The management is unable to post as she is spending time catching up on being hugged by cats. Among other things. There may be posts, or there may not be posts. But if there are no posts be not afeared, gentle reader, for I have the power of cat hugs to keep me from harm.
I would like to do NaNoWriMo one year. But preferably one year where November didn’t fall in the winter and before Christmas. I do know someone who has SAD and still does NaNoWriMo, but honestly I usually find November a difficult month just to get up, get dressed and get washed in. Add to that the necessity of going to work, being responsible for my horse and occasionally spending time with my husband, it’s just not feasible for me to commit time in bulk to something that doesn’t have to be done. Also there’s the physical strain of bashing out 2,000-3.000 words a day – that’s quite a lot of typing to add to your usual output and I’d have to manage my RSI very carefully to avoid a flare-up. My desk at work has excellent ergonomics, with a split and tented keyboard and a tracker ball mouse as well as a conventional one (I swap between the two mice regularly) but our home office is, well, a compromise. Mr S is used to standard equipment and a certain desk set up. Things that suit me he finds unusable and vice versa. Were I to do NaNoWriMo I’d either have to stay at work late to do my words or invest in a new keyboard, chair and possibly even desk for the home office. So although in principle it’s something I’d like to try, I’m not sure I’ll ever do it.
I would also like to do No stirrups November, which I first heard about here a few days ago. But I don’t feel it’s right for me this year. Since I’ve been seeing a chiropractor I have been taking away my stirrups occasionally and it is much easier now my psoas aren’t locked up tight, but I still find it really hard to sit the trot. And when I get bounce, he goes faster, so the bouncing gets worse and he goes faster still. Cue vicious circle. At some point I have to grab the saddle to drag myself into it to stop the bouncing which means I have to lengthen the reins, lose contact and hence lose steering and brakes. Clearly we are not ready for a month without stirrups. I haven’t even tried to canter him without stirrups yet because when he comes out of canter he goes into rocket-trot and I would be on the floor. My sitting trot will have to get considerably better before I could think about cantering without stirrups.
I read about No stirrups November on Thursday lunchtime. I had a half-hour lesson on Thursday night after which I still had quite a bit of energy left. Mine was the last lesson so the school was free and I thought it would be good to cross my stirrups and have a go. As we were in the indoor school I could check my position in the mirrors and as we were alone I didn’t have to worry about annoying anyone if I lost brakes or steering. As usual, I found my sitting trot attempts tipped me forward, off-balance, but I kept resetting myself and trying again, getting moments where I felt that I might be doing OK in between the moments when I wasn’t. On lesson horses in the past I had found rising without stirrups easier than sitting, so although I’d not had much success with that on D, I gave it a go. With the help of the mirrors I could see where my position was hindering me and was able to get some decent rising trot going and try rising for a bit then sitting for a bit. D seemed OK with this plan so we continued. It was markedly easier when we were on his happy left-rein than on the right, but I kept trying to work both, having the occasional flashes of feeling like we were getting somewhere. I realised afterwards that we did about 30 min without stirrups and without him getting too upset or me falling off or having any near misses. Pretty good huh? I also realised that my core was so exhausted I could barely coordinate my limbs to walk across the yard! I was also too sore to ride the next day!
All in all it was a positive experience and I’m hopeful that next year I’ll be able to do No-stirrups November. Whether I’d do it sponsored or just for myself I don’t know. If I do it sponsored I’ll probably do it for a charity of my choice rather than the official one because I’d rather support a UK run charity. I might choose LUCIA, a charity founded and run by people I work with. If I gave them even just a penny I know that penny would be used to make a difference. So how much better would it be if I gave them more? If I keep working away without stirrups little and often then by next November maybe I’ll be able to do this.
It might be fairly obvious why I’m not doing Movember, so I won’t bother to explain it, nor say that I’d like to do it one year. I’m sort of glad I can’t. But someone else I know has been growing his mo for Movember…
It is more difficult than you might suppose to get a decent picture of a horse’s moustache. It took me a lot of work and a silly number of deleted shots to get these!
Saturday was my first lesson of the New Plan for Drifter, me and my instructor. (I need catchier names for both the Plan and the three of us).
But before the lesson I discovered that the two little sore bits on one leg (which I’d noticed a few days ago and hoped were just a scuff from the other hoof) did not seem to be healing. Mud fever? Yep. It’s only a tiny bit, so we’ll keep an eye on it and treat with nothing more aggressive than Sudocreme and use Vaseline as a barrier when he goes out in the field. But of course the whole yard has offered their own opinions on “the only treatment that works” and few are pleased when I don’t take their advice. The advice of the staff members who I most respect was to follow this noninvasive course of action. It also sits well with my own feelings on the matter. If it gets worse, there’ll be plenty of time to try scrubs, scab-picking, mixing potions and whatever else then. If you don’t hear more in future posts about this please assume that his leg did not drop off and he’s doing fine. I hope that’s not jinxing us! But even if his leg does fall off it’s the weak one that he’s not so keen on using anyway, so he’s got a head start on managing around without it. . He seems pretty much unbothered by this tiny bit of mud fever at present, so I shall follow his lead and remain calm too.
