Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring = Grumpy

Although we are still hovering around the -2C mark, they are predicting warmer weather as the week progresses. The Canada geese have started arriving in droves and I have seen robins at my bird feeders the last two weeks, so that means Spring is here. Yay!! :-)

With Spring, comes a change in routine at the stables. Recently, Gem has not been getting the same amount of turnout that he is used to. A week ago, LA brought in the herd from the pastures to allow the ground and grass to recover. The herd is now in the small field behind the barn. The gate leading to the field is right out the back door of the barn next to Gem's stall, so he can see and smell the herd when the door is open. The other horses that are not turned out with the herd (Gem included) are now taking turns with the paddock and round pen. This means that Gem is only getting a couple of hours of turnout each day. That, coupled with seeing the herd so close at hand, has made Gem a very grumpy boy. Can you spell B-R-A-T??

The last couple of times I have seen him, we have had some issues with him knocking me with his head and chewing the halter and pulling it out of my hands when I am trying to put it on him. He gets squirmy when I groom him. I have to remind him not to rush me when we are walking to the arena. He’s not only pushy, but his mouthiness has caused some problems. One of the ladies who takes care of the morning chores was sweeping in front of Gem’s stall. This woman loves Gem and they have a morning ritual. He started to mouth the back of her jacket….not an unusual thing for him to do to her apparently. But this time, when he didn’t get the attention he wanted, he bit her shoulder!! I was absolutely devastated when LA told me. I almost felt sick to my stomach. For the time being, Gem has to have the top part of his stall door closed. He has company in the barn when it comes to badly behaved horses, but I never thought he would be joining their ranks. :-(

It was extremely windy yesterday. After struggling with tacking up a jiggly horse, we stepped out into the sunshine, me first then Gem. As I started to walk Gem around me so I could turn and close the barn door, he spooked. I mean reared up a couple of times and backed away from me. Fortunately, I didn’t loose the reins and had the good sense to give him some length so that he didn’t pull me off balance. I suspect that it was LA’s daughter moving around near the old barn that caught him off guard. The swirling wind didn’t help. In any case, I talked softly to him and shortened the length of the reins to get closer to him and touch him. I walked him around the yard so he could see that there were no horse eating monsters about. His nostrils were big and he was snorting. I have never seen him do that. Once I thought he was calm enough, I opened the gate and led him down to the arena. I have to admit that I was quite pleased with myself with the way I was able to calm him. I am not a freaker-outer; you want me in your corner if there is an emergency. So, I was glad he responded to me even when I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Yesterday’s ride was a 2 on a scale of 10. He was hard to keep focused. He was full of beans for sure, but he just didn’t want to work! I had brought my dressage whip with me (everyone, including LA keeps telling me that it is my friend!), but I put it down 5 minutes after I got on him. In retrospect, that was probably a mistake. He did not respond to any of my cues the first or second time and I ended up kicking a lot, which I hate. If I had had the whip, he response time may have improved. He just has to see the whip and he has an attitude adjustment. We basically fought for over an hour. I know I caved on disciplining him on numerous occasions, but I was exhausted and I sensed that he recognized this weakness. He knows that through his physical strength and stubbornness, he can tire me out. It is times like these I do feel my age and wish that I had started riding 30 years ago!

So, Spring may be here but it also means that I will probably have to put up with Gem’s grumpiness for another month while the pastures dry out. Wish me luck. Sigh…..

What was I thinking….?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Advil Mixed with Marissa

Gem was very fresh and pushy last night. He was a bit of a handful, even when tacking up for lesson. I don't know why, but I have to say it didn't really bother me. Perhaps my relaxed approach to the evening was a result of the extra-strength Advil I had taken late afternoon to stave off a headache; it took the edge off. Gem really gave me the business when we walked around the arena and when we upped it to a jog - he was leaning on the bit, squirmy, tail swishing. LA gave me the dressage whip. When Gem saw the whip, he had a bit of an attitude change. We did an amazing posting trot. His head was well positioned and he stopped fighting the bit. We were moving and grooving. It was delightful. I love the bigness of his movement.

