Monday, March 18, 2019

Spring is in the Air

Guys, I think spring is finally and actually here in Missouri. The grass is starting to show signs of growth, flowers are starting to pop out of the ground, and the redbuds are blooming. It's been sunny and (relatively) warm. Most importantly, both Mort and Emma are starting their spring shedding. I think we're all ready for this never-ending winter to be over.

Friday was a bit windy, but I was definitely going to deal with it and ride. Mort started out a bit 'up' but settled quickly. I can tell that he's not used to riding with other horses anymore. He behaves fine, but has a magnetic shoulder toward his friends and wants to speed up or slow down depending on which direction we're heading. I'm glad that I'm riding with the other barn folks so that we can work on this at home instead of a show. (It's also fun to get social hour at the barn for me.)

Both Friday's and Saturday's rides had similar themes. If I let Mort go around on a long rein he was happy and decently forward. If I wanted to work on contact or pick him up beyond long-and-low he'd get fussy in his mouth and start to lean into my leg and fall on his inside shoulder. I, of course, then got picky with my hands and stiffer in my hips which caused him to get sticky and slow. If I stuck us on a figure eight or circled I could get his body where I wanted and wrangle his outside shoulder, but as soon as I went off along the edge or to straighten we'd struggle again.

The rides weren't as bad as they probably were in my mind and I should have just focused on the figure eights and serpentines and circles and worked on the things that we were successful in, but I'm the worst so I did some of that and then got frustrated when he wasn't perfect. Meanwhile, I was crooked and tense because of that which further caused him to be unable to do what I was asking. My poor horse. But, while I may be the worst I'm not a total idiot so I went out with a different plan on Sunday. I was going to do figures and ride bareback. I find that riding bareback prevents me from being able to get stiff and uneven with my seat. 

We started off in a really lovely and loose walk, but we had the same issues that we'd been having the last couple rides. If I let him trot around on the buckle he was happy and relaxed and listening to my legs and seat. If I went to pick him up he'd get upside-down or sticky or fall into my leg. I basically ignored the fact that he was getting upside-down and putting his head in the air. I worked on him getting sticky by throwing in a handful of canter transitions to get him more in front of my leg. Then we settled in for figure eight boot camp to get him moving off of my leg.

At first we stayed in the trot and I'd just barely touch the inside rein to soften that jaw. I was moving his body with my legs and seat (so these figure eights were decidedly not perfectly shaped). After he was really listening well to that and yielding off my inside leg when I asked I started throwing in trot/walk/trot transitions. I'd walk in the middle for a couple strides, ask for trot and turn into the new circle at the same time. He started off a bit wobbly and with his head in the air, but got better quickly. Eventually I got to a point where he was really moving off my legs and he was OK with contact again. We moved on to serpentines with even quicker success.

After a walk break, we hopped back into working. I tried some bigger leg yield squares. I'd ask him for a leg yield tail-to-the-rail then do a trotting turn-on-the-forehand around the corner into another leg yield tail-to-the-rail. He hated it at first because it was hard, but he did get better and better at it. Until I finally had a decent connection (especially to the right) and he was moving off of my legs as I asked, turning as I asked, and keeping a steady trot. I'd have liked the trot to be bigger and more powerful, but it wasn't sticky so I was OK with it.

We ended the ride with some walk alternating between loose rein and quietly picking him up. He wanted to be tense a time or two, but the majority of the end walk work was good.

Neither of us are 100% focused or fit right now with so much time off and it's really showing. I, as the human, need to continue to slowly bring him back. I'm planning for a lot of long-and-low, a lot of figures, and a little bit of work on a higher contact. I've just got to be patient and hold myself accountable in spite of being overly excited that it's spring and I can ride again.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

2019 Goals

You know the weather was bad in January and February when I'm starting to think about my 2019 goals in March.

