Posted in Dressage, Training

Trailing at the end

The sessions with Little Mighty horse are going great. I notice that she is so very attentive to my every move, but without fear. She gets overwhelmed quickly but if I take it step by step she is pretty receptive20479671_10103526400871605_1576829596749439063_n of the information I give her. With that being said- She is very expressive when she feels I’m throwing too much at her!

We have had some pretty teachable moments lately! I think the trick to keep having fun, even when she is being a little more difficult. Instead of getting irritated when I have to do a one-rein-stop, I just go with it. Stop… We catch our breaths…resume… as per normal.

Last week we worked our normal routine in the big field working on transitions in the walk and trot. We worked more on our Halt, just for the sake of why not. I am now using the small hills for some strength training and she is getting so much better at circles! I know, I know… Every week I keep telling you our circles are better, but they really do get better; who knew there was so much to teaching a circle!

Again for giggles I decided that last Tuesday after our workout was complete, we would take a hand walk down the long driveway, cool down, and see the sites. She was fantastic! We took a walk around the giant field next to the drive and down into the wooded area. When we returned to our starting point we walked over to the nearby fire pit and got acclimated with solar ground lighting and the pit, as well as the various seating accommodations! She was so brave! I climbed up on the one wooden bench and climbed on. So we stood for a few moments and just took a breather to settle my nerves and off we went: back to the field, where we zigged through trees and zagged through tall bushes and under branches. I finally have a horse that is small enough to duck under them!

After we did two loops successfully with my dog in the background we called it quits on a successful day and returned to snack on some hay. This ride was followed by another ride with even bigger milestones.. Yes, I realize I tell you they’re bigger all of the time, but this is pretty big.. Wait for it…

My friend Kristene keeps her two horses on the farm and had arrived just after I started with Mia. First I started by introducing the side-reins; an effective tool to be used to encourage stretching and to accept the contact with the bit. She was rather opinionated and while she is getting better with accepting the contact she does, from time to time, bump it and startle herself. Her reactions are not normally too explosive but she did hit it and pop a couple of good rears in there. I tell you this to remind you that horses are not Unicorns over-night and they are reactive and explosive and it comes with the territory. It is not for the faint of heart! After encouraging forward movement (She had stopped and backed up, reared and stood) by placing my body to the side with the use of my lunge whip, we were able continue onward and did a little more before calling it a day with this portion of our training schedule. At this point Kristene came out with her mare, and we practiced riding together and following and leading. At first Mia was slightly freaked out, whinnying to the other horses and being slightly jumpy about having another horse with her, she settled right down. We worked on this for probably a half of an hour and moved on to phase three.

I hand walked Mia to the fire pit once again and Kristene rode over and while I mounted she stood near to us and we just took in the beautiful fall air and enjoyed the peace of the evening. With Mia ready to go within a few minutes we rode around the field, down in the trees, playing follow the leader and circled back to the drive way. With Kristene and her trusty trail blazer in the lead we walked down the driveway and up the street. I was nervous and played the, just to that next telephone pole game, until we nearly reached the end of the street. Mia took not one step wrong! She was nervous and looked at things, all the while marching forward! We worked on halting and walking and halting and on the way back we did a lot of circling in an attempt to teach her that doing a jig the entire ride home would not be acceptable. She met each request honestly and answered all of the questions I would ask. I could not have been more proud!

With my past accident it felt great to bring a horse out on the trail again and have success! I am looking forward to our trail adventures! I think it could be possible that Dressage will not be Mia’s only talent!

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Posted in Dressage, Training

Little steps, big steps

The last few weeks have been very good with the Little but Mighty. We have taken to leading outside of the ring, walking up to very intimidating objects like fire pits and solar lights, the dead grass where the trailer was parked and the hose, lying in wait on the ground. She looks at all of these things skeptically and then just marches up and sniffs them! In addition to these feats, we have started tacking up at the trailer, simultaneously learning how to ground tie. At all of these, this little horse has shown evidence of a great brain. She isn’t overly concerned with anything, though she is curious about all of it. On Thursday we practiced trailer loading and she walked up to the ramp, sniffed it, and put two steps on. She backed up and stopped, so I asked her again and she walked right on. She backed off of it right away, though not quickly, so I asked her again and on she went. She ate the ate the hay I offered and I backed her off of it. We repeated it two more times, just for good faith and then ended on that note.

In the ring, she has gone from balking at the entrance to walking, with a very strong march, past the gate, past other horses in the paddock next to the ring and we have started doing more trot work.

As with all of the forward steps that are expected to keep coming, we do have our “teachable moments.”  I don’t want anyone getting the idea that this little gal is an easy horse. She is bull. She would bowl over a crowd 10 feet out of her way just because she has no idea where her feet are. She is not malicious, she has never tried to buck and she seems to take things in stride. IF they are instructed properly. Mia shows her baby years in minor temper tantrums, she speeds up whatever she’s doing and starts to rush. She will lean on the bit, toss her head and swish her tail. She stomps her feet. She is still a baby, so I do have a lot of moments that I have to just stop. Take a breath… A one rein stop. Reorganize. Continue. Training this horse is a lot like life; it requires patience, deep breathing and perseverance and rejoicing in the baby steps! I am definitely starting to think this horse was put in my life for reasons other than the chance to train and resell a horse.

