Friday, 28 September 2012

We All Have Our Days

Just found this pretty funny video online of people getting into trouble with their quirky/bad/attitude-filled horses. It just goes to show that everyone has problems - and we all have to be prepared to take a fall:


And it's sequel:


Change of Plans

Today I went out to the barn with the intention of working on several things: bending Walker on his stiff side, loping frantic corner (always a goal), and perhaps working on some flying lead changes because he's good at them.  When I got there, however, there was a man working up by the outdoor arena.  He had power tools and his extension cords were splayed out across the arena.  Although I was sure that I could have stayed to the upper end of the arena, I didn't want to take the chance that Walker would trip over a power cord or be scared by the man's tools, so I ended up riding inside instead.

This changed EVERYTHING.  First of all, there is no frantic corner in the indoor arena.  He doesn't bolt in there because he can't, and there is absolutely no room to do flying lead changes (I know - I tried).  I did get to work on bending though, and I found that he is extra stiff on his bad side.  I knew that already of course, but it helped confirm my suspicions that although part of the reason he won't lope around frantic corner is because he's being disobedient, he's being disobedient because he's stiff and he doesn't like being worked in that direction.  I confirmed this by loping him in both directions in the indoor arena, which forced him to lope significantly smaller circles than he's used to.  He did not nearly have as much of a problem on his good side, but on his bad side, there were a couple of times where he tried to stop at a wall and turn in the other direction on me (which he often tries and succeeds at outside).  He couldn't succeed at it in the indoor arena though because there's just not the space, so it was a lot of work to get him bending and loping in that direction.  I was very careful not to over-exert him because he was definitely panting.  At first, I only made him do a circle, and then trot, and then do a circle, and then trot.  I only ever got him to do 2 - 3 circles consecutively in either direction just because I know how much he was working to do it.

On my end, I worked on my seat and my position.  I practiced sitting deep in the saddle, giving Walker a nice loose rein, and I tried (with all my might, however successfully I did so) to glue my elbows to my sides.  When I'm outside, I know that I flap my arms like chicken wings, but it comes out even more in the indoor arena - probably because the entire loping session is a circle requiring turning, whereas outside, there are portions of it where we're loping straight and my arms rest.  Oh well, I may not look good while I do things, but at least I get the job done.

Walker has no problems looking good.  When I saw this caricature, it reminded me of him.  He's the John Travolta of the horse world, I'm sure of it :)

Today would have been a perfect day to work on my jumping because I was forced to be in the indoor arena.  I put down a pole and loped Walker over it a few times, although only on his good side.  I didn't want to add to his bending issues by adding an extra obstacle.  I'll save that for another day when I loosen him up.  However, I was unable to work on jumping because Walker's feet weren't done.

Let me back track.  The farrier is a busy man.  I understand this.  I know that things come up, especially when you're working with horses.  So every 4 weeks, I call him and book an appointment for 2 weeks time. I like Walker to get his feet done after 6 weeks, and I don't like pushing it to 8.  So he was supposed to come last Friday and then something came up so he said that he would come on Tuesday.  No big deal.  That's why I call so early.  On Monday, Walker turned up lame and I know that his shoes are probably the culprit because I could hear one clinking around.  Fast forward to Tuesday and the farrier says that he is coming on Friday.  At this point I'm getting perturbed because Walker's shoes are bothering him, but I understand that things happen.  So today I go out to the barn completely expecting to not be able to ride my horse because the farrier is there.  But the farrier isn't there and it is obvious that his shoes have not been done.  What's worse is that I left the barn at about 3:00 so I seriously doubt that he will be coming after that. Although a lot of people ride their horses when they're a little lame from their shoes needing done, I don't like to push it with Walker.  There are quite a few horses at the barn that are fakers - they fake being lame.  Walker doesn't do that and so I don't want to punish him for limping around by ignoring his pain.  So I definitely did not want to jump my horse even over a little crossrail with a loose shoe and potential lameness. Even though he didn't feel lame today, I didn't want to push my luck - I could still hear clinking every so often.  How difficult is it to keep to an appointment schedule!?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Same Ol'

I have a friend who is thinking about getting her first horse.  She and I have a similar story, and she started riding again about the same time that I did.  She has found a nice horse at the barn where she used to ride and is very excited.  In her honour, I posted the following doodle on her Facebook page, and although Walker is a lot of trouble, I think the quote is true:


In truth, I don't have all that much to report, hence the title of the post.  On Monday, as I said, Walker turned up lame and so I gave him Tuesday off to recover and get his feet done.  Unfortunately, that meant that he ended up having 4 - 5 days off, and so I knew that he would be wild on Wednesday, especially since it was also raining for a couple of days and he hadn't been turned out.  That kind of sequence of coincidences is just my luck!

On Wednesday for my lesson, he was pretty bad.  I knew that he would be bad, and so the second I hopped on him, I said to my instructor, "I can tell he is in a mood tonight," to which she responded, "Natalie, don't say that before the lesson has even started."  I do not even lie when I say that two seconds later he decided to bolt across the arena, and he proceeded to bolt probably 15 more times that evening.  He didn't even consistently bolt to other horses or the gate; he just wanted to run.  Unfortunately, I ended up walking him for an hour because I didn't want him to think that he could get away with doing what he wanted, and I felt pretty bad about myself afterwards.  I told my instructor that I didn't want her to think that I was afraid/apprehensive of trotting/cantering my horse, but she said that she understood because it was important to get a control of him, especially at the slower speeds, or else I'd never win.  On Monday night after he turned up lame, I ended up meeting her in the locker room, and she kindly told me that she thought I was doing great work with him.  So even though he was beyond bad during the lesson, I was happy that at least she complimented my progress.

Interestingly enough, he was back to his old self today when I went out.  I have often said that my lessons are a disaster for a number of factors: outside arena, other horses, night time, autumn, and my own anxieties about people watching.  So when we're alone in the day time, we tend to have good rides (not counting his crazy fire-breathing antics last week).  I was disappointed because I tried to recreate an exercise that my instructor had us do last night in the lesson (me at the walk, and the other students at the walk/trot/canter).  It was like a clover leaf pattern, but try as I might, I could not manage to lope it.  We could do it fine at the walk/trot, as I knew we would, but unfortunately, I could not seem to manage to make the turns at the right time to do it at the canter.  I really thought that I could do it on my own - especially on his good lead - but I made up for it by making him do some smaller circles, etc.

I've also been taking advantage of his ability to do flying lead changes.  Half of his attitude problem is that he doesn't want to turn when I ask him to.  He will come up to a fence and when I ask him to turn left, he will defy me and go right.  So today, if I couldn't win the battle to make him go left, I would push him to do a flying lead change and keep cantering so that either way he was working.  I'm hoping that will help.  In fact, I don't think that we will ever really have problems with the flying lead change.  He seems to have perfected the art effortlessly enough.  If only I could do a simple lead change...

Tomorrow my plan for frantic corner is something knew.  Although pushing his ribs over and into the bend with my inside leg has helped me get a few steps out of him around the corner, it is not consistent (or else I am not doing it correctly, which is also possible).  Tomorrow I've decided that I'm going to pile frantic corner full of stuff - poles, jump standards, pylons, etc - so that he cannot actually go into the corner.  There were a couple standards in that corner today and so he was actually unable to stop and turn around in that corner.  Instead, he was forced to keep turning, but he just stopped when he did.  I think tomorrow I will set up the corner so that there is no corner, just a rounded edge, and hopefully I can take advantage of him not wanting to run into stuff and push him through it.  I will do whatever it takes!  It is by far the most frustrating thing I've encountered, especially considering our progress on his good side - other than my inability to do the pattern today :( I am truly disappointed about that.