So, the first lesson. As the instructor was feeling under confident about her abilities she requested the one-off support of the office manager, formerly a dressage rider and very knowledgeable instructor. She got on and he arrived to help for a bit.
It was really good. I stood with him in the middle of the school while my instructor rode around us and he pretty much gave her a little lesson. There were quite a few occasions where he said to her exactly what she’d usually say to me and I could see her find it hard when I find it hard, if that makes sense. And that made me feel better that it’s not just me that finds it hard. I knew what she was feeling from him, and for once I could see it from the ground too. They tried a slightly larger circle in counter flexion and he couldn’t really do it, but I was able to see it from the ground and see a) it wasn’t just me making it hard for him b) how he moves when he does it for a stride and how he moves when he doesn’t.
She cantered him on the right rein, although not on the first attempt.
He did get worked up about it. When I got on for my lesson the first few minutes were spent calming him down again. An interesting point that the manager made to my instructor was that you can’t put your leg on when he’s rushing. I know that sounds obvious, but I’ve been told to keep my leg on even when he’s rushing. It didn’t work, but I hadn’t really processed that it doesn’t – I just assumed I was doing it wrong. He needs to be calm(ish) and steady before leg aids can do any good.
I find I can’t really describe what was good about the session, but it was great. In my part of the lesson I didn’t need to spend it all building towards some failed attempts at cantering on the right rein because my instructor already did that bit for me. I did a little bit of counter flexion and then we moved on to other things. We tried some leg yielding as well. I have to say I’ve tried a bit of leg yielding on my own, but didn’t know if I was doing it right – this was the first time we’d done it in a lesson. If there had been time I would have liked to do some pole work, but it was getting a bit late to get the poles out, so we’ll do that next time.
On Monday night I rode on my own and tried working the counterflexion for only a few strides at a time, for example going round the corners of the school in counterflexion and straight the rest of the way. It’s difficult to get the balance between asking for too much and asking for too little. He didn’t sweat much during the session but it was quite cold and when I got home I ached, so I think I did work us hard, just not in the sweaty-out-of-breath kind of hard. I worked on asking for different things (bend, transitions, circles) but on keeping him calm and listening all the time. If I asked for something that made him rush I stopped and brought him back to me before trying again. I hope this won’t train him that he can escape work by rushing – the idea is to keep him in a responsive state at all times. A few posts ago I noticed how he got unbalanced and rushed when we tried to run the walk-trot test – well that’s the kind of thing I’m trying to avoid with this way of working. I want to work at him doing the basics without getting worked up. I know for him a turn onto the centre line can be quite difficult, but really it’s nothing for him to get worried about. I want to get him to the point where he can do something he finds difficult and still trust me and keep his rhythm.
I guess I’m starting to learn about the pyramid of dressage Work rhythm first, then suppleness. I guess I should have already know that, but there’s a big difference between the theory of dressage and the actuality of horse owning. I have to say that I used to think the pyramid was only for people who wanted to get their horse to the top, or at least compete to a reasonable level, but I didn’t realise how much I’d have to train my horse in order to get to that goal of cantering in two directions. It might not be Prix St Georges, but we still need to sort out rhythm and suppleness before we can sort out straightness. In some ways that makes me sigh, but in others it feels good to say “I can’t fuss about that now, I need to get other things in order.”
So I’ve been thinking about the little steps I can take towards my goals, and ways of working for progress rather than beating my head against things we can’t do.
I’ve been making notes. How do we get from here to there? What do I want to work on and how do I progress it? If you can add any more ideas to the below please comment.
Rhythm: Work on things that are within his ability and don’t let him rush. We can’t work in canter and he doesn’t usually rush in walk, so we’ll work a lot in trot, with circles, centre lines, shallow loops and changes of flexion only to the point that he can manage without losing his rhythm. I’d rather lose steering than rhythm. While keeping this, try introducing some of the below.
Counter flexion: First work in straight lines bending first one way then the other > progress to counterflexing around corners > then large circles bending first one way then the other > large circles in counterflexion > small circles in counterflexion > small circles in counterflexion with a transition up to canter.
Strength of weak leg: Counter flexion as above; Pessoa lungeing; Trotting poles; Transitions. If we had any hills I’d put hill work in here, but we’re a bit challenged in that department!
Improvement of rider: Sitting trot; jump position/light seat; all of the above!
Last night was our lunging night and I was pleasantly surprised to see how much better he’s doing in the pessoa now. I can really see him bringing the weak leg further under himself, and finding it easier to do so. This is a great improvement from when we got it and he clearly struggled to get that leg under him at all. That is faster progress than I expected (although probably more weeks have passed than I realise) and it’s great to see something getting easier for him. Looks like we’re on the right track!
So … I left the last post on a high note, feeling like I was getting somewhere, did I? But I’ve said it time and time again, riding is a constant rollercoaster and what goes up usually comes down, doesn’t it. This week I rode Oblivion, metaphorically speaking.
Literally speaking I rode Drifter. Or tried to.
You see, we had a lesson.
Every so often the powers that be at the stables get some well-known or otherwise reputable member of the riding community to come and teach a day/evening of lessons at our yard. This time it was a dressage line judge, who they’d had before and lots of people were raving about. The info we were given was that he’d teach all levels, from walk-trot upwards. Great. So we booked in for a lesson with him on Wednesday.
