Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Happy birthday to the best (and only) pony I've ever had.  Eighteen today.  Photogenic as ever, and one of the best things to ever happen to me.  ♥

Friday, April 18, 2014

History: How I got a pony

I always knew I wanted a horse.  However, I was a practical child.  Horses were not in the budget.  Horses were not going to be in the budget.  Why ask for a horse when I know it can't be done?

My parents agreed I could take lessons if I found a barn.  In sixth grade, I was in class with a girl talking all about horses.  Her mom was an instructor.  I started weekly lessons at a hunter/jumper barn that year.  I worked at the summer camps there nearly every summer after seventh grade - all the way through college.  For much of high school and college I was giving lessons at the camp, teaching kids basic riding skills.  Often in the summer I'd ride a lesson horse or two for their daily exercise when it came up as an opportunity.

I was never a particularly spectacular rider.  Things got done, but not always in a textbook-pretty way.  Working the camps, though, let me learn a lot of the basic horse-care stuff you just don't get from hunter lessons - I know how to braid even if I'm awful at it.  I can put polo wraps and stable bandages on.  I know how to pull a mane.  I can longe a horse (and a rider!) and still watch what they're doing.  Frankly, I don't even know what I learned, so much of it is intuitive now!  I learned to ride lots of different horses and be generally competent over a 2'3" course.

When I went to college, I quit riding except for breaks when I went home.  I couldn't afford the weekly lessons that would be needed to ride on a team, so riding had to be set aside.  After two years of that I was so very done with not-riding.  Goals for the year included buying a car, moving off-campus, and finding a horse to lease.

Buy a car?  Check.  Move off-campus?  Found a place starting September.  Find a horse?  Okay.. hm.

In May, there was a pretty little Haflinger for sale or lease.  I can't lease til September, she'll be gone by then for sure.  I tried a lesson at a local Arabian barn and found the driveway traumatic enough to not want to go back.  (In hindsight: not all that bad, but pretty stressful at the time.)
In June, the Haflinger was still listed.  I emailed about an older horse, but concluded he wasn't enough horse for what I wanted - owner was hoping for someone just to casually walk around bareback on some trails and hang out with the horse.  Nice lady, but the situation was not a good fit.
In July, I sighed and kept looking.  The Haflinger was still listed, but I'm not sure I noticed.
In August, I was starting to despair a bit.  The Haflinger was still listed for sale or lease, with a note to please try her soon if you're thinking about it, else she'll go back home midway through the month.  Well then.  I sent off an email or two, one of which got lost in cyberspace, and I had about despaired of things working out when we finally connected over the phone.  Still interested?  Yes!  When do you want to come out?  Well, I can be there in two hours..  Great.  I called up my boyfriend and informed him that actually, we are going to go see a horse, and we're going immediately.  Oookay, Fig.

We got slightly lost on the way to the barn, showed up late on a summer evening, and I think the mare had already been turned out and moved around some.. so I got on and hacked around the arena a bit.  Her sensitivity was a huge change from duller school horses, and her trot was small but fast, my first taste of pony-type gaits.  I couldn't get her to canter one way, but could the other, and really wasn't too concerned about it.  I was sold at this point; nonetheless, we agreed I'd come back a few days later for a second trial ride with her regular rider getting on first.  It was getting dark, too.

In hindsight, I think folks usually have someone else ride a prospective horse first.  I just hopped right on without thinking about it.  It had already been disclosed that she was too much horse for the owner to want to ride much, and I was naive and trusting enough not to worry.  It was absolutely and completely fine.. but I'm still not sure I'd recommend it to anyone else.  Never mind the fact that when I got off, it was good and dark.. trotting a new horse around an unfamiliar arena at dusk, why not?!

We went back that weekend.  Someone had tried her Friday and couldn't get her to move forwards. I rode again and was again quite convinced I liked her, and apparently she liked me.  It was a bit sooner than I'd planned on, but.. when someone offers you a pony to lease for a reasonable price.. I could make it work.  I don't think I stopped smiling for a week.

