Saturday, August 29, 2009

Old Faithful

Last night I went out to the barn knowing just what I needed after a couple bad rides.

I needed to ride McKinna.

First, I longed Pandora, because I wanted to get her moving after yesterday's tough workout. She was fine. A little spazzy - I had two ground poles out, one on each side of a 20m circle, and the first few times she did some leaping and hopping and general silliness. On the plus side, when she jumped over the ground poles she looked nice and pretty! Ha. Anyway, she settled down, I got about 20 minutes of nice solid relaxed work, then put her away. Today I'm going to focus on having a short, positive ride.

Then I went to ride the Wonder Pony. She has a knack for dealing out what you can take - what her rider needs isn't necessarily always a quiet, calm ride, so sometimes she challenges you. But last night I needed some quiet time. It felt like from the moment I took her out of the stall, she was just taking deep breaths, relaxed and ready to calm me down. (Yes, I'm anthropomorphizing. Sue me.) She was very quiet in the cross-ties, fairly unusual for Ms. Fidget.

My whole ride was just that: quiet, calm, relaxed. I worked on some dressage with her - some baby lengthening and shortening at the trot, just holding her in with abs and seat and then relaxing and letting her surge forward. Fun stuff. I tried it at the canter, but when she's not cantered regularly under saddle she loses a lot of her canter adjustability. Still, I got a fairly good canter, considering I haven't really ridden her since my rating.

Then I tried this turn-on-the-forehand-in-motion exercise with her. Basically, it's like you're leg-yielding around a, your horse is the spoke in a wheel, and both forelegs and hind legs must move over and cross over as you rotate. A bent sidepass? A sidepass on a curved line, instead of a straight line? Yes.

Anyway, I tried that exercise with Pandora the night of my bad dressage ride, and she wasn't having any of it. I think it was very, very hard for her: she couldn't seem to coordinate the motions, no matter how big or small I had the circle. She especially struggled with crossing her forelegs over without moving forwards or backwards. (Also I think it was a tough exercise to throw at her on a day she was feeling unfocused: I'm going to break that exercise down into smaller pieces to incorporate into our normal workout, THEN try the exercise again.)

McKinna nailed the exercise, first try, easy as cake. "What are we doing now? Oh, okay, this is kinda cool, I get it." The mare is so darned supple it's ridiculous - when I had the chiropractor adjust her a long time ago, she practically folded in half on one of the stretches. When the farrier's trimming, she could hike her hind leg up to her ears and probably still stand there casually, looking around for some hay.

I should make more time to ride them both. McKinna is great fun to ride and I would really like to make some dressage progress with her, too. With her, the main issue is a strong rein connection without a super-high neck, but I have the suspicion that most lateral work would be a breeze once we established a good connection.

Oh, and for your viewing pleasure, some (fairly low-quality) pictures from the jumping lesson. You can't see all her boots but you sure can see that fly bonnet! My mom took these with her cell phone, so the timing of the jumping picture is especially impressive.

Please ignore the dorky XC-vest-over-tanktop look. It was hot.

Whooosh. Look, she CAN reach out in the trot!

Pretty good jumping - except for her hanging knee - considering she was flying through the grid. My seat and heels are up because I was bracing with my back and thighs, but at least I'm following her mouth nicely.

Thanks for all the helpful comments on that last post. I'm sure we'll get back on track today and I will go back to the quiet, constructive rides we had been having.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Horses work in funny ways.

Usually if I'm in a good mood, I have a good ride. Or maybe it's just that I pretty much always have good rides on Pandora, so I'm always in a good mood when I go to ride. Something I fully appreciate, let me tell you - a 'bad' ride on Pandora probably would have qualified as an 'okay' ride on Bailey.


With all the thinking I've been doing lately (see my last post, whose great length and slight disorganization characterize my mind), one would assume I'd be having extraordinary rides. New ideas, new exercises, new perspectives! Well, yes, I did have one fantastic ride and a few pretty darn good ones.

Then, probably just to remind me that you can't always win, I had two pretty bad rides in a row. The first was Tuesday. There wasn't really any reason for it - I was in a good mood, I was full of new ideas, etc. Pandora just wasn't focused on me, and for whatever reason we just kept getting into small arguments with each other. Most of the blame lies with me, of course - the horse can't argue if you don't agree to argue. I was getting frustrated in a way that I haven't for a long time, either because I've gotten a lot better at being patient or just because my horse is awesome. I like to think it's mostly the former, but in reality it's probably mostly the latter. Anyway, I only meant to ride for a half hour but it ended up being an hour, and I just could not find a good note to end on, where I felt like she was really tuned in to me and listening.

Very frustrating.

