Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Lesson 3

Another Monday, another lesson. I'm loving it!

Even if it's very, very humbling at times. Audrey was reserve champion at 4th level at a fairly serious show this past weekend. 24 hours later, I spent 30 minutes learning how to get Audrey properly round. Oh my :)

In my defense, she's a lot like Bridget in that there's a fine balance between llama, and faking by hiding behind the leg/bit. Also, she's very wiggly like Bridget. The feel is actually scary similar.

This post brought to you by recycled media. This is the pair of them a couple of years ago.

Actually, never mind my excuses. They're null and void, because if anything, her similarity to Bridget should mean I have lots of practice and should have a way better handle on riding her effectively. Sigh.

In all honesty, if you were watching my lesson, you'd probably be like "What a lovely, fancy horse packing that lady around. That horse is far too nice for this level of lesson rider!"


And, those thoughts would be true :) What you probably wouldn't see is the confidence I am gaining each week, that there are substantial improvements being made quite rapidly, and that my learning is increasing exponentially. We had some nice moments this week, moments where I felt just how active her hind end needs to be, how round in her body,  and how much feel I should have in my hands as she takes me along and carries herself as we transition forward and back.

The amount of power and how quick she is was quite frankly a bit intimidating when I started back on her last month, as was the mare drama of hopping around and sucking back and kicking at my leg when she wants to hide behind the contact. I'm getting much more confident about pushing her through it and less shy about being firm in my corrections.

I have hope that at some point in this journey, my timing and feel (and fitness) will be such that I can ride Audrey well enough to learn some more advanced concepts (I've had a tiny taste of passage and a few steps of canter pirouttes and I want more!). But let's face it, you can't skip working on the foundations of the training pyramid no matter where you or your horse is at, and figuring out a new horse is a good puzzle for me.
Throwback to Bridget's Animal Spirit Training Pyramid

Homework:

- fitness (my own, it sucks). I'm back hitting the gym,  hiking and doing yoga consistently and am like "why did I stop, I love this!?" Argh, no point beating myself up about it now, I guess. I'm moving forward, and I'm just glad I'm making it a priority again.

-lunging Bridget in side reins to help get her fitness back up too.

Pony yoga vacay is over, Bridget

- Bridget needs to carry herself (my riding Audrey is making it apparent how much extra work I think I need to do)

-Establish everything I am looking for in walk, first and insist nothing changes as I move up to trot or canter. Walk is hardest for the horse to practice carrying themselves as far as balance (like yoga, harder because you are balancing and moving individual body parts without momentum to help), easiest for the rider because you have lots of time to influence between footfalls.

-focus on never holding (hands, legs, or seat) on Bridget. We've got a dynamic where I ask, she often ignores/procrastinates, and I end up holding my aids on until she responds...which of course makes her duller and annoys the crap out of every other horse I ride. Audrey has quickly tuned me up, but I need to carry that through to Bridget and be consistent on her, too.

Thoughts:

I miss having a dedicated training plan with Bridget. I miss having a show season. BUT, I do feel like moving on from her as far as further dressage progress is the right decision for me. As you can see, I'll keep picking away at things, but there's no more pressure to do all the things on her. Even though it's probably the right thing to do, I'm sad and feeling a bit lost to be honest.

Canada Cup was a year ago already and I was so excited to go back.

However, focusing on learning as a rider is a good thing. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to continue learning on Audrey, and for my coach's unwavering support of my goals.




Sunday, 17 June 2018

Roomies

I know I say this way too often, but I've been so busy! My efforts towards rebalancing my life have certainly helped, but I'm still finding little surprises are really impacting my schedule and my horse time.

The barn owner was recently giving me a bit of (mild) grief, because I guess both ponies were being a little rambunctious this past week while I was away working extra. Sophie in particular is very social and busy, and gets a little silly if she's bored. This week's damages included a fence rail and a water bucket, plus she was apparently "pushy" with the barn owner. She's a good girl, but she's still a 2 year old who makes dumb decisions sometimes. She's pretty immature for her age, so although she knows how to do all the age appropriate domestic horse things very well, she still gets up to all kinds of silly feral pony antics in her free time.