In the meantime, every so often, I like to take a look at the things I do wrong, not just Walker.  Today I was thinking that I still need to work on my seat at the canter.  I lean too much - either forward, to the side, or even stand up in the saddle.  I need a more sturdy seat and be able to take his sometimes abrupt turns with him, instead of avoiding them by leaning or standing up.  I also still need to work on my hands.  Although I'm not pulling on his mouth as much, I think that I still yank a little bit on the corners.  I think I need to take my instructors ideas to heart.  She always says that you need to look where you're going - not exactly the most novel idea, but one that people often ignore.  She says that if you are turning in a circle, you should be looking towards your destination, and your hands and your feet will follow.  I agree because oftentimes I'm looking forward, like I probably was today, and so I was unable to corner around the turns like I needed to, which resulted in choppy turns, me leaning, and me pulling at the last minute to facilitate the turn.  It's definitely something to work on, as every day is.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Lame Pony

Although I normally take Monday off with Walker, I went out to the barn yesterday since I missed Saturday and Sunday. I got my boy all tacked up, hopped on, and.... He was lame. :( He had no heat in his leg so who knows what was wrong. I suspect his feet because I thought I could hear a clanging of metal. Today he gets his feet done so I guess I'll give him the day off to recuperate and simply ride him in my lesson Wednesday. I'm sure he will be bouncing off the walls by tomorrow. I imagine I can expect another bad lesson, especially since he was bad last week even when we were alone and I was riding him everyday. Oh the joys of horse ownership!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Talented Disobedience

After my bad lesson on Wednesday, I decided to go back to Western for a couple of days.  I felt the need to be very balanced in the saddle and be able to get into a fight with my pony if he needed it.  Besides that, I knew that I was coming home for the weekend for my mother's birthday, giving Walker Saturday and Sunday off, so I wanted to make sure Walker got worked.

On Thursday, I went out to the barn after class like I usually do.  He was very energetic and breathig fire, as I like to say.  He was still a little weird like he was the night before, and I was worried initially that he was going to be difficult to deal with.  I spent the first half hour of our ride just trotting in circles until he managed to soften up and slow down.  After that we started working on our canter.

Well, Walker and I cantered over our first pole that day.  We also did our first flying lead change.  In fact, we did three flying lead changes, one coming immediately after a pole.  This would be more impressive if I had asked for a flying lead change, or even to lope over the pole.  Instead I intended to avoid the pole altogether and lope in a simple circle.  I guess Walker had different plans.  It was pretty talented disobedience on his behalf.  Keep in mind, I have never even accoplished a simple lead change with Walker.  Leave it to my pony!

On Wednesday night, I was also working on backing Walker up.  I find that because he is becoming so hard mouthed and running through the bit that he ignores my demands for him to stop and back up.  On Wednesday, I tried everything to get him to back up and he wasn't having any of it.  Interestingly enough, on Thursday, I simply practiced giving him gentle pressure and rewarding him if he even took one step back.  I found that this really worked for me, and I decided I need to be very careful about how hard I pull on his mouth.  When we're cantering, he will rarely stop or slow down until he gets to the point he wants to go (often frantic corner).  He just runs through the bit.  I think I need to work more on softening his mouth and downward transitions.  So in that spirit of things, I made the following itinerary for my Friday ride:


I was so impresed with Walker's flying lead changes on Thursday that I wanted to see if I could actually accomplish them by asking him for one.  I set him up so that a flying lead change would be the best option for him.  I started out on his good side and rounded the corner in such a way that we would come down the diagonal towards frantic corner.  Then I gently asked for him to do one and he did!  I was pretty impressed and even though he was tricked into it, it's nice to know that he can do them so effortlessly.

I also worked on halting and backing like I intended to, and I tried to add more inside leg during cantering.  It occurred to me the other day that maybe part of the reason that Walker won't turn at frantic corner is because he's not sufficiently bending aound the corner.  This idea first came to me when I realized that although I was pushing him away from the corner with my outside leg, he usually ended up facing the fence and bent around my outside leg.  I know that bending requires inside leg as well so I decided to employ that method.  It ended up working for me - at least enough that Walker made a couple of steps around frantic corner!  I will have to explore that option a little more in the future.

He also did something else very talented on Friday without me asking - or, in fairness to him, he probably thought that's what I was asking for and did it (as I imagine is usually the case).  We were cantering on his good side and I wanted to cut across the centre.  Instead, Walker executed a beautiful SMALL circle at the lope (small like 10-15 feet or so in diameter).  I was so impressed that I got him to do it a couple more times.  It goes to show that the horse does know how to bend, and in fact I can "slow him down" if I'm cantering by making a small circle - at least some of the times.  I will be playing with that some more too.  I realized it also had something to do with my inside leg which I was applying in order to keep him straight (ironically enough).  Walker teaches me so much about the correct way to ride a horse!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

"I Swear To God I Can Ride My Horse"

"I swear to God I can ride my horse!" These were my famous last words as I trotted around the arena last night during my lesson.

But I'll back up. As you can tell from yesterday's post, I was slightly anxious about my lesson. I spent most of yesterday trying to calm myself down and convince myself that I would canter if the opportunity presented itself. Contrary to my original belief, the rain cleared up and it was actually nice outside so we ended up riding outside, I tacked Walker up and brought him up to the arena with everyone else, and it became very obvious that he was andy. I couldn't get on him so my instructor sent me down to the indoor arena to "lunge the hell out of him."

This was the 20 minute start to my lesson. When I returned, Waller was still a little hyper, and after about 3 minutes, he bolted. I was able to stop him for the first time ever but that's mainly because he stupidly bolted AWAY from the other horses, and when he realized that, he decided to listen.

From that point on I pretty much walked. My instructor had me do lots of transitions from walk to trot and back to maintain control, but nothing extraordinary. He tried to bolt a couple more times but I kept it under control. Since I missed half of the lesson lunging, the test went fairly quickly.

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I should have just trotted or cantered him anyway. I mean, what could have happened? The worst thing that could've happened was that I fell off, but more likely he would've cantered to the gate like he always does and then I would have simply asked him to go back out.

Having other riders changes the dynamic for both me and Walker. It changes things for Walker because he's more likely to bolt to them, but it changes things for me because I lose my nerve. If Walker fast trots when I'm alone, I just ride it out, but when other people are around, I imagine that he will bolt and pull him down to the walk. This is why I exclaimed to my instructor that I swear to God that I can actually ride my horse. Because I can, but mostly when I'm alone and I have no one around to verify that.

All in all, it was another wasted lesson that made me feel bad about myself for not forcing myself to be as brave and assertive with Walker as I normally am.

On a happier note, I've added a photo of the new foal. I didn't take this picture but it shows how cute he is - and tall. He's only three months old now and his legs are almost already as long as his mother's. He's going to be at least 16 hands for sure!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

That Gnawing Feeling

Walker is keeping me up at night. I can't stop thinking about him. I try to be patient but as anyone who knows me can testify, patience isn't my strong suit.

All I can think about is getting my horse to canter. We've been together for 6 months and we still have problems. He has successfully thwarted my efforts and he knows it, which bothers me more and more each day. As much as we are improving on our consistency, I can't help but think that we are also taking a step backwards. I realize that we are getting better in the sense that a few months ago we could lope some days and not the next. In this way, we have improved because we can lope to a certain degree every day now. However, in those days when I successfully managed to get him to lope, I could sometimes do more at the lope than I am able to do now. I have traded consistency for skill.

Part of the problem is me, of course. I HATE my lessons. They make me anxious, not because I'm afraid that I'm going to fall off or anything like that, but I'm afraid that I'm going to make a fool of myself. I'm afraid that my instructor will ask me to canter (not even necessarily to canter a pattern) and I will be unable to do it, or more likely that Walker will bolt and that will be the end of that. This weird anxiety about loping has been around since before Walker, and it's not an anxiety of the danger of loping or what may happen. It's really just a performance anxiety. I don't like the stress of having to perform, and I honestly have this performance anxiety in many aspects of my life.

Because of this, I often refuse to lope in my lessons which means that I never have the benefit of a trained pair of eyes. I try to solve my problems myself and to a certain extent that works for me. But I still have problems at the lope that, although improving to a point, may have improved faster if I was using my lessons to the ultimate degree.

Added to this is the time factor. We have a maximum of one month left outside. Once we move inside, I'll have new issues and I won't be able to handle my old issues until I move to the new barn, which means I will never solve my problems outside at this barn. We are significantly limited in the indoor arena. There's barely room to attempt a simple lead change. Most loping is just in a small circle because that's all you can fit in. I will never get to the complicated patterns until I move and I will simply be over-anxious about them because I'll be with a new instructor. If I could manage all that now, I would be less anxious when I start my new lessons. But more likely I will not accomplish my goals and I will take several months at the new barn before I even try to do those things because my performance anxiety will kick in big time.