And so, midway through August, I had myself a lease-horse, envisioned as a bit of a project that I could put some more consistent rides on for a while and make her more marketable for an eventual buyer.

First week or so.  Note the rubbed-out chunk of mane :(

You all know how that turned out...

I was Confetti's primary rider for the next two years.  Occasionally her owner would hop on for a bit, or someone else, but not very often.  We worked on cantering and building up both sides evenly.  We worked on trotting politely.  She spooked at the water pump coming on a month or two in to the lease, turned sharply, dumped me, and bolted.  Bit of blood, but nothing major.  I got back on and avoided that side of the arena after that.  We did some trail rides.  I learned to ride her bareback.  She was still, technically, for sale, but not being heavily marketed and not getting many bites (a therapy program, once or twice.  That was not going to happen).

Somewhere in there my mindset went from 'keep your emotional distance, you can't have her' to 'dang I love this horse'.  And in that second year, I did the math and concluded that if I got a reasonable job, I could indeed make it work month to month.  Her owner offered to give her to me once I graduated (we were riding together, became great friends, and she knew I couldn't afford to have a horse until I got a job). Two months after graduation, I officially started paying all the bills and had my very own pony.

No regrets.  Life is good!

Friday, April 11, 2014

This and that

Motivation can be hard to find some days.  I'm learning that's okay.

My lovely little car decided to throw a Really Expensive Problem at me early last week, which just so happened to mean that I spent nearly an entire week stressing about said car, while simultaneously borrowing other people's cars.  I have some lovely friends who are willing to let me do that, but it's just not quite the same!

It rained on Tuesday.  I dropped off the car for repairs.  I looked at the traffic, and I got an offer to have someone else clean and feed.  I took her up on it.

On Thursday, I turned Confetti and her sister out in the arena.  They ran and ran and ran, and trotted, and ran and ran, and trotted, and cantered through the pond, and then they started hanging out in the pond.  There's a line to how much I'll do to make the ponies work.  Walking into the puddle crosses that line.  Out of the arena we went, and into the round pen!  The girls trotted and cantered and trotted and trotted and cantered a little and Fetti said 'Mom, I'm DONE'.  Her sister, however, was not.  My lovely brilliant mare came and pivoted in the middle with me as her sister kept going around with just a bit of encouragement.  Finally her sister was sufficiently settled and I hopped on Fetti bareback to meander around awhile and mentally destress.

Lots of zooming.

When I came back out to the barn later to do the same sort of meandering, it was actually necessary to put her back in the round pen and create a little more work before she was all the way settled.  Pony was feeling great.  Rider's mental state was insufficient for riding the extra energy until pony was feeling slightly less great.

Saturday plans involved a trail ride, but it turned into a lazy Saturday for me and we went out late in the evening for a mile or so, after roundpenning her with her sister again.

Naturally, on Sunday we took a friend out to Pogonip for their first out-of-Cowell trail experience.  The river is about four inches deeper than usual; water ended up in my shoes both directions. Luckily, her horse is taller, and she didn't have that problem!  It was really a fairly uneventful ride, lots of hollering to warn bikes that we were there, aiming for lots of positive-bike experiences.  I am very, very blessed to have a horse who doesn't particularly care about bikes, even when the bikes come screeching to a halt five feet ahead of us!

Three miles on Tuesday and again on Thursday.  Tuesday we focused on maintaining a consistent speed.  Mission accomplished!  Thursday we threw a few canters in the mix and it was lovely, then rated nicely headed home.  Good mare.

Feisty mare.. but good mare!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

March recap and April goals

There have been some really good rides lately.  I've started at least four separate posts, gone for late rides, come home late and then I'm too tired to blog them out.  On the whole, she's been pretty awesome.

This past weekend was a local ACTHA event.  I try not to fry 'Fetti's brain by asking her to do all the obstacles, but I thought volunteer-riding it would be an excellent experience for her.  Rating speed, bunch of horses, home terrain.  It doesn't sound so bad!

