Monday, October 31, 2016

Re-Teaching, Re-Learning

You know, I really had every intention of writing this post about 2 weeks ago. I even had plans to share multiple posts within that 2 week window.

But then my computer died. Thanks, Windows. (NOT.)

And so I spent an inordinate amount of time backing up my files and trying different ways to get the computer going again. Tech wizard I am not, but apprentice I am. I successfully found my way around some tech forums and various tech sites and managed to completely back up all of my things, wipe my harddrive, and do a clean reinstall.

And so, the various burgeoning posts I've had under wraps throughout this technological debacle will be bursting forth in the next week or so. I am excited to get back to writing and photo editing.

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I love having Stan back in my life. I don't think I get the opportunity to really express that as much as I'd like.

Stan is unchanged. He's older and there are a few more white hairs in places (dramatic flank roaning especially which leads me to wonder if he's got some sabino or rabicano influencing the change), but he's very much the Stan I remember riding so much from 2005 - 2011 (particular emphasis 2005-2007).

Orange was his color before it was Q's

I, on the other hand, have changed leaps and bounds mentally and physically since our former riding days. I am a far better rider and an infinitely better horseperson than I was years ago. I have so many more tools available to me to develop a horse and troubleshoot through issues. I'm so grateful for the things I have learned [and continue to learn] because I am able to set up a program up to bring Stan back into higher fitness levels that is tailored to what he needs physically.

Unfortunately, in my journey forward to the person I am today, I've picked up a lot of new fears. When I last rode Stan a significant amount, I had no fear. I was cautious of him after he bucked me off that one time, but I wasn't fearful. Life's trials and tribulations have introduced more hesitancy and fear into me since then. Riding and training a green horse and a very spooky horse have especially taken a toll! The thought of galloping pell mell through a field at the highest possible speed makes my stomach clench up a little bit. Q's teleporting and sudden stopping at any speed has taught me an extraordinary amount of caution in my every endeavor on horseback.

Pink is decidedly NOT his color.

Stan is teaching me to release fears I've built up. And while I'm not going to be the quickest study, I am learning. It is so grounding to re-learn these things.

My solo rides off property with Stan are infrequent at best right now, but each one has been absolutely wonderful. It is beyond refreshing to ride a horse who doesn't spook at every little thing. Who doesn't even flick an ear at half of the things that would send Q into contemplative terror. He knows his job, he trusts his rider, and he motors down the trail.

Plant/leaves vastly contrasting in color from surroundings? Who cares! Deer flushing and their subsequent flight through crinkly fallen leaves? NBD.

But for both boys, who needed blankets, pink was what was on sale! So TOUGH.

Stan isn't spookless! He definitely notices things, but he processes them, and moves onward. He will break into a slower gait, give something a wider berth or an extra look, and even balk a bit, but he doesn't tense up and feel about to explode (as Q or Griffin may) when he does have his moments. He also does not dwell on things that caused him concern at all. He notes it, may or may not react, and moves on. He doesn't do what Q - and Griffin to a lesser extent - does and let whatever caused alarm create reason to then find imminent danger in every small thing in the environment. I can absolutely trust Stan to get over things and focus back on the work at hand without worrying he'll build up more apprehension.

I mean, what even? Helmet-less and galloping pell mell through a field? Fearless.

And speed! I'm learning to enjoy and trust a fast moving horse again. Stan remembers that field work with me means galloping. Galloping a lot. And so, when I get him on the flat where there is good footing, son moves OUT. Field workouts at home (3 laps = a mile) are blazing fast on Stan. With time, we'll do more trotting, but right now it is nigh impossible to keep him slower than a hand gallop when we work in that field! (My arms and shoulders were SO SORE from my efforts to keep him slower the first time.) And so, the workouts are shorter and faster for the time being.

That first ride was kind of terrifying, honestly. He was racing SO FAST around that field. But he remembers me and he remembers that being Our Thing ten years (!!) ago. I had to remind myself of that constantly. He's not going to spook and dump you. He's doing the job he remembers. You're okay. You're not gonna fall and tumble into a fiery crash. can't even spontaneously burst into flame falling of a horse anyway! Ride balanced, steady your lower leg and cement yourself into your two-point, it's fine. And it was. And it continues to be.