Walker is difficult. This is pretty much the theme of this entire blog. There is no doubt that he can be ridden, but he doesn't make it easy. I see other girls on horses that are "difficult" in other ways, but even they can manage to lope. Now tonight it is raining and we won't ride outside. I was initially excited because obviously I wouldn't have to showcase my problems at the lope. Once again my performance anxiety is taking over my life, and all the while I have that gnawing feeling that we will never improve, that I will never get a handle on my horse, and because of this, I'll never sleep. I want to succeed at this. It is my dream. And so far not so good.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Rider Fitness

I have a friend who is getting back into her riding again like me, and for the past year she has been riding Western.  She just recently moved to a new city to start a new program at university, and she's decided to start taking lessons at a hunter jumper barn.  Obviously, both of us are pretty excited because it seems like a really nice barn, and I think that it would be amazing to learn to jump in that type of environment.  Yesterday she had her first lesson, and it was also the first time she rode English.  When she called me that night, she was exhausted!  Although it was her first lesson, the instructor had them working at all three gaits, posting at the trot, doing turns on the forehand, and even doing two-point!  That's an awful lot of stuff to do in a first lesson, especially your first lesson riding English.

Lately, I have decided that I am going to switch primarily to English as well.  I will still probably ride Western in my lessons (at least until Winter), but I am going to try riding English more often outside of lessons.  This is because English is hard, and like my friend found out the other day, it takes a lot of work.  I find that English exhausts me, and this is for a number of reasons.

First of all, I don't usually post when I ride Western (because I try to perfect Walker's nice Western Pleasure jog).  Posting itself is not too difficult, and I don't have problems picking up the correct diagonal.  The problem is that I've spent the last 6 months teaching Walker to jog, not trot.  So when I want to post, I have to constantly push him forward into a nice trot, which means that I'm constantly squeezing him to remind him.

Second of all, I practice my two-point.  Two-point is hard.  It's hard to stay balanced, and it's hard to not simply pinch with the knees.  I made a valiant effort today to even try two-point at the canter, but that didn't work out so well.  Two-point is hard enough as it is, but then I also have Walker the Western Pleasure horse who likes to drop his head.

This picture is a good example of what Walker and I should look like while doing two-point but don't.  First of all, I am using as much strength as possible to hold myself up out of the saddle, but I am unable to grab onto any mane for any period of time.  This is because Walker's head is not nearly this high.  Instead, he drops his head when he's behaving, and he almost always drops his head when he's cantering.  I have nothing to grab onto because I will simply slip forward over his neck.  Now, most people can do two-point without grabbing mane, but since I'm only learning, I could really use the extra support - especially when we're cantering.

Lastly, English is difficult because I wear my English spurs.  And this means the world of difference to Walker and me.  As mentioned before, Walker is very strong, and it takes a lot of leg muscle to get him to do anything - especially canter.  And this is when I'm wearing big western spurs!  When I put on the little English spurs, I can almost hear Walker laughing as he happily ignores me driving my leg into him and kissing for him to lope.

All these factors together make riding English very exhausting for me, but because of this, it is great practice.  If I can develop enough leg strength to control Walker with smaller spurs and improve my balance because I don't have the safety of the Western saddle, I am bound to improve when it comes time to ride Western.  That being said, I had to remind myself today that the things that I am able to do in my Western saddle may be slightly out of my reach for awhile until I can gain that strength.  So although I am usually able to canter Walker in nice circles on his good side, I could barely get one circle out of him today.  Similarly, I had no chance whatsoever of getting him to lope frantic corner.  But all in due time.

Needless to say, I've decided that rider fitness is important.  Obviously, you get very strong when you work with horses and already I find that I am much stronger than I was pre-Walker.  However, I need to get stronger.  I have decided to incorporate some strength-building exercises into my nightly routine.  My nightly exercise routine currently consists of sitting on the couch and watching TV, so by "incorporate", I mean I will actually try to have an exercise routine.

In the meantime, I think it is safe to say that both my friend and I are feeling the pain today!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Sunday Night: Heartland

It's finally that time of year again.  Heartland is back on!  I'm sure I'm not the only horse-crazy person out there in Canada whose in love with this show, but I have to say that I've been counting down the days until it's back on and tonight was the night!

Amy riding Phoenix from tonight's show

I love Heartland for a bunch of different reasons.  First of all, I think that it is a good, family-oriented show, just like all shows on CBC.  I really commend CBC for making quality entertainment because I have to admit that most of the shows on TV these days, including shows I watch, are very trashy and definitely not appropriate for everyone.  They have managed to take a show that is interesting with compelling characters and a new and exciting storyline - something that is quite rare these days!  It also has horses, which doesn't hurt either!  

I also love Heartland because I wish that was my life!  I wish that I could just live on a ranch and work with horses everyday.  I wish that I had those kind of people in my life.  I could definitely use a farm guy willing to sweep me off my feet! Oh well, a girl can dream.

In Walker news, I have nothing to report.  I didn't make it out to the barn today because we had one more Orientation event to do and I wanted to watch the series premiere of Heartland this evening (yes, yes, I realize that I picked watching a TV show about horses over actually going to see the horse I own, but have I mentioned that I love that show...).  I did email my barn owner, however, and I asked her what she thought about Walker's issues, namely bolting and not turning.  She said that it was probably him figuring out that I wasn't strong enough to make him listen, and I simply needed to get stronger to change his mind.  Easier said than done!  However, she did offer to get my trainer back on Walker tomorrow to see how he behaves with her, although we both agreed that he would probably listen to her over me.  Monday is usually my day off from Walker anyway so it's fine by me if she wants to exercise my baby!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Mini Bolts

Yesterday when I got out to the barn, I decided to diffuse my frustration at Walker's frantic corner issues by riding him English.  When I ride English, I don't fight as much.  I mostly work on my balance in the English saddle, my two-point, etc.  Because I'm not as balanced in an English saddle, I can't get into the same kind of fights with him the way I do in the Western saddle, and my English spurs aren't as big so he doesn't respect them as much.  Needless to say, riding English is a lot more work with Walker and so it's a good thing to do every so often because I need to build up both strength and balance.

All in all my ride was pretty good.  I practice my two-point over poles and even had him trot over some elevated poles (although at one point he smashed through them).  I did a little bit of cantering but it's harder to get him to canter, and getting him to canter around frantic corner is almost out of the question. I definitely have a better chance in my Western spurs!

Today I decided to ride English again to continue the strength and balance training (for me).  When I got to the barn, there were 5 horses already in the arena.  This was probably my mistake.  More horses means more of a chance that Walker will misbehave, and as I already mentioned, I am unable to get into fights with him in the same way when I'm in the English saddle.  I was just jogging him around the upper part of the arena at one point, and then he noticed that ALL the other horses were down at the lower end of the arena.  Surprise, surprise - he decided to bolt down to them.  At that point, I just rode it out, and in fact, it was what I would consider a mini-bolt.  One of the girls didn't even think he was bolting.  She thought that I simply asked him to canter down to them, but I explained that he did that all on his own.  It was fine only in the sense that he didn't buck and throw a gigantic fight the whole way down and it was a lot like riding him at a canter, but it wasn't fine in the sense that I HATE IT when he bolts.

Bolting is a horrible habit, and it's also an unsafe habit.  It's disrespectful and I really don't know how to fix it.  I refuse to bit him up with a stronger bit just because I know he will fear me ripping his mouth out.  This is not a solution as far as I'm concerned.  Of course, when most horses take off or speed up, instructors or trainers suggest turning them in small circles.  Well, obviously, this is out of the question because I can't turn him when he is actually paying attention to me.  So unfortunately, despite all our hard work, there is still only two problems left to deal with and they are interconnected: bolting and not turning at the lope.

Other than that, I really didn't do anything.  I mostly sat around on Walker with the other girls and talked because no one was in a mood to work.  Unfortunately, I can't work if they're all going to sit around because Walker will just bolt to them every time.  So I did that one unplanned-for canter, trotted for a few minutes, sat around for 15 minutes, and went in.