It is only fair to say that I was tired and not at my best before I even got to the stables, but I was relaxed and expecting to enjoy it. The evening was running late, but I wasn’t fussed and when we entered the school I introduced us, explained how long I’d had him, how long I’d been riding and our issue with the weak right hind quarter that prevents him from cantering on the right rein properly.
He asked me to ride around him in a 20 m circle spiralling in to 10 m and out again. This is a challenge on a horse that finds circles very hard. This is a challenge for a horse that finds circles very hard. Then he had us try it with counterflexion (i.e. horse looks to the outside of the circle not around the circle, and so isn’t looking where it’s going). And it became absolutely impossible for both of us.
I have to say that had he explained how to ride counterflexion rather than just assuming I’d done it before I might have done better. After we’d been trying for what seemed like forever he said I seemed to be twisting against the flexion of the horse. Yes I was because that’s how I’ve been told to ride a circle – looking around it, hips and shoulders following where I’m looking. Apparently this is wrong for counterflexion and I was supposed to look and point myself outside of the circle as well as pointing him to look outside. Once he’d explained that it got slightly less impossible, but degrees of impossibility are still pretty impossible, so it didn’t help that much. Still, it’s good to know . I’m so drilled in the “look round the circle, let your hips and shoulders follow” that the idea it was possible to ride a circle without that drill was almost shocking to me.
I would hazard a guess that the rider was not the only one who’d never done a 10 m circle with counterflexion before. In fact we still haven’t done one, or even a quarter of one, although we did manage the odd stride here and there I think. Drifter just couldn’t do it. He tried. He always tries. But it’s so hard for him, so he falls out of the circle and we end up going large. “Keep him on the 10 m circle” says the instructor, apparently under the impression that I can do something about the fact that I’m now at the opposite end of the school from where I am trying to be. I can’t. I have not built enough riding specific muscle to be able to stop 1/2 ton of animal who is doing his best but can’t stay on the circle. Eventually I had to tell the instructor I couldn’t carry on without resting my arms. I’d already carried on well beyond the point of burning agony and was getting worse and worse at stopping him running off. When he’s finding things hard he trots faster and I end up in a tug of war with him. And lose. We had time for another little go after my rest, and we did better for it, but it was still so far outside either of our abilities.
The point of all of this is that by doing the small circle in counterflexion a horse has to use the inside hind, so by doing it on the right rein he has to use the right hind. (Which it admirably demonstrated that he can’t. But then I knew that.) If while he’s doing that he is then asked for the canter he’s already using that right hind so cannot avoid using it to push off onto the correct canter lead.
I think this guy assumed he was physically capable of doing the trot circle in counterflexion. Perhaps he is. But not without a rider who can make him do it.
1) I cannot make him. I am not strong enough.
2) If this obedient, submissive horse is putting up that much fight should he be made to do it? There is a difference between a personal trainer who pushes you through pain but knows when to stop and a bully who makes you do something that hurts and doesn’t care. I do feel that he is weak enough at this that it probably is painful to work the muscles. When I made serious postural changes in myself many muscle groups were very painful until they adjusted to my weight. When retraining this muscle/group in him I not only expect him to carry his own weight but mine too. We’re all mammals. I can’t believe that this would be a pain-free experience for him just because people expect horses to be able to do it. And for that reason I would be highly reluctant to put someone on his back who would push him too hard.
3) I felt he and I were both pushed too hard in this session. And I should have stopped it. Not because my arms were in agony, but because it was too much for him. But I was prey to the “he’s a professional he knows what he’s doing” and “I am lowly and want to please” thoughts. Also the “I am tough and can take this and must keep up appearances” which is both untrue and pointless.
The 30 minute session ended and he was the sweatiest horse I have ever seen in my life. And I’ve really made him sweat before. One of the teens saw us afterwards and she’d never seen anything like it either. We had to get out of the indoor school for the next lesson to go in so I took him to the outdoor school to walk him to dry off. As we walked and walked I sobbed on his back.
Partly because I was so drained. Partly because I had nothing left in the tank for the rest of the week. Partly because I felt bad about how I’d worked him/let us be worked. But mainly because I’d seen how very very hard it was for him to use that hind quarter. Because I’d seen how much further away we were from that exalted destination of a reliable canter on that rein. Because I saw that I can’t school him on that myself.
Eventually we stopped walking. He was still sweaty under the tack but dry on the exposed portions and I worried that he would get cold. So I moved my sobbing to the stable for a bit. Another milestone reached in our relationship – he will now let me cry on his shoulder. When I tried this last winter and spring he would step away from me, but now stands placidly. When I got tired of standing I sat in the corner and cried there for another substantial chunk of time. Around this point I checked my phone and found a message from Mr S saying he couldn’t find one of the cats* but had had to go out anyway. Which made me feel so much better. Not.
By the time I got home the cat was located and Mr S was conveniently free to be supportive. I told him I needed serious help getting D working properly. He gave me a shoulder to cry on and permission to spend more money on it (from an account that is not the horse account).
I had a bath and food and felt a bit more normal.