But it was short-lived. Once again, Gem didn't want to lope. He started tossing his head, bending or backing up. I did use the whip once on his butt-inski (not very hard because it still makes me nervous!) - he bucked a bit and then loped..... beautifully. I was relaxed and felt that my balance was pretty good. We went around the arena twice!! Yipee!

LA had poles and a cavelletti set up, so all of us were excited. It's a nice change from the usual lesson. We walked the course first:
  • Over 4 poles
  • Wind through 3 upright poles
  • Walk into a "box" and do a 360 turn
  • Over the cavelletti (set at the lowest setting)
  • Walk in between two poles and then back out
  • Do a side pass over a pole
Cool, eh? Gem was interested. He likes poles, so I was feeling pretty good about this. Doing parts of the course at a jog was a bit of a challenge. The course seemed a bit tight for his size, but we did our best. We managed to knock the poles out of position the first time in the 360 box and we walked over the cavelletti instead of jogging over it. When we came to the pole that we were supposed to step over and then do a side pass, Gem tossed his head around and started pawing at it, eventually rolling it up his other front leg and biting it. It was hilarious. We were killing ourselves laughing.

When my turn came up again, LA told me she wanted to see us jog over the cavelletti, not walk. Darn, I didn't think she had noticed. :-) We approached the cavelletti at a jog and Gem jumped over it....I mean JUMPED like he did the last time. I lost my stirrups and almost came out of the saddle. I didn't freak out and kept moving at a jog. The crowd was cheering at how big Gem's jump was. He was really getting into the spirit of things. We went through the course again at a jog, and this time I just relaxed and let it happen.....was this the Advil talking again?? He jumped it again and it was beautiful. I did not loose my stirrups and I actually felt OK when we landed.

Because his jump was so much bigger than the other horses, LA told me she was making the cavelletti higher for us. There was a brief moment of panic, but then I remembered what Marissa at Tucker the Wunderkind said the last time we jumped: "I do have to scold you though, because in my experience if a trainer suggests that we do something, it means we're completely capable of doing it (regardless of whether or not we think we're ready). Next time LA suggests that you try something outside your comfort zone, I think you need to shut your brain off and follow orders." OK, Marissa. Deep breath and off we went.

LA was yelling instructions at me as I completed the upright poles and headed towards the cavelletti. I guess in my excitement, I cued Gem into a LOPE. Yep, a lope. I didn't panic (WTH??). We jumped the cavelletti at a lope! Up and over. I couldn't believe it. My classmates were yelling and LA came over to us and gave me a high-five. I couldn't stop smiling.

When class was over, Gem and I helped LA bring the poles to the back of the arena; while still in the saddle, LA would hand me the end of the pole and Gem and I would drag it over to the pile. It was a good exercise. Geez, those poles are heavy!

What a great lesson. I have no idea why Gem was grumpy and pushy when we first started out, but it didn't bother me or set the tone for a tense lesson. Perhaps the confidence I gained at last lesson saw me through this one. Perhaps the Advil I took relaxed the tense muscles I get after a long day at work enough to let me ride like I should? Do they make an Advil equivalent for horses??? :-)

We came to the conclusion at Beers and Burgers that Gem could have a career as comedic relief for other a jumper....or as a logging horse. I have no real stiffness or whiplash today. I am still amazed at my accomplishments last night and am wondering if taking Advil should become part of my normal routine on Tuesday nights. Will Advil become my version of "Mother's little helper"....? If it means that all my lessons will be as awesome as last night, then it just might! :-)

What was I thinking....?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Melissa, the Mummy Sleep and the Mare

Well, I was in Toronto for part of the weekend with my sister. We went to see Melissa Etheridge perform at Massey Hall. We caught the 5:45 a.m. train on Friday morning. With the train leaving that early in the morning, I had to do the Mummy Sleep. What is the Mummy Sleep, you ask? Well, it means that I shower, reapply my make up and fix my hair before I go to bed and then sleep in the same position (on my back) until the alarm goes off (in this case 4:15 a.m.). The Mummy Sleep allows me to sleep up to the last possible moment. All I have to do is throw on my clothes (ironed the night before), brush my teeth and apply lipstick when I get up. When I arrive at the train station, I am the best looking one there. :-)

Business class is very civilized. I love it. You get served a hot breakfast and fresh coffee. The seats are big and adjustable. When you have to spend about 4 hours on the train, it's nice to be comfortable.