I'm considering asking my trainer to hop on him sometime again soon.  I would like to simulate a bolting experience by organizing a couple girls to sit at the bottom of the arena on their horses while she rides up at the top.  I'm sure my trainer wouldn't have half as much of a problem as I do - and I'm sure that Walker knows that.  Unfortunately, I really have no ideas for that one.  With the refusal to turn, I consider that something I just have to work on with him (although, if I get the trainer to hop on him, then I will ask her to do that too - once again, I know it won't be a problem with her.  It's more me).

On another note, my barn owner finally brought back one of her mares and her foal.  The baby is adorable!  I'm so excited.  What a leggy little thing, and he's only three months!  I will have to try and get a picture sometime soon.  He's a pretty well behaved colt for that young.  The man that foaled him worked with him from birth so he can already be easily led, and he's even been clipped!  I'm in love already!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Buck

I just finished watching the documentary "Buck" and it blew my mind.  I am utterly speechless.  I think that it came at a good time - a time when I was starting to get so frustrated with Walker that I needed to be reminded that you just can't force your horse to do what you want them to do.  That's not the right method to get things done.

I was talking to my mother tonight about how frustrated I was with how Walker wouldn't turn and how simple of a task this seems.  She calmly (as mothers tend to do) reminded me that I have come very far since having him.  And I had to stop and think.  You know what, I have.

When I first starting riding again, I was a pretty nervous wreck after all my "incidents" over the years.  The horse I used to ride at the barn I'm at now also had an attitude problem - the kind of attitude that comes with old age.  Everyone at the barn used to say that he had the attitude of a cranky old man, and that is exactly the way to describe him.  That horse used to pin his ears back and do things to unnerve me, and I was terrified that he would buck me off (like he once bucked off my trainer).

Fast forward to Walker.  Walker bucks all the time.  It does not bother me in the least.  As far as I'm concerned, he can buck his little heart out so long as I can manage to stay in the saddle.  But let's be clear.  When Walker bucks, it is nothing like this:


Although I will admit that when I fell off that one time, it felt a lot like this:


But I'm probably over-dramatic.

Anyway, the point of the story is that a year ago, if a horse so much as picked those back feet up, I shut down.

When I got Walker, I was a little nervous around him.  He was younger, faster, and obviously had attitude.  I was thinking at the time that although he was a beauty, I just couldn't catch a break.  For the longest time, I only walked and jogged that horse.  When we moved from the indoor arena to the outdoor arena and he picked up the pace to what I deemed at the time "an uncontrollable trot" (i.e. a regular trot that scared my Western jogging ways), I pretty much walked 90% of the time.  I literally had to force myself to trot for intervals of time, holding my breath because I assumed that Walker was going to run away on me.

Then when I got over our trot issues (and we definitely had other issues at the trot that I overcame), I went a long time before I loped him.  Other than this weird interval of time where I was actually successfully loping Walker in both directions (and then never again), we spent 90% of our time jogging.  I NEVER loped in an arena with other horses, and the only time I worked on our loping was in the safety of the indoor arena.

Then came July/August.  And one day I just decided we were going to get over loping the way we got over trotting.  The first few times I loped him off and then immediately pulled him back, nervous of his speed the way I was with the trot.  Then I just taught myself to hold my breath and let him run.  I didn't work on anything during those times, just learned to trust my horse and appreciate his speed.  Because that's part of the problem - thinking that your horse is misbehaving when he's actually not.  You really need to be able to pick out the difference.

Now we lope every day.  Every day for maybe 15 - 20 minutes out of our 30 minute rides.  Frankly, I probably lope him more than he should be loped, but as my barn owner said, he's young and he's in the best shape of his life.  And although he gets annoyed with me, he's a pretty willing partner.

About a month ago, my instructor had us execute this complicated clover leaf pattern.  I forced Walker to lope it on his good side and we did it and I was pretty proud.  And I have never been able to replicate it.  But here's the thing, we did it - but Walker bucked through the whole experience.  It was about a couple weeks later that I stopped loping in lessons and I'm glad I did.  You see, I figured something out.  I realized that I could take this horse and do all the complicated patterns that our instructor wanted us to do.  They wouldn't be pretty but we could do them.  Both Walker and I were more than capable.  But in truth, we needed to work on foundations.  Because it wasn't about either one of our capabilities but both of us working as a team to get things done.

So I went back to basics.  In August, I spent most of my time just asking him to lope, getting him to a point where he didn't get all annoyed when I asked him.  Sometimes he still does, but generally he's more willing than he once was.  I find now that he mostly gets annoyed when he's been loping and stopping and loping and stopping for 15 minutes, and then I ask him to do it after a break.  He's annoyed because he's tired, not because he's trying to get out of work.  And that's a big difference.  After the discovery of the rollback (my dream loping tool), we started working on listening and just loping large (which is still what we're working on with his bad side).

I'm pretty proud of my accomplishments with Walker.  I went from being nervous to trot my horse to being able to lope him large, sometimes in smaller circles, sometimes over poles, etc.  Sure, we have issues on his bad side and we still have a long way to go on his good side, but today I noticed another thing.  Walker hasn't bucked in a week.  As of last week, Walker had bucked every single day at least once a ride during our loping, and starting this past weekend, he hasn't thrown one buck.  Now, I'm currently knocking on wood and don't truly believe that the problem is solved that effortlessly, but it is a testament to how much we've worked together that he no longer feels like he needs to buck because obviously I've started doing something (or more likely stopped doing something) that made him uncomfortable.  That's a lot of progress, as far as I'm concerned.

The "Buck" documentary was a good thing to watch tonight.  I was utterly inspired by some of the things that man could do with his horse.  I mean at one point he took his roping horse and was practicing almost dressage maneuvers in an open field.  As you can see in the trailer I posted, he even gets down on his knees in front of the horse on the ground and directs him where to go.  I mean that is talent.  And that is also hard work.  I was so flabbergasted that I just bought the DVD on Amazon (despite my dire financial straits), and I even checked his 2012 schedule to see if he was coming anywhere near me.  He's supposedly in Maine next weekend, and I was pretty much ready to drive all the way there but his spectator quota was full (and of course, I'm going home for my mother's birthday!).

In the meantime, I will continue what I'm doing: foundations.  Forget patterns.  Forget crazy turning.  You need to be able to lope an entire arena before you can turn on a dime the way I seem to expect Walker to do.  That's something we can work on with his good side, but for now, I need to take a step back, give my head a shake, and work WITH my horse, not try and force him like a tyrant.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Horse Movie Alert 2

Just saw this great trailer for another great horse documentary. Apparently it was out in 2011 so I'm going to have to scour the Internet for it until I can find it:


Frantic Corner, Frantic Lead

Walker and I have problems with simple things.  One of these simple things is turning.  I may not be the most accomplished horsewoman, but over the years, I have ridden a lot of horses, and while Walker is definitely one of the most challenging I have ever ridden, I have never had problems with turning in any other horse before.  When you ride a horse, it usually takes very little to make them turn.  Either you lift up the inside rein or use a little outside leg (or preferably both), and you effortlessly spin to the inside.  With Walker, this is not so easy.  When he is in a mood to behave and listen to me, he will move like a dream.  I can neck rein him, apply a little leg pressure, and he turns beautifully.  When he doesn't want to turn, however, he just doesn't - end of story.

Last night we had our lesson.  Unfortunately, I was feeling very nauseous all day, and while I probably shouldn't even went to the lesson, I did ride for about 40 minutes before calling it quits.  I walked during the lesson for most of the time and only jogged a little.  It was unfortunate because the pattern that the class was doing was pretty interesting and it would have been helpful with some of our issues.

Today I was feeling much better though so I decided to go to the barn and give the pattern a shot.  This is what the arena looked like, the black outline being the arena and the red lines showing where our instructor put the poles.  For reference, I put in where frantic corner and the gate is because I always find that it is helpful to visualize:


Essentially, our instructor had the participants in the lesson trot over the bottom set of poles, lope between the two sets of poles, and then trot over the second set.  After that, they had to pick up a canter to whichever direction, weave around the arena and go over the first diagonal pole, do a simple lead change in the middle, canter around in the other direction and go over the other diagonal pole.