On Thursday I got up not knowing how I’d last the day at work and riding (D had no turnout so even though he deserved a day off having me on his back, I’d have to ride anyway.) The tearfulness was back. At everything. But I managed to keep on the right side of tears, feeling the prickle but not letting them fall.
I mostly talked to the manager about the possibility of merging schooling & lessons into one. By this I mean that I’d book a lesson but it would be the instructor that would ride him first, get him going nicely and work him at the things I’d struggle with, during which time I would be watching, learning, even videoing, and then I’d get on and have my lesson. Of course the tears were back during this, but in a dripping-not-sobbing way, which at least left me still able to communicate. Both manager and owner agreed this would be possible, although they didn’t want to commit to any price structure for this just yet because the lesson pricing and availability will be changing from the beginning of Dec, so we have yet to hash out exactly what I can afford/fit into their week and mine. They also suggested that I’d have to clear it with my instructor, which I agreed of course, but suspected she’d be OK with it. The owner shared that she had also had a lesson the previous night and assured me that she also had found it hard and frustrating and agreed a structured plan was the way forward for me.
So I left the office feeling a bit more positive on one front but still feeling like I needed to let it all out to someone. By happy accident lady-with-a-pony was just arriving and didn’t mind listening to me for a bit. She’s also been feeling a bit down and isolated so knew exactly where I was coming from, which was just what I needed. I’d confided that I was worried about losing what limited canter skills I have myself, and she offered the use of her pony one day, which was really nice. He’s ex-riding school and knows what he’s doing. He might do it begrudgingly, but he can certainly canter in two directions!
She went off to ride and I ambushed my instructor by waiting outside her lesson until she was done and dragging her off to the relative warmth of D’s stable for a chat. She’s not confident in her (excellent) riding abilities so needed persuading that it is her I want doing this, but once I’d got her convinced I didn’t want anyone but her, she agreed. She also told me that I shouldn’t think less of myself for not being able to school him in this myself. She told me to stop comparing myself to the others on the yard who have horses that just do everything for them. It’s easy, she said, to look pretty on a horse that can already do everything. Put them on my horse and she thought they’d be in the same place as me. This was a revelation to me and helped me feel a lot better. As did the hug that came with it. Did I forget to mention I was crying again? Anyway, I feel like she, D & me (ungrammatical but it rhymes) are a team now. The best thing she said to me was that I don’t just try to ride my horse, I try to understand him. She seemed to think it was unusual that I’ve identified his problem and am looking for ways to build him up and understand how he moves and why he moves that way and what I can do about it. It’s sad if that is unusual. But even in my short horse experience I’ve come across people selling horse after horse on because it didn’t perform for them rather than looking to their own riding or what their horse needs from them, so perhaps it is unusual. I have to say that my horse helps himself. He may have only 3 strong legs, but he’s the sweetest horse on the yard (last week was an exception!). And I don’t just say that as an owner – all the staff adore him. In a way I can understand someone wanting to get rid of him and buy a horse that will canter both ways without all this, but he’s such a nice guy, who tries and tries. But someone sold him to the dealer that sold him to me…**
So I felt a lot better for having had this conversation with my instructor. I went out to see pony-lady finish riding to tell her how it went and, unfortunately she had a fall. I wasn’t watching but it was a sideways spook and suddenly there was no pony under her. She got up fine and was persuaded to get back on and walk him round a bit before calling it a day (although she was short on time). I continued to wait for her (now she needed the moral support as well as I) and in the interim spoke to the office manager who was also there, letting him know the instructor was fine with the combined schooling/lesson idea. He also said some kind and supportive things which I appreciated particularly because of the quiet and understated way he said them.
Pony-lady & went back to her stable, consoled each other briefly and then I finally started to groom and tack up, having been on the yard for 2 hours and so far done nothing but talk! I didn’t really want to ride, but as it was really only to stretch his legs I wasn’t going to put any pressure on either of us to work to the best of our ability. But when I got back in the saddle it felt good. I let him swing along with his big walk on the buckle of the reins and just went with it. I asked for a little contact … and let him out again. Did a circle … and went large again. I even asked for a bit of counterflexion occasionally, but only for a few strides. We pottered around. It was nice. I made no demands of him – it was just about getting his legs moving. I didn’t cry. After a bit we stopped. It was all we needed from the day’s ride.
On Saturday we have a lesson. I’ll ask the instructor to get on first and we’ll see where we get to. The rollercoaster is no longer at the bottom of the drop to Oblivion. I’m exhausted but it’s Friday tomorrow and I’ll probably get through it. Maybe with a few fewer tears? I hope so.
Another long one, in which fireworks and the muckheap are mentioned, but not in the same sentence. That could get messy.
Sometimes I forget that I’ve not yet done a full year of horse owning. I was reminded of this last Saturday.
It was a very windy day and, owing to my chiro appointment in the morning and D’s lack of turnout on a Saturday, I had to lunge him. As the riding school is still in operation this month that meant waiting until 6.00 for the lessons to stop so that I would have somewhere to lunge. And that, at this time of the year, meant it would be dark. It would have to be outside because of the new surface in the indoor school not being suitable for lunging on.
