Thursday, February 23, 2012

Could She Be Any Cuter?

Coming to meet me at the gate.
Striking a pose.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Simple Changes

Sunday it was 32 degrees and snowing... today it was sunny and 65!

Lilly seemed anxious to come in out of the pasture, so I took it as a sign that she wanted to work just as badly as I did. After I put her in the cross ties, I noticed all the black and brown hair everywhere. At least someone's horse is shedding, even if it isn't mine. Lilly holds on to her goat hair with everything she's got!

After getting her all saddled up, we headed out to the arena. The gate was already open, but I still hopped on and closed it from Lilly's back. At one point I had to stop and get her settled because her brain was in overdrive and she wanted to run the show, but once we got past that, she did excellent.

I haven't ridden her in the shank bit for quite some time now. Because of all the cantering and exercises we've been doing, I didn't feel like it was a good idea. Alex calls it the Ferrari and says it's only to be used on the weekends. I've been calling it the Mercedes because I will never be able to afford a Ferrari... I have been really pleased with how soft she's become in the snaffle since we started all this canter work. She's always been pretty soft, but even now I just pick up on the reins and she'll drop her head. Just the slightest touch of the reins gets the desired response I need. No shanks necessary! I wish I didn't have to switch over to the shanks to show. I think she's offended by that bit...

Today I wanted to work mostly on loping and lead changes. We still did our warm-up exercises, worked on some trot stops, and did some jogging around the arena, but once we were warmed up, it was time to lope. When I work her on figure eights, I always modify them a bit. I've made a really technical drawing in a really fancy drawing program to show you how we do our circles.

Behold!  The arena!
So obviously the brown color is the arena, and the two blue lines are ground poles. Actually, one of them is an actual jump, but you get the idea. So I start from the middle of the ground poles and lope to the right (let's say), but instead of coming back into the center of my eight, swapping leads and going to the left, I take her back to the right again and lope a lap around the outside of the arena. Then when we come back into the center, I'll switch directions and do the same thing to the left. To keep it even more interesting, sometimes when I'm on the long side of the arena, I'll have her stop, do a rollback, and head back in the other direction. Sometimes we stop in the middle of the ground poles, back up, or pivot around, and then lope off in the other direction.

I have to keep her guessing so she never knows what's coming next. This seems to be working out REALLY well, because despiste the number of circles we loped and the number of times she had to change her leads, she never once anticipated the lope! She never got fired up or excited either, she just loped around like a seasoned pro. :)

The simple changes are really coming along and I did try some flying changes by changing the bend and asking with my leg in the middle of the eight, but she never quite got it. I could see the wheels turning, and a couple times she changed behind, but she never quite got the idea. She's so smart and tries so hard to please, that I'm sure it won't be long.

She was really sweaty when we were done, but we had a great ride and she seemed quite proud of herself. I was proud of her too!

The Lilly stamp of approval!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Trim Clinic!

I was so excited about this clinic when I first heard about it. After signing up I bought a bunch of new tools, practiced with Lilly to make sure she would be a good girl, and then waited for the 19th of February to come around. I couldn't wait to finally meet Keith and learn as much as I could.

It was definitely an interesting day... I had to work the night before and because of my schedule, I didn't get home and in bed until about 1:30am. I was hoping I'd be sound asleep by 2am because I needed to get up at 5am and wanted all the sleep I could possibly get. The clinic was a good 2 hour drive and I wanted to have enough time to get Lilly settled in before the clinic was going to start.

The weather forecast was looking iffy, but it was still fairly warm (50-ish) and they were going to have the clinic no matter what, so Lilly and I set out on our adventure. A friend of mine from the barn also came with us, so she made the trip much more fun. She was really helpful, too, so I'll need to con her into going with me to shows this year! (Hint, hint...)

Other than not being able to find food for hours and hours, the trip there was fairly uneventful. I did manage to trap a bird in the bed of my truck somehow, though... every so often I'd see him fly up and then land back in the bed of the truck. I'm not sure how he got in there, but he never offered up any gas money and eventually flew out.

