Friday, December 29, 2017

2018 Goals: Expanding horizons

As everyone is writing out their goals for 2018, I find myself hesitating.  I've started a couple of times, but 2017 was a hell of a lesson on overconfidence and the bliss of ignorance.  I don't want to set myself up for another fail.  So I have sat and thought about what I really, truly want from 2018.

I want to shake that anxiety that is currently plaguing me around taking Theo out.  Between his shenanigans outside of show rings, his theatrics on cross country courses, and his occasional melt downs on trails, he's not exactly a steady eddy outside of the ring.  He has made great strides, but he's not consistent.  It's starting to have an impact on my confidence.  When I think about going on an adventure, I don't feel excitement.  I feel anxiety.  New rings, new courses, new trails, new companions all cause that little pang of fear.  'He's going to spin, buck, and be naughty' says the little voice in the back of my mind.

Being naughty

Which is dumb because we've gone and done a lot successfully in strange, new places.  It's just been awhile so the confidence is slowly starting to erode away.  

After a lot of consideration, I want to dump my usual competition focused goals and go with something a bit more abstract and holistic.  I want to focus on making us the best pair possible, regardless of ribbons.

In 2018, I want to:

1.  Complete a (non competition) cross country course
I picked this as my first goal strictly because it makes my stomach clench hard enough that it hurts.  I know what I'm in for, but I also know how good it will be for our confidence to go out and conquer this boogie man.  At 18", of course, and in a schooling situation where we can go out and school each fence ahead of time.  If we can do a cross country course, we can manage the dressage ring.

Actually going out in the open

2.  Compete in western dressage
Because I bought the saddle, damn it.

3.  Trail ride somewhere completely new
Yes, doing the trails connected to the barn once a week keeps him from hating the sand box, but we need to push past that.  What's the point of buying a trailer if I never go anywhere for the fun of it?  I have friends just itching to take me out on the trails.  All I have to do is go.

I could be out here again

4.  Get back over 60% at a sanctioned show.
I don't care what level we show at, but we need a score over 60%.  We need to be reminded that we can do this.  I don't care if I drop back to Training, I will be competitive again.  I don't think I'll have to drop back, but if I'm still scoring badly?  Fine.  Whatever it takes.  We need that confidence rebuilt.

5.  Go for a gallop
I used to love going for a gallop.  I lost that along the way.  Theo doesn't seem to know how to gallop so I'll have to teach him.  That'll be interesting.

Once upon a time, this didn't scare me

6.  Show in dressage like a boss
I should be marching into that ring like I own it.  It's the sandbox, not a pit of dragons.  After doing Training level cross country, this should be a non issue.  As I used to joke with my eventing friends, why would I be nervous?  There's no jumps, no water, no ditches.  If I feel like it's my kingdom to conquer, Theo will buy into it and assume that it is his time to be my war horse stallion.  It may take a lot of schooling shows and some counseling but I need to be able to march into that ring with complete confidence.

I am a good rider.  I have to say that to myself like a mantra.  As my friend said last night over drinks, 'you're not a real ammy, you're like a professional ammy'.  I am a good rider and can manage mi papi even when he's on his less than best behavior.  Yes, we will show at First level and I am still shooting for that Second level debut, but we need more than that.  We need to relax, take on new challenges, face demons far bigger than judges' booths.  I need to feel him gallop and react with elation, not terror.  He needs to feel confidence from me when he's not sure.  We need to practice together so we can lean on whoever is feeling more secure when things get tough.

Two very scared newbies relying on each other for support

I want 2018 to be a bunch of trailer trips and schooling shows.  I want to go on adventures.  I want to face a new challenge with the feeling that my partner is right there with me.  I think it's a good goal to have.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017: The year of realizations

Oh, 2017.  If only I could go back and give myself a message at the start of the year.

I went into 2017 all shiny eyed and confident, thinking I was going to be competitive at First level, do some hunter/jumper shows, and maybe even move up to Second.  I would surely qualify for my freestyle.  Basically none of that happened.

