Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ride 14- Pushing Past Comfort

Yesterday Hola and I had spent the afternoon hanging around the barn. Here in Southern BC a sunny winter day brings about this irresistible buzz of energy! Most of us head outside to garden, hike, ride or do chores but often, once one actually gets out in to the sun, a vitamin D coma of sorts sets in and suddenly all we want to do is stretch out like a lazy cat and bask in glow of that warm light. We have had a very mild winter here in the West Coast  (sorry my fellow Canadians to the East!) but a sunny day never goes unappreciated. And so it was that I found myself at the barn doing chores, rushing around doing errands, meeting the vet, brining in a load of hay and intermittently sitting in the middle arena with my eyes closed simply soaking up the rays.  Hola was not nearly as busy. She stood in the sun all day and barely moved. I kept thinking that I should get on her and do some of the softening exercises from the day before but my "to-do" list didn't end and it wasn't until the sun was just starting to set that I finally had time to ride. Laurie was home from work and we decided to head back in to the big field for a quick jaunt. It sounded like a good plan at the time...

But I failed to stop and think about what I was doing and whether I was setting Hola up for success. After a day of hard work I was just dying to get on and go for a quiet walk around the field. Had I paused for moment to think I would have realized this was a plan bound for failure. Most nights, right around dusk, the horses get this surge of energy. They start thinking about coming in for supper. They are the furthest from their last meal. They are tired of standing out in the rain or... after a warm day of sleeping in the sun the crisp evening air makes them come alllllive. Nothing makes our horses more jacked than that sharp drop in temperature at dusk. The sleepy, soft, relaxed pony I caught and saddled at 5:15 was a much different animal than the one I went to stop on at 5:30pm. Hola was ready to roll. She had been moving around me so nicely on the line and looked so damn pretty doing it that I really didn't notice, (until I was sitting on her that is) that she was so jacked. Right away my first thought was, "I need to get off." She was buzzy. I sucked it up and asked her to walk on which she did with a fair about of bounce in her step. We a few hundred meters down the length of the field before I circled out away from Ella and tried to get her to soften. Ella continued down the field a short distance and I could feel Hola's anxiety rise. Laurie realized I wasn't able to follow along and so looped back to me. I had to holler at Hola a few times when I felt her start to really brace up but she didn't actually try anything. We walked back towards the barn and started doing some circles. I could feel Hola come back to me but she was still buzzing. I asked Laurie if she could just stand and wait a minute while I waited for a good place to quit. It is SO hard to wait for a place to quit when ride is gong sideways. I went back to what she knows, some one rein stops to a whoa and while she was far from hog wild she was also far from being under control. I finally got her stand quietly for a minute and she gave her face softly both ways. I waited another minute as she stood and just prayed she wouldn't take a step. She didn't so I finally able to get off. As much as I regret not setting her up for success and while I admit that she probably went backwards in her training that ride, I cant regret the little bit of confidence I gained in being on her while she was so wired. I didn't get off. I didn't get off and waited for the right place to quit. I hope to get on Hola tomorrow when she is nice and relaxed and go back to softening and just riding around quietly. Hopefully that will undo last nights mistake easily enough without loosing what I gained.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hola Rides 11, 12 & 13

On Saturday I had quite the ride on my Hola! It was a beautiful crisp day and I was just dying to ride! We didn't have time to haul out to an arena and I was feeling a little hemmed in by the idea of riding in the paddock as the footing and size make it difficult for Hola to walk out without having to be guided every ten strides as we come up against another corner. I was lamenting about how to put together the best ride when Laurie ever so casually suggested I ride her out in the big field. I don't even think I replied at first, I just stared at her like, "Yah, that's not going to happen." The big field is... big. It has no fences. It has no obstacles. It is just acre after acre of grass. Which is kind of terrifying on a young horse. Laurie, being the good friend that she is, didnt hesitate to kick my ass a little. She has so much more confidence in Hola and I than I do. I said I would start by walking her out in hand and then see how she felt. When I got in to the field I was happy to find that the ground was actually pretty firm and that Hola was very tuned in. I was having her jog around me in small circles, turning her back each way and she was just a little jacked but moving her feet nicely. I could see Laurie sneaking a glace every so often to see when I was going to nut up. Finally she walked over and asked what I was going to do. I said, "I don't think it is a good idea, it just doesn't feel safe. I want her to have the chance to just walk out but this is too big of a leap, too quick." So Laurie asked why I was so worried about the open space. I explained that the biggest fear I have is getting hung up and drug. I have had both happen and walked away relatively unscathed (skinned my back and got stepped on a few times.) However I have seen a few people get hung up over the years and there is just nothing scarier. That is why I feel better in the smaller areas. I am not so scared of falling off, I am just scared of not falling ALL THE WAY off. And being in that open space where there is noting to stop that horse should the worst happen is way out of my comfort zone. However...

