Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

Well, inevitably we all have to face the fact that our horses are not robots. They are living, breathing, thinking creatures that have a mind of their own. With that in mind, we have hit another setback.

I know it has been awhile since I have posted - mainly because of the abscess derailing our progress. The truth is, I haven't wanted to admit in writing what is really going on. We got Delilah's foot healed, and tacked up to go for our first ride since being off for awhile. Things quickly went to hell in a handbasket - she was crowhopping around like crazy, spinning in circles to avoid bending correctly, and basically trying every naughty trick in the book. I chalked it up to her feeling good with the onset of spring, having a nice long break, etc. Tacked up again the next day with lower expectations, but still a hopefully mindset...same thing. Now suspicion is starting to creep in. My trainer and I go through the laundry list of things to consider - tack fit, soundness, going into season - and discuss the different possibilities. At the end of the ride, we decided to give her a day or two off and try again. The weekend rolled around, and it was one of those glorious North Carolina weekends that hinted spring is right around the corner. I sprang out of bed that morning and couldn't WAIT to ride my mare.

I should have waited. HA! She crowhopped. And crowhopped some more. And then, BANG - kicked out both feet in a buck sizeable enough to unseat me for a moment. Thank god for good training and a balanced enough seat to stay on.

So at this point, we are baffled. The vet is coming Monday to evaluate her and see if there is something going on. I have owned the mare for almost two and a half years, and in all that time, she has come off the ground ONCE. Something has GOT to be amiss. She is also getting her teeth floated Monday, which is long overdue, and has an order of Smartpaks arriving today with a mare supplement in the event her cycles are affecting her. So we will keep you updated as things progress. Here's to hoping for the best....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shattered Goals

Well, the last few days have been tumultuous, to to say the least! After a phenomenal ride last Wednesday, which I blogged about, I came out Thursday night with the usual expectations. I know by now I should have it figured out that horses are not robots, and it is going to take time for consistency to come. Long story short, we had a horrific ride. In the two and a half years I have owned my little mare, she has come off the ground one time - after getting excited coming off a jump. So needless to say, it is the last thing I look for or expect when working under saddle. Thursday, however, she started bucking or kicking out anytime I asked for a trot. We worked for quite awhile, but it was a battle the entire time. I found the first opportunity to quit that I could, and we stopped on a good note.

I came out again on Saturday morning, this time with slightly lower expectations, but still hopeful for at least a decent ride. Once again, she started hopping, kicking out, and doing all sorts of crazy behavior that is completely beyond normal for her. By this point, I am baffled, frustrated, and pretty much want to burst into tears. She is sound, no signs of back soreness, no lameness, checked the girth area....nothing. I chalk it up to her possibly coming into season and leave, feeling quite defeated. It wouldn't have been so bad, but we were making such phenomenal and steady progress for the last couple weeks.

Sunday rolls around, and it is the kind of gorgeous Carolina day that starts hinting that spring is right around the corner. Thankfully, the weather alone has lifted my spirits, so I head out to the barn to give it my best shot. I ride Samson first, to mellow me out a bit before taking on Delilah, since the last few rides were a little hairy. He has been reconditioning for the last month or so, and we decided to hop a few crossrails for the first time since trying it once or twice last summer. Phenomenal success! Our first attempt was a bit of a bunny hop, straight up in the air, and then straight back down again. We moved into cantering, since he seemed rather uncoordinated at the trot, and we hopped a line several times, each time steadily progressing. So after making some awesome progress with Samson, I cooled him out (he thought he was DYING, I assure you!) and pulled Delilah out of the pasture. I stuck her in the crossties, and started picking her feet like every other ride. I started with the right front, but as soon as I started picking them out, she ripped her foot away and shot sideways in the crossties. Odd.... I picked her foot up again, and lo and behold - blood was oozing out at a fairly steady pace. Since feet (and bleeding feet for certain!) are not my specialty, I pulled my trainer over to check things out. The verdict - she has an abscess. The conclusion - she is also apparently tough as nails, considering she never took an off step once. It wasn't until the last two days that it even showed up in any behavior whatsoever.