Let me take my nap, human, no photos, please!

I did 10 miles on the rail trail with Stan, too, recently. His first time ever on the rail trail - and solo to boot! He was definitely the most looky yet at things on the way out (highway overpass, big bulls, bridges, benches, and the token walker with a flappy poncho), but by the time we turned for home, everything was a non-issue. He was motivated by the whole "heading home" bit, but he was also accustomed to this new strange environment. He's a professional like that.

I had some great trot work from him for the first time on the rail trail, too. We get trot work trail riding, but flat areas with good footing = speed workouts in Stan's mind. And I understand why he behaves that way, so I haven't been nit picking him much about his speed because I know with time, he'll slow down.

Rail trailin' like a BOSS.

I recognize that working with Stan is 110% NOT working with Griffin or with Q. There are certainly parallels, but there are far more unique differences. He isn't green, he's just coming out of several years of inactivity. He also has a vastly different temperament than either of my other two. Thus, I can allow him a lot of liberties that I wouldn't with Q or Griffin as I put him back into work (see: working in wide open spaces & allowing him to move out because I know he will slow down).

I know this horse so well. He isn't a green horse by any means, though he is green to jumping and dressage. I know that he knows correct answers, he just hasn't been asked a lot of questions in awhile. So instead of being so structured with our general fitness workouts and trying to correct every tiny thing, I'm being patient. I know that time will resolve a lot of the issues (speed, willingness to accept contact, willingness to lend his focus wholly to work and not show interest in his herd) we have right now. And we'll build on more structure when we focus on green-to-him subjects like dressage and jumping.  Everything will fall neatly into place as it's meant to with our training regiment.

Shitty lighting, but I think we can all respect how much better his neck is looking already (mohawk aside).

While I am still floored and disappointed over Q's suspensory injury and nervous about what it may or may not entail for the future, I am still trying to see things as positively as possible. By the time I have the opportunity to work with Q again, my headspace will be infinitely more confident and relaxed from my time spent with Stan. This is exactly what Q will need. I know she's got the ability to be a calmer ride (she used to be a much calmer ride), I just have to be able to support her and that means having a calmer headspace about all under saddle work.

Stan's reappearance has been very well-timed. It is so grounding to have him re-teaching me confidence and fearlessness in certain aspects of my riding. I am so grateful to have him back in my life.<3

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Multiple Horse Serendipity

KateRose recently posed a question about being a single or a multiple horse person.

When I was younger, the thought in my mind was always "when I grow up I'm going to have horses". Always plural. I wasn't allowed to have a horse as a kid. I always rode other people's horses. And as time went on, I enjoyed this relationship by and large. It was easy. Especially once Stan and I entered one anothers' life; I got to ride him whenever I wanted.

Of the horses I've owned, none of them were *planned*. I didn't shop, I didn't pick them out from other choices, and I didn't seek them out for a certain discipline.


Orion entered my life because I really wanted *a horse of my own*. But when I realized he would never be able to do what I wanted to do (endurance and jumping), I made the decision to pass him on to someone else (seriously, he stayed at the barn I had him at but just under the care of someone else - it's still the same to this day).

Griffin fell into my lap quite by surprise and with an escape door or two. He was a project that turned into a forever horse. This blog really started to take off when I got him and began his training nearly 5 years ago.

The first day I rode Q

Q was so fun to ride the weekend I met her that I decided to buy her. I didn't think I could possibly handle two horses financially - but then my job became permanent and things were suddenly feasible. I was missing riding dearly (Griffin was too young at the time) and I knew Q would be a great second project to keep me satisfied in the saddle while Griffin grew up.

Stan was part of my life on and off from 2005 - 2011. When his owner decided to "get out of horses" a few months ago and called me to give me first choice having Stan, I COULDN'T say no. Especially because I knew I could handle the finances.

And so, I'm a multiple horse person due to serendipity.

Quite reflection with Stan years ago

After having Orion, I longed for another horse of my own so badly. I did shop and seek and look. I came close to picking up an Arabian from the Arabian Rescue Horse page on Facebook a couple times, but it didn't come to fruition. And then Griffin fell into my lap and fulfilled my desire to train and learn with an animal while also fulfilling the yearning I felt toward animal husbandry.