B is the good pony right now, but even she's apparently been a bit cheeky. 

I don't want to burn any bridges, so I've suggested moving barns to somewhere where there is more room for her to run and less day to day handling is required by the barn owners. (Right now the horses have to be put in and out as the weather requires, so along with feeding when I'm away, that's a bit of extra work for the barn owner).  And yes, I'm away working extra right now, so much for my short work week and extra time at home, it's all hands on deck as we're very busy and unexpectedly understaffed.

It's frustrating, but if I can hold on til mid July my replacement at work will have started, and I'll be taking some vacation time. We'll see how it goes as far as barn and riding time goes then. I know the barn owner doesn't want me to leave, but I'm tired of being the problem child :)

The terrible twosome

In the meantime, I moved Sophie in with Bridget, in hopes they'll keep each other entertained and busy. Plus, Bridget is good at enforcing rules. Fingers crossed, this is a good temporary solution, as it keeps Bridget moving around, and gives Sophie some structure. I have no doubt there will be much drama on the part of a certain palomino princess when I separate them again, but for now it's working.

Twins? ;)

As far as adventures, we didn't get up to much this weekend. I worked on Sophie's feet a bit and she was a very good girl, plus she spent some time on the trail with us being ponied off Bridget. A+ for both ponies there, they're a proper team now, even matching strides as we walk along. Very cute.  Sophie's also possibly figured out how to get her halter off? Twice in one day when tied seems a little more than coincidence. I'll have to see if I can catch her in the act and see how she's doing it. At least she doesn't run off, she just takes the opportunity to eat grass nearby. The pony genes are strong in this one, lol.

B has been coughing a bit again, and generally feels a little icky under saddle. My allergies are crazy right now too, and the weather is very hot and dusty. I think she's a little footsore too. This would be a summer for shoes if I was riding on a proper schedule. So, perhaps good timing for her to have a fairly relaxed few weeks. If the cough persists, we'll get her some meds from our lovely vet. I'm a little concerned, but we've been here before and it seems to be seasonal, when it cools off and we get some rain she'll likely be feeling 100% again. As for her feet, we've got boots that work well, but they don't hold up to anything beyond trot - she overstrides a bit and catches them with her hind feet. I'm crossing fingers hard that our newest trial saddle will fit, it would be nice to jump her a bit and get her moving in the softer arena footing when the dust dies down.

I need to measure Sophie again. I swear it was less than a month ago she was 2" shorter than Bridget, yet she looks taller than B in every picture from today.

I'm heading to the Topline horse trials in a couple of weeks, and am both sad and excited about it. Sad, because I won't be riding (and actually my whole show season seems to have imploded...) but happy because it's just as fun to cheer on my barnmates and act as groom. Horsey adventures are always good!

Unintended consequence of them being roomies: Sophie is WAY more sociable than B, but B does not like to share. Therefore B is about 500% friendlier than ever before, and is pictured her trying to cut Sophie off to get to me first lol





Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Congrats to Ginger!

Ginger has found her perfect person and is sold as of this week. Obviously, it's a pretty emotional thing for me as I do love the big mare and had a lot of hopes and dreams tied up with her. Ginger is the whole reason I started this blog way back when, and we've been through a lot together over the years.
This post's media brought to you by Ginger

Even though she's been leased to my coach for a few years now, and I even had her advertised for sale at one point, in the back of my mind I had always imagined we'd have a nice acreage by the time Ginger was ready to come home and she'd live out her days with us. I never did rule out having her as my main riding horse again, even though that's been increasingly unlikely given Bridget's surprising ability to fill her shoes, and more recently, my purchase of Sophie.

Ginger thinks Bridget's excessive rolling in the mud is ridiculous, too :)

So, I did have a big sob fest and pity party when it seemed like the sale was going to go through. Even though I'm super happy for Ginger and her new owner, I'm sad for me, sad for all the goals I never accomplished. I'm no good at not making things all about me,  apparently.