Riding-Related:

  • Show 2nd Level
    • This could go either way but I'm putting it out there for the universe to know about it
  • Establish half-pass in trot and canter
    • Within this is haunches-in in trot and canter as well
  • Be able to pick Mort up from a loose rein walk and have him "there" for me
  • Develop Mort's medium/extended trot and canter
  • Develop a more relaxed "back-up"
  • Establish a walking turn-on-haunches

  • Develop a more even seat
  • Have more control over which seat bone carries more weight
    • AKA:  don't allow Mort's body to dictate my seat as much
  • Develop more consistent hands
    • AKA:  an even feel of his mouth on both sides, not allowing one hand to become lazy
  • Get better about the release of aids so that Mort can become lighter off of them
  • Don't allow myself to get frustrated
  • Have my instructor out for 6 (or more) lessons
  • Attend 2 clinics
    • Ideally as a rider, but auditor will also be acceptable
  • Attend 2 shows

Horse-Related:

  • Get Mort consistent about loading with a ramp
    • I want Mort to calmly walk onto all three trailers that I have access to
    • Several of my other goals will rely upon this one
  • Get our property horse ready

Non Horse-Related:

  • Run 2 half-marathons
  • Run 6-8 miles/day 3-4 times/week
  • Lose 5lbs
    • And learn how to maintain that weight
  • Work hard on getting our house built and working on our property
  • Plant a small vegetable garden



Some of these seem pretty reasonable and some seem like I'm trying to jam too much into what is going to be a very busy year. We'll see what happens. The whole point of this journal/blog is so that I can track our progress--even if that means I don't progress as much as I want.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Winter Updates

Well folks, it's been quite a winter here in Missouri. It's basically either been wet or frozen since early January, so Mort and I haven't had quite the progress that I was hoping for but I thought I'd update you all on where we are right now and what we've been working on. I went back and read my last blog post from the end of November and I'm happy to report that we're at a better place in our training and relationship than we were then.

From our schooling show in November


I'd been struggling with Mort connecting to his outside shoulder while tracking left. This issue is LOADS better. I can consistently get him to connect both in a long-and-low frame and a higher frame with just an easy half-halt on that outside rein. A lot of this comes down to a lesson that I had in early January where she addressed that I need to sit a hair more on my inside seat bone so that I'm not leaning to the outside. It was like magic.

Unfortunately, in getting better tracking left I'm noticing that we don't have a truly good connection tracking right. I don't think it's gotten worse; I just think the major improvements tracking left have left tracking right behind. We spent a lot of December and January doing a bunch of changes of direction. These really help me gather his hind-end and shoulders where I need them to be and keep him thinking that we might change direction at any time so that he's more willing to listen to my half-halts. In our lesson in early January, my instructor commented that he was looking more even than she'd ever seen him and that we were certainly on the right track.

We haven't done a ton of work in the canter. We work on transitions and we've been working on bend and counter-bend to help with the straightness--especially on the right lead. As spring (hopefully) comes I plan to work more on transitions, developing more jump in the canter, and continue to develop a better counter-canter. I also want to focus on my seat to make sure I'm weighting the correct seat-bone. I want to make sure my outside leg is helping him turn and that I don't hold too tight with either leg. And I finally want to make sure that my hands are following and encouraging an even connection, even as they go higher with more collection.

On the days where the footing has been questionable we've been playing with a ton of lateral work at the walk. This is really important to us as it's where he likes to get tense and we stuck not going forward. He's getting better about coming back to me when I pick him up from a loose rein and he's certainly really starting to understand lateral work. We've done everything from side-pass and leg yield to shoulder-in and half-pass. He allows me to manipulate his body into haunches-in and half-pass regularly now. He can't hold either for too long yet, but he understands it.

Mort and I had been riding 4-6 days/week as the weather permitted. He has held his weight and fitness well. As the weather got worse, so did Mort's spookiness and behavior issues. The lack of real turnout has been a problem since we moved last winter, but until the bad weather this winter I had been able to somewhat combat it with regular riding. Unfortunately, the less I rode and he got turned out the worse he got. This isn't surprising, but there are simply not a lot of boarding options near me.

In late January, a semi-local dressage rider reached out to me asking if I knew anyone looking for a boarding barn. She has a small, private facility and was looking for a gelding to fit into her turnout situation. After a lot of back-and-forth I started to become pretty optimistic that it would be a good fit for Mort. So, I moved Mort on Valentine's Day and he's been so happy ever since.