I probably sound like the worst horseperson ever, but I have to secretly admit - I was the slightest bit excited I had something to BLAME the last couple rides on. I know, that's horrendous. Please don't misinterpret - I would NEVER wish any harm on my sweet girl. It is just a relief to know that things weren't falling apart for no reason. I highly suspect the pain is what made her act so strangely towards the end of the week. So my 30 day goal is shattered by an unforeseen circumstance, but what can you do? We will pack and wrap and treat her, and when it is over - I will (literally, AND figuratively) get back on the horse!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Several people have reminded me recently how far I have already come with my little mare, and it has gotten me thinking. Last night I started really tracing things back to the very beginning. I already described my first encounter with Delilah, and how she would barely let me touch her. Now let me paint of picture of where we started out.

Needless to say, even though I had never had issues with fear around horses before, when Delilah came along they began to surface in a very big way. There was a stigma in my head about "green" horses - a stigma that in many ways, I am still trying to break. I came from a pony club background, where the wildest thing I ever rode was a mildly fussy Thoroughbred. I have never ridden anything "green" or "unsafe" for that matter. So I vividly recall the first time we decided to put Delilah in the crossties and start working on standing patiently. We had two washstalls in the interior of our barn, and my trainer hooked the crossties up to her halter and we all stepped back to observe. With in seconds, she started fidgeting from side to side. Next came a toss of the head, followed by a more forceful throw of the head. Then, before I could blink, she violently tore herself from the crossties and came stampeding towards me to get to the exit of the barn. I remember being so petrified, I literally dove AWAY from the horse as she galloped to what she surely felt was safety.

So that was my first experience in working with my mare. I think it set the groundwork for the next two years, which as a whole were wildly unproductive. I think the wild-eyed stampeding mare who exploded violently was always in the back of my mind, tempering my reactions and limiting my course of action.

That day was the fall of 2008. Flash forward to early Winter 2011, and the ride I had last night. Delilah still tosses her head. We have come to the consensus that it is part of her expressive nature. There are no medical issues, bit or tack issues - we have literally run the gamut of investigations to eliminate any possible issues. We have concluded that she is a little mare that has a LOT to say. So when we start out trotting, she tosses her head - sometimes mildly, sometimes rather violently. Until not too long ago, I would handle it as long as I could, then give up out of intimidation and go back to a walk. So she still uses it as an attempt to get out of work, only now I ride through it and ignore it. We made it through the initial headtossing phase last night and started into some real dressage work. My trainer, Renie, was back and forth throwing hay to the pastures, and tossed out a few tips as she crossed the arena. Before I knew it we were trotting along beautifully - except for the corner of the arena. I couldn't figure out why she kept spooking! She is normally a very sane horse who doesn't look at anything. She kept shying away from one corner of the arena, and finally gave a fairly big spook and scooted away. I finally figured out that the litter of barn kittens were hopping on the tarpoulin roof of the hay shed. Needless to say, that probably looks a little scary in the dark to a horse. :-)
Who would ever think these guys could be terrifying?

We ended the night doing figure eights at a sitting trot, and finished with a perfect trot to halt transition. I am falling in LOVE with my mare!!!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Blasted Weather!

The summary of a typical North Carolina winter equals one thing - rain. Lots and lots of rain. It started early Friday morning, rained all day long and into Saturday morning. My backyard was a pond - literally. Which of course means the riding arena was a pond as well. So Friday was shot, as was Saturday. I got a ride in on Sunday, which after having two days off was pretty successful. But I am facing the harsh reality that my 30 day goal may be delayed by the weather. It is supposed to rain again tonight, and then a possible icy mix on Thursday. Chances are, two more days this week without work for Delilah. Go figure. I get motivated, ride reliably, start a blog to track my progress, and the weather has to mess with things.