I managed to accomplish none of that today although I tried my very best.  My issue was simple: I could not get Walker to turn over the diagonal poles.  First of all, it was obvious that he did not want to lope over the pole at all(surprise, surprise), and when I even managed to get him to turn down the diagonal of the arena, he did a generous side step at the canter or else he dropped to a trot so that he wouldn't have to pick up his feet.  I did get him to canter over one pole one time though, so at least I felt a little good about myself.  Doing the trot sets weren't difficult, so must of my concerns and problems were at the lope - as always.

So after I failed at that exercise, I tried to simply practice circles.  I had less problems going on his good side, which is clockwise.  I got him to lope large and then when we came down to the bottom of the arena near the gate, instead of loping back up to the top, I had him cut across the middle and lope a smaller circle. Although I had to work at it a little bit, it wasn't too significant of a problem.

I attempted the same thing on his bad side (counter clockwise).  In fact, I attempted turning at all in any which way.  Mostly, I would lope him from the top of the arena down to frantic corner and spend the entire ride down trying to get him to turn - either across the centre or even just lope the blasted frantic corner - all to no avail.  Interestingly enough, I was even having some problems today loping a U shape (an upside down U shape, starting at the bottom right and loping around until frantic corner again).  Sometimes I had no problems, but a couple times, when I came up the arena and turned at the top to come back down towards frantic corner, he came to the fence, and despite all my directions, veered right instead, promptly losing the canter and stopping (because he boxed himself in the upper left corner where there is also a giant puddle).

I was particularly frustrated today because when I was talking to my instructor about some of these problems yesterday, she said that she would come up with some exercises next week to see what it is that he does when he goes to turn at the canter - since I haven't been doing too much cantering in my lessons lately.  I quit cantering because we were doing too many patterns, and he was bolting towards the other horses that were waiting.  Now my instructor doesn't get them to wait anymore, so I don't expect as much bolting, but I still don't want to look like an idiot - which is definitely how I felt today not even being able to get my horse to turn in the natural direction.  So I was doing a little brainstorming about why he may be doing this on his stiff side:

Option 1: He is picking up the wrong lead.  I tried to watch his leads today and I am 90% sure that he is on the correct lead when loping on his bad side, but I'm wondering if maybe he's doing an effortless flying lead change that I don't realize.  If this were the case, it would make sense why he can never turn at frantic corner (it would be very difficult for him) and why he veers to the other direction awkwardly at the top of the arena even though it would be natural to go down.

Option 2: He is outright ignoring me.  I favour this option a lot.  This is because when we are loping down the arena from the top, I have tried asking him to cut across the centre almost immediately.  He has a long distance to travel, and he ignores my directions right from the beginning.  I noticed today that when I open my rein and push with my outside leg, he drops his head (almost as if to get behind the bit so that he doesn't have to turn when I ask him).  I'm not saying that he's not stiff and that he doesn't have a good reason for not wanting to turn, but I think it's quite likely that he is avoiding it because it's hard, not because its impossible.  After all, he can usually lope the upper part of the U-shape, he just refuses to finish the circle around frantic corner.

Option 3: We are getting our wires crossed.  Walker is a strange horse.  Strange in the sense that I have used a billion different ways to turn him since buying him, many at the suggestion of my instructor and trainer, and none of which I'm completely convinced are the best way for him. Normally, when you want a horse to turn, you lift the inside rein and apply outside leg.  I use this the most regularly, and when he is listening, this works.  However, Walker also knows how to neck rein which, as some of you may know, is when you hold the reins in one hand.  You still apply outside pressure, but instead of "pulling" him to the inside with the inside rein, you are actually lightly "pushing" him away from the outside with the outside rein that you are placing on his neck.  Finally, when I first got Walker and my trainer was riding him, she used to find that he would drift on some ends of the arena (probably frantic corner).  Instead of pulling up with the inside rein, she would pull up with the outside rein so that he would move away from it and towards the inside.  When trying to get Walker to listen to me, I have tried all these methods - in fact, I tried all these methods today - but none of them work.  I'm wondering if the problem is simply that he doesn't know what I want from him.

It is also possible that it is a combination of these factors.  I don't call it "frantic corner" for nothing - it is called frantic corner because I very frantically try to make him turn.  This means that I am willing to try anything and I look like an absolute lunatic, flailing my arms, different reins being pulled in the air, legs a swingin'.  It's possible that he actually does find it difficult to turn, and so he doesn't want to listen to me when I ask him, and when I do ask him, I confuse him anyway.  Whatever it is, it is going to be the death of me.  It is driving me crazy.  If you can't turn your horse to lope over a tiny pole, you're never going to be able to jump.  Even putting jumping aside, I would really like to be able to canter my horse in more than just a giant circle or U-shape.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Pointless Saddle Research

So as I mentioned before, a girl at my barn just got a new Collegiate saddle, and ever since then, I have been doing saddle research by the bucket loads.  Since I can't afford a new English saddle (and really shouldn't get one until I settle into English and know what I truly want), it's nice to window shop.  That being said, I already feel like I have an idea of what I want in a saddle:

First of all, I want it to fit Walker and me.  Ideally, I would love to have a saddle fitter come out and tell me which saddles would work best on Walker, but I live in Atlantic Canada and I'm guessing that is out of the question.  If I thought I could find someone to fit us though, that would be the ideal situation because nothing is worth either one of us being in pain (although I'd probably take some mild pain on my behalf better than any pain on Walker's).

Second of all, I want something aesthetically pleasing.  After all, if you're going to pay a fortune for a saddle, you might as well like it.  I'm partial to darker colours.  The saddle I have now is black - in fact, both of my saddles are black.  For whatever reason, black looks stunning on Walker, and I think that a lighter colour just won't have the same effect on him.  Similarly, I don't like the kind of knee blocks on a saddle that aren't molded and are more visible:

While I'm sure there is a purpose for the three grooves where the knee blocks are, I don't like the look of them

On the subject of knee blocks, I want to make sure the saddle actually has some.  Something tells me that they will be wildly handy when Walker and I go to jump, but that being said, I don't want velcro/adjustable ones like I have now.  My adjustable ones easily come off, and it would be just my luck to knock them off mid-jump.  Thigh blocks would be nice too but not necessary.  They sound handy but I'm not really sure if I'd like them in reality.

I also want something with a little stick.  And by stick, I mean not so smooth that I can slide off the saddle - because if I can, I will.  I want to be able to grip the saddle, not have to glue myself to the saddle (it has crossed my mind before...).  The saddle I have now has a suede seat, and while I have been assured that a suede seat + suede on breeches = glue, suede gets dirty easily.  There are still little bits of hay and other debris in the saddle from god knows what, and suede is just not as easy to clean.  In that regard, I want a saddle that is not completely smooth, but not hard to clean like suede.  I want it to be a leather seat with some grip.

Finally, I want a saddle appropriate both for jumping and the flat.  Even when I start to jump, it will probably be rarely, and so jumping is only a minor piece of importance to me.  If a saddle can't do both, then I probably shouldn't shell out a fortune for it.  Unless, of course, some generous benefactor (or my mommy) wants to buy me a jumping saddle AND a saddle for flatting, in which case, there's not as much need for compromise. :)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Buying Your Way to the Top

Do you ever get that feeling that if you spend just a little more money, buy just one more thing, you will suddenly and miraculously be better at whatever you're trying to achieve?  I find this in many aspects of my life, including horseback riding.  In particular, I find that my thoughts have been riddled with desires for new saddles and breeches and bridles that we don't need, and when I run out of legitimate reasons why I can't afford them, I am stuck with the nagging feeling that they will make my life a little easier.  I think these are the things we do to justify our wants, the things that we don't need but the things after which we lust.

Earlier this week, one of the girls at my barn got a new English saddle.  It's a Collegiate Convertible, and its absolutely beautiful.  My cheap English saddle looked, well, cheap in comparison.  I am constantly looking at saddles online and dreaming about the day when I can drop an obscene amount of money on a new one.  You see, I do not doubt that a nicer saddle, a better quality saddle, actually will improve performance.  As with most sports, better equipment gives you better results, however minuscule the margins.  But I'm not Tiffany Foster, and I'm not headed for the Olympics any time soon.  The fact of the matter is, expensive saddle or not, I still need to work on the basics, but for whatever reason, it seems easier to put off actually doing that work, instead dreaming of the day when Walker and I can have the best of everything and be the best (or at least the best that we can be).