Once we arrived at the clinic, I set out to find the stall I reserved for Lilly. As it turns out, we were forgotten but they did have an open stall in another barn that wasn't attached to the barn where the clinic was going to be held. Lilly was a bit sweaty from the trailer ride, so I was worried about her being cold and wasn't terribly happy that I couldn't keep an eye on her, but she seemed to be ok. I shoveled a bunch of hay in front of her and she had company in the barn, so I set out to find something warm to drink. By this time, I could feel the temperatures dropping.

The clinic was held at a Paint barn, so Lilly felt right at home amongst all the other painted ponies. The owner of the barn asked if Lilly was a Palomino Paint and when I told her she was, she threatened to steal her and secretly replace her with a different horse. I had to keep a close eye on her the whole time to make sure she didn't go missing!

The classroom portion of the clinic started promptly at 9:30am and the longer I sat, the colder I got. It had started to rain outside and the wind was picking up and blowing right through the barn. I tried really hard to concentrate but I was FREEZING! The classroom portion was quite informative, though, and they had a really good turnout, so there were a lot of questions and I think we all learned quite a bit. I know I did. Something like this could have easily lasted days and days, so it was tough trying to squeeze it all into such a short amount of time, but Keith did a really great job.

Once we broke for lunch, they busted out one of those torpedo type heaters (I always called them Salamanders) and you couldn't tear me away from that thing for anything! I didn't even eat lunch because I was more concerned about thawing my body at the heater. A bunch of us from the class stood together around the heater dreaming about how awesome a hot tub would have been at that moment...

After the lunch break, we had another classroom session and then they brought out one of the horses so Keith could do a demo. By this time, it was snowing and even COLDER (if that's possible...). The original plan was for all the participants to get their horses and then have the class go around to each horse and evaluate the hooves. Because of how cold everyone was, plus the fact that it was snowing and a lot of us had a pretty long drive ahead of us, we decided to simply trim our own horses. Keith and Rebecca still came around to assist, but I didn't get to look at the hooves of any of the other horses.

My friend was the "fence post" and held Lilly for me while I trimmed. This is pretty much the only picture I took because my priority was warmth. Plus, with S holding Lilly, she couldn't take pictures of me trimming either. Does she look cold?

Before I started trimming, Keith came over to look at Lilly's hooves and I gave him some background information. Her left hoof is the wonky one and Keith noticed that right away. We discussed ways we could trim the hoof to help it be more symmetrical, while still keeping in mind overall balance. I pretty much trimmed Lilly on my own and then Keith and Rebecca came around to check my progress and give me pointers. We worked a lot on the hoof wall of that left hoof and I feel much more confident working on it by myself at home.

These hoof pictures weren't taken until Tuesday, but I wanted to include them in this post so you can see the trim I did and also just how wonky things are on the left side. On Sunday, because we were so rushed by the weather, I trimmed each hoof without looking too much at her overall balance. I was looking for a level, flat, and symmetrical but didn't watch her walk or compare one hoof to the other. I went back today and fixed the bars (again) and tomorrow I'll probably work on the right front a bit more to bring the hairline of each hoof more even with each other.

With this first picture, I just wanted to have a reference as to what things look like from the front. I drew the line on her hairline so show how the right front is a bit taller than the left. I wish I had taken a picture of this same view before we pulled the shoes back in August... her knees were really uneven.

Front view...
Here's the view from behind. It really shows how crooked her left side is... and it's not so much that her pastern is necessarily crooked, but if you look at it closely, and look at how the hoof looks when it's in your hand, it's as if the hoof was attached to her leg crooked.

Rear view...
Because of how her hoof is, the whole things wears a bit funny and has grown into an interesting shape. In order to try and bring as much symmetry back to the hoof as possible, we do a lot of rasping on the hoof wall to try and allow any new hoof growth to grow in correctly and hopefully end up with a much nicer shape to the hoof.

Here are a few updated pictures of her hooves.