Mort and his new bff, Milo


He immediately got along with his new turnout buddy and I think he's really happy to have a friend again. He gets to go out in a big pasture with him every other day--rotating with a gravel dry lot and shed. Even though the dry lot is small, because it's gravel he still gets to wander around and play if he'd like. I've only been able to ride him three times since our move (darn weather), but he's been calm and well-behaved in spite of that. He's getting a lot more hay and an alf-mix so I don't have to supplement him with alf cubes anymore. I think we're both really happy with the move. The only drawback is that I'm back to driving 35-40 minutes each way, but I still wish I had moved him months ago. The things we do for our horse's happiness and well-being.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An Excerpt

I haven't been posting our rides lately because I've been focusing on the same things day-in and day-out. There isn't anything super exciting or new and I'm certain it would get boring reading about what are essentially the same rides time after time. I still write about every ride, so here is one from our ride last night. 

Some background first:  He's been doing amazingly since our show at the beginning of the month. The weather forced us to have a few days off and walk-only rides which lead to a pretty bad ride Sunday where he was both lazy and energetic.



Another cold night under the lights for us. I need to just settle in and get used to it, but riding in the dark and cold just isn't as fun for anyone.

Mort started off fairly well. He had a forward walk and I was mentally trying to trust him on a loose rein. I did some bending with just the inside rein since we struggled with bending left the last ride. He did decently. I picked him up and we did some more walking on contact with lots of changes of direction. He wanted to be a bit behind the hand but we found some nice moments where I'd let him down to stretch.

I moved on to trot. He was more forward than he had been on Sunday (thank goodness). But he was pretty tense (probably partially from Sunday being such a fight). I 100% admit that I don't trust him on the buckle when it's dark and cold as he's a good bit spookier, but I did leave his face alone. After a few big figure eights of being wildly off-balance and falling on the inside shoulder I decided to try to do the inside rein bending that I did at the walk. I was OK but nothing wonderful. We could do it on the rail, but when I moved him off of it we fell apart a bit. To the right his head would fly into the air and to the left his butt would come to the inside and he'd fall on his inside shoulder.

I was getting frustrated--a feeling that should never come into contact with horses. I changed directions. I tried to hold a following contact. I tried circles. I tried squares. Eventually I tried cantering and (not surprisingly) had the same issue. I just COULD NOT get him to connect to the outside rein while tracking left. I did some squares in the canter. I went around like a chicken with its head cut off for a bit (at least that's how it felt). Eventually I got a couple of circles of canter where I had a consistent and soft feel of his mouth in my right hand and he was not leaning on my left leg. We stopped cantering (and I didn't canter again in the ride).

I tried some more trotting. It wasn't great at first but eventually it did start to work out. I know that part of us doing terribly tracking left is my fault. Everyone is a little crooked and I'm no exception (and neither is Mort). Since it's harder to get him to turn off of my seat I squeeze/lean/hold/will him with every fiber of my being and that obviously only makes things worse. Then I get frustrated and ride even worse.

Finally he was trotting really nicely. He was forward and reaching down. We could change directions without majorly loosing balance. I could go straight and then ask him to bend and turn. We did trot/walk/trot transitions where he was calm and forward. I played with this fun trot for ten minutes or so then called it quits and did our normal walking at the end.

I know some of tracking left are my issues. I know some are his issues. I know some are training issues. I know some are resistance issues because of previous frustration issues. I need to remember to think straight, then outside aids, then inside aids. Turning aids, then straighten aids, then turning aids because it makes me not just squeeze and hold and it helps him to separate what I actually want. Start with big, sweeping turns where I focus on his outside shoulder then throw in some smaller ones as we warm up more. Forward and down is more important because adding bend and moving off of my leg is in there when he's relaxed and listening.