I hadn’t really been aware of how windy it was until I got to the yard, and heard the wind howling and loose things flapping around. Great, I thought, cue spooking in the pessoa again. Oh well, needs must. I tacked him up but didn’t put the pessoa on him – just carried it round to put on if/when he settled. As we went round to the schools and left the protection of the buildings the wind hit us. I knew then that putting the pessoa on would be a bad plan, but he needed to move, so I’d lunge him without any artificial aids, letting him carry himself as he would, and sacrificing the training aspect of the session. I didn’t bother with the lunge whip. he was not going to have any issues moving his feet tonight! The floodlights warmed up and I started him walking … and the fireworks started. Of course, it was the weekend closest to bonfire night. It goes without saying that he was not happy about the whole situation – the dark, the wind, the banging and flashing. He was keyed up but not jumping out of his skin, so we carried on, me hoping that a bit of exercise would calm him down and settle him. Between short rides and rest days I really felt he hadn’t had enough exercise and Usually we lunge on a 20 meter-ish circle. Not this night – he didn’t want to get that far from me. I was touched that I have now become his “safe-place.” I thought he would settle, despite the challenges of the environment, and we managed walk and trot with a reasonable number of transitions on both reins and he did his best to focus on me. As we’d got this far I went on and asked for the canter, once on each rein. We started with the difficult rein, which he’s not cantered on in any circumstance for a few weeks, one way or the other. It was achieved, but only via 2 big bucks and some gallop strides (actually I think that’s the first time I’ve seen him gallop). Obviously he got much praise for managing it, once he was there, and to be honest I hadn’t expected a pretty transition! After a quick go in the other direction we’d done about 15 minutes so I cooled him down off the lunge, hand walking him round the school. Well, actually not all the way round the school because the tree whipping about down the end was best avoided. When I eventually led him back towards the stable he was so keen to get back that he kept trying to break into trot (although the slightest pressure on the lead rope was all that was needed to keep him with me).
With hindsight I should have given up on the idea of lunging when we first got out there, and hand-walked him in the indoor school. This time next year I will be mindful of the likely firework-filled nights and avoid ending up in this position. Nothing bad happened, but if it had it would have been my fault for putting him in a very stressful situation for reasons that really weren’t good enough. I was so focused on “he needs exercise” that I wasn’t thinking “what if he gets so scared he pulls me over, jumps out of the school and runs off, black horse in the black night.” No horse needs exercise that much, and I should have abandoned it. But we got away with it and we’ll chalk it up to experience. On the positive side, he stuck with me and trusted me and listened to me.
I put him to bed, picking up one last manure pile from his bed on my way. The muck trailer is reached by means of a ramp and after dark there are no lights on the area. Usually if I’m using the muck trailer after dark I stand beside the ramp and throw my scoopful up, but for some reason I decided to go up and dump my scoop properly on the top of the heap.
But something tripped me. As it cracked and splintered against my shin in a painless way I realised it was a plastic bladed muck shovel. I also realised I wasn’t going to be able to correct my stumble before … my head met a soft wall of manure and shavings. A very painless stumble for me but the shovel blade was in shards (most of which I couldn’t see in the dark) and the neatly shoveled-back muck heap wasn’t as neat by the time I’d righted myself. I was pleased to find that the experience was not as dirty as I would have imagined, the heap being quite dry. Nevertheless I was very pleased that I have a seat cover protecting the drivers’ seat of my car!
As the lunging session had been less than satisfying and hadn’t made me feel that we’d gone any way to redressing the balance of his exercise needs, instead of our usual rest day on Sunday I decided to ride. Unfortunately it was still ridiculously windy. I managed to get a school (a challenge during the day at the weekend) but unfortunately the turned out horses in the adjoining field were bucking and generally in a spirit of high uncontrolled energy, so I wasn’t receiving D’s full attention! He was resistant, worried about the wind, keyed up from the nearby crazy-horse energy and generally not going to make things easy for me. His resistance meant that I was quickly exhausted so again we were only able to manage a short ride. But it was a short ride that otherwise he wouldn’t have had, and I’m sure he spent lots of energy resisting me, even if he didn’t spend much working nicely.
The next day I tried again, and thankfully the wind had dropped back to a level that meant all the horses were a bit calmer, but unfortunately he was still resistant and argumentative. I suspect that he too feels that post physio/chiro it is like a new horse & rider. And horses challenge their new riders once they feel confident to. I’m pretty sure this is where we are now. Of course I should consider the usual back/saddle/teeth/hooves causes of “bad” behaviour, but I’m pretty sure this just attitude because all but the saddle have been checked very recently.