Left Front Hoof:

Right Front Hoof:

I've worked on them some since I took the pictures, and will work on them a bit more later now that I can see what else needs to be done. My new Hall hoof knives cut her bars like butter, so I can actually trim those up without feeling like I need a hammer and a chisel.

One of the trimmers I spoke to when I was trying to decide if I should pull Lilly's shoes was at the clinic. She trimmed for me in September before Rebecca started coming out and she was blown away by the progress Lilly's hooves have made since she saw them last. I was really excited to be able to show her the new and improved Lilly hooves!

It was snowing really hard by the time we left the clinic and I had to use my four wheel drive to get out of the parking area. People harass me all the time for having four wheel drive since I live in NC, but it just goes to show you that you just never know!! Without four low, I never would have made it up that incline.

All in all it was a great clinic. The weather definitely spoiled a large part of it for me, but I'm hoping there's another clinic soon, and sometime during the summer! I learned quite a bit and feel really comfortable trimming Lilly's hooves by myself now, so it was definitely worth braving the weather and the only cold day we've had all winter.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The New Norm?

I remember quite clearly the training woes I had back when I started this blog. I was working with a western trainer just before my first post, but I ended up having getting rid of him because of something I saw him do to Lilly that I completely disapproved of. Shortly after, I switched to a new dressage trainer because I needed help! I was hoping to get western lessons, but I figured dressage would be good too. Even with the help of these professionals, it was a nightmare trying to ride my horse.

I posted things like this: I feel like every time I ride her, all I'm doing is working on the walk. I'm of the mindset that if we can't do it at the walk, how the hell are we going to do it at the trot or canter. And what is "it", you ask? ANYTHING! I can't work on shortening her stride, I can't work on transitions, I can't work on controlling her speed with my seat... none of it because I'm too busy asking for a walk. It frustrates me to no end.

And this: She was doing a lot of the same stuff she was last time I rode her... cantering on her own agenda, hopping, protesting with tiny bucks... but my trainer was there this time to tell me what I needed to be doing. Lilly knew we were going to canter, and it was as if she wanted to get it over with, so she would rush right into it on her own. At first we just tried to settle her back down and get her trotting again. Lilly would decide that she wanted to canter NOW, though, and start hopping around like a loon. My trainer told me to put Lilly's nose on my toe and make her trot around in a little circle until she decided to listen. As she got soft, I was supposed to make the circle bigger and when we were ready, ask for the canter. As the circle got bigger, Lilly would try to canter again. This went on for quite some time and I lost count of how many circles I did. I was dizzy...

Ah, I remember it like it was yesterday.

Shortly thereafter, I went to Alex's clinic, got thrown off, and learned a lot. I put into practice what Alex showed me, but Lilly and I still had a lot of work to do. We worked all summer and had a pretty good show season, but 2009 was even better. We were still having a lot of issues, though, and looking back on it now, I can see that we were individuals competing together, but we weren't a team.

In early 2009 I stopped taking lessons because I didn't feel I was getting much out of them and then in late 2009 we saw the start of all our medical issues. That carried us pretty much through mid-2010 and on and off from there into 2011. I tried getting back into the show ring in 2011, but it was awful, frustrating, and I was at a loss. That's when I decided I needed to contact Alex again and beg for help.

With her guidance, the progress with Lilly's training has been nothing short of amazing, coupled with how happy Lilly is to be without shoes, and we are on top of the world! Looking back at all of our struggles makes me even more proud of the progress we've made since then. Despite the medical hurdles and roadblocks we've encountered, I'm thrilled to death to let everyone know that my horse will walk, jog/trot, and lope/canter, all on a loose rein.

OK, so that's not all she can do, but you have to appreciate the little things, you know. Four years ago, today felt like it would never come and yet, here we are, and we're making the journey together, as a team.

Today I had another fantastic ride on my mare. The good rides have been so frequent that I'm certain this is our new norm and the only place to go from here is up. I pray every day for her continued health and look forward to this year and the many more that are to come.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hoof Pictures

Look what I got you for Valentine's Day... hoof pictures! You're welcome!