I have, for the majority of time in the saddle, been working with Mia using a side-pull bridle. In the last week or so she has started to really lean on it, which, because she outweighs me by a fair 650 pounds or so, she easily throws her shoulders around, tries to pull in opposite directions and it basically allows her to just do whatever she really wants to be leaning her weight on it. To rectify the situation so that she learns good habits and I don’t end up being pulled out of the saddle every three strides, I have been riding her in a Micklem bridle with a Myler comfort egg-butt Snaffle. Thursday was only the fourth ride on her with it and she seems to be chomping less on it and trying to figure out what it is. Our circles were a bit more circular, she was less apt to pull me out of the saddle and when she tried, it was easier to communicate that I wasn’t impressed and instead to give the rein to her to take it out instead of down.

Riding a baby horse is a lot like driving a car with squishy brakes and a steering wheel that has a broken column. As long as we take it slow, we don’t end up crashing! So, lots of transitions to control the speed and that seems to keep her attention… Our learning threshold is still pretty low, so we keep it simple and try not to go more than 30 minutes!

Posted in Dressage, Training

A little to the left. A little to the right.

20374539_10103526421964335_4464764773661112518_nIt was a busier week than usual but I still managed to fit in a few rides and unlike most of this summer there was a lovely breeze, and the population of black flies and horse flies seemed to be on vacation which was a nice break. I did everything this week with Miss Mia in a side-pull bridle and bareback while riding.. It’s just nice to be able to ride bareback; The Unicorn has what I like to call Shark Fin withers which is less than ideal for a bareback ride.

Of course the lessons started out mostly on the ground this week with the usual measure of ground work to check her attention span but she seemed a little bored so I brought along a pocket full of hay pellets to reward her with. As with any little piglet, she snapped right out of that boredom! We worked a lot on yielding to pressure; first with the rope and whip and my hand on the ground and then from her back. My goal this week was to try to get her a little more responsive versus reactive to the pressure on her sides and her forehand. So far she has been pretty good but gets a little quick.

The treats really slowed her down. I could literally see her little mind working on how to get those treats! I’d ask for a little over and she’d get a bit frustrated so we would stop and I’d ask again and if I got a step or two, Tah Dah.. TREATS. She caught on really quick.

Our steering this week has gotten remarkably nice! Our circles are resembling actual circles and less like a kindergartner’s scribble… For the most part.! We can also change direction without her throwing her shoulder, and consequently, my knees into the fence! I have video proof this week; My friend Kristen came over and took some more video… I will upload a couple of my older videos to the older blogs just as documentation that we are progressing.  Excuse the commentary; We have fun. So here we go:

Video one: Working on yielding away from my leg

 

Video two: Yielding hindquarters, yielding forehand, walk and trot transitions

Video three: Yielding the hindquarters and not being too distracted by my little Mini, Scarlet.

 

Video Four: Little bit of direction changing, steering…and a baby leg yield..  A WIN!

Posted in Dressage, Training

Steering is overrated

20480007_10103526401041265_6787931357840781228_nThis past week was full of milestones, and of course with every two steps forward you get one or two steps back, so the tango it was; Little Mighty decided she’d rather be wild again, though briefly, after having her tootsies worked on.

Milestone number one was the farrier appointment. I have worked a lot with Mia’s feet, handling them, picking them up, holding them, tapping on them, and I even took out the nippers and took a tiny bit off to see how she’d react. Of course the first time she didn’t like it and pulled away which was followed by some serious ground work and then she decided it was better to just stay still. Nevertheless, I was a little nervous when my farrier came over. She started by immediately turning and marching off: No way, Jose. Oh Yes, my little Jose. And off we went to do a little ground work. Once I had her, which did actually take a few minutes, the farrier went to work. She at first pulled her foot away and half-reared in protest so off to our circles we went until she made the wise choice to let bygones be bygones and hand those feet over. After which, she was a good as gold! I was actually really impressed and man you should see these round sturdy little hooves! They’re adorable. We do happen to have a Paso Fino and two little Miniature horses, so we’re suckers for cute little hooves. (No Offense, Grafton) .

After our Pedi-day, Miss Mia and I worked hard the next day on the introduction to a bridle. I started the same as I always do… Liberty work, halter work and NOW: The Bridle.

