Thursday, August 29, 2019

Riding Without a Plan

Mort was good last night. I didn't go in with much of a plan. I want to keep this week lighter and mostly work on the basics--no use getting either of us worked up before a clinic. Suppleness is the name of the game. He started out the tiniest bit more up than normal. I think the cooler weather is helping him feel the pep in his step. I did some walk work before trotting to get his attention on me a little more. We started off with full-arena figure eights. I tried to focus on getting him straight and only asking for a little bend. Steering from my legs and seat while just softening the jaw a bit. I've been doing better with not letting my left hand go too low and I've been working on trying to sit heavier on my left seat bone (because I'm always sitting right these days). The seat bone is a lot harder to fix. I never used to have an issue with being this crooked, so I blame Mort's crookedness influencing me a lot on this one. That's not me trying to come up with an excuse not to work on it, but it is a bit frustrating. I'm not buying a new dressage horse anytime soon though, so it's just something that I'm going to have to get stronger about. Honestly, we got to a good spot pretty early into the warm-up. He was responsive and forward without being rushed. He got a bit fast after we cantered, but nothing that some half-halts couldn't easily fix. After our walk break I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I went back to the circle exercise with bend/counter-bend and leg yields. It's a good one for loosening him up in the base of his neck. He has to tune into my seat and legs even more for directional aids. And working on 10 and 20-meter circles is never a bad thing for us dressage folks. He did well with it and I only ended up doing it twice each direction. After another break I just did some leg yield zig-zags. We ended with some stretchy trot both directions. He does so well with this at home--I can't wait for him to unlock that back someday at a show. We walked a few laps in the field to cool down. He was spooked by something back there last week and hadn't been really comfortable in turn-out since. One day he was so worked up in the lot that the barn owner had issues with him being rude coming in. So, I've made it a point to end our rides out there. He was really up and nervous at the beginning of our cool-down on Sunday but worked into a state of semi-relaxation. Yesterday he started off mostly relaxed and was fully relaxed by the end. And he was good in turnout last night, so I'm calling it a win!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Horse Show Recap--Sunday

So, my friend and I came in with a plan on Sunday. We fed, and while Mort ate she took her mare on her morning hand-walk. Mort panicked and spilled a lot of his food. I cleaned his stall and watered him etc. The love of his life came back and he settled. Then it was our turn for the walk. I walked in the barn for a bit, but every time I came to our aisle he would scream to her and get worked up. So I went to one of the warm-up arenas and walked there. He wanted to jig and I had to stick my elbow to him a few times to remind him to not get in my space but he did slowly start to walk flat. I eventually had a somewhat reasonable horse and I touched on some in-hand ground work and he was decent. We went back to braid. I checked in with the show office to see if they had any scratches that one of us could switch with so as not to warm-up together. No luck. So we came up with a plan to warm-up in separate arenas and try to sneak them around each other for the actual showing. My friend was amazing and let Mort and I have the arena that was intended for our ring. I actually ended up being able to switch with another rider and went three rounds early. We then snuck the mare in as Mort snuck out. We both still had tension, but nothing compared to the day before. I again went into this test with relaxation as the only goal. We spent the warm-up doing a million changes of direction and finding those moments when he would give and let go in the base of his neck. I actually ended up feeling confident enough in the test to let him think about some lengthens. I didn't push for them or ask for them, but I also let him build instead of throwing in a bunch of half-halts. We didn't get much in the stretchy trot, but he did give me some good free walk. We pulled a 62.9%. Then we had our final test of the weekend. His girlfriend left while I was tacking and we snuck her out after her test while I started my warm-up in the other arena. We then did a very similar warm-up in our correct arena and I felt like actually trying a little bit in this test. I asked for some conservative lengthens. I found a little stretch in the trot and he gave me some really nice walk work (earning us some 7's). His canter felt pretty good and if I felt like really asking for a lot I think we could have gotten some solid work. Overall, it was a decent test. It wasn't as good as we could put down if he had been relaxed but I was happy with what he was giving me. We got a 64.5% and both left the arena feeling confident. It was not the weekend that I expected. In my head the tension that we had worked our way down to by Sunday would have been all that we started with. I was hoping to be able to get some low/mid 60's on Saturday and pull some high 60's on Sunday. Obviously starting off with a personal-low of 50% and a very overwhelmed horse on Saturday made me readdress my game plan. I'm very disappointed in how Mort handled himself. I don't blame him and I'm not disappointed in him by any means, as he was truly just so upset that he couldn't handle life. He did his very best to stay with me and be obedient in spite of that and I am happy about that. But I'm still disappointed that all of our prep work and training had to go out the window to go back to just building confidence in each other. I understand that that's just training horses. I didn't buy a made horse and it's my responsibility to work him through these issues. We both did our best with what we were given this weekend. But sometimes reality sucks. On the flip side, I am very happy with how we were able to work through it. I got to see the worst (hopefully) that Mort will give me. We not only got through it, but we continued to get better and better with every ride. I know if we'd had a couple more rides we would have continued along that trajectory. I convinced him that I was to be trusted as a leader who wouldn't take us to our deaths. He got more and more confidence in himself and me. I got to gain confidence as a rider who can work through something like that. I also found out that I could sit a rear and keep going. I also got to work on my bravery in saddling back up after a truly bad (and scary) ride. Mort and I are both coming out on the other side better than we were. Our partnership is more solid and I've got even more tools in my toolbox to help settle a nervous horse. I also know to never stall near this mare at a show again!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Horse Show Recap--Saturday