Right Front Hoof:

Left Front Hoof:

It's always interesting to see how her hooves wear from one trim to another. It looks like she wears more on the medial side than the lateral side, and this is something I'll take into consideration before I trim her on Sunday (with guidance... woohoo!). I'm also intrigued by the change in her bars... they've really "popped out" since her last trim. Keep in mind, I've been riding her without the boots for a good 2 weeks now, so I'm not sure if that's having an impact on what I'm seeing here or not. Her soles look more concave these days too and her frogs have been shedding quite a bit.

We've had a dry spell lately, so her hooves look quite a bit different when they're dry than they do when they're waterlogged.

I took my new Hoofjack to the barn to practice with Lilly. You may recall what a bad pony she was when my trimmer was out to help me trim. We had to get after her a bit so she'd stand with her hoof on the stand, so I wanted to have a few days to practice with the stand before going to the clinic. Wouldn't you know, she was an angel today. I left her hoof on the stand for quite some time and even banged on it like I was actually doing something and I thought she might fall asleep. Let's hope she's like that on Sunday too!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Playing in the Round Pen

I haven't spent much time in the round pen lately, but since I'm trying to keep things interesting for Lilly, I decided to work her in there for a change.

Normally I can't seem to get any pictures because as soon as I lift the camera to my face, she stops doing whatever it is I ask her to do. I decided to try being sneaky today and just hang the camera around my neck and "shoot from the hip" so to speak. Some of the pictures turned out nice and some of them showed only a headless horse. It's a good thing I snapped a lot of them!

She is always quite well behaved in the round pen... I think she listens better than most children I know (and I know many). I can point in the direction I want her to go and she goes, I can trot with my own feet and she'll trot, and when I ask her to canter, she doesn't take off like a bat out of hell anymore. She gave me beautiful transitions and a wonderful, relaxed LOPE in both directions. :)

Pretty lope!
It looked so effortless for her for a change. She seemed really balanced and enjoyed a nice lope around the round pen. Even her jog was nice and a couple times she stretched down and looked quite pretty.

Moving out without looking strung out!
I managed to get this shot of her sticking her tongue out while she was loping. Could this mean she was relaxed enough that she wasn't clenching her jaw for a change?

Too funny!
Can anyone see her muscles yet?! Or is the dreaded white coat still hiding them? I think she looks amazing! :) With all this work, I'm surprised she isn't losing weight. She's only still being fed hay, 2 lbs of beet pulp per day, and supplements.

Looking more like a fit cow pony every day!
After the work part of the day was over, we played a bit. Before I put her halter back on, we worked on our halterless showmanship pattern. She did excellent! Then I put her halter back on, sat on the gate, and asked her to get close enough to the gate for me to hop on. It took a couple tries, but she eventually complied and I rode her around bareback for a bit. When I was done riding, I had her side-pass back to the gate to let me off.

It was a lot of fun. :)

Oh, and look what the UPS guy brought me today! It's awesome and I can't wait to try it out!

Trim clinic is in five days! So much to do and pack, and I still have a few things I need to buy!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Best Ride Ever!!

Today was windy and cold, and despite warnings from fellow boarders about how crazy their ponies were acting in the weather, I set out to ride anyway. My pony is good even when the weather isn't!

As I've been doing every time I ride, I used Lilly to open and close the arena gate. She's really starting to catch on and is actually waiting for me to tell her where to go and what to do next instead of deciding for herself. I can see the wheels turning in her head when we're opening the gate and she always looks so proud of herself when we're done. :)

I started off warming up like I always do and then moved on to some long trotting. She felt really forward, but she wasn't being silly... just full of energy, so after what I felt was a good bit of trotting, I went ahead and moved on to the canter. I was expecting the canter to be just as forward as the trot, but to my surprise, she picked herself up and LOPED! After a trip about half way around the arena, I expected her to speed up, but she stayed round and collected and gave me the most beautiful lope I've ever had! Even with transitions and figure eights mixed in, she stayed super round and never once got strung out. I've decided I'm going to go ahead and start using the term lope instead of canter now!