16681822_10103089959249115_4509753240670818758_nTo start, I am a fan of the snaffle bit. I have always liked a French link, with three pieces as I feel it is more ergonomically designed for a horse’s mouth. I always used a KK Ultra, loose-ring Snaffle with my Morgan mare, and my Paint that I had. Prince Grafton had a French link with the little bone piece in the middle, and then I found a really cool three-piece loose-ring with “Wings” on the side. It offered more protection to the delicate corners of his lips and about 20 minutes after I bought it my trainer asked if it was show legal. Hah. Hah… Uhhh.. Oh. No, No it definitely is not. Any of you who compete at the USEF Rated shows know: The rules is the rules! Due to the size of the wings being too large to see the corners of the horse’s mouth. Understandable. Onward and upward and with significantly less cash for a bit, I was able to procure a double jointed snaffle with D-like joints allowing the loose rings to slide, and to protect the lips as well! It happens to be show legal.

Next I slipped the bridle on, adjusted it accordingly to fit her Spanish little head. She of course hated it. I walked her around, meandered really. I gave a little tug on one side and the other and she turned her head accordingly. She wasn’t overly pleased but she was adverse so I walked her up to the mounting block and got on! I sat there, let her chew a bit, bent her head in each direction and she provided me the answers when I asked for what would become my one rein stop at a walk or trot.

After the boredom of standing still and chewing, the little horse responded nicely as I gave a little soccer bump on her sides and we walked in circles, egg shapes, squares; We did one-rein stops, halts (by whistle.. too soon for the full on rein pressure. I wouldn’t want to trap her or make her feel claustrophobic.), and lots of changes in direction. She did great! We had a few moments of mounting frustration; She decided to stop and I bumped her a couple times with no step forward, added a little tap and she started to fling her head and dance a bit, exercised the one-rein stop, and all silliness  stopped. Off she marched. We didn’t do any trot, I felt like she exercised a lot of restraint by not freaking out and bucking me off so I thanked her and petted her and hopped off.

The next day I went out fresh, armed with treats in my pockets! I grabbed the rope halter and my whip and went to play. Same ‘ol, same ‘ol song and dance to start. Instead of hopping on though I stayed on the ground a bit longer. I wanted to use this day to work on moving the forehand away from the pressure of my whip. Miss Thang likes to walk really close to the fence panel and my knees are taking the hit, so I tap, tap, tapped til she moved a foot and then praised her with a snackie and a pat and lots of gushing, again and again and again. She really seemed to pick up on this easier with snacks to help reinforce that this was fun and she was a good girl! So I may have discovered the trick to introducing new things! I worked for probably 15 minutes or so on this little project, hopped up on her, bareback as usual, and walked off.

I had the side-pull bridle on this time  so as not to bombard her with too much education. We did our walking and trotting, changes of direction and walk-trot, walk -halt, transitions. While things were good, and she was starting to get the aforementioned basics I decided to ask for a halt. Gave a little low whistle, got a nice halt and quietly added a tap on her shoulder. When she started to move off I blocked her with one shorter rein held steady. She immediately moved sideways and I immediately bent her head around and started shoving snacks in her mouth. At this point she perked right up and suddenly the whole lateral issue became a fun little chore! I did this exercise for another 30 minutes or so, sprinkled with some walking and trotting as mental breaks before calling it quits for the day.
So, once again, the mighty little Mustang has shown grace under pressure and proven she has not only great little feet, but a good little mind. I am excited to work with her this week to see what we talents can discover!

Posted in Dressage, Training

Once bitten by the bug..

 

20431460_10103526401076195_863362469364625057_nThis week in the Mustang chronicles: Three major milestones last week:

  1. MORE bareback walk/trot, changes in direction. Consistency is key.
  2. Starts lateral work.. It’s all about baby steps!
  3. Expanded the size of the ring. No longer are we bound by the drunken round pen! (It’s not quite round and not quite rectangular but somewhere in the middle.) My mom and I expanded it and now it is pretty rectangular and much bigger.

So I had some pretty ideal weather to be working with Little M; Bugs were not around, light and breezy. I got started on day one this week with only a little bit of work at liberty. I had my trusty dressage whip and we did a lot of rubbing on it and touching her legs. When I grabbed up the rope halter I practiced a lot of what Clinton Anderson calls, “Flogging with Kindness.” Sort of flinging it all over her and letting it touch her legs and wrap her legs and her neck and her barrel, etc. She doesn’t seem to give two bugs about it so I move on to the flexing of her neck in each direction, practicing the one rein stop from the ground and the yielding of her hindquarters. She is very quick to learn and is catching on! I did a little more the with yielding of the forehand but she isn’t as savvy yet.

So I pulled out the “Side-Pull” bridle and on it went. Did more ground work… I know it seems a little redundant but I think the most amazing and simple lesson I have learned in the horse training is… DRUM ROLLLLLL… If the horse doesn’t seem safe; if you have even one question about how you might be received, don’t get on. So simple and it makes perfect sense to me! There is no way in heck I am getting on this little mare if I think I might end up on the ground, (Weird. I know). So as I was saying… Side-pull goes on, use the reins as my rope and do the same flexing and giving exercises, yielding exercises, ad nauseam.

Step 432. Pull out my trusty mounting block, hop up and do more circles, changing directions, halting and flexing. Lean on her back, bounce around and basically if she doesn’t move, I will be surprised but she keeps surprising me! She stands, for the most part and when she gets it, she gets petted and loved on.

