Thursday, 30 August 2012

Photoshoot

It's been a little while since I last posted but I decided to save my posting until after my lesson on Wednesday.  On Wednesday afternoon, a friend and I went out to the barn to take some nice pictures of ourselves with our horses, and I decided to wait until I could post some of them on here.

My lesson on Wednesday night was pretty good as well, which I was both surprised and thrilled about.  Walker was the best behaved horse out of all four of them!  In fact, the other three horses, which are usually so well behaved, were actually having a lot of problems.  One of the horses was a little lame when we first started out, and because his rider was also feeling a little sore, they ended up leaving the lesson after about 25 minutes.  The second horse to have problems was a mare who we think was in heat.  She is usually very well behaved but once every so often she goes into heat and becomes really hard to deal with.  We could tell that something was wrong with her right away and so her rider was too nervous to keep pushing her.  They left the lesson after about 35 minutes.  Then, there were just two of us - Walker and one of the other horses at the barn which I would call the beginner horse (not because he's not talented, but because he's so trustworthy you could put anyone on him).  Well, there was a horse in one of the outdoor paddocks on Wednesday night, and because it was getting dark earlier than usual (and it was almost a full moon), that horse was freaking out in the paddock and galloping from one end of it to the next.  The other horse in my lesson kept getting spooked by this, and at one point, he even bucked several times along the rail (good habits picked up from Walker, I'm sure).  Walker didn't even lift his head while all this was going down, but the girl who was riding the other horse in the lesson was definitely nervous about it and we ended up spending the rest of our lesson just walking around and doing some leg yields and simple pole work while the crazy horse that kept spooking them continued to freak out in his paddock.  Needless to say, when we got done the lesson, I was pretty impressed that Walker was the best horse there.  I was very proud!

Other than that, the week has been pretty good.  On Tuesday night, I had to ride in the smaller indoor arena while lessons were going on.  I worked on some two-point, and I rode bareback to strengthen the muscles in my legs.  I may try practicing some two-point over poles soon, and even some elevated poles to see if I can't work myself up to the tiniest crossrail of all time!

Anyway, below are just a couple of the pictures from our photoshoot on Wednesday afternoon.  Since I never seem to have any photos on my posts, I will try to save some for the future. I think they turned out pretty well (thanks to my friend who is a great photographer), and Walker was pretty well behaved.  It was pretty windy though so my hair is definitely not the best!  Oh well, I can at least cross another thing off my list of things to do with Walker.

All the horses wanted to do was graze

 
Walker checking out the photographer 

My favorite picture - with the love of my life 

Monday, 27 August 2012

Soft Hands

I've calmed down a little bit from the show on Saturday, and even though I am still very disappointed with his behaviour, Walker was not the only horse that was riled up.  One of the horses kept spooking in the same corner, and another one reared in the middle of a class.  I'm sure that Walker was worked up because of all the horses around and all the stress that I'm sure he was picking up from me.  Although I'm not going to make excuses for bad behaviour (especially bad behaviour that he does on a regular basis), he made up for it today by giving me another good ride.

I was able to get him loping the way I was all last week on his good side and although he was still taking off a bit on his bad side and not making the turns when I wanted him too, I forced him to lope along the long end of the arena and sometimes I could get him to make a U-shape on his bad side.  I watched the video that I took of my ride, and although it was zoomed out pretty far and it is difficult to tell, he is not going half as fast as I felt like he was going at the time.  Once again, I just need to remind myself to sit the lope and go with it.

On Saturday, the judge kept telling me to have "soft hands", and so I decided to make this the subject of this post.  When Walker bolted in warm-up, my barn owner suggested that we go back to the harsh bit we had at the beginning, which was the shank bit with a high port.  I have decided to ignore her request (although I would not be against using it if I ever decided to show again).  I am pretty good at the walk/jog, but I still do not have soft hands when we lope.  While I'm sure that a high port would cure his bolting problem, I still firmly believe that it would simply create new problems.  We've finally gotten to a point where I am able to lope him on his good side for several consecutive circles without even a buck or a fight, and we're slowly working our way there on his bad side.  When I was using the harsher bit, he was weary to lope (probably because I was pulling on his mouth), and we would get into so many arguments that we could rarely get several consecutive circles out.  I would much rather be able to lope and deal with my bolting horse, especially since I know the situations which brings out the bolting in him.

With regards to soft hands, I think that I was much better when I was loping today.  I was not flailing around half as much as I was during our last good ride, and my only qualms with my hand positioning was that my hands were oftentimes too high.  I wasn't necessarily pulling as much or flailing around; they were simply higher than they should be.  In a way, I think this is a side effect of the loose reins I use to ride him at the walk/jog.  When I go to lope, even though I think my reins are tighter, they are actually not as tight as I need them to be and I'm forced to put my hands higher or pull them back farther.  Simultaneously, Walker doesn't like a tight rein so I don't want to tighten them up too much or we'll have a whole other problem.  When he is loping like a maniac down the arena on his bad side, I can see where I have a much tighter pull on the reins and he is curling his head under.  That was the only time today that he threw a buck.  I have to remember to have soft hands, but also to have better hand positioning.

On another note, I think it is time to replace the insoles in my cowboy boots.  At least I know I got my money's worth:


Finally, for your viewing pleasure, I have managed to cut the video down of last Wednesday's lesson to just the part where Walker bolts and bucks.  Watching it on video, he doesn't seem to be going as fast as he felt like he was (as is usually the case), but at least you can see his nice little buck.  I had to cut the sound, which is unfortunate because you can hear me yelling "WALKER!" while he goes flying down the side of the arena towards the other horses.  Unfortunately, the video isn't very zoomed in, but I'm sure you can tell by his demeanour that he wasn't too happy to listen:

video

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Moral Support

While I'm still in the same mood I was after the horse show, I decided to elaborate on some of my comments from my last post - particularly the comments about people not believing in me.

I will be the first person to admit that I am not an amazing rider.  I am barely a mediocre rider.  There are a lot of people who are the kind of confident people who always think they are great at something even when they are starting out, but that has never been my style - not even when I'm actually good at something.  I have no problem being honest  - or modest.  That being said, it is nice to have someone believe in you.

Now don't get me wrong, my parents are very supportive of me, and a lot of my friends are too.  Even the kids at the barn are supportive, constantly encouraging me to do things that are WAY ABOVE my skill level.  Their faith in me is perhaps the most calming and encouraging, and when they compliment my rides with Walker, it really makes me feel good about myself because these are kids that have been riding their entire life and know what they're talking about.

But there are always certain people that you can never read or else people that you simply get the impression that they don't believe in you in that way.  I don't want to name names or point specific people out, but there are always those people whose approval you strive to attain and waste your time doing so.

I was always a fairly good student in school, and my high school in particular really loved to cater to their better students, visibly ignoring the rest of them.  I was never athletic, and now that I'm back into riding, I understand how all those other students must have felt while they were struggling to pass and we were having private meetings with the principal to decide our futures.