Sometimes you have to feel the fear and just do it anyways. 

I got on Hola. I was more nervous than I have ever been on her and she sure felt it. For the first five minutes of so she was pretty jacked and I kept having to bend her around and send her off again. I loved that I was able to just ask her to go forward without having to be so in her face. I went maybe five minutes or so down the field away from the barn and then turned for home. I was a little apprehensive about how she would react to heading back but actually she seemed to relax some which helped me relax which helped her relax and so on. I really wanted to get off as I felt that I had cleared that hurdle and wanted to quit before it went wrong but I forced myself to stay on until I really felt that we were back in sync and we were both relaxed. Once I made that decision I was surprised at how quickly we achieved that goal. She is so sensitive to my energy that even though I thought that I had relaxed considerably she still felt that I was anxious to quit. The biggest mistake I made was that when I got off I was so excited I "whooped" as my feet hit the ground which spooked her a little. It was SO cool and SO exciting and SO rewarding to finally be out on her.

The next day I really wanted to get on her back in the arena and soften some of the guide I had lost the day before with my nerves. I did a lot of vertical and lateral flexion and asked her to yield her hip. It was actually a good thing that I went back to this as she was really sticky at first. I got her much lighter and then asked her to guide around again a little in a circle and she went beautifully. I stopped her, dropped her saddle and turned her loose.

So today I was really curious to see how much she had retained from the day before and was pleasantly surprised, as I so often am with this filly. She yielded nicely and  remembered all of it but most importantly she spent a lot of time licking and chewing and yawning. She obviously was thinking hard about this new life of hers. All of that pissy attitude I was so worried about has completely disappeared now that I have this big saddle on her. I am just thrilled with my good little filly.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hola Ride 9 & 10 in the Heavy Saddle

I have been on the hunt for a saddle for Hola. I got it stuck in my head that I really needed a lightweight saddle (17-20 pounds). The Bob's I'm riding her in now really doesn't fit well (I tweek it as best as I can but it isn't right) and it weights about 32-34 pounds. I would say your average quality western saddle weights around 32-36 pounds and your "lightweight" saddles fall somewhere between 22-30. I did find a few synthetic saddles that weighed between 17-20, the problem was that when I got in to the synthetics I took a massive hit to the quality of the hardware and tree. While there are qualitative synthetic lightweight saddles available, most are endurance saddles and most are expensive (in the $2000 range). I dont want to make that kind of investment in a saddle that is not built for the kind of riding I want to do (cow horse) and that will be hard to get an return on should it not work out.

 I tried two Wintec westerns on Hola. The first didn't fit. The second wasn't horrible but there was no way on God's green earth that I was going to be able to ride her in that piece of shit! Sorry, but it awful! I felt like I was sitting 3" off of her back, there was no feel in my seat, the placement of the stirrups was awkward and I felt off balance. I also tried some of my friends saddles to get an idea of tree fit and found that the Arab saddle was the closest and so I took out a new Crates Arab to try. It was close, but no cigar. I also tried a older but well built saddle that was too narrow and far far too small for me (my ass did the muffin top thing out the back.) I tried Laurie's old Saddlesmith which was also too narrow. I tried another friends Wintec Dressage saddle that had a "wide" gullet and it actually was a pretty close fit but unfortunately I don't have the cojones to ride her in a English just yet. So then finally, out of desperation I put on BIG BOB.

BIG BOB is my honkin' heavy Bob's Custom Cow Horse saddle. I bought it last year off of a friend for Abby but found that it's pocket was too tight for my liking. It is very comfortable and has a very secure feeling seat and the stirrups fall in a way that keep you nice and balanced. It is also really f-ing heavy. I would say about 36 pounds or so. Just my luck.