Still BFFs somehow

I found out that my secure, work from home, low stress job of ten years was changing and that I needed to look for something new.  That started the tailspin, ratcheting my stress up to new levels and stealing time away from the barn.  When I found my job (only 20 minutes away from the barn) in March, I had to rebuild my schedule so that it included a commute and a job that needed me to actually work.  I picked up a leaser, set my pony up with a training ride once a week, and tried to figure out how to be a part time rider.

Theo and his leaser

We careened into the show season with less fitness for me and less polish for him.  Our first outing boosted my confidence with good scores at First, but then the wheels came off.  Theo demonstrated why he's not a h/j pony by having a grand melt down in a flat class, bucking enough to alarm the EMT in warm ups, and generally ending any hope of a hunter career for him.  Pony loves to jump.  Pony does not love jumping away from home.

Super fancy show pony 

He also demonstrated that he's still convinced there are aliens everywhere and he needs to run from them, almost getting us eliminated before the judge could even ring the bell.  I struggled with how to get him around the outside of the ring before a test.  I embarrassed myself with a spur rub.  I didn't break 60% at any of my sanctioned outings.

First Level 3 canter this ain't.  Holy crap, so bad.

I realized I was going the wrong direction and started to look for help.  I bought a trailer so I could go out and adventure on my own.

My very own rig 

I met Mary Howard in July and started the grand battle for contact.  It was a miserable couple of months that threatened to throw Theo and I off the tracks completely.  There were draw reins, lunge whips, and tears.  I was hurt, frustrated, and having anxiety attacks.  Theo wasn't enjoying himself either and resisted every step of the way as we pushed against something he'd successful fought since age six.  By September, I had to take a week off to reset.

But that was the turning point for the year.  When we rounded that curve, I had all new options.  I could suddenly communicate with my horse rather than having him lock me out.  Vitor Silva gave us some new tools to straighten him up using lateral work.  He reminded me that Theo is a proud horse and that he has to be set up to succeed.  Mary Wanless focused on my seat bones and convincing them to share the saddle.  I used all of our very hard work throughout 2017 to present my horse as a confirmed First Level horse and he certainly looked the part.  That dip at the base of his neck finally started to fill in.

Training 3:  72%, First 1:  68%
We had a schooling show to end the season with our highest scores ever.  We learned a new way to go into the ring, removing the tension and drama.  I FINALLY found a western saddle so we can branch out into a new discipline.  We started to reintroduce Second level movements and collection with a focus on lightness and suppleness.  Theo discovered that he had stifles and that they could flex and push.

Goin' treeless

I also found that supplements called Ultrafire are not to be added casually.

Demon horse

I discovered that Theo is his own beast.  He hasn't read the books or watched the clinics.  I can't just do what someone says.  German, French, classical, competitive, none of them are the answer.  With him, I have to find my own way.  With compromise and a hell of a lot of cookies, he will try his heart out for me.  He really is more of a mare than most mares.

Our two phase with a dressage score of 27

2017 was not the show year I'd planned.  Instead we had some holes in our training shoved into my face and I had to tear part of the foundation down and rebuild.  It wasn't easy and wasn't even fun, but in the end, we are moving forward again.  This time, we're moving forward in a correct way.  My horse has learned to relax and follow the contact as opposed to bracing and locking me out.  With that, I can ask him to step underneath himself and lift his back.  I ask with a touch and he answers.  Slowly, very slowly, the spurs and heavy contact are being replaced by lightness.

Bringing 2017 to a close

2017 was a foundation year.  I want 2018 to be the pay out for all of the hours spent in 2017 building up that foundation.  We both learned a whole new way of going.  We both got our perspectives rearranged.  We both spent some time not wanting to see the other one, but we're back to him cantering up to the gate when I call for him.

Still the most fashionable pair in the barn

So here's to 2018.  May it be a year of new adventures and new milestones for this very stubborn, opinionated, goofy, adoring pair.

And may I develop some selfie skills

Baby it's cold outside

This morning my phone was lit up with alerts for wind chill. 

I am going to go a whole week without going to the barn.  Theo isn't going to do any work for the whole week.  I'm already feeling withdrawal setting in.  On the bright side, it means my poor left shoulder will get a week to properly heal after Sunday's dramatics.  And it was feeling so good!  I was sleeping normally (no little pillow under my shoulder), full range of motion, normal strength.  And then boom, papi.