One of the Collegiate Convertible saddles - I'm not sure if this is the same one, but similar

I have realized that I have simply replaced one shopping addiction with another.  I used to have less of a financial boundary with myself, and whenever I felt like I needed new clothes (which, admittedly, I did when I started law school and had to wear suits to interviews), I would just go out and buy them.  Now I don't dream about dresses but winter riding boots and jumping bridles (for my horse, the non-jumper).  I realize that I wrote a post about shopping only a week or so ago, but since applying for those horse-related catalogs, I have been checking my mail EVERY DAY to no avail.  I can't decide which is worse: shopping online and ultimately buying something because the catalogs haven't come in yet OR the catalogs actually coming in and me buying something because of that!

I could perhaps get over the fact that I want things that I need and don't have.  Or even that I want better things when I have cheaper quality that will honestly need to be replaced before too long.  But oftentimes I want things that I don't need and may never need.  I want things for a jumping career Walker and I do not have (and probably never will).  I even caught myself looking at poles and jumping standards the other day - for the arena I don't have, at the barn I don't have, for the English jumper pony I don't have.  Or some days I even look at real estate, particularly equestrian real estate.  It's bad enough when I look at houses with barns because I could never feel safe about keeping Walker at my property with the limited knowledge I have about horse care, but it's even worse the times I've caught myself looking at stables, as in full-on equestrian 30-stall+ stables intended for training and lessons and breeding.  Oh yeah.  How the mind wanders.

Someday maybe?  Probably not...

The truth of the matter is that it's ok to be enthusiastic.  It's ok to want the best things for Walker, and to really pour everything into this endeavour.  This is what I've always wanted, after all.  I'm young, single, and I have no other financial responsibilities (unless you count those pesky student loans and my line of credit).  But for now, I'm on a financial diet, and while I absolutely love to treat myself (and Walker) every so often, I will be keeping myself to things that I need - at least until the catalogs arrive!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Cranky Days Off

Most Mondays I give Walker the day off. I find that it is a natural break in the week. You're at the barn all weekend because you have all day to be there. My lessons are on Wednesday and I try to make sure he gets his exercise on either end of that day. So that tends to leave Monday which is the perfect day because you're exhausted and preparing for the utter dread of the week. Monday's are also days I try to get things done - groceries, chores, etc. - and my schedule makes it impossible for me to ride that day except in the indoor arena in the evenings while lessons are going on.

Tuesday's and Thursdays are my day to get to the barn in the afternoon. It's the perfect time because most of the other boarders are in school still and I have the outdoor arena to myself. Unfortunately, now my Internet and home phone are messed up due to no meddling on my behalf and I have to wait around all afternoon tomorrow for them to come fix it. Now I'm getting two days off - one planned, one unplanned - and it makes me cranky to think that the next time I'll get to ride Walker will be Wednesday where he's bound to be energetic and bad for our lesson. I really could have used Tuesday to get some energy out of him or at least gage if this energy increase is a seasonal but permanent thing or if it is simply the product of last week's lazy schedule.

In the meantime, I can pretty much get no work done for classes or anything else. So unproductive!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

"Let 'er buck"

The title of this post is "let 'er buck" which is a phrase from the movie Hidalgo which Frank T. Hopkins (played by Viggo Mortensen) always yells to Hidalgo when he wants him to go faster.  In light of Walker's recent energy burst lately, I felt that it was an appropriate post title!

Today it was supposed to rain, so luckily for me we ended up cancelling another Orientation event that was outside.  When I woke up this morning, it was beautiful, and because we had already cancelled the event, I got to go see my boy instead!

Yesterday I lunged Walker before riding him, but today I just hopped on.  We sort of reversed the order that we normally do things.  Normally I will walk him for awhile to get warmed up, jog for awhile, and then we will finish our ride with a canter.  Today, however, Walker was itching to run again (they were kept inside because of the impending thunderstorm that never came), and so after about two steps of the walk, he burst into a canter.  Instead of pulling him back like I normally do, I followed suit with yesterday and just let him run.  It was wonderful.  We cantered all over the place!  We cantered large and we cantered circles and we even cantered diagonally down the arena.  I pretty much just offered a bit of direction every so often.  One time we almost hit the mounting block, and another time we slid through the puddle at the back of the arena almost into the fence.  Walker was loving it.  He also kept splashing around in the puddle, and I wanted him to have fun so I let him do it.

Ironically, as I mentioned yesterday, our issues with the frantic corner are gone.  When Walker has energy, he doesn`t want to stop cantering so he just makes the turn like normal and keeps going.  Another interesting thing I noticed is that if I signal that I want him to turn 1-2 strides before frantic corner, it seems to be enough warning for him to start his turn.  I`m wondering if part of the problem was that he brought himself too deep into the corner, making the turn too difficult, and he simply needed a little more direction from me.  I will have to test out that theory when his energy level goes down (if it ever does!).

Although our days in the outdoor arena are numbered and I should be trying to ink out as much work as I can before the cold days set in, it`s nice to have days like this where both of you get to have fun.  After all, it`s the weekend, and work is for the weekdays!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Horse Movie Alert

Just a quick update since I forgot to mention this in my last post.  I saw this trailer for a new horse movie/documentary about 100 people who have 100 days to train a wild mustang, and I think it looks really good.  I love watching previews for movies, but this particular one really resonates with me.  In no way do I consider myself training Walker, but I think that all horse people have respect for the dedication and work that people put into their horses like these people have with these mustangs by giving them this kind of chance:


Back in the Saddle Again

After a crazy week of having no time to do anything, I finally got to work Walker today.  Let's just say that with essentially a week off, a windy day, and cooler weather, he was feeling his energy.  In fact, the goal of my ride quickly became: just stay on and let him run.  A happy coincidence from his energy level was that I think it's one of the few times we've actually cantered the frantic corner without breaking stride.  He was cantering so fast that I literally just had to hold on and let him run.  I gave him lots of rein the whole time, helped maneuver a little, but mostly just let him do what he wanted.  I think after all my neglect, he earned the right to get the energy out of him however he wanted.  We only actually rode for 35 minutes, but we cantered straight for probably 15 - 20 minutes of that, so he was pretty sweaty when all was said and done.

I'm also glad that Walker isn't spooky. Today was pretty windy, and at first I was afraid that he was going to be spooky on me.  When a wind knocked over a jumping standard right in front of him though, he just trotted around it like it didn't bother him at all.  I was pretty glad because I probably would've been on the ground if he had decided to spook at the speeds he was going today.  

In a way, it was actually a great ride because of how energetic he was.  Because it was almost impossible to slow him down or stop him (a couple times he would just round a corner and keep cantering if I asked him to halt), I really got to practice using long reins and sitting deep in the saddle.  I find that because I'm used to a Western Pleasure lope, I don't have as good of a seat when a horse canters.  It's just too fast for me and I resort to a lot of bad habits.  In particular, I have a tendency to try and slow the horse down, which results in too much pulling on Walker's face (which is probably why he often now ignores me when I ask him to halt).  I was all by myself in the arena today so there was no chance I was going to hit anybody, so I loosened my reins A LOT and just let him go.  I focus too much on control when I'm riding, on trying to get things perfect when sometimes you just need to let them run.  It worked perfectly.  Because he had lots of rein, he let me turn him on the loose rein (which is what he was trained to do), and I found that I didn't really need the tight rein.  I also simply practiced sitting in the seat at the speed instead of standing up in my stirrups (which, for whatever reason, I have a tendency to do when the cantering gets fast).  

Today we just went for it.  We just ran.  And it was pretty nice.  I think we need a few more rides like that.  If Walker knows that I'm not going to constantly try to pull him back, he'll probably be more likely to slow down when I ask as a reward (because, as I've said before, Walker trains me just as much as I train him).  And I learned that I won't die or fall off if he canters his little heart out.  All was well.  It was a good day.

