Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I'm Not Proud Of My Jumping Technique

In the past few years since I started riding again, I have gained lots of horsey abilities I am pretty proud of.  Handling an unruly horse from the ground, roundpenning, stickability in the saddle, ... these are things I do fairly well.  But man do I stink at jumping.  I mean, that's not to say that my overall riding technique doesn't leave a LOT to be desired, but it's in jumping that I really notice it.  And yes, I've taken a lot of lessons, but I guess it's an example of the importance of practice and muscle memory, because I STILL bring my heels up and am unable to be effective with my leg aids going into a jump, and I STILL forget to give enough with my hands for the horse to use its head / neck freely as we go over the jump.

So that's my pre-apology for these fairly terrible videos you'll see in a minute - I am off balance, not driving her effectively toward the jump and catching her in the mouth on the way over.  Of course, the fact that she was not happy about having to work on the scary side and I had to hold her in with the reins and use way more contact than I normally do didn't help things, nor did her frequent spins and bucks which were NOT caught on tape (this is why I do one at a trot).  At any rate it was interesting to see and a good reminder to keep taking lessons on a "normal" horse from time to time to practice improving these things without the additional stress of simply trying to stay on.

In other news, we're doing much better on the unevenness front - last week it was kind of rainy so on Tuesday instead of riding I just longed her and she was completely nutso, piaffeing and prancing bucking and doing her crazy gallop which makes her look more like a huge, clumsy jackrabbit than a horse - she would snort and then spook at the echo of her snort... in the end it was a fun show but I was thinking "great, tomorrow she'll be even lamer".  Well I was wrong - it seems almost like she needed to really reach her full range of movement to get better because the very next day she was already moving much better.

And finally, what blog post would be complete without a new health issue?  On Saturday a friend of mine was leading her filly around the stableyard and stopped at my paddock, then while we were chatting the two fillies put their noses together to say "hi, who's the boss here?" as mares do, her filly won and Starbuck reared up, hitting her head on the stall ceiling.  Note to self - only allow socialization outside stall.  Anyhow she scraped her head up pretty well - as if she didn't already have enough bald spots from scratching herself - and developed a pretty nice goose egg on her nose, but the vet just told me to clean it and treat it with Furacin and give her a couple of antiinflamatory packets and in the end she was fine.  If we end up going to the show this weekend (which in light of the videos I'm reconsidering) I'm thinking of painting the bald spot white so it'll look like a blaze instead of a wound.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A bad day

We had a pretty bad day yesterday, Starbuck and I.  We were accompanied by Virginia and Coco, René and Rodrigo, Ana and Pepa and Carmen and Trueno - right off the bat Starbuck was very possesive of Coco and pinned her ears and pointed her butt at anyone who came near.  This was annoying but not really troubling to me - I tend to just ignore the pinned ears and try to see it as an opportunity to improve my leg aids getting her rear end back on track.  In addition to acting bitchy, she was also really full of beans - trying to get in front constantly and just general ADHD stuff - for instance when we got to a park with some hills where the other horses just walked calmly, she just had to gallop up, nearly unseating me when I lost my stirrups.  Thank goodness I remembered to grab mane and turn her in a circle.

 It went on and on - nothing too terrible for the most part but just her being only barely controllable, which wound me up, which wound her up even further, which made things worse.  To look on the bright side, it was a really interesting new route we'd never been on before with what looked like plenty of new places to explore on future rides, we did a fair amount of trotting on varied terrain so she was able to use her muscles differently than she does in the arena, and she was certainly tracking up the entire time.  One of the things I think is so valuable about our trail rides is that I don't tend to have to push her and can really practice trotting and cantering without constant leg cues, and yesterday was no exception - only I ended up with a sore back, a tension headache and blisters on my hands from the reins, so I don't even want to think about (but am making myself acknowledge) how her back and mouth must have felt.

