Monday, April 30, 2012


Boy, the weather has still been a bit cool here.  In fact, we had snow last week!   But there is a positive that comes out of the cooler temperatures.....I appreciate that the bugs have been kept at bay.  :-) 

Gem and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary last week.   I wish I could say that we celebrated with a great lesson. :-(   I have been in weekly lesson for almost 4 years now, and have been riding Gem for 3 of those years.  The first couple of years, I was concentrating on myself really....trying to learn how to sit and stay in the saddle.  :-)  When it comes to lesson, Gem has moments where he is a delight to be around and I can really feel the magic of a partnership.  But, regularly he has moments of rudeness and pushiness and wants nothing to do with the task at hand.  I can tell what kind of ride it's going to be like from how mouthy he is when we tack up.  :-)

Well, the last 2 lessons sucked.  Gem pinned his ears more often than not at the other riders if they got within 6 feet of his personal space.  Trotting and loping were not on his agenda.  Head tossing was a regular occurrence. Last week's lesson was so horrible, in fact, that I seriously considered quitting lessons right then and there.  

I admit that I am a push-over when it comes to disciplining Gem because I am not comfortable with some of the methods used by other riders at my barn.  I am not into aggressive kicking, smacking or pulling of reins.   I know people roll their eyes when they see me trying to convince Gem to work with me.  I am not adverse to a swift kick if necessary or the use of my crop on his shoulder to keep him focused.  But, bottom line is I would like him to want to do what I ask. 

I steamed about last week's lesson for days.  Yep, it was that bad.  I replayed our usual lesson routine in my in my head trying to figure out what the heck was going on.  Yes, Gem suffers from the spring grumpies, but I realized that his behaviour is nothing new; he has always acted this way.  Why hasn't he improved in this area??!  Why is it regularly a test of wills when we are in lesson?  It's a hard pill to swallow when you can see improvements in so many other areas, but he still has a tendency to act in a discourteous manner towards me when it comes to lesson.  As I racked my brain, my inadequacies as a rider started to bubble to the top and I felt my confidence start to diminish.  Yep, I must be the worst rider ever. My horse doesn't want to ride with me.  Just as I started to sink into the depths of my pity party, I started to think of the great trail rides we have had together over the last 8 months.  It doesn't matter what the weather is, he loves going out in -12C or 28C.  He loves watching the wildlife and the golfers and I love watching him. Truly in that area we have grown more and more in our relationship.  And, that's when the penny dropped.....

Gem doesn't like lessons.  Period.  When I push rewind and think about our lessons in general, I see a horse that is trying hard to tolerate a repetitive situation, but sometimes he just can't. I believe his rude attitude is one of boredom.  When we warm up or are in the loping part of our lesson, I can almost feel him thinking, “what the heck is the point of this?”  He knows the lesson routine too well and will anticipate what is up next without me cuing him.  If poles are part of lesson, he is a different horse.  He enjoys the change and it shows in his willingness to participate.  He has fun trotting and loping over the poles or weaving through them.  Gem needs a purpose and to feel accomplishment.  Running around in circles doesn't quite do it for him.

One of my blogger friends (sorry, I can't remember who!) mentioned a while back that he might be bored.   Up until now, I didn't understand.  I assumed that horses didn't mind being in an arena or in lesson.  When they aren't out with the herd, the horses that Gem rides with in our lesson are trained lesson or ex-reining horses who have spent many years in an arena environment.  Their calm work attitude is what I based my assumption on.  But, in his first life, Gem was out 24/7 and when he was ridden, it was out on the trails.  He only started spending time in an arena when he partnered up with me.  

 The vet who gave Gem is pre-purchase exam and the vet  that I use here both said that Gem is really smart and would need to be challenged.  My job was to make sure he used his powers for good instead of evil.  :-)  I thought being in lesson would be challenge enough for him, because it sure was for me!  :-)  I can see now that I was mistaken.   But what to do?  I want to continue taking lessons because I do believe they serve a purpose for both of us.   I will continue to ask LA if we can include poles in our lessons to add some variety.  But what do I do to keep him interested and focused during those lessons when poles are not included??    I am frustrated that I can't convince Gem that if he does homework with me, our rides, inside and out, will be soooooo much better.....Any ideas??!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Stu Update!

