Monday, February 29, 2016

When Cats Attack

I have been riding a ton lately so I might actually need to do multiple posts this week.  So to start?  Video stills of the mountain lion assault.  Be afraid.

She is the small blob on the left and based on Odin's trot here, I should always have
cats jumping around him.  Day-um

The tiny lion doesn't pause after jumping, but bolts. Odin continues to be mildly interested.

Demon cat runs straight at us.  Odin notices, but not by much.

I think here is about where I actually noticed the cat.  Odin trots on.

I spook and disrupt my horse's rhythm, cat runs more.

I finish reacting and pull my horse awkwardly down to walk as cat flees the scene.
Total elapsed time: 2 seconds, per the video.  Here are 30 seconds of pretty decent trot work followed by a couple seconds of feline ridiculousness.

Friday I managed to get out of work early, run to the barn, and ride outside before dark.  It was the first time I have been outside after work since I bought Odin.

He was a little up, but responded well to half halts and settled in to work quickly.  He doesn't really root outside like he does in the indoor so we get to focus more on pace and control of both our bodies.  The barn manager was hanging something on the roof of one of the pens, which fazed my horse not at all.

We even cantered a small amount!  Mostly it is lots of direction changes and big loopy circles, with smaller circles and transitions thrown in when we get too discombobulated.  It was a simple workout, but successful.  Nice way to end the week.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Riding outside is exciting in winter

I thought I would have some new media as R2 took videos of my lesson this weekend but she texted them to me and my phone compressed the shit out of them and now they are blurry disasters so it will have to wait until I can get my laptop to her phone.

And now that I have fully defined first world problems, on to the horse!
I swear my horse isn't downhill I just cannot manage level ground

Odin had a good week although his workload was still light as trainer R isn't bouncing back from her health issue. Not going to lie, I am having some concerns about her.  She is not young and this is her third pretty serious health issue in the last year.  Not my business but I always worry about horse trainers and being prepared for retirement and what they will do when they can't ride anymore.

Anyways, he was a good boy this week.  The weather has still been unpredictable, massive amounts of wind but mostly warm if you don't mind getting blasted by air, dirt, sawdust, sand, etc.

Saturday we were even able to lesson outside as it was the only day with no wind.  R longed him first to be safe but he wasn't very up.  I think he actually really liked being in the outdoor.  Then under saddle he was much less interested in rooting, much more interested in sightseeing.  Especially the nefariously plotting minis across the street.
The last time I rode him outside was when I was trial riding him.

So we worked on keeping his attention in the ring, staying soft in the bridle, control of his outside shoulder, and maintaining rhythm.  I am not great at explaining these things, but he just felt really present and "there" for me.  Responsive, easy, on the aids.

Then at one point there was a cat I couldn't see in the shadow on the rail and we nearly ran her over!  She jumped up to get away, practically between his legs.  I spooked hard, Odin broke to the walk, wonder wtf was wrong with the person flailing on his back.  Good Odinpotamus.
Actual cat, she is crazier than she even looks in this picture.

We trotted a line that was just a pile of poles and Odie insisted on jumping in.  It was cute, I was very careful not to tell him to jump he was making the decision on this own because he was feeling good.

Then we did a decently long trail ride with R2 and he was foot perfect.  On the buckle, relaxed, and enjoying being out there.  Perfect day to be on a horse.

Sunday the wind came back but he still had a good training ride with R2.  His canter is coming along.  That left lead has stayed consistent and now we have to strengthen him going right so he doesn't swap in back.  It will come with time.  The canter under saddle still isn't lovely, but it keeps improving.

Jumping is going to be so fun, he clearly loves it.  They were trotting cross rails and she kept having to talk him down - he wanted to launch.  After a couple times he settles into more appropriate heights but I love how much he loves it.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Taking what the horse can give you

It has been an interesting week with Odin.  A little bit of a challenging week, but definitely an educational one.

His workload was pretty light as I was caught up at work and trainer R missed a few days being sick.  I am totally cool with this in general and especially at his age, since he won't even truly be 5 until May.

However, it is a huge challenge at a facility with limited turnout.  Odin lives in a shed with a small run and only gets turned out in the field on Thursdays.  And with the wet/freeze/thaw weather we have been having, even that isn't a given.  It is an unfortunate reality of having my horse close to home in a region with ever increasing land value.  I could get him somewhere with real turnout but would have to drive 1-2 hours (depending on traffic) to get to him.

Pretty much his whole space

As a side note, if it ever turns out that he has to have that kind of turn out to be happy, I will deal with the drive, but the close to home barn is worth a shot and many horses, even a couple other young TBs, do fine.

Point being, horse has been fresh.  On Monday, I longed him and then rode him and he was pretty good.  Just basic work, no issues.  Then he sat Tues-Thurs.  He got longed a little on Friday by R, but it wasn't a heavy session as she wasn't 100%.  So I didn't expect much on Friday when I got there to ride.