I actually discovered that BIG BOB fit Hola after trying the Wintec. Hola has been getting a wee bit pissy in the last few rides and I think it is because I keep farting around with these saddles that just don't fit right. So I got on her with the western Wintec and it was obvious that I wasn't the only one who hated the feel of that saddle. So I got off and pulled the saddle. I wanted to get on her again in my other saddle just to finish off on a better note. At the last minute I grabbed BIG BOB and paired it with a reinsman pad I have found works well. When I got on Hola again and this time she settled quickly and seemed to move around with a freer feel but still had attitude. At one point she wanted to stop and I pushed her on. That is when I felt her make her first genuine threat. Her head dropped, her back rose and she sucked back... but before she could get to the next step I bopped her good and growled "QUIT!" She hopped forward and went to try again so I grabbed one rein and bopped her again. Her whole body seemed to scream, "Holy shit, I'm gonna die!" and then I made my body go really quiet and just said, "Goooood, now walk on" and to my surprise (and luck) she did. A half a lap later she started licking and chewing and relaxed. It was only then that I felt the tickle of nerves. I think I said to Laurie, "Hooooly Shit that was scary!" Luckily my brain only clicks back in to its default "chicken shit" mode after everything has settled. I finished by having her stand and gently asked her to give her face both ways until she got really soft.

I decided to ride her in the big Bob's again today. I got on and she stood and didn't brace up as she has the last week. I sat on her for a moment and asked her to walk on. She went a few laps around the paddock like a broke old ranch horse. She guided beautifully. I switched directions and did a few more laps and asked her to "whoa". She came to a quick stop. I had only been on her for a few minutes but it was all so perfect and she was so happy and relaxed I decided to just quit while I was ahead. I got off, dropped her cinch, pulled the saddle and turned her loose. I am hoping to get on her again tomorrow.

Last week I ordered an Abetta Arab tree that is 17 pounds from Stateline Tack. I felt comfortable ordering it as it is cheap (under $500) and they take returns. So I will try that on Hola next week and if it works I will keep it but if it doesn't I think I may just look for a Wintec Dressage like I tried and just use that for longer rides or quiet at home rides and BIG BOB for any of the scarier rides. I need a saddle that fits her. I cant afford to give her an excuse to act up and I want her to be relaxed and happy. She's a good filly.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Hola Ride #8- Dropping in on a Group

On Tuesday night Laurie and I took Hola and Ella out to drop in at a group lesson with a trainer I know quite well. The idea was that I would take Hola in tacked and just keep out of the way and get her exposure to a busier arena with some "strange" horses and at the end of the night, if everything calmed down, I might hop on for a short ride. Well, for starts Hola was j.a.c.k.e.d..  I am also surprised at just how reactive my quiet little filly can be! But then Hola is not "quiet" in the typical sense of the word. She likes to move her feet, is very interested in everything going on around her and she is so athletic, so free in her body that her reactions are fast big. On one hand I love this because it is part of what makes her so cool. On the other hand, it is scary to think about riding a filly who's small spook can take her from one spot to another (ten feet away) in 2 seconds flat. On top of that she is going through a bratty stage. At least I like to think it is a stage. She is smart enough and sensitive enough to know when I am around people that change my posture/habits. All but one of the people there I knew personally so I wasn't nervous, but there is that small change that happens when I am around other horse people and there is a certain expectation/hope that Hola will behave perfectly and she also seems to know that I hesitate to school on her around new people. I lunged her on the short line and she bucked and farted and acted like a idiot in general. She did settle down and was pretty quiet for the next hour. I decided to get on her. Well! First, I took a while to prepare her to get on, took her back out and lunged her around, stood above her on the mounting block and waited for her to settled, rocked her saddle a little, gave her time to think about the fact that I was getting up there. I stepped on her and for a few second she stood, and then she took a few steps forward and everything her body went "F-U! Get off! Get off! Get off!" She didn't buck but her back felt high and I was able to pull her head around and she stopped and came back to me. So I tried walking her off again. Same thing. I pulled her around the other way and waited for her to soften. Again we went off and again she just felt totally not with me. I finally decided to stop her and just sit for a few minutes until she really relaxed. Just then a new horse came to the (high) door of the arena. F-ing perfect! And this horse was young, bug eyed, and a wildly colored paint. Needless to say, I got off in a hurry. To Hola's credit, she did stand. But a minute after my feet touched the ground she was blowing around have a melt down as the other horse also had a melt down. Ten minutes later both horses were settled again and I knew I had to get back on. So I did. Which was when I found that my guiding/steering had gone to hell in a hand basket! Hola was walking out nicely but I didn't have much control and once again I think I might have been a little to conscious of eyes on me. In the end she did guide a little better (but not great) and she did relax so we ended on a good note but it wasn't overly pretty and far from perfect. As much as it sucks to admit it, I think Hola and I both need more time spent out and around people. Damnit! I really don't prefer riding with a group, no matter how friendly and non-judgmental. But I need  make sure Hola doesn't learn to be the same. I might go again next Tuesday only I don't think I will get on again until I feel like we can go and stay together mentally.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hola Ride #7- Awesome