I took her over the jump a couple times, we did some more figure eights, and she was amazing! Even our lope to the right, which is usually her stiff way, was phenomenal. I've been working on side-passing over poles, hoping it'll help with the gate opening, and she did it with such finesse... it felt like I could move her feet with a feather!

I was having a fight with my subconscious during all of this... do I keep going, or do I quit while I'm ahead?? In the end, I decided to have the ride I had set out to have, but I didn't add extra tasks as I sometimes do after I get out there. We did our thing, opened the gate on our way out, and headed back to the barn.

This was definitely the best ride I've ever had!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Much Needed Haircut

I went to the barn today with the intention of riding, but when I got there, the groom JenJ hired for me was there trying to figure out what to do with Lilly's mop...

Exhibit A from yesterday:

Sad, neglected pony...
Okay, so she didn't really hire me a groom, but she said Lilly looks neglected, and it's true. Poor Lilly...

So instead of riding, I spent some time trying to trim up her mane. It's super thick up at the top of her neck, and she has that darn cowlick right in the middle of her neck, so making it look nice when it's short is tough without banding. I still think I might try the Nair method to see if I can remove little pieces of mane without having to yank it out. It needs a good bath before that can happen, though.

So here's what I ended up with when I was done:

I love a short mane... it really shows off her pretty neck!
Not bad, right? By tomorrow it'll be sticking straight up and look more like a mohawk, but it's better than having it long and scruffy.

Next I got out the clippers and worked on her bridle path and the area around her ears. She always get "super fuzz" around her forelock too, so I removed that as well. Goat hairs were removed from under her face, so was the permanently stained yak hair around her fetlocks, and the whiskers around her chin. She looks like a new mare!!

By the way, I have a pair of Wahl Stable Pro clippers that an ex-boyfriend got me for my 16th birthday. I'll be celebrating number 32 this year, so these clippers have been around for a while! Each new year I figure will be the year they die and I have to have a memorial service, but they just keep on trucking. I won't know what to do when they finally stop working.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Toys!

I have new toys!

I've been getting ready for the trim clinic coming up on the 19th and I desperately needed some new tools. My Hoofjack won't be arriving until Monday, but yesterday the stuff I ordered from NC Tool showed up. They have a lot of supplies to choose from and they shipped to me really quickly. I also like how they color coordinated my stuff. LOL

I decided to upgrade my cheap-o hoof knife to Hall brand knives, and I ordered a left handed one and a right handed one. I went back and forth about just getting a loop knife, but in the end I decided I wanted the regular style hoof knife instead. Add in a knife sharpener, a new rasp, and a nice rasp handle and you've got a poser who thinks she can trim hooves!! :)

I also received my new wool pad this morning from FedEx. It was nice of them to deliver before I went out to the barn. I had a tough time deciding on a pad because I wanted wool, but I didn't want something that was 32x32. I have a horse with a really short back and a saddle with a 26" skirt... I don't need 6" of extra pad hanging out everywhere. Classic Equine and 5 Star pads were out because of size, but I found a square "barrel pad" from Smith Brothers that was 28x30 so I went ahead and ordered it. I was worried it might be a little too small, but I think it fits her just right. The saddle fits on the pad and she's not running into it with her hips.

No more ugly, black, giant saddle pad!
I did move up the saddle and pad a bit after I took these pictures, but I'm always worried about having the saddle on her shoulders. I'll need to ride in it some more before I can find the sweet spot. I also ordered her a new bit so I don't have to keep riding in my english d-ring. Smith Brothers had a nice sweet iron, loose ring on super sale, so I snatched one up. I've never ridden her in a sweet iron mouth before, but maybe she'll really like it once it starts to oxidize and all that.

Someone needs to fix that mane... she looks like an orphan!
We had a really nice ride today. We did a lot of cantering, but I tried to keep it interesting so she didn't start anticipating what I was going to ask her next. We worked on our circles and rollbacks, we worked on figure eights with simple changes in between, and we did some cantering around the ring on the rail. She got a little hot and bothered at one point, so I slowed it down and we did some long trotting.

