spend most days riding doing some type of flatwork. That’s not really a tribute to my maturity- it’s more a tribute to Anne’s ability to make flatwork interesting and fun.

Here are my very favorite flatwork exercises:

  1. Spiral in/spiral out– I’m pretty sure I do this on every horse I ride, even the old, sometimes cranky horses at work. I start in a 25 or 20-meter circle and slowly make the circle smaller by asking the horse to move laterally off my leg. When the circle is about 10-meters, I begin to expand the circle outward until it’s back to its original size. I find this exercise useful at any gate to get a horse bending and supple (and to help teach greenies lateral movement). 
  2. Follow the leader– When you’re riding with a friend, it’s easy to get caught up doing one of two things: chatting while walking around the arena on a loose rein, or focusing solely on your horse and ignoring your friend. Anne and I play follow the leader (especially with Colter) often- she and Atut will lead me and my mount around the arena, through circles and serpentines and changes of direction. Then we switch. We still get to talk to one another, but it keeps our horses doing something useful.
  3. Down the centerline– I’m not sure if this counts as a flatwork exercise, really, but I like to practice straight lines away from the rail (center line, quarter line, I’m not picky). With very green horses, I like it because you can ask them to canter without worrying about what lead they pick up and simply reward the forward movement (and turn in the appropriate direction). With more advanced horses, I like to use it to work on straightness without the visual aid of a rail.
  4. Simon says- I promise I haven’t gotten this post mixed up with one on therapeutic riding! If you’re riding with a friend (can you tell Anne and I ride together a lot?), try playing Simon Says. Have them call out a movement or transition to you. Typically, Anne is perched on Atut in the center of the arena, calling things like “…And turn left! …And canter! …And walk! …And turn right!” I love this exercise because it keeps me on my toes and prevents me from doing the same old thing every time I ride.
  5. Cloverleaf (with or without ground poles)– Think of this exercise as two capital letter Bs, back to back. This is a great exercise to work on bending, quick changes of direction, and flying lead changes.Ground poles can be added toward the center of the exercise (especially when practicing flying lead changes.)
I’m always up for new exercises- what do y’all like to do?