Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Battle of Epic Proportions...

A ride like last night deserves a pretty epic title.  You see, the name of my blog came about because my most prevalant goal was to conquer the fears I had been battling in my riding.  It has been a long and arduous journey, but I feel like I have made a lot of progress in the right direction.

Last night was another one of those huge steps.  My new mare, whom I absolutely adore, decided to act up a bit.  And by a bit, I really mean, an awful lot....

Everything started out normally.  The horses had eaten, I tacked up, put on her sport boots, and headed to the back to hopefully put our previous day's lesson into practice and possibly even school over a few fences.  Things started out without a hitch - we had a great walk, solid trot work, and a beautiful relaxed canter.  I trotted into the first line, and she went over both fences without a hitch.  That's when it started to fall apart.  As I approached the line the second time, I could tell she was anticipating.  Her head started creeping higher and higher, and she lost her hind end completely.  I did the best I could to fix it as we came to the first fence, but by that point I just had to ride through the line, which was pretty rushed.  She has a tendency to hit the ground and want to RUN after the fence, but most days it is fairly manageable.  Last night, it was taking every bit of strength to bring her back to a relaxed canter.  Next approach to the line, I focused on our pace up to the fence, and when she tried to run against me, I checked her with a good solid half-halt with both my seat and rein.  Too much...we ended up pulling a rail because she sucked back like crazy at the last minute.  Argh.  Came around to approach one more time, and by then, she was feeling completely frazzled, so I took a moment to focus on our flatwork.  I put her onto a twenty meter circle, trying to get her to relax and step from behind again, rather than running around with her head cranked in the air.  Much to my surprise, she kept trying to break into a canter.  Every time I asked her to go back to a trot, she would suck into an up-and-down collected canter that was nearly in place.  At one point, I asked for a halt, and then for a walk, and when I asked for the canter she did a fraction of a canter pirouette.  Okay, I have to admit, that was cool, but the fact that Miss April was running the show was NOT cool, as evidenced by what happened next...

I thought (key word!!!) I had pulled us back together, so I headed back towards the line, determined to get ONE GOOD JUMP to end on.  We can NOT end on a bad not.  Well, as soon as we headed that way, she would break into a canter and blow off my outside aids, which resulted in a big bulging turn and wretched approach to the fence.  I literally tried three times in a row, and she kept bulging through the outside.  I took mental inventory - from head to toe - trying to see if it was anything I was creating.  I couldn't come up with anything.  At this point, she kept trying to break from the trot into a canter, and was completely marching to her own beat.  I kept insisting that she come back to a trot and stay with me, and that is when she just flat shut down on me.  She stopped dead and refused to go forward.  At one point, she tried to start backing up with me.  Well, if there is one thing that Renie drilled into my head, it was that you do not evade by backing up - it is completely unacceptable.  I tried using my hand as a whip - she refused to move.  Robyn grabbed me a weedy little branch to use, and oh boy, did I use it.  At first, she blew it off.  Then she broke into a sideways canter....towards the hill at the back of the ring.  She completely blew off my aids and was nearly running backwards, sideways, and crowhopping at the canter, all at the same time.  We literally stopped before tumbing backwards down a pretty good sized hill, and I took a moment to catch my breath...and shove down my nerves.

At this point, my legs are killing me, I'm breathing like a freight train, my knee hurts from having to mount from the ground twice after resetting poles....but it doesn't matter, because we cannot end like this.  Robyn told me later that she was supremely impressed by how I handled the situation, because she was pretty sure things were going to blow up really bad at a couple different points.  I told her it was simple.  I was scared as you-know-what, but I REFUSE to have another Delilah situation on my hands.  I am not going to be afraid of my horse, and I am not going to set us up for failure in that aspect.  So I had to win, right when the issue presented itself.