After a few months with Griffin, the reality that I wouldn't be able to ride for a long while really hit me hard. I browsed online for Arabians constantly. (I fortunately was not involved with any of the endurance facebook groups at the time or I'm certain I'd have ended up with a horse other than Q.) I once again came VERY CLOSE to picking up a horse from the Arabian group, but then she found a home. (Actually, the guy in charge of the page decided to keep her for his son!) Shortly after the mare I was lusting after went off the market, I met Q and made the decision to bring her home.

My loves

The balance of Q and Griffin was wonderful. I loved it. It was a great combo of riding horse, baby horse that evolved into experienced riding horse and green riding horse. When I finally parsed them into individual disciplines, the combo evolved into further perfection. I loved the mix of training two different horses in two exclusive disciplines. Certainly, there was some overlap with cross-training - as it should be for any horse - but by and large Q was endurance-focused and Griffin was more geared toward eventing/horse trials.

I did not expect to have a third horse in the equation for some time. In fact, I didn't imagine a third horse would enter the picture until I decided to breed Q years down the road! And honestly, I couldn't fathom keeping up with a training schedule for THREE HORSES. Aside from retirement, I am NOT the kind of person who can just own horses and have them sit in the field!

But then Stan happened, and I would be lying if I told you I didn't expect it to happen in some fashion. I knew deep down he'd end up with me some day. I just didn't anticipate it would be so soon!

From this past weekend!

I ran across and article yesterday about how if you think you're productive now, wait until you have kids! Well, I don't have kids and my productivity in most parts of my life hasn't altered, but my productivity with the horses sure has! When I think back on spring/early summer, I laugh thinking about how hard I found it to keep up with training two horses. Keeping up with a training schedule for two seems like child's play now. THREE is where it's at. THREE is work.

Rather, it was work. And then the Universe granted Q with proximal suspensory desmitis (sigh) and a year-long vacation before I can consider juggling work with three horses again. And so, I'm back to two schedules, but three animals. I gotta say, I'm rather grateful for Stan's recent serendipitous re-entry into my life after the bad news about Q!

Multiple horse ownership is far from easy, but I enjoy it. Times like now when I'm down one riding animal are made a lot easier knowing I still have two other horses to fulfill my riding whims and desires. It also guarantees Q will get the time off she needs. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Continued Gymnastics

My unwritten goal each week is to get 2 dressage rides and at least 1 jumping session in with Griffin. I've been successful achieving this for a month now.

Our dressage rides aren't much to write home about right now. We do a lot of work at the walk and trot and are mostly working on Griffin accepting the contact and becoming a little lighter with the aids. Some days we kick ass, other days we struggle. Some days the struggle is due to Griffin, some days the struggle is due to me riding like something that resembles a sack of potatoes. Overall, there is forward progress for which I am grateful. Still though, nothing exciting to write about unless you want to read, "Today I rode my horse in various sized circles. We did a lot of walk and trot transitions. He's awesome to the left and we struggle to the right. He is accepting the contact more and more. Our lateral movements are inching forward with slow success," after every ride. 'Cause that about sums it up!

10032016_Griffin Jumping (2 of 10)
Black tipped ears <3

Jumping on the other hand is way more exciting to look at and write about at just about any point! The days vary, the lessons learned vary, and the take always from media are a wonderful thing because I don't have active eyes on the ground when I'm out there doin' my thing. The major setback to living where I do!

However, media helps me learn and move forward.

Lesson student Lauren and her mom were gracious enough to come out last night and get a lot of media for me while I jumped Griffin. They wanted to watch and learn some so it really worked out well for all! There was some discussion of doing this again in the future - yay more learning and more media! Additionally, there are some other plans in the works that will be keeping them very much in the storyline for me/my horses in the near future.

I currently have a gymnastic line set up. It is slightly modified from last week, but still much the same. 18" cavaletti, bounce, cavaletti, bounce, X rail, 1 stride, panel jump, 1 stride, cavaletti, 3 stride, oxer. Except for the first half of last night, that rode more like bounce, bounce, 2 stride, 2 stride, 3.5 stride when we finally strung it all together.