Well, Stu has been at the barn for over two months now!  Can you believe it?  How time flies. 
Bringing him to LA's was a piece of cake.  We met the transporter (recommended by an acquaintance) at  Handsome Farmer's place. I went along to keep Jean from crashing her car in the excitement and seeing Handsome Farmer again was a bonus.  ;-)
Hey, Mom's here!
Where are we going??
The transport guy was terrific.  His trailer was big enough for Stu and very clean and maintained.  In fact, this guy owns Canadians, so he couldn’t be bad, right?  :-)  Stu loaded without issue.  Whew!  Now the ride home.  Jean thanked the handsome farmer and basically sprinted to the car.  I shook hands and thanked Handsome Farmer for…oh, I don’t know….being handsome, I guess.  ;-)

We arrived at the LA’s first.  Word had spread and a small crowd had started to gather in anticipation.  They weren’t disappointed.  Stu unloaded like it was nothing and although you could tell he was a bit nervous, he was well behaved.  Everyone was oooh-ing and ahhhhh-ing. 
Watch the ice!
 Jean walked him up and down the lane a few times.  It was icy, so she took him into the arena.  There were quite a few riders in there and he handled it well.

First time in an arena!

Hello, there....
 Stu was a little skittish, but was well behaved.  LA and Jean took him to the round pen and let him run around a bit to stretch his legs.  It was decided to put him out with the herd later that afternoon.  As he calmly started to walk towards the the hay pile, all the horses looked over at him and started to trot over.  It ended up where everyone was trotting behind Stu!  Hilarious!  It was wonderful to watch 20-odd horses following the larger horse.  One horse did challenge Stu but it seemed to sort itself out as we watched.  LA headed back to the arena and Jean and I watched the herd dynamic for a bit longer.  Stu eventually started trotting through the bush out of sight, so we made our way back to the arena. 

Handsome Farmer warned Jean that Stu was hard to catch out in the field and that was what Jean decided was her first priority.    In fairness to Stu, yes, he was hard to catch as an individual, but only because he was used to being brought in with his driving team as a group, sort of follow the leader.   Jean was out there pretty much every day, in freezing weather, sometimes for hours trying to catch Stu, while other horses swarmed her.  Occasionally, I would join her, either gently steering Stu in her direction or keeping the other horses from interrupting.  It was really hit and miss.  Jean went through bags and bags of carrots.  :-)

Over the first few weeks, Stu got more used to Jean and would stand next to her or follow her around like a puppy.  Hooking up the lead was still hit and miss.  When she was able to hook him up, she brought him into my barn and put him in the cross-ties (new to Stu) and groomed him.  Or, if the arena was empty, she would take him in there and walk him around on the lead.  The breakthrough came when LA moved all of the horses into the small field behind the barn (Gem's usual turnout) to allow the grass to grown in the pastures. By that time, the hierarchy had been decided (Stu's upper/middle),  he had a girlfriend (Lucy) and he was eating and putting on weight.  Life was good.  In his content state, he began to relax more and more.  Jean didn't have to walk over miles of acreage to find him.   Eventually, one day when Jean entered the field, he walked over to her and let her hook up the lead rope.  Yay!!!    I commend Jean for her patience.  BTW, putting Gem out with the herd a couple of times a week was delayed until the herd goes back out.

It is funny to see Gem next to Stu.  Height-wise, Stu doesn't seem that much taller to me than Gem.  However, he probably outweighs Gem by about 200 lbs now.  Stu's head must be twice the size of Gem's!  In fact, Gem looks like a chiseled dainty Arabian-type horse next to Stu!  Gem is not completely sold on this new guy.  In fact, he has tried to take a nip out of Stu when Jean walked Stu by Gem's stall!  Stu didn't even bat an eye at Gem's rudeness. 

To expose him to barn life, Jean brought him out to the front paddock the other day.  Three young ladies were riding in there while others watched.  If Stu could have climbed into Jean's lap he would have!  It wasn't that he was dancing or spooking, but every time a rider would come near, he would sort of try to put his head down on Jean's chest or under her arm, just like a dog.   It took a sec for Jean to figure it out, but she believes his nervousness was because he's just not used to seeing people ON horses!  LOL!   He will definitely be getting more exposure to that!  :-)

Stu's progress has been great.    Look what he has accomplished over the last couple of months:
  • Coming to Jean to be hooked up to the lead.
  • Standing in cross-ties.
  • Standing for periods of time to be groomed.
  • Allowing his feet to be cleaned regularly.
  • Had his feet trimmed without the use of stocks (our farrier rocks!)
  • Had his teeth floated (Apparently they were done when he was younger, but Handsome Farmer had never had them done while Stu lived with him.)
  • Free-lunging in the round pen.
  • Spending time in the arena, even when snow was sliding down the sides.
Next up:  Now that he's comfortable with the lead, Jean will start working him on a lunge line.  She is going to have LA show her how to lunge properly.