The good news is that the nice trot work is coming more and more often. I'm blaming the snow and time off on Sunday's ride and the beginning of last night's. His work tracking right is getting so much better and more consistent; I just half-halt with the outside rein and touch him with the inside leg and he holds himself where I want for a good amount of time before needing another reminder. He's getting more relaxed both ways and in the transitions. Him being relaxed and happy while pushing from behind and using his topline is a blast to ride. I think I'm having more fun with him now than I ever have.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Lesson Recap

Mort had Friday off due to lingering drizzle. But we took the opportunity to drive the truck and trailer out to the barn for more practice before our show this weekend. I had a plan to leave it there for a few days if there were any issues, but luckily there were none. I grabbed Mort out of the field and he stopped at the ramp to look around for a handful of seconds then he walked right on. He got to eat alf cubes for a little while then we backed off. I brushed him (which was quite the project as he was a mud monster) then went to try one more time. Mort walked up with zero hesitation. More alf cubes and I called it a night. Hopefully Saturday morning goes off without a hitch.

Saturday was gorgeous, especially after Friday's rain. I did a fairly short ride where we just did walk/trot. He was stretching down nicely (even in all of the transitions). He was moving off of my leg fairly well. He stayed relaxed in our walk work. After about a half hour of Mort being a good pony I decided that was the perfect pre-lesson ride and got off. We had a bit of a spa day and I washed his legs and tail. I like to put up his tail in the winter to prevent the mud dreadlocks that he likes so much. Sorry pal.

Sunday was the second lesson with the new trainer. I was excited to show her how much more relaxed and reaching Mort was, and I was nervous that he wouldn't be or that we'd still be missing some of the big picture. He started off a bit slow in the walk, but we walked on a loose rein while I told her what we'd experimented with and where we were right now.

The first trot was his usual slow, shuffle that I allow for him to work out his stiffness. She told me to put him on the buckle and just ask for forward. I will continue to put him on the buckle during our first trot, but I'll probably still let him work into a more forward trot over a lap or two. I know that I feel stiff and sore when I start running, and with his front leg history I'm willing to give him that time. Other than that, I liked dropping him to the buckle and really trying to steer with my legs. I did some big figure eights and as we went along he got more forward for me.

After a short walk break she asked me to start picking up the contact. I need to be more aware about when to give and when to keep him. I kept letting myself give with the outside rein when he would push into the contact. After I got over that some we were trotting nicely forward both directions with him maintaining a decent contact. We did a little canter each direction. I need to ask for a bit more forward from him, especially in the beginning, so that it feels like he's really carrying me.

Another walk break and she wanted to work on accurate 20-meter circles and square corners for the show this weekend. Mort did really well when I was able to keep him on the outside rein. Inside leg to outside rein was definitely a theme of the lesson. I think I'd let it slide some from the last lesson since we've been working on stretch and relaxation and making sure I don't rely too much on the outside rein. Dressage is hard.

We did the same at the canter and his canter is still his best gait. She's excited to see where it can go in the future.

I think the best thing that happened during our lesson was that he got sticky in the walk tracking right. I liked that she was able to see what was happening and we were then able to discuss it. His stickiness is a huge source of concern for me. It's a relatively new (six months or so) issue and it's an issue that I'm uncertain how to address. Do I drop his workload down because he doesn't understand? Is he not physically able to do what I'm asking? Have I missed something in our training that's causing tension? Do I push him through it in a fair, but firm, way? How much attitude does he have to show for it to be something that I shouldn't push him through because it points to something more than a work ethic issue?

She said that it's most likely caused by the fact that in the last six months I've been asking him to step-up the work. It's that jump between first and second level. It starts to really get physically hard for the horse and that's why so many folks don't make the jump between first and second. The horse has to dig down and really use his hind end and develop self-carriage. Mort's sticky moments are him telling me that he doesn't really want to work that hard. So, essentially, I got to ask her all of my questions and tell her all of my concerns and she talked me down off the ledge of me thinking that I'm ruining my horse.

I was so, so glad she got to see his good and bad yesterday. She saw it and still felt that we were definitely on the right track. She thinks I need to push him through the sticky; he needs to know that getting fussy and leaning into my leg aren't the right answers. If that means a bit of a tap with the whip occasionally to back-up my leg, that's OK.

