Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Three steps back, One step forward

July seems to be slipping by far too fast. I am disappointed about not entering the July derby even though it was the right decision to hold back and focus on Shiraz's training right now. The good news is training has all gone really well, possibly even better than expected.

My daughter has been asking to come to the barn to ride (!!<3!!:D)
After my trainer ride there has been quite the turn-around in Shiraz. I'm still skeptical going into each ride but again and again I manage to ride in a way that Shiraz interprets as effective (no small miracle! good pony!), and I have moved on to working on real things besides spook management.

The trainer is still scheduled to ride once a week, I am riding most of the other days, plus I have a once-weekly jump lesson with coach B, with a couple of other riders.

It has felt so good to work on details and be absorbed in the flow of it all. Despite the success though, not all rides have been good, and yet others have been phenomenal. I mean, one day I was happy to plod along on my sweet, happy pony doing w/t/c with long flowing strides activated from behind and the next day she was a tight little firecracker that jigged and wiggled the first half hour of the ride.

Honestly I would like lazy, ploddy pony to show up just once to the scheduled jump lesson. My coach doesn't even believe she can be that horse yet 'cause she's never seen it.

On my own I have been working on very low-height grids and lots of ground poles. Whether Shiraz picks up her feet and thinks versus step on all the poles/knock down the jumps is all hit or miss still. She does not seem bothered by whacking into poles or tripping and almost eating dirt. I am not exactly sure how to address this besides continuing to put in the work and rewarding her when she makes good choices. I am seeing a pattern though in her training where she tends to shut off her brain when shown new things, bobble through throwing out wrong answers, hoping the question will just go away. Then a shift where she starts to show obvious signs of thinking first and suddenly gets the exercise and does the thing. I am hoping as she matures this whole tendency to "shutting off" to new things will happen less as her confidence increases.

Rushing jumps is her new thing this week in our jump lesson. It was our first time cantering to verticals with no ground poles and she became far too worried about how to get from A to B. Her solution was just bulldoze through at mach speed and ignore my half halts completely. I am not too worried about it though and know she just does not have enough grid time under her belt with placing poles helping her to see a take-off point.

I thought I was half halting like crazy up to this but...

We will keep on practicing grids and single jumps with the placing poles and the eye/muscle memory for where to take off will come. When I am riding grids on my own I am trying to practice giving her the pace and line, and then leaving her alone so she can think about her feet for herself - not always easy when you are riding a horse that comes into a line of poles making bad choices.

At any rate, I am really happy where we are at. Just this past January I was riding a very green horse that had no concept of anything beyond w/t/sometimes canter/sometimes buck. I am kind of amazed how fast she has come along in such a short time. I have decided to enter Willville Horse Trials in August. As it is an EC sanctioned event, cost will be much higher than our local derbies. It is also about three hours away. I don't trust my older truck for that kind of trek so have found someone who will trailer Shiraz for me. I'm already feeling 'mom guilt' though -- three days away from hubby and kids, spending way too much money on my 'little horse hobby'...It's going to be awesome!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Making Plans into Action

First of all, thank you everyone for your kind words. This has been such a difficult time, I have not been able to talk much about her without falling apart. I think it was good for me to write a little bit about my mom and remember those times.
In the past two weeks I only saw my horse once, just to hang out and let her eat grass in the yard and shove many treats in her face.

Always happy to see this beautiful face coming to meet me at the gate <3

Before the large break from riding I left off in not such a great place with Shiraz. Her spookiness while riding was really becoming an issue. I had been doing a lot of ground work and we were solid with that--she could be completely relaxed and capable of doing anything I asked in any part of the arena. Unfortunately as soon as I mounted and tried riding simple trot circles, she would spook at all things outside of the arena. Some spooks were simple and easy to ignore and carry on, but others were much more difficult to ride such as her drop back/spin 180 degrees and bolt routine. It is easy to say just ride on like it never happened, but once I tip over into the scared zone, that is difficult for me.