Mort was still pretty up for our hand-walk Saturday morning, but I am better at calming him down when I'm riding so I was still cautiously hopeful. I should not have been. Poor guy was so overwhelmed by the environment that he was very on edge. I had to have someone help me mount and have my instructor lead us to the warm-up ring. He jigged the whole way there and just felt like a powder keg. We did eventually start to get moments where he'd release at the base of his neck and take some deep breaths. Then his girlfriend left to ride her test. Mort was almost back to square one of tension. We continued to circle and try to make riding boring and give him something easy to focus on. It worked but only so much. She came out and we walked in and I've never felt Mort so tense in the four years I've had him. I couldn't get him to release and breathe. His back was as solid as rock and his stride was short and choppy. We entered the arena to start our test, but instead of being able to halt and salute--Mort reared. I was shocked and didn't even know what to do, so I just circled and started our test without a halt. The whole test was filled with tension and a couple minor explosions. I added a circle after our first canter depart and took a rider error to make sure we didn't exit the arena. Mort and his girlfriend screamed for each other several times. We got a 50% and my first score of a 1. But we both stayed in the arena and I stayed on. I did not want to ride our next test, but I knew that I had to. Thankfully, his girlfriend rode at noon and we didn't ride until 2:30, so we didn't warm-up together. This made a huge difference. Mort was still tense, but didn't have the added frantic fear of losing his girlfriend. I rode very conservatively and didn't ask for anything other than moments of relaxation. We pulled a 61% with comments that I would have gotten higher if I had done any sort of lengthenings (which was fair because I didn't try to do a single one). I was exhausted and didn't know what to expect on Sunday. I felt much better after our second ride as that was the kind of tension that I knew I could work us through. But the first ride of the day was back-to-back with his girlfriend again which would cause the same trigger-stacking as it had that morning. We both were having very similar problems and were very much on the same page that we needed to keep our horses apart as much as possible (with them being stalled next to each other) to have any sort of good experience.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Horse Show Recap--Friday

It was quite the whirlwind of a weekend. I'm exhausted mentally and physically and I'm very much looking forward to not riding or running today. I fully plan to just catch up on some laundry and bake Steven a cake for his 30th birthday. I'll start off with the trailer-loading since it's the shortest and easiest tale. Friday: Mort followed me right up with zero hesitation Saturday: We hooked up the trailer for Mort's dinner and parked it in a relatively quiet place. There was still a lot for him to be distracted by (vehicles and the H/J ring still going off in the distance). I did have to back him a few times but got him on twice and let him hang for a while eating his dinner. Overall, not bad. Sunday: We parked the same place where I practiced the night before. We placed his new girlfriend by the front window. He got halfway on and we waited a bit. I asked for forward then backed him. We got halfway on again and he walked the rest of the way. All of the trips went well and he seemed fine for it all. Now let's get to the rides… We got to the show early afternoon on Friday. We let the horses settle while we unpacked. After everything was set-up and we'd said a few hello's we decided to hop on a ride because there weren't very many horses in the rings. Mort was quite a bit more "up" than I expected. We've been to this facility twice and he's show in both indoor arenas. I expected some tension, but not the amount that I had. He wanted to jig and had a couple of minor outbursts (think jigging sideways and minor flinging). I did eventually get him settled down in the warm-up arena. We did a ton of circles and serpentines and figure eights and buddy boy started to breathe again. Once he was decently settled in the warm-up we headed to the main arena. It was just the two of us (thankfully) and I was able to work him through some more ring figures and get him relaxed. We even ended with getting some stretch and being able to walk on the loose rein. I was feeling confident that I'd be able to get him to the point of relaxation even sooner into the warm-up on Saturday and we'd still have some OK rides. I spent the evening hanging with friends and enjoying the atmosphere of the beginning of a horse show.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

