Friday, January 24, 2014


Sixteen miles today.  16.1 miles in about 3h45min.  I am very pleased with Fetti's progress!
The last time we went out and did approximately this trail was seven months ago, June 2013.  We went a bit further, but for purposes of comparison they're reasonably similar when you take that into account - I just couldn't justify asking her to go another two miles today.  In June, we did 18.0 miles in 4h40 minutes.
Today, we trotted through a lot more of Pogonip.  She wasn't necessarily happy or offering it, but when I asked, she generally went.  That perpetual uphill was what worried me the most about Fireworks in July; I'm feeling much better about it now.

Pretty awesome artwork on the trail.

When she got tired/bored today, it was a very flat, strung-out trot.  Nothing I did convinced her to actually engage behind and use her hindquarters, so she felt like she was pulling herself along in front.  Looking at it now, she was still keeping a 4-5mph trot, but it was incredibly frustrating to ride.  Her heart rate was fine.  Maybe she had to pee and wouldn't do it on the trail.  She just wouldn't get in front of my leg and do a proper trot.

To be fair, we did today's ride completely barefoot.  I went to put her front boots on this morning and pretty well concluded that the right front doesn't fit.  I didn't bother trying the left front since we wouldn't go with just one!  We're five weeks post-trim.  I need to remeasure this weekend, I have photos from Tuesday, and with the measurements + photos combined I will stall until her next trim and re-evaluate immediately afterwards.  The boots were never easy to get on.  Today it was difficult enough I decided they were too tight to even get the hoof fully in the boot.  Once we hit spring, Fetti will go back on a 6-week trimming schedule; right now we're at 8-or-so.  I know the boots have always been a tight fit weeks 5-6, but at the same time, I ordered a size that in theory should fit all through the trim.
The hundred-dollar question: have her feet actually gotten bigger, or is it just flares?  If they're bigger, I may be looking seriously at new boots for her.  If it's flares, I may be looking seriously at learning to maintain between trims.  I may write a whole post on feet and post pictures later...

The combination of barefoot + unenthusiastic flat trot were most of what led me to turn around a mile earlier this time around.  Fetti is still ouchy on gravel.  She'll trot, but too many steps in a row that hurt and she breaks to a walk.  That's fine.  She picks the less rocky trail where it's an option.  I know the remaining mile is fairly gravelly; it was a fairly warm day in January with her full winter coat just starting to shed, her trot was atrocious, we had nothing to prove.  We turned around.

Uphill trotting had gone remarkably well heading out.  I had high hopes for keeping a solid speed on the way home.  I forgot to account for all the downhill.

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll mention it again: Fetti is not a great downhill horse.  Unfortunately, I mentioned in my lesson post that my saddle was tipping me slightly forwards?  I hadn't dealt with that yet.  The end result was me sitting in somewhat of a chair seat, bracing my legs in front of me and leaning back, for pretty much all of our downhill trotting.  I'm sore in my inner thighs and knees and am confident that's the reason for it.  Pony was willing enough to trot sections as long as her rider was out of the way!  Good news: we switched to the thickest fitting pads for the saddle after my ride today, and that looks like it should be better.

Oddly enough, our ride home was slower than the ride out.  Sure, we walked various sections and didn't gallop up some of her usual speed-hills.. but I really did push her in both directions to see where we were at in terms of fitness.  Apparently I did not push quite enough: two large spooks in the last three miles home: one at a hiker sitting on a fallen tree who moved his hiking sticks, one when a bike came flying down the road from behind.. not very far away from us.  In almost the same spot as Tuesday, and practically the same spook.  Oh, pony.. not setting a great pattern there.

Aside from a few minor discussions (no, you may NOT turn around here!) she was really quite excellent and gave me everything I asked for.  Very, very pleased with the pony.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Share your barn blog hop!

Joining in on this..

1. A view of the barn

I wasn't really sure what photos to take.  When you drive in.. this is what you see.  Arena visible on the right, stalls everywhere else.

