Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Our basic lesson routine is this: Our warm up consists of walking a couple of times around the arena, then jogging for a few minutes, then posting trot for a few minutes. After that we move into the center of the circle and we learn or practice a couple of new moves; during our last few lessons we have been practicing backing up and doing 90 degree turns. After that, we go on to loping. After loping we start to slow things down again and trot patterns (different each week) and eventually walk to cool down. Pretty simple.

A couple of weeks ago, at a clinic being held at the stables, I heard the trainer say to one of the participants that it wasn't necessarily a good thing to have your horse assume what you were going to ask of him. There needs to be a response to an actual request. When a horse assumes he knows what you want it means that the horse is not listening to you. Well, when I heard the trainer saying this, I thought what a load of horse crap. I would gladly have Gem anticipate what I wanted from him so I wouldn't have to suffer with rubber legs on a regular basis! The trainer's comments were filed waaaay back in my memory banks.

Last Friday, I rode in the arena with the Arena Gang. They had vertical poles set up down the middle of the arena and were zig zagging through them at a jog. Good for them. Gem and I started our normal warm up routine. We were up to the posting trot portion of our warm up, but I cut it short. He swished his tail a bit. Only one member of the Arena Gang was still in the arena at this point, so I walked Gem through the poles - in and out, in and out. He swished his tail again, but did it. I then moved him back on the track and as I gathered up my reins, he started to jog before I was ready. Hmmmm, that's interesting.

We continued on like it was a lesson, following the normal routine. The only difference was I did jog him through the poles a couple of times when we were moving towards the end of our session. For a big guy, he did really well - yay, Gem! The first time through the poles though, I could tell that he was a bit irritated - the swishing tail is the indicator. He did what I asked though.

Sunday I spent an hour just walking Gem. We were in the arena and I did our warm up the same as usual - walk, jog, posting trot. Then I walked patterns with him; figure 8's, squares, small circles. A couple of times, he started to gear up to jog, but I held him back to a walk. Again with the tail swishing. Eventually, he settled down and we had a really good session. We practiced the 90 degree turn and backing up. Both he and I relaxed and more often than not, Gem did the turn without walking off! It's a work in progress, but I was very pleased with him and I. His backing up has improved immensely. I position my legs a little forward of the girth and squeeze while gently pulling back on one rein and then the other. He can now back up 7 steps at a consistent pace and while remaining pretty darn straight!

So at this week's lesson, I had to show LA how much Gem had improved with backing up. As soon as we finished warm up and went to the center of the arena, I showed her Gem's new moves. She was pleased. :-) I then asked Gem to walk on. Hmmmmm...he backed up.

No. I mean go forward.
Here, let me back up some more.
WALK ON means go forward!!
What? You want me to go forward?
Stop backing up! GO FORWARD!!!!

Strange. Then I had a light bulb moment. We always practice our moves in 3's; three back ups, three 90 degree turns, three side passes. I had only done ONE back up. Was Gem trying to correct me?? Was he assuming what was to come next?

We came to the loping part of the lesson. After a rough start, off we went. It was stop and start as usual and I had to make it "uncomfortable" for him when he slowed to a trot. At one point we were going at a pretty consistent pace and all of a sudden he stopped for a bio break! As I rearranged myself back in the saddle, he finished his business, turned his head slightly towards me with a look of "where were we?" and then started loping again, without me cuing him. Weird.

I know Gem is lazy. As I mentioned before, in so many ways he's like me! :-) I think he finds a certain amount of comfort in knowing what our routine is because he doesn't have to try; he just goes with the flow. He's smart enough to know what comes next and how many and for how long. He gets irritated (tail swishing) if there is a deviation from the regular routine. In my line of work, I must anticipate the needs of others so I can be proactive. But, in Gem's case, having your horse anticipate the next move might not be the way to go. Having him jog or lope without me cuing him was cool initially (he read my mind!), but after thinking about it I am not so sure it was a good thing. I wouldn't want Gem to think that loping always comes after trotting, particularly if I am on a trail ride. The words of the trainer now start to make sense.

Has my improvement been Gem anticipating the next moves of our routine rather than my ability? Well, it's probably both and I am OK with that. However, I am going to have to work hard at shaking it up. I need to start incorporating some new moves and requests when he least expects it and push him through his tail swishing episodes. I want him to be interested, on his toes and wondering what's next. There needs to be a bit of spontaneity in our relationship. Resistance is futile! Rubber legs are a good thing! Yeah, right.....

