Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Being made an example of....

Yet another makeup lesson this past Saturday because weather did not cooperate last Tuesday evening. My lesson on Saturday was interesting. I was in with the usual "senior" riders who also happen to be beginners. I sort of liked being with riders my own age. :-) They have had about 7 or 8 lessons and are at the stage where they are learning to lope. Gem had not had much time outside on Friday due to the extreme mud conditions caused by the balmy +10C weather that melted lots of snow - it was like Spring!! He was raring to go on Saturday and a joy to ride. Here's what was really cool about Saturday's lesson - LA used me as an example throughout the lesson....and in a good way!!

"You'll notice that Wolfie is wearing spurs. She's able to wear them because her legs are quiet...."

"See how Wolfie's heels are down...."

"Wolfie is posting on the correct diagonal..."

"Notice the tension that Wolfie has on her reins...."

"That was a nice departure..."

"Wolfie is on the correct lead...."

How cool is that?!! A first for me. It was a boost to my confidence and my ego. :-)

Our lesson was not canceled last evening. It was freezing! Temperature was only around -11C, but I guess not having ridden in the evening for a while has made me soft. :-) I arrived a little early and , as usual, as I walked down the aisle, I asked "Where is my beautiful boy?" He popped is head around the corner of his stall and we greeted each other with sniffing and blowing. Then he started pushing me and mouthing my clothing. He fussed when I tried to put the halter on him - he kept biting it. He tried to rush me a bit when I opened his stall door. He was fidgety when I was grooming him. I could tell that lesson was going to be a bit of a challenge. Saturday we were back to -2C, so everything that melted on Friday turned into frozen mud and ice rinks. He has not had his usual long turnout time the last few days due to these icy, treacherous conditions and he was cranky.

So, what comes up must come down. Saturday we were a good example. Last night, not so much. He was not focused, he didn't want to jog, he was being a bit of a brat. Usually, I can just squeeze gently as I kiss the air to get him moving, but last night he ignored my requests and I had to start kicking to get his attention. When he finally did respond to my requests to jog, I managed to move him up to a pretty nice posting trot a couple of times.

Then we moved on to loping. I watched my classmates breeze around the arena; once, twice, large circles, small circles. Sigh. Now it's our turn. Our departures are fabulous if I do say so myself. From a standstill, he sort of floats in the air and takes off. Lovely. It's keeping him moving that can sometimes be the issue. Last night, he would slow down to a trot before we had completed the circle. We tried it again and again. We fought every time we loped. I push, I kick, he tells me to go fly a kite. I was beginning to feel like I was in Groundhog Day.

I did manage to get him to complete a full circle of the arena. My turn came up again way too quickly. I hadn't even caught my breath from the previous run. LA handed me a dressage whip. Gem saw the whip and there was a subtle change in his manner. I started off on my run. My goal this time was to go around twice - yes, to reach the goal I had set for myself a few months ago! With my classmates cheering me on and LA yelling instructions, I pushed and pinched and kicked my way around the arena (I did not use the whip). Every time he started to slow down, I pinched with my legs or kicked him on. I don't think my legs were very quiet. :-) We went around once without slowing to a trot and we were well on our way to completing the second round. It was within my reach....the crowd was roaring.... I started to smile.....the last bend was coming up fast.....and then as we started around it, Gem made a sharp turn into the middle and stopped dead. The turn and stop were so abrupt, that I lost my stirrups and almost went over his head, but the saddle horn in my gut and a hand on the crest of his neck stopped me from being catapulted from the saddle. I was about 6 feet short of my goal. Crap. Missed it by that much!!

I was exhausted. My legs were screaming. LA was kind enough to tell me that I had done a good job and I should take this as a win. She said riding Gem is like riding two horses and the fact that I was able to keep him moving was an accomplishment. She admitted that she has to really get on his case quite regularly to keep him loping five or six times around the arena. My jaw dropped. "You lope him five or six times around the arena?", I asked. "Yep." Cripes, LA must be friggin Super Woman.