Athletics are a lot like this too.  Coaches get excited about their better players and sometimes neglect all the rest.  Since I'm simply a beginner rider, I feel like sometimes I am neglected in this way and simply patronized and praised for whatever I am able to do - with little expectation to do better.  It's hard to progress that way when people don't believe in you, when they are stuck in a rut thinking that you are a mediocre rider and they could be paying attention to someone else instead.  I use the example of coaches, but I'm not necessarily saying that my instructors don't believe in me.  I'm simply referring to the nameless individuals who don't, who patronize me when I try, and whose approval I never seem to get.

There's something unspoken about these people, a feeling that you get that cuts deep into your heart.  They may compliment you the way a more faithful friend compliments you but you don't believe it in the same way.  Or else they patronize you, as I've said, telling you you did well - but with the underlying tones that they never expected you to do even that well.  Or else they say nothing, and you couldn't get a compliment or a criticism out of them if you tried.  Their responses to your comments and queries is simply uninterested surprise at your dilemmas.  We spend a lot of time focusing on these people, and their responses or lack of responses seem to stick with us all the more than those that are sincere and well-meaning.

I bring this up in regard to horse shows because it is part of the reason I have decided I do not like horse shows.  I bought a horse to enjoy my riding, not to be shoved under a microscope, fighting for kind words from people who don't matter.  Because they don't matter.  Not at all.  And I'm much too old (or at least I feel too old) to be playing that game.  But all the same, sometimes the things that hurt us the most aren't the misbehaving horses or the rides we could have done better, but the moral support that wasn't there when we needed it.

Horse Shows

Today was my second ever horse show - not just with Walker, but with any horse.  And here's what I learned about horse shows: I dislike them immensely.  In fact, I'm pretty sure the great arc of my horse showing career hit its climax at about 8:00 this morning and steadily declined after that.



My first horse show was in July.  To start with, I only entered four classes: Halter Geldings, Novice Showmanship, Novice Western Horsemanship, and Novice Western Pleasure.  As I've said on many occasions before, Walker was "trained" Western Pleasure, so I decided to put all my eggs in one basket on that one.  I don't jump so it severely narrows my choices for classes, and I simply did not have the money to buy all the Western equipment/outfits I needed as well as English attire.  I decided to do Western instead, and frankly, I was most excited to have a good reason to wear chaps and a cowboy hat.


I was pretty happy with Walker during Halter last time because he actually got Reserve Champion of all the geldings.  Considering that he walked in circles around me and refused to stand still, I was pretty impressed. Of course in Halter your horse's demeanor doesn't matter so much as his overall conformation which Walker has in spades.  His prancing cost us a first place ribbon in Showmanship (out of two though...), and I got two first place ribbons in my saddle classes because I was the only one in Novice.  I was pretty unimpressed with his behavior in the saddle classes because although they were only walk/jog, I felt like he was picking up too liberal of a pace when in fact, looking back, he probably wasn't that bad.

Me laughing when I am awarded first out of one

Today was my second show.  I did not want to do it at all but my friends paid for my show fees for my birthday so I felt obligated to go through with it.  Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the day before the show - the day where the barn is packed with people washing horses and braiding manes.  That part is a lot of fun and I love the social aspect of it.  The girls at the barn helped me wash Walker, and I bought us all blizzards from Dairy Queen as a treat in the warm weather.

But I had no desire to do the actual show.  I hate waking up early and that was the first issue.  I woke up at 5:30 and arrived at about 6:45.  Most of the girls show up for about the time I woke up, but there was no way I was going to wake up at 4:00!  Since Walker wouldn't stand still last time during the line classes, I gave him a quick lunge and brought him up to practice standing still.  He was pretty good outside the arena but the minute he was back inside, he was up to his old self.  The judge was pretty kind.  They all know that the shows at our barn are more like learning shows anyway.  That being said, Walker got Champion Gelding this time, and I was pretty proud to have the horse whose trot is apparently to die for (I had no idea since I rarely trot him and obviously never see someone else on him).  Unfortunately, there are no pictures of that which is really a shame since I fully intend to make this my last show ever - if I can help it!

Walker and I with his Reserve Champion ribbon from the last show

Now, my instructor and trainer both once told me that the key to Western Pleasure was a tired horse.  That is obviously not the only thing involved, but it definitely helps when the weather is hot and the horse is tired because he will naturally slow down the pace.  In the last show, I made every effort to wear him out in the 3-4 hours I had between my line classes and my saddle classes.  I lunged him for 45 minutes, rode him for an hour, then put my instructor on him for another 30 minutes loping him pretty much until his entire body was covered in a sickening amount of sweat.  As I've mentioned before, I felt that this did not help.  He still perked up the minute he hit that outdoor arena.

So this time I decided not to bother.  Trying to tire him out last time simply tired me out.  I rode him for under a half hour only at the walk/jog (since that's all we were doing at the show) and decided I would ride him in warm-up before my class in the outdoor arena.  Well, I was the first person in the ring during warm-up, and when I got to the other end of the arena, Walker turned, saw that he was alone, saw that the gate was WIDE OPEN, and bolted back - bucking and throwing a fuss the entire time.  Now to add to my troubles, I wear a cowboy hat in my saddle classes because I am technically a senior and I don't need to wear a helmet, I only walk/jog him for about 3 minutes, and they don't really wear helmets in Western.  When Walker took off bucking, my beautiful cowboy hat (which I keep in a plastic bag so that it will stay clean) flew off my head and into the dirt, and Walker flew off towards the open gate which he almost got out of if I hadn't managed to drive my spur into him at that moment.

After a few horses got up to warm-up, we continued our ride, and I could tell that he was rattled from his little bolt.  I decided to scratch Western Horsemanship because Horsemanship is a pattern where Walker essentially has to do work while all the other horses stay lined up.  Since that usually results in bolting during our lessons, and because he had already bolted in warm-up when he was barely working at all, it made sense not to test fate.  I also switched out the cowboy hat for my helmet because I wasn't in the mood to be thrown from my horse in front of 50+ people and end up with a concussion.  I tried to scratch Western Pleasure too but my barn owner wouldn't let me.  She thought that I should just do it anyway even though I was so upset/angry about the little catastrophe.  We did the class and I ended up riding him two handed on a tight rein (essentially the opposite of what I should have been doing).  The judge came up to me afterwards and asked if I was nervous, and I tried to explain that when you know your horse, you can feel when he's not trustworthy and he simply wasn't trustworthy after that little episode.