What was I thinking.....?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."

I had a pretty good lesson this week. Gem was resisting loping and LA had me push him through his resistance. Encouraging a 1400 lb animal to keep moving can be a daunting task, but I did it. It was hit and miss and we didn't lope around the arena consistently, but I think Gem got the message that I was going to make it as "uncomfortable" as I could if he resisted. When he started to slow down to a jog, I would clamp my legs on him, which meant my spurs had contact on his side, and I pushed my hips through more assertively. He didn't like the fact that I was not allowing him to stop when he felt like it, but eventually he got it. If he stopped resisting and loped, the pressure came off my legs and I sat back and enjoyed the ride. When I finally got off him, my legs were rubber. :-)

I came to the realization that I have improved my seat quite a bit in the last 6 months. Yes, I have improved!!! This has been a real confidence-booster for me. I knew that my balance was better. My body is now accustomed to Gem's size, which has helped physically and psychologically. His BIG moves are not as intimidating, so I am more relaxed on him. I have come a long way since last summer. Using a Western saddle for my lessons has helped (that horn poking you in your gut is a great reminder to sit up straight!) and I am thankful that LA suggested it. As well, my teeny tiny abdominal muscles are becoming stronger through riding at least twice a week.

In addition to the above, there were a couple of other ideas that helped with my improvement and I want to share them. A couple of months ago, Shannon at It's Quarters for Me did a post on strengthening her weak leg. It has been pointed out to me that I lean, but I have always tried to adjust my stirrups to compensate. It never really corrected the problem. After I read her post, the penny dropped. I had a weak leg! My right leg is stronger and I tend to put more weight on that leg, which pulls the saddle off center. This picture was taken last October and demonstrates exactly how much I pull down on the right side. I started doing very light exercises (p-leeease, me do hard exercises???) on my left leg. Standing on my left leg only, I go up and down, careful not to straighten my leg completely. Standing on one leg while bending it helps with your balance, too! I do this a couple of times a day (my thigh burns after each session!). I believe that this simple exercise, which I can do while watching TV or standing at my desk, has made a difference in keeping me stationary in the saddle. Thank you, Shannon! Paying it forward.....

STA videos herself all the time. She works with trainers outside the city, so recording her lessons and then recording her practice sessions allows her to monitor her improvement. She highly recommends it. What a great tool! Using my camera, STA took a short video of me a couple of weeks ago. I did a sitting jog, posting jog, walked, and loped (hope I got the Western terms correct!). I am not technical - there has always been an IT Department or my husband to deal with my technical inadequacies. However, the sense of urgency I had to see my video led me to bypass my usual options and actually DO IT MYSELF. I poured myself a vodka soda and went to work. When I finished my second vodka soda, the video had been safely downloaded and I was ready to watch, for the first time, me riding Gem.

We are our own worst critics, but in this case that's a good thing. Initially, I cringed when I saw myself on Gem. But after a few moments, I started to analyse what I was looking at. First, I was reminded how my boy, for a big guy, is quite an elegant mover! Wow. Now, on to me....not so elegant, but my legs were pretty solid and even, my feet were well positioned in the stirrups and my posture was not too bad. I did tip forwards a couple of times when Gem transitioned to and from a lope. I was pretty good at looking ahead to where I wanted to be and not looking down. I appeared that I was actually breathing!! My hands need work - they were very busy! I don't know why. When I was riding English, my hands were the ONLY thing that were steady and consistent. But the point is, now I know that my hands are busy! When I compare myself to other riders, I can tell that I am physically weaker than them. But, that too will change over time. Having this video as a reference has been amazing. I have been able to stop/start it at different times to see how my body is aligned (or not!). I will be regularly begging people to video me! I am a very visual person, so this is going to be a great tool for me and perhaps it will for others. So, I am paying this forward, too. :-)

Now, if I can just figure out how to boost my confidence when it comes to trail riding..... baby steps, baby steps....

What was I thinking.....?

Monday, March 15, 2010

You Look Maaaarvelous!