It wasn't all roses of course, as she also said that I need to not feed into it and try fixing it with my hands as that will never work. Just focus on a soft, steady outside rein and an inside rein that isn't crossing into his neck but quietly asking him to soften the jaw. Inside leg stays active at the girth and if he gets behind or leans into it he gets a tap with the whip.

So if we continue along the path of me working on better connection and clearer aids and a rounder topline, slowly but surely he should get over it. She thinks 2nd level should be there for us by spring, but all I'm focusing on right now are less sticky moments, more relaxed transitions, and a powerful hind end.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Lovely, Wet Weekend

After an amazing ride on Thursday, Friday brought even more rain and miserable-ness. So I just brushed Mort and cleaned his stall. There is something peaceful listening to a horse munch hay while the rain comes down. If you don't like that, do you even like horses?

Saturday was round three of the saddle fitter coming out. I can tell that Mort is much happier over his topline much earlier in the ride with our saddle and half-pad changes. I was putting a riser in the rear of the saddle as it was throwing me a bit on my seat bones and into the dreaded chair seat position. Some of that is just because of my natural inclination toward that position but there was a point during these experiments where my position was a lot more effortless and I was wondering if we could find that sweet spot again.

Turns out that the new half-pad was the culprit. It fits him and the saddle well, but it put the front of the saddle up a bit. She stuffed in some more padding in the saddle and I hopped on him to try it out. Immediately I felt more secure with where my seat was hitting the saddle. And Mort was still happy and comfortable over his topline. We went on to have an awesome ride where he was forward and soft and round and reaching. We had more relaxed walk/trot transitions than we had poor ones. That's a ratio I want to get used to. All of this with only being able to ride in a small part of the arena due to the wet. I had to force myself to stop instead of just riding all day on what he was giving me. What a good boy.

Two seriously good rides in a row cemented in that I think I'm going to try for the WWU schooling show at the beginning of next month. I'm hoping to get a stall so that trailering will be more spaced out and (hopefully) go well. I'll probably do some combination of training and first level. I don't want to push him--both because we've been working so much on relaxation lately and because it's the first trip in over a year. We'll see how it goes!

Sunday was wet and rainy (again). I hopped on him and was going to go for a long walk along the road. He started off well, walking forward on a loose rein. We got to where we were going to go around a turn and he stopped an refused to go forward. I let him stand a look for a few minutes and asked him to go forward again. He wouldn't, so we were side-passing down the hill when the scary culprit of his fear showed their faces. Two lovely people on a walk with their dog. I know--terrifying. I have zero clue as to why Mort was scared of them but he just about left the area. I actually jumped off and we went up into a drive to let them pass. As they got closer he realized they were not horse murderers and settled some. Horses, man.

It's really hard to get back up on him without a mounting block, and I worry about what it does to his back since I'm so bad at it, so I just hand walked him. We went around the corner and across the bridge with zero issues or spooking. I even let him grab a few mouthfuls of grass along the side of the road. I did hop back on him when we got back to the barn and the mounting block. We walked in the field some. I also played a bit with him in the arena. He was lovely and relaxed on the side of lazy.

After that he had a bit of a spa day where I scrubbed his legs and tried making him look handsome and shiny in spite of the mud and dust. He'll get today off to give the arena another day to dry out.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Trailer Loading Progress

Folks, Mort is doing so, so well with the trailer now. All he needed was some time and consistency to get comfortable with the ramp. Hopefully we continue on this upward climb and he continues to get more and more confident. Below is my log of what we have been up to for the last week.

Sunday, September 23, 2018:
The truck and trailer are officially parked at the barn. They're down by the show stalls, so we're out of the way and can have minimal distractions.

Sunday night was our first session and it went fairly well. I had a bucket of soaked alf cubes with the plan to just let him eat it halfway up the ramp. But he let me move it further and further in the trailer until his front feet were in the trailer and his hind feet were two steps up the ramp. He was willing to stay in that far for a while before wanting to back out and look at the scenery. Overall, he was fairly relaxed and got pretty far up the ramp several times during our session.