All in all, I am discouraged entirely with my show today, and I take back all the bad things I thought after my show last time.  I was mortified by Walker's behavior in the warm-up, and because I could no longer trust him after that, I was embarrassed by my own ride in the one class I did under saddle.  I have ridden my horse at the walk/jog on a REALLY LOOSE rein one-handed a thousand times.  In fact, I get compliments all the time on how well he listens - at least during those moments - and instead he made me look like I was not only incapable of controlling my horse, but that I was an incompetent rider.  I felt like my barn owner and the judge were simply patronizing me, trying to tell me that I did good...considering... and although they probably never even thought this way, I felt like they just assumed that I wasn't a very good rider.  Walker really let me down today, and I have absolutely no desire to see him tomorrow.  Some days I feel like no one really believes in me in the way that matters when it comes to my riding, and today Walker took this opportunity to prove them all right.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Humbling of Film

Last night I had my group lesson.  I always expect my group lessons to be bad, and last night was no exception.  Walker was never buddy sour, but as I've mentioned before, he has taken up bolting whenever we're doing patterns and he figures out that all the other horses are at one end of the arena and he has to work.  The thing is that he always consistently bolts going on his bad side (counter clockwise).  We did this pole/barrel exercise where we weaved around 6 barrels in a figure eight pattern.  When Walker was going around a barrel clockwise, he would be fine not to bolt, but when he went around counter clockwise, I had to either anticipate his bolting or else we went for a little run.  In one particularly "exciting" moment, he anticipated me anticipating him and took off, apparently bucking (although I only remember hopping) and then charging into a group of five horses who had to scatter so as not to get hit.  When all was said and done, one of the ladies in my lesson excitedly exclaimed, "And we caught it all on video!"  She always videotapes her rides and I guess the camera was angled right in the spot where he and I got into it.  I can't wait for her to give me a copy!  At this point in my group lesson career, I rarely have a good ride so it's starting to become pretty funny (although dangerous, of course).  At least everyone is able to laugh about it and not be upset that I went barreling towards them.

On the topic of videos, the lady from my lesson also gave me a copy of a video from a couple days ago where I had the great ride with Walker.  It was fascinating (and humbling).  First of all, from what I can gather from the video, I'm not leaning forward half as much as I thought I was.  Sure, I'm leaning forward slightly, but not nearly to such an extreme.  Also, Walker is not quite the rocket ship he feels like. What I always feel is a speedy canter was actually only a slightly speedy lope.  And really, the only reason it's even slightly speedy is because I'm used to even slower Western Pleasure horses.  In fact, this is probably Walker's Western Pleasure lope and if I didn't spend the entire time trying to slow him down to a speed he probably can't go, he would probably do quite well at it in a competition.  I think that part was one of the most interesting realizations.  I also noticed my flailing around.  I have always had a tendency to do the lovely chicken arms thing when loping (I'm getting better but most of the times I just can't help it).  However, trying to do all the maneuvers that my trainer always gets me to do to make Walker turn at the lope results in this weird flailing around.  I can see where I stop flailing at corners where I know he'll round them nicely and then pick up the flailing again at corners where I know he fights (as though I'm anticipating his bad behaviour which, of course, I am).  However, because of my distrust of him, I can also see where I'm pulling on his mouth and he either flails his head a little or drops it to get behind the bit, and I'm wondering if I gave him the benefit of the doubt, if we could lope more happily together.

I learned a lot from the video and I am now going to videotape myself more often.  Here is what I learned:

- Walker is not as speedy at the lope as previously thought
- Therefore I should stop pulling on his face and trying to slow him down
- I'm causing him to drop his head and get behind the bit by flailing around and inconsistently pulling at whatever rein I think will cause him to turn
- I need to stop flailing and just let him lope, i.e. trust him to listen to my more subtle cues like he was trained
- I need to have more faith in him

After watching that video, I now more firmly believe that some (if not most) of his bad behaviour, including the bolting from the lessons, is a result of my own behaviour.  I can't blame him for bucking at the lope.  He's thinking to himself, "If I lope, she will pull on my face and hurt me."  

Clearly trust goes both ways.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Be Still My Beating Heart!

Today all the stuff that people leave lying around in the arena (poles, jump standards, barrels, etc.) was all cleared out, and I also had the whole arena all to myself.  Walker absolutely MADE MY DAY.  He loped beautifully for me just like he did the other day.  At first he threw a couple ceremonious bucks, but then I established a new rule with him: if you buck me, you had better successfully throw me or else I am going to keep asking you to lope anyway!  Once he figured that out, he gave in to me and we loped some beautiful "circles" of various sizes (and shapes - hence the quotation marks).


The stupid look on my face while we were loping that someone would have seen if there was anyone at the barn

I was not as successful on his bad side. I was unable to get an entire circle out of him but I was able to get him to lope off when I ask him.  I have always had problems with Walker making an entire circle (especially on his bad side) because he has a tendency to drift on the turn and thus lose the lope.  So I threw in a few rollbacks (I LOVE these exercises) to make sure that I at least got him loping in both directions and listening to me.  It turns out that the rollbacks are also great for his bolting.  Because he's figured out that we only go so far before I say "whoa", whenever he was bolting down the long end of the arena (on his bad side - which is the only side he bolts on), I was able to pull him up for the first time by saying "whoa".  He associated it with the rollbacks and forgot that he used to ignore that!

I was so thrilled that I only rode for 30 minutes.  I'm trying to teach Walker that he can have a quick enjoyable ride so long as he listens, so I wanted to reward him - especially since it was pretty hot today and I've also cut out his treats.  We went in the indoor arena then and worked on a little showmanship.  Walker has obviously done showmanship before but it clearly wasn't a focus with him.  He's not entirely sure of how to square himself up and since we're entered in a showmanship class this weekend, I figured that it never hurts to throw in 5 - 10 minutes of showmanship after every ride.

So then I tried something else I've been interested in.  I read an article the other day about riding your horse bareback and brideless.  I'm sure you can see where this is going.  Walker is fairly responsive to legs so I figured I could at least get him to walk around in a circle with me on his back.  My mistake.  Of course.  One swift kick to his side and he shot off - right towards the big pile of hay.  I tried to turn him again and he got himself stupidly wedged behind the makeshift stall in the indoor arena now and I had to crawl over it and off him, then direct him out.  This experience lasted about 50 seconds.  I guess I should stick to the bridle...

Crosby and Othello chilling out by the gate

Other than that, I'm wildly excited about Walker loping for me with little fuss, just like he did the other day.  Be still my beating heart!  Are Walker and I ACTUALLY starting to understand each other?  KNOCK ON WOOD!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Hitting the Trails

For my birthday, my mother offered to buy me something from the tack shop.  Horse-related gifts were definitely the theme this year.  A friend of mine offered to buy me something from the tack shop as well (I picked out a new mint green halter for Walker), and two of my other friends paid for my show fees for the last show of the summer.  My mother had a more expansive budget, however, and I decided to buy leather saddle bags from the man who redid my saddle.  They look kind of like this and are black:


This month I convinced one of the girls in my lesson to lease the horse she rides.  Pokey is a 17 year old mare who is pretty well near retirement.  My friend really loves her and so the barn owner offered to keep her for the rest of the summer so that she could lease her.  Then she will be going to another barn where she will be ridden minimally and live a leisurely pasture life.

Anyway, today she sent me a message to go to the barn and I figured that it would be a great time to whip out the new saddle bags and take a trail ride.  I've only ever been on the trails with Walker twice so far.  The first time was with three other horses who were all spooky.  Walker was leading, and we only made it about 10 feet inside the trail before the other horses were leaping all over the place and threatening to bolt.  End of trail ride #1.

The second trail ride I went on was a couple weeks after that.  I went with two different girls and their horses, and their fathers also accompanied us on the trail (walking beside us).  This turned out to be great actually because I didn't actually know the trail so it was nice to have some adults with us.  One of the girls ended up turning around with her father half way down the trail because her horse was clearly not enjoying it, but the other girl, her father and I continued on until the base of the lake.