She did really well with all the cantering, but she's not quite ready for self-carriage. If I hold her together and keep her shoulders up, she'll give me a really pretty lope, but if I let her go to canter as she likes, she gets strung out and speeds it up. The circles help out quite a bit, though, and she's doing fantastic. I'm so proud of my girl!

Our gate work was outstanding today, too. She's learning to be more patient and to wait for me to tell her where to put her feet next... it's a miracle! I think this might help with our other issue regarding pushing objects too. At first she didn't want to get close to the gate and no matter how much I asked her to step sideways, she'd only get so close before stopping. Now she nearly smashes my leg into the gate when I ask her to move closer! It seems to be teaching her that objects that appear stationary can actually move. :)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why Am I Cantering?

I wouldn't say the arena was good, but it was decent enough to actually get in a good ride. There are still a couple soupy areas I had to avoid, but at least we were able to canter! It was supposed to be sunny all day to help dry it out some more, but instead it rained on me during my ride...

I opened the gate from Lilly's back again today and I've decided to do it that way every time we ride. It can't hurt, Lilly seems to like it, and eventually, we'll look like professionals out there!

I worked on all the usual stuff and then hopped over the jump a couple times to break things up. She wasn't so sure it was a good idea, but went ahead and did it anyway, but without quite as much effort as she had on Saturday.

As I mentioned, I was able to work on our canter. Since she's been giving me some really good periods of actual western loping, I've started to incorporate some canter stops into our routine. Alex and I worked on them Saturday, but I haven't had a chance to work on them since because of the mud. Today we practiced loping circles at one end of the arena until she was calm and settled in. Then I would leave the circle, lope her up the long side of the arena, choose a spot to stop, and then back her up. In order to combat the anticipation of cantering again, we're doing rollbacks and loping the circle in the other direction, up the long side, stopping, and backing. She's doing pretty good with the rollbacks, and they're a good tool to keep her focused on me when I ask for the canter transition. I'm also going to start loping figure eights, with the stop and back in the middle of the circles, but I need the arena to dry up a bit more before we start working on that.

Also, regarding the cantering, you may or may not recall that when Lilly had her UFP appointment last month, my vet recommended that I not canter for at least two months to give Lilly some time to build up her muscles. Obviously I'm not following her recommendation. She also suggested that I put Lilly in a pair of side reins and work her on the longe line, and I'm not going to do that either. I'm not a big fan of side reins, and using them on Lilly is out of the question. I don't fault anyone who like them and uses them, but they're not for my horse.

I gave it all a lot of thought, discussed it with some people I trust, and decided that if fitness is the biggest issue my horse is having, building muscle by cantering is the best way to build muscle for cantering. She's on the Cosequin ASU as of Saturday and I've been monitoring her very closely, watching for any signs that she might be getting worse. I've noticed the opposite, though... she's been getting better. She's switching her lead behind a lot less and she's not as reluctant to pick up the right lead. She feels less stiff and I haven't felt an increase in her "tripping". She just feels a lot stronger overall and I think the extra cantering has been the best thing for her.

I like my vet and I respect her opinion, so it's nothing against her, but if I've learned anything in the past couple years, it's to take in as many opinions as I can, weigh them, and then decide what's best for me and Lilly. In other words, follow my gut and listen to what my horse tells me.

Another benefit to all this riding, and perhaps part of it is because I've been riding her 100% barefoot for about a week and a half, is I'm seeing quite a bit of concavity in her hooves! I noticed it a few days ago, but I really looked at her hooves today and it's quite impressive! A week from Sunday is the trim clinic, so I'll have to get some updated pictures of her hooves to post before then.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gate Work

It rained all day Sunday, which meant riding my horse was out of the question. It also meant the arena was going to be too soggy to ride yesterday, so we just played around a bit in the grass. I hadn't worked on showmanship in quite a while, but she did really well.