Wow. What a performance. Melissa really knows how to rock it out. She did every one of my favourites and they sounded pretty much like the recorded version. Quite an accomplishment considering she had a drummer and two guitarists backing her up. She sang and played solid for over two hours. Where does she get the energy????

Serena Ryder, a very talented young lady, opened for Melissa. I believe she is touring in the U.S., so if she comes to a place near you I would highly recommend you go see her. It was evident that Melissa and Serena shared a professional affection for each other. Melissa called Serena back out on the stage a few times. Serena said, when she first came out to the cheers of her home-town audience, that this experience was a dream come true and never in a million years did she think that she would be touring with someone like Melissa. Serena proves that wishes do come true if you wish hard enough and work hard enough. :-)

The train going home Saturday night was just as delightful and I pulled into my driveway around midnight. I got up as usual Sunday morning to go riding, but 8 hours of sitting in a train, 3 hours sitting at a concert, hours of sitting in pubs and restaurants and shopping on Saturday afternoon had taken it's toll on my back. I went out to the stables with the intent of just grooming my boy. When I arrived, half of the parking lot was a swamp, a result of the warmer temperatures and pouring rain last week. I was sinking up to my ankles in places.

As I was brushing Gem, a retired couple arrived. The woman had on a white micro-fiber ski jacket, with suede boots. The man had on a nice windbreaker and leather shoes. Not appropriate barn wear, and I wondered how they managed to get to the barn without getting a speck of mud on their clothing or shoes. I found out when I went to the clean room and saw their car parked in the private parking space next to the house; they bypassed the mud by driving right up the lane way. Who were these people?? As it turns out, they are the owners of a 3-year old mare that LA is training for them. The mare is gorgeous and has the stall right across from Gem. She very friendly, but apparently has not been exposed to a lot and can be very spooky. I have a rescue dog like that and it's taken almost 3 years to get him to the point that he doesn't go absolutely crazy when we have company over or the door bell is rung.

They cooed over their pretty girl, but didn't touch her very much, I guess because they didn't want to get dirty. :-) LA arrived and saddled up their horse and off they went to the arena. Yep, everyone got muddy. :-) LA showed the couple what she had been working on. I found out that the woman had bought this mare for herself! I get the impression that the woman and her husband bought property when they retired and I guess they would like to keep horses and ride. The horse was an impulse buy; she is pretty.

LA has worked with the mare for six weeks and was now finished with her evaluation. Although there have been vast improvements with the mare's ground manners, there are still issues when being ridden. She told this couple that the mare was too much horse for the woman. LA suggested that she sell the mare to a more experienced rider (LA would recommend someone) that could provide the training required to work the mare through her issues and that she buy horse for herself that was really broke. Or, she could leave the mare with LA (or another trainer) to train over the next 6 months and then re-evaluate. It's got to be tough to hear, but LA wants what's best for both the horse and the woman. The pretty mare, at this point, would be a dangerous ride for the woman. It makes me a little angry at the irresponsible person who sold them the mare. Clearly this couple did not understand what they were getting into and they were taken advantage of. I will give the couple credit, though, for recognizing after the fact that they needed help.

Personally, if that mare was mine, I know what my decision would be; I would continue having LA train her. I would look at it as an investment in my future with her. But, this couple are a little bit older than me, so are they willing to give up at least a year of their plans? Time seems to be in shorter supply after you cross the 50 least in my opinion. :-) I think either way, the mare will come out the winner. I am wondering what the mare's owner will decide.....

What was I thinking....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Glow of Success

My lesson last Tuesday had some successes but also had some losses. Gem is working hard at not working. I think he's beyond bored. The weather here has been crazy. Turnout time has been reduced at times because of treacherous conditions. Gem and I have been on ONE trail ride this season. I mentioned this to LA and last week she pulled out the poles and caveletti's. It was a good lesson when it came to trotting and weaving through the poles. Lots of fun. However, loping was not so great. Transitioning to a lope - no problem. Keeping him moving - exhausting. Gem just does not want to lope.

