Monday 30 January 2023

Off Course

(Or, staying calm in the face of a not so great week)

As much as I’d like to say it’s all sunshine and roses for us over here, tthat’s pretty unrealistic. Much as I’d love to bring my best self every day, I just don’t. My lovely banana pony has her moments. Sometimes life just happens. This was one of the weeks where I really had to work for it, but it was also a week where I feel like more progress was made because of the challenges.

Looking for monsters. It’s been cold and dry, with a hint of spring already (the grass is growing!) Cue the crazy ponies! 

This week we did a lot of transitions. A lot of halts. A lot of turns on the forehand and haunches, walking out into spirals. So many changes of direction, giving and retaking of the rein. Emphasizing being precise and responsive and not just looking for monsters and bolting off wherever her feet want to take us. She surprised me by being quite angry about that at first. Something to ponder for sure, but given I’m coming off not being the confident rider she needed, I can see why there might be some confusion as to who’s in charge when things get interesting.

Media on point, accurately portraying the chaos levels of the banana pony

Here's an article through an Equitation Science lens that gives some exercises you can use with spooky, anxious horses. I’ll be honest, though, all along it’s been hit or miss whether I’ll ride if either of us is having a really hard day. They don’t happen that often in the grand scheme of things, so she might get a nice grooming or a fun walk instead. I try to walk a line between respecting what she’s saying, how I’m feeling, but also giving us both something rewarding to do. Even so, sometimes life happens and the tough day coincides with a clinic I’ve paid for or my only day off work, or in this week’s case, when we’re already mid ride.

On a hot or spooky pony, most of my past coaches would have given similar advice as the article linked above as far as keeping pony busy and focused and between your aids. Some extra advice in that article (and that was given to me at a clinic last year) that I found valuable is that anxious/spooky/looky/racing off pony I ride some days has the same issues as the one who's lazy and behind the leg on other days. Same exact problems with steering and stop and go, usually due to a lack of clarity or confidence as to my expectations. Checking in on the basic buttons is appropriate for both situations and either case is a strong indication I really should go to my basics before proceeding. 

An almost square halt and standing still gets a pat. Sorry for the quality, it’s a Pivo screenshot and it was getting pretty dark out

I've had instructors advise to 'let her move out/let her move her feet/burn off some energy' but I think we've all ridden horses where that doesn’t necessary work. Sometimes faster = more excitement/even fewer hamsters left on the wheel, rather than the 'phew, thanks, OK got that out of my system'. 

Just random screenshots, I need to find a non painful way of extracting actual relevant clips from 20-40min videos. Any suggestions for apps or software (preferably free) , tech savvy readers?

The idea for me is to keep it calm and methodical, really focused on having a defined path I’m riding, and having influence over exactly where she is placing each hoof on that path. I’m reminding her what's an acceptable reaction to a half halt or whoa or go cue (3 seconds delay max to reliably associate cue and reaction is what research tells us). I still want to harbour doubts as to whether things like walk/halt spirals are really an appropriate exercise on a hot distracted pony (so many years of Bridget and being desperate not to shut her down or kill the forward) but this is working. I think because I am encouraging her to move her whole body and it’s actually hard physical and mental work for her, even ‘just’ in a walk or trot. We buckled down this week with some alternating shoulder in/haunches in, spirals, and even played with walk pirouettes because why not. (Keeping it real, she’s still pretty green so when I talk about these exercises I need to be clear I’m happy with a few correct or even “you tried your best” steps and let her walk on before we do another few steps. This isn’t fanceroni pony stuff (yet) over here)

What Pivo sees: Happy, ears forward pony doing her job, nothing dramatic at all.

Bridget enjoying an appetizer while I rode Sophie was probably the final straw the other day. Can’t fault the logic, because we all know B is a machine and Sophie’s fears are real that B could clean out the entire winter hay store in the 20 minutes she was busy with me.

I had visions this week of continuing to bring her back to work with lots of walk on a long rein, maybe some nice stretchy trot circles mixed in. Easing into it, relaxed and happy and low expectations and demands. This didn’t turn out to be the week for that. We got there some days, but other days a prompt and square halt felt like a good place to celebrate. avoid this becoming a novel - the positives to the last week and a bit:

- Got on a couple of times this past week even when I was feeling a bit out of my comfort zone. BUT I kept thinking and acting calmly rather than reacting emotionally. Big win over last year.