After all the hub-bub I finally just swing my leg over her back gently as if I’d been doing it forever. She stands. And she stands… and she stands…so I cluck and tap with my legs and she walks off. We work on a lot of egg shapes, a few good circles; changing direction and bending. Lots of walk-halt-walk transitions. A little trot and ending on a nice quiet note.

The second day is much of the same but I decided to add a little of rubbing and gentle taps on her shoulder with the dressage whip to ask her to move over. Starting from the ground I tap her shoulder until she steps sideways, stop and pat. I then tap her hind quarters over and stop and pat. Switch direction and go the other way! She was really pretty responsive especially moving sideways to the left. My rule with the riding these days is to first do whatever you’re going to do from the ground. Know your boundaries and know the reaction you’re going to get! Don’t ask a question on the horse that you don’t already know what the answer will be.

So again, with the ground work building a solid base day by day and then getting on in a very quiet frame of mind. Moving off the leg with very little hesitation, if any. Today we incorporated the use of the whip on her shoulder in the same gentle and slightly annoying way on her outside shoulder while changing directions. Mia is very accepting and so I ask for a halt using my whistle and adding a little rein pressure and sitting deep with my core. She does really well! So at the halt I ask for sideways movement at her shoulder. Every time she does it she gets major love and if she starts getting frustrated and tossing her head we go into the one rein stop, and then ask again! Flawless. When I saw flawless I do not mean she did it perfectly when asked, I mean she answers honestly and responds to the one rein stop or by moving her feet. It’s a new game so of course she doesn’t go directly sideways but she attempts a step sideways and a little forward but that’s awesome because one of the base principles of the USDF Training pyramid is forward, relaxation and suppleness. So this is what we are working on and achieving! She’s so Smahht!

Just in case anyone is asking themselves where the Unicorn, my dear Prince Grafton is; He injured himself in the paddock resulting in mild lameness and will be enjoying the rest of the near future off. When I say enjoying, he really is. All he does is eat his designated meals and graze in his down time.

Posted in Dressage

At What cost?

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This is going to go a little differently than my usual, and I am sure it will ruffle more than one or two feathers, but I digress; At what point do we step back and examine the issues in the lack of Adult Amateur riders moving up the levels and the rising costs of training, lessons and memberships?

I am not a Pro. I am not an accountant. I am a blue collar employee that works 40-65 hours per week and keeps my horses, at the moment, on a family farm with no ring. I work my horses the majority of the time in my flat field that is available, cross train them using the small hills on the edges of that field and I trailer out for lessons. I, like many of my kind, will sacrifice quality of food in favor of going to a horse show, taking a lesson or spring vaccines. In the recent months I saw an Ad for a local clinic. The clinic was subsequently cancelled due to lack of interest, even though the trainer would be amazing to at least audit. The cost to ride was atrocious and even to audit is over $30.00 dollars.  Just a few minutes ago I saw an Ad in a dressage magazine for an upper level, Grand Prix, multi-Olympian open for lessons and training with cost starting at well over 150.00 per 45 minutes. I am not calling out names because I don’t want to draw attention to one trainer, I want to draw attention to ALL the trainers, riders, GMO’s and national organizations! This rant and rave has nothing to do with breed of horse, quality of horse, size or nationality of Unicorn that you choose to cater to. I am merely discussing the opportunities we have available and the help that amateur riders are in need of.

Over the years there has been a steady decline in ammies gon-pro, and in clinic numbers, membership numbers, and an upward swing of horse shows that have been cancelled, yet trainers are charging more and more and at what moment can we collectively stand back and gasp and realize that the dressage world is conclusively getting smaller and less attainable for people like myself. I LOVE dressage. It is what I think about ALL the time. I LOVE the camaraderie I feel when I get to a show and I see all of the people like myself, working hard, supporting each other, holding each other’s horses so we can get a pee break in before we go into warm up. I LOVE standing on the side-lines and cheering for my friend who definitely did not have the greatest test, and I LOVE walking into the barn I ride at and seeing my friends finally achieve a nice stretchy circle! I LOVE going to visit other friends and helping them with their horses because I have had different opportunities to learn and I love sharing that with them because they deserve to learn too! Are you feeling the love yet?

I am constantly trying to finagle ways to get more lessons or go to that show. In recent years I have worked tirelessly to balance it all and get my Bronze Medal. I REALLY want my Gold, but we all have to start somewhere and how in bloody hell can anyone like myself get anywhere when trainers are only catering to the upper-echelons? There is no shortage of wonderful trainers in this country. There is no shortage of excellent learning opportunities but we can’t afford them.