I thought for sure the arena would be decent enough to ride in today, but it was still quite soggy. We made the best of it, though, and did some walking and trotting and I decided to try some gate work. Alex suggested I work on opening and closing the arena gate from Lilly's back instead of leading her around and opening the gate that way.

She actually did really well! I'm so used to riding her with two hands that it was a bit of a challenge for me too, but we managed to open and close it without much of an issue at all. She struggled a bit at first because she didn't want to sidepass with the gate... I think she thought it wasn't going to move, but then when it moved with her, I saw the light bulb go off. She didn't get frustrated or upset and each time we did it, she got better. We went in twice and out twice.

With any luck, the arena will be nicer tomorrow... with even more luck, someone will drag it to help it dry!

After we were done riding, I took her back out to the pasture. I always give her a flake of hay and we've started doing carrot stretches again. I've been doing them for less than a week, but Lilly already knows where her next carrot can be found. I always stretch her left side, then her right side, and then I stretch her between her legs. After I was done stretching her right side, she went ahead and put her head down between her legs looking for her next carrot! I guess I'm going to have to switch it up and bit next time...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Switching Things Up A Bit

Alex came out for another visit today. I really appreciate her coming out to give me pointers even though she makes me work really hard and do things outside of my comfort zone. She always says that she's afraid she'll never see me again, but I just keep emailing her anyway! I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. :)

She rode Lilly first and worked on some of the things I was having questions about. I don't get to see Lilly ridden very often, so it really helps me when I'm able to watch Alex ride. I'm a visual learner, so being able to see what Lilly is doing and the differences in her when Alex does different things helps me understand what I need to do.

Alex commented on how much stronger Lilly feels compared to the last time she was out... we've been working hard since then! She's really starting to develop some muscle tone as well, but it never comes through in the pictures. She's looking and feeling really good, though!

We worked on a lot of the usual stuff, like cantering, jogging, keeping her shoulders up, and stopping.

Jogging... and getting yelled at for my riding skillz.
Then, as she tends to do, Alex got a little creative and sacrificed her sweet puppy dog, Pepper. Pepper had to play the part of a cow, and Lilly turned into a cutting horse. We WERE riding in a cutting saddle after all! So we chased Pepper around for a while and Lilly seemed to really get into it! She's not a big fan of dogs as it is, so being allowed to chase one around was something she was all for.

Our little, black cow.
It was a lot of fun and gave Lilly a purpose for moving her shoulders. It's unfortunate that I don't have a dog, and the two dogs that belong to the barn owner don't usually follow us out into the arena, or we would try to do that more often.

Once we were done with cutting practice, I was instructed to take Lilly over the small jumps that were set up in the arena. I'm not a jumper, nor do I pretend to be one or know anything about it, but we did the best we could!

Getting ready!
A nice, low cavaletti, but look at that reach!
Now it's a little bit higher...
Then Alex got sneaky and raised the height of the cavaletti when I wasn't looking. Lilly had to actually "jump" over it. I wasn't exactly prepared, but my face seems to be saying I had fun trying!

A big, cheesy grin! :)
I know all you hunter jumper people are laughing at me, but our goal has always been to keep most of our hooves on the ground at all times! I do want to try a few hunter hack classes this year, though, so I guess there's no time like the present to start working on it.

I think Lilly had as much fun today as I did. I'm sure she gets tired of staring at the dirt the whole time we ride, so I'm going to try and keep it interesting for her. Like Alex said, I don't need to keep drilling the same thing over and over, I just need to work on having a soft, obedient horse who puts her feet where I ask her to. I'm going to have a bumper sticker made up that says, "If you control the feet, you control the horse." :)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Managing Expectations

I'm guilty.

I'm guilty of getting caught up in the excitement of having a new saddle and, in a way, having a new horse. I've ridden more in the past couple weeks than I have ridden in a long time and I look forward to every ride. A ride every other day? Nope, I'm riding every day and I'm working on things that matter. I'm motivated, I'm focused, and I'm excited about what's to come for us this year.