I'm trying to focus on the positives.  My shoulder will recover.  A break won't do Theo any harm and will probably do him some good to stave off ring sourness.  I'll also be sure that there is no lingering muscle soreness anywhere.  And I'll know the Ultrafire is out of his system.  -_-

With the fidgets and withdrawal setting in, I'm trying to think of ways to keep myself occupied and feel like I'm making progress.

I'm getting my new saddle conditioned and the fenders turned in the comfort of my living room.  I love the color now that the leather has been fed.

I am diligently hitting the treadmill in preparation for not one, not two, not three, but FOUR races coming up.  Little ones, to be sure, but goals are important.  Especially when the weather is this demotivating.  I'm up to 20 minute jogs (at 4 mph I think they're actually shuffles) and per my Fitbit, down 7.2 pounds since November 28th.  That puts my total loss around seventeen pounds.  This means I should probably start shopping for breeches.  Mmmmm, shopping.

I'll binge on my Dr. Klimke videos and read my Mary Wanless book.  Mostly I'll rest my shoulder and let my horse be a hairy, untamed yak for a bit.  We'll both be eager to pick up again when my vacation starts on the 9th.  Assuming the weather rebounds the way it's forecasted to, I'll pop in some extra jumping lessons and get us both back in the groove.

In the meantime, I'm thanking my lucky stars that my horse is at a boarding facility.  Every time my job drives me up a wall, I remind myself that this is how I can afford to NOT bring water to my horse in a -5 windchill.  Best motivation around.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Winter break

At a certain point, you accept the inevitable.  I am merely mortal.  I have limits.

I am not riding in this nonsense.


Trainer A rides today, I'm planning to do some walk/in hand work in my lesson Wednesday afternoon, but then he's just getting a week off.  What's the point of even trying to ride when I'll be hovering around 0 as soon as the sun starts to set?  I have a general policy of not actually working a horse once you hit 10*, it's just not worth the risk.  Seems more humane to give him the week off.  This weather is just not normal for NH.  Our average high is 33* for this time of year.

And I'm a wimp.  It's okay, I'm coming to terms with it.

So today he gets his grain cut in half so he doesn't blow up to the size of a house during his mini-vacation.  I'll be visiting to manage blankets, but he isn't going to want me to groom him or do anything that involves his blankets coming off in that weather.  He'll have his field, shed, and neighbors.  I'm taking some time off from work starting on the 9th and that will be a good time to get him legged back up and into full work again.  

Can you believe I've got a race on Jan 1?  BRRRRR.  Good thing it's only a mile.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas 2017

New Hampshire is pretty in winter, I'll give it that much.

It's the time of year when we take some time with friends and family and enjoy the season of giving.  Theo mostly gave me a hard time this year, but he also gave me some serious pony cuddles, so that's pretty darn awesome.  He's not much of a cuddler for most people.

#nofilter #hewokeuplikethis

I gave myself a shiny new saddle and thought that would be it for the horsey Christmas gifts but the hubby stepped up to the plate big time this year.  I got a set of Heritage Extreme Winter riding gloves.  It's almost like he knows I was planning on riding in these dangerous temps with just my silk lined gloves from SSG.

He also got me one of these.

I am so excited!  He got me a wool riding skirt from  It's still on the way since they make them all to order, but I'm so excited.  I want pictures of me riding in the snow with my beautiful wool skirt.  Assuming I can stuff Theo's brains back between his ears at some point.  Cough.

From my odd little family to yours, Happy Holidays, whatever holidays you may celebrate.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Let's go fly a kite

First off, my horse has gone completely batshit crazy.  Remember those posts from last year where I enjoyed the fact that he'd ignore the snow falling off the roof?  That is apparently no longer accurate!  Friday and Saturday were a loss since I couldn't leave the house.  We had a snow storm, followed by a pretty significant ice storm.  Enough of an ice storm to knock out power for a couple hours and make a grand mess of the roads.  I live in the boonies so my roads were not at all safe.  Pretty sure his leaser didn't ride in her lesson on Saturday, but she did leave him a Christmas present.

