Monday, April 29, 2013

Face to Face

Friday I met DH's Mom and we rode in the huge front paddock.  It was busy.  Lots of riders taking advantage of the nice weather.  It was a good ride.  I am trying to practice loping and Gem and I went around the paddock a couple of times.  My arse was up in the air on occasion and there were times where my hands/arms were flapping around.  I am hoping that practice will give me a more consistent seat. :-)  As I was untacking, LA asked me when we were going out on the trails.  She made some jokey comments about getting me wet in the swamp and how Gem was going to swim the pond.  I could feel anxiety starting in the pit of my stomach.  When we confirmed Sunday morning, she invited DH's Mom and another boarder to come along.  Now my anxiety really started to build.  It's one thing to work one-on-one with LA, but to have two others on the ride puts pressure on me to "perform".   I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic and sort of like the kid whose parent throws them in the water to teach them to swim.

Sunday arrived and I did my best to relax at the barn.  I didn't want Gem picking up on my nervousness.  My muscles were tense.  Vodka soda wasn't really an option at 10:00 in the morning, so I opted for 2 extra strength Advils instead.  :-)  DH's Mom knows of my mud anxiety and was kind and supportive as the four of us started out.  LA was leading with myself second and DH's Mom and the boarder bringing up the rear.  The chatter actually relaxed me quite a bit and as we walked through the muddy entrances to the different fields and the wet spots in the forest without incident, I was feeling better about the ride.  

We exited the forest on the swamp side.  OK, my heart rate started to increase.  I took a couple of deep breaths. The ground was still quite wet and spongy.  I gave Gem a bit more rein and let him lower his head to see where he was going.  Then we came to a very wet, squishy black mud patch.  He stepped into it and then "popped", as DH's Mom described it.  It was sort of a hop over the mud.  Now my heart was really racing.  But you know what?  He didn't go racing off like a lunatic as I had envisioned when I think of mud encounters.   And, my butt stayed in the saddle!  

While I was still trying to get my wits about me after Gem's pop, I watched LA, who was a little ahead of me, make a sharp left off the soggy path and start across the creek.  Wait a friggin second!!!  No one said anything about a creek!  I watched her cross, the water coming up to her horse's belly.  I froze.  DH's Mom went next.  Gem stood and watched his turnout buddy trot through, splashing water everywhere.   Now, where we were crossing the creek wasn't very wide; maybe 10 -12 feet.  But the banks were sort of steep.   LA was loudly encouraging me to come across.  I just stood there and it was on the tip of my tongue to tell her to go fly a kite.  Then she said something that was like a slap in the face.  She told me I needed to trust my horse.  I took a couple of deep breaths and then asked Gem to walk on.  He lowered his head, gauged the slope of the bank perfectly and we walked through the water and up the other side without issue.  Everyone clapped and yahoo'd.  LA reminded me that I could smile now, which and I did.  :-)  Gem got lots of "good boy" and scratches.  The boarder came across and we all stood and chatted for a minute.  

There is no trail on this side of the creek, so we had to go back the way we came.   I was to lead, so I turned Gem around and tried to get him to walk through.  He resisted and started to back up into the other horses.  My heart rate started to increase.  LA pointed out that my anxiety had me pull the reins up to my mid-section and when I applied pressure with my legs, I was asking him to back up.  Duh.  I took a deep breath, relaxed the reins and he walked forward and through the creek without issue.

LA's Australian Cattle Dog was with us on the ride.  He was in constant running mode the whole time we were out.  The energy this dog has is incredible.  As we left the creek and headed back into the forest, the dog bounded out from some shrubs and basically ran under Gem's head.  We were both caught off guard and we both spooked.  Gem did a couple of BIG side and front steps and I know I made some sort of noise.  But he calmed down immediately and I stayed in the saddle.

When we got to the loping field, I asked the others to wait while Gem and I walked by ourselves around the field.  Again, this is to help me with MY separation anxiety when out on the trails.  :-)  No problemo!  We continued on to the orchard side of the property and we all waded into the pond and stood for a few minutes, letting the horses drink.   The pond was a piece of cake after the creek.  :-)  

It didn't hit me until I started untacking.  I survived mud, a "pop", a creek, a spook, riding a small field solo and a pond.   I faced my fears and I stayed in the saddle.  :-)  Facing fears is always the hardest the first time.  I know it will get better each time I face them.  And, Gem was awesome the whole ride.  I heard LA talking to someone outside the barn.  I walked up to her, gave her a hug and thanked her.  She smiled and I returned to my awesome horse to finish untacking him....the perfect ending to my Sunday ride.

