Thursday, June 14, 2012

Meet Lucas

So, a lot has been going on lately! It's been forever since I posted, but I'll just get to the fun stuff. So, I have been looking around for a horse and just searching through ads to get an idea of what the market is like, contacting sales barns, etc. Wyatt's mom has also been helping me look. We decided to take a day to go up to Fresno to look around at some of the horses up there. Typically you get a pretty good bargain up there for some reason, so I figured that was a good place to start. She sent me probably 10 links to ads and I got a little overwhelmed, but I contacted everyone at the last minute since we planned not too far ahead of time, and only 3 people got back to me. Wyatt's mom REALLY liked this 4 yr old appendix that she found. For some reason he just struck her, kinda like Wyatt struck her way back when. I wasn't impressed, I'd seen much flashier, better trained, etc, but since we were going to be there, we went to see him. Lets just say he made a much better impression in person! He was pretty well started western pleasure, so the lady who showed him to us was making him do all these funky things, basically crawl around with his nose on the ground. But, you could definitely tell his brain was there. We were super mean and crinkled things in our pockets, and stomped on tarps/bags outside the arena 'by accident' right as they went past to see what he would do, all with no reaction.

So I hopped on. He's 99% 'whoa' which is really weird for me, but such a refreshing change. At first it took me everything I had to get him to trot after his owner had ridden in western spurs, but we got there, and then got his trot moving. If you don't constantly fiddle with his mouth then he doesn't put it on the ground, and trots around in a nice willing place. When you fiddle a bit, he gives a bit, which was nice! His canter transition involved him tossing his head to jump into it, but his canter itself was nice, slow, and rhythmic. Ok, maybe a little too slow ;) but we can work with that. Wyatt's mom gives him a couple of things to gawk at, like her jumping up and down by the rail with her arms flailing over her head, and he just kinda looked at her like she was crazy, and kept on going. He was such a good boy :) and such a confidence booster because he really just wants to listen to you. So I figured out how to bring him home.

The first day on the property I let him settle in for a few hours, and then tried to push his buttons. I lunged him, where he galloped and whinnied for a few minutes, and then decided that was way too much work and chilled out, and then got on in the big arena. He walked and trotted poles, walk trot canter both directions, only slightly looked at all the scary stuff that Bijou usually fixates on for the whole ride, and I even popped him over all the crossrails in the arena, which he 'jumped' or more like excitedly trotted over. Then I took him out into the x-country/dressage field which is full of scary obstacles and rustling squirrels etc. He got a little worried about a pile of jumps which was rustling with squirrels, and then did a four feet splay spook. That was it. We walked around the pastures and he got run up on by the mares which he thought was exciting, but all he did was jig for maybe 3 steps. He passed all my tests with flying colors, especially since he's 4!

Since then we've settled into a routine. I turn him out with his buddies (working on the bolting away from me the second the halter's off), where he alternates between scratching shoulders with his friend Max, and trotting around whinnying at everyone. Then I come out in the late afternoon, and as soon as he recognizes me, he walks right up to the gate and waits to be haltered. When he's turned out he doesn't need lunging before riding. Even though he's pretty distracted by everyone/everything on the ground, he gets right to business once under saddle. It takes minimal effort to gain his attention, a mini cluck, or just a squeeze on the inside rein.

As far as retraining him, he's been a champ, if not a bit confused. His whole life everyone's been telling him to slow down, and now I want him to go faster?? What is this about?! Mostly he tries to canter when I'm asking for more trot, but we've been working on doing collected trot on the short side, and extended trot on the long side. It took him about two times around to figure out the pattern (good memorization will be awesome for dressage tests!!) and then we worked on making sure his hind end stayed engaged and just tweaked things. A dressage whip has been invaluable for teaching him to lighten up for my leg and he responds perfectly to it. Right now our rides are still not super polished. I'm still figuring out how I fit on him and where I need to be in order to be most effective. He's a super smart kid, figuring out turns on the forehand, already knew turns on the haunches. And the best part is, on days when I'm beat from work I can safely hop on in just a halter and canter my heart out. That's when his western pleasure jog comes in handy too :) Oh, can you tell where the name came from? Look at those ears!