Another view of the arena.  It's quite a large arena, I just don't spend very much time in there these days.

2. Your horse's living space

The barn has two large 12-stall pipe corral 'barns' (6 on each side, aisle down the middle), three 6-stall mare motels (3 on each side, aisle down the middle), and various other stall setups around the outside edges of the barn.  Here you can see tack rooms and tie rails on the left and stalls on the right.

Fetti has a 12x36 pipe corral stall; standard is 12x24.  It makes me feel slightly better about not getting her out daily.  Walls left/right extend 12', as does the roof.  She's a tough pony so I don't bother with shavings in the stall since she seems to do just fine without.

No turnout, but when the arena's open we are allowed to let horses loose in there.  We'll send the Haffies in there to run off steam and for some herd-time when we can.

3. In the tack room

I almost cleaned it up some before I took the picture, but let's face it: this is a pretty standard state of my tack room.  Three saddle racks I installed when I moved stalls/tack rooms, various hooks and nails and shelves elsewhere, saddle pads both on saddles and in chaos on top of mostly-unused stuff towards the back.  Blankets live in a box under the saddles, bridles on the left with one spare on the right.. supplements, Renegade boots, fitting shims, and just about everything else I might use frequently lives on the shelves in front.  Organized chaos, but it's working pretty well for me - although after seeing the picture, a few things definitely need to get moved!

I have a separate tack room for hay.  I pay a bit extra for that, but it means I get more working space in the tack room, I'm not trying to negotiate around hay bales all the time, and I can fit more than one or two in.  Friends can pick up several bales for me at a time (or I can order several at a time).  No truck means I can't just go off and easily pick up a bale or two.. I much prefer not living bale-to-bale.

4. Where you ride

The barn has a big arena and two round pens, but most of my riding is on the trails.

  Back woods, sometime last spring.

We go across a river - yes, the photo was taken IN the river! - and come up the bank on the other side.  The river goes up to her belly and generally just below my feet.

This is the headed-home view - cross the road and head back towards the river.  (Note the deer.)  It's less than ten minutes walking home from this point forwards.

5. My favorite feature: trail access, easily.

All of these are within a 9-mile round trip, no trailering required!  (Very important, given my lack of truck or trailer.)  I could do 25 miles from the barn, more if we chose to and had time.  There isn't much in the way of flat trails, but we have plenty of hills and a variety of microclimates in the parks.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lesson recap

I love my trainer.  I'm lucky she likes me and is willing to drive an hour or two for me on occasion!

She rode Fetti while I rode Fetti's mom on a 4.5-mile trail ride in slightly under an hour.  Pushed Fetti's brain a few times, but generally the pony displayed her usual behaviors.  Excellent.

I was happy to find that many of her behaviors appear to be consistent between riders, and are not specifically caused by something I'm doing, although I'm likely to attribute their root cause to something I've done - the joy of being the horse's primary-and-almost-only rider.

After the hour on the trail, we spent probably another 20 minutes in the back woods pushing a few more buttons (no pony, you don't get to turn for home yet! yep, that's the hissy fit I usually get), and then headed to the arena where we switched horses for another 45 minutes or so and focused more on my position.  I know my posture is flawed in various ways, but rarely know enough to fix it.  Some days I wish for mirrors by the arena.  Trainer worked with me previously, knows some of my flaws, and is absolutely amazing at not only pinpointing what's wrong, but giving me a way to fix it that works for me.

