Friday, December 30, 2011

Week Off

With the crazy holiday season, and our recent breakthroughs, I feel like this week was a good week to take some time off. Bijou's been getting a bit girthy lately, which I don't think has to do with saddle fit problems, but I'm hoping that giving her a week off will help with her sourness. She was getting the tiniest bit huffy with me when I'd start to ask for real work, and I think that a lot of that has to do with her finally learning to carry herself properly in all 3 gaits and it making her sore.

This week I've only ridden twice, and both times were bareback. First we did just some walking/bending and trotting, then today we tried some walk/canter transitions. These were a little messy since I was off balance and cautious without a saddle, but they worked, which is more than I could say about our walk/canter transitions before, since we couldn't even do them!

I'm using this time off to clean up around the house a little (what? me?! CLEAN!?!?) and reorganize my thoughts about what my goals with Bijou are. This is pretty perfect since we're starting a whole new year, just in time for new years resolutions :)

My horsey resolutions are:

1) Have short, frequent rides. I've learned that Bijou really works best if I just warm her up walking/trotting on a loose rein, and then do about 15 minutes of work-work, rather than futzing around for 45 minutes.

2) I will show this year. I don't care if my tall boots don't fit, or I can't find my hairnet, or we just do a walk/trot class, I will show. I'm not going for rated shows or even recognized shows. Even if I just make it to one show that my barn is hosting, I will call this one good.

3) Keep my tack clean. I'm horrible at this. All the pony clubbers would cringe at the layer of sweaty, grassy, slimy grime on everything.

4) Ride dressage tests. I've had plenty of practice remembering courses, but dressage tests are still really hard for me to remember. I think this will also be good practice for me to ride correct geometry and learn more about dressage in general too.

5) Don't accumulate unnecessary horsey accessories/downsize the current stash. I have 3 brand new bridles sitting in storage because they were such a good deal... but I never use them. I have two lavendar color saddle pads because I want lavendar, black, and white to be my eventing colors... but why two pads (in addition to 4-5 other saddle pads)? I have unidentifyable leather pieces in the bottom of my tack box that could have been reins, side reins, long reins, draw reins, but have lost their pair because I never use them. Maybe I'll sell some of my stuff on here like Eventer76 did over at We are Flying Solo?

I think 5 is a nice round and still manageable number.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yay we can canter!

We had our best canter ever this week. I feel like (crossing fingers to not jinx it) we've made a breakthrough. I had a really great lesson with my trainer Melissa. She totally called me on some things that I needed to be called on. It's really great to have her be Bijou's advocate and I'm so happy to have her.

My lessons started off promptly at 9 am, which I think is the earliest I've even been on Bijou. It was foggggy! This, of course, meant that my little mare was shying and spooking at everything... oh dear. After about 10 minutes of bolting giraffe impressions: (see below for example)

Melissa asked if we even had a horse to work with today, and a month ago I would have asked the same, but I know better now. Bijou had this trick. She knew if she was REALLY bad for the first 10 minutes, I would get off, and just lunge her. I think she much preferred running around like a maniac to working hard under saddle, so in essence I was rewarding her. Then I got sick of it, and kicked myself in the butt to just ride it out. Lo and behold just at the point where you're thinking - "great, I'm going to be flung into the air today" all you have to do is make her do some HARD work, and then she settles in. This sometimes means tight trotting circles, counter bent circles at the walk, leg yields, etc. Then all of a sudden there's a horse underneath you instead of a bouncing bunny rabbit.

So, with that taken care of, we did some transitions to warm up. Lots of concerted 'on' with real contact and pushing forward with my seat and then big releases of 'off' to give her a reward. We've been struggling with the canter for a while now. Melissa wanted to get her to canter (not gallop) on a loose rein, so that I could then turn my aids 'on' and ask for collection, and then when she gave it to me turn the aids 'off' for a reward. This. just. wasn't. working. Every time I would let go of the reins (off means on the buckle) Bijou would rev up and get faster. I would get more tense, waiting for her to start misbehaving, she would get faster in response to my tenseness and you see where this was going.

We changed tactics. For the first week I just would randomly ask for a canter, and then as soon as she would get strong/fast, I would halt. This was not always pretty, but it got her to the point that when I half halted, it was strong enough to actually slow her down. This resulted in short spurts of ok canter. It also helped her realize that cantering is not so damn exciting :P

My last lesson, on Sunday, was a bit miraculous. I was supposed to have worked on what Melissa called "shutting her down" in the canter. The only problem is, I didn't get what that meant. I thought it meant some kind of shut the door in front of her, aka pull on her face. She asked me to show her our progress and when we realized we weren't on the same page we had a talk. Basically, I need to make sure that my body energy level meets what I'm doing. When I'm sitting in the middle of the arena chatting is 'shut down'. Armed with this new idea, I picked up a canter (from the walk, mind you :D), picked a spot, and just went into "I'm sitting at a halt" and without touching Bijou's face, we were trotting! It was amazing. I knew it was possible because she does really follow my seat, but I couldn't do it before because I didn't have the right mental image to follow. Hooray!!

