Friday, December 20, 2013

Lesson learned: longe first!

Work has continued to be busy and I haven't been getting in many Real Rides.  Actually, I've been missing a weekday entirely most weeks.  The good news is that things should settle down now.

I know that Confetti is in good shape.  I know the dynamics between her and her sister.  I know she hadn't been out in four days, and even then she wasn't tired at the end.  Thinking about it now, our trail ride total for the past two weeks probably totals 3 or 4 counting yesterday's ride.

It was, for the most part, really lovely.  I tacked up, hopped on, met up with Fetti's sister and rider, headed out for a brisk ride of a mile/mile and a half.  We were short on daylight and decidedly not short on pony energy.  Brisk trot on the way out, one spot where she cantered up the hill.. I should have taken that as a sign.  I should have longed her first, honestly, but it's always so much easier to see that in hindsight.

When we turned around, I had a bit of a firecracker on my hands.  She was mad at me that I wasn't letting her run home.  I schooled downward transitions as a way to keep things under control - trot politely a bit, back down to a walk if she started pulling.  It's that balance between letting her move out a bit and controlling the dragon inside.  Also in hindsight: I know she walks home perfectly well 99% of the time.  I knew what I was dealing with and I probably should have made her walk.

She threw a buck or two shortly after we turned around.  Pony was irritated and making a point.  Yelled at her, trotted off, fine.  I don't like it, but I know she's doing it because she wants to move out.  Quarter mile later and over halfway home, I think I asked for another trot-walk transition and she did it again.  Except this time had more energy and frustration to it - two 'polite' bucks, the third that (I'm told) made her look like a rodeo bronc.  I stuck the first two.  I did not stick the third and I'm not actually sure that I could have.

Side note: I know the theory that they can't buck when they're going forwards.  In this case, she's bucking because I'm not letting her go forwards.  It feels like it would be rewarding the bad behavior to send her forwards at a brisk trot or canter.  That's what she wants!  I also know that she was previously trained out of bucking.. by getting her to bolt instead.
Two things become clear from this incident.  One: she does not rate well enough headed home, and that gets substantially worse when leading other horses.  Two: I absolutely cannot give her four days off in a row and expect to just hop on for a pleasant trail ride.  If I give her four days off, we need to be going out for several hours, not 30 minutes, and it probably needs to be solo so we can keep up a pace that works for us.

Unfortunately, going over her head meant my usual falling skills were a bit challenged.  My shoulder took the worst of the impact and for the first time in years I hit my head with enough force to immediately know that a new helmet was going to be needed.  No concussion, no broken bones, no blood.  Everything was moving, mostly, although my shoulder is still screaming at me the next morning.  (Getting it looked at to confirm that it's all muscle/soft tissue damage is on the agenda for the day.  I may or may not go for a few hour trail ride first.)

The thing with becoming a better rider and sticking more antics is that the little stuff doesn't get you off, so it's the Really Big Stuff and that usually Really Hurts.  Argh!

Next goal: re-acquire a polite slow-to-medium trot home on a reasonably loose rein, regardless of circumstances.  I have a funny feeling that will get easier when I ride her as much as I was the rest of the year.  Eight miles a week rather than 25 is a pretty substantial difference.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Not all sunshine and roses

It's been a rough few weeks for me, with a lot going on that means I don't have much energy to blog, nor much time to ride.

Last weekend (okay, by the time I'm posting this, it's been over a week!): Thursday we did a slow, mostly-walking ride with some spurts of polite collected trot.  Friday was five miles, moderate speed, excessively feisty 'Fetti - when we stopped and let the others continue maybe 100 feet ahead so some little girls could pet the pony, our return to the group involved her hind feet going above her head at least once.  Good news: my dressage saddle was secure enough I stayed on and was more irritated than worried about coming off.
Saturday we did a 10-mile loop, moderate-brisk pace (4mph, lots of hill), and I had a lot of horse left at the end.  Sunday.. well, Sunday she got to play the part of a polite pony ride horse and go for a walking trail ride.  No real work involved!
Tuesday it was so late and so cold by the time I got to the barn that I cleaned her stall, threw her hay, and went home.

So when I got on this past Thursday, I expected her to have a lot of energy and figured we'd repeat the 10-mile loop at a slightly faster pace.  Instead, all of her energy was channeled towards avoiding work, finding things to spook at, refusing to get in front of my leg, and generally being a nuisance.  We'd get a halfway reasonable trot for 30 seconds, then she'd slow and resist and try to turn around, repeat.  It's incredibly, incredibly frustrating when we go through this.  My feeling at this point is that a lot of it stems from not getting out on our own often enough.  If we do a solo ride once a week, that keeps her in the 'must go forwards alone' mode, rather than resisting because she's by herself.  That didn't happen this week.  

I'm not quite sure how we'll manage that this winter.  We have these battles every spring, too, when the dam goes back down and we can get back across.  I have to fight her to get her to go by herself; I have to fight her even when I take her on the highway to get to the park during the winter.  She'd rather lose her brain and not have to work/focus on me.

I guess the good thing is that she settled eventually.  Initially, every time she'd try to turn I'd smack and kick her into more forwards.  Behind my leg?  Go faster, damnit.  I aborted the idea of trying for the 10-mile loop and cut it down to 7, knowing that we'd be cutting it really close on time if we did 10 and she kept up the fussing.  Three miles in, I quit pushing her and we just walked.  Our speed really wasn't that atrocious, it just felt absolutely awful.  I verbally asked if she wanted to trot a few times and she politely declined, though would have if I'd said she had to.  By four miles, she knew we were headed home and we'd both had a bit of a mental break with the walking.  Things got better, she was willing to move out, I was willing to trust her to behave.  We cantered a few sections on the way home and she was thrilled with that, wanted more, but came back to a trot when I insisted.  Life felt better by then.  I just hate that it's such a battle to get there some days.

It used to be that these were the rides where I wondered what the hell I thought I was doing with this horse.  It feels like we're not making progress, she's not working with me, I don't know enough and she doesn't like her job.  I know now that none of those are actually true - well, except for the part where she's not working with me, that's totally true - and I don't get stuck in that mindset for too long anymore.  That doesn't make it suck any less when I'm in the midst of it.  For as far as we've come together, there are still a handful of off days that I can't just pretend never happen.

Okay, other good things (even knowing that I'm allowed to rant about how absolutely miserably frustrating my horse is, I can't end it on that note!):

- We hung out near five deer for a few minutes at the beginning of Thursday's ride.  They were split on either side of the trail and I knew we'd be fine walking by them, but wasn't convinced Fetti wouldn't spook if/when they went flying across the trail right behind her.  So.. we stood, and I explained to the deer that I'd really appreciate if they all picked a side and headed over, pretty please, yes you there, can you go across? I won't get in your way if you do it now.  Good deer.  You're thinking about it too?  That would be lovely.  We'll just stand here and keep looking at you.. okay, fine, we'll walk up a few steps to be encouraging.  I really would like to get somewhere today and you're all rather in my way.  I mean, you guys, the pony and I were probably standing ten feet away from the deer for five minutes while we waited for the deer to cross the trail and I explained to them why it was important that they do so.  I'm really glad no hikers came by in the midst of that...

- I try not to put absolute beginners on Confetti very often.  I made the decision to do so last weekend and she was a saint.  She was almost as saint-like when I put the beginner rider on another Haffy for our trail ride - Fetti led the group, let me reverse course a few times to pony the other horse, stood still, walked slowly.  When the other two horses were convinced they should get to turn around, she tried to get in on that too, but we did eventually get over that.  I was really impressed by how well she did given that I was mentally all over the place the whole time.