My horse has been making tremendous progress and I finally feel like a competent teacher. When Lilly does A, I know exactly what to do to help her understand and when she does B, I know how to counter it, using her over-active brain against her.

I think I let things get a little out of control, including my expectations for each ride. I was anticipating a measurable amount of improvement each and every time we stepped into the arena, and at the very least, we would pick up where we left off the day before. I mean, why wouldn't we? We've been making so much progress!

Our ride yesterday proved me wrong.

After giving the ride a lot of thought, and after feeling guilty about the way our ride went and how I handled the challenges, I realized I had set expectations too high. Has Lilly been doing great? Yes. Is it fair of me to expect her to be great every time I put a saddle on her back? No.

My frustrations yesterday were more with myself than they were with Lilly. I had been feeling so good about everything that when things weren't going as I expected, I became frustrated... frustrated because I didn't know what to do to help the situation. I felt a little lost.

This morning I debated about whether I should go to the barn or just stay home. I came up with a number of reasons to stay home, but in the end I decided to go ride my horse. So we had a bad day... big deal. Today was an opportunity to start over and try again.

I apologized to Lilly today for the way I handled things yesterday and she graciously accepted the peace offering. (A carrot, of course!) We decided we were going to have a great ride no matter what, and I promised no expectations.

So was it a great ride? Not really, but we worked through it and when we struggled I slowed it down and we started over. She was a little speedy today, so I took the opportunity to do a lot of long trotting to build up some muscle and work her stifles. We worked on circles and bending and eventually moved on to our canter circles. If I could choose one thing to get excited about, it's her canter transitions. They were like butter today... absolutely beautiful.

Even though she's a little passive-aggressive at times, and a bit of an over-achiever, I know deep down she's trying, and she wants to please. I won't forget that from now on.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Mediocre Ride

My new stirrups came yesterday, so the saddle is officially done! I wish I could somehow re-wrap the horn because the rawhide has come off the top, but I can't seem to find out how to do it and I'd probably have to take the saddle apart to make that happen anyway. The leather still needs more conditioning, but that will need to happen over time. I think it cleans up pretty nice!

Oooh, pretty!!
Lilly and I went for another barefoot ride today. I rode in the snaffle and we worked on the usual stuff... lots of trot circles, lots of cantering, and lots of stopping. She's been doing quite well with the cantering so I decided to incorporate a few canter stops into the routine today. She does really well with the transitions, but the goal of the canter stops is to get her anticipating the stop. She was starting to anticipate the stop, but she was also anticipating the canter cue as well, so I'm not sure what to do about that. We'd canter along, I'd ask for the stop, back her up, and then before I could ask for something else, she's trying to canter again.

After the canter work she kept doing this thing where she would walk super fast with her head down. It was like she was tuning me out and speed walking... to accomplish what, I'm not sure. I'd ask her to stop and sometimes she ignored me completely, sometimes she'd be a little startled but stop, and then she'd go back to speed walking. I had to do a lot of walk stop, walk stop, walk stop in very quick succession before she was finally paying attention.

I think she enjoys making my life difficult.

She was also being silly during our trot circles... I was trying to get a nice, steady trot and she wanted to be lazy, so I'd ask for a little more umph, and she'd start "cantering". The canter was strange, though, because it wasn't a true canter and she just kept popping herself up over and over in this super slow, strange canter transition. Granted, I liked how she was picking up her front end, but it wasn't even close to what I was asking.

While we didn't have a "bad" ride, I felt a little defeated and frustrated when we were done. I know we're working on quite a bit of stuff, but it felt like nothing went right and I had to fight with her on everything we worked on to get just a tiny bit of cooperation. I had to stop and take some deep breaths a couple times to get back my composure and it felt like I was in her mouth way too much. I don't like having to be that demanding with her but it just felt like she kept me tuned out for nearly the entire ride. Luckily Alex is going to rescue me on Saturday and come work with us, so hopefully she'll get me back on track in no time.

I took a couple body shots of her today just to track progress, so here she is before our ride.

Looking less pudgy all the time!
She's the cleanest horse on the farm! :)