The trails around my barn supposedly lead to a lake and the trail then weaves around the lake and back to the barn.  Originally it was described to me like this: "You will come to a fork in the road.  It doesn't matter which one you take because you will come out the other one after going around the trail."  Yeah.  Not so much.  There are actually a lot of twists and turns, and the trail connects to several four wheeler trails and roads in the woods.  I'm not from the area at all so I really was glad to have that girl and her father.  However, she was starting to get nervous (she had fallen off her horse on the trail not that long ago), and when we got to the base of the lake, we turned back.

For today's trail ride, I decided to go to the dollar store and pick up some Hawaii leis.  You can get the cheap, brightly coloured ones in a pack of 5 and I picked up two packs. I stuffed them in one of the saddle bags and whenever we would come to a fork in the road, I would hang one from a tree so we would find our way back.

You're probably thinking right now that taking my crazy horse on a trail ride is a horrible idea.  Actually, Walker is a rock on the trails.  He doesn't seem to mind the trail at all - except for the bugs (which, luckily, were good today).  He only did a mini-spook once when a gigantic crane flew up out of the lake from behind the bushes (which scared me too).

The lake was beautiful and there was even a nice spot to sit and have a picnic if we wanted.  Unfortunately, we couldn't figure out where the trail was that went around the lake so we had to go back the way we came.  The Hawaiian leis worked perfectly.

When we got back, my friend wanted to go into the arena and lope Pokey so I decided to see if I could recreate my amazing ride yesterday. As suspected, he was not having it.  I guess he only intends to be good every once in a blue moon.  I got him to lope one really nice circle and after that it was all bucks and bolting.  When I started to have a hard time actually getting him to lope, I decided to try a new exercise with him - an exercise that one of the girls at the barn suggested to me.  We did some rollbacks which essentially means that I would ask him to lope along the side of the arena, halt, turn, lope off, and repeat.  This got him paying attention to me and he picked up the pattern quick enough that he started loping off without me even asking.  I was happy that I got his attention back on me so that he didn't think that he got away with his foolishness.

Even though I couldn't have as nice of a ride as I did yesterday, I was pretty happy with my day overall.  A great trail ride on a beautiful day with a friend and we got to finish our ride with him listening to me.  Success. :)

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A Reminder

Lately I've been having a lot of problems with Walker which, frankly, has been the story of our relationship thus far.  However, some days, like the past week or two, it's almost like we take a step back in our training.  We will go from being able to lope circles to not being able to lope at all.  On those days, I am very attuned to our problems, and even though they change often - bucking, bolting, etc. - I can always tell what type of problem I'm going to encounter.  They are rarely a surprise.  I also read voraciously, and even though I don't necessarily have the skills to solve a lot of these problems, I feel more than equipped at pointing out a solution.

So lately our main problem has been bolting.  When I ask him to lope, he takes advantage of the speed increase to take off on me and refuses to stop until he gets to where he wants to go - usually towards another horse, especially in the case of our lessons.  For this reason, I hate riding with other horses because it tends to add a new dimension of problems to our already problematic rides.  My instructor has been the witness of this in a few of the lessons and she is a big fan of the small circles method where you force a horse to make a circle every time they pick up the pace.  While I believe in this method, it can sometimes be a problem for me because in order to make a circle, one must be able to turn their horse. :S  Sometimes Walker ignores my leg (even though I wear a spur) and I am forced to wrench his head around on top of the spur.  This can be effective when we fight at the trot, but I find that when he is racing down the arena at full speed canter, I am just not balanced enough to fight with him AND stay on.

I've also been doing a little reading online and another method I have encountered is the "make what the horse wants to do difficult for them" method which, as a general rule, I'm a big fan of.  In other words, when Walker races off like that, force him to go faster, to keep going, until slowing down seems like his best option.  This is all fine and dandy, and as I say, I do this all the time at the other gaits.  If he tries to ignore me and do something I'm not asking, I force him to do it in a way that he dislikes and eventually he listens to me. However, once again, I'm not sure I have the requisite skills for this method.  I can imagine Walker cantering off now and me forcing him to keep going at that speed.  I have pretty much no balance and I simply don't believe that I could maintain my seat going at such a high speed (which is half the reason I want him to lope slow anyway).  Maybe when I'm a better rider, this would be an option, but frankly the idea doesn't seem to be the best one.

In our past couple of rides, I have been having a lot of problems with him.  The other day he bolted when I asked him to lope and went right for a little girl on her horse who luckily didn't spook when Walker went towards him, and also luckily Walker stopped when we got there.  Then when the other horses left the arena and he was all alone with me, he threw a hissy fit, calling to them, and throwing his head in the air, dancing around on the spot.  So it's an understatement to say that I'm frustrated.  I had such big plans for this month and I can't even get him to have a ride where he's safe, let alone listening to me.

So last night I was pretty upset thinking about all this and I vowed that today would be the day.  I was going to take the risk at the lope that he just might throw me, but if that's what it took to get him to listen to me, then that's what I was going to do.  When I got to the barn, I was hoping there would be no one around because, like I said, I don't like having other people in the arena with me - it simply makes the problems bigger.  But unfortunately, there were A LOT of people at the barn - already three riding and another one tacking up.  When we hit the arena, there were five of us.

I jogged him on a loose rein for awhile and I was happy with his attention at the jog.  I have way less problems with him at the walk/jog, but it was still nice that he was listening to me even when there were so many other horses to take his attention.  Then, when three of the horses left and there were just two of us, I decided to get over it and just lope.

And he was wonderful.  Speedy, sure, but I kept him going in a small-ish circle and he never once bolted out of it or even threw a buck.  I was so happy that I actually forgot to lope him in the other direction!  In fact, I think we loped more consecutive circles today than we ever have.

And just when I think we're both beyond professional help, he reminds me why I love him and why he's worth all the trouble. 

Friday, 17 August 2012

Barn Shopping

So, as you can tell from my last post, I have bad luck with barns.  And on that train of thought, it's ironic that I am now on the hunt for a new one.  As I may have mentioned before, I work at a law firm in the summer and commute about an hour every day.  I'm going into my last year of law school, and after that, I will be moving to where my law firm is located and articling there for an entire year.  It's too far to commute every day and the road is not that great in the winter, so I will be moving Walker to a new barn when I move down around May.  Since barns can be pretty hard to find, I decided to start looking early, but luckily my current barn owner is understanding and she made a few calls on my behalf.

Today I went to look at the barn that I'm 95% sure Walker will be moving to next summer.  I say 95% sure because I pretty much told the guy that he should reserve me a stall, but with my luck, you never quite know what will happen!

There are definitely a lot of things I like about the barn, and I would say they made up for any reservations I may have.  The stalls were huge - which Walker will like - and the indoor arena is probably three times the size of the indoor arena I use now.  That is a major plus since we will be spending so much time in there in the winter.  The owner even said that he allows boarders to ride in the indoor arena when there are lessons going on since he can partition it off so easily.  That is pretty good because I have such a crammed schedule and finding time to ride around lessons and around my work can be difficult.  He's also a fanatic about footing and uses this special machine that not only drags the arena, but aerates it  and causes a cushy footing which I'm sure both Walker and I will enjoy (especially me if I end up doing any more flying through the air).