Usually when he is fresh we walk and walk.  Pick a buddy and do laps.  Don't build adrenaline, but keep moving.  On Friday, that wasn't even an option.  He just couldn't even horse.

Why do I love this horse so very much?  Because he is an open book and tries to be very clear about his needs while still allowing his rider to feel safe.

We are not the best at conformation shots
Instead of exploding, spooking, or bolting, he just didn't steer.  I mean at all.  I asked him to turn right and he cocked his head left and braced his neck.  There was nothing happening.  A horse trotted by and he pranced while staying braced.  I took the hint and got off.

When the ring cleared  I stripped his tack and ran him around the indoor.  No matter how up Odie is, he requires motivation to get moving.  But once I got him going it was half racehorse half bronc horse.  He played for quite awhile.   Gave him his final estrogen shot and went home.

Saturday morning, to be safe, we longed him before I took a lesson with R2.  Another horse was bucking and running on the longe but Odin wasn't even reacting.  I got on and had the best ride on him to date.  We practiced perfecting my outside rein "half halts"  (they aren't quite half halts but basically the same principal to encourage him to stop laying on his riders hands) and he started to get really light.

And we jumped tiny cross rails!  My first jumps since surgery.  He was literally perfect.  Straight, honest, and gave only slightly more effort than they deserved.  I.e. he hopped over them instead of just stepping over them.  Then he cantered away nicely.

And by straight I mean, wow, you apply outside rein and support with outside leg and he just goes dead straight.  Seems advanced for his age and experience but it is super nice.  I hope that feature stays installed.

It was great to ride with R2 because she has done so much of Odin's under saddle work and was able to help me apply aids the way she does and therefore in the way he understands.  I left that ride feeling leaps forward in riding communication with him.

For his training ride Sunday we did no prep - he had two solid days of exercise behind him after all.  And yet, he wasn't there mentally for R2.  The wind was blowing hard (like 50 mph, we sure know wind in CO) and the ventilation fans were making horrible noises.  Maybe that was the cause, maybe not, but again the steering left the building and again the rider got off.
We are pretty good at couch mode

However, young horse, not steering cannot become an escape from work.  So on the longe he went.  And he had to really work while he was there.  Lots of transitions, going over poles, then a cross rail, then more transitions, etc.

Hopefully he starts to learn that life is actually easier and more fun if he behaves under saddle even when fresh.  And I am sure he will.  He has a good work ethic by and large.  A small group was around to watch him jump on the longe and general opinion is that he is going to be one amazing jumper - he already is a back cracker.

This week should be more normal and we will see if that equates to more consistency under saddle, but we will see what Odin offers.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Changing Expectations

I want to start this off by saying my horse is still amazing and awesome and moving along well.  Both R and R2 are consistently impressed by how he learns, which considering the depth of their horse experience means it isn't just me being in love with my horse, but validates that he is pretty great.  Who doesn't love validation?

Which ties into the topic of this post, e.g. the ridiculousness of expectations in regards to horse training and how I constantly fail at not having them!

For various possible reasons (weather and gaining fitness being major possible contributors), Odin has been getting a little bit too frisky under saddle recently.

I know, try not to be too shocked that the not quite 5 year old OTTB with minimal turn out in cold weather is getting excitable.

Because he is a good soul, this doesn't express itself in terrifying theatrics, spookiness, or anything else dramatic.  It is mostly a loss of trot tempo as he builds speed as he goes, does his best to root the reins out of your hand, and cheerfully tries to ignore soft half halts and requests for downward transitions.

For my future self reading this, I want to re-emphasize this isn't scary or awful behavior, it is just behavior that needs to not be reinforced.

The biggest problem is that of course when he tries to drag the reins down, my job is to add leg to bump him back up.  And currently he is definitely playing the "leg touched me I can go faster YAY" game.  So I need to find the perfect balance of leg and hand, a hard job for me under normal circumstances and even harder as I am not back in form yet.

For me under saddle, this means quite a bit of walking, then we trot for short times and walk again when he starts to build too much.  And spending a lot of time making sure he respects the downward transitions.  Canter isn't even in the playbook until we get our trot back.  Trainer rides do a little more, but they are dealing with the same thing (they just do it better!  and also good for my ego that it isn't just me).  For example, R2 cantered him a little bit at the end of his training ride but still is doing tons of transitions and can't let momentum build up.

These are going well and we had a lesson on Saturday where we definitely trotted for minutes in a row with a great trot, so I was trying to figure out why I had been so bummed/frustrated about it all week.

And I finally realized it is because of expectations.  I want to do long trotting sessions to get myself back into shape.  I want my horse's training to keep moving in a linear fashion (Ha!). I want to ride perfectly for my horse.  I want, I want...blah blah blah.  It is all stupid.