I get that everyone has bills and the horse business is not a money maker. I get that these trainers would like to train the best, to be the best, but how do I get to be the best?! Of course there’s the USDF L Program and the Instructor/Trainers Program, but that’s not a quick fix and it takes a lot of time away from my job, which I can’t afford if I want to compete, to get my medals. My current trainers are amazing, but what about their dreams of training the best? They’d like to stay financially viable for the little guys in the area but how are they supposed to move up if they can’t afford to train with the Big Guys? I love being able to take two lessons a week… It cost me upwards of $600.00 per month with my current trainer but she’s worth every penny and that’s why I keep my horses at home. In doing this I am able to move my horses along at a good pace, feel supported by the environment in which I ride and it does wonders for my confidence.  It makes me feel good to be able to pay her a significant part of my checks and the small sacrifice to not have a ring. I can do it but not everyone can and it may mean less shows or no clinic riding. This makes my heart break for the future young riders and the people like me, I want them to have wonderful amazing opportunities that don’t put them in the poor house so they can attain their personal goals.

The long and short of it is that it is a vicious cycle and it leads me to the other part of my thought process in regards to this complicated subject;  I honestly look at an Ad for a trainer that charges that much and I step back… Do I really want to ride with someone who would charge that much? I see that, and I KNOW they have bills, but I also think that maybe their intentions have become diluted and I don’t actually want to ride with that person because he or she may be more focused on a monetary point than actually being available to help. I’m not saying they should do it for free, not at all. I am overly willing to pay if I can afford it, even $100.00 for an hour if I can get some overtime in my paycheck, but really… Is this the future of Dressage? It would make me really sad. I’d be willing to pay more towards learning opportunities if I didn’t spend 400.00 per year in memberships. Just saying.

That is how I feel about it and while it is my opinion, I know it probably isn’t the opinion of everyone, but I do think I have one or two solid points. I am much happier to give my money to fantastic trainers who cost less, who may not have as much world wide experience, but they are devoted to helping you succeed. They are still cleaning stalls, have no assistants, trailer their own horses, braid their own horses and work with you; I respect that; I am proud to help these trainers who help my comrades and I. I love helping them attain their dreams, even if it takes me a little longer to achieve my own.

Posted in Dressage, Training

Little Mighty: Adventures with a Mustang

20430045_10103526407019285_1542557210128593506_nIt has been about six weeks since I fetched my newest project in rationality home, and about four weeks since I started working with her. As I mentioned in my last post it took a certain amount of reserve, perseverance in mind, and resolve to overcome the change of adding a new herd member and the buyer’s remorse and anxiety of being a not so experienced “horse trainer,” as rider of horses that have previously been …. “Trained.”  I will tell you I did not go in completely blind; I have over 20 years’ experience riding, mostly dressage. I have trained with Grand Prix trainers and I have sat more than a few babies in my life. I have started a couple lightly, two of my own, and in the past a couple for others.  I am no new comer to the horse industry however this is my first untrained Mustang and my first baby who really wasn’t even taught how to lead politely. I am a huge fan of Natural Horsemanship so when I started investigating this crazy notion of getting a Mustang, I literally spent close to 24 hours a week in research and video-watching, for weeks .. I loved watching Clinton Anderson, ”Mustang Maddy,” and several other trainers who had developed the quiet understanding in the unspoken language of horses into an art form and educational podium.

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Can’t you see the future Piaffe?!

While daunting, I knew I could do it. I just needed to decide if it was what I wanted to do. So I did. I had dreams of this beautiful little horse doing FEI dressage, hitting the Cross Country, and trail riding. Big dreams and a little horse; So here we are!

From my last post, The session on July 9, was basic. Circle right, change direction, circle left.. Of course with horses, basic doesn’t mean easy! Added the saddle and continued the circling from the ground!

In a strong attempt to teach about mounting I gently flapped the fenders of the saddle against her side, pulled gently on the horse and then, with no real adverse response attempted the mount! I was quickly reminded that next time I must buy a horse with withers, as the saddle slid sideways.. I decided to introduce the mounting block, actually, a stool. I sat that stool down in front of the mare, and she picked it up. I put it down, she picked it up and finally I put it down next to her and I climb up before she has a chance to think about picking up the block again and do some bouncing and circles around me and changes of direction and more bouncing and leaning on her. There were no signs of ill will towards me, so I gently sat down on her. She stood still, raising her head in a suspicious manner but made no move. I did some yielding on the haunches. Perfect! I tried some yielding of the forehand and though she was a little startled, I made a mental note to get her more used to that on the ground. The saddle was slipping in each direction depending on where she went or shifted her weight so with a happy heart I hopped off and praised the little mighty horse for a job well done.

This week, July 26-28, I was able to work with her feet a little more. I gave her a bath and we worked on desensitizing of the hose and the fly spray. Lots of ground work; at Liberty is what I always start with and then with a halter and 14’ lead rope. This week she seemed still, very, cool.

