Saturday, February 26, 2011

Panama and the jacket

It's not the best picture, but I promised Melody I would post it.  I snapped this Wednesday night when Panama and I were playing in the indoor arena, and I made him wear my jacket:

My horse wearing my jacket

It's blurry because he moved slightly while I was taking it.  I couldn't get him to look at me with that inquisitive look again, either, so I wasn't able to try to snap another picture.  But you get the idea.

By the way, I showered following my lesson this afternoon, and when I put my coat on to go somewhere this evening, I noticed it smelled rather horsey.  I know some people frown on smelling horsey out in public, but I love the idea that I'm taking Panama's smell with me wherever I go!

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Tension

My lesson today made me think of how much tension I tend to carry when I ride, and how it affects my riding.

Longtime readers will remember that I really struggled with cantering for a while.  Heaven knows I never worried about it when I learned to ride as a kid, but getting back in the saddle as an adult, I realized how little I knew about riding, and developed a fear of cantering.

To familiarize my newer readers with our history, here is a very old post:

Cantering on my horse for the first time (intentionally)

Unfortunately, we didn't work on it again for quite a while:

Back to learning to canter

Cantering practice was very on again/off again until we got to our current barn, which has nice arenas, including an indoor arena, which enabled us to finally start practicing regularly.  You can see some video of my really bouncy early attempts here, here, and here.

With Panama's naughty phase in late summer and early fall, and some other stuff we were working on, we haven't been working on the canter consistently the entire time, but often enough that I am getting more confident.  Today my trainer had me canter twice at the end of the lesson, and she said it was the best she's seen from me.  I'm finally getting the hang of how to move with the motion of the horse, so that my butt stays in the saddle better.

Anyway, what made me think of tension was the difference in our performance — both mine and Panama's — during a couple of exercises.  My trainer had me work on a variation of a posting trot, up two beats and down two beats, to improve my strength and control.  However, I have a really hard time with it, and I go absolutely rigid when I'm tense because I'm thinking about something too hard — like when I was learning to canter.

Panama was feeding off my tension and trotting faster, with his head way up in the air, so I took a walk break and then did a regular posting trot for a few laps to calm him down with something he already knows.  While I was posting, my trainer told me to pull my knees away from the saddle (I tend to pinch with my knees), point my toes slightly out, force my feet down, and finally, to sit back more as I posted.  When it all came together, I was amazed — suddenly I felt like I was relaxed and moving with Panama, and he was more relaxed and responsive, too.

I wasn't able to maintain that sense of moving together during the two-up/two-down exercise, unfortunately.  It's really hard, so I have to concentrate, and then I get frustrated because I screw it up almost right away.  The result was that I instantly tensed up, Panama went faster, and it all fell apart again.  So my trainer gave me "homework" — that's what I'm supposed to work on in the next week.

It was after that exercise that she had me canter.  We were almost out of time, so I cantered just once in each direction.  I've been starting to feel the rhythm a bit more lately, and today I could feel it more than ever — maybe my experience of a relaxed posting trot had helped, I don't know.  In any case, I was able to keep my butt in the saddle and move with the horse much better than ever before.  As my trainer pointed out, I was able to feel what he was doing much more easily that way, and was able to put a little more leg on when needed to keep him cantering (he has a bad habit of slowing into a trot before I'm ready to).  Of course, she was saying "sit, sit, sit," with every stride to remind me, but whatever works — I finally feel like I'm really getting it!

Today's lesson gave me plenty to work on, but as the title of this post indicates, it has also given me a lot to think about — about how all that tension negatively affects both me and Panama.  The more rigid I get, the faster and choppier and bouncier he gets, which makes me even more tense; and so the cycle continues.  I am going to try to go into every ride from now on with the goal of breaking that cycle.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bonding time

I totally forgot to blog about Friday's lesson, but tonight is on my mind, so I'll have to come back to that later.

Tonight I got out to the barn for the first time since Friday.  I missed out on some great weather yesterday and today, and I felt a little bad about that, so I decided to go tonight after dinner.  It was a bit chilly, so I brushed him quickly (with hubby's help), then grabbed his bridle, lunge line, and my helmet and went to tack up inside.