The best part was that when I walked him up to the ramp and clicked he followed me up. He didn't just go forward because of the treats, but it was because I had asked him to. To me that's one of the best sessions we've had just because of that fact.

Monday, September 24, 2018:
Mort got on and off the trailer twice last night!

He got on about 3/4 of the way twice then finally stepped all the way on for his alf. I gave him several bites then went back to close the butt bar. He got several more bites and just chilled. I then backed him off quietly.

Next attempt got about 3/4 of the way in again; then the one after that he went all the way in. I gave him alf and did the butt bar and ramp. After hanging out for a little bit I went to back him out. He did slip on the ramp some on the way down as it had started raining. Hopefully not enough to spook him for next time, but I'll find out soon enough. I thought about trying to get him on the ramp again to make sure he thought it was safe, but with it being wet I didn't want to risk him slipping again so I called it a fairly successful day and let him go to turnout.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018:
The vet was coming out to do Mort's teeth but he was running late so I grabbed a bag of apple pieces and headed down to the trailer.

Mort got on fully the second attempt, but since he just had apple pieces when I went back to put up the butt bar he backed out with me. But since I wasn't at his head, he backed poorly and flipped up the rubber covering the crack--which scared him because it might have been death.

So I got him all the way on the ramp several times after that, but I didn't get him back on again. Ugh. I ended with asking him to step forward on the ramp, treat, then step backward just one step, treat. I did that a few times and called it quits because I ran out of treats. We'll try again tomorrow and I'll most likely just hang out with him in the trailer instead of messing with the butt bar. Hopefully I can get him on and off a couple times.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018:
In spite of a lot of chaos from the arena being re-done Mort was a rock star.

First attempt at getting on the trailer he got about 3/4 of the way on then backed most of the way off, but when I asked him again he walked right up the whole way.

I then backed him down and asked him to stop partway down the ramp (so his front feet were on the ramp and his hind were off). I gave him an alf cube for stopping then asked him to walk back in and he did.

Then we slowly backed off again and I let him graze a minute. Asked him to get back on and he hesitated but then proceeded to walk right in.

Finally I walked him into the barn aisle and we milled around in there for a minute. Then I walked back out to the trailer and he followed me right up without even hesitating. What a good, good boy. 

Every time that he gets on he gets to relax a few minutes and munch on his soaked alf cubes. The good news is that he's never been nervous about actually being in the trailer, so that part is nice and relaxing. He gets better every day so hopefully we can keep working and build his confidence more and more.

Thursday, September 27, 2018:
Mort stepped about halfway up on our first attempt. Then he walked up for me.

We grazed a bit then walked back over. He did the thing where he stopped and looked around before getting on, but once he had stared for a bit he decided to walk right in.

The third time we walked into the barn for a minute then headed back out and he walked right in.

After I was done feeding him some alf I tied him to the side of the trailer while I closed up all the doors. I prefer having a stall if we go to a show, but that's not always possible so standing tied is always good practice as well.

Saturday, September 29, 2018:
Mort headed right in after a slight hesitation of looking around. That was normal for him before our trailering issues, so I'm not too preoccupied with that going away.

I had him load twice and he did really well both times. I let him graze by the trailer as I closed it up and he did fine with all the noise and commotion that comes with that.

Sunday, September 30, 2018:
Two more successful loading attempts. He stops at the end of the ramp, looks around then walks right in with no issues. He's backing down slowly and stopping partway down for me to stuff another treat into his mouth before backing the rest of the way.



Tonight the plan is to load him before my ride and see if that makes any difference in his attitude about it since he'll have more energy than after. I'm also going to bring out a hay bag and potentially put some bedding in it. I just want him to see different items in the trailer that will be in there when we actually go someplace.

I'd like to move the truck and trailer to another location on the farm and see if he'll load in the new spot. Then I'd like to load him and take him on a short drive, and come back to the farm to see if he'll unload and load again. After that I'm thinking I may start scouting for a clinic in the near future. We'll see how the next week or so goes!