When Gem and I first partnered up, Jean gave me a big rubber storage bin to store my stuff in the tack room. The carrying case I have for my grooming supplies fit in it easily, with room to spare. I never in a million years thought that I would fill this tub. But, I found myself in the local tack shop weekly and could easily waste away an hour looking at stuff. I rarely left empty handed; a new brush, a new saddle pad, a new pair of Spanx-like breeches so that I look good while on Gem. :-) I now have enough treats, shampoo, conditioner, face cloths, body scrapers, fly spray, and various brushes to open my own tack store!! The stuff that I can't fit in the tub are placed on top of the lid; Gem's towel, blanket and saddle pads are all folded neatly. Overflow has somehow made it's way to my trunk.

When I am in the drug store and I see a new shampoo or lipstick or moisturizer, it calls out to me - buy me, buy me! I will use it for a while and, more often then not, the half full or barely used product will go into MY Tupperware bin at home - yes, I have a big Tupperware bin, too!

"It's better to look good than to feel good!", as Fernando/Billy Chrystal would say. I live up to that quote, I think. ;-) But to look good, you have to do a lot of prep work. Skin, nails, hair and makeup, each with a bunch of products. As I have reminded my husband on more than one occasion when he complains at the amount of time I spending beautifying, "Perfection takes time, money and sometimes pain." ;-) I find that Gem has just about as many products as I do! Not all of these products are used every day, but I find our grooming requirements and routine to be very similar. Have I turned my horse into me???!!!!

I wash my hair 3 times a week and each time it takes about 20-30 minutes to dry and style it. Gem gets brushed, including his mane and tail, 3 times a week and it takes about 30 minutes each time.

I use one comb and two brushes to do my hair. Gem requires one comb and three brushes.

I put deep conditioner in my hair once a week. Gem gets conditioner/detangler once a week on his mane and tail.

I buff my nails. Gem's gets his hooves buffed.

I give myself a facial once a week. Gem gets his face and nostrils cleaned with a warm facecloth once a week (more in the summer).

I am "over-conditioned". Gem is "over-conditioned". We require "plus" size items.

I try to look put-together and I try to make him look put-together by coordinating his saddle, bridle, saddle pads, and saddle blankets.

I get my nails done every 6 weeks. Gem gets his feet done every 6 weeks. The cost is the same for both of us - $32.00.

Perhaps I was attracted to Gem because he reminded me of myself. He's big, with dark hair and eyes, a flirt, a bit bossy and likes to have fun. Me, too. :-)
I actually love grooming Gem. I could brush and fuss over him for hours if he could handle standing in cross-ties that long! I find it relaxing, and I think he does too. This is a picture from last summer, just as the sun was setting after our lesson. I think his beautification routine has paid off. He has slimmed down a bit since this picture - I wish I could say that I have! Do you think he knows he's handsome?? I wonder sometimes. I watch his body change when he's around other horses. He seems to stand taller and puff himself out when there are mares in the neighbourhood. Hey, how you doin'? Have I created a monster? Or was he already full of himself? Hmmmm, I wonder if he thinks I am a good accessory..... :-)

What was I thinking....?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Kiddie Table

I have never entertained the thought of not having riding lessons. However, I thought that my skills would improve quickly being able to ride with more experienced riders on a casual basis. Last summer, STA rode with me whenever she could. Her coaching was a tremendous help to me. But she started a new job that summer and her travel has increased making it difficult to schedule a routine ride. We try to get together at least once a month. My riding buddy, Jean, does not own a horse, but sometimes she does come out and ride with me.

Most adult riders at the stables ride much earlier in the day than I can. There is a small group, whose horses are boarded in the arena stalls (Gem is in the old barn), that get together regularly in the evenings and on the weekends. I am friendly with the Arena Gang, but unless I initiate it, an invitation to ride with them is not extended. They are always really nice to me when they see me, but I have come to realize that they just don't want to "babysit" me. It made me a little sad at first, but I can understand where they are coming from. So, I end up riding with the younger riders a lot.

Initially, I was a little embarrassed to be riding with the Young Ladies, but it has been great! I am always guaranteed company in the evening. There is no age discrimination when you love horses. The Young Ladies actually don't mind that I am older than their mothers - they think I'm cool. :-) Their average age is about 13 years old. They are courteous and patient with me, fun and know waaaaay more than I do. They love their horses and aren't shy about showing it. The Young Ladies all compete in reining and it's amazing what their horses can do. They don't mind me asking questions. A 12-year-old taught me how to a 90 degree turn! Imagine! They are always encouraging to each other, laughing and having fun. You can see the physical change in their horses as they pick up on the positive vibes. They get lighter on their feet, their bodies loosen up, they are almost dancing! Disciplining a horse is almost non-existent; there's no need to. The Young Ladies are fearless; we were comparing how many times we had fallen off our horses and one said she was into double digits!! Yikes!!

