Baby Steps

Sunday and Wednesday were the only days I rode this week. I think the sun going down earlier is making me depressed. It’s taking more effort to convince myself that I need to go out.

Another issue with the sun going down is that school kids are back in school. So their riding times now collide with mine more. The cross ties that I normally use keep getting used by a kid and their horse whenever I am out to ride. Which isn’t an issue because I can use other cross ties but it is frustrating since those are the closest ones to my tack room.

Also, the new guy we have had at the barn is still getting used to the routine so the horses are getting fed about 20-30 minutes later than they normally had been. Which means Scarlet’s food is getting tossed when I get there or just before. He does not like being pulled away from his food. Because he is, you know, starving to death.

I’ve groomed him in his stall the past couple of times just to allow him to eat a bit and circumvent the cross ties being used. By the time I’ve finished my grooming, he has eaten about half a flake and the cross ties are now free for use. It works out pretty well.

I definitely feel like we have improved some in our walk and trot. Scarlet more readily adapts a frame at the walk and is responding to me requesting that he pick up the pace while walking. The trot still has a lot of bumps but I’m able to get more list sometimes. Its a momentary thing. I’ll feel like we are good for a few strides and then it falls apart. Its a learning process.

One area I’m positive we’ve improved in is our trot-walk transition. The transitional steps that my trainer had us do definitely helped Scarlet get the idea of putting his weight on his hind legs before transitioning downward. Even when I’m not asking for the transitional steps in the downward transition, I don’t feel like he is just letting all his weight drop to his forehand.

Canter-trot transitions are another story. We still suck majorly at those. I did a bunch of circles on Wednesday trying to do some canter-trot-canter transitions. They never really got smooth. Its something we still have to work on. I know its a lot harder for Scarlet to correctly lift his back at the trot so as we improve on that, I expect that lifting and moving forward to a faster gait will get easier as well.

Back in that Saddle

Now that some of the things that have been stressing me are dealt with, I am finally getting back in the saddle. It was only a week off but it was still quite a while when you normally go 5-6 days a week.

I made it back out on Friday and had a fairly good ride. We have new help out at the barn and the horses weren’t fed by their usual dinner time. This meant that I pulled Scarlet out of his stall just before he would have gotten dinner. He wasn’t too happy about that. I did give him a few extra treats to make up for it. He somehow got super muddy in a week that hadn’t had any rain so grooming him was quite the challenge.

Scarlet was really focused on the ride even after having a week off and not having dinner. I was very pleased. It is always nice to have a smooth, easy ride after a long chunk of time off. Since we didn’t have to work hard to accomplish what I wanted for the day, I cut the ride short-ish.

Saturday was also a good ride, though we had more issues of him being scared of the one side of the arena. He is doing fairly well to not be trying to run away. He just counter bends so he can see that part of the arena the whole time we go by. I did many many circles on Saturday and it eventually got better. Not perfect but better.

I feel like we have made some improvement on our bend and back lifting. I know we have gotten the canter strides to be much smoother and less tense. Its hard to tell where the improvements are because you are always seeing the same things. Still, I feel like I’m fighting less with Scarlet and that is what matters.

I was chatting with one of the other boarders after the ride and she offered to let us use her trailer when she is working with her horse on trailering to other places. I definitely will take her up on that. Scarlet’s loading has soured so much that it is to the point of being dangerous. So I’ll work on that with him┬áso that he gets back to loading well. We did it before and we can do it again. It will be a good lesson to add to our normal rides.

No post

Sorry for no post today. I’ve been having some really stressful things happening with my life and just have not been out to the barn to do more than groom Scarlet one night. I should be making it out to the barn this weekend so I expect to have a real post on Sunday as usual.

Jumping and clips

I’d been feeling a little overwhelmed this week with how much of my time was being taken up by going to the horse and then working out when I came home. So Thursday I had to call for a day off. Complete day off. It’s not worth doing anything when you dread going out to see your horse or the thought of working out makes you want to cry. So I took Thursday off and just lounged. I felt much better for it on Friday.

Friday I decided we should probably go back to the dressage arena so that we don’t get too comfortable in one over the other. Someone had trailered in a teeny tiny Fjord. They were riding around in a halter and bareback. This Fjord was so tiny that their legs were only about 6 inches off the ground. A really sweet patient horse thought. We chatted for a bit and then I got to work with Scarlet.

Since I’d had somewhat of a burn out on Thursday, I wanted to take it easy and just focus on moving. So we did just that. All we did was try and get Scarlet to bend via circles and cantered around a bit. I did a bunch of simple changes across the diagonal and then we called it a night.

Saturday I was out early and we headed out to the jumping arena. We warmed up and tried to work his back a bit. Scarlet wasn’t in love with the idea but it is getting better. My hands are getting better and I think it is getting easier for Scarlet to lift his back. After we warmed up, I put Scarlet over a few jumps. They were set up a bit higher than I had done them but I had watched a pony jump them at a lesson so I wasn’t worried that we wouldn’t be able to make it over.