On the way home things were even worse - she broke into a full out gallop several times and to discipline her I took what may not have been one of my best decisions of all time - every time she broke into a gallop I'd turn her around, walk her to the end of the group and only let her catch up with the group at a walk or a slow trot.  This understandably pissed her off even more, but I can't always let her have her way, especially if it entails unsafe behavior around other horses.  Anyhow this strategy worked more or less until we got back to the hilly park, where the rest of the horses walked down the hill and since she wanted to gallop and I wasn't able to rate her, I wouldn't let her go after them.  We circled and circled at the top of the hill and as the rest of the horses moved on out of sight she got more and more frantic until finally my friend Virginia came back with Coco to rescue us and we followed them down - at a trot, which was faster than I wanted but slower than Starbuck wanted.  I guess this is an example of “a good negotiation is one where both parties walk equally unhappy”.  I am now convinced that what I should have done is get off then and walk her down in hand, but I was too frantic to think clearly about anything but my aids and immediate strategy for not getting us killed.

The most serious scare was when we passed some people who were fixing a stone wall on the side of the road - a little old lady helping them started telling me "How lovely to see people riding horses out here in the countryside on a Sunday" when two cars passed us and Starbuck freaked out, lunging towards the poor little old lady before getting back in line and passing her.  She didn't get closer than about 5 feet, but still - it was still much too close for comfort and I felt awful for the poor lady.  I was so freaked out I don't even remember if I apologized.  Then only a few minutes later Carmen's horse Trueno got a little closer to Starbuck's rear end than she wanted and she gave a mini buck and then a BIG buck when he didn't heed the first one - thankfully he wasn't close enough for her to reach him but still... I was really losing it at this point - after two hours of tension and barely controlled explosions I was starting to really feel angry and superfrustrated and noticed that I was starting to do things like jerk on the reins and use the whip as a punishment.  So as soon as we got off the road I stopped her as soon as I could and jumped off and led her the rest of the way back to the stable, which was good for both of our backs anyway.  But I was feeling guilty, pissed, and scared.

By the time I longed her in the arena (no way she was getting off easy after the ride she gave me), showered her, rubbed her down and gave her a nice pile of hay, I was able to be a little more philosophical.  I do think my biggest mistake was not getting off earlier but trying to muscle my way through her craziness by riding, so next time I'll bring my long lead rope so I can do some emergency longeing if I need to.  Lesson # 1 learned.  Other lessons: it's important to be reminded from time to time that no matter how well she behaves on one trail ride (or lesson, or show, or whatever...), it's no guarantee she'll behave so well the next time, and that I can't get cocky since I still can't necessarily control her all the time.  I'm also going to get a green ribbon for her tail to give people (myself included) a visual reminder that she's not completely predictable, and I will never again stop right in front of a little old lady, even if it means being rude.

Mostly, I have to remember that we all have bad days, and I can't get bogged down or discouraged by this one, no matter how harrowing it was.  After all, it wasn't SO bad - we discovered a new route and went on a trail ride in sketchy (wind, dark threatening clouds) weather without maiming anyone, including ourselves.  And although it was touch and go at some points, I WAS still able to control her in the end.  I'm even trying to be optimistic and remember that usually when she has several really bad days close together it generally signals a learning spurt.  But still, next year she's getting liability insurance - it'll be one less thing to worry about.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why I'm glad I'm fat

"Thank God my ass is so fat" is not something that tends to go through my mind on a daily basis.  In fact my lifelong struggle between wanting to be hot and wanting to subsist entirely on a diet of cheese, pork products, fried food and elaborate desserts pretty much makes me tend to think the exactly the opposite, cursing my oh-so-American "curves" fairly regularly.  But I sure was grateful for all that extra blubber last night - and I bet you can guess why ;-)

So here's what went down - it's been pretty rainy for the past couple of days and we've all been jonesing for a ride.  Last night the rain had stopped, but not long enough for the arena to be usable.  So yesterday my stablemates Amanda and Maria Jose decided to at least ride around the barnyard on the walkways going by all the paddocks.  Somehow the fact that we would be riding in the dark except for the moon and a far away bulb throwing some freaky shadows, that it was still really muddy and that the horses hadn't been ridden all week failed to deter us, so we saddled 'em up, jumped on and started off.