We headed out in the rain Saturday morning early for a pre-ride.  Five miles of brisk trot to meet up with folks.  She was clearly a bit amped, but I figured we'd be going slow enough she'd be fine.  Instead, she was borderline explosive, needing to keep alternating walk/tinyjog to keep up with the gaited horses in front of us, then stand awhile while the humans chatted.  She threw a few bucks.  I had chosen to ride in my synthetic Thorowgood in the interest of not soaking my good saddle; I decided, after several bucks, that I would be just fine hiking with her for a while.  Even walking, she was pretty amped still.  We made it through the six mile ride relatively incident-free.  She was still lacking in brainpower.  Then we headed home alone.  I knew she needed a good run.  I knew she couldn't have that run in the round pen (tried that, too muddy) or the round pen or arena at home (same problem).  So.. off we went to the fire road.

In hindsight, I regret not turning on tracking for this ride.  I grabbed the front of my dressage saddle and let her really go up the fire road - full-blown gallop.  We walked for thirty seconds or so while she caught her breath, maybe not that long.  Off again.  Stopped for a few pats by passing hikers.  Off again - still at a full gallop.  Walked past a bike and flew up the last section of the hill.  Lessons learned: I can stick bucks and gallop in the dressage saddle.  We weren't done, though, much to my dismay.  Headed through the sand wash at the top, a slight downhill.. I let her trot rather than risk another hissy fit.  Trot turned to canter, canter turned to gallop, gallop got mixed with bucks.  Both stirrups gone, wet reins, visions of flying over her head.. in the wet sand.. by myself.  One-rein stop is the usual option - but I didn't think I could stick the turning.  I hollered at her, hauled back on the reins, stopped her and immediately bailed to walk the next four miles.  I love my horse but man, that sucked.  I did get back on to walk sedately the last mile home.  It was cold, rainy, and very wet, and I was tired of walking.

Sunday, we were given a trailer ride over.  'Fetti called a bit when we arrived, but was otherwise well-behaved.  I tacked up, eventually hopped on, and we had an excellent, sedate six-mile walk on a loose rein.  Inner calm and channeling our Western Pleasure dreams made for a wonderful ride.  The trails were pretty slick, so when we rode home, I stuck to our sedate walk.  I stayed on all ten miles and we slid down a bunch of steep hills.  The pony was excellent.  She earned her carrots!  (Come to think of it..  I actually forgot to give her the carrots and they are still in the tack room.  Oops!)

Key lessons:
- Pony cannot go from 'brisk endurance mode' to 'sedate, lazy trail horse' very easily.
- Turnout.  Turnout.  Turnout.
- Four days of minimal work leaves me with a firecracker horse.  Can I learn this lesson yet?

So, March.
Total tracked mileage on Fetti: 65.79.  Add 22 more for the weekend (or so), but mostly not Real Work.  Wet, slow month for us.
Goals were -
Weather permitting, one 8+ mile ride weekly, aiming for 12-15 twice in March if possible. Hm.  I think we had two days with total (ridden) mileage over 10, but only just. (Not counted: the past weekend's two days with mileage over 10 both days, but one day of solid walking and one day with over half of it hiking.)  Various factors contributed; weather was a big one.  We'll try this again in April.
- continue experimenting with Myler combination bit.  Success!  I'm fairly happy with it.  I do need to be mindful to use both bits and not hold her too much with the stronger one, else it will lose its effectiveness as well.
- focus on riding balanced even when fighting her for forwards.  I don't think I fought for much forwards this month.  I will give myself points for balanced riding and being more conscious of my bareback seat (not slouching to absorb the motion).
- work on Confetti's confidence when taking 9 out for a solo ride.  I don't think this happened, mainly because I lacked motivation to work her on 9 in the mud.

April goals:
- Ride more.  Ask harder questions.
- Focus on increasing distance rather than increasing speed.
- Work on within-gait changes of speed
- Weather and time permitting, at least one 15+ mile day, whether all at once or split between two rides.  As long as we're trotting a good chunk of it, speed is not important.

I have photos and videos, but I am so very fried by non-horse life the past few days that it will have to wait til later this week!