Bijou's still mine for the time being, and doing excellently, but getting two horses out is hard!! I'll update about her soon too, but that's enough for now :)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Less is So Much More

Well, I've still been riding, fighting, riding. I've just totally let myself tune in to what could be Bijou's issue. She's always liked to toss her head around, but lately its gotten worse. I took off her bridle, and rode in just a halter. Voila problem solved. She was SO CRAZY RESPONSIVE in just a rope halter it's amazing. We only got into one mini tiff when she wanted to follow Wyatt one way and I wanted to go the other. That was the only time I had to pull at all. She even will collect and go round (easier than with a bit) in it. I just lay my inside leg on her and give a squeeze with my inside rein (leadrope!) and she's trotting around in a willing low level frame! We even cantered with other horses cantering which has never been a problem in the past, but the dogs were running around crazy, and there was a scary plastic chair right near the arena, but we cantered and came back to a lovely trot with just a change of seat and a light contact. She spooked once, but I think because she didn't catch herself in the mouth when she did it because there was nothing to catch herself on, it was much less severe than normal, almost a normal horse spook :)

I don't want to jinx anything, but there might be big bittersweet news soon. That's all I'll say for now.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dissappearing act

I've disappeared, I know. I've been dealing with some tough decisions lately, and really struggling with if Bijou is right for me. I haven't blogged about it because its not very fun, and I'd rather not be a bummer blogger.

I just don't think Bijou is the kind of horse I want. I'm going to be really honest, I pay money to participate in horse ownership, and not just spare change, but a large part of my recent-college-graduate budget. I'm not having enough fun with Bijou to justify it. I don't take off property trips for fear of her losing it and hurting herself or me or the others I'm with. I don't even ride outside of the arena because the spooks are so often and violent that I can't let go of a necessary death grip. Some days I know I don't have the patience to ride by the same scary corner for the 15th time without wanting to scream, so I don't even go out to the barn. I have to psych myself up for each ride, faking the confidence I don't feel anymore, trying to make it work for one more ride.

In all, this situation is not fun, and I'm pretty sure I'm making it worse by being nervous about Bijou being nervous. I've totally changed my riding style. Someone recently commented that I'm hyper defensive and go into the fetal position at the slightest flinch. I'm sure that I do. This makes me a much less effective rider, which then makes Bijou more confused.

So, I cheated. I started shopping, and I put Bijou on the market. Shortly after I stumbled upon a free warmblood who had some problems but the seller was willing to give me a trial period to see if I thought he'd work through his issues. He was SO. COOL. Even keeled, level headed, easy. I was in love. Big cute loverboy personality, compliments on how nice he looked everywhere I turned, whinnying when I drove in, bright white markings, all the makings of a 'forever' horse. However, long story short, he had some conformational issues that I wasn't comfortable having in a horse that I wanted to jump with. He was visibly lame for the two weeks that I had him, due to limb length disparity, club feet, and pigeon toes. I just took him back today. I've had a few interested people contact me about Bijou, but she's still mine, for the time being.

I feel like I'm at rock bottom and there's only one place to go - up. I'm trying a few new things with Bijou. I think she's got ulcers, and I just got my anti-ulcer meds in the mail today. I'm also going to put in an order for the best calming supplement I can find. I'm starting with a clean slate and continuing training with my TB until I can find her the right home. I'm only tentatively shopping since I can't really afford to keep two horses for very long, so I'm hoping Bijou sells before I find something, but at this point I'm so disheartened by the whole process that I don't know if I will ever find something quite right. Am I being too picky? Am I crazy? Why is this so hard?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I'm not good at sharing

So things with leasers #2 and #3 were tested this weekend since I was out of town. #3 had Saturday and Monday all to herself, with mixed reviews. One spectator said that things were going well, one said that it got quite scary. She ended up 'unseated' and on Bijou's neck at one point, which I don't call safe riding. I guess she tried to have Bijou go through a set of about 5 trot poles, which were raised 6" on one end or the other. I know this is a simple exercise, and I know I probably should be doing this stuff in my sleep with her now, but for her it is a lot to ask. She texted me and said that she had been a "pest" in the beginning, but that they worked it out. I don't like that she's moving up so quickly with what she feels comfortable doing. I had her walk and trot over a single pole on the ground in one of our lessons which was a challenge... so I just don't know if we're missing the common sense gene, or if she really thought it wouldn't be a big deal.