So coming back into riding I decided to find help. I decided to ask the trainer I had sent Shiraz to last year for canter work if she would be able to come over and do some training rides. Luckily she agreed!

The first training ride was last Thursday. She brought her western saddle with her in case things got interesting. I told her about all the issues I was having and what areas of the arena were the biggest issues. She took Shiraz right to the most troublesome spot and began ground work and worked her in circles probably about 50% more intense than I would typically ask for. It was very cool watching her work. The trainer remained calm and soft, and could get Shiraz's full attention and "yes ma'am" reaction without appearing aggressive.

Meet Jose, the cutest Welsh pony that shares Shiraz's paddock. His tiny 4-year-old rider is even cuter :)
Trainer then mounted up and repeated the small circles and figure-eights in the same area. She wasn't doing anything fancy or groundbreaking--just demanding good shape and an active trot. Not once did Shiraz flick an ear to the outside of the arena.

So basically it is not my horse. Its me. (fall on floor crying like a 2-year-old WHYCANTIRIDEBETTER?!?!WAAAA!!!)

But then the good news is, its me. I can fix me. (sigh)

In talking with the trainer, the takeaways were basically demand more from Shiraz and get her attention every step right now. She is young and in that oh-so-fun teenage phase and will be questioning whether she really has to listen. She suggested setting up lots of activities to focus on rather than boring large circles where her mind can easily shut me out. So, lots of poles of random heights and distances, changing up what I am asking for often and demanding better of what ever it is I am working on. For example, if I am asking for bend into a corner and it is not quite what I was looking for, then circle back and make that corner better so Shiraz starts to understand she has to participate fully and kindda bending with a popped out shoulder is not going to cut it.

I came back the next day on my own to ride. I was certainly a lot more messy and obvious in my attempts to keep her attention. Annnddd, there was still some ear action to the outside of the arena (we have a relationship with established sloppiness that will take work and time to change) but I am happy to say I was able to ride her with much more intention and NOT ONE SPOOK. Yaasss!!

Shiraz was so chill after the ride that I had no worries letting my daughter get up for some leading around.

I am going to have trainer back a few more times over the next few weeks and also plan to start back with the Wednesday lesson group for jumping.

I know this year in her training isn't going to be all daisies and roses, but I am feeling cautiously optimistic about liking riding again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The long, slow goodbye

The hardest week of my life.

On June 18th, my mother had a stroke. On June 24th she left us.

My grampa holding me on the white pony, Fury and my mom holding my hand.
Holding her hand for six days, crying, hoping. Coming together with family, fighting with said family, letting go and coming together again and again. Singing, brief sweet moments of laughing (forever cherished). And then flooding relief.

My mom's horse Princess as a yearling and me derping hard front and center, lol
I wanted to honor her here because she was a horsewoman. She is the reason I now ride.

She grew up with horses as I did. Her parents always had many. My mom rode and trained many horses when she was younger. By the time I came along, she no longer rode much at all but ensured her daughters did.

She was a perfect show mom. Sewing western show clothing for my sister and I, making sure we were entered in every town fair we could drive to. She never tended to our horses at shows: even as a little girl I was responsible for unloading my pony and getting her settled in a stall, feeding, watering, grooming.

At home I was allowed to 'play' with the horses on my own from a very young age. Either hanging out in the pasture with the herd or taking my pony off on an adventure with my little backpack of snacks for the journey--my mom allowed us to learn horse behavior and discover how to stay safe independently.

Mom had a special connection to my horse Shiraz. Even as her dementia progressed and she could not always remember 'that brown horse's' name, she would tell people about how Shiraz would stand quietly and let her pet her nose endlessly.

My mom's passion for horses spilled over to me and all three of my sisters. She never forced us, but also never asked us if we wanted to have a horse or go to shows :) It was just a given; life in my family includes horses.

Avoiding Rabbit Holes

The drive to Shiraz's boarding barn has been accompanied with an all too familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. Shiraz can be a va...