- I trusted the plan. (And I was calm enough to recall the advice and plan how I was going to use it/imagine what my coach would be saying in my ear re: me being perfectly capable of riding this pony on this day and doing it well too)

- It felt awkward and horrible and all sorts of uncomfortable and the gremlins were in my ear this week telling me I can't do this/this will not work/something is wrong with pony/something is wrong with me/I need an easier pony. Pivo says it just looked like I was actually riding my horse, and Sophie looked pretty happy to be there.

- We made some pretty good progress on square halts this week. Spirals, square corners too. Having a Sophie that is starting to stay where I put her and wait (even on the 'bad' days) = increased rider confidence.


Wednesday 25 January 2023

WW: Ridiculousness

 Just some random outtakes from the last week. The quality of the photos are often lacking but the quality of the pony ‘tude is exceptional. I won’t lie, the outtakes are usually my favorites! 

I swear she’s obsessed with posing for the camera.

Sophie looking way more interested in longeing than B does!

Yep, really should have seen that coming

Oh my

Bridget cheesin’


Making sure we’re watching her moves

Always with the tongue sticking out

Oh look, people walking by…the hamsters are coming off the wheel.
This cracks me up…no, it’s not the same as the first one, it’s a second pass by in which yours truly was again not prepared for her need to be diverted by the camera.


Monday 23 January 2023

Setting Little Goals

 New Year, New Pony Goals?

Nah, not really. The only goal remains to have fun and enjoy it. Besides, if I show up and put in the time because I want to do it, the nice side effect of that is I make a ton more easy progress than when I feel like I have to show up because I set a goal or said I would and start putting that pressure on myself.

 Most of the pictures in this post are from the weekend since the light on weeknights is still challenging.

This week brought the little efforts back into the schedule. Taking B out for mostly walking hacks, dusting off the bareback pad so I can get my wobbly core back in action.

Bay ears <3

Sophie's rides have been almost comically easy. I'm pretty sure I mentioned that after a good start to the year, last spring I sent her for a two week trail riding bootcamp did not make a happy pony. She came back very reactive and anxious under saddle. In retrospect, I thought I was doing the right thing sending her to someone super confident and experienced to get her better about the trails, but really we might have been better to muddle through ourselves. She's a sensitive girl who takes a lot of comfort in her herd and her people, so the combination of new to her rider, strange barn, and new experiences might have all been a bit much.

I'm not laying whatever was going on at Cowboy's feet and a two week visit there, we all know I'm the one that handles Sophie the most! It did feel like she had lost a lot of confidence in her self and her rider when she came back though. We then had a few consecutive rides and clinics that I felt were way outside my comfort zone and borderline pushing my abilities so I wasn't feeling that confident in her either. In fact, there was one day I was so anxious and in my head about not doing right by her that I just sat on her and cried. So that sucked. I ended up giving her a summer out to pasture to decompress and cancelled my plans with her to focus on my own mindset and getting some easy, low demand time in the saddle with Bridget. I'm so glad I did. I brought Sophie home and back to light work with some very easy rides and outings spaced throughout the fall and she just got better and better and I felt better and better about us as a partnership again. Not 100% by any means, but I think we both felt way more positive than that whole 'this isn't going to be good' cycle we had fallen into in early summer.

My new circus act - longeing two ponies at once. Not my intent, obviously - I underestimated Sophie's need to be involved in every little thing. It wasn't a disaster only because she knew she risked Death By Bridget if she didn't follow a respectful distance behind.

So, that brings you up to date on last year's escapades. We're now back from a winter vacation and Sophie is looking fabulous and feeling great too. I'm really taking my time getting her back to work and spending extra effort to make sure it's fun and interesting and with easily attainable goal posts for us both. We're back to the pony that's excited to see her halter and tack and is waiting at the gate for me and a human that's excited to leave work and get out for a little ride. I want to keep it that way! 

This week's goal was simply getting in the saddle on a regular basis. Trotting in a nice relaxed rhythm down the long side with respectable up and down transitions were an added bonus. Next week I'll probably ask the circles to be rounder and hope for a steadier connection. This week there were poles on the ground one day, a couple of days on the longe and groundwork, a walk around the neighbourhood, and a 15 min session of just doing a little walk/trot flatwork. Last night we basically just messed around and 'tracked' my husband around the property as he was working (he's always got pony treats in his pockets and she's got more than a few spooky corners she's suspicious of - G there with treats made them much more appealing lol). Basically trying to set up opportunities where I can to tell her she's doing a great job and is Best Pony. 