Stu has such a lovely demeanor about him and everyone loves him.  Jean and I have been together on this horse journey and I am very pleased for her.  Despite the negative nellies at the barn, I think that Stu came into Jean's life for a reason.  Jean was searching for something and I think Stu might just be her answer.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Thoughts are with Wiola over at Riding Instructor's Diary.  She had to say good-bye to her lovely Kingsley.  If you have a chance, please show her your support.  Very sad.  RIP are now pain-free.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pain In The A**

This past long weekend was actually horse-filled, which was….FABULOUS!  I was able to ride Saturday, Sunday, Monday and lesson last night.

Saturday and Sunday were nice long trail rides.  The weather couldn't have been better; slight breeze, temps around 12C. Geez, it seems like yesterday the fields were covered with snow and ice.   I rode with DH's Mom both days.  Now, remember how Gem doesn't like mud?  I was a little apprehensive that our ride was going to include a lot of mud.  However, the week of windy weather had dried up a lot of the usual spots and it wasn't the deep sucking mud that it usually is this time of year.  Nice.  As we were maneuvering our way around the bushes and soggy terrain on Saturday, we came up to the little pond.  Last summer was so dry that the pond completely dried up.  DH's Mom deviated off the path and started to walk towards the pond.

Me:    Where are you going??!!
DH's Mom:   To the pond.
Me:  WHY?! 
DH's Mom:  Come's just a pond.
Me:  There's MUD around there.
DH's Mom:  If he doesn't want to come over, he won't.  Let him try.

Gem had walked through the pond once before when I first got him.  What the heck.  I loosened the reins and encouraged him forward.  Well, didn't Gem walk through the mushy ground and right into the water!  He stood in the middle of the pond and started pawing at the water, splashing DH and DH's Mom.  He put his nose in the water and when he raised it, he did the Flehmen thingy.  Hilarious.  He thoroughly enjoyed it!  We visited the pond again on Sunday.  :-)

I rode in the arena with STA on Monday and I had lesson last night.  I usually ride two times a week, three if I am lucky - Tuesday (lesson), Friday (maybe) and Sunday (trails).  My rides are spread out during the week.  Riding 4 days in a row takes a toll on this old body.  After the first two days of putting my saddle on Gem, the third day was difficult for me.  My injured shoulder rebelled against the motion of lifting the saddle and I needed assistance.  I have bruises that I can't account for.  My legs were stiff.  My injured shoulder affects how I carry my 100 lbs saddle (OK, I may be exaggerating a bit on the weight of my saddle) and I twisted my ring finger trying to put my saddle back on my rack; it hurts like crazy when I hold my reins (or type!).

And to top it off, the rough trails made my lower back zig and zag, which gave my sciatic nerve just the excuse it needed to cause me pain.  Not sure if any of you suffer with sciatica, but mine tends to shoot down my left butt cheek.  When my sciatica flares up, I tend to walk with a limp, accompanied with a lot of ouches and grimaces.  Very attractive - not!  Getting on Gem last night for lesson was a bit of a challenge and posting trot was a no go.  I did lope a little, but the sharp pains radiating down into my butt prevented me for duplicating my loping-over-the-poles routine....which actually made me mad because everyone else was having confidence issues with this exercise and I knew I could do it!!  Damn you, Sciatic Nerve!!! (shaking fist)  You ruined an opportunity for me to show off!!

So today, I am basically sitting on one butt cheek at my desk.  Even my lovely Mirra chair, designed for back support, can't help reduce the discomfort I am feeling right now.   Is the pain worth it?  Absolutely.   It's not all bad though.   As Fernando says, "It's better to look good than to feel good."   I got my hair cut and it looks fab....really!....everyone says so!   ;-)

Life Lesson:  More often than not, "gifts" come with a price.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Look, Ma! No Hands!

We are back to more seasonal weather here. I am grateful that I didn’t packed away all of my snugly riding clothing. :-)   Last Tuesday’s lesson was…just OK. Gem and I were not working together. Granted, my shoulder was really bothering me (yes, I have started physio), which I am sure made my whole body stiff. I did get a really nice, slow jog from Gem. It was a pleasure to be sitting on him. I have to say that it has taken a lot of work but, more often than not, he can jog just like a quarter horse. :-) My loping, on the other hand, was horrible.