Once we got inside the indoor arena, we played a little.  First I let him roll (I don't know why I bothered brushing him first), and then we played with my jacket a little.  Last year he'd been terrified of rustling jackets, so I try to do silly things with my jackets periodically — tonight I slung it over his neck and put the hood up over his ears.  He was fine with that, except for the long-suffering expression when I made him walk around the arena with me while wearing my jacket — he clearly thought that was a little extreme.  He didn't particularly like it when I stood in front of him and pulled the jacket off over his head, and kept pulling his head up and back to get it out from under there faster; but eventually he figured out that I didn't want or need his help, and gave me the desired behavior of standing still for it.

After playing dress-up for a little bit, I lunged him just briefly to make sure he wasn't going to be wild and crazy.  He was quite good, obeyed all voice commands, and actually seemed so relaxed that I wondered if he was a bit sleepy from me showing up so late!  I hopped on bareback, and we worked on leg yields going down the center of the arena — my trainer wants me to get him to cross over in the back.  I like working on this kind of thing bareback (at the walk) because I think we can both feel each other better, and it seems to help him learn the cues when it's something we haven't spent a lot of time on before.

We only rode for about ten minutes because he got an itch in one ear that wouldn't go away, and I didn't have the heart to make him keep working when he was clearly so miserable — his right ear was cocked so far it was almost parallel to the ground.  So I hopped off and rubbed his ear for him (it was so itchy he actually let me — usually he likes my trainer's scritches much better than mine), but when it still seemed to be bothering him a little, I decided not to get back on.  We revisited the jacket briefly: I detached the hood and made him wear it as a hat, which he thought was weird, especially when he tipped his head to one side and it hung off one ear.  Too bad I didn't think to get a picture of that — his wide-eyed look of surprise was hysterical, all the more so because he didn't bolt or spook, just walked a few steps and then stopped and waited for me to fix it for him!

Even though we didn't do much, it was a lovely evening.  There was no one else at the barn, so we were able to act silly and do all sorts of things we wouldn't normally be able to do.  Panama was also in an affectionate mood, maybe because of the time of night.  I love good bonding time like that, don't you?

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

A beautiful quote

For all horse lovers, if you haven't read Riding Lessons and Flying Changes by Sara Gruen, you should.  They are wonderful novels about a former world-class rider, Annemarie, who is returning to her parents' horse farm after years of being away.  Clearly, though, the novel is written by someone who knows the horse world.  She describes everything from the click of the cross ties when you take them off and drop them, one at a time, to the way the water runs down your arm and into your shirt when you give a horse a bath.  I have never before read a horse novel that felt so authentic.

Anyway, there are plenty of lovely quotable lines in both novels, but this one — from Flying Changes was the most memorable to me.  It seems I am not the only person to compare riding a horse with having sex.

Hurrah transports me, and I give myself over to him. When I ride him I'm a different person — confident, competent, operating at a level somewhere below latent thought and in absolute concert with the magnificent animal beneath me. When I slide from his back, I am recharged and whole. How could I possibly let anyone witness that? It would be like letting someone watch me make love.

Beautiful, isn't it?

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bareback!

I love riding bareback, I really do.  I love the feel of Panama beneath me: his body heat, and the way it feels like there's this spot that was designed for me to sit in it.  I just wish I felt more secure bareback — I still haven't mastered the trot (though lack of bareback practice might have something to do with my slow progress!).  Panama is starting to fill out as he gets older, though, and no longer feels as narrow as he used to, so perhaps in another year I'll feel like I have more horse to hang on to!

I was vacillating on whether to go out to the barn today — I had initially planned on it, but then I decided to meet my mom for a snack and to take a look at her netbook for her in the afternoon.  I was worried about not getting enough work time in today, but when we left the Barnes & Noble cafe, it was too gorgeous not to go straight home — and anyway, I was already halfway to the barn!

I was glad I went.  I chatted for a little while to let Panama eat most of his dinner.  A little before sunset, I put him in the cross ties and groomed him a little.  I didn't feel like tacking up, and it was getting dark, so I threw his bridle on him, a helmet on me, and took him inside for a nice bareback ride.

We lucked out, and only one other rider was in the arena.  I didn't want an explosive horse on my hands when I was bareback, so I was glad of the quiet arena.  We didn't have long (I didn't want Savvy to have time to completely finish the hay) so we just walked a bit and worked on bending.  He was good and didn't try anything silly, though it took a little while to remind him what "bending" was (something we had to relearn yesterday too — one day I'll learn not to let so much time go by between rides).