Then last night, I set up a jumping lesson with one of the ladies who lives across the street from the boarding barn. Her hay field is all hayed and nice and she's got lots of jumps set up, so I wanted to take advantage of it while I still could. (We move to the new barn in two days!)

So, yay, jumping lesson. I have to say, Pandora looks amazingly cute when she's all suited up. Front boots, back boots, bell boots, FLY BONNET. Yes. I don't usually boot up that much for just plain old stadium jumping, but I figured since it was outside, I should err on the side of caution.

Our warmup on the flat went just fine. Then we started some gridwork. I warned my instructor that she was probably going to get strong, and the instructor said to just not worry about it and let her make her own mistakes. Well, she did get strong, and I did let her make her own mistakes as we continued to build up each element of the grid from ground pole to cross-rail, until I finally said, "Okay - I need to do some schooling in the middle of this grid, because she is just acting downright dangerous." She goes too fast and she completely took out a fence. Argh.

So I schooled her hard. Walk halt. Trot halt. Walk trot halt back. Trot halt back. Canter halt back. Walk trot canter halt. And so on. I was not polite about it: I want a stop and I want it when I say I want it.

So then we tried the grid again, and I gave her a very strong half-halt after the first fence. Definitely got through to her. So, we never quite got the gridwork perfect, but at least she wasn't charging through like an idiot, and she actually added the stride at the very end instead of launching herself.

Then we moved on to coursework, where she proceeded to try to run like a bat out of hell. Approaching fences wasn't too bad, but on the landing side she was just ridiculous. Completely ignoring half-halts. It wasn't like she was trying to bolt - she was just, I don't know, either excited or anxious or something, and she was completely tuning me out. I hate that.

So I did some serious schooling there, too. We trotted all the fences. Instructor had me exhale and give her the reins a few strides before the fence, which did help on the approach - she definitely likes room to breathe. But then on the landing side she'd still launch and ignore polite or strong half-halts, so I'd fight her back. I'd ask for a halt from the canter and she'd completely tune me out, so I would have to seesaw on her face, which I absolutely hate doing. I can't even tell you how much I hate doing that - it makes me sick to think about it. She throws her head up, and I can see her tongue stick out the side of her mouth. But there was really nothing else for me to do at that point other than get the point across.

We made some progress on that before we decided to call it quits for the day, as it'd been a pretty long lesson.

So it got me thinking about this sort of thing. After all, I've been thinking so much lately my head's about to explode, so what should I do but think more?

I get so easily discouraged with Pandora. Probably, again, because she's so good-natured that 99% of the time I have a pretty good ride on her. So when things really do go south, I start running through all those familiar self-doubt thought patterns. I try to break it, and usually I succeed, because logically I know that this is not the end of our training success. But it's difficult to avoid thinking that. I mentioned this in the Lily Glen post - one admittedly disastrous stadium lesson, and I was frantically rethinking every aspect of my riding with her. A couple hours later, I had a lovely dressage lesson and my fears were assuaged.

Speaking of dressage...

For some reason, Dressage is just this big ol' mysterious THING to me. It's a vast discipline with lots of history and everyone thinks they're right and there's shortcuts and all kinds of ways to do it wrong, and all I want to do is just do it right. Hard to do without an instructor, but then there's plenty of people who hang up a shingle as a dressage instructor but teach their students to just use a headset.

It should be a methodical, step-by-step process. You build the base, and you go up from there. I am getting it, slowly. Like I said, all of this minor freaking out is probably just from my bad rides the past few days. I'll have a good ride this weekend and quit worrying.

I am making progress, though. She's super nicely forward in all gaits. If I remember to back my leg up with the whip if necessary when I ask for a canter, she's liable to surge forward in a beautiful transition. I'm starting to make progress, or at least develop an understanding, with her current evasions. I know that she swings those haunches to the right when we track left, therefore avoiding loading up that left hind leg. I know I need to work systematically to supple her shoulders and hips and strengthen that left hind. I have the tools and the exercises. I even have the eyes on the ground, sometimes, because if I ask nicely my mom will watch me to tell me if Pandora is crossing over correctly or maybe even take a video.

I read a lot. I have lots of ideas swimming around in my head, tools to gymnastically develop her and sharpen her mental focus. Leg-yields around a circle, something that proved extremely challenging and frustrating for both of us last night. "Ping-pong" exercises, sending her back and forth between the sides. Shoulders-in, leg yields down the wall, trot poles, spiraling circles, transitions, turns on the forehand.

I have a plan, too. There's a lady in the area who gives dressage lessons occasionally to the Pony Club. She refuses to take payment but, from what I understand, she is also not interested in becoming a paid trainer at all, mainly (I think) because she doesn't want the time commitment. In my head I am working on a perfect speech where I will ask her to please make an exception for me, just give me weekly or twice-monthly lessons for a few months this winter and I will pay you or clean your stalls or make you dinner or what-have-you. I am hoping this will work, because some focused regular instruction for a short period of time should make a big difference.