Have a good week everyone!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It's Not You, It's Me....

We actually had a "snow day" last Friday....that's where offices close for the day due to a snow storm and people work from home so that the roads are clear of traffic.  Can you believe it?  April!  It was a bit of a "lunch bag let down" though because the storm was not as bad as everyone thought it would be.  Talk about media fear-mongering!   Anyway, the cooler temps prevailed and the mud around the barn froze up, making it quite difficult to walk on.  This week the temperatures have steadily gotten warmer and warmer and the mud has returned in boot-sucking depth and thickness.

Mud.  Gem's most hated thing out on the trails.  I decided to be proactive in getting him acclimatized to spring trail riding by asking LA if she could take him out a few times and work him through his anxiety.  We had to wait until today for the thaw to be complete and the mud and the water around the swamp to be at their most scary.  :-)

LA texted me this morning:

LA:  Morning.  I am gonna take him out today.
Me:  Yipee!  I want him ready for me to go out on the trails.

A bit later....

LA:  We are standing in the pond.
Me:  No kidding!
LA:  Ya.  He must be sick.
Me:  What?!
LA:  He didn't spook at a partridge.  It scared me! :-)


LA:  Went through the creek.  His belly is wet.  We walked all through the swamp.  What the hell?  :-)
Me:  Yay!  Keep up the good work! :-)
Me:  Was he OK with the squishy mud?
LA:  Yep.
Me:  Are you sure you are riding the right horse???  :-)
LA:  Maybe not.  lol  Next time it's you and me out on the trails. I didn't do anything except sit on him.
Me:  OK. Yes, I know it's mostly me, not him.  You want to give him another ride before we go out together in case it's a fluke?
 LA:  Yup.

In the past, Gem has tried to jump over mud, tippy-toe through it, even climb on the back of the horse in front of him (that was interesting!) in his attempt to get through a swampy part of the trails.  His mud antics have come close to unseating me a number of times.  But, LA's texts have brought it front and center;  it IS me not Gem that is really the problem.   The fact that a confident rider like LA  can take him through the swamp without Gem batting an eye shows that Gem is really not a scaredy-cat.  When I think of the mud meltdowns I have experienced, I am more convinced that I was the initiator.   My nervousness about his POTENTIAL reaction to mud percolates the moment we start out, to the point that I start to feel anxious way before we even get to the swampy bits of the trails.  Obviously, he feeds off of my anxiety.  And that can lead to a mud meltdown.   Not a good combo and not very relaxing for him or me.

I have experienced "two steps forward, one back" on a regular basis when it comes to riding Gem.  It doesn't bother me as much as it did.  This riding thing is a lot harder than it looks!  However, I think (and I am knocking on wood as I write this) we have turned a corner the last 6 months.  Honestly, the most basic training (doing squares, straight lines, turns) have helped immensely in building my confidence and improving our communication.  Having a better understanding on how and when to correct has been a god-send also and I can tell Gem respects me more.  I am hoping that now that I have more confidence in the arena, I will be able to translate that out in the fields and we can avoid mud meltdowns.  Trail riding is a big part of my riding experience, so it's time to face my fear and get on with it.

Hope you are having a good week!

Friday, April 5, 2013


Most boarders would get excited about having a long weekend.  Visions of lots of horse time, riding to your hearts content in the arena whenever you feel like it, come to mind.  It's not the case where I board.  Every long weekend, there is a clinic that lasts all weekend.  A trainer comes in to town (LA's trainer, in fact) and does one-hour sessions with riders, usually those getting ready for reining competitions.  It sort of sucks for boarders because the sessions start at 8:00 a.m. and go until 5:00 p.m.   We are allowed to ride in the arena during lunch hour, from 12:00-1:00 p.m.  In the winter, this means the arena is packed with riders.  In the summer, it's not quite so bad; the front paddock is available for the clinics, leaving the arena free.  And, of course, the trails are available.

For someone who only gets one day on the weekend to ride (Sunday), initially I was put out by the inconvenience of having the parking area overrun with trailers and being relegated to one hour of riding.  But, I have come to understand that as long as LA has these very popular clinics, it helps keep the costs down for boarders; there has not been an increase in our board rates for two years, although I am expecting one sometime this year due to the drought-induced rise in the cost of hay. 