Tomorrow isn't supposed to be quite as warm — a high of around 50, instead of 60 — and it's supposed to be windy.  I still want to try to get another ride in, though — and with a saddle this time, so that we can do a little more — and maybe turn him out a little too.  I want him to be good for me during Friday's lesson!

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Playful and focusless

As you have probably noticed from the lack of updates on my blog, I haven't been getting a lot of barn time lately — partly because of the crappy weather, partly because of scheduling conflicts and work deadlines.  Luckily, we are now having a run of 50- and 60-degree days, and I have some free time at the same time, so I was able to ride yesterday for the first time in a week and a half.

I had gotten out to the barn both days over the weekend, but I didn't ride either day, because of lack of time (Saturday) and not feeling like dealing with Panama's mood (Sunday).  I could tell he needed a good run on Saturday, but the snow from the last three snowstorms is finally melting (it was too cold for it to melt much between storms), and the outdoor arena is a swamp.  On Saturday it was filled with deep slushy half-melted snow, and he didn't want anything to do with running in that, so I took him inside and lunged him in the indoor arena for about 15 minutes.

I knew he needed more than that, so Sunday I met Spaghetti's owner and we turned the horses out together.  The arena was still very slushy, but they managed to get some play time in, anyway.  But I could tell he was still fired up, and I didn't feel like dealing with it, so we didn't ride.

Fast forward to yesterday.  The outdoor arena was even worse: one giant puddle in the middle, with soupy wet sand toward the outer edges.  (It usually drains and dries up much better, but this time it had more snow than it could handle melting all at once.)  I turned Panama out and he poked around, looking for a good place to roll, but not being willing to roll in the soup.  So I took him inside, and for the first time ever he rolled on the line — twice.  Both times he went all the way over, and looked a little bemused when the line ended up over his ears.  I think he really wanted to roll back and forth, over and over and over, but restrained himself because he doesn't like rolling on the line.

It's really too bad we're not allowed to turn out in the indoor, because it was obvious he needed a good run.  When he was finished rolling, he grabbed his lead rope from my hand and started shaking it around.  He doesn't play like this all that often, so clearly he has a lot of energy with nowhere for it to go.  Then when I stopped to chat with someone, he started trying to steal the coiled line she was carrying.  When that didn't work, he started playing with the hood on my sweatshirt.  The hood on my winter jacket snaps on, and pulling it off is one of his favorite games, so he was a bit surprised when he pulled on my sweatshirt hood and I came with it!

Unfortunately, playfulness doesn't necessarily translate into a good ride.  By the time we got tacked up and into the indoor arena, it was getting rather busy, since there was nowhere else for anyone to ride.  I think we had five riders and their horses in there at one point.  Panama wasn't explosive, for which I was grateful since I hadn't had a chance to turn him out, but he had absolutely no focus.  We had numerous discussions over steering, because all he wanted to do was socialize with the other horses.  For the first ten minutes or so, I had to completely change our direction every time he got distracted, in order to remind him that I was there and he was supposed to be listening to me.  Eventually it worked.  It still took twice as long as usual for him to respond to a cue, but at least he stopped trying to follow all the other horses around!

We rode for about 45 minutes, and although it was long enough to work through some of the issues, clearly he thinks he is still on vacation.  I will have to make sure I ride him as much as possible before our next lesson, so that I have a halfway decent chance of him behaving himself.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

MORE snow...

I knew we were expecting another snowstorm to arrive sometime this afternoon, but since we didn't know exactly when (and the forecasts were way off on the last one anyway), I decided to just keep an eye on the skies, so to speak.  It started off with light flurries, so I decided to wait a bit longer, but when it finally turned it turned fast.  We left the bookstore and went out to the barn...

...To find both Panama and Spaghetti hanging out in the snow.  Sigh...

I think most likely they weren't concerned because it actually wasn't that cold yet.  It's fairly warm for snow, so I think it'll be one of those heavy, wet snows that we often get in Colorado in the spring.  Anyway, Panama was hanging out with his pasturemate, Savvy, who was already blanketed and therefore didn't care about getting snowed on.  Spaghetti was waiting at the gate at the end of his run, looking around as if he were wondering when someone was going to come blanket him.  Silly horses!