Last night we hauled Hola out to the same indoor we were at on Monday night. When we got there a couple of ladies where there having a barrel racing lesson and another boarder was riding her big warmblood. Three strange horses, two extra people watching/coaching and us made for a busy arena... or at least a much busier arena than Hola has ever seen. It was a very dark and rainy night which meant we had to tack as quickly as we could which added extra bluster to the evening. When we walked in the arena Hola was certainly bug eyed...

but we both settled in to a corner to quietly watch the going-ons. Eventually the barrel racers left and after cantering (which did freak Hola out a little) and cooling out the English girl left as well. I spent the next 45 minutes walking around the arena talking to Laurie about stops and just having Hola tag along with me. At about quarter to nine I thought I would get on Hola for ten minutes while Laurie cooled down. Hola was very relaxed by this point but actually hadn't worked besides walking around with me. I got on and she walked off so I bent her to a stop, waited a minute then asked her to walk on. I said to Laurie that she really felt like she was fixing for trouble, her back felt high and she had a lot of energy. Laurie watched for a minute and said she Hola just looked really happy and was moving out beautifully. After a few minutes Hola stretched out some and I relaxed a little. As we turned a corner I felt her really step out and I said to Laurie, "I think she wants to trot!" So I put some energy in my seat and she stretched out some more but didn't break gait. So just to let her know she could go I gave her one small cluck and off she went. I could feel her tense up a little as she felt my weight bounce on her back. She went about 6 strides and kind of stalled. I walked her forward and waited for her to relax again and then put the energy in my seat and off she went again at a trot (no cluck). This time we completed one full lap with just a few stalls that I clucked her past. I sat and said "whoa" and she went from trot to stop without a single walking step. I thought my heart was going to burst I was so damn happy. I was so worried that I was going to slow. Last night I night I realized that Hola was going to tell me when she was ready for more. It is not that I think there is anything wrong with moving training along at a more productive rate. But Hola and I are going to go at our own glacier pace and I'm going to stop worrying about it. Last night Hola actually asked, "Hey, can we trot?" and when I said, "Yah, let's trot!" she went forward in a relaxed and confident fashion. What a great filly!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Hola Ride # 6 But only Hour 3!

In October of 2014 I put about 14 rides on Hola. 14 rides sounds like a fair number. But in fact, I looked back and did the math and realized that in 14 rides I actually spent less than 2 hours total on Holas back. I count a "ride" as being on her back whether that be 2 minutes of 15 minutes and whether she be moving or not. Six of those 14 rides were less than 5 minutes and none were over 15. I have all the time in the world to get this filly broke and I'm going to take advantage of that fact.  This year each of my rides have been a little longer. I am at ride #6 and already I've spent close to an hour on her back and much more of that time was spent actually moving.
Yesterday I hauled Hola out to an indoor arena. She has been off the property only once since November and she has been ridden 5 times this year (all the last week). My goal was to get her out and not worry too much about whether I got on her or not. I didn't now how busy that arena would be or how she would react. Luckily the other rider was an friend and a lady who I took lessons off of years ago. I was able to stand and chat for a half hour or so and then Laurie kindly ponied Hola for a good ten minutes off of Ella so she could get the willies out. Poor Hola, just doesn't get why she should have to work so hard. The cool part was that she stood around with me near the new horse and then she had to work really hard when she was close to her buddy and then she came back to me and I sat on her while she aired up. She was very happy to have me sitting up there if it meant she got to rest. I was surprised when I asked her to move forward (after about five minutes) that she went and guided pretty well and didn't try to latch back to Ella (smart girl!) I got off and we stood for a while longer. Before we left I got on her again for a few minutes and walked her down the length of the arena. It sounds dumb it was the furthest we had ever gone in a straight line, just moving out and walking on without me guiding her or having to ask anything of her. It felt like a real ride not a training session. It was so cool! When we stopped I took the below picture. Good filly!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hola- Ride #5 2015

I had a great ride on Hola yesterday. We started by going for a walk in hand down the road where Hola met and instantly fell in hate with a newborn lamb, a llama, and a ram. She lost her ever-loving' mind. So on the walk home Laurie ponied Hola off of Ella and worked out some the kinks. By the time we got home Hola was in a much better frame of mind. I tacked her up and mounted. She walked out really well again and guided around the cones. I am still not happy with her attitude at times (just a bit of tail swishing and ears back, tight neck) but it is coming and going and she didn't lift her back this time. After we did a couple of laps I sat one her for a few minutes and tried to make my energy go really soft and quiet. She stood and started yawning. And yawning. And yawning. She found her happy place. Good filly.