Best.  Leaser.  EVAR.  Who knew crack cookies could be bought by the bucket?

He was a total kite on Thursday, so I showed up today expecting to lunge.  I threw his new western saddle on him and took him down to the ring.  We warmed up on the closed side of the ring and he was a total gentleman.  He tried to play a little, but no yanking or absurd behavior.  A very nervous adult leaser came down and I let her pick where she wanted to lunge since I was going to get on.  She picked the quiet end.  I shrugged, mounted, and started walking Theo around the open end with the big door and a very big open window that faces the woods.  The woods where ice was falling and branches were still breaking.

After a couple minutes of walking in a mostly sedate manner to let him cool off a bit after cantering on the lunge line, Theo threw a snort, spin, bolt at me when something outside snapped.  I whipped him back around, but something else fell almost immediately and he bucked before spinning again.  Of for fuck's sake.

I dismounted and stood there while he trotted, honked, and carried on in a circle around me.  For.  Twenty.  Minutes.  This was after his twenty minutes on the lunge line.  I gave up making him be civilized and just lunged him in his bridle until he'd settled enough to walk.  He was just utterly beside himself.  After his brain turned back on, I got on and we had a perfectly nice ride (on the quiet side of the ring!).  The other rider was pretty freaked by his dramatics, including one attempt at bolting that turned into a half rear when he hit the bridle.  I have many, many sore muscles from working him on the ground and managing his attempts at bolting in terror.

When I put him in his field?  He galloped down the field with grand dramatics and set the whole farm off.

So what the hell is going on?  Well, the weather is uncooperative and Theo doesn't cope well with days off.  I also have to suspect it was a change I made.  Waaaay back in November when he was running out of energy pretty much every ride I looked into some supplements.  Ultrafire was one that came up and was cheap.  On a whim, I added it to his packs.  I didn't think it would work, or if it did, it would be a subtle improvement in his tendency to go forward.  He started getting them in early December because that's how Smartpaks work.  As of the third week of December, we were lunging regularly.


Apparently he was short on B vitamins or something because he has lit up.  Seriously lit up.  I've removed the supplement and I'm cutting it out of his Smartpaks until his new packs arrive.  This is a bit much.  I'm putting him on a different multi-vitamin to supply him with B vitamins, but no more Ultrafire for him.  I know the weather is  a lot of this, but wow.  We'll revisit this supp in the dog days of summer, but it's not for the dead of winter.  Particularly not when the weather is keeping us from working every day.  This week I'll lose two days due to not reaching double digits.  Can't risk him breathing hard or breaking a sweat in those conditions.  Damn it.

But I did successfully ride in my treeless western saddle again and made the decision to keep it.  I'll do some follow up posts of the breaking in process for a western saddle since it's kind of interesting.  Especially with a treeless saddle that's been in storage.  It doesn't know how to be saddle shaped. 

As you can tell in the picture, he reverted to my sweet mi papi after a chance to just let it all out.  He fell asleep in the middle of the arena after my ride and was all cuddles in the aisle.  I'm very sore right now, but I'm not mad at him.  It's not his fault that he was getting quite fit and then Mother Nature decided to play hard ball with us.  I don't think I'll be getting to work him consistently until the second week of January, unfortunately.  Dangerously cold temps are coming.

I guess our ground work will be the focus of this winter.  Good thing I bought some long lines and dusted off his surcingle.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A new hope

Y'all, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.  I might have a western saddle that works.

This is my new Startrekk Commander, a treeless saddle.  It's just as pretty as I'd hoped with some shiny silver conchos and a squishy, nubuck seat.  Sure, I had to swap out to a black pommel to test the narrower width Theo needs, but I'll have a matching tooled pommel on it soon.  You really have to look closely and pick it up to tell it's treeless. 

I was so excited when it arrived!  Surely a treeless saddle with three different pommels would fit mi papi!  Then I put it on him and almost cried.  What the hell?  How could a saddle with no tree not fit him?!