The day after that was bonfire night itself. Again, he had no turnout so needed exercising, but it was a chiropractor night so I wouldn’t be able to ride. Waiting until a school was free and then lunging in the dark when there would definitely be fireworks seemed stupid after our experiences a few days previously, so I decided to make do with hand walking and trotting him before my appointment. If I wasn’t going to tack him up I’d be able to skip grooming and with the time saved not grooming/tacking up/untacking afterwards I’d have time for 20 min hand walking and trotting and still have time to get to my appointment. So this was the plan. Unfortunately his bad mood extended to this also! But it proved that the issue was not the saddle, as the saddle was still in the tack room! He had a fleece rug on as it was cold and I didn’t know how much trotting we’d get to do – it would depend on who turned up to ride. As it happened we had a school to ourself so we could do whatever I chose. We started out walking around the school and he set a very fast pace and we strode out together. But his ears were back and he wasn’t happy. We carried on. He pretended to bite me. (This is what he does to see how much trouble he’d be in if he did bite me. Basically he bites the air about a foot away from my arm and then pretends he didn’t. Sometimes he’s quick enough and out of my field of vision that I’m not sure if he’s done that or not so he just gets a hard look, but sometimes I catch him and he gets told off. If he gets away with that first one then he might escalate it to biting a couple of centimetres away from my hand/arm so that his whiskers and/or lips make contact but his teeth don’t. Then he gets told off and smacked. There’s only been one occasion about 6 months ago where he actually bit me with teeth (while being girthed). But enough aside, back to the main narrative…)
So he was obviously unhappy over something. We did some trotting and walk/trot transitions to try to keep me from losing my breath too much as well as some walk/halt which went better than I expected. But his ears were back the whole time. I wondered if he hated moving in the fleece rug and as we’d been trotting decided he was warm enough to remove it. The ears stayed back. Not the rug then, just a horse in a bad mood, it seemed. We carried on and after a bit he tried bucking. Bucking on the lunge I accept as a necessary evil if I’m asking him to do something he finds very hard. Bucking on a lead-rope is unacceptable. I feel that I conveyed this message to him quickly and successfully and once I’d finished shouting we continued, with a somewhat subdued D behaving himself better.
Not the pleasant jog around the school with him that I’d been expecting. But he’d got exercised, whether he liked it or not, and I got to my chiropractor appointment.
At the appointment I was reassessed against my records and the chiropractor and I agreed I’d made excellent progress. Hurray! I no longer need to go twice a week – once a week will do. Although part of me really enjoys going and will be sad when Mr S goes to his 2nd appointment of the week without me, this will make it so much easier to manage Drifter and meant I could book a lesson. Hurray!
D and I had Wednesday off from each other and I rode again on Thursday. We shared a school with the lady with the slow pony again. Like me she doesn’t do much cantering and so it’s much easier to keep out of her way and plan my ride to avoid crashes than when sharing a school with the teens. The drainage at one end of the school was awful but with only two of us and not much cantering it was easy enough to avoid the worst of it. Professional advice is being sought on the state of the schools. It was most unfortunate that just after extra (too much?) surface was added to the outdoor schools we had weeks of heavy rain and they just don’t seem to be draining.
I’d arrived to ride prepared for a fight. Following the resistance I’d met any time I did anything with him, I’d come to the conclusion that I should expect a bit of argument during the ride. Some argument was presented, but less than I expected. I concentrated on my ride and we worked hard. After 20 min we were both sweating hard, despite the cold, his clip and the fact that we’d spent a lot of the time in walk. It was good walk, with good trot transitions (mostly). The lady with the pony left and we had the school to ourselves. I realised that D had settled to working and wasn’t fighting me any more. My shoulder didn’t seem to be dropping off so we were good to work some more. What could I do for something different now? I crossed my stirrups across his neck to try some sitting trot without stirrups. It seemed to go quite well. He kept a nice shape, which suggested I wasn’t causing him too much discomfort and I felt quite good. One rein was easier than the other – whether because of the way he moves or the way I do I’m not sure, but on the more difficult rein I still did OK. As we were passing the scary tree in sitting trot without my stirrups he had a tiny spook sideways. Probably to someone on the ground it would have been barely noticeable, but it was enough that in the past if it had happened without stirrups I might have expected to be grabbing the saddle to stay on (and maybe losing the battle). But I absorbed the motion and stayed with him. I was astounded. I really must be getting better at that! I took the stirrups back and had a little canter on his good rein, including a really nice canter circle, the best we’ve done. Feeling relatively confident I tried for the canter on the awkward rein and thought it might have been right, but couldn’t be sure.
I wasn’t able to ride on Friday but had a lesson on Saturday. I was really looking forward to it because I felt like I’d been riding him much better since I’d last had a lesson, but I really needed someone to tell me if I was right about that! Before the lesson he was being really difficult. Waiting outside the school for the previous lesson to end he refused to stand still, barging me, trying to yank his head away from me, pretending to bite. Telling him off and smacking wasn’t getting me anywhere. I took him back from the door and walked him to see if he’d settle. It didn’t really work but it was easier for me than trying to stand. Once we got into the school he continued, making it hard for me to tighten the girth etc. I was thankful for the instructor holding him while I got on, and then we were off. He walked at top speed and I let him walk off his grumps with the reins on the buckle, only taking up some contact once he’d let off some energy. The instructor was caught up in conversation, so we had plenty of time to warm up before her attention was on us, but once it was, she was impressed. He was on the bit, working nicely. As the lesson went on, so did her praise. Some of it was quite incredulous, along the “OMG, you’re STRAIGHT! HE’s straight. You’re both STRAIGHT!” sort of lines. Yes, it seems we are officially on the right track. Unfortunately this didn’t extend to the right rein canter. I tried and tried. We put a pole across the corner and he still went on the wrong leg. The instructor got on. He got it right. But she’d kind of thrown her weight sideways at the right time to help him. I got back on. I tried shifting my weight like her and D and I both found it very unsettling. We tried again and managed it. It felt quite strange, which makes me think he was on the wrong leg the other day when we’d tried. Again I resolved not to try without the instructor. Then it was time to cool down and for her to go. During the cool down she told me how much better he’d felt when she was on him. He was much lighter in her hands. She felt an improvement as well as seeing one. OMG that must mean … I’m finally riding well enough to improve my horse!