10032016_Griffin Jumping (1 of 10)
Warming up. This picture literally makes me LOL because I remember this exact moment thinking,
"Must put heels down more" as I felt my left leg, and only my left leg, fly backwards.

The 40 minute workout consisted of a warm up on the flat, then over portions of the line before we began moving through the whole exercise. There were a lot of breaks throughout. Griffin was never out of breath in a bad way and was always forward (or too forward) in his eagerness through the gymnastic exercise.

After warming up on the flat, I just took Griffin over the bouncing portion a few times. Good, good, good. Then we added in the panel jump. Good. Then we added in the last two elements. It was slower than necessary, and he added strides, but it was a forward effort that he tackled with happy ears. Repeat. Only added during one of the 1 strides - better. A third iteration, finally nabbed the striding.

However, Grif really wasn't feeling the need to put forth much effort over the final oxer. 2'6" and lower he carelessly goes over. 3' gets his attention though, so we went from a square 2'6" oxer to an ascending 3'. Repeated the line, added during one of the 1 strides but otherwise perfect with a horse putting some actual effort forth at the end instead of his former carefree lollygagging. Repeated again with the same adding, but things overall went smoother.

10032016_Griffin Jumping (9 of 10)
Hunting the jump. His expression makes me go squee.

And then he had a strong refusal at the oxer during our next attempt, dodging hard to the left. If my heels hadn't been so deep on the approach, I definitely wouldn't have saved it. As it was, I came inches from kissing the standard. NOT OKAY. I totally get that there is a really reality of coming off due to a refusal, hell, I already have! But to slam face first into the top edges of the standard as I do so? No stitches in my face, kthnxbai!

I brought Griffin through again, shoving my heels as deep as I could. My apprehension still pushed through a little though because he refused again. He did it a third time, though with much less effort than the previous attempts. So I spun him around and cantered him at *just* the oxer. Finally, he jumped.

10032016_Griffin Jumping (6 of 10)
Dramatic and defensive. Note to the honky in the saddle EYES UP!
10032016_Griffin Jumping (8 of 10)
And again.

And so, I spent the rest of the ride riding defensively which did nothing to help me as a rider - beyond bolstering my confidence that I could indeed keep my shit together enough to get the horse to realize his job did not involve refusing. I got some nice work out of Griffin toward the end and helping him find success and know I'm pleased with him is what is most important to me!

Overall, I wasn't amazingly pleased with my equitation through the whole evening. I felt like I got warmed up, began to settle into the flow of things only to be put on edge and I never fully relaxed after. However, I feel like that's a trade-off with a green horse / green rider combination - sometimes I have to sacrifice perfection for me in order for my horse to have a good experience. Improving my equitation will absolutely help my horse and our future rides, but I knew after the refusals I wasn't going to be able to fix my issues in one night. And sometimes riding/training is a matter of finding a good positive note to end on before things devolve more than they have - and that is definitely something that played into last night!

Here's a video (7 seconds) that shows one of Griffin's better efforts toward the end of the session. I'm defensive as hell and my riding went to pot totally and completely, but I'm learning a lot from my mistakes! I love and hate videos for that reason - they make my faults super obvious which is painful, but I'm able to learn from them to better myself which is so important. This is the reality of not having an instructor and eyes on the ground, lots of video and learning through media. As Nicole and I discussed last night after my ride, if I'd had eyes on the ground they would have been yelling at me to put my heels to China, keep my eyes up, and wait for the jump as we approached the fence. Heels and eyes would lend me the security and waiting for the jump would have helped Griffin more. Jumping ahead isn't doing me any favors!

The refusals absolutely rattled me. Not half as much as they have in the past though! And overall, I have positive take-aways from the evening: I know I can buck up and ride on; my base of support in the saddle is strong enough to lend me confidence - though I definitely need to work on keeping my heel down over the fence (I *know* they were down on the approaches because I was really achy last night as a result); I need to put more leg on to really push Griffin through the exercise so he nails the striding and doesn't offer up refusals; wait for the jump and stop this jumping ahead BS; and eyes up, heels down, always, always, always.