This week, I've been really focusing on keeping my energy at a level that matches what I'm doing. I think that's why yesterday we cantered in both directions, with amazingly calm pace, and when I added contact, Bijou dropped her nose and lifted her back - even to the point where she had her head below her knees for a few strides. Needless to say, we called it good after that and I was smiling so much I got tears in my eyes.

I love my pony-mare.

Friday, December 9, 2011

aha moments

Its days like today and weeks like this week that I'm glad I started a blog to keep track of what I do with Bijou. There are many more things that I get out of using this blog which I didn't think would be so helpful. I get a whole community of horse people to relate to. This community validates so many of my feelings, its supportive, and it keeps me sane sometimes :)

A recent post by eventer79 over at We are Flying Solo totally keyed in to what I've been feeling and dealing with. I've been struggling with feeling like I'm not good enough for Bijou, or that she's too much horse for me. I've started to change this by taking lessons and really working on my confidence (which has been broken since breaking my ankle). So far this has worked out great! In fact, I have a confession to make...

Ever since I bought Bijou, I've had a small thought in the back of my mind that if we didn't get along, if we just couldn't make it work, then I'd sell her, like I've sold so many other 'project horses'. This was my secret thought, because I really wanted to make things work. It would sneak up on me after bad days/weeks when I felt a bit helpless, and then dissipate to just background noise again when things got somewhat better. Now, however, we've been making so much progress that I'm seeing visions of Bijou and I many years down the road, when she'll still be a bit kooky, but we'll have all kinds of shared experiences strengthening the bond between us and hopefully most of our major issues will be out of the way. I don't see her becoming The Perfect Horse, but I can see us continuing to grow together until she's My Perfect Horse, even with all her imperfections.

Ok, now I'll get my head out of the clouds... back on ground level! I'm going to see if I can get a fellow boarder to help me get Bijou out more regularly. Her horses are back home for the winter, and she has no one to ride. Her horse is normally pretty spunky so we are going to see if she likes Bijou and wants to help me with her a few times a week. Here's to hoping :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lessonless and still learning

So my trainer and I have been having quite a hard time actually making it to our scheduled lessons. She picked up a part time job which means that our schedules only have a few overlapping free periods now. At first I was like "ok, time for me to practice all those exercises we were doing" but now that it's been several weeks I'm thinking "hmm... what were those exercises again??"

But I think I've made a few steps forward on my own (which I guess is what I was doing before the trainer came along anyways). I had been kinda cheating. You see, when I haven't gotten my lovely 7 yr old TB mare out in ~4 days, she becomes a crazy hot wild animal. So I lunged, and lunged, and lunged until the poor beast was sweating and puffing, and then I would get on and do some under saddle work that is surprisingly focused and fruitful! I guess some would call this cheating, and some would call it lunging the bucks out, but I know that I was using her being fresh as an excuse to avoid having to talk about her crazyness with her.

I don't really know how much sense that makes, but basically I would lunge my horse until she was a different horse, and then get on to ride my now placid mare. I think I was doing both of us a disservice by skipping over the important conversation that needs to take place between a fractious animal and its rider.

So... after Thanksgiving when the beast hadn't been ridden in like 6 days I just got on. I knew it was going to perhaps be a bit rocky, so I set some simple goals. I wanted to trot without hanging on her face for dear life. At first this started much as I had pictured. Cue giraffe impression. Oh yah, and then bolt half way across the arena a few times. Break to a canter every 10 strides when I try to loosen the death grip. Flip head all over the place whenever a half halt is applied. So I applied a different tactic, which I had not had much success with in the past, but had never tried on Bijou. Every time she started to speed demon, I would lift my inside rein and make a small circle. She knows very well now that pressure on the reins means drop her head, so once she got over practically tripping over herself from trying to circle at full speed, it meant I got a soft and much rounder horse (rather than the giraffe). She tried to cheat a few times by gunning forward when the circle was done, but I'd just keep the bend as much as I could, and she'd realize that she couldn't get away with it and that going slower made it easier. Also, because I wasn't half halting every second, she was much softer in the contact that I did have and we didn't have any head flipping. Hooray!! I trotted her around a whole bunch and called it good.

I've also made progress on the spooking front. I've ridden plenty of spooky horses, but hers just throw me for a loop. It's not that I ever feel insecure like I might fall off, it's just that she's so acrobatic in her spooks that they kinda scare me. I've psyched myself up and made up my mind that when my horse spooks she's going to get to work harder until she settles the hell down. Today she was being all uppity about another rider kissing to her horse. She would only do it when the other horse was behind us, but she would launch into a huge leap and then throw her head/neck all over the place trying to wrench the reins out of my hands. For this she got to disengage her hindquarters and then trot in little circles and figure eights until she was listening to me and only me again. After the third spook (for various reasons) she decided it would be easier to just listen to me, and we finished our ride on 10 minutes of beautiful trot/walk and walk/trot transitions with a lap or two of relatively relaxed canter. Amazing how that works, isn't it?

I have a trim and a lesson scheduled for this week. I think I wormed Bijou since the last time I posted too...