It was all over the place!  It didn't sit down on him anywhere!  It was rocking, lifting, too wide even with the skinny pommel, terrible!  Then I took a deep breath.  That's okay because there's no solid tree.  It's a leather tree that needs to learn Theo's shape.  It's been in storage for awhile so it's mostly pancake shaped right now.  It just stuck out away from him rather than wrapping around him.  I cinched it up and took it out for a spin.

First I had to lunge the kite named Theo.  He got a day off and in winter, that's no good.  It was a nice, civilized lunging session until he heard someone outside of the arena.  He had a complete melt down, dragging me across the ring while he snorted, bucked, honked, passaged, and overall looked like an idiot impersonating a stallion.  One of my friends was standing wide eyed at the door by the time I recovered some control over Theo.  She's only seen him packing his leaser around like a good little school pony.  She was not prepared for the other Theo, the one that requires careful handling and a very large personal bubble.  Then another rider came down.  I ended up working Theo around the ring in hand for about ten minutes, running alongside him and doing transitions from the ground to get him refocused.  Thank goodness for my time on the treadmill.

The saddle looked AWFUL.  It just flopped around up there and then the pad started to slide.  I didn't have my cinch tight enough.  The saddle still wasn't touching him at all.  I didn't have it in the right place, it was too far back.  Funny thing about there being no tree, it can sit a bit over his shoulder and it makes no difference.  So long as that pommel is behind the point of his shoulders, it's all good.  I rearranged, tightened the cinch, and swung on.

My hips never complained.  It really does feel like a treed saddle, complete with a twist.  After about ten minutes, I'd forgotten about the differences in the saddle.  I was able to have a solid school including a big, beautiful trot and canter at the end.  Clearly, Theo likes the freedom.  We got to burn through that excess energy in a big, happy, forward way with him taking the contact forward and down.  I love it when I feel like I can push my hands at him in the contact and I wasn't wearing spurs!  My friend stopped her ride long enough to comment that he looked super happy in his new saddle.

I checked my spine clearance and I had all sorts of room.  Wither clearance for days.

A new, better fitting saddle pad is in the mail. 

I like the way it rides.  My leg is right up underneath me and it's a comfy seat.  I think it'll be even better once it breaks in.  Right now it's kind of stiff and squeaky and wants to be pancake shaped and the fenders are killing my ankles.  But after a single ride, I could see a difference in the shape.  I can see how this will become a saddle that is custom fit to Theo's back.  Having the other pommels means I can swap out if his topline explodes with muscle.  Hey, a girl can dream.

I'm cautiously optimistic at this point.  I do have the confidence that comes with not having to worry about the tree fitting.  There's no tree!  I'm a bit gun shy at this point since I thought I'd found 'the one' before, but this is different.  So long as it's not touching his spine, pinching his withers, and is distributing my weight across the panels, it fits.  I palpated Theo's back after a solid 40 minutes under saddle.  Theo chilled and enjoyed his mini-massage. 

We're scheduled for a snowstorm tomorrow, but if I can make it to the barn, I'll take it out for another spin.  I think my mind is made up, but I'll feel more confident after a second look.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The clipping balancing act

Let's keep this short, sweet, and simple.

Here's my weather for the next ten days:

Whaaaat the hell, Mother Nature.

Theo is overdue for a clip and really looking like a yak.  Like hair that is a solid inch thick where he was last clipped. 
This whole area was completely clipped not too long ago

He will sweat and pant in the 50* weather, even trotting him will be a challenge.  He's going to need the fuzz for the 4* nights.  What do?

I'm currently thinking I will abandon his aggressive blanket clip and swap for an Irish clip to leave more fuzz on him while still making work a possibility.

But with fuzzy ears

Keeping in mind this poor horse lives out 24/7 but with blankets (including a neck rug) and a shed.  And he's worked 5 - 6 times a week.  I need to get him clipped so he doesn't sweat himself to death when worked, but I feel terrible stripping his defenses when temps are running 20* below normal.  Yes I own a full wardrobe of lovely turn outs plus underlayers if needed, but Pony-noia is a thing.

Irish?  Blanket?  Fuzzy wuzzy was a horse until the next cold snap passes?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Tree? What tree?