First obstacle - horny stud colt on one side of the track, playful and bored horses bounding up to see what we were doing on the other.  Starbuck got a little exuberant and broke into a trot to get to the head of the line while Maria Jose's horse Compay decided to teach horny stud colt a lesson by throwing a few bucks.  Maria Jose wisely got off but Amanda and I kept going.

Second obstacle - scary corner where the horses could see their own shadows.  Starbuck wheeled around and tried to gallop back where we had come from, luckily dodging poor Maria Jose.  But I wheeled her back around and we were able to walk (well, prance) past it.

Third obstacle - terrifying hay bales covered with horrific tarps.  All three of the horses stopped in their tracks and didn't want to pass the evil hay bales.  Maria Jose tried to walk Compay in hand past it first but Starbuck and Melyne (Amanda's mare) were getting nervous so I decided to pass her.  There was a moment where Starbuck got stuck, then I tapped her with my crop and she shot forward, then sideways, then backward, then whirled around in a circle and started to gallop off.  During this I was mostly just trying to stay up there and do a little damage control since we were a little too close to the roof of one of the stalls for comfort, but I ended up putting too much weight on one stirrup so when she galloped off the saddle slipped down to the right side.  Between me hauling on the reins to slow her down and the saddle being way off center, she got pissed off and threw a few bucks and I went down on the third, landing squarely on my right butt cheek.  But she didn't get very far before I went down and it didn't even hurt (and still doesn't this morning), which is why today I'm celebrating my tendency to chunkiness.  Yay cheese!

Anyhow after walking her by the offending hay bale and its dangerous drapery several times and letting her snort at it a few more times, I got right back up and this time was able to ride by without incident.  We made several more loops of the stableyard and in the end really enjoyed our ride in the moonlight.  So I'm not happy I fell but I am happy I didn't let the fall ruin what ended up being a good learning and desensitizing experience and a fun ride with friends.

Going back in time to Monday, the day before all the rain started, I decided to give Starbuck kind of a light day and started just longeing her, but then got inspired and decided to ride her.  But to keep things low-key, I rode her with only the rope halter and lead rope instead of her normal bridle.  It's the first time I'd ridden all over the whole arena like that - the other times I've ridden her in a halter we blocked off the "non-scary" section to ride in, so I was pretty proud of us.  It took me a while to remember how to switch the lead rope from one side to the other without smacking her in the face with it, and it took her a while to realize I really meant her to go where I was asking her to go, but in the end we really covered the entire arena doing lots of serpentines and figure eights and walking right by the bar and pigpen and whatnot at a walk, then doing some figure-eights and circles at a trot and a couple of circles in canter.

Some positive things I took away from this: she didn't buck or dash off at a full out gallop or otherwise misbehave at any point, so that was a big trust-booster for me.  Also she had her head way down the entire time and was really actually using her hindquarters - you would have taken her for a western pleasure horse if it weren't for the saddle.  And finally, over the course of the 40 minutes or so that I was riding her we really progressed from "I'm completely going to ignore your aids" to "You don't really want to go over THERE do you?" to "I guess we can do that if you say so" to "OK, let's do it".  As much as I hate being bad at something, it's good to experience both the humbling sensation of not being able to do the simplest thing like walk in a straight line for 10 feet but also the cause-and-effect goodness of that kind of progress from time to time - it reminds me to not get so frustrated when things don't go like I want them to.

And finally last Saturday I had my first dressage lesson with my friend Virginia's old teacher Daniela who also taught a clinic I attended a few years ago - my friend Belén (owner of Lady Utopia, an even younger filly than Starbuck - and yes, that's her registered name) and I have decided to kick it up a notch and do some semi-private (just us and the teacher) lessons once every couple of weeks to see if we can make some real progress on both our riding and the girls' way of going this winter.  We got one of our friends to tape it and as soon as I have enough patience and time and computer resources to upload the videos I'll do a dedicated post on that.

Have a great weekend folks and remember, being chubby has its benefits! XD