On the loping-on-the-wrong-lead front, I still haven't figured out if that's what he's doing at the frantic corner.  As I said, today was the first day where he "easily" (it was still a bit of work but nothing compared to what I usually do) loped the corner on his bad side.  However, at one point today, he was loping a circle on his bad side and it felt really jolty.  I automatically assumed he was loping on the wrong lead, but he was in fact, loping on the correct lead (which is his bad side).  Once again, this made me think that he is not loping as much on his bad side as I think he is (even though I work him in that direction), and he has simply gotten so used to counter-cantering that it has become smooth.  I am going to try and videotape myself next time because this is something that I definitely want to confirm and nip in the butt before it goes any farther.  I also might try and wrangle my instructor or trainer into watching me lope him since they will easily be able to pick it up.  Of course, maybe I'm just over-thinking it.  After all, perhaps he is actually loping on the correct lead in both directions, and he's simply stiff on that corner - like I thought from the beginning.  Either way, it's best to check it out!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Update: The Autumn Effect

Although I already updated my blog today, I figured I would write a quick posting about my lunging session with Walker.  For those of you keeping score, this is what my last week has been like:

Wednesday: lesson where every other horse had a freak attack and so Walker didn't have to work hard
Thursday: day off in light of my exhaustion
Friday: useless ride where we walked for 45 minutes
Saturday: a real ride with real work
Sunday: day off because I hurt my back
Monday: a quick ride in the indoor arena for 20 minutes
Tuesday: a day off because I'm swamped with school
Wednesday: a day off because I'm swamped with school

So as some of you may be able to guess, Walker has not had a lot of work over the past week.  In fact, he's only had one real ride, and he hasn't even been worked at all since Monday.  I knew that I would have to lunge him today, and I made a point of finding at least an hour to put aside to do so.  I even naively hoped that I would be able to put in a little 25 minutes ride on him, but then school got crazy and I didn't hit the barn until later than originally planned.  After that idea fell through, I decided that I would lunge him quickly (15 minutes) and hop on him bareback (15 minutes).  

Then I hit the barn.

Already we were off to a bad start because besides not being worked since Monday, he was also apparently cooped up inside due to rain yesterday and today.  I put a lead line on him and led him outside, and right away the head flew up and the nostrils starting flaring.  I tried my best to lead him to the indoor arena without getting kicked, but I was seriously starting to think that things were going to get crazy.

I attached him to the lunge line and asked for a walk.  Canter.  He started to canter at top speed and continued to do so for the next 15 minutes without me asking for it.  Now, Walker is normally a very lazy horse, and he normally has to be gently encouraged (i.e. smacked on the rump with a lunge whip) to pick up the pace to even a leisurely lope.  But this was definitely a canter, a canter I had not seen him do since I first got him (in his crazy days when he had been cooped up for two months before being shipped to me and was an absolute maniac on the lunge line).  Needless to say, riding him was out of the question - not because I was nervous, but because I didn't have time to get all the energy out of him AND ride.  I am definitely glad that I didn't decide to just hop on him without lunging him though because I'm sure I would have eaten dirt.

Anyway, while Walker was making me dizzy on the lunge line, I had some time to think.  Technically, I have only seen Walker in the summer.  It's Fall now and already the horses (i.e. all the horses) are nearing that transition period where they go wacky when we move them to the indoor arena.  It gets colder, their energy level goes up, and then we confine them to a small space for the better part of 8 months.  Counter intuitive but completely necessary.  I'll be curious if today was a teaser for what Autumn (and dare I say Winter) will do to my boy and how unmanageable he will become as the temperature drops to unreasonable extremes.

The second thing I noticed was that Walker was cantering on the wrong lead, quite fast, in a tight circle.  I always lunge him on his bad side first (mostly because I get bored by the time I get to the second side and so that side usually gets done less).  I noticed that he would canter on his bad side for awhile, do a flying lead change if he decided it was actually more comfortable to canter on the correct lead (impressive, by the way), and then eventually go back to his bad side.  He is becoming adept at the counter canter to compensate for the fact that he dislikes his bad side, for which, frankly, who can blame him.  

But this got me thinking about loping outside.  I always talk about my frantic corner - the corner at the bottom of the arena which, when I'm loping on his bad side, we never manage to make.  Now I'm wondering if he's actually barrelling down the long end of the arena on the wrong lead and finding that its physically impossible to make the turn, which is why he breaks out of the lope.  The couple times I managed to force a couple strides out of him felt pretty choppy but I figured it was the fact that he was unprepared to make the turn (or simply finding it difficult).  Now I'm wondering if it's simply because he's on the wrong lead.  He has clearly become so smooth at counter cantering that maybe I'm not noticing.  Besides, he switches his leads easily enough, and cantering on the wrong lead down a straight line wouldn't be nearly as noticeable.  Now I'm going to have to pay special attention to that the next time we're out to see if that's the problem.  

Window Shopping

In keeping with my latest theme of shopping, I decided to talk about horse shopping.  I was fortunate enough that when I was looking for a horse, my barn owner was crucial in helping me.  I was a first time horse owner back into the riding business who knew absolutely nothing that I needed to know, and even though I poured over ads online, I was bound to get myself into trouble.  My barn owner used to have a breeding operation, and so she had a lot of contacts - both in Canada and the States.  She kept her eyes peeled, told certain "middle men" what she was looking for, and when she found suitable horses, she asked all the appropriate questions.

This experience was wonderful for me and it really turned out.  The only regret I have is that my barn owner almost had TOO MUCH input.  Of course, I needed someone who knew the horse industry so that I wouldn't be scammed and who also knew horses so that I wouldn't be saddled with a sick or potentially dangerous horse.  However, good horses sell fast, and my barn owner explained that when she found a few horses she liked, she would be buying them all and I would have first pick which one I wanted.  My barn owner buys a lot of horses - either for other people or for her lesson program - and so she is constantly bringing them in in shipments of 3.  When she found Walker, she specifically intended him to be the horse for me, but she gave me the option to decide that for myself when he came in with the other horse and pony.  Obviously, the little 12 hand pony was not going to work, but I fell instantly in love with Walker and never even tried the other horse.  The other horse is nice, and perhaps he would have been a better fit for me, but I think he is a better fit for our lesson program whereas Walker probably would've been sent back the minute he slammed the first unsuspecting child into a wall.  In our own unique way, Walker and I just work.


I love that Walker always has an expression on his face that says something more - something with attitude

Even though I love my horse to death, I can't help but window shop for horses.  For those months where I looked at ads and then looked at the videos that my barn owner sent me of potential horses she was considering bringing in, I really enjoyed the process.  It's also nice to dream - about the capabilities of these horses, about having a horse that is however much money, can do whatever you want them to do, can bring  you to wherever you want in your career.

I also feel like horse owners are similar in the sense that loving horses is not just about loving your own horse; it's about loving all horses.  And a lot of horse lovers end up with more than one horse somewhere along the line.  That doesn't mean they don't love their first horse or each of their horses any less; there's just a desire to multiply that love and turn it into a serious passion.  Because you have to be serious to be a horse owner.  It's not all kicks and giggles!

So I still like to shop around.  Walker is 7 now, and the way I see it, in 10-15 years he may be nearing retirement.  I will want to probably have another horse by then (since I intend to still feel and look young!) so that I can start to transition Walker into his retirement life (which I consider to be his good life as a highly pampered pasture ornament).  In 5 years from now I may even be jumping, and if that is the case, my Western Pleasure pony may not be the best option for that.  That doesn't mean I won't be riding Walker, but I may decide to take on a second horse even earlier, while Walker is still in his prime, mostly because I will still be in my prime as well!

In my perhaps irrational imagination, I see myself atop a tall (let's say 16+ hands) Thoroughbred or Warmblood which excels in either jumping, eventing or dressage (none of which I do right now which is half of the appeal). I hope to be a working lawyer by then and so I hope to have the finances to get myself a fancy English horse mostly because I already have the adorable Western quarter horse. While I'm taking the time now to get back into riding, at that point I want to be able to excel in something or simply learn something new. But hey, you never know, I may end up with another quarter horse too!

The way I see it is simple.  Walker is my baby, my first baby, and if I go through a hundred horses and keep none of them, I will probably have Walker until the end of his days.  I want his life to be good so that when he lives forever in a pasture, eating all day and being hand fed treats when I visit him, he will be happy with his life with me as well.  In the meantime, Walker has so much to teach me still and I look forward to the journey.