However, in the spirit of always trying to do right by my horses, I'm 100% certain this is the right thing to do. She has a great new owner who's going to keep her where she is, doing the things she likes doing. Ginger deserves her own person and it would be selfish of me to hold on to her when I don't have a real purpose for her and can't give her as much attention as she deserves.

Ginger on the left, Bridget on the right

Plus, if I set aside what little pride I might have, I can tell you without any reservations that her new owner is a better fit than I was for Ginger. She's calm, she's confident with her, and she just wants a horse to have fun with. And Ginger really likes her, which you may recall is pretty important, given Ginger's previous general mistrust for a large part of the human population :)



And so, we all move onwards to new adventures. I'm going to leave the blog title the same, because why not? Project Bridget or Project Sophie doesn't have the same ring to it, and Project Gingersnap was one heck of a roller coaster story, now complete with happy ending :)

Me and Ginger, back in the day ;)

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Learning To Ride

Audrey Lesson 2. It feels like I'm learning to ride all over again.

It's interesting, this feels like a WAY bigger move up than I expected.  Bridget is a very big mover for being 14hh - she feels bigger to sit than some of the 16hh+ horses at the barn.  She's sassy too, and still prone to moments where she loses balance or makes random life choices under saddle. She's not easy. I work hard. Yet I never feel like I have any issues sitting any of it or riding her effectively. ( I'm not saying I ride her well, just saying I feel like I am able to get the job done :) )

Audrey, though. Oh my. I rode again last night and the feel of fail was very high. I'm aching in places I'm never sore in, and I feel less than effective a lot of the time. There are moments where it's all I can do to stay where I need to be in the saddle.
I suspect Sophie is going to feel like she's right in between the two of them under saddle, so this is good prep for the future!

She's very forgiving of my rookie mistakes, but there are buttons everywhere for me to inadvertently push (or not)!

Part of the issue is that I am doing SO MUCH when I'm riding Bridget. She's hard to keep balanced and together, she's constantly either on the forehand or sucking back and there's definitely a large workload for the rider to keep it all manageable.

Audrey, however, is like "Hey crazy lady?! I know how to canter! Please just let me do my job!"

It's so much fun to ride her. Even in two lessons, a lot of things are clicking for me and I definitely have a lot to work on and ideas to take back to Bridget.

- Straightness. I can feel when Bridget is straight, but Bridget's default is "Ughhh, pushing is so hard, now I will try to slow down and play the wiggly game" Audrey is like "Yay, straight! Hey, let's engage afterburners and cruise!" It's an instant reward for her, so I'm already feeling a lot more conscious of when I am using a bit too much leg on the circle (outside, normally) or rein (inside, of course), or getting sucked into the Wiggly Game. For Bridget, I understand better now how much better things would be if she would be reliably in front of the leg..and how even what I think is really forward on her, really isn't enough.

Bridget lives in the winter paddocks right now. It's been a few months so there's some grass starting to come in among the weeds that seem to take over our sacrifice areas that aren't being used. I feel mean, but it's a perfect compromise between limiting her intake and letting her have a bit of greenery to pick at. I'm going to break down and mow it all this weekend though - it looks so untidy and we don't actually want the weeds she won't eat going to seed.

-Jumping off my leg. B is a million times sharper than she's ever been, but I need even more.

-My fitness. Holy ab workout! Those big movers are no joke to sit! I need better cardio and better core strength.

-Canter off inside leg aid. DO NOT hold my outside leg back "just in case" in canter. I have no idea why I started doing that, but Audrey is like "You seem like you might want to ask for haunches in BUT WHY ARE YOU NOT ACTUALLY ASKING? I am moving my haunches because i think you might be thinking about it? You're very vague and annoying!"

She's such a good mare. There are large parts of our rides where I feel like I'm a bit "I don't know what I'm doing, Audrey take the wheel" and she's got it. I mean, she tells me how dumb I am first, but she's got it :)

I love Bridget dearly, but these lessons are also great for my mental game because Audrey tries her hardest to figure out what I want. Yes, she has some opinions about it, but she likes her job and she likes working. It's refreshing...I've been humoring a certain very grumpy coworker for a long time now and it's very easy to let that color my views of riding and how much work I need to put in to meet my goals.