When I loped, my arse was way up in the air, my hands flaying around, and with all the flapping they were doing my arms should have had feathers on them to fly me away. I couldn’t seem to help myself. I looked like some crazed person. It couldn’t have been comfortable for Gem. He let his displeasure be known by some head tossing when I asked him to lope.  I couldn’t seem to do what LA wanted me to. It was a tiring.

Towards the end of the session, LA had me dismount and she got on Gem. As she loped him, she exaggerated how I am riding him (apparently I look like a deranged madman) and showed me how to correct it.  I need help and I immediately booked a private lesson with LA for Sunday morning. BTW, Gem looked beautiful as she loped him in a small circle. :-)

At burger and beers after lesson, my nervous classmate asked me what I thought of LA riding Gem.

  Me:  It was great to see him from that perspective.   He looked beautiful.
  NC:  Yes, it's great to see what he's capable of when he's ridden properly. 

WTH? I know that she doesn't mean to be rude, but still.... Anyway, I was able to deflect any comments about Gem being disrespectful because of his head tossing by concentrating the conversation on Jean and her progress with Stu (update coming soon!!).

I was pumped for my lesson on Sunday. My body wasn't tired like it was Tuesday night. We were in the arena. The focus of the lesson was to work on not depending on my reins for balance when I loped. We did our warm up and then we worked on correcting Gem. The concept of this exercise is not unfamiliar to me, but I haven't really put it into practice. I jogged Gem large on a very loose rein. That in itself was a bit weird for me. I didn't realize what a security blanket my reins are!!! When he made a decision to disregard my leg, I had to turn him in the opposite direction and do small circles until I could feel him give and then start on our way again. This was to tell him that he doesn't make the decision on where we are going and if you disregard my message then I will make you work harder.  It was at this point I saw that my nervous classmate was watching my lesson. Boy, I could just hear the conversation afterwards about how many times Gem had to be corrected. Sigh. I quickly gave my head a shake and got back to focusing on the task at hand. Eventually, Gem caught on and we were much better at going large without him disregarding my leg and straying off the path. 

Next up was loping. My loping has always been hit and miss.  I was looking forward to having one-on-one instruction in this area.  Asking Gem was easy and he was on the correct lead each time (yay!).  An issue that I have is that in my effort to "push" Gem on with my butt in the saddle, I start leaning further and further back. To compensate for this imbalance, I pull on the reins to right myself. Pulling on the reins actually pulls my butt out of the saddle and Gem's head back.  See, it's all connected!

LA told me to lope on a very loose rein. I was nervous, thinking that Gem would take off at a gallop. LA reassured me that there was no where for him to go if he did. :-) Off I went.  It wasn't bad. I started to relax.  Gem was steady and I was actually able to do small circles by just opening up the (long) inside rein. Nice. :-)

Then LA informed me that I was going to lope with no hands. Pardon?? She came over and tied my reins in a knot and looped them over the horn of my saddle, with the instructions that I could keep my hands on my thighs as we loped large.

Me:  Have you completely lost your mind?!
LA:  You have been basically riding without your reins all lesson.
Me:  Maybe, but that was mostly at a jog.  Loping is completely different. You can't lope without holding on the the reins.

I glanced over and saw my nervous classmate watching me.

LA:  Stop trying to talk yourself out of it.  Keep your butt in the saddle and lope....

And I did.  I started with my hands on my thighs.  It wasn't body was actually balanced.....I mean really balanced.  I felt secure in the saddle.  WTH?  Gem was even and steady, his neck relaxing.  We went around the far end of the arena and with LA yelling encouragement, my confidence the point that I eventually lifted my arms up and straight out from my sides (imagine "I'm King of the World!!).....around the other corner and right passed my nervous classmate.  :-)   

I completed one full circuit of the arena!  I couldn't believe what I had just done.   It was exhilarating.  I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.   I tried it again and managed to do 3/4 of the arena.  I could absolutely feel the difference in how I was sitting in the saddle.  I now know what it feels like to be balanced; something to strive for.

 When I dismounted, I hugged LA and thanked her.  How fortunate am I that I have an instructor that seems to know when to push me?   My nervous classmate was very excited for me, too.  You know what?....maybe my little no-hands display has been as inspiration for never know.  In any case,  I am guessing that the conversation over burgers and beers after tomorrow's lesson will be a little more positive about my skills.  I can hardly wait!  :-)