Riding in the arena with the Arena Gang is a bit different. The riders praise each other, but the displays of affection or praise towards the horses are fewer in number than with the younger riders. The energy level is not as light and fun. The horses don't dance. It is all business. The focus is a little more on what you are doing wrong. I was told I praise Gem too much. *sigh*

As usual, CH, RB and AT (aka Arena Gang) had arranged to meet and were just finishing their ride as I arrived at the arena. As I struggled to maneuver a mouthy, grumpy Gem around their horses, a comment was made that I was too nice to him and need to be tougher. *sigh*

So how is it that the Young Ladies can ask their horses to work willingly and happily without being "tough"? I want to learn their secret. The laughter, the lightness, the fun; does it really have to slip away when child turns to adult? The Young Ladies have helped me remember why I started riding in the first place. I recently started riding with a couple of other adult boarders. But, as long as they don't mind me hanging out with them, I am going to continue riding with the Young Ladies, too. I want to experience the laughter and energy that they exude for as long as I can. I want Gem to have opportunities to just be goofy. Yes, I am looking forward to experiencing my second childhood....bring it on, I say!!! :-)

What was I thinking....?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

It's Electrifying!

Every Sunday, I go to the stables. A couple of weeks ago, as I put Gem in the cross-ties, I asked LA how he had been over the last few days.

LA: "Well, we had a bit of an incident yesterday."
Me: "An incident??? What happened???"
LA: "Well, Gem decided to take a tour of the neighbourhood and went galloping down the road."
Me: "WHAT?!!!!! Holy crap!"

Let me back up a bit. Gem shares his field with 3 other horses: a 14.3hh blue-eyed black/white paint, DH, who beat up the other horses when he came on the scene and is now leader (I think he has short-man syndrome), a 15.2hh brown/white paint named S. (really sweet) and a 14.3hh brown QH named J. (shy, unassuming). Gem used to be the leader, but then DH arrived and they had it out (lots of bite marks!). Gem gave way to DH and now DH is top, Gem is next, S. is 3rd and J. is lowest ranking. Gem tolerates DH.

Last summer, I bought one of those rubber balls with a handle (in chartreuse, of course!) for Gem to play with while he was separated from the herd. It eventually ended up in the corner of his stall. LA asked me, about a month ago, if she could put it out in the field for The Boys to play with; they were getting bored. Of course! They love that thing. They run around chasing and kicking it. It was a great idea to give it to them.

On the day in question, The Boys were running around the field, kicking up their heels and blowing off a little steam. The ball came into play a few times. LA was enjoying watching them while she was doing her chores in and around the barn. Boys will be boys, though. Somehow, S. lost his footing (ice?) and fell right down....across the electric tape fence, the section facing the back of the arena. This stopped play for about a nano-second. S. quickly got up (unharmed), both he and Gem looked at the gap in the fence, noticed the absence of gates beyond where they were standing and decided to go for a trot and then a gallop...right past LA!

LA yelled at her helper, who grabbed a couple of halters and started off after the escapees on foot, while LA and her husband brought DH and J. in and then jumped in the truck. The race was on! The stables are located on a quiet road, so traffic was not an issue. But if the horses had deviated from the road, there were plenty of farm fields they could frolic in. S. and Gem weren't gone long. They only went down the road about 1/4 mile when they stopped and looked around and realized that the herd was no where in sight. They were easily caught and walked back without issue. Gem had a chunk missing from his front hoof as a reminder of his escapade.

As usual, the next time I was at the stables, I asked how Gem had been.

LA: "There was another incident."
Me: "WHAT?!! You have got to be kidding me!"
LA: "Nope. DH was involved."

Oh, no. I assumed that there had been a blow up between him and Gem.

Me: "Good grief. Is everyone OK?"
LA: "Yep. DH got electrocuted this time."
Me: "What?! You mean.......
LA: "Yep."
Me: "Crap."