I decided with a friend there to spot me, I would get on again. I felt like it would be better to try bareback since the saddle slipped side to side so much last time. I felt I know the horse well enough to read her and know if I should or should not get on. So I repeated the circles and changes of direction and such and just gently climbed on while I had her standing still. I did have my dressage whip as a reinforcement to my leg and rein which she was fine with. I usually use a carrot stick so she is sort of used to it. We had a few deep discussions about steering but after working for a bit she seemed to get it. She is very sensitive to my whistle as a cue to halt so I incorporated that into the ride. She was very receptive to the halt and my verbal command for trot and so, with a soaring heart I walked and trot in both directions, did changes of direction, and halted my Little Mighty several times. We worked on moving away from the taps of the whip on her shoulder and there was no hoopla, no bucking, no rearing, no real issue, other than basic mis-understanding that comes with teaching a creature something new. It was amazing. She is as wide and comfy as a couch and I loved every minute of it. My confidence keeps going up with this horse and inspires me that maybe I could help more Mustangs in the future.

July 30: I caught Mia sunbathing, mid-morning. I walked out to her, wondering how far I could get before she got up, but she didn’t. She looked at me with big soulful eyes and I walked right up to her and sat down like old friends meeting for tea. I rubbed her face and she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and laid her big beautiful head in my lap. As I continued to lightly stroke her forelock and her eyes and face she started breathing so deep that she sounded like she was snoring. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. This horse who just months ago I didn’t know existed, weeks ago feared I might never love and possibly would fail; A horse born out of the Wild with instincts to run from a predatory beast such as man, would give herself over completely to me.

I honestly don’t know I have ever felt that connection before. I was filled with purpose, calm and hope. Of course it only lasted maybe 10 or 15 minutes but it was literally the most amazing thing and I have felt this really strong pull towards this horse all day, even now, sitting in my Dispatch center. I am totally smitten and falling in love with this Mighty, little, horse.

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* ALL PHOTOS BY DRAGONFLY PHOTOGRAPHY. POLAND, MAINE *

Posted in Dressage, Training

Mighty Lessons: If at first you don’t succeed…

Horse ar19366339_10103410558575495_3188574504284643412_ne great teachers of humility. When your ego shows up they will squish it without a doubt, but on a quieter side, they also teach you a different lesson in humility and enlightenment in how they go about their interaction with humans.

I brought Mia home on June 17, 2017. I did almost nothing with her for the first couple of weeks for a variety of reasons.. At the top of my list was the overwhelming buyers remorse.. Can I do this? What WAS I thinking? What if I can’t do it? I should have gotten an OTTB.  She hates dogs!? I can’t sell a horse that hates dogs?! Can I? What if.. What if.. What if…  Well, what if comes from anxiety and fear of the unknown and you don’t know until you try , right? Well it also comes from money, hauling a horse trailer through Cape Cod bound, Boston traffic, hauling a, “formerly” wild, horse who’s only been trailered twice in her life back north through Boston. That anxiety comes from the knowledge that this horse doesn’t lead well and who 30 minutes post travel, kicks my dog in the face, after-hours emergency OF Course. HOWEVER.. If you can calm those lil voices; the haters in your mind that literally come from no one else, you will see that things are not what they seem.

As it turns out, dogs can eat without a few less teeth and still catch a ball (THANK GOD!), A horse that can’t lead is just looking for some leadership, money comes every other Friday and you do not have to haul another trailer through Boston ever, if you don’t want to!

Fast forward to July. Mia has a chance to settle in, I have a chance to let it go.. let it goooo… Day one, Keep in mind that I have no round pen. We have solid round pen panels set up as fencing right now to ensure safety. The fencing is connected to the run-in. Mia dragged me all over the place., Reared and almost flipped over, Broke a lead snap. She ran back to her stall. The train left the station and I immediately sat down in the Unicorn’s stall, Is defeat an option? I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to do this or where to start.

Round two.. Adjust the fence. Make the area smaller, Use the one extra round pen panel as a fence.  Stand back and enjoy the view of a small step in the right direction!

Step one: Bring Mia into the improvised pen, shut the gate. Let Mia free. No halter, no lead rope. Use ALLLL that energy and send the horse forward, from behind the drive line. DONE. Oh my Lord, Did I just do that? Yep. WELL S*&#. OK.  QUIT WHILE YOU ARE AHEAD AND LET YOURSELF ENJOY IT.

Step two: Go back the next time and do the same thing… Wait…. She actually turned into me and walked a few steps towards me, instead of standing and facing me but waiting, unsure of what I want. WOW.. BIG small steps. Will she stand if I touch her foot? NOPE. .. How about her shoulder… ok? How about your leg? OK! Now see how easy that was?! Done.  

So you see.. Sometimes all you need to do is remember that A. The world is not actually ON your shoulders. If it seems like you can’t do it, you’re actually trying too hard and making everything too big, including your energy, which apparently wild horses are very sensitive to.

Flash forward..

June 29: Circles… Um yaaahh, if you could just keep going past that one spot that would be great.  Can I please touch your foot again? Thank you! Such a lil smahtie. How about some target training?! This is a fly spray bottle, if you touch it with your nose I will give you a treat… SEEEEEE… IT’S GOOOODDDD. Now touch the saddle pad. Now touch the pool noodle. GREAT JOB! 

July 6: Circles… Could you please just keep going forward? Thank you. FINALLY. All these fricken circles… Ok can I have one foot? Thankkkk you!!  Touch the pool noodle. OK, Now can I touch you with it? Thank yooouuuu!! See, YOU’RE SO SMART!