Various notes and points of interest:
- Fetti is behind the leg headed away from the barn.  Probably not going to get that fixed anytime soon.  Still should keep working on it.
- Trainer rode with slightly shorter reins than I usually do.  Result: pony was rounder and somewhat less strung out.
- Saddle tips the rider slightly forwards.  I'll be having a friend help me re-evaluate saddle fit and consider shims this weekend.
- Her Really Big Trot is just a single gear down from her canter.  I don't think it's really an extended trot; it's just really powerful and she actually uses her hind end properly.
- I am all sorts of discombobulated at the canter.  Exercise: reins in one hand, other arm behind back, reminds lower back to not curl out and instead to stay straight and engage core.
- I lean back too much at walk/trot; think sit straighter, tip pelvis, really feel seatbones.  Mental image: you have ten pennies. How many are under each seatbone?  Especially careful to recheck my side-to-side balance through corners and turns.
- Shorter reins.  Shorter reins.  Shorter reins.  If I give her lots of rein, she's not going to balance back; she'll balance up to the very-forwards rein.
- Excessive forwards? Ask for lateral work.  Not allowed to go forwards or up, so give her somewhere to go with it - sideways.  Trainer rode out several hissy fits when I trotted on a ways ahead and Fetti was not permitted to keep up/instantly catch up.  I found it comforting that there was no bucking involved.
- Only bucking in the whole ride, in fact, was more likely a 'yay I can go!' playful buck when asked for a canter in the back woods.
- Keep the contact in the canter.  Balance her back; don't let her get strung out.
- Think collarbones forwards, keep hands low
- For arena work, if she starts falling forwards with her balance, use leg rather than hand to correct.  (Hauling her nose up on trail is acceptable when concerned she might take advantage and buck.)
- Keep unlearning the habit of using the indirect rein all the time.
- Try to do a trail ride and then work in the arena, so I can keep some of that forwards energy from the trail and still have a productive schooling ride.  Extra bonus Fig-thought: maybe this will help convince her she doesn't need to rush home?

On a side note.. it is incredibly, incredibly awesome to have a trainer finally understand that her mediocre arena trot is really quite unacceptable.  It's not a horrible trot, if considered by itself, but there is so much more trot that she could offer.

One post-lesson trail ride later, I need to find a balance between 'shorter reins' and 'hauling on her face'.  I do think part of the problem today was that the entire ride was slower than we usually care to go and I never let to get her move out.  We'll see how that goes tomorrow, where she can move out at a trot and I want shorter (than usual) reins with minimal contact needed to slow her down.  Lateral work was very successful in stalling the hissy fits when I let the other horses get slightly ahead; I think, again, she was upset about not getting to move out *at all* so I didn't push the issue too much.  Today I was also much more conscious of where my balance and seat were.  The challenge is going to be maintaining that consciousness the next month or two!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mundane ride updates and bonus train!

New goal: one arena/round-pen session weekly!

Hannah had some excellent suggestions after my last post, namely going back to dressage basics to make Fetti more rideable.  That is, after all, what all my problems come from - not just the excessive forwards, but also the lack of forwards, comes from a lack of responsiveness and commitment to listen to the aids.

Pony is not a fancy dressage horse.  I don't know how to consciously ask for things with my seat.  We spend a third of our casual rides on a loose rein letting her figure things out.  However, I need to have that 'override' ability when we disagree, and that's lacking in effectiveness right now.

Last Tuesday, we worked in the round pen on transitions.  Trot-canter, canter-trot, asking for promptness and consistency.  End result: clearly, we need some work.  Walk-trot is fine, trot-walk is fine but we lose our impulsion at the walk (also true on the trail).  Trot-canter is inconsistent and I'm inclined to blame my position.  If I'm not sitting right, she won't give it to me.  Trot-canter also resulted in her offering a canter when I was not asking for it, which I promptly brought back down.. repeatedly.  Canter-trot is fine in the round pen.

Thursday was a short, brisk ride where I focused on leg yields and responsiveness to transitions.

Saturday was a moderately short ride in the evening.  One set of deer antlers, one rabbit, one deer, a gorgeous full moon, and a fully-lit holiday train.  We ride under the trestle in one spot on the trail.  Fetti was in front - it was dark, we lead the way home - and I heard a weird generator noise, happened to see lights in the distance, and promptly leaped off the horse, probably setting my shoulder back a week.  Oops!  My riding partner was baffled until I finally got my words together enough for "TRAIN!" and parked the pony behind her mother.  To Confetti's credit, she clearly wanted to bolt but never pulled the reins to run.  Pony has excellent ground manners.  She circled several times, I let the circles take us slightly away as long as she ended facing towards them, and everyone survived.  Can't complain too much there.