This is where the saddle hunt totally leaps off of the rails and runs wild and free across the tundra of New England.  I am getting a treeless saddle to demo.

I can hear the screams of anguish.

I've done the research, viewed the thermographs, read through more debates than any one person should.  Seriously, it's not good for my mental balance.  But when the dust settled and I was left with a challenging shaped horse in need of a western saddle, my desire for him to be comfortable won out over my desire to be traditional.  Yes, there are situations, combinations, and saddles where a treeless saddle is nothing more than a glorified bareback pad and shouldn't have stirrups on it.  Ever.  It's harmful and will leave your horse a mess.  Your entire body weight is slammed into their back at one point, sometimes only a few inches square.  There are also combinations, situations, and saddles where it's better than a treed saddle.

Troublesome pony back

I was looking at the DP vari-fit saddles when I noticed the word Startrekk at the top of the website.  Huh, I remember that name from my saddle research when I was playing with making Fiona an endurance horse.  I clicked on the name, hit the western link, and stopped dead.  That . . . looks like a totally normal saddle!

I would never guess that saddle is treeless.  It's pretty!  And I've sat in several DP saddles and like the quality of leather they use.  I refreshed my memory and the Startrekks stood out because they're German and they have a 'tree' made of layers of leather to give it stability, structure, weight distribution, and spine clearance.  The pommel is rigid and interchangeable.  There are panels underneath the saddle that can be rearranged to help level the saddle and keep it clear of the spine.  Yes, the stirrups still have a point of greater pressure, but I'm not getting this saddle to gallop cross country up off of his back or jump big fences.  I have a saddle with a tree for that.  I'm getting this to sit on my butt outside of some posting in warm up.  From everything I have found, the Startrekk saddles feel like a treed saddle due to the leather 'tree'.  It even has a twist.

While looking around, I spotted a new Startrekk Commander at a discount.  Lo and behold, the dealer is in Rhode Island.  Hey, that's practically around the corner!  Relatively speaking.  So emails have been bouncing back and forth all day with pictures of Theo.  Soon, soon I will have a demo to slap on mi papi's back.

It weighs less than 20 pounds.  It's genuinely pretty.  It's only 25.5" long.  The seat size is adjustable.  I'll get three pommels to try out to make sure I ride in the correct size.  Maybe?  Maybe this is the solution to my troublesome pony?  And it would be cheaper than the Cashel.

Even with my hip issues, I have no problem riding bareback.  I don't expect the twist to be an issue for me.  And used once/twice a week with limited posting?  I don't expect it to give him any trouble.

I'm not exactly a traditional western rider and my horse is far from a traditional western horse.  Time to think outside the box.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Maintaining sanity in the arctic

I realize a lot of people following along don't live in New Hampshire.  It's a pretty state, lots of maple trees and boulders and interesting hills/baby mountains/full sized mountains.  We're close enough to the ocean that our weather gets some buffering.  Temps don't go as high or as low as what you'll see at this latitude further inland.  Big thunderstorm systems tend to fall apart about the time they hit my neighborhood, giving us lots of rain but not much else.  My family in Minnesota is at almost the exact same latitude, but their weather?  I swear Mother Nature hears 'that can't happen' and replies 'hold my beer'.  Snow and a tornado on the same day?  Sure, why not.

I think I recognize that farm . . . 

I used to be Minnesota tough.  I used to be able to accept that some days (or weeks), you just don't get above zero.  It sucks, but you put on an extra layer and you deal.  You also give your horse a month off at a time unless you have a heated indoor because sometimes, it's too cold to take a deep breath safely.  And let's be honest, Minnesotans don't go outside much in the dead of winter.  Minneapolis has an amazing skyway system so people can get around without having to go outside.

That's my home town Mankato proudly displaying -47 for a wind chill.  This means they didn't cancel school, too warm.