I May Be Type-A

Wednesday: Gather and pack things in car from home Grab from barn: Pitchfork Water buckets Buy: Fan Bucket clips Thursday: Load in trailer before ride Ride Feed Mort in trailer Pack trailer Friday: 5:30 - Wake up 5:50-7:30 - Run (9 miles) 7:30-8:00 - Shower/eat/etc. 8:00-8:40 - Drive to Fulton 8:40-9:00 - Vet with Jane 9:00-9:45 - Drive to Montgomery 9:45-10:00 - Let the dogs potty, turn on crock pot 10:00-10:45 - Drive to barn 10:45-11:15 - Finish packing, groom, small amount of ground work 11:30-1:00 - Drive to NEC 1:00-5:00 - Set up/ride/hand walk/bathe/etc. 5:00-5:30 - Feed Mort in trailer Saturday: 5:15-5:45 - Morning activities 5:45-6:30 - Drive to NEC 6:30-7:00 - Feed/pick stall/etc. 7:00-7:15 - Hand walk 7:15-8:30 - Braid 8:30-9:00 - Relax/drink/eat/go over test 9:00-9:20 - Get dressed 9:20-9:40 - Groom/tack 9:40-10:10 - Warmup 10:02 - Training Level Test 2 10:10 - First Level Test 1 10:20 - Untack/hose/relax/watch other girls 12:40 - Training Level Test 3 1:20-1:40 - Get dressed (maybe?) 1:40-2:00 - Groom/Tack 2:00-2:27 - Warmup 2:27 - First Level Test 2 2:40 - Untack/hose/change/unbraid/etc. 4:45-5:00 - Hand walk 5:00-5:30 - Feed Mort in trailer Sunday: 4:45-5:15 - Morning activities 5:15-6:00 - Drive to NEC 6:00-6:30 - Feed/pick stall/etc. 6:30-6:45 - Hand walk 6:45-7:45 - Braid 7:45-8:15 - Relax/eat/drink/go over test 8:15-8:30 - Get dressed 8:30-8:50 - Groom/tack 8:50-9:18 - Warmup 9:10 - Training Level Test 2 9:18 - First Level Test 1 9:30 - Untack/hose/etc. 11:00-11:20 - Groom/tack 11:20-11:48 - Warmup 11:24 - Training Level Test 3 11:48 - First Level Test 2 12:00-12:45 - Untack/hose/change/etc. 12:45-1:45 - Pack trailer/load horses/etc. 2:00-3:30 - Drive to barn

Feeling Better

Guys, I'm definitely in a better place mentally today thinking about the show this weekend. Mort gave me a stellar ride yesterday. I wanted to touch on some transitions and get him soft and supple and responsive. After a few serpentines and circles he started to give me exactly what I was looking for. He was good for our transitions and came back to me quickly and stayed soft. I remembered to lift my hands and release instead of getting caught in a pulling fight with that left jaw and (magically) he was much softer. I didn't actually do as much as planned because I wanted to reward that awesome feeling of obedience. But we did trot/halt/trot. We did some leg yields. We did trot/canter and canter/trot. We stretched both directions. I did some conservative lengthens. I picked him up from the loose rein walk a handful of times. The end. We were both feeling good. I also worked on the dreaded trailer loading. The barn owner hooked up as I was clipping Mort's bridle path and fetlocks, so I figured we should go ahead and practice before we rode as well as after since he's been iffy lately. He was a touch hesitant when I first asked. He gave me a couple steps on the ramp then decided to back, so I backed him aggressively. Next time he walked up those couple steps and I let us have a moment of rest as reward. Then when I asked for another step he decided to get on all the way. He got a handful of grain. We backed off very slowly with a couple of treats for stopping when I asked. He was hesitant again, we backed. He walked on like a gentleman. I let him have another handful of grain and we backed off slowly again. After our ride and hose-off I grabbed his bucket of dinner grain. He followed me about halfway up, stopped, then came up the rest of the way. We chilled for a little while then backed off slowly with treats. I asked him to get on again and he walked right up with zero hesitation. More chilling and eating his dinner in the trailer. We repeated this a handful of times until he was completely done with his food. Good boy. I will have the same game plan on Thursday--loading before and feeding him his dinner on it after. It's amazing what a good ride and a good loading session can do for one's mental state. We also got our ride times this morning, so I've been able to embrace my Type-A personality and get to planning like a crazy person.