Along with the popularity of these clinics comes, unfortunately, a lack of respect for boarders.  It absolutely boggles my mind at how disrespectful "visitors" are and how entitled they feel because they are participating in a clinic.  Here's a few examples:

A rider is not on time for their morning session, so they start late.  They insist on their full hour, so that means that everyone behind them starts late.  This means that the boarders that only have an hour to ride usually end up getting the short end of the stick.  In the past, there were many times where myself and a few other boarders had to wait outside the arena in the cold for the session to finish before we could get into the arena and then could only ride for about 30-40 minutes so that the next session could start at 1:00 p.m.

While boarders are riding during the lunch break, clinic participants feel that it is completely acceptable to lunge their horses, warming up the the afternoon sessions.  We have sometimes had TWO horses being lunged at the same time!  This is not only dangerous, but it reduces the amount of arena space where boarders can ride.

Participants will bring in their "other" horse (yes, they will trailer two horses) into the arena to ride during break because they don't get to ride or practice much in the winter because they don't have an arena.  Boarders have to accommodate their sliding stops, reining patterns, etc.

Participants will leave all of their grooming stuff, saddle stands and extra hay all over the aisle of the barn, making it next to impossible sometimes to maneuver around, particularly if you are guiding your horse out of the barn.  

Participants will tack up and then leave their horse tied to a wall-post or in cross-ties.  Then they will go watch the clinic until it's their turn, leaving the horse in the aisle for boarders to have to deal with and frankly, babysit.

There have been times when I have found a participant's horse left in Gem's stall because the owner has gone to watch the clinic.  I really, really dislike this. 

As the popularity of the clinics increased, LA had to deal with a number of complaints from boarders. She has reinforce old rules and introduced some new ones. 
  • Clinic participants are not to leave their horses unattended. 
  • No one is allowed to lunge while there are riders in the arena (this is an ongoing rule).  
  • Clinic participants are not allowed to ride during lunch break - the arena is reserved for boarders only. 
  • Trailers are to be parked off to one side.  
  • Barn aisles are to be kept clear.  
  • Clinic participants are not to touch boarded horses after handling their own without washing their hands and must bring their own water buckets.
  • Stalls are not to be used by clinic participants.
  • Sessions start on time; if the participant is late they will loose that time.
  • Visitors have to clean up their horse's poop.
So, Sunday a fellow boarder and I gained access to the arena shortly after noon.  Gem and I started our usual warm up.  As Gem and I were walking away from her, I heard my 15-year old fellow boarder say "sure, no problem" to someone.  Imagine my surprise when a clinic participant started lunging her horse, taking up 1/2 of the arena.  As Gem and I got closer to them, her horse started to freak out a bit; a perfect example of why lunging isn't permitted with riders.

Me:  (smiling) Hi there.  Lunging isn't actually allowed when there are riders in the arena.  
She:  (snotty tone, trying to get her horse under control) I am participating in the clinic.
Me:  Yes, I know.  But the lunch break is the only time boarders like myself get to ride when there is a clinic on.  Lunging your horse reduces our rideable space. It's also a safety issue.
She:  (really snotty tone and red faced) I asked her (pointing to my fellow boarder) and she said it was fine.  I am not asking for your permission.
Me: (getting bigger in my seat, looking down at her and her puny horse and in a very precise tone)  These are LA's rules and they are posted in RED on the board next to the gate.  You may want to read them and if you have an issue, please take them up with LA.

Things could have gone a lot nicer if she had just responded politely to my initial comment; after all she is a GUEST.  But no.  Bitchiness prevailed.  She stormed off, put her horse back in the cross-ties and went to complain to the other regular clinic participants, who were sitting around having lunch. (Have I mentioned that I really hate barn drama?? Sigh.)  I noticed a couple of them go to the whiteboard and take a quick look.  I have to admit that I had my fingers crossed that LA's rules were still posted (they were)!!  :-)  

I had a nice leisurely ride on Gem, using the whole arena.  Now, some of you out there may think that I was over-reacting to this woman lunging, particularly since there were only two riders in a fair-sized arena.  Well, most of the clinic attendees are regulars and should know better.  Clinic participants are told what the rules are, yet still choose to ignore them. Frankly, I am tired of the rude behaviour.  Sunday's little kerfuffle with this woman will hopefully remind these visitors of the rules and that it's not all about them.  

I told LA what happened before she went to the arena for the afternoon session.  I didn't want her blind-sided by an angry participant.  LA was supportive of my actions and indicated that she would work harder at making sure that the rules for visitors were enforced.  I felt better.  LA has a tough role to play.  It's a fine balance trying to keep all of her "customers" happy.  Boarders are her first priority, though, and I appreciate her efforts and support.   :-) 

Have a great weekend, everyone!