Horse "Stuff"

In light of my post yesterday and because all I'm able to do today is lunge my poor neglected pony, I figured I'd talk a little about horse stuff.

I LOVE shopping for Walker. I love shopping in general, but now that I have my own horse, I have been able to funnel the greater part of my irrational need to buy high heels into a more practical (at times) obsession with buying Walker whatever he might remotely need.  At present, I have the following list of horse stuff:

- 2 saddles
- 6 saddle pads
- 3 bridles
- 4 bits
- 2 useless horse blankets
- 3 halters
- 2 lead lines
- my own lunge whip (awkwardly living in the back seat of my car)
- a various assortment of brushes and combs (pretty much every kind made)
- saddle bags
- etc.

To those of you who may be horse people, this might not seem like a lot.  In fact, horse people are all the same.  We all have a lot of everything.  However, keep in mind that I have only had Walker since March, and the only thing I bought before then was an English saddle.  The rest I have bought since having him - and a lot of it was for the two measly horse shows that I did.

All that being said, I still love to shop around.  I recently went through every online horse website I could find that had catalogs and had them send them to me so that I could spend the Fall lusting over things I don't need and probably won't use.  I have discovered that this is safer than actually going into a tack shop.  The last time I went to Greenhawk, I went there to pick up a 50 cent braiding comb and came out of there with $200 worth of stuff.  I have a problem.  But besides being addicted to shopping, I'm slightly addicted to my horse.

Who can resist a face like that?

So while it's true that I always seem to be in the market for something (currently horse blankets and full seat breeches), I probably rarely need anything.  The upside to all these catalogs is that I might actually be able to find stuff I like at a cheap price, and of course there's always Christmas.  These days I have my eyes on the following:

Need:
- appropriate winter turnout and stall blanket for Walker (cold winters mean this is closer to a necessity than anything else)

Want (and will probably get):
- full seat breeches (I have a new love affair with breeches - especially considering I ride Western.  However, breeches are SUPER comfy and I don't have any full seat ones)
- horse boots (for jumping so that Walker doesn't hit his legs - I don't expect much natural ability from him so I want him to be safe)
- new Western riding boots (I have mine nicely worn in now which means they're not exactly show appropriate...)
- a big Western buckle and belt (I want to be fashionably Western)


Desire Wistfully:
- an English saddle (I own one but it is worth about as much as I paid for it - which is not a lot.  That being said, this is more of a desire for the future, especially when I've started jumping and actually riding English on a more regular basis)
- a Western saddle (I also have one of these which I actually love, but I am worried that I should have a cheap one to use for mucking around on since the other one is worth more)
- a horse trailer and a truck to go with it (obviously I will not be buying a horse trailer tomorrow, but in the future - way WAY in the future - I would like to be able to load my horse up and take him places for trail rides, like on the beach or to a horse show if I ever do another one again)
- a homemade tack locker (which may make itself into the Want category if I can find a barn that will let me put one in, in which case I have a talented father with talented friends who I'm sure could hammer a few boards together...)

Naturally I would have a cheap English saddle and want an expensive one, and have a good Western saddle and want a cheap one.  I seem to get into a lot of scrapes like that...

In the meantime, I'm realizing that budgeting for a horse isn't exactly what you expect.  You take into consideration the cost of the horse, and the cost of the board, and the cost of the farrier and vet, but  you never seem to take into consideration all the other stuff.  Sure, you realize that  your horse will need a halter, but what you fail to realize is that your horse will probably destroy several halters in his lifetime, and in the meantime, you will probably get bored with it anyway and buy him a new one.  Or you will buy yourself cheap stuff to get by while lusting over more expensive stuff that you hope to buy later.  That being said, as I've come to realize, having a horse means that your friends will never run out of things to buy you for your birthday and Christmas!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Great Stable Blanket Debate

Back when I got Walker, I went on a huge shopping spree at Greenhawk. I needed pretty much everything, and most importantly, there were lots of things on sale - in particular, winter wear (i.e. turnout blankets). I decided to take the opportunity to buy my winter blankets then - at a time when I knew virtually nothing about horses and horse stuff. I also bought a rain sheet only to discover that my barn owner never puts the horses out in the rain. Needless to say, I also threw out my receipt for all these purchases.

Since then, I've had to buy or replace a lot of stuff. Of course, at the time I was legitimately looking for cheap stuff (since I had none) and so it wasn't a big concern later when I discovered that my bridles were cheap, my grooming supplies were inadequate, etc.

In particular, I took the winter turnout and threw it in the back of my closet. We were, after all, coming into summer at the time. Now five to six months later, the winter catalogs are coming out and, you guessed it, they're advertising winter blankets. And now that I know more about horses, let alone my horse, I'm starting to get concerned that I didn't buy the right thing. If you're keeping count at this point, you'll have noticed that would be two useless blankets I've acquired, and for those of you who don't know me, I just can't imagine myself trying to sell them (I may get over that later in life but I'm one of those "you never know when you might need/want it" people).

What I thought I bought Walker was a turnout. What I think I ACTUALLY bought Walker was a shell. And what I think I want now is both a turnout AND a stable blanket (with no need for the shell).

So now I'm in a pickle. Financially, I just don't have $200+ to throw down on another blanket. However my barn owner is pretty old school. She rarely blankets any of her horses (unless they're turned out a lot or are old or sick) so I know if I ask her she will probably just say that Walker can do without. BUT if you're reading this blog anyways closely, I'm sure by now you can tell how much I love my horse and how much money I'm willing to drop on the darling if it should increase his comfort even by a little.

So I guess I'm in the market for a new blanket...

Scheduling

Today is my first day back at school. It is pouring rain, and I feel as though it's Mother Nature's way of mirroring my feelings about going back to school! :S This week so far has been crazy. I luckily got out to see Walker on Monday, but my next real ride won't be until Saturday. I was optimistic that I'd have time Thursday and Friday but I'm already booked up. I'm already telling people that I have a meeting late Thursday afternoon just so that I can lunge him so he won't go crazy. It's high stress around the school this week with all the first years arriving and me on the orientation committee as well as my regular treasurer responsibilities. And all I can think about is that sweet face:

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Torrential Downpours and Tales from the Funny Farm

The city I live in is very odd. It is on a river (like my hometown) and so it should have a nice breeze in the summer. Instead the summers here are usually blistering hot, and the city is like a bubble with the temperature being sometimes very dissimilar to other cities in the province. It also doesn't rain here very much, but when the skies open up, it usually results in a torrential downpour like today.

I wasn't going to ride today mostly because I hurt my back yesterday cleaning up the indoor arena from the loose hay that some of the horses had demolished on their night free in there. In fact, apparently it has been quite entertaining at the barn these last few nights. When I got there yesterday, my barn owner's husband was fixing one of the stalls. It is the only stall without bars and the horse in that stall can put his head out. I always wanted one of those for Walker but I now understand why it is a problem. Apparently the horse in that stall was letting the horse in the stall next to him loose in the barn every night! Quite an impressive talent, I must say, but the first ones to get into the barn the next day would find the horse wandering the halls and were also usually met by the donkey who was drop kick opening the door to the indoor arena (where he was turned out with another horse) and was wreaking havoc on the barn.

For all of you people out there who think donkeys are cute, let me just say that they live up to their stubborn personalities. I have led that donkey down the hall a million times and he walks at a snail pace - unless of course he's free and then he'll tear around the yard like lightning. He's also strong, and although horses are strong as well, horses have boundaries which donkeys clearly do not. I have been drug down halls and slammed into walls by that donkey too many times to count and apparently there isn't a farrier in the whole city who will even go near that animal's feet. There is never a full moment in a barn.

Anyway, unfortunately I'm not going to make it to the barn tonight because of the downpour and the rain - also because I'm swamped this week with law school and some of the committees I'm on. I probably won't make it out until Thursday and I'll definitely miss my lesson Wednesday. Hopefully Walker will stay in a somewhat well-mannered mood so that we can pick up where we left off :s

But for the meantime, I'll leave you with a quote from John Wayne:

You have no idea how true that is, John!