My trainer is aiming for a show in March. Even if we only do a flat class, she wants Delilah to go and get out into the world. This will be our first show together, EVER! Delilah went to the schooling show at Tryon last fall with a friend but didn't show, just went along to school. So she has seen the world once before and did incredibly well. Now if I can only come up with a way to get her mane looking decent before March.....I have a feeling I might have to call my dear friend Amanda! Or drugs - drugs work too. It seems (from past experience) that Amanda or drugs are the only solution. Delilah DESPISES her mane being pulled.

I rode my gelding, Samson this weekend too. He is a funny horse. I have a suspicion he will make the world's best foxhunting horse. He LOVES to be out in the open. He would be my dream eventing horse, except I am highly suspicious of his abilities in the dressage arena...We worked on conditioning around the lane that borders the farm. At one point, I was wishing for a stronger bit - I nearly had to haul on him to get him stopped!

That's all for today. Going to *try* to make it to the barn tonight for a ride. Hopefully I can beat the forecast!

Samson working in sidereins, August 2010

Friday, February 4, 2011


My riding instructor has been after me for at least a year to keep a riding journal to track my progress with my little mare. I have to say, though I usually follow her advice to the letter, this is the one thing that I have consistently left undone. Since we are in the age of technology, I've decided to keep my journey online in the form of a blog. So here we go with a little introduction.

I purchased my little mare for next to nothing in September of 2008. She was a six year old pasture ornament who had been sat on a grand total of two or three times. I was an ex-pony clubber who had sat on a grand total of maybe ten horses in my lifetime - all dead broke and completely sane, mind you. Then I met the little mare who came to be known as Delilah. When I first approached her to give her carrots, it took ten minutes to get her close enough to take one. Even then, she would snatch the carrot out of my hand, scoot back three feet, and then munch happily. Then came the precarious dance again - a few steps forward, a few to the side, a couple more forward to snatch the carrot, then scoot back to munch again. That is how we met. And it's interesting, because looking back, that became our routine for the next few years - a precarious dance. We take a few steps forward, a few to the side, a few more forward, but continually fell backwards again in our progress together. Much of it has been my own fault in not learning to deal with my fears. Part of it is Delilah's naturally expressive and chatty nature, which can lead her to voice her opinions rather loudly at times. Regardless, the end combination for our past two years together has been a little bit of progress, a lot of backsliding, but overall very few accomplishments. Until now.

I can't pinpoint exactly what has changed things for us. Over the last few months, I have been steadily working on my confidence in an attempt to overcome some of our issues. I do know the day that propelled me forward even more determinedly though. My instructor called me a p&%$y. You see, when I am pushed like that, one of two things happens. Either I slink away and secretly fall apart, while trying to put on a smiling face, or, I get mad. This time, I got mad. Really, truly pissed off. I have a stubborn streak a mile long, and it can be used to my advantage and to my disadvantage. In this instance, I used it to my advantage. Renie, my instructor, told me that if I devoted thirty days of consistent work to Delilah, that it would be done. Most of the issues we continually struggle with would be resolved, for the most part. So yesterday was Day 6 of my 30 day goal. I plan to ride a minimum of five times a week, or six if the weather and my schedule allow it. And already, things are turning around. I am cautiously optimistic, because we have had times in the past where it felt like things were going great and wonderful, and then we end up ten steps back. But I can hear myself saying things that lead me to believe my thinking is changing. Last night, when her new evasive technique was to lay a bunch of weight in my hands, I called it "interesting." Not intimidating, frightening, scary, bullying...."interesting." I found it intriguing that in our six days of work, she has found a different technique each night to try to get around the work, or find a shortcut of some sort. Now, keep in mind, her most consistent technique has been tossing her head like a madwoman - side to side, up and down, to the extent that she has tripped and even fallen to her knees with me. This used to terrify me. Now I am working on seeing it as a protest that I know will last a few moments and will then be over. And eventually, it will disappear completely.

I have so many more stories to tell about this little mare and all our little adventures together. I guess that is a decent enough start for now.