I was stiff when I got home. The vodka soda I had last evening was the most delicious I have ever had. :-)

So, not a stellar performance by the Wolfie/Gem team last night and certainly not the shining example we were on Saturday. But you know what makes me smile? The fact that I was able to work through resistance and repeatedly convince a 1300 lb animal to move....and to move quickly. Yes, me! How cool is that?!!

What was I thinking....?

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentine

I had a makeup lesson on Saturday. I have to say, I was a bit nervous! My lessons and riding have been sporadic because of the weather and it seems like forever since I had a formal lesson. LA knew I was a wee bit anxious, but once I settled into the saddle it all came back to me. :-) Gem was excellent and responsive. The number of times I had to ask twice was minimal, and really it was just me refamiliarizing myself with where the buttons are. LA had ridden him on Friday, so he was loose and his mind was in the right place. Our loping was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. The two other students, who were new to me, said that Gem was beautiful and we looked good loping :-)

I was actually a bit stiff yesterday from lesson on Saturday! Wow, it sure doesn't take long for your body to forget....well, at least my body anyway. I went out to the stables late yesterday morning. His stall is at the very back of the barn. We sort of have this little routine now when I arrive. As I walk down the aisle, I watch the top of the stall divider, I say "Where is my beautiful boy? Where is he?" I can see his head come up and with his ears erect. I repeat, "Where is my beautiful boy?" and he quickly sticks his head out the top half of the stall door. When I get there, we sniff and blow at each other. We have a little chat and then I start hauling his tack and grooming supplies out of the tack room.

The ride yesterday was a bit of a non-event. There are two riders - mother and daughter - that have no manners when it comes to riding with others. I dislike riding with them. They aren't nasty, just self-absorbed and thoughtless. It was just the 3 of us in the arena, but I was only able to get up to a decent trot a couple of times. They were either loping all over the place or changing diagonal or stopping on the track to chat. At one point, the mother was loping large and the daughter was in the middle doing spinning and aggressive back up while I was trying to eek out a spot to do ANYTHING. Both of their horses are spooky, so every time snow came off the roof, they would jump. Oh, and the daughter has some weird ring tone on her cell phone. When it rang, it made ME jump along with her horse. What is with that? Aren't you supposed to have your phones turned off when you are in an arena??

We all basically dismounted at the same time. They went out ahead of me - I had to stay and do a little poop clean up. After the door was shut, I loosely looped Gem's reins around the saddle horn. I looked him in the eye and asked him to "wait". I then went and got the poop scooper and wheelbarrow and started my chore. I kept peeking at him to see what he was up to. He was interested in what I was doing, but he didn't move. I went up and down the arena and was finally able to put the wheelbarrow back. He continued watching me. I went and got my coat on (yes, I usually ride without a winter coat - yes, I am a nut), put the mounting stand back, and then turned and looked at him. He raised his head a little, looking straight at me. At this point, he had been standing in the middle of the arena for about 5 minutes. I outstretched my arms, wiggled my fingers and asked him to "come". He walked straight into my arms. GOOD BOY!!! I wrapped my arms around him and gave him big scratches. It was perfect.

This simple exercise of asking him to wait and then come was validation that our bond is getting stronger. He did it because he wanted to and, I would like to think, because he knew it would please me. :-) There have been a number of posts over the last few days about loving your horse. I loved him the moment I saw him. Absolutely. My Husband accepts that there is another man in my life. Gem obviously doesn't fall that easily...his love has to be earned. I am patient. I suspect that it will take some time still. However, based on the last couple of months and in particular this past weekend, I think he's starting to reciprocate. :-)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Getting dressed....