Monday, August 12, 2019

A Fragile Mental State

I'm not really sure how to describe my mental state right now. Mort and I have our recognized show this weekend. We decided to stick with first level and keep things easy for Mort. Since we haven't travelled much in the last couple years with the trailering issues, I want the trips we do take to be easy. First level is something well within our wheelhouse. Schooling second at home and showing first is fine. It's not my second level goal, but it's been a really rough year with the property stuff. It's probably better for both of us. Speaking of travelling…. Mort and I took a very successful field trip at the beginning of July where Mort loaded fairly well with little drama Friday, Saturday (just for practice while we were there), and Sunday. He was calm and happy and I felt good about life. Mort and I hauled out for a lesson with my regular instructor the first weekend of August to get Mort off-property one more time before the show. We used my trailer instead of the barn owner's since it was just Mort going. He was a teeny bit slower getting on to leave, but soon decided it was fine. Good boy. We had a very successful and relaxing lesson. Mort was alert but calm for the whole field trip. Until it was time to get back on the trailer. He just wanted to stare off into the distance and ignore me. So I'd get him partway on with bribery then he'd decide he was done and wanted to stare again. He wasn't being dramatic, but he was paying about 50% attention to me and just didn't care to get on the trailer. We decided to up the ante and I added a dressage whip to the activity. When he would stare off he'd get tapped on the shoulder to get his attention back on me. This escalated things a bit. He kept swinging his body around the side. He'd tuck his chin to his chest and pull you along for the ride. He knows how big he is. He knows he can get away. He basically said "F*ck you" over and over again. He had dozens of soft moments where he'd give and step partway on the trailer. Well over an hour later, it was dark and we were running low on motivation. In a last-ditch attempt to not have to spend the night, I grabbed a handful of grain in a bucket. Mort walked right on. I'm not sure I've ever been so frustrated and relieved at the same time. Tuesday evening, the barn owner hooked up her trailer for us to practice on. I was nervous we'd have a repeat of Saturday but Mort hopped on three times with no issues. Saturday morning I went to practice again and could not get him on. I broke out the rope halter. I tried aggressive backing instead of the whip which I definitely liked better as he hated the backing but it didn't cause the situation to escalate. I eventually got him to a place where he'd walk forward a couple steps on the ramp before I would slowly back him down on purpose. I think he would have eventually gotten on with that, but the barn owner was hauling out for a lesson and needed her trailer. Here's to hoping he's back to getting on the next couple rounds of practice this week. So that's a big part of my mental state. I really hate not knowing how Mort is going to be on the trailer. I really hate that he didn't have the training at a young age that the halter is infallible. It's all a real struggle that the only way to fix is more and more practice and taking him places. But that's also what I want to avoid to not deal with all of the drama. Ugh. Part two of my mental state is just that I can't seem to get excited about the show. I'm not dreading it by any means, but I'm just so worn down this summer that my brain can't seem to focus in. (Definitely why just showing first level is the best idea.) I'm looking forward to a weekend filled with horses and horse friends, but my rides haven't been the best. Mort's been stiffer in his left jaw for longer into our rides which is causing me to fixate on it which is never the answer. We always end with him feeling good, but the rides have been longer and less focused than I like. I'm hoping to put in one completely loose rein/stretchy ride this week and one ride where he's soft and we just play with some transitions. I think Tuesday will be the transition ride that hopefully gets him soft and doesn't drag along (I know it's up to me but I suck lately). Thursday we'll focus on happy and loose and no pressure to maybe "reset" us some before the show. Hopefully my list-making and show prep will get me more excited and focused for this weekend. Hopefully Mort gets on the dang trailer. Hopefully we both have a fun and relaxing weekend at the show.