Add on to the above eye witness accounts - when I rode today things were tense, stiff, naughty, and unwilling. I feel like since I haven't been riding over this weekend Bijou has regressed back about a month. That's with #3 riding twice without me... that's not a good sign in my book. She took 1/2 an hour to supple down at the trot, and she just would not give me any kind of flexion in the canter until we had been doing the 1/2 arena circle about 10 times. I actually heard her start wheezing because she was holding her head so high. I finally got her to give just a little bit and called it good. Definitely not a fun ride, and feels like I have a lot of work to do.

I like this girl, I think she's a good rider, but I think she just might not be right for Bijou. I don't want to sound like a horrible person and tell her that she's doing everything wrong, but I think I have to do something. I guess I've kinda decided that I'm just going to lay it out like it is and see what she thinks of the whole situation... hopefully it will turn out well.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don't Jinx it

... but I think I'm slated for our debut into the show ring! There is a really cute little show about a half hour away that's coming up on March 18th. I have to break in my new tall boots before then, but other than that I think I'm going. I'm only going to enter dumb stuff like walk/trot, because I don't think I can take the pressure of trying something challenging for this first show, and I want to make sure that it is a good experience for Bijou first and foremost. The only bad thing is that Open walk/trot is THE. VERY. FIRST. CLASS. This means I'll have very little time to warm up unless I get up practically in the middle of the night...

I'm still really really excited!! Now I just have to practice things as if I were at a show, and clean my tack! And find all my show clothes!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Leaser option number 2 and 3

Leaser #2 started her riding career many years ago riding english and doing hunter/jumper stuff. Then she up 'n went western and has been working for western pleasure trainers for the last 10 years or so. She's a really good rider, and has a good seat. She struggled for a minute with finding contact with Bijou's mouth again after so long of a loose neck rein, but it came back to her surprisingly quickly with a few pointers. She has a style all her own, not timid, but just... nice. She likes to take things slow and not overwhelm either of them. I don't know how that will play out in the future but it seems to work pretty well. When I think about trying to have a 'nice' ride it usually helps, so that's a good sign.

I have already contacted leaser #1 and told her that she's not quite the right fit for what I was looking for. She'd need quite a few lessons for me to feel comfortable with her riding by herself, and then I'd still be a little worried. Leaser #3 was not that great about getting back to me, and leaser #2 was a really good fit, so I told her that she 'got it' I guess you'd call it... the whole leaser/lessee relationship weirdness topic will have to wait for another day.

So then, I had leaser #3 get back to me. I told her that I'd actually had a lot of interest and that I would like to charge someone a small leasing fee ($75) thinking that it would dissuade her. I guess I was wrong. She was happy to pay a fee, and came out and is also a really good rider but has a much more aggressive attitude. She and Bijou got into a few fights with her mouth, but we were able to talk her back into being good. She has been coming out in the morning to get lessons from me and I think Bijou gets pissed when we take her away from her food, so she's usually in need of a round pen romp before she can be trusted.