Photo from yesterday. I still look a little defensive up there, but I think it's more bad habit now that actual anxiety. I feel averagely confident on her these days.

Aside from the actual riding and 'work', these past few months since she's been home I let her out in the yard any time I'm working out there. She happily follows along and 'helps' me prune shrubs, build rock walls, or fix fences. She very much thrives on that. I think standard pony training metrics needed to take a backseat while we took the time reestablishing a really positive partnership for us both to work from.

Proud moment this week when Sophie wandered over and parked herself in the previously 'scary' corner to quietly hang out with us.

Longer term in to next month, I'm feeling like it's time to think about heading back out to lessons with her. I have signed back up for the monthly clinics we have here. To do that we'll have to venture back to the show grounds at some point to reacquaint ourselves with life outside our happy little bubble. That's sure to cause me some anxiety so best we put in a practice trip or two so I can focus on the lesson rather than low key being worried about the busy arena and grounds and people watching.

I'm not really feeling ready to dive back into regular lessons locally, I think being very picky who we both work with and just having a monthly check in is about where we need to be right now.

So yeah, little tiny goals in the works over here. I haven't been talking that much here about plans and progress, especially with Sophie.  Part of me was ashamed/embarrassed that I had such a setback and accomplished so little last year with my wonderful ponies (and yes I know that's not a rational or productive way to think...but it's honest). Partly I really just needed to step back and evaluate things and move forward in a way that felt right to me, without adding the imagined pressures of putting all my somewhat unformed thoughts out to the universe. 

Bonus potato pony action shot.

Ending this now novel of a post now:) How is your winter going? Any little (or big) wins to celebrate? Fun plans for the spring?


Monday 16 January 2023

Rain Rain Go Away

This week brought the first decent weather days we've had in a while and it was well past time to get back in the saddle. I have really missed riding. And, wow, am I unfit. I know it was kind of the plan to take a Dec/Jan break given the amount of house renovation work on the agenda (plus the weather and dark evenings) but it's still felt like a lot of time missed.  After 6 weeks off, I was smart enough not to ride Sophie right away, but in retrospect hopping on Bridget wasn't overly wise either. Too bad we didn't get media of her antics the first ride back - I have no idea why I describe her as the safe one when a shocking amount of airtime can come from those stubby legs of hers. I'm not laughing, Bridget. 

Learned my lesson and she's longed first now.

Sophie might get silly or have a lot of energy, but she's pretty straightforward and desperately wants to be a good girl. She tells you a mile away what she's thinking. B is much more crafty and really could care less about what you think of her (but it's hilarious, really).

Looking super innocent

That being said, Sophie's not been a complete angel this past week either. She gave me a friendly reminder of why gloves are highly recommended for longeing. She didn't go anything too terrible but given the wet conditions and my lack of gloves when she got a bit overexcited there went the line out of my hands. Off she went barreling around the property, line attached, giving me a heart attack she was going to get wrapped up on a tree or something. I might want to rethink giving this pair of ponies time off at all. And be a responsible adult and wear my freaking gloves.

Look! That one afternoon it didn't rain!

I can't want to be back into some semblance of a regular routine. The stopping/starting of the past year has felt like a bit much and dealing with pony behavior at it's worst after they've had multiple breaks isn't the most constructive thing in the world.

Despite a couple of not so bad weather days, in general it continues to be wet and windy, with one storm front after another coming through. I'm trying not to panic over the amount of mud in the ponies' shared paddock. I was feeling pretty smug about how nice the ground was holding up  even a week or two ago, thinking I had won, but here we are - there is standing water everywhere, the ground is now totally oversaturated and whatever base of sand and gravel I had left from the last time I had horses here has failed. In fairness, it's pretty gross everywhere with the weather we've had, but that doesn't make it *right* for the horses to live in. 