Shannon over at It's Quarters for Me was commenting on her Western saddle recently. I started to think about how completely intimidated I was when I first started using a Western saddle. I started out English, so a Western saddle seemed so bulky to me and awkward to handle. Actually, it still does. I admit that I am Western saddle challenged. :-) Once I am in it, though, I love it!! I thought I would share how I get tacked up. Once Gem is saddled up using LA's technique, I have no worries about the saddle slipping or sliding. It's me that I have to worry about slipping and sliding. :-)

Here's my usual routine :

  • I take my 75 lb. saddle from the rack in the tack room, making sure that I scrap my knuckles on the door frame as I walk through the door, carry it down the barn aisle, which I estimate to be about a mile long, making sure the metal stirrups smash against my legs leaving bruises and place it on the rack at Gem's stall.

Hello. Are we going to play?

Open the latch and let me out.

  • I put Gem in the cross-ties. After a good brush and hoof cleaning, I put the under pad and saddle blanket on him.

  • I hook the right stirrup on to horn, flip the girth over the seat and carry the 75 lb. saddle (OK! OK! it's only ~25 lbs) from the saddle rack over to Gem, banging the left metal stirrup against shins as I go, causing additional bruises.

  • I lift saddle basically up over my head (Gem is 16.0hh) and gently place it on my beautiful boy's back. Most Western riders simply swing the saddle up and on their horses. I tried that once. I slammed the saddle into Gem, and the bounce-back slammed me into the stall door. Yep, that left a mark.

After I recover from carefully lifting and placing the saddle down on Gem's back, I step up on my little stepping stool and adjust the saddle pad and position of the saddle - you don't want it too high on his withers, but you don't want it too far back either. I also smooth down Gem's hair under the saddle pad. You may be asking yourself, "Why doesn't she just step up on the stepping stool and place the saddle from there?" I tried that once and as I tried to manipulate the saddle, I lost my footing and stumbled off of the stepping stool and ripped one of my nails as I stopped the saddle from slipping out of my hands. Obviously, I cannot manage my balance and a 75 lb. saddle at the same time.

  • After the saddle is in a comfortable position, I feed the leather strap through the cinch buckle and then through the strap's loop.

  • Once the strap has been fed through twice, using the strength of ten mice, I slowly start to tighten it. In the beginning, this was a high risk area for me to pinch my fingers. I am better at this now.

  • When the straps seem snug, I place the buckle hook through one of the holes in the strap and pull the straps towards me to tighten and engage the hook.
  • I feed the rest of the strap through the little strap holder on the saddle.

Are we done yet???

  • I don my helmet and put the bridle on Gem. After I walk Gem to the arena, I repeat the tightening process. At this point, Gem usually looks at me and says it's tight enough. Oh, sure. I have fallen for this in the past, but I am smarter now. Yep, it only takes a couple of times of the saddle slipping while getting on to teach me that I need to check the girth prior to mounting! By the time I have tightened the girth, another 4 inches is added to the length of the excess strap.
So, there you have it. Some people like their girths really tight. I have seen some riders tighten theirs until there is almost no clearance between the gullet and the withers. I am no expert, but to me, that defeats the purpose of having a gullet. Gem's is tight, but I personally don't want it so tight he's uncomfortable. So, as I am tightening his girth, I think of a bra. Yep, a bra. You see, I know how uncomfortable it is to wear a super duper sports bra, so I can relate to how irritating it can be having something tight around your chest. However, I also understand that you have to have a snug fit to ensure that nothing really moves around. So.....I guess Gem can thank my sports bra for his comfort. :-)

What was I thinking....?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Nobles


These horses, called The Nobles, are just so beautiful that I had to do a quick post about them. My father hails from Maberly, Newfoundland and a co-worker, who also originates from Newfoundland, thought I might be interested in a recent CBC Land and Sea program on the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary mounted unit. You can feel the officers' bond with their beautiful mounts. One officer has actually postponed his normal retirement date so that he can retire when his horse does, so that he has the opportunity to take his horse with him.

I have to tell you, my eyes widened when I watched this female officer mount her 17+hh horse from the ground.....it's around the 6 minute mark of the program. Wow.

For me it was wonderful to hear that familiar accent that I find so musical, and always with a smile behind it. If you have a few minutes, take a peak. You will absolutely feel the love. :-)