Bridget: Please may I go over there in the field with everyone else?

I'm feeling very, very motivated to continue with my diet and fitness plan outside of the barn, and of course while my inner mean girl hates the riding fails, I'm loving feeling like the learning curve is very steep all over again and there is potential for big strides forward in my learning. I often feel a little stuck with Bridget as far as progress so it's pretty neat to have lessons again with some big breakthroughs and homework to think on.

I just re-read this before posting, and I'm not meaning for it to come across as down on Bridget. Her and Audrey are kind of apples and oranges as far as work ethic goes, and Bridget is who I spend most of my hours with and is my current comparison point to other horses. I do get a lot of amusement over her lazy, grumpy self and appreciate all the other wonderful things about Bridget very much!
Like how she stays round and shiny on the worst grazing ;)

Saturday, 9 June 2018

New Boots!

I've spent 6 months and 2 broken zipper incidents trying to break in the new boots I got just before Christmas. It sucks. They're still stiff and awful.  So, when a large tear developed on my everyday Ariat contours (whose zippers required some inventive tricks to keep them done up since day 1 and overall quality seemed dubious for the price, paticularly as time went on), I couldn't imagine  ordering a new pair ( or using the Christmas boots every day!) I knew it was time to try something different.

I'm a weird size...small-ish size 7 feet, 16" calves no matter what my weight is, and oh yeah, I'm 5'2". There's no such thing as boots out of the box that are going to fit perfectly. I can go up a shoe size so the width is there,  but then normally the height is a bit of a problem. I am getting to be pro at "making do" on a budget.

In that spirit, I ordered a pair of Mountain Horse Opus boots on a sale. (I paid $350CAD from the UK).  The measurements said they should fit close enough, but I was skeptical and not excited about breaking them in.

So pretty.

So, how'd that work out?

OMG THEY ARE PERFECT! Like almost custom, they fit so well. I pulled them out of the box, zipped them on, and walked out the door and went for a ride. Zero blisters, zero issues. Worth every penny, and pretty enough to look like I spent more than I did.

So comfy. Also, it's really hard to take pictures of my own boots, lol. The color is closer to the manufacturer picture above, kind of a dark chocolatey brown.

I'm tempted to order a pair in black and live happily ever after, ignoring the shiny stiff dressage boot trend completely :)



Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Lesson Recap

(Wait!What? A lesson recap?)

My last lesson was...the end of March maybe, and I haven't been taking regular lessons since before Christmas. It definitely feels weird (and exciting!) to be scheduling and recapping weekly lessons again!

My first lesson back on Audrey was a bit...rough. I'm terribly out of shape. Riding Bridget on the trails bareback might theoretically be good for balance but in reality does nothing for my cardio or position. More home time in the form of watching Netflix with G while snacking after dinner, also not helping :)

So, I was all sorts of puffy and wobbly. Audrey, however is a star. She definitely lets me know when I'm getting things wrong *cough*bucking and kicking at my annoying outside leg*cough* but is equally quick to forgive when I try harder to get it right.

Our lesson was pretty basic walk/trot/canter each way, forward and back in each gait, having her collect a little and lengthen a little, mostly me getting a feel for her again and her remembering I'm not always so awful, that I'm not intimidated by her, and that we can get along.

Audrey: "You are here to ride ME?!"

Take homes: I've reverted to using too much leg and holding it on longer than I should (almost always in up transitions). Bad habit, and one I often need reminding about, with Bridget's tendency to tune me out and my go to response of just getting louder :( On the plus side, I had it pretty much figured by the end of the ride. It was that or Audrey was going to lawn dart me (and deservedly so!), lol.

I'm weighting my outside seatbone on the circle again. Ughhh...why? Audrey tattles on me by doing changes or leg yields. Such a good mare.

Again, with holding/being too handsy in the transitions. B and I are at this place where she pulls on me, or else hides way above the bit, so my go to is apparently to keep my upper body way too braced and my reins too short. Not helping, T.

B is looking quite sporty right now, though!

Mostly, my riding fitness really needs to improve.