July 7: Circles; Control the pace. Yield haunches.. Yield Shoulders.. Pick up both front feet.. Can I trim? No..? OK.. Moooore circles.. Now? ok, one foot? two feet?  Great, that’s amazing. 

July 9: Circles; Control the pace. CHECK. A change in direction? Yes?! AWESOME Yield the shoulders with smaaaall energy.. Yield Haunches.. Small energy.. Check.Check,  Add Saddle. Walk with a saddle, in a circle or two… Trot in a saddle for a couple circles? YES.

Do you see a pattern? When things are broken down it’s easy to do it and it’s easy to do it right. When you add all those small things up suddenly you’ve done a lot, and you did it right, and it’s amazing, you’re amazing, you feel amazing, you’re horse is amazing and your whole world is amazing and you forget why you were feeling crappy about it.

 

* ALL PHOTOS BY DRAGONFLY PHOTOGRAPHY. POLAND, MAINE *

Posted in Dressage, Training

Onward and Upward

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It has been many months. As an AA, last September I hit a high.. and a wall. After such a great summer and the first competition season with The Unicorn, and finally feeling like I was getting this thing together- YOU KNOW- The JUGGLE; work, work, work, Ride, Lesson?, Ride?, Flu, Work, Family, time to relax.. Wait.. What?! Nope. If anyone had told me when I was 18 that this is where I would be I would have laughed outright.. Ok maybe not outright because my parents raised me to be respectful, but on the inside I’d be all like, “Hell no, Lady, All I’m gonna do is Ride and to heck with rent!” Funny.  Good sense of humor, Kid. 

So I hit that wall, I was tired and burnt out. Sunburned, exhausted, sick of driving a trailer, sick of remembering the tests. I was sick of always being on the run and I was honestly tired of riding. It’s hard to accept that, I really loved having the time to snuggle Grafton and sit in his stall after work, which I might ad was usually 3:00am or some other ungodly hour, and just breathe but that’s really hard to admit, right? You know someone is always in the background.. “You just don’t love it enough,” “I’ve been doing all that for years, some people just can’t keep up.”  You want to scream and tell people to mind their own business and leave you alone because you are your own person and no one else is walking in these breeches. Sometimes it’s difficult to be at a boarding farm because there’s always someone trying to one-up you and prove they’re better and I know that. Heck I’ve been in this most of my life, I’d have to be blind if I didn’t see it, and deaf if I didn’t hear it, but I’ve had to dig deep. I mean REALLY, FRICKEN, DEEP, to overcome that call of Ego. Let’s get real- I am not over it.. but I’m working on it. Channeling some Dr. Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra. BIG TIME.

We all have our lives. We have families, and other pets, car troubles, vet bills, jobs that suck, jobs that are amazing, and boyfriends and girlfriends, significant others, school and all of that adult stuff.  It’s stupid to deny that all of that can never get out of balance and it’s really stupid to let other opinions break you down or sway your opinion of yourself. Everyone that is close to me is amazingly supportive and they point all of these beautiful things about me out and hang it in my face, but still.. I get swept up in my own insecurities, anxiety, personal goals and garbage until I can’t see straight and I continue my downward spiral to the depths of self-pity.

So now it is July. Grafty took most of the winter off and started back up in April/May and I have just entered my first show of the season.. July 21-23. I moved my beautiful Unicorn up to my mother’s farm, an hour and a half away, and I go up after I get out of work at 7am every Wednesday and I stay til Saturday.. Sometimes more days if I can swing some days off and some days less if I have to pick up that good ‘ol Over Time. I have been saving in board and spending it all on lessons twice weekly with a fabulous trainer, Laura Noyes (no, she did not pay for this endorsement.. ) I have struggled a lot lately with self doubt, feelings of failure and resentment.  THIS IS RIDICULOUS!? RIGHT?! I mean seriously– I am trying and I am doing it! It’s not always pretty or perfect but I have had my first real big medium trots and the the first few steps of the Canter Pirouette! WHAT is wrong with me right? Gals and Girls- I am here to tell you that you are not alone in your struggles and we are DEFINITELY our own worst critics!

I would like to announce that I am back and I am going to try really hard to put into words my successes and my failures and I hope it hits a nerve with you because someone times we just need to know we are understood. So, pull that piece of hay out of your bra, and get up in that saddle and just do your best because that’s all we can do and as long as we do our best every day, there’s no room for regrets.

Good Luck in all of your endeavors ❤

Posted in Dressage, Training

Moving forward

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I realize it’s been a while. I had full intentions to make this a weekly or bi-weekly blog but, as the reasons for this blog, the life of AA’s is usually side tracked with everyday stuff and priorities that lead us astray from our original map of plans.

In the past few weeks I entered my first competition in nearly a decade. This will also be my debut in public on the Unicorn, and our first public debut at Second Level. These milestones make me proud of our accomplishments as a team. I never thought I would be going to another show when my former horse passed. I never thought I would do anything competitive with another horse and I certainly didn’t expect to find another partnership.