Now I've gotten myself into a pickle because with two people riding 3 days a week each, it means that I either have to ride my horse as a second ride for her for the day, or I only get one day a week... Right now I'm going to try to make it work because #3 isn't available on weekends, which is when I really need someone, but I think down the road she's going to be more valuable as a team of people riding Bijou than #2. #2 gets in less fights with Bijou and has a 'better' ride, but she also is very hesitant to do many things like go over poles etc. I like them both, but I can't tell who's going to really end up working out better yet. I've also picked up more hours at work, so if I don't have to go ride it means I can do things like cook or laundry or any of my other life stuff... but I would rather ride than do life stuff! Ugh. Having a horse is hard, but I guess I wouldn't have it any other way :P

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Leaser option number 1

Today I had the first of now three potential leasers come out to try Bijou. I was expecting a ridiculous mess since Bijou really hadn't been worked (other than light lunging to check soundness) in 11 days! It rained, she slipped, and then I've been giving her some time... phew, that's a long time off!

So, #1 is a 4th year college student who hasn't ridden consistently for 5 years but when she stopped, she and her horse were competing at Training Level in 3-Day in Colorado. She is a super cool chick who seems really honest and down to earth. She kept saying how good it felt to be back in the saddle, how pretty/nice/cute/good Bijou was, and how she feels soooo out of shape. From what I saw, there was a rider in there who really knew what she was doing, but is very rusty, which is very understandable. I started off the ride with a bit of a long walk warmup, and then asked Shelly to watch as I picked up a trot. Bijou was a little stiff and protective all over, but I just popped into my two point and let her loosen up. As usual, when I'm expecting to be riding a doofus, I get an angel, and that was the case today too. She was really super good and mellow and just trotted around with a light contact on the bit, and then danced her way into a beautiful canter transition and went once around the ring nice and slow with her head just above vertical. I'm so happy that we seem to have made it over the cantering-is-really-exciting phase and are working towards the being-round-and-cantering phase. I called it good there since I didn't know how much #1 would want to do, and she nervously got on. They walked around for a while, and I left her pretty much alone while she reveled in being in the saddle again. She picked up the trot, her leg fell into chair position, and fumbled she fumbled around getting a little left behind, and then falling a little ahead. I asked her if she wanted me to give her a few tips and she said of course, so I helped her a little bit and saw major improvement in just a few minutes. Then someone tossed their crazy horse in the round pen and of course Bijou thought there was a horse eating dragon thrashing around just barely contained in there and decided to bolt away. #1 stayed on, got quite a bit tense, and then I told her to relax, and she let go of her death grip and Bijou relaxed. I let her work in the other half of the arena because she was definitely shaken up, and we went back to doing some exercises to get her leg under her and have her pick up the right amount of contact. Overall I think she did a good job, she passed the spooking test, and she said she'd love to have me around for the first few times she rode so that she could learn more about her and make sure I was comfortable with her riding on her own.

I really liked #1 just as a person, we hit it off for sure and she seems super cool. Bijou overall seemed to like her and not try to fight with her too much. #1 really liked Bijou, commenting on how responsive she was to the seat and how light she felt in the bridle. The jury's still out until we have seen #2 and #3, but if they royally suck, I think I can make #1 work.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Slippery slope

I went out to ride on Thursday and something was just not quite right. I ended up picking out two big rocks that got into her feet which I thought might have caused it, but then I got back on and something was still amiss. I ended up asking the girl who was in the arena with me to look at her as I trotted by and she said she looked off behind, which is when she remembered that Bijou had taken a mighty stumble while trying to skid to a halt in 2" deep slick mud while she was feeding over the weekend. I guess she skidded so bad that her hind feet slid in front of her front feet and she toppled over, I know if that were me, I'd be pretty sore. So this week I've been feeding and fattening her up which I think has been helping some. I feel like I've finally reached equilibrium and now I just need to keep it up until the grass starts growing again. I went out again on Friday and she seemed quite a bit better already, so we did a bunch of walking to get her limber and moving and then hand-grazed for a while. There's something so comforting about watching a horse eat... or maybe it's just me :P

I have made appointments with both potential leasers and I'll know after next week if I think either of them will work. I'll just have to double make sure they sign a release since the little Bee will probably be wound up a bit with having almost a week off.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