Picture of the arena from the website

The barn owner is also very knowledgeable.  His lessons are mostly taught by another instructor, but he does private lessons with some of his boarders.  He seems like he would be able to work with Walker's "quirks" and help me get a handle on him.  He worked with some trainer down in North Carolina so he definitely has the knowledge.

I only had a few reservations while I was there.  First of all, there didn't appear to be a locker area.  Perhaps he simply forgot to show me, but when I asked him where my saddle could go, he pointed out a fairly general tack room.  I don't mean to be so prissy about my stuff but my Western saddle is 65 years old.  I had it redone by a saddle maker.  The last thing I want is for kids to knock it over and break the tree - or something equally as horrifying.  I also have a lot of stuff in general.  I pretty much have my locker filled with my two saddles, two bridles, saddle pads, brushes, helmet, etc.  I really don't want to turn my car into an equine oasis - it's already messy enough!

The second reservation I had was the outdoor arena.  It is not fenced in.  When I asked him about that, he said he prefers it that way because it forces you to become a better rider.  Perhaps he will change his mind when he meets Walker because that seems like a disaster of an idea!  However, there is still the indoor arena and maybe he truly will give me the tools to make Walker listen to me.  Or not... :S

Lastly, and less important, is the jumping.  I really got the impression that he was a Western barn.  I mean, he definitely teaches English, and he said that some of the kids do it, but he also said that it wasn't the focus.  He said that they don't really promote a hunter jumper barn.  While it is definitely a plus to have someone who understands the quarter horse breed and will be able to bring out the best in Walker's Western training, I still want to jump.  Hopefully I can con the instructor into letting me do some cross rails or else it's looking more and more like I will be teaching myself a few of the basics.

The outside of the barn

All that being said, the barn is an affordable price and has some pretty neat amenities.  There's a giant wash stall which is nice, and there's even a hot walker which, although I'm pretty sure Walker would not be impressed being hooked up to that thing, is still a pretty cool gadget!  I never asked about trails for ttrail riding, but hopefully there's something in the area.  As far as I'm concerned, I simply need to find a barn for when I get down there, and if after a while I decide it's not the place for me, I can always search for something else.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Natalie Chronicles

Today is my birthday, and as much as I would like to go out to the barn and celebrate with Walker, I am home with my family instead - equally as good, might I add.  But because I am not riding today and I didn't have the chance to ride yesterday before coming home, I thought I would spend this entry with a little back story of my horseback riding adventures.

I first started horseback riding in middle school when I found an instructor about 10-15 minutes from my house.  Lessons with Jimmy were pretty straight forward.  In fact, although I remember walking, jogging, and loping, I don't ever remember being taught to do these things properly.  I vaguely remember a discussion about diagonals and posting, but at the tender age of maybe 12 years old, this went over my head at the time.  I was mostly there to ride - not improve on any skills, and we did a lot of playing, barrel racing, poles, etc.  I only ever rode there in the summer time (although he had an indoor arena), and then one day out of the blue, Jimmy called to say that he was no longer offering riding lessons.  End of horseback riding experience number one.

Devastated, I managed to find another instructor not far from Jimmy's barn.  Navenda was a teacher who worked at the same school as my mother.  I liked Navenda, but Navenda had grown up with horses her whole life and to say she was the quintessential "farmgirl" would be an understatement.  She was particularly rough, and I remember most vividly riding her three-year old filly, a horse that would buck for an hour straight as long as I continued to ask it to lope.  Not having had any "real" equestrian training, this was enough to jolt me into stopping riding for awhile.

Then all of a sudden, a friend of mine called to tell me that Jimmy was back in business.  So out we went to relive the easy days of games and fun.  It is possible in my fuzzy memory that the order of my horseback riding experiences actually goes Jimmy, break, Jimmy, break, Navenda, but regardless, the second time I went to Jimmy's, I did so with two of my friends.  Looking back, I wonder how I learned anything at all.  There were really only two horses to ride, and four of us in a lesson (one girl riding her own horse, and the other three of us sharing two horses - you do the math on that one).  I jumped for the first time that summer at Jimmy's.  I did so in a Western saddle, completely unprepared, having never done poles, knowing nothing about two-point, but thankfully on a rock-solid horse named Casper.  Casper went up and over the jump, and I am told from onlookers that Casper planted all four feet entirely on the ground before I collapsed to the ground beside him.  End of jumping career.

That summer we also did horse camp at Jimmy's which was a week long experience of me sleeping on the floor with a bunch of other girls and doing slave labour in the barn.  Since only four of us were old enough to push wheelbarrows, we did most of the work.  Complain as I do, I still loved every minute of it.

After Jimmy and Navenda, I was slightly put off/scarred from my horseback riding experiences, and I didn't ride again until university.  Jimmy ended his lessons abruptly (again), and Navenda and her three-year-old bronco had left me in a position where I was starting to get timid around horses.  But I have always wanted a horse, and so I would not be deterred.  A friend of my father's had a barn not far from where we lived, and in my second summer of university, I decided to start riding there.  I think we got slightly lost in translation because although I obviously "knew" how to ride, I was by no means an experienced rider.  Maureen got me to ride her prize-winning barrel horse who had been cooped up all winter.  This was fine until I asked her to lope.  There happened to be barrels in the arena, and that horse took off around them like a rocketship.  If you know anything about barrel racing, then you know that the last leg of the race is to gallop as fast as you can OUT the gate, which in this case, also happened to be open.  Maureen's boyfriend actually had to leap out in front of me to stop the horse from going through the gate because I was physically incapable of stopping her.  On top of my past experiences with horses, this was not a good thing, but perhaps it could have been rectified if I hadn't then got sick with pleurisy and shingles and was forced to stop horseback riding for the summer.  In other words, I really never got the chance to "get back on the horse".

After successfully terrifying myself, I didn't decide to ride again for another two years when I ended up going back to Navenda's barn.  I started taking lessons from Navenda's father, who usually taught the lessons at the barn (except for the summer that I took lessons from Navenda).  Paul was a saint, and he took me very slow up through the gaits until I finally wasn't absolutely terrified at the lope that my horse was going to try to buck me to the ground, throw me, or bolt on me.  Because I was going back to school in September (and starting law school), I ended up switching from him to an instuctor in the town where I now live, a man who actually cattle-penned with Paul.

Keith was another saint.  He was the first instructor I ever had who actually properly taught me what to do and how to behave around horses.  He actually had to properly teach me to dismount - that was how uninformed I was at the time.  But because I bring so much bad mojo with me to barns, Keith's barn ended up burning down one ill-fated night only a couple months after I was there.  Three horses died and the rest were saved by a brave 17 year old girl who was sleeping in her trailer outside the barn at the time.  I was devastated, utterly devastated, and to fill the void of my first good horse experience, I found the barn where I ride at now.