I have a plan for the jumping difficulties as well. I am going to break that down further, too. I could just say, "She's running through my hands when we're outside so I need a stronger bit." It's tempting, and I admit the thought crossed my mind several times last night. And I'm not completely against bitting up, sometime, if it becomes clear that even with careful training she ignores her snaffle. But I don't think that's the issue here, so I plan to fix it a different way.

There's a grassy area at the new barn outside where I plan on schooling in full jumping tack. First we'll just do flatwork, nice and calm, including crisp downward transitions and immediate half-halts. Then I'll add some ground poles and work through them while expecting calmness and the same responses to aids. Then I'll add a little cross-rail or two. Etc. Until we can go through a several-fence grid out there or jump a few fences in a row without losing the brain. Most importantly to me, I can do all of this work calmly and gently, taking things gradually, so I never have to fight hard with her or hurt her or damage her trust in me by getting rough with the reins.

This is the way I prefer to train. That horrendous ride last night showed me where the big training hole exists; now, on my own, I get to take things calmly and quietly and build each piece so that we don't have to have any huge fights about it. I'll start where she can already do what I ask, i.e., flatwork outside calmly. Then I'll slowly build things up and establish the comfort level along the way.

So, you see, I face difficulties. Most of them are in my head. But I know that, and I'm working hard to get through them, and despite my frustration there is also a very dangerous sort of joy I take in working these things out for myself. Because as we resolve these challenges, I get to say to myself -- see? I worked that out. I put in the time, and the studying, and the effort, and the understanding, and together my horse and I overcame this obstacle on our own.

Just so you know, it is my goal to come out blazing at Novice level next spring. To do this I will work very hard but I am really looking forward to some serious, thoughtful, quiet dressage work this winter. It will be between me and my horse, and with a little luck occasionally with that trainer. It will be careful and methodical. I just know that if I break this down into piece by little piece, I will be able to stack them all together and come into Spring with a capability to perform something that looks curiously like real-for-real dressage.

Whew, another long post. I'll get back to you sometime soon with something a little more bite-sized. Just feeling stressed about the bad rides and I'm anxious to start working on our challenges so we can establish our positive relationship again. Planning on giving her a light day today and just longeing her, but I'll ride tomorrow and make darn sure it's a short and sweet one!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Breaking It Down

Bear with me for some training talk tonight. I am right in the thick of it. Thoughts are swimming around in my head so fast as I'm riding that I wish I had a personal assistant to whom I could dictate all the ideas.

We are almost ready to move out to the new barn - just a little over a week now. We brought home a bale of their (very, very nice) orchard grass/timothy hay to get the girls adjusted, walked their stalls and paddocks one more time, etc. The girls love the hay, naturally, and plow straight through it - I don't think Pandora will need any grain at all when she's getting fed that stuff 3x a day with supplemental alfalfa! McKinna is a bit more of a concern since she tends to get runny poop on anything richer than grass hay, but we'll see.

I have been reading and re-reading Jane Savoie's book That Winning Feeling lately. Not just the sports psychology sections, either, though those are extremely useful. Mostly this one little section on training.

I'll talk more about it later, but basically: you give a very specific cue for which there is one very specific correct response. Your horse responds in some way, either correct or incorrect. You then respond with reward (if correct) or discipline/correction (if incorrect).

Simple. Straightforward.

I say go, you go. If you don't go, I back it up with the whip. When you do go, I praise.

Obviously it's more refined. For example, when I say "go," I want immediate, uphill, relaxed transition into the next gait up without dumping on the forehand or rushing. But you build that gradually - first you insist on FORWARD, no matter what. Then you insist on FORWARD, no matter what, plus maybe not quite so fast. Then you ask for FORWARD no matter what but not quite too fast and also a little more in balance, if you please.

The praising is what really does it for Pandora. Yes, that was the right answer, what a wonderful smart horse you are! It makes up for any discipline - whip, voice, correction - that she receives for incorrect responses. She rushes, I half-halt and circle. When she doesn't rush, a quiet "good girl" and stroke on the neck is all it takes for her to try very hard to avoid rushing.

I like this pattern: cue/response/discipline-or-reward. It is simple and straightforward and best of all, extremely clear to the horse.

It gets a little more tricky for things that aren't as straightforward as "Go." Like, "Go forward on a 20-meter circle while bending correctly nose to tail at a reasonable pace and moving off my leg and not spooking at anything in the corners."

That just makes it more challenging for me. For her, I must provide a clear sequence: cue/response/discipline