So back to the ride.  At this point, I literally threw her away and held the reins on the buckle.  If there is one thing I know about this mare from Ivy, it is that when she arrived, she would not go forward.  Period.  And I am not going to be responsible for that behavior reappearing!  So I threw her head away, prayed to God she listened to my seat, and asked for a simple walk.  This time, she responded.  I asked for a trot, still trusting her to follow my seat and not having any contact or tension on the reins.  Don't get me wrong - she was chugging around at a pretty good pace, but she did stay with me for the most part.  The best part was that I started coaxing her to relax through her back and give me a big, stretchy trot - and she responded.  It could literally feel all the tension melting away.  I told Robyn that I wanted to canter, but wasn't sure if I should pick that battle again.  She responded with a question instead of an answer - could my legs hold up if I did try?  I laughed, and said they would have to.  I let out a huge deep breath, and asked for the canter, focusing on a light rein with minimal contact, and a soft and allowing seat - and she responded.  No more hopping up and down, no more blowing through the outside aids, running sideways - it was back to the usual soft, relaxed, supported canter.  I did two circles, then hopped off to loosen the girth.

I promptly collapsed to the ground when my mounting knee buckled underneath me, and my wobbly muscles refused to bail the knee out to hold me up.  Oops....

So, I feel like jello today, but I am victorious.  I didn't let my nerves win.  I'll be honest, in the moment, I was S-C-A-R-E-D.  It really was turning into a meltdown fast.  But I have to credit every single trainer I have worked with for giving me each piece of the solution that came together in a successful ending.  Renie, for teaching me to steadfastly REFUSE to accept the unacceptable behaviors, Kelsey, for teaching me the "stretchy trot" method that used to be the best solution for getting Delilah to relax through her back and get her head back in the game when she got frazzled, and Ivy, for the very recent help on quieting my seat and allowing rather than driving.  All three of these things gave me the tools to blast past the fear in the moment, and instead find the solution to the problem.  I look back today with so much pride, because six months ago, it could have realistically turned into so much of a bigger issue in my head.  But instead, I now have one more experience under my belt to reassure me that I can handle things, even when they go badly.  I think we are on the right track!!!!!

Photo Update!

As promised, here is the photographic evidence of our weekend lesson!  :-)




Monday, October 24, 2011

Adding to the Foundation

Well, we had an exciting weekend at Thalia Farm!  It started Friday, with the exciting news that we are about to be full!  We have two horses arriving on Friday, since our boarder decided the rescue horse she had on trial is not the right fit.  Thankfully, she is going to stick around and do a lease on Samson, so we will still have her at our barn!  So the weekend started off with great news!  We walked the farm and came up with plans to put out our roundbales, add a shavings bin, figure out trailer storage, and get our lighting project going.  We settled on using the cleared area behind the barn as our winter ring, and the big field will stay our jumping field to be used when it is light out.  There were too many logistics to run lights that far, so we are going to focus on the easier project to start out with.  We are also going to add in a pathway between the two gates the horses come in through, by using railroad ties and pit gravel that we are getting for free!  We have been planning to tackle the mud issue that cropped up over the last few weeks, but thankfully we held off and made some great connections that are going to save us a ton of money!

Gorgeous winter grazing coming up!

Saturday was farrier day, which ate up most of the day.  It was just in time, because April ended up pulling a shoe during our workout Friday night, so it was perfect timing for Bryan to show up!  She got her shiny new shoes put on, and everyone else had beautiful trims done.  On Sunday, I was motivated enough to clean nearly every piece of tack I had, and then conditioned it really thoroughly.  I love having clean, soft leather - I don't know why I don't make time for it more often!  Then we headed off to Waxhaw to pick up the trailer and load up April for our first lesson with Ivy.