I started at a trot like I normally do but Scarlet didn’t think that he had to try and basically only made his front feet over in a hop. His back feet smacked the poles really hard. So I did the rest of the jumps at a canter and he took them more seriously this time. We had fun hopping over a few jumps. He is such a good boy when we jump. I’m not very experienced and neither is he but he naturally can just find the distances for me.

After our ride, Scarlet was super sweaty so we took quite a long time to cool out. I asked my trainer about her opinions on clipping. She thought it is a good idea for me because I always have to ride after work. We discussed clipping and she thought that I should try clipping his whole body and leave the legs since it isn’t too cold yet and it won’t be much of a shock. So next weekend I’m going to try clipping Scarlet. I’ve never fully clipped a horse before. I did a lot of shearing of sheep in 4-H so it’s probably similar. I had white wrinkly skinned sheep so that will be easier to deal with for Scarlet. It may take more than one time though. We shall see.

Spooky Shadows

Slightly ironically, due to the month, Scarlet has decided that shadows are once again horse eating monsters.

With the sun going down a bit earlier now, our rides during the week are now officially during the evening. This means that the trees at our barn end up covering the arena with their shadows. When I rode Scarlet on Monday, he flipped out when we started going around the shadows. He tried to plant and spin and sidestep away from the shadows. At one point, he actually kicked out at one of the shadows. We worked the one side of the arena that he was spooked at all ride but he still did not relax.

We ended up trotting for most of that ride and didn’t really get much good practice in at lifting his back and not pulling against my hands due to his head being perpetually in the air due to fear. He has always been a spooky horse but generally settles down. I think that this being the first ride where the shadows were as prominent as they were combined with the chilly air just made it really difficult for him.

On Wednesday, he was much better. He still gave the shadows a close look when we went past them and kept wanting to tense up and put his head in the air but no kicking and no spinning. It helped that there was another horse in the arena almost the entire time we were riding. Its a lot easier to convince him that he isn’t going to be eaten when another horse is obviously not being eaten.

I feel like I’m getting better at keeping my hands still and in place when trotting. Obviously, its going to take much longer for it to be an automatic thing but I don’t have to hold onto my blanket quite as much to keep them still. I’d really love to have another lesson asap in order to see if we are improving but I have to find some extra money for that. So if I can, I’ll have one. If I can’t, I’ll wait till November.

Continuing Practice

I’m continuing to try and work on improving myself while riding per the things that my trainer told me to do during out lesson. I think that I’m getting better at moving with the canter specifically. Scarlet’s canter has not felt at all stiff or rushed during the last couple of rides. Which is good because cantering has always been really easy. I think what had happened was that I started focusing too much on what I was doing with my legs and hands. Since I was doing that, I ended up connecting all my body parts together rather than letting them engage separately. Now that I’m focusing again, I can feel myself stiffening when I try and ask for more bend etc. I’ve been working hard on moving my legs without them being connected to my hips and I think this is working fairly well.

My hands are another matter. It is quite difficult to keep my hands steady and pushed into Scarlet’s neck while trotting. I think that is getting a bit better but not extremely so. I have to hold onto my saddle blanket a lot in order to keep my hands down. I do try and go a few circles with focusing on keeping them down and steady without holding on but it’s a lot harder. I am determined to master this though.

On Scarlet’s end, I have noticed that he is not pulling as much going either way. He learns quite quickly when he understands what you want. It is really nice to not have to strain against him when I am asking him to carry himself. There is still some tension but it’s not the forearm shaking tension that it was previously. I’m not sure if he is carrying himself right still going to the right. However, it does not feel as much like a motorcycle when going around turns as it did before so I think we are better. I’m going to continue to try and work on the things that we learned in our lesson. If we get better at those exercises, I’m sure that means that we are getting better at getting Scarlet’s back up.

Lesson and Practice

Scarlet and I had a lesson on Sunday. It was really needed and I’m glad we had it but boy was it hard. Now that we have developed a little more muscle, my trainer is asking a lot more of us.

I had a lot of things I wanted to work on. Our walk was never very energetic unless I really got after Scarlet and he would only keep it up for a few steps and then would get lazy again. So it would be me constantly working to keep him going. My trainer had us to a very standard exercise- ask lightly and if he doesn’t respond ask and make it matter. I had been trying to do that but I always ride better when someone is watching. After a few bouts of that, Scarlet started to respond to a light squeeze of my legs and he maintained a more energetic walk.

I explained that I’d been having difficulty with Scarlet’s right bend still. I had been doing the exercises from our last lesson but I still felt like I was trying to steer a motorcycle if I wasn’t on a circle. I also mentioned that I felt like he was raising and diving his head in order to avoid me asking him to use his back. The first thing my trainer did was give me a dressage whip to use. I have a crop but I really should go buy a dressage whip for flat rides as it gives me an easier method of tapping. She then explained that a lot of the up and down head movement was due to me. I allowed him to play with my hands and get out of work by not keeping my hands in place when trotting. She showed me what she meant by tugging on the reins. I really didn’t have a great base for my hands. She said to press them as hard into his withers as I could and keep them there while riding.