I am sure each of us has that moment in our lives that we lose that one special horse with which we have built a bond greater than any bond we have ever had with any other living being. I am also sure that when we lost that beast it broke our hearts and we swore that was it; (sighs..) Never again. We would hang up our helmets and sit back with our attentions on our other priorities only to daydream incessantly and to wake from sleep thinking about how great it felt to be on a horse, meandering happily down a trail. You can almost feel the horse’s back lift as it springs in to the canter and you shift your weight to prepare for the canter to walk transition. You count the strides and half halt before you feel that horse come up over that oxer.. It’s heartbreaking; literally painful. Then one day something might change and you find yourself with a horse that’s completely new to you. Yu have a few epic melt downs in the privacy of your horse’s stall or mane, your shower; you don’t want to start over, you don’t want a new horse, and what the HECK, I just want my horse back. Of course there are a million other thoughts and feelings, waves of grief and guilt and anger, but little by little this new horse does something to you.  The sun catches his eye and his mane glows in the dawn’s early hues. Your heart melts a tiny bit. This beast relentlessly licks you in search of treats.  Every. Single.Time. .. He finally starts to move correctly, accepting your leg and hand and seat and he actually isn’t crow hopping every time you get on because you have learned that his deal is a few minutes on the lunge to shake the crazies. He’s quirky and it’s actually kind of funny.  Flash forward and he gets half halts, and he starts to recognize and think about his feet, and your seat. He is listening! This new horse will never replace that one special being that you shared your soul with before but now maybe you can share a different piece of yourself and your life with this new creature is showing you a different avenue, different idiosyncrasies and new joys. He actually becomes the new partner for the new you, because let’s face it, we will never be the old being we were with that special friend before, though change is usually for good and maybe we can be a better person for our new friend.; More there , more humble, more patient, more confident. It has taken a long time but after nearly 4 years I am a different person than I was, and I can recognize my “new” horse as a partner. I can read his body language and it makes me proud of him and myself.

Grafton used to be very fidgety at girthing time. He wasn’t an outright jerk, but just wouldn’t stand completely still. I was frustrated because I’m not an aggressive person and I’m more of a feeler and I ask a lot of questions. A lot of people would say “just make him stand.” But why is he so obnoxious? He stands to be groomed so why doesn’t he like the girth? I was using a synthetic, slightly contoured, dressage girth and I happened upon an Ovation girth that was super squishy, very contoured and more elastic. That horse hasn’t moved a muscle due to girthing since. You see? With new horses we ask different questions, if we are open to looking for the answers we may not have needed to learn before.
So over the past few months I’ve been kicking our butts into gear. This has gone really well and then I had to move and had a ton of crap to do for work, and I ended up moving too, so we had a few backslides- Story of our lives, right? So anyways, I was feeling particularly cheery about our progress over a couple of weeks and with the show season around the corner I had been thinking about the shows and the levels and what I could do well, really set us up for success. So I picked a USDF recognized show and I chose First Level test three and Second Level Test three. I am very confident in our skills on the movements in these tests and while there are a couple things that render themselves a little sticky, I thought, why not? Of course in the last month I have experienced some buyer’s/rider’s  remorse, waves of nausea, and sheer panic but I talk myself down pretty easily, and if I am still doubtful of myself, I go and ride and they disappear.

As an Adult Amateur, riding mostly solo, learning from Videos (.. LOVE Catherine Hadaad Staller..)  and watching other people ride,  reading articles, etc., it’s easy to get down on my weaknesses, or doubt my position or style. Last year I had a lesson with Marty Stoddard and she asked me what my weakness was and what I wanted to do with my Unicorn (She called him a horse..)?  I explained that I would like to move up the levels but my biggest issue was that I always felt like my body needed to be tweaked and that I didn’t feel solid in my position. I saw her smile and I swear she almost laughed but became very serious and told me, “That is common in every rider, but if we focused on that as our biggest drawback we would never move forward. Don’t let that hold you back.”  This was so amazing for me to hear. I tend to be a perfectionist and I will focus on fixing something so much that sometimes I make it worse, or it just becomes a chore.  So with that I moved forward, letting myself stop nagging my poor unicorn and enjoy the ride- Literally.

Fast forward a year and im in a lesson working on cleaning up the lines. My trainer says I look stronger than I ever have (YAY!), Grafton looks stronger than he ever has and we’re working on downward transitions, sitting trot (my nemesis), and my three loop canter serpentine. She asks about my turn on haunches. CRAP.  I have been focusing so much on transitions within the gaits, straightness and lateral work I forgot about THAT one, so back to the drawing board. This has shaken me a little bit, with the show 14 days away, but we have a solid foundation and this is just the way it is: Work our butts off when we can, make it a priority, and do our best. The truth is, I am so excited to be going to the show, that we are in it for the experience of getting out and hopefully getting some good scores but most important is just having a good time and doing the best we can.