Part of our mare exchange deal was that I would take at least a monthly lesson so she could keep an eye on our progress together.  April was a very difficult horse when Ivy first got her, and it took her three months to even get the mare to go forward instead of straight up.  (And now look at her!!!)  She really loves the mare and wanted to make sure it is a good fit, so this was one of her conditions to keep an eye on things.  So we trailered to her farm over in Lake Wylie for a 4 o'clock lesson.  I have to admit, I was nervous.  I am always nervous riding in front of people I don't know very well, but especially in a lesson format.  Thankfully I had Robyn with me as ground crew, and she also ended up being my calming force.  I know she could see my nerves getting cranked up while I was tacking up, and she was my voice of reason.  Before I knew it, we were in the ring having an awesome lesson.  Ivy goes a million miles an hour, but not so fast that I can't keep up.  We worked on the flat, and had some of the best canter work I have had on the mare!  It was great, because she helped add in little pieces to the foundation that Kelsey has been laying, and everything just built on each other and complimented the general principles that we have been working on.  I love working with multiple trainers, because one person can explain it one way, whereas another might present the same technique with a different explanation that just expands the theory that much more.  It is so exciting to be really working on my riding, and I am so excited to have a horse that I can learn so many things on! 

We checked out a few of Ivy's horses when we were finished, including a new spitfire of a mare she just brought back from Kentucky.  We loved on "Eve" (formerly Delilah!) for awhile too, and got an update on her progress.  They have been working closely with Susan Chandler to do a series of chiropractic adjustments.  After her first adjustment, they discovered she was severely out in her ribs and her poll.  It was amazing, because she had always turned to bite at my left leg at times, and we had thought it could be ulcers or hormonal issues - sure enough, it was being out in her ribs.  She did the same thing to Ivy on the first couple rides, and after having her ribs adjusted, it hasn't cropped up since.  Her poll was out so severely that she was curling behind to keep herself from being in pain.  Ivy said the mare has literally been running because she was in pain.  Since her first two adjustments, she now has rhythm and tempo, and can be ridden at a perfect tempo without even using a bit!  I can't wait to see her go, because it sounds like she has made some major progress.  I am hoping to go out next weekend and watch a few rides, including hers!  I am learning a lot about some of the alternative methods used on horses; things I would have never thought to look into.  I hate that I missed looking into chiropractic treatments, I just never thought of it.  We had run the gamut of ideas, and totally missed the fact that the mare was in pain.  I feel like I let her down for so long, but I guess what matters is that she is on the right track now, and hopefully on to a solid future!

I will post pictures of my ride tomorrow.  Robyn was an awesome paparazzi for me, but of course I overslept this morning and couldn't find the cord to my netbook!  It was a chaotic morning, but I am looking forward to it settling into a better day, followed by a good ride tonight!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Big Jump....LITERALLY!

I can't believe it has taken me this long to write about our ride on Monday night!  Haley did chores last night though, so I enjoyed a lazy night - the first in quite some time!  Needless to say, I didn't accomplish much of anything last night, so here I am, reliving my glory moment!

Okay, it wasn't supremely glorious, because I felt like a flopping fish in the saddle, but regardless...we were determined to get in one last ride Monday night before the next few days of rain were supposed to roll in.  I tacked up in jumping gear, because I knew the soggy footing would be arriving shortly, and it tends to take a few days to clear back out, so I wanted to get a jump school in.  We were both fresh off of a lesson Friday night, so everything was really recent in our little brains.  I have been having amazing rides ever since that lesson.  I have gotten on every day, determined to perfect our walk before I do anything else.  Every ride since, we have nailed it within minutes.  We have come a LONG ways, just from constantly reminding myself to not hang on the inside rein, and focusing on using the inside leg to outside rein connection. 

So back to Monday.  We warmed up on the flat, and April was outstanding.  By far, the best walk we have gotten since she came to the farm.  I started schooling over a little vertical, then graduated to the line, and really focused on consistency between the fences.  Robyn had worked on really using her leg in her lesson, and thankfully our horses have a lot of similarities, so watching her lesson tends to equal a bonus lesson for me as well!  I was working on applying a lot of the same techniques, and so was Robyn, and we were having stellar rides!  Linkin has come along in leaps and bounds since coming back from his injury-mandated time off.  He has been more relaxed between fences than I have ever seen him.

