Today

Being pregnant is not a process I find enjoyable. Being unable to do stuff because of it sucks. Paying a fortune to keep a horse I can’t ride sucks, especially when I barely have the energy to see and groom him once a week.

But…

At 28 weeks and 5 days pregnant, today I had a nice time with my horse.

I didn’t feel great today, but as Sunday morning is now the only time I see Drifter, I got on with it anyway.

I drove to the yard and got out, taking my lightweight folding chair out of the boot. I walked down the yard with my chair, and immediately realised that because I’d stood up, the toilet needed to be my first stop. I knew pregnant women needed to pee a lot; I never realised how much time it seems to take out of your day when you can’t do anything without it making you need to pee!

Business there concluded, my chair and I proceeded down the yard. Various other liveries wanted to ask how I was, so I unfolded my chair and sat on it while they wanted to talk to me. I have learnt the hard way that without somewhere to sit down the entire ration of energy I brought to spend with Drifter gets spent on standing up for a handful of very similar conversations about how I/baby/Drifter am/is doing, and them observing that they don’t see me that much now. It’s nice that they want to talk to me, but it’s not actually what I came for!

Obligatory small talk done, I made it to Drifter’s stable door and sat down on my chair again for a rest! I realised he wasn’t visible over the door, so eased it quietly open and he was lying down asleep. Adorable. And it was great to have an excuse to sit a bit longer before breaking out the brushes … which I hadn’t yet picked up from the tack room.

Quietly and carefully I moved my chair inside the door of his stable and sat within touching distance. He was aware I was there, but not fully awake and we spent many peaceful minutes doing nothing until he felt like getting up. This horse used to scramble instantly to his feet if anyone caught him lying down, but now I’m allowed to share that time with him.

Eventually he decided to get up, so I went to fetch the brushes. The walk to get them was pretty tiring so I sat down and brushed any bit of him he’d let me reach from my chair. This was playful. He let me get the left side of his face easily, but not the right. The only way to get the right at all was to turn my back and feign disinterest until he came closer again, then I’d get a swipe or two in before he backed up. It was not efficient grooming, but I think we both found it entertaining. We did his front legs in much the same way.

By then I’d got some energy back and stood up to do his mane and tail. His tail is exhausting for me, in part because it’s so thick, but also because it’s only getting done once a week so it’s a mass of tangles. So I did some, sat down, and then got back up to finish the job.

After another sit down I did all the rest of the body and legs. His winter coat is pretty thick but I’m going to hold off getting him clipped if I can – when he has to stop going out every night I’ll get staff riders to hack him, but I’m hoping that being ridden in the middle of the day by staff will mean his coat is more manageable than in previous winters (when I rode at night and couldn’t get him dry before bed if un-clipped). I guess a lot will depend on the weather and how het-up he gets about being ridden by staff. At least I hope to get by with fewer clippings than usual.

So now I had a groomed horse. I went for a wander to check out which schools were in use. The big outdoor had some jumps set up, but enough space at one end for lungeing, so I chose that one. After a conversation about someone’s passed driving test, and another sit down to recover, I grabbed lunge whip, lunge line, headcollar and bell boots, visited the toilet again, and took the items to Drifter. He considered them, and started offering his “yoga” stretches, suggesting that he’d far rather do tricks for treats. This availed him little, as we always do work first and play later, and I hadn’t cued the stretches so there were no treats to be earned. I put the boots and headcollar on before picking out his feet. I’ve always expected him to lift the feet, but now I expect a higher lift so I don’t have to reach down as far. This is easier for him on some legs than others. At last we headed out to the school. He suggested that he would rather be turned out to graze, and I gently overruled.

Once in the school, we walked around and between the jumps. There were a few ground poles and one angled raised pole as well as the jumps. If there are titchy crosspoles we walk over them together, but today it was all far too substantial, so we just went between them. I had him on a line, but aimed to control him as if we were working at liberty, with my body language and just a finger gesture to steer. We did some nice tight figures of eight around pairs of obstacles, and his accuracy in going over the parts of the poles I requested was very good. I was too tired to want to put any but the minimum energy into asking for anything, so every gesture was tiny and any correction just a tiny touch on the line and disapproving noise.

Then we moved to lungeing. At first he wasn’t clear that I was changing the scenario from close work to working at a distance. I think this is because he has to switch brain gear from the intimate signals he and I have developed together for in hand work, to the traditional lungeing behaviour he learnt as a youngster. But once it clicked, he went into lungeing-brain and carried on. He was pretty lazy about it but I didn’t care to put any more energy into the process, and he mirrored my low energy level. I let him potter on, changing between lazy trot and walk quite often. I was aware that there were people observing us, and in their eyes I would be letting him get away without working properly, but it didn’t bother me. We did 5 minutes and then changed the rein. On the second rein after a few minutes I started feeling the watchers’ eyes again, and thought maybe I ought to ask for canter, as much because it was expected as because I wanted it. I thought about it for a while, and then suggested it to Drifter. I kept the request tiny because if he was going to get anxious about the canter I wouldn’t ask again; with a spooky horse lessoning in the next school I didn’t want a trot-buck-buck-gallop-canter transition. If I’m that low energy about things, I expect to get a few “no thank you” answers where he trots a little faster and declines to canter (often because he needs to set up a trot he can canter from, finding the transition hard on the lunge) but today he promptly arranged his legs and got into a no-fuss canter at once. After a single circle I brought him back to trot. Interesting. That was good enough to reward, so I brought him to walk and then halt. I would have stopped there, as I think 5 min on each rein is really enough for his joints, but having cantered only one way, I changed back to the original rein and popped him back up through the gears. Again my canter ask was a mere suggestion, and this time he seemed to consider the option of a buck or gallop, but at my quiet disapproving noise we he went straight to a lovely canter, which I praised and after a single circle, brought him back down through the gears again.

We finished the session with a return to the way we started it, walking over and around obstacles using our “at liberty” language despite him not actually being at liberty. It was easier for him to come from lungeing to liberty brain-mode than it had been to go the other way.

When we were done we headed back to the stable. I had another little sit down; he had a long drink from his water bucket. Once I felt recovered I took his boots off and put everything away… except the carrots.

This time when he offered stretches I was happy to cue the ones I wanted and provide treats for stretches 🙂

Since getting pregnant we haven’t done any clicker training, because he finds it very exciting and I am not prepared to risk handling an excited horse, even if I had the energy. However, the clicker training from the past prepared the way for the relationship we have now. It prepared him for the idea that we can be playful together, and that although sometimes he has to do strictly trained traditional horse & rider things, at other times I might ask him to try something new and unexpected and that there might be something in it for him.

I drove home realising that the morning I’d had was exactly what I’d dreamed of before I bought him. I dreamed of a horse that would pick up on my tiny cues, and do what I asked without fuss. I dreamed of sitting by the side of a snoozing horse, just being together. I dreamed of a partnership and a friendship and a relationship of mutual respect. Of course I thought about doing dressage and maybe jumping, but it would be hard to say how much of that was my own desire and how much peer pressure and social expectation. Yes I do miss riding, but it was never the be all and end all for us.

Both Drifter and I are fat and unfit at the moment. We both have our health issues and I can’t tell what the future holds for us, but today I realised I have my dream horse, and I think he had a good day too.

 

 

The New Plan begins (warning to the non-horsey, this one is quite jargony!)

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!