I've lived in New England for almost fourteen years now.  It's turning me into a wimp.  I woke up this morning, saw that it was 7* out, and buried my head under a pillow.  I have moved my Friday lesson to the afternoons just for this reason.  24* isn't exactly toasty, but it's a lot better than single digits.  Between the storm on Tuesday and the sharp drop in temps, I've been rather absent from the barn.  I don't think Theo minds much in these conditions.  He wants to stay in his shed and eat his extra hay.  These temps aren't normal for NH.  Our average high is 39* and our average low is 20*.  I'm being whiny, but at least I have a reason.  It's freaking cold!  And it's going to stay cold.  I've skipped one of Theo's clips to help him stay warm.  We'll see if the weather rebounds to normal.  If it does?  Naked pony time.

So now what?  I'm staring down the gauntlet of winter.  The icy, brutal path I must travel for two months stretches before me.  How am I going to keep my motivation up?  How am I going to continue to arrive at the barn, in the freezing cold and dark with no one else there, and trudge around the indoor?  With my new schedule, I don't even have company to motivate me.  I'm usually by myself and with lessons winding down as kids go into hibernation?  Lessons are done by four, barn shut down by 4:30.  I can go a week without seeing anyone.  It's kind of creepy, like working in a ghost town.  I talk to Theo a lot and play music because it's unsettling being in a silent barn.  I'm used to being in bustling, busy boarding/lesson facilities.  It's something I enjoy.  I can't say I'm enjoying being there during off hours.

Just me and my long suffering pony

I think motivation is going to be a big challenge this winter.  I'm already considering giving Theo February off because that's the worst month for NH.  We usually get nailed with storms and plunging temps that keep you out of the saddle for a week at a time.  My hubby is already protesting the idea because I'm unlivable if I don't get my horse fix regularly, but taking the pressure of 'stay in work' off might make the month less depressing.

I can also hit the treadmill to keep the crankiness at bay.  New shoes (Clifton 4 from Hyoka One One) and my running partner (Chug from . . . no one knows).

Our last storm had rain at the end followed by the temperature plunge, so we have too much ice to go outside safely right now.   I had visions of going for a galumph in the snow, but it's iced over enough for my dogs to walk on top of it and there's some ice on the bottom as well.  Ugh.

I have the barrel saddle and a lead on a potential new saddle, so I can play dress up as a western rider.  We can work on the new tests and some new moves.  I am working him more from the ground. I think it's past time I teach him how to long line.  And I'm planning to take some time off from work in January to make up for working over the holidays, so I can ride at normal hours and maybe get in some extra lessons or outings.  Trainer A reminded me that I hit this wall every year at this time, usually after the first real cold snap.  She told me to put my dressage saddle away for awhile and to have some fun.  We agreed that I will not use my dressage saddle for January.  All jumping saddle or western saddle.

Any suggestions for a lone warrior and her disgruntled princess of a dressage pony to survive a New Hampshire winter with almost as much sanity as when they started out?  We don't have a lot of sanity in general, I'd like to keep what we have.

Friday, December 15, 2017

It was supposed to be simple

My saddle saga continues.

The Cashel was a bust.  It fit his withers and shoulders just fine, but it rocked.  Lifted front and back.  I'm sure I could have thrown a special pad on, but what's the point in buying a brand new saddle with a noticeable rock?  It's not like I'm trying to make my horse back sore.  So it was out of it's box for a total of ten minutes.  Back in it went and on Monday, it ships back to the store.  Ugh.

We threw a western saddle that was sitting around on him, but it was a full QH bar and dropped right down on his withers.  In a moment of desperation, I asked the barn manager to let me see her saddle again.  The one I plopped on Theo back when I started shopping and went 'huh, this won't be too hard'.  The random, cheap saddle she got used for her 14.3 hand mustang mare.

It's tiny, probably a 15" seat.  That's a 32" pad underneath it and it looks ridiculous.  It's an Easy Rider from Action Company which is a company that's slowly but surely been gobbling up other saddelries.  It's not a high end saddle.  Probably a barrel saddle that's about the same age as me.

It was picked up cheap and has been sitting, unused, for months.  I set it on Theo's back with no pads and it just dropped into place.  No floating, no rocking, nothing.  Just boom, there it sits.  It might be a hair narrow for him, but everyone that ran their hand under the points went 'no, it feels good, and it's nicely behind his shoulder blade'.  I threw the pad on, tightened up the cinch, and took it for a spin.