We kept riding by Kelsey's crazy jump that they had set up for Laddy.  It was still set around 3'3'' or 3'6''.  Both of us kept staring, longingly....then we started putting voice to the thoughts...."MAN, I want to jump that SO BAD!!!"  Pretty soon, the devious looks started flying back and forth.  Before I knew it, Robyn had hopped off to take it down a couple holes.  I mean, let's not get CRAZY here....

So I picked up a nice little canter and came around to the first fence, hopped the vertical, then took the bending line to the big fence.  As stated previously, I looked like a big flopping fish, but what the heck - we sailed right on over!  I let out the biggest whoop imagineable.  By far, the biggest fence I have been over in a LONG time.  It also signified to me that I have GOT to work on my nasty position over fences.  I guess that will come another day....

Next I saw Robyn heading for the first fence.  I started to holler out not to take the bending line, because it was a pretty hairy line to get to the second fence, but before I could finish I saw her setting her sights on the next fence.  Oh my....I think I shouted something about how of COURSE she would take the bending line, because she is uber-competetive, just like me....and if I did it, she'll do it.  Man, that girl and I have a lot in common!  Well, it was a bit much for Linkin the first time around, and they had a bit of an undignified ending.  I knew it had the potential to shake her up, so I hollered at her to get her butt over another fence, pronto.  They sailed over a little vertical.  Then I asked her if she wanted to try the big one again, and she said yes.  So they took a straight approach to the fence.  At the last minute, I saw her eyes drop and I yelled "look at the trees!"  What do you know...eyes went up, horse came up beneath her, and they SAILED right over.  Didn't overjump, didn't get excited...it might as well have been a crossrail.

That concluded the night.  I think we whooped and hollered, hung on our ponies' necks and rubbed them with furious excitement...all kinds of treats were given, and that was that.  Then of COURSE we had to measure, and the fence was every bit of 3 feet, if not a hair over.  I know, it really isn't much, but when I sat down to think about it, I realized it has been NINE YEARS since I have jumped that height!!!!!  Quite the victory in my eyes. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Life Has Taken on a Smooth Rhythm...

The days keep ticking on by, one after another, and I feel like everything has just fallen into place perfectly.  My life has taken on a steady rhythm of daily routines.  Weekday mornings I have feeding duty since it is on the way to work for me, then I head to work, back to the barn to work the horses and do evening chores, and then back at it the next day.  I keep waiting to get tired of it, but I truly enjoy every waking moment of doing something I truly love.  It has added so much peace and contentment to my life.

The weekend started out with a lesson with Kelsey on Friday night.  I have to give her major credit, because she has had a pretty devastating week of injuries and illnesses on her farm, but being the consummate professional that she is, she taught outstanding lessons regardless of any distractions going on.  I had a dressage lesson on April, which she happened to be quite fussy for, so it ended up being partly a schooling session for her and Kelsey.  She wasn't wanting to accept the leg, which was a big hint that I have not been using it as much as I should.  Robyn had a jumping lesson on Linkin, which you can check out on her blog - it was really incredible, and Linkin looked better over fences than he EVER has.

Saturday was sort of a lazy day, after busting our tails for Kelsey Friday night.  We were both sore, but the itch to ride was of COURSE still there, so we decided to go on an adventure, complete with a little adventure song and all....yes, I was being a little silly, but it was WELL worth it!  I gave April the day off, and decided to take Samson for a little workout, so we hacked over to Kelsey's farm for a visit.  It was a gorgeous fall day, the kind that requires a long t-shirt, and that is about it.  There was a light breeze, but the warmth of the sun was all you needed to keep things toasty enough to be comfortable.  The horses were amazing - calm, and relaxed, as if they have hacked down the side of the road their entire lives.  They didn't mind traffic passing by one bit.  We visited with Mama Briggs at the farm for awhile, and then Kelsey showed up and jumped on her retired event pony, Laddy, to accompany us back.  The girl is fearless.  She hacked back to our farm bareback, and then proceeded to take Laddy over our little cross country fences and the showjumping course.  What a little wonder-pony!