LA: Kick his butt!!
Me: I'm trying!!
LA: That's not kicking!
Me: You are killing me!
LA: Keep him moving! Don't let him slow down!
Me: I'm doing my best!
LA: Do better!
Me: You are a witch!
LA: I don't care! Don't let him win!

Well, Gem won...more than once. I was beginning to take his resistance personally. I could barely walk the next day. So, knowing that LA was going to be riding him on Friday, I asked if I could join the Saturday afternoon class just to keep up the training momentum. Gem and I had to iron out some minor wrinkles and we both needed to get our heads in the right place. Saturday's lesson was adequate and it helped with my confidence, so I guess that's a good thing. But, again, I was exhausted from fighting with him when it came to loping. It is not in my nature to get "rough" with an animal and I still have a hard time with kicking. Yes, I know. Convincing a 1300 lb. animal to do something is a little different from convincing a 15 lb. dog. :-)

As much as I was looking forward to seeing my boy last night, I was sort of dreading lesson. I am at the point where my classmates are light years ahead of me when it comes to loping and I am starting to become embarrassed about it. We did our warm up, and then LA said we were going to lope. LA told my classmates they were going to practice loping in small circles and then try to do some lead changes. Then, she looked at me.

LA: You are going to go around the arena twice at a lope.
Me: I am??
LA: Yes.
Me: You mean, tonight? (gulp)
LA: Yes.

We walked large and then the first in line would lope off while the rest of us continued walking. My turn came up really quickly. I actually felt pretty good as we took off; butt was in the saddle and I didn't feel like my hands were all over the place. We took the first corner well and didn't loose steam as we caught up to the group. An observer told me that Gem looked beautiful loping. :-)

We all did a couple of more practice runs and then my classmates started to learn how to do lead changes. Pretty cool to watch. I was sort of hoping that I could fade into the background and let my three classmates be LA's focus. No such luck. A 16.0hh 1300 lb. black horse sort of sticks out amongst 900-1,000 lb. 15.0hh sorrel horses. I was told to start loping and to go around twice. I tried. And, I tried. Every time, Gem would cave about one and a half times around and turn into the middle with me loosing stirrups or getting the saddle horn in my gut. It was a blatant case of him wanting to be with his friends in the middle. No amount of making him walk in small circles or backing him up made a difference to his pattern. I accepted defeat. LA did not.

She asked BF to start loping and when he was 1/4 way around the arena, she asked Jean to follow him at a lope. When they were a 1/2 arena length around, she told me to kick that black beast's arse and get him moving. And, I did.

Gem's demeanour changed immediately. When he realized that we were following other riders, he became interested. A new game! His ears went up. His body became lighter and his lope softer. I relaxed and just let him do his thing. The chase was on!

I felt good as we went around the arena the first time. I barely had to use my legs (thank goodness!). Gem's movement is big, so the 1/2 arena length between us and BF and Jean was closing quickly. Gem was sort of prancing while he loped, obviously enjoying himself. I was enjoying him.

LA and CA were yelling words of encouragement from the middle of the arena. As we continued around the arena, the gap between us really started to close. Gem was doing his Seabiscuit impersonation. LA started yelling for BF and Jean to ride faster! BF and Jean were pretty much doing a hand gallop as Gem and I followed closely behind.

GEM AND I WENT AROUND THE ARENA TWICE!!! As we crossed the "finish line" and I said "eeeeeeasy', Gem rounded his neck and tossed his head a couple of times as he slowed to a trot. Clearly, he was pleased with himself. I couldn't stop smiling! BF, Jean and CA were yelling congrats. As I gave my boy' mane a big rub, I thanked LA profusely for coming up with a solution that allowed me to reach my goal.

I was a Chatty Cathy during burgers and beer after lesson. I was elated and my classmates let me run on. :-) We came to the conclusion that Gem just doesn't want to work if his friends aren't. Why should they get to stand in the middle of the arena? He gets bored and needs a challenge. It also became apparent during the feedback that I am in awe of my horse's beauty....but that's another post. For now, I am still in the glow of the memory of last night. The sore back and legs are sooooo worth it!

What was I thinking....?