I didn’t realise until afterwards, but he hadn’t bothered to fight me during the lesson. He hadn’t tried hanging off my arms. He hadn’t cantered on the spot when he was frustrated. He hadn’t tried to ignore me. Perhaps we’re coming through the argument stage and into something nicer. Perhaps I’ve won enough arguments recently that he’s giving it a rest. Perhaps he’s getting stronger, and it’s not so uncomfortable to him to do what I ask and carry himself properly. Perhaps …
I may be pretty inexperienced, but I’ve learnt enough to know that the next time I ride it might be dreadful. This might have been a pleasant one-off that might not be repeated in a month of riding. But I can take that possibility, because it seems that I’m finally improving my horse.
I was delighted to find that the sharp new clipper blades had been employed to good effect. As usual the photography is poor, but it’s hard to get a picture of a large animal in a very confined space after dark on a not-too-great mobile camera and I tried my best. You’ve already seen one of the not-quite-what-I-intended photos as the Halloween post.
This time they took more off the tummy and sides, which I’m really pleased about. I wanted to keep his legs and back end fully fuzzy, but he did still get quite hot after the first clip, so this seems like a good compromise. I do love his leg-warmers, which is why I’m posting this otherwise terrible picture! – to show you the thickness of the furry legs!
As mentioned previously, because of the physio & chiro rest days I haven’t been riding much. On Saturday night I got him groomed and pessoa-ed up for a lunge. It was dark and windy. We started with plenty of easy walking and stepped it up to trotting with some trot/walk transitions (these are much easier in the pessoa than side reins but he still has a tendency to keep trotting and trotting). He was getting much more confident trotting in the pessoa, so as we went on I tightened it gradually, thinking we would do a few more sessions in trot and then we could think about trying to introduce the canter, on the easy rein first. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, it was very dark and really rather windy. We were in the big school which has a large tree alongside it. The big tree did what big trees do in wind – it waved itself suddenly and (apparently) very alarmingly just as he was passing it. Drifter tried to put his head in the air and get away from the tree-monster with a canter stride or two. Of course he found that his head was tied down and his back end tied in. As you would expect in this situation, he started bucking.
I have spent some time watching YouTube videos of horses in pessoas and of them bucking in pessoas. In every one of these bucking videos I’ve seen, the horse does handstands while kicking out the back legs to free the back end from the strap around the hocks. There’s even one video in which the horse has got the hand of freeing herself and manages to get the back end off.
Not my little boy.
If a picture’s not doing it for you and you need a video, here’s the footage that introduced me to the concept of pronking in the first place.
I’m not sure wetting yourself with laughter is the approved response when your horse is bucking on the end of a lunge line, but honestly, he was hilarious. He pronked neatly for about 1/3 of a circuit, never putting any extra tension on the lunge line, keeping a neater circle than he usually does in his regular gaits before settling back into a fast trot. I put him straight back into the transitions as if nothing had happened and it was indeed as if nothing had happened.
I left the experience rather amused but thinking that perhaps it would be better to try an official canter attempt sooner rather than later, so that we would be better prepared for any more unexpected canters. I wanted him to be doing a little better in trot but I didn’t think we were far off a first little attempt, even though it would be a while before I’d regularly ask him to work in canter in it.
When I rode next I was pleasantly surprised with our mutual responsiveness. We were alone in the newly surfaced sand school but it was very deep and churned up so I thought maybe it would be best not to canter but to work in walk and trot. With our new-found abilities to move our bodies freely, we feel a little like a new horse and rider getting to know each other. Previous givens are no longer as they were. So walk and trot were more than enough to keep us busy. In fact, had it been only my interests I had to please, we could probably have done the whole session in walk, but he needs the chance to move out, so of course we did plenty of trotting too. In walk and trot he was forward, round and better balanced than I’m used to. I was focusing on how he moved, mainly going large with the occasional circle, centre line, serpentine or shallow loop. Then I thought I’d try running the walk-trot dressage test, which we hadn’t touched since August. It was hard. When it came to putting the movements together all our good form fell away. He rushed, I was unbalanced and struggled to steady him. He lost his roundness and bend, I overcompensated and ended up affecting directional control trying to get the bend back. Hmm. Not quite ready for all that yet are we? Back to mainly going large, and trying to do one good circle once he’s moving well on the straight.