I had to jet off quickly to go meet my Dad - an AMAZING treat, since he hasn't flown into Charlotte once since I moved here in 2002.  He flew down in the Challenger to pick up the Rockwell CEO and his wife, who were on their way back from England with the CEO and wife of Goodrich Corporation, who live here in Charlotte.  We got to hang out for about an hour, which was so wonderful.  I have always been a bit of a daddy's girl, so time spent with him is always a pleasure, though it made me miss my entire family tremendously.  Of course, seeing as I had just left the farm from our hack, I was still in breeches and half-chaps, and leave it to me - I ended up meeting the CEOs of two MAJOR aerospace and technology corporations...while covered in horse hair.  Ahh, there is something to be said for remaining true to yourself!!!  Needless to say, they were the most gracious and genuine people, and their wives' gave me the warmest hugs when we all departed.  If only we could all have a taste of the jet-setting life my daddy gets to live!

Sunday rolled around, and I treated myself to a lazy day.  I slept in, hung around and watched tv, finished a Jodi Picoult novel, and then eventually rolled out to the barn.  I organized the hay and storage shed, cleaned up the feed room, unloaded the latest grain purchase.  Robyn and I ran to buy lime and starter fertilizer to put down before the four days of rain that is supposed to start today, and when Randon was spreading it, we went to ride our two.  I had an awesome ride on April  We have been working REALLY hard to master the walk, and we almost nailed it within about two minutes of getting started.  I was determined to get the walk perfected before moving on, and while there is still room for improvement, there was a huge progression during that ride.  It came from really focusing hard on inside leg to outside rein, and not reverting back to the inside rein.  Kelsey had preached that throughout my entire ride on Friday, so I made sure I focused on it during my entire ride.  We worked on a little counterbend at the w
alk and trot, and she was lovely, and I even got a little haunches in as well!  I can't resist playing with some of these things, although I know I am skipping a little ahead.  It is too cool to have a horse with so much knowledge!  We did a bunch of work without stirrups as well, and my legs are still aching as a result.

After finishing up, we had a little extra grooming time to work on manes - both April's and Samson's.  I absolutely adore my horses.  I gave my second shot yesterday too, the last of April's fall shots (they have to be spread out) and she was a gem!  Then it was back to the evening routine - cleaning stalls, rinsing and filling water buckets, throwing hay, raking the aisle, and setting up morning grain.  There is so much solace in the little routines of life.  And who wouldn't love being greeted by these sweet faces in the morning???

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Admit, I'm Kind of in Love....

Just as the title would lead you to believe, I am in love...with a big, long-legged redhead....yes, you guessed it - my new mare.  I am absolutely smitten.  It is so funny, because for so long, I had started to think I might be (gasp!) lazy..or losing interest in riding...or a combination of the two.  The truth is, I had lost so much of the enjoyment in riding.  Delilah and I just never clicked.  I had an early foundation of distrust in her, and she had a history of being "lied" to, and it was just a bad combination.  I believe I learned from and overcame what I needed to in the situation, and thankfully conquered the fear issues before I sold her.  However, it was far past time to move on.

So here I am, moving on, and reveling in every moment.  I find myself so excited to get to the barn and ride.  I find it HARD to give her a day off, instead of a relief that I don't HAVE to go work her.  I have been schooling with no stirrups for a portion of my ride every night this week, because I am so determined to get back into shape.  Tuesday night I worked over fences for a bit, and even finished up with a great canter over our little log jump and stone wall in the cross country course.  Last night I had slated for flatwork, so I took away the stirrups for the majority of the ride, and even ended up cantering without stirrups.  I can't remember the last time I did that!  I even hopped a crossrail, on April, the SUPER forward mare, with no stirrups.  And when she tore off excitedly afterwards, instead of freaking out, I sat up, tightened my core, and she came right back to me. 

I'm in love.  With a mare.  And I am absolutely, positively, without a doubt, in heaven!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Chaos and Peace, All Rolled into One!

