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.



  1. Keeping "hot" horses at home is not for the faint of heart - you're doing great with Sophie :)

    1. It's a step above keeping a Bridget at home, for sure. I still wonder if she'd be better suited to a bigger space with more pasture friends and room to run, but she *seems* really content and I think enjoys being more in the center of things. (The spicy jalapeno didn't exactly disappear when we were boarding and she had 10 acre field to run around in all day either, lol.)

  2. Awesome to be getting in some good rides !!

    1. Feeling incredibly lucky to have my own space to ride in (and wonderful equines to enjoy it with)

  3. Green horses are so tough in the winter weather. Glad you have the Pivo to give you factual data about what's going on. Spring and warmer temps are not that far away-hang in there!

    1. Pivo has been so helpful - I struggle to want to watch video of my riding but it's so useful for picking up on things to work on. Also, having had some ups and downs, it's just nice in it's own right to sit there and watch and see a happy partnership.

  4. she will grow up one day and be a Bridget I am sure :) great job!