The seat is a little small for me, but he sure moves happily in it.  And the barn manager shrugged and said 'use it all you want, you can have it if it works'.  She doesn't currently have a horse and it's a saddle that doesn't fit a lot of stock type horses.

Yes, I'm riding in a halter again.  And I'm holding a foam ice cream cone in my right hand.  I'm still not sure why Trainer A handed it to me.  They use them with kids to help them not turn their hands over while riding, but I was riding left handed .  .  .  Some days I just don't ask.  I mean, it's not like the image of Theo jogging around in a halter and way too big pad under a barrel saddle with me in my lesson attire was going to get any weirder.

Random picture of turkeys we chased slowly down the road during our hack out

So . . . huh.  That was an unexpected twist.  Now I have to really, honestly consider my next move.  I did order up a 28" long, 1/2" thick wool pad to go under the barn manager's saddle so I can use it.  It's nice that the fit is close enough that I want to go for a thinner pad.  If it fits nice with a 3/4" fluffy pad, it's probably going to fit even better with the 1/2" wool felt pad and I won't have that little worry about it being too narrow.  My hands slide right under it just fine with no pad on, so long as I remember the concho is the point of the saddle and get that back behind the point of his shoulder.

This doesn't help my saddle hunt in terms of finding a match since the saddlery no longer exists.  And I'd like to get a saddle that I can post comfortably in, this saddle is a little too small for that.  I'm going to talk to the saddle fitter again and see what her next suggested move is.  But at the same time, I am getting tired of paying for shipping to keep returning saddles.  If I exchange for another saddle, no restocking fee.  If I don't?  5% restocking fee.  So that's also weighing in to the decision, since this little saddle is hard as a board.  It's not perfect.  But it's free, and it's here, and it appears to fit.

I may just eat the restocking fee and let myself have a break from the saddle shopping and shipping.  Ride in this one for a bit, see if Theo likes it.  It's not a bad saddle.  And it'll encourage me to stay on my diet . . . 

The challenge of doing nothing

Last Friday Trainer A suggested we have a lunge line session.  I said yes, whole heartedly and loudly.  I love lunge line lessons, but I hate asking for them because I've taught enough to know how miserable it can be to turn on the spot for 30 minutes.  I always got the spins.

I got chucked on the lunge line with no reins or stirrups.  Our goal?  Transitions with no leg or hand.  Using just my seat, I needed to adjust the trot and walk.  Canter?  We just wanted him to canter forward nicely with minimal nagging.  With nothing else to worry about, I could really focus on my hips and seat.  I felt how they were swinging and then took control of them to get my horse forward and back based just off of how my butt and his back interacted.

Mary Wanless has a concept of a butt print.  It's the idea that your butt leaves a print on every horse you ride and the more you ride the same horse, the more your horse shapes to your butt print.  I am now trying to make my butt more than white noise to my horse.  I'm trying to make him listen to my butt, which requires me to not generate that white noise.

It was interesting how my free hands and lack of stirrups highlighted my balance issues.  Your left seat bone is perfectly fine, Catie, try sitting on it!  It's a toss up on who is causing our bracing to the left.  Could be my damaged joints on that side, could be his weak right hind.  Chicken, egg, etc. 

Dat neck, though

Could I stop and start without hands or legs?  Mostly.  I kind of feel like I'm cheating, practicing downward transitions with Theo.  It's his default setting.  Transitions within the gait and downward transitions off of the seat were doable.  Transitions upward between the gaits require a touch of leg and always will.  It's how his pony brain understands I don't want more within the gait, I want a new gait.  My old h/j habits showed up when my hip closed in the canter transition.  It took me staring at the ceiling and a hand on my hip for me to keep that angle open through the transition.  I knew I had it when I felt the pull through my lower back and Theo stepped right into a full size canter stride.

Trainer A wants to do more of these, especially in the dead of winter when Theo breaking a sweat is bad.  I'm entirely on board.  I can be tortured quite effectively without my horse having to do too much work.  He was mentally working, becoming aware that my seat actually meant something, but he barely had a sweat mark under his saddle.

A cold front came through, complete with a storm, so poor Theo has barely been worked this week.  My lesson today should be very amusing for spectators.