Based on the details LA provided, this is what I think happened. Gem instigated a game with DH. Play ball with me. I am your friend. I won't hurt you. DH and Gem were tearing around the field tossing the ball back and forth. Gem took the game to the side of the field that faces the pastures. Gem threw the ball long and deep. DH went for it and crashed through the electric tape fencing. As DH struggled to get up (bzzzt! bzzzt!), Gem stepped over him, stuck his tongue out at DH (OK, maybe I am making that up) and trotted off to be with the herd. DH (unharmed), S. and J. stayed put. Gem was eventually brought back, looking very smug (OK, maybe I made that up, too).

It's hard to believe that a face like this could be devious. These incidents, as much as they are worrisome, have given me a whole new respect for Gem's intelligence. I believe it clicked that if he could pull down the electric tape, there was a new adventure waiting on the other side of the fence. He knows that the electric shock hurts and I think he was smart enough to realize that he would need to sacrifice one of his roommates on the fence to be able to start his adventure. DH was the perfect choice. :-) DH would get zapped (that will teach you to bite me!) and Gem gets to party.

I offered to pay for the electrician and repair of the fence. LA declined my offer. "This is just horses being horses", she said with a smile, "Comes with the territory." Thank goodness! Hmmmmmm, now I wonder what OTHER plans Gem is developing......

What was I thinking....?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Award Redux

OK, I am blushing... :-) Rachel at Dapple of My Eye gave me the Beautiful Blogger Award, too! Thank you!!! Rachel partnered up with Granite, now almost 3 years old, in January 2009 and they are working towards Granite becoming an A Circuit hunter. Lots of work ahead and I am rooting for them! You can follow Granite's progress here. Thanks again, Rachel!

The sun was brilliant today! Temperature was about +5C (40F). Bring it on!!! I had a great lesson tonight - I actually managed to get Gem to canter around the arena twice without stopping! Yay! And I did not have to wear my winter jacket tonight! :-)

Monday, March 1, 2010

An Award - Wow!

I'd like to thank my mother and father for having me, my husband for putting up with me, my fifth grade teacher....

Sorry, I got carried away. :-) I got this award from Breathe at HorseCentric - thank you! and from Marissa at Tucker the Wunderkind - thank you! Right back at ya! :-) Breathe's blog, which allows us a peek at her family, work and horses, is here. Marissa's blog, which allows us to share her experiences and training with Tucker can be found here. I enjoy both of these blogs immensely.

The rules for this award are simple: Link back to where you got the award from, tell 7 things about yourself and give this award to 15 other blogs.

Tell 7 things about yourself:

My mother is Anglo-Indian and my father is from Newfoundland. What a combo - Mom was an Ava Gardner look alike and Dad reminded me of Lloyd Bridges. My sisters and I all have dark hair and dark eyes. I am the only one that ended up with freckles from my dad's side.

I smoked for 35 years and quit two years ago today! Yay!

My husband does a better job at laundry and cooking than I do and ends up doing both about 80% of the time. I am OK with that. :-)

I would NEVER leave the house without my eyes and lips on. :-) I don't mind my wrinkles though.

I cannot imagine my life without cats, dogs and now Gem.

My favourite colour is chartreuse.

I almost married for money, but gave my head a shake and married for comedy.

I have only been blogging and surfing blogs for the last few months. Of course, Marissa and Breathe have been very supportive of my new adventure. I am not sure if I can give them an award (is it allowed?), but if I could I would!! I don't know 15 blogs, but here's my list.

I have recently discovered 7MSN Ranch. I love the pictures, particularly of the burros, and the cast of characters. I get a smile on my face every time I visit.

I admire Shannon dedication to her beautiful horses Gwen and Coriander. You can share her experiences at It's Quarters for Me.

Horse of Course takes us on beautiful midnight rides on Fame through the beautiful Norwegian snow. Encountering wildlife is a common occurrence!

Teaching of the Horse is was one of the first blogs I found when I started researching horses and the responsibility of partnering with one, and I find the posts very thoughtful.

The Barefoot Horse is an excellent reference for me. Sophie is always accommodating and will try to address any questions you may have.

Canterbalance and I share some of the same challenges as riders who took up our passion later in life. :-)

I always appreciate Grey Horse Matters sharing her wealth of knowledge.

For your daily chuckle, visit Horse Laughs.

Thank you everyone!! I hope you enjoy these blogs as much as I do.