That was so hard.

It was a lot of strain on my arms to keep them there as Scarlet did NOT like that he was not able to move his head whenever he wanted. It also put a lot of strain on my legs as I had to use them more in order to do the circles and such that I was doing in order to work on Scarlet’s bend. However, it did result in better riding ultimately because I was using my legs more.

As for transitions, she said that I need to try to ride “transitional steps” in order to put force Scarlet to carry and accept more weight in his hind legs before allowing the transition downward. Basically, ride him in really slow steps at whatever gait but still using my legs to keep the impulsion up and then ask for the downward transition. It definitely works but is really hard and, again, not something Scarlet is happy with.

At the canter, I am apparently stiffening up more than I realized which is, in turn, exacerbating Scarlet’s stiffness. She asked me to really emphasize my hip movements when going at a canter. If I didn’t feel like that was working, she wanted me to two-point for a bit to take pressure off Scarlet’s back until he relaxed.

It was an extremely difficult lesson for me and for Scarlet and it proved equally as difficult to put into practice on our own.

Monday started off badly. A horse in the neighboring property got free as I entered the arena and was running up and down the road. All of the horses got excited and Scarlet got really riled up. Even when the horse was caught, he didn’t really relax. Which meant that there was more resistance than normal to bending and such. It was a nightmare. He wasn’t going crazy but it felt like I was in a battle with him. I was getting super frustrated and letting my emotions take control. My arms hurt, the reins were choked up and his head was still in the air with an inverted back and bend. It was awful. At the very end, I did get some really good trot work in the other direction with my hands pressed against his withers but overall the impression of the ride was bad. It was pretty discouraging. I know that

I know that bend isn’t something that is going to be fixed overnight. It’s a flexibility thing and it comes with time and practice. But it felt like I was fighting my horse and I do not go out for a fight. I go out for an enjoyable, relaxing ride with my horse. It’s my me time and my wind down from work. I didn’t know what I was going to do if Wednesday turned out to be the same.

However, after a day off and some time to think about it, it wasn’t as bad. I had calmed down and was not expecting perfection right away. I know I shouldn’t have been in the first place but I have the habit of focusing on one aspect way too much sometimes. I have to control that when I get around horses as you never know what the day is going to be like but it is easy to forget or let it slip.

This time, I only asked for a moderate lift in his back and a moderate bend before I finished the warm up. After the canter work, Scarlet was more accepting of being asked to lift and bend. It still wasn’t great on the right side but I didn’t feel the strain of fighting him as much as I had on Monday. I will try to keep warming up completely before asking for more than Scarlet can give and I will focus on keeping my expectations reasonable. With enough repetition, we will get Scarlet more flexible on the right side and it will not be a problem.

 

New Saddle Pad!

Scarlet now has a brand new saddle pad! I bought a new fitted saddle pad and it was delivered on Friday. The old one was meant for a more close contact saddle and thus would slip up underneath the back of the saddle. When it slid up, I’d feel off balance and then would try to compensate for this. I doubt that Scarlet was extremely comfortable when I did this as it probably felt really odd on his back. This new one is for all purpose saddles and has an extra inch on either side of the saddle. It is nice and squishy as well. I tried it out in our ride on Friday and it definitely stayed in place better. I’m looking forward to using it.

I got to jump a couple of times this week. I jumped on Thursday and Saturday. I did raise up the fences to about 18 inch crossrails. Scarlet still thinks that these are still quite short but we had fun jumping over them. He definitely doesn’t put in as much effort when we trot as we do when we jump. We did have a small kerfluffle at one of the crossrails in a combination on Thursday. He couldn’t really get the line right to that jump and tensed up. He sped up to the fence and took down one of the rails. I think it might have been because I hadn’t added a ground rail to help him see the fence. That doesn’t always matter but one of the rails was a completely white pole so it was probably a bit harder to see against the sand background. On Saturday I added ground rails and we didn’t have a problem with taking the pole down. Instead, he jumped me out of the tack. I’m really glad that my heels were well down because I would have definitely fallen off otherwise. There were a lot of people in the arena as well when that happened so it would have been quite embarrassing.

I have a lesson scheduled for Sunday. I’m really looking forward to this lesson. We have been working well with lifting our back and such but Scarlet is trying to avoid working at some points during our rides. He tries to stick his neck straight in the air to avoid contact and avoid lifting his back. When that doesn’t work, he will try dropping and lifting his head or speeding up and slowing down. He also is trying out the old lesson horse trick of yanking down on the reins and saying oh I am being told to halt. I’m not letting him get away with it but I need a bit of help getting him to work hard again. Transitions are also extremely bad. His head pops right up as soon as I ask. I’m hoping that our lesson manages to help with some of these things.

One bright point with transitions. On Saturday, I had one amazing downward transition from a canter to a forward on the bit trot. Unfortunately, I couldn’t replicate it but he does have a nice soft downward transition within him somewhere!