We spent a bit of time discussing next steps with Bridget, and here's where I let you in on my dirty little secret. I've been feeling a little (a lot) out of place in the horsey community at home lately and have been second guessing pretty much everything about my riding. I'm not saying it's a horrible, terrible place, because it's absolutely not. There are some really great people there! There is, however, a small crowd of not so kind people who seem to feed off backhanded compliments and every bit of negative gossip they can manufacture, and who are most definitely judging you every time they watch you ride. I'm well aware I'm not perfect, but it still sucks to hear nasty things being said about myself when I really do put 110% into being the best owner I can be for my horses.

Yet more poor iPhone pics of pretty Audrey mare. I'm crossing my fingers hard Sophie grows into a mini version of Audrey - because I love Audrey! They are really so much alike mentally it's a bit spooky, because Audrey is, well, ...special ;)

I'm angry with myself for letting it affect the joy I find in my riding and barn time and letting their comments be part of my decision making process when I ponder next steps for myself, B, and even Sophie.

EC gave me a mini pep talk, and honestly I got a little teary because she knows my abilities and goals better than most and doesn't BS anyone about those particular topics (or really, anything, I guess :). So, yeah...all the feels.

So, I guess even though I technically had a tough lesson, I'm actually feeling pretty empowered and confident about my goals again. I'm ready to get back to working hard, I'm going to get better, and most importantly, riding Audrey is so.much.fun. And isn't having fun what it's really all about?

Monday, 4 June 2018

Recent Happenings

I've been kind of dropping the ball lately as far as blog worthy adventures to post about! I was supposed to take Bridget camping last weekend, but I was sick and cancelled. There was a dressage show in the city that obviously didn't happen either.

Sophie is at least practicing her moves for future shows.
I've had a bad case of the blahs, really, when it comes to barn time in home town. I've lost motivation and direction with Bridget, and Sophie is obviously too young to do too much adventuring. I'm also temporarily working an extra day on the south coast, so I'm limited to long weekends at home through June. There's also some ongoing local barn/ horse community drama that I sometimes find hard to not get to me. I know I just need to suck it up and get out and do the things as best I can anyway, then I'll feel better. Easier said than done sometimes, I guess!

"Are you coming?"

In that vein, I've booked time off for an adventure with my old barn mates from EC's place. The plan is to attend an event in the interior of the province at the end of June. I haven't ruled out taking Bridget, but most likely I'll be going as groom for a friend and to cheer everyone on. It's in wine country and near a lake, and I'm overdue for a horsey road trip :)

As for this past weekend, despite my lack of motivation, I did spend some time doing groundwork with the ever sassy Sophie pony, and got Bridget out for a long trail ride with barnmates. Riding a short pony has its disadvantages at times, as we managed to get high centered on a big log going down a hill.

It was a lot like this, lol

Bridget being Bridget, did not panic, and slowly slid back and put her weight on her hind legs until she hooked one front hoof, then the other up on top of the log, which she then banked over. One of a kind, this pony. Shortly after, there was a pretty steep/sheer rock face to scramble up, and Bridget needed to think long and hard about that. She told me it wasn't safe, which she was probably right about. I let her formulate her plan, and we got up safely, although I was a little worried - It's a big jump up and there is really no good traction for the horses on the top of the rock, plus a pretty steep drop off on the lake side! While I'm not sure I'll ever voluntarily ride down that particular trail on a horse again, I appreciate that B goes pretty much anywhere and can be trusted to think it through first.
Bridget leading the way and safely back on the road

I used to be all about the crazy technical back country trails, but these days I seem to be losing patience with them, so much walking and it's always up or down a hillside on bad footing, and never any space to turn around or  to get out of a jam.  I don't think it's fair or responsible to knowingly put B into situations where she could potentially hurt herself, no matter how small of a part of the trail those places are. I'll save those trails for my mountain bike from now on.

Banana pony is getting more yellow every day!

On a completely different note, Ginger is getting a pre purchase done in the near future. Cross your fingers hard for the sale to go through, because the potential buyer is a perfect fit and would keep Ginger boarded at EC's where I could see her every week :)