No matter what anyone "wants" we are going to do what the horse needs.  Which will ultimately be the fastest route to a trained horse.   Being frustrated, especially if you take it to the saddle, only makes things worse.  And as for my riding, my trainer is a pretty big perfectionist and even she tells me constantly I am too hard on myself.  That I ride really well, she would tell me if I was doing anything that would be bad for the horse, and that holding myself to impossible standards actually makes me ride worse.

Then I wonder how it is possible I have been doing this for so long, know that expectations and plans are always a trap, and yet I still fall into it?  I didn't even realize I had these expectations until they weren't being met.

So my goal is to try and change my mindset.  Convince my inner brain what my conscious brain has known all along - we are trying to do this right, there is no hurry, and it doesn't matter what pace we go or what anyone else thinks (assuming anyone else is thinking anything, no one has made any comments to me that have been anything but positive).

And if I want to work on my fitness I can borrow other horses or take myself to the hated gym until the weather improves.  Enjoy my awesome horse and awesome horse friends and awesome trainer.  Don't let expectations suck the joy out of this.

At least until the next time they sneak attack me.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Inching along

It turns out that starting a new job takes up a lot of time.  While I have been getting out to the barn quite a bit, I basically work, ride and sleep.  Oh, also it turns out that just because you doctor has released you to do things at 6 weeks post op, it doesn't mean that you are magically 100% healed and can do all the things you want. Boo.

 For now I think weekly progress reports are plenty since we are bringing this horse along very, very slowly and how many times can you say "worked on the same things we have been working on, saw no/incremental/much improvement"?
But always handsome

The best news is that he really does show slow but steady improvement pretty much all the time.  Two months in and we haven't had much in the way of regression.  Sure we hit what look like plateaus but he is clearly still learning as evidenced by the ensuing leaps forward.

So where are we at?

Contact - Nothing drastically different here but I have seen a reduction in the mouth gaping and head tilting.  Watching some video I have taken you can tell he still tends to open his mouth when someone has a decent feel but nothing my trainer is concerned about.  As for the head tilting,  we are meeting in the middle.  He is offering it less and we are finding ways to use contact that don't invite it as much.  Again, nothing magical just finding the correct pressure in the outside rein to not encourage it.  And some days are better than others
Mild mouth open, otherwise looking fairly good

Trot quality - I had a great lesson on Saturday where for about 4 strides I actually felt his back lift up underneath me.  It was a lovely feeling.  Overall he is still improving rhythm and consistency.  We are definitely not there yet, tying into contact we have lots of changes in head position (I giraffe?  I root? why aren't any of these things what you want human??) and changes in speed.  But we have gone from holding a good trot for just a step or two up to maybe 4 or 5 steps.

He doesn't really have a "bad" trot in there, the closest he gets is when he gets speedy and discombobulated but he responds really well to the half halt to re-combobulate.  So much of this is fine tuning.

Lateral aids - Between learning and his stifles working better, he is getting much sharper off the lateral aids.  Unsurprisingly, there is still a tendency to assume leg equals faster, especially as our go button has become so sensitive, but we can definitely move our butt in and out much better now.

In some ways, this has made him a little harder to ride.  Straight was easier when the butt just followed the front, now it feels like everything is operating independently and needs specific instructions!  But it is pretty cool to feel your horse unlocking too.

Turns on the forehand have been a big part of getting this progress so far.

Canter - I think to an outsider this would mostly still look like a disaster under saddle, unless you saw us a couple months ago.  Then you might call us a slightly less ugly disaster.  Most of the focused canter work has been on the longe, although my trainer and I think we are ready to start adding more under saddle.  But having a person up there definitely makes it harder for him.  Huge improvements have been made in transitions.

First, he picks up both leads now.  Pretty consistently.  He also canters off when requested or with a very short delay and not 15-30 seconds later.  In fact, that pendulum has swung hard. Sometimes we accidentally assume canter when that has not even been requested.  The transitions have become straighter as opposed to what I assume is a track habit of either swinging the butt over or making our whole body kind of diagonal to the wall.

He does still swap in back, almost always when tracking right and usually when he loses rhythm or straightness.  Which doesn't take long.  As expected, now that he can pick up his left lead he actually prefers it and everything is worse/harder to the right.  So to the left we can go all the way around in something that I believe resembles canter, but to the right there it is only halfway around, sometimes less.

The main goal for us is to ask for trot before it falls apart of course.  The training rides are more consistent at doing this than I am, shockingly.

So all in all, just moving along.  Lest I look back at this and think he is perfect in every way instead of just most ways, we do still have some temper tantrums.  Sometimes during saddling the ears go back and the head flips- sometimes even during grooming.  Under saddle, after standing awhile or walking, going back to work is met with resistance.  A little kick out or foot stomp.  And occasionally when the human applies right leg the same resistance is worth a try.  So not quite perfect.  Yet!  But working on it ;)