No more lessons

So I decided to fire my trainer. She's been consistently getting lazier. Like, I say "I want to do more jumping in my lessons" and she proceeds to sit on the mounting block eating her trail mix while I jump the half fallen jumps that were already set up in the arena instead of rearranging them into a specific exercise for us. I also decided that with my paychecks being smaller, I really couldn't afford to be taking lessons unless I felt like I was getting a lot out of them, which I didn't really anymore. She also was seeming to push the spurs/whip thing a lot with me. I don't like riding with spurs or a whip, I would rather rely on other things. I know sometimes they are necessary, but I'd rather try to work around them. Especially when my horse seems to lose her mind when I use a whip on her. She doesn't take punishment very well... better than she used to, but still it can turn her into a crazy horse for a bit if she doesn't understand. When I tried to use my whip on her in my last lesson she just seemed like she didn't get where it came from or why, and ran around in fear for 5 minutes.

Anyhow, long whip/spurs rant over... it rained pretty good over this weekend, so there hasn't been a whole lot of riding going on. I have started to give Bijou two buckets a day now, as her once a day meal of beet pulp and rice bran was exceeding the buckets limit. I also added alfalfa pellets and soybean oil in. So far she seems to like the taste of her feed better with the alfalfa, and the oil hasn't caused any runs yet, and I've already bumped up to 1/2 c. 2x per day. I had the urge to pull out my old Equine Nutrition text books, but then realized that I would probably get bogged down in them and trying to balance a ration. I'd rather spend my days feeding my horse something I know works than in the books trying to make it perfect.

I also put up an ad a while back on Craigslist to see if anyone would want to come out and ride the beast. I don't think I'll charge anything because she's not a schoolmaster who could teach someone a lot, and I'd really appreciate just having someone come out to help me get her out more. So far I have two candidates, after next week I'll have had both of them out so we'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Keep on Keepin' on

Nothing all that spectacular to report... but feel like I should report even the little things because I know I like to read them later. Just put Bijou back into work yesterday. She was rushy and fussy and I didn't get the 'refreshed' horse I was looking for, but she wasn't a total spaz case either, so I'll call it a success.

Today we worked a lot on the things that were my homework for last week. We did lots of transitions. Bijou is great at upward transitions as long as she knows they're coming, but when I let her get into a lazy walk and then try to pick things up again she is pretty behind my leg. Cue #2 of our homework, start carrying a dressage whip. This took a little getting used to for both Bijou and I. I haven't carried a crop/whip in a long time, so it took some re-getting used to, and Bijou kept listening to the little thing fluttering at her side. I didn't use the whip, I just held it, because she has been a bit shy of it in the past. We also worked on halting without trying to rip the reins out of my hands, and then knowing the difference between halting and backing, and halting and then going forward again. We did lots of transitions from walk-trot then trot-collected-extended then walk-canter. We did one REALLY great walk/canter transition to the left, and then a few sloppy ones to the right. I also did some pretty tight circles at the canter mostly to slow the beast down without having to rip on her face, but also because I feel like she needs to learn to balance, and circles are a good idea! Then she was still being really rushy at the canter and kinda bolting down the long sides, so I decided to just two-point and get contact and circle until she decided to chill the eff out. Surprisingly, when I picked up into two point, she went round and much much lighter in my hands. She was still fast, but there were good moments of regular canter too. I think she's just not quite fit enough to be expecting real good canter all the time, but I just want to figure out how to get her to stop running away with me. I think I'll try doing lots of two-point canter (which will be good pre-gallop practice for me anyway) which hopefully will help her develop better muscling over time, which will allow her to carry me better in the future.

phew. That felt like it got really long winded, but oh well. I'm still so happy that I can canter without fear of being bucked off. I think I should make another resolution, to be thankful for where we are and reflect on where we've been while striving to be better at the same time, otherwise I can get stuck in the now, and feel like I'm sinking in the issues we're having. Yet another great reason for having a blog, I can look back and reflect on when I couldn't lunge my horse, or when I felt bad for riding her because she was so skinny... don't miss those days!

I've got another lesson on Saturday, so I'll do more practicing tomorrow and Friday :)