My life is exactly as the title describes it...a constant roller coaster of insanity and total peace, all wrapped into one.  Robyn left for the beach last Wednesday, so I was left with the care of our "kids" until she came back.  Thursday morning started bright and early with a bunch of personal errands, and I made it to the farm by 9 to feed and get ready for a lesson with Kelsey.  The ground was still soggy from the two solid weeks of downpouring rain we had here in the Carolinas, so we had to pick our work area carefully.  We spent a solid twenty minutes on the walk, as it is her hardest gait, in my opinion.  She prefers to go around hollow-backed with her head in the air at first.  So we perfected asking her for a correct walk, then moved on to the trot.  We put in some lovely work at the trot - she was instantly round and soft, not flying around in the slightest bit.  We worked on really asking her to carry from behind correctly, then called it a day.

That afternoon was "Vet Day"...I was running horrifically late, so I was a bit scattered when I got there, but everyone did great.  April gets her shots spread out to keep from catching a fever and ending up with sore feet, so her next shot is tonight.  Looking forward to that!!!  So, several hundred dollars and a hug later, the vet departed and left me with some new solutions to finish up the battle on Samson's reoccuring case of scratches.  Thursday evening was uneventful, but we did spend the late evening picking up some new farm toys - a pull-behind aerator and spreader for the mower, and four bags of winter rye and fescue. 

Friday night we tackled the back pasture.  We knew it wasn't going to last long, but even I was shocked at how quickly two horses ate it down.  So we aerated, put down seed, and then were left with another project to tackle - figuring out a sacrifice paddock to use for the next six weeks while the back field establishes grass....thank god for step-in t-posts.  It took me thirty minutes to put up a paddock, using some semi-clever land-planning, so now we have another paddock running up the right side of the driveway.  It went up just in the nick of time, because our new boarder was scheduled to arrive Saturday, thus adding the need for a second pasture!

New sacrifice paddock!

Saturday morning brought a delivery of alfalfa from my favorite Ohio hay guy...gorgeous hay, and such a nice guy.  Then I jetted over to sign April's sale agreement - that's right, she is now OFFICIALLY mine!  When I got back to the farm, I started tackling the wooded paddock with my hubby's help.  I conquered my fear of a chainsaw and quickly discovered they are a lot of FUN!  We are hoping to turn that overgrown mess into a useable paddock by springtime.  The new horse arrived a few hours later, and has settled in beautifully.  His owner is a really sweet girl who pitches in with chores, and is constantly helping.  It is so refreshing to have another little worker bee like us around!  You always wonder what you will end up with when a boarder shows up, but I think we are really going to enjoy having her around.

Future paddock - we have our work cut out!!!

I worked on April's canter Saturday, and fell MADLY in love.  I have never in my LIFE sat a canter like hers.  When I asked for the canter depart, she started to tear off in a long, flat canter.  I tightened my core and adjusted my position, and immediately I felt her back spring up beneath me, as she began to carry herself from behind.  What an incredible feeling!  It was one of those eye-opening moments where you realize "AH HA!  THIS is what it is supposed to feel like!"  I came back to the barn with tears in my eyes.  This mare has so much to teach me, and I cannot wait to learn and grow with her as my new partner.  It was amazing to feel something and learn what "correct" feels like, in such an obvious manner.  It's a far cry from wheeling around on a greenie, that is for certain! 

Sunday was a community tack sale, which of course consisted of loading, unloading, pricing, selling, loading again...and yes, I have to confess - I have yet to unload the remnants from my truck.  Guilty!!!  But the sale was amazing, and I picked up some huge deals - like a three-step mounting block for $20! 

So, as you can see, it has been a whirlwind of chaos, but there are so many wonderful moments wrapped in with it.  Like the midnight check on the new boarder, when the temperature has dropped twenty degrees, and I am snuggled up to Samson's soft neck under a soft moonlight, listening to the rhythmic sound of him munching on his hay.  The times I just plop down in a chair in the aisleway, just to stare at everything we have accomplished.  It is so fulfilling, and yet it has only just begun....

My sweet kids!!!