So I towel dried both of them, threw the blankets on (their backs were slightly damp, but between the blankets being breathable and the climate here being so arid, they'll dry fast underneath), and fed them both some treats (Panama stood at the fence, waiting, and nickered for his "goodbye treat" as I call it).  It's supposed to snow off and on throughout tomorrow and tomorrow night, so the blankets won't come off again until Monday morning.  I'm so sick of all this snow!

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Cabin fever

My gelding's mustang playmate, galloping

We had quite a week.  Monday we had a snowstorm and the beginnings of a deep freeze — by the time the sun went down, it was somewhere around 10 degrees, I think.  Tuesday didn't get above zero until early afternoon, and only topped out at about 3 degrees, and I don't think it ever reached the 9 degrees they were predicting on Wednesday.  Thursday was supposed to warm up, which it did, but it snowed almost all day too, so Panama's blanket stayed on (and Spaghetti's — I'm blanketing for his mom while she's out of town).

Today was a little better — I think it got into the 40s, although it was a slow climb because it was so overcast in the morning.  (It actually snowed for a little bit where my husband works, on the other side of town, but not at the barn thankfully.)  I got out to the barn around 10am, pulled Panama's and Spaghetti's blankets, and turned them out together for a little playtime.

This was the first time I've turned them both out by myself, and I can definitely see the value of having two people.  I thought long and hard about what order to turn them out in, and I ultimately chose to turn Panama out first.  I was pretty sure whoever was already turned out was going to go after the second horse when I brought him into the arena, but I was more confident in my ability to chase Panama off while unhooking Spaghetti.

Spaghetti is usually a pretty mellow little guy, especially considering he's a mustang, but today he was in rare form.  He wanted to trot all the way to the arena, and I had to stop to circle him around me several times.  As we reached the arena gate (with Panama trotting along beside us at the rail, of course), Spaghetti started pushing me around with his head and trying to nip at me, urging me to hurry up and turn him loose.  I know he was anxious to get out after moping around in the cold all week, but I wasn't going to take him into that arena until he was behaving himself, so I made him circle me outside the gate until he offered to stop and was willing to behave.  (Several times he offered to stop and then immediately nipped at me, which earned him more circles.)

Once he was ready to wait patiently for me to unchain the gate, I took him in.  As expected, Panama was immediately on us, and I threw the end of the line at him across Spaghetti's back.  Unfortunately, it took several line-tosses to get my point across, and by the time Panama got it, Spaghetti was getting fired up about the line-tossing.  So he tried to go after Panama, Panama forgot about what I was trying to tell him, and they reared up a couple of times, with me yanking on the lead line and yelling at them to cut it out.  I'm sure this was all very amusing to watch!

Finally, after some line-tossing, line-yanking, a few rounds of bite-rear-squeal (from them) and several choice swear words (from me), they figured out that the pesky little two-legged wasn't going to let go until she got her way.  They positioned themselves facing one another, and waited patiently for me to get the halter off, which I did.  And they didn't run me over once I had it off, either!  So I consider the experiment a success: I didn't get squished, and I'm pretty sure they figured out what I wanted of them.  Not that I am eager to repeat it any time soon to find out...

After a nice long playdate, I put first Panama away, then Spaghetti.  Spaghetti was very good for me and led well this time, but still had a lot more pep in his step than his usual.  I hung out, chatted a bit, and got a little work done (I'd brought my laptop, planning to wait there instead of driving home and back again) until it was time for my lesson.

The lesson was "an adventure," as my trainer called it — Sid (the horse who tried to kick us a couple of weeks ago) was in the indoor, ground driving with her owner, which Panama found very interesting and maybe a little concerning.  Then another horse came in, and completely flipped out about the ground driving.  Unfortunately, Panama (who was already a little squirrely) decided that if the other horse was scared, he'd better be too, and then everything was scary.  Even my trainer moving her arm a little as we walked by triggered a spook.

It took a while, but we worked through the wiggles (more or less), and even got some trot pole work done.  It was a bit of a frustrating lesson for me, because it was spent with my trainer talking me through how to work him through it.  In other words, I didn't get to do anything interesting!  But I guess that's part of working with horses — you have to be patient when they have cabin fever after a week of bad weather.

My gelding, waiting at the gate for me to come get him

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