The next time we met it was back on the lunge. Again the weather was poor and the school was soaking, but he was doing well enough in trot that I thought I might ask for a canter transition and see what happened. Only on his happy side, of course. So what did happen? Proper handstand bucking pulling me across the school happened initially, but only for a few seconds. Then he got into a very quick canter while I praised, soothed and tried to slow him down. Was it the way I’d want him to work regularly? No, not at all. Was I proud of him for getting it quickly without making more of a fuss? Yes, I certainly was. It’s hard for him to canter on the lunge, even without the pessoa, even on his happy rein, so he did better than I expected. Some of the excess speed was from the startling feeling of striking off in the pessoa, but some of it is just his usual “I don’t feel balanced so I rush and rush”. He stayed in canter for quite a while (I’d been asking for him to slow down almost since he’d got his canter, so this was not a case of me keeping him in canter!) and when he came back down the gears we started the cool down. I considered taking everything off and cantering him on the difficult rein without the pessoa, but decided against it. Now I intend to let that session “sit”. He’s done it now, so he knows he can canter in it. I don’t think he’s ready to work that way yet, but if we have another spook related incident in the pessoa he now knows how to canter in it. We’ll work in walk and trot with it until he’s stronger and then reintroduce the canter in the future.
Next time I rode. Again, I found walk fascinating. As I mentioned in the previous post he has a habit of leaning on the rider’s arm through the left rein which I had been not feeling because of the stiff part of my upper left back. I think I’d just been setting that unfeeling stiffness against his leaning. This ride, for the first time, I managed not to do that at all. All the time I was riding I was mindful of that part of my back and keeping him from doing that. For the first time I had the feeling my instructor described where you feel like you’re holding directly onto the bit rings rather than to the reins. I really had the feel of his mouth as if I was that directly joined to him rather than through the reins. It was hard. For both of us. He struggled to carry himself because he wanted to lean on me and I wouldn’t let him. I had to have a constant focus on it. I found that when we were on the track and I was asking for a slight inside bend, regardless of direction, he was OK with that (perhaps suggesting I’m letting him lean on the outside rein while asking for inside bend?) but when I tried a centre-line, 3/4 line or diagonal he really struggled to hold himself and be straight. I found this really interesting and would have loved to work longer, but after 20 min. I felt that I couldn’t really carry on because it was exhausting me. At the time I felt like a wuss, as I cooled him down on the buckle, and wished I could have worked for longer.
But a couple of hours afterwards I was really glad I stopped when I did. My left shoulder was really painful! I’m pretty sure that throughout the 2 yrs and 6 months that I’ve been riding, every time I rode I’ve taken the weight of the contact through that stiff bit of my back. The muscles that should have been working in that shoulder and strengthening every time I rode had never worked before. No wonder after 20 min. I felt like I couldn’t do any more. The wonder is how I managed a full 20 min of hard use on those muscles before I stopped. I iced the shoulder and went to bed.
In the morning it was sore enough that I was mildly worried I’d done more than just overwork it. It really hurt and there were certain positions in which I just couldn’t hold the arm up with it. But I thought it was probably just extreme muscle soreness and spend large portions of the day consuming protein to rebuild it, and planning to ride again that night. Driving from work to the stable I was begging lights to change so that I wouldn’t have to move my left arm to change gear, and planning my route to minimise gear changes. At some point on the journey I decided that riding like this wasn’t going to do anything constructive for either of us. Much as it galled me not to improve on the work we’d been doing, and much as I wanted him to have a work out after the short session the day before, I had to accept I just wasn’t capable. It was particularly galling because if I’d realised earlier that I couldn’t ride, I could have gone out straight from work for drinks with a friend. I have to say I really feel that he hasn’t had as much exercise as he should this week, but I suppose it won’t hurt for just one week. It will get easier to increase his exercise as a) the physio’s happy with his progress and doesn’t want to see him again for 3-4 months, so he won’t be on light duties again (touch wood) and b) I suspect that dropping my chiro sessions from twice a week to once a week will be happening very soon, so I’ll have half as many days in the week when I can’t ride from that point of view.
The next day, today, my shoulder is feeling much better. It’s still very painful in certain positions, but it’s just muscle soreness that will heal itself quickly enough. I won’t be riding today but lunging again because I saw the chiropractor again this morning. He’s pleased with my progress and my next session with him will be an assessment of how far I’ve come since I started with him a few weeks ago. Honestly I don’t care whether he’s pleased or not – I’m delighted. Yes I think there’s still room for improvement, but the benefits have been so much greater than I would ever have dared hope. I feel like every day now I get up out of the right side of the bed. I feel like the best bits of a relaxing holiday without having to travel anywhere. I’ve turned into a chiropractic evangelist! Now if I can just get that shoulder stronger so it doesn’t try to drop off every time I ride for 20 minutes, I’ll be pretty impressed with my body.
We went shopping in TKMaxx after we’d been to the chiropractor, as I was in need of an evening dress or 2. I got 3 as it happens, all reduced and all more in the cocktail dress line of things rather than full length. Mr S goes to a surprising number of evening events and so I have to be kept in dresses so as not to let the side down. Anyway, to get to the point of this apparently off topic digression; as well as feeling much better, I think my body looks much better. Trying on various dresses I felt that every one looked much better on me than they would have in the past. It’s no great surprise that one looks more like the classical ideal of beauty with level hips and shoulders, with a straight upright neck and generally with everything lining up, but it’s another very pleasant side effect. Before my first session I read the brochure, “What to expect from your treatment” but nowhere was I warned that side effects might include feeling unusually happy and beautiful!