Fast forward 7 months, and I had Walker.  It is ironic, in a way, that I have ridden few well-behaved horses in my years.  When I first started at Cindy's, I would never have put up with bucking.  I had way too many bad experiences over the years to deal with a horse that does any of that foolishness.  But finding a horse that you love and simply putting more time in the saddle changes a lot of your outlook.  Now I am much less timid and I am able to put my bad experiences behind me.  Just in time for some new ones with Walker. :)

Oh, and as a funny little aside, when I first met Walker (I mean day one), I decided to bring him treats.  When I whipped out my little plastic baggie of carrots, Walker freaked out and almost kicked me in his stall.  It turns out he is afraid of plastic bags (his one true fear), and to this day, he will not even look at a carrot. Who needs good experiences anyway? :)

Monday, 13 August 2012

Bad backs and bad horses

To say that I have had to throw out my lesson plan with Walker so far would be an understatement. I have been driving back and forth between home and here for appointments and weddings and birthday parties and I haven't had longer than a couple of days straight with Walker. To add to the problem, I still haven't managed to get Walker back up to snuff after his five day interlude and so every ride, however short and precious it may be, has been a fight. Now I have a sore back.

I have always had back problems and I have a touch of scoliosis which, although it is not operable, is enough to cause me a great amount of discomfort. In fact, when I started riding again more regularly, I was throwing my back out almost every week and being laid up in my bed. In a way, riding has been good for strengthening my back, but when I hurt my back outside of the barn, riding is usually the last thing I need - especially with a horse like Walker.

So this past weekend while I was away and Walker was enjoying his weekend off (coming on the heels of his five days off pretty much), I ended up hurting my back. So then when I got back I was unable to ride him Sunday as planned and was only able to ride him today. Then tomorrow I'm back home for another appointment. :s

To make matters worse, the footing in the arena was terrible because it had rained so hard here and Walker tripped and spooked himself. The jolt from his spook went up my tender back like lightning. So I decided to stay to the corner of the arena where it was not so slippery and muddy, which just happens to be the corner that Walker and I fight in the most. He also did not seem impressed that I was making him jog such a tiny circle and every so often he'd try to bolt out of the circle across the arena.

Bolting seems to be our new problem, but then again, we accumulate problems like nobody's business. I bought the standing martingale that my instructor suggested but it was way too short. Instead I rode him in a running martingale which didn't really seem to have the effect that I wanted. Whenever Walker bolts, my instructor always tells me to use a lot of leg and push him over but Walker seems to ignore my leg as much as possible or else I worry about him jumping up and/or rearing.

I have become obsessed with rearing. He hasn't even done it with me but I guess the notion that he has reared my trainer off was enough to plant that inkling in my head. He's starting to fall apart again (misbehave since he hasn't had regular rides) and so I naturally assume that's on his misbehaving list. As I'm sure you've figured out by now, I have some trust issues, not to mention a bad case of the bad past horse experiences. I think it will soon be time for another private lesson with my trainer who can hop up on him and kick his butt into shape.

Since the horses were inside today due to a pending lightning storm, I let Walker run around outside for an hour while I puttered around the barn and took some pictures:

Walker doing what he loves best - eating

My sweetheart coming to check out why I was sitting in the grass paddock with him

After contently discovering that I was not bringing him in, he went back to his business

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Patience

I am very impatient.  I don't like to wait, and although I understand that learning to do anything, not just riding, is about building the skills to accomplish your goals, it's hard for me to see that end goal.  I want to jump, and unfortunately I can tell by my (lack of) progress that I will not be jumping any time soon.

When I first started riding again about a year ago, I made the goal for myself that I would learn to jump at least tiny crossrails by this summer.  After a couple months of getting back into the swing of things, I bought an English saddle (the first real time I even rode English) and started leasing a horse. The horse I was leasing was a perfect horse at the time to learn to ride English because he was actually trained Western Pleasure and so he didn't have the kind of speed that I feared would be my undoing.  That being said, Hollywood (the horse's name) wasn't exactly the right horse for me at the time - or for anyone else - and my barn owner ended up retiring him.  He was getting old and cranky, and he was starting to become a problem with many of the riders, including me.

Hollywood and I

It wasn't too long after that that I decided to buy a horse.  When Walker arrived, it took me so long to get used to him (since he was so different from anything I had ever ridden), that I pretty much switched to riding him Western full time.  Walker is a Western horse through and through, and since I'm most comfortable in a Western saddle, I feel like I truly am able to work with him (read: fight with him) when I'm riding in my Western saddle.

Walker - my Western pony :)

Even though I've begun adding an English saddle back into my routine, I simply do not have the balance or the control of my horse to even consider jumping.    Although I don't want to rush things and risk making things worse, I simply just want to trot a tiny crossrail - not lope a course of jumps at 2'9 (something equally outside both of our abilities).

Because Winter is so harsh here and soon we will be forced to return to our tiny indoor arena (tiny being the most important word there), my chances to get control of Walker in time to even do a miniscule jump are pretty slim.  Next summer, I will be moving to a new barn, and so I imagine that the time it takes us to get settled in with a new trainer/instructor will take up the time we could be learning to jump.

I love Walker and I love the journey that we are going on together, but sometimes my life just gets in the way.  I have a pretty hectic schedule, and I wish I had the money and the time to devote entirely to our training so that we could make these dreams come true.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Week 1

So Week 1 of Walker's bootcamp turned out to be a bust.  Walker has a tendency to fall apart when he's not being worked, and unfortunately he got 5 days off while I was away at a wedding.  When I got back, I pretty much had to throw my lesson plans out the window.  He clearly was not in the mood to work.  For the first two days, he was fussy (especially at the lope - which has always been our biggest problem), and he was throwing his head all around and slamming on the breaks as if to say, "Go ahead.  Drive that spur into me one more time, I dare you!"  Even though Wednesday he got worked twice - once in the afternoon and again in the evening during our group lesson - he still wasn't completely back to his regular self.  Unfortunately, we got a torrential downpour here yesterday and so I couldn't make it to the barn to ride him, and today I have to go back home again for the weekend.  I think I will stop out before I leave for a quick ride, but I won't be able to ride him again until Sunday :S

How Walker and I looked this week (and most weeks)

That being said, I tried out a different bit on him all week - including during our lesson - and I have a lot of faith that this may do the trick to cure some of his more regular problems.  Even my instructor made a comment about how much better he was (which was kind, considering he tried to bolt back to the other horses when we were doing a pattern).  I do have a lot of faith in this new bit though and I think I will give it some more thorough use.  Once Walker is back to being worked consistently, I will really be able to see if it is having an effect.  If so, I will be pretty proud of myself because I picked this bit all on my own without anyone's help.  Thank god for my extensive research abilities!