Sunday we went out with our Fjord friend in the morning, albeit not nearly as quickly as I'd hoped.  It was a decent trotting pace on the way out, but then I chickened out with the wind and heading home, so I hiked the next three miles and got on for the last half-mile or so, just walking.  I know I should ride her through it and face the fears.. but I know she picks up on the Fjord's energy and that still scares me going home.  I can't afford to come off again (yet).

Sunday ride #2: turned around almost immediately upon arriving to the barn and went out with the other Haffies for another six miles!  Moderate pace, trotted out and back since I could keep Fetti in back.

It, then, should not have surprised me that I had a lot of horse yesterday evening.  The plan was to get a short trail ride in and then a short arena or round pen session after.  Seventeen minutes and two miles later, I was pretty well out of sunlight.  Trot/canter transitions on the way out, big endurance motoring trot on the way home.  I love the feeling of her really engaging behind and dropping her head to move out, even as it is exactly that feeling that terrifies me with another horse because I'm not entirely in control of how fast we're going.  8-10mph trot, yikes!  There is so much potential with this horse that I cannot touch yet because I can't just push that 'forwards' button and find her extra gears when I want them.

Lesson tomorrow, so hopefully some of our issues can get addressed and the fear can be mostly-conquered.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Fear and training gaps

Things have been quiet around here lately.  I came off Confetti, I rode her 35 miles the following week and a half, and then I left the state for a week on a previously planned trip.  Luckily, a teen at the barn likes my horse and is competent enough to not only ride her while I was gone, but enjoy it!  I do think a week of doing (quite literally) nothing but a flight or two of stairs a day was probably good for my shoulder.  It was awful for my mental state and I'm glad to be home where the weather is above freezing.

This is the weather we've been having, while the rest of the US is getting snowstorms.

Shoulder likely has a mild separation.  Two and a half weeks post-fall, it's settled into mildly annoying.  I can't do all the things I normally would.  I'm not working through the pain; I'm backing off when it hurts.  This was without a doubt the worst fall I've had (and it really wasn't all that bad!) and the only one to really remind me that I cannot stick everything.

Confetti scares me a bit in the arena.  I know she's reactive and I know I cannot predict which way she'll spook.  I don't ride with enough consistency or purpose within the arbitrary figures of an arena to give her enough confidence and guidance when she loses it.  Until a few weeks ago, she had never scared me on the trail.  Sure, I've ridden a few bolts.  I won't let her trot down the biggest hill after I came off there, but that one is very location-specific and rooted in reality: it IS a big, steep hill.

I don't like fear.  It's no fun to deal with.  My usual reaction is to simply not deal with it.  Arena rides are few and far between.  Partly it's that we both find them boring; partly it's that I've come off several times in the arena and I don't trust her to keep her brain together.  I love our trail rides, though!  So I'm going to have to get over and and deal with the fear that she'll do this again.

Fetti bucked me off because she didn't want to rate politely.  I've spent so much time asking for forwards, and not enough asking her to slow down.  By ourselves, I don't ask as hard.  With a horse behind us, she feels their energy and wants to move more, and I feel the combined energy and want her moving less.  If we're behind another horse, she'll rate at their speed, occasionally a bit less but rarely for long.

I do not know how to teach that.  How do I take that energetic forwards and explain, politely, that I'd like a little less when I ask for it?  How do I balance the need for that forwards (which is not nearly the speed she gives me at rides) and conditioning with the ability to rate?

The pony and I get along in part because I can read her so clearly and because I am willing to compromise on my requests and not pick fights.  This is one we need to have.  She didn't rate well at Quicksilver.  If she doesn't rate well at home, it's not fair to expect that at rides.

I'm not sure how we'll manage it yet, but as soon as my shoulder heals enough I'm willing to take another fall, I anticipate a major pony-battle.  I have a note in to my trainer in hopes that she can come out and give me some ideas to work with (or better yet, hope on the pony herself).