Gravel and resurfacing is on the to do list for spring and we'll put in some more drainage pipes this weekend. For now, the girls come in at night to dry off and I try to get them out on a different part of the place where they can have a good run on better footing for at least a couple of hours a day. Having enough daylight for short rides after work and being consistent about it will help too. It's a fine balance of letting them move, but not completely tearing up the rest of the property so we can have spring grass. I feel like having horses at home in general forces you to learn good land management, but owning a tiny property really magnifies that. I've learned an awful lot about drainage, quarry materials, and composting this winter! 

Fingers crossed next winter brings fewer surprises and better decision making on my part. At the very least, I'll get the paddock sorted and drained and arena lights will be a thing so activities won't be as limited.

In the theme of being better at life, I also realized this week that I had not renewed any of my 2023 horsey memberships or insurance. I got that done and got an auto renew option on the important ones (the equine related insurance, in my case) so I can't forget/procrastinate next year. Consider this your friendly reminder if you've not renewed yours either. I hate when I don't get the early renewal discounts or have to pay a last minute surcharge for an entry.

How's everyone else doing this winter? I'm firmly in the 'can't wait for spring!' camp now.


Monday 9 January 2023

New Year, Same Me

 I had a little over a week off over Christmas and it was so wonderful. Coming back to work last week was a bit of a shock. I'm definitely the type of person who keeps busy and fills my days regardless of vacation status, so even after such a short time it was a little bit of an adjustment reprioritizing things so I have time to work (you know, the one thing that actually pays me money and should be the priority!)

I still find a desk job really hard, to be honest. I'm a GIS data analyst so it keeps my brain busy enough, but in general I'm happier outdoors or doing hands on work where I can be moving around more. This winter has been full of evenings like this where I'm fitting in an hour or two of outside time in the semi dark.

So, it might surprise exactly no one that I got a ton of work done on the house and in the barn over the last couple of weeks. I cleaned the last of the building supplies out of the barn so I've got about 100% more room for hay storage (or space for an extra pony stall). That makes me pretty happy.

Bridget would like to move in now...I'm sure we can trust her with the two tons of hay already stored inside?

As for the house, we can technically start moving in any time, but we won't have a proper kitchen or a shower (bathtub only!) for a while yet.

My screen is making the living room paint look very green. It IS green, but more on the blue/gray side

Basically the only major thing on G's wishlist for the house was a place for a bigger TV. I rebuilt the shelving like so, I think a good compromise between books and television space:)

Floors in the back of the house redone, the front half still needs further sanding

This is the room with a view of the ponies

But I can grudgingly accept that this room makes more sense for my future office space. I can see part of their paddocks from this room's window too so all is not lost :D. Also, I will never again put fussy moldings x2 around ceilings. Painting is not fun, and it seems like I ran out of patience with filling and priming the first time around because here I am years later cursing out Previous Me for adding to the work this time around. I'm currently a walking lesson in doing things right the first time.

On the pony side, with the house improvements (and moving so we can rent the house we're in) as current priority, they've just been happily cleaning out the neglected parts the yard for me every day. Bridget is teaching Sophie the ways of yard maintenance and she's now expanded her diet to include trimming hazelnut, poplars, blackberries and other assorted shrubberies off the fencelines just like her big sister. Very handy!

Best pony babysitter and mentor ever

Sophie's turning into the best backyard pony. She's very sociable and quite tuned into our activities so she's always checking in and visiting with us and it's more like having a giant golden retriever than a pony in the back field. 

As far as New Years goals, if I've learned anything it's that my only goal should be that I need to keep working at being resilient to change, because it's pretty rare that my stated plans turn out as I expect them to.

Lessons, clinics, fun outings and little shows will most likely continue to be part of 2023. You're probably going to see a bunch more property and house reno updates. Maybe Bridget will go off to be bred, maybe not. I'm leaning towards no, but there is an option to send her on farm with a cob stallion that is keeping the door open a crack - most of my anxiety came from Fed Ex and vet arrangements, so something a bit more natural might be less stressful. I'm unsure of what to do with Bridget if she's not making a baby, but probably I'm overthinking it and there's no decision to be made - she's happy as a pet and trail pony and great company for Sophie. I don't think she misses having a proper job. 

The thing I'm most excited for is having my own ring at home. Rather than dreaming of getaways and show results I'm loving the idea of evening rides in the back yard. That will really be a lifetime goal accomplished.

Could not find the real tape measure

But the start of my little rock border for the ring still looks fairly straight at a consistent 16 hands from the fence