Other than that, I think I am going to include a standing martingale in his tack - at least for the meantime.  Walker has reared my instructor off before, and I have to admit that the rearing scares me way more than the bucking.  He has never reared with me, but he does like to throw his head around when he's unimpressed with something.  For instance, when I was trying to jog the pattern during our lesson and I wanted him to turn away from the group who was watching us, he threw his head up and started to fight with me because he wanted to go back to his friends.  My instructor wanted me to use a lot of leg to get him over, but he was throwing his head around so bad that I could feel him considering his little hops that he does as a precursor to rearing.  I think that the standing martingale will simply make me feel better when we get into those types of arguments.  I have no problem using my spurs on him, but I don't want the result to be him rearing in the air - or worse, falling back down on top of me.  While he's never reared with me forever, I'd like to keep it that way.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Bit of a Dilemma

Walker is strong.  That became clear to us 3 minutes after I first got him.  Most of the lesson horses at our barn ride in a simple jointed D-ring snaffle bit, so naturally that is what we put my new horse in.  Like I said, it took all of 3 minutes for us to go from that to a shank bit with a high port.  Here's the difference (for you visual folks like me):

We went from this:



To something like this:


I'm sure even those of you who know nothing about horses and bits can see that Walker needed a much harsher one for me to even remotely be able to control him.  That being said, I have been through quite a few bits with Walker since then, and we no longer use such a harsh bit on him.  I still use a type of shank bit in my Western bridle and an Uxeter Kimberwick with a low port in my English bridle.  I'm sure that's all jibberish to you, but bits are kind of a trial and error thing.  It's also very important to understand what they do and how they work.

So I've been doing a lot of reading, mostly because, from very early on, Walker liked to drop his head low (as in, lower than he even does when he's behaving as a Western Pleasure horse) and get behind the bit.  Usually he would then run away with me at his own speed or else throw me a good buck or two.  I should premise this conversation by saying that Walker has never bucked my instructor (his trainer), who was the one to pick the current shank bit I use now, and it is clear that Walker was handled in an even harsher bit (by an experienced rider) at the last barn he was at without any problems.  With that knowledge in hand, I'm starting to think that a shank bit is what Walker needs, but is not necessarily what I need.  I'm starting to suspect that his new problems (i.e. bucking) are actually caused by me (my position, and most importantly, how I use the bit in his mouth).

I think I force him into a position where he needs to get behind the bit, and to punish me for punishing him, he bucks.  I've read article after article that says that a shank bit exerts a lot of pressure on a horse's mouth and shouldn't be used by an amateur.  I think we can all safely agree that I am an amateur.  That being said, I feel like I could use a shank bit on another horse (and have actually done so), but with Walker (who is so strong and has an unavoidable track record of taking off on me), I simply hold it too tightly and exert too much pressure on his mouth.  I have been unable to find the perfect balance.

So I'm considering buying myself a new bit (other than the three ones I already own...), and seeing if that will improve his responsiveness.  If my problem then becomes that he takes off on me or can't be turned either which way (like I said, he's strong - it has happened), I will know that the shank caused my current problems and that I either have to get a handle on that or start lifting weights.  Hopefully, we can find a bit that works for both of us, and ironically enough, I think I'm going to end up going back to the bit that started it all.  In other words, this is a disaster in the making...

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Walker Bootcamp

I am fortunate enough this summer that I have August off, and because the summer is often a very hectic time for me, I always feel as though I never get the chance to go to the barn.  Even though I was working 5 days a week, commuting every day, and generally working longer hours than a normal 9 - 5 job, I still managed to get to the barn about 5 times a week, but I wouldn't exactly say that my rides were productive.  Most of the time, I was so exhausted, I was simply there to say that I was there and give my horse soe exercise.

When I first got Walker, we took things pretty slow.  We didn't lope in my lessons for a long time until I felt that I had sufficient enough control of him to feel confident that I wouldn't run into anyone.  The other riders in my lesson have been riding longer than I have, and although they are all thankfully adults, our instructor has us doing things which are probably slightly too advanced for my current standing with my horse.  I never feel like they are impossible, and oftentimes I find that I surprise myself with what we can accomplish - but because winters are so harsh here, there's a definite rush on to do as many of the complex things we can before we are relegated to our very small indoor arena.  Needless to say, there's not as much of an emphasis on the basics.

But Walker is new to me and I still find that we need to work on the basics.  Riding a horse is a step-by-step process - you cannot start doing something with the proper foundations.  Even though I feel like my own capabilities might be a little higher (if I was on another less unruly horse, for example), it's still difficult to find what works for me and Walker.

Hence, Walker bootcamp.  I decided that because I now have a lot of time on my hands, and in particular, the entire month of August, Walker and I are going to get our butts into shape and start working like the team I know (or I'm at least relatively sure) we can be.  Mainly I want us to get to a level where we can start working on the finer things that we work on already in our lessons.  I want us to start working towards my irrational goals of jumping a crossrail or even doing more complex patterns at the lope (we have actually done one of those...).  Most importantly, I have to do something with that attitude!

It's hard to argue with a face like that!

Today was lesson plan number 1.  I have divided the month into the four weeks, each having 5 lesson plans.  If I ride Walker 14 times in a week, it doesn't matter - only 5 are planned, and nothing says that I can't do two in a day.  They all build on eachother, and I'm trying to introduce a lot of daily goals to keep us focused.  Today, for instance, the only goal was to get both our heads back in the game after Walker threw me last week and he ended up getting a 5 day rest while I was at home for a wedding.  It wasn't that productive of a ride, and although I wanted to work on some speed control issues he has at the lope, we never really did too much loping.  That's ok though because tomorrow is another day, and with the constant plans, we are only bound to improve.  After all, most of the time, you simply need to put some miles in the saddle.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Aspirations

I've been going out of my way these days to watch the Equestrian sports in the Olympics.  Obviously, I find myself the most interested in those sports than any of the other Summer sports.  As any good Canadian, I also feel fairly invested in how our country is doing, and I have to say that it has not been the easiest road for them so far.  Besides the death of Hickstead last year, the last week or so has been pretty difficult for Team Canada.  They were eliminated in Dressage because of a spooky horse (which I can totally understand!), one of our team members had a nasty fall during Eventing, and then Tiffany Foster's horse was eliminated from dressage for a little inflammation in its leg.  All very heartbreaking, especially considering the work that goes into this sport just like any other.  In fact, I recently had a friend from law school tell me that  she used to believe that "the horse does all the work" in equestrian sports, but after meeting me, she has quickly corrected anyone who even thinks that.

Horseback riding is hard.  It is a lot of work.  The muscles in my arms and legs after getting Walker are unreal.  I'm not strong by any means, but simply the constant work involved has improved my strength astronomically.

Watching the Olympics has really made me want to start thinking about disciplines.  I have no wild aspirations of ever going to the Olympics or ever even competing at a high level.  In fact, I'm not even so sure I will be much of a horse shower over the years.  I'm pretty busy in other aspects of my life and so far showing has been a lot of stress.

That being said, I feel like I need to pick a discipline.  While it's obviously true that it doesn't matter what kind of saddle you throw on the back of your horse, it's also true that there will always be disciplines that your horse will never really excel at.  For instance, Walker can jump.  Can he jump more than 2 feet?  Probably not, nor will he probably ever be much of a jumper.  Walker is a Quarter Horse and he was trained as a Western Pleasure horse.  I still ride him English because I want to practice my balance and try new things, but he still jogs instead of trots and he drops his head so low that I usually end up holding my much shorter English reins at the very end while he sniffs the ground.

Yet, ever since starting riding again, I've been interested in jumping.  When I was younger and rode around home, everyone rode Western.  I probably didn't even know about English until I got older because it simply wasn't an option.  When I started riding again in the city where I go to university, English was the most popular discipline.  I felt most comfortable in a Western saddle (and still do), but I started to think that jumping was where my heart lied.

Walker is not a jumper.  Never will be.  And after having him for only a short time, I can honestly say that I know when certain things stress him out.  I am almost positive that jumping will stress him out, but perhaps we will still try it someday (when I get a better handle on things).  He'll never do more than a few crossrails, but maybe when I move to the city where I'm going to be articling, I will be able to jump another horse in my lessons and keep Walker focused on being the Western Pleasure horse that he enjoys being.  As far as I'm concerned, I don't even know if I'm going to like jumping, and I can easily see me jumping my first crossrail on Walker and happily exclaiming, "Well I'll never do that again."  For now I'm just happy that I have a happy, healthy horse - even if he is a lot of trouble most days!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Learning to Fly

When I bought Walker, I was assured that he had "no dirt" in him.  In other words, he doesn't buck, he doesn't rear, he doesn't spook.  That being said, Walker is a horse, not a mindless machine, and of course he does all of these things.  Is Walker an unsafe horse that spooks and rears all the time?  No way.  In fact, I would amend the description of Walker to say that Walker is not "malicious". 

I have ridden malicious horses in the past - horses who, when they buck, actually intend to throw their riders.  Walker is not one of these types of horses.  I get the impression that when Walker bucks, the idea that goes through his mind is that if I fall off, this would be unfortunate, but also a happy by-product of the unfortunate mishap because it means (or at least he thinks it means) that he is off the hook for work for the day.

That being said, Walker has supposedly reared my instructor off twice.  I imagine that it was probably intentional.  When my barn owner came to me and offered to find me another horse, I opted to work with Walker and his quirks instead.  Because I am clearly not qualified to train a horse (or re-train a horse), I enlisted the help of my instructor.  She rode him for a month.  Apparently, he had been given two months off before coming to me while the transaction was going down between me and his previous owners, and so it is understandable that he needed a tune-up.  Walker and my instructor got into only two major fights (both of which resulted in him rearing), but in Walker's defense, he probably didn't know what hit him after being transported from warm Iowa (where he thought he was on vacation) to Atlantic Canada bootcamp! 

After about a week of training, my instructor told me that there wasn't much to work on with Walker.  Sure, he had a few balance issues that she wanted to tweak and a few attitude adjustments to make, but otherwise, the problem was going to be me controlling Walker.

Walker has never reared with me.  He has done the occasional hop, but I've mostly just ignored them and reminded him that I was in control (however tenuous that control may be).  He's also spooked on me a couple times, as all horses do, but in general, he's a fairly bombproof horse in that regard. 

That is, until this past week's lesson. 

I have to admit that Walker's new bad habit (and one we clearly need to work on) is bucking at the lope.  While he is by no means a bronco (he's too lazy for that), he bucks lately at least once a day - only while loping, and almost always on corners, not on the straight.

This past week at our lesson, my instructor had us jogging some fairly easy patterns.  All I remember is one minute we were (relatively slowly) jogging over a couple poles, and the next, I'm shooting through the air like a catapult plummeting to the ground.  Everyone else in the lesson was at the other end of the arena so no one actually saw him throw me; all they managed to see was me in the air and then they heard the apparently fairly audible thud as I hit the ground. 

This was the first time sinceI have had Walker that he has thrown me, and the first time in YEARS that I have fallen off a horse.  The last couple times I fell off a horse, I simply slid off, but as I mentioned, I was definitely airborn for a few seconds this time.

Since no one saw it happen, no one knows what caused it.  My theory is that he spooked.  He was a little weird around that particular side of the arena earlier in the evening as well, and since we were jogging (not loping), I doubt that he felt the need to throw me.  Besides, as a general rule, Walker doesn't really have any dirt in him, and normally when he bucks at the lope, its nothing so substantial that I fear for my life.  Usually I get the impression he just wants to remind me that he can throw me, not that he wants to.

Needless to say, I'm a little battered and bruised, but the look on Walker's face was priceless.  He didn't bolt or run away after I fell off, he just waited patiently beside me like a puppy dog, looking down on me with an expression that said: "I am SOOOOOOOOO sorry. But I still get my treats, right?"

So I finally learned what it feels like to fly.  I guess it's true what pilots say - the landing is definitely the most difficult part!

And no, he did not get his treats!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Attitude

So I bought this horse.



But before I go any farther, I should warn you that if you are reading this blog with the idea that you will learn  amazing things about horses and riding and training, this is not the blog for you.

I used to ride when I was younger, but even then, I mostly rode in the summer for a couple months, a lesson here and there, and the odd horse camp.  I was by no means an "equestrian".  That being said, it was always a dream of mine to own a horse, so when I went away to university, I decided that it was time to get back into the game (or rather, the saddle).

Thus began my frantic journey towards owning a horse.  I tried for a couple summers to re-establish myself in the horse world, but as it turned out, I had a lot of bad luck and I really didn't start riding again on a regular basis until the summer before my second year in law school.  I am now entering my third year of law school, and although I went into riding with the level-headed intention of getting through my second degree and the articling that inevitably accompanies that before journeying into the time-consuming and intensive world of horse ownership, I got impatient and bought a horse instead. :)

I have had Walker since March, 2012 after only starting my riding lessons again for approximately 6 months, give or take a week.  I was fortunate enough to have the owner of the barn where I ride help me find him, and she carefully took my ambitious ideas and turned them into a sound, safe horse I could grow with.

I will admit that for someone who rode sporadically for years, I have had my fair share of horse catastrophes, so to say I was slightly nervous when presented with my new 6 year-old (going on 7) gelding is an understatement.  But my instructors and my barn owner were very patient.  They test-drove him for me and slowly began to work on my confidence.  They assured me again and again, and I witnessed again and again, that Walker was a good horse, well-trained, and did I mention safe.

But horses have quirks just like people do, and as it turns out, Walker has a lot of them.  It didn't take long for him to figure out that I was not my instructor nor his previous owner nor anyone remotely capable of making him listen to me.  In that way, Walker is a lot like a 7 year old child, sweet and loving, but prepared to do whatever he must to get out of a hard day's work.

Within about a few months, my barn owner sat me down and kindly explained to me that Walker was a great horse.  He was a fantastic horse who was worth more that I had paid for him, could blow competitors out of the water at shows, and was very intelligent.  But she also explained that he had attitude.  And more specifically he had too much attitude, at least for a rider of my ability.

Up until this moment, I was quite timid around Walker.  We were barely loping yet, although I had been loping on horses before Walker, and I was nervous in situations where he seemed remotely excited.  I was used to Western Pleasure horses, and Walker, although trained professionally in that discipline, seemed more interested at the time of taking in his surroundings at a much faster pace.

So my barn owner said that she would help me find another horse, free of charge (just like the first time), and that we would easily sell him.  She thought that maybe we`d find a horse better suited to my particular (in)abilities.

But I am competitive by nature, and I don`t like being told that I can`t do something.  So I decided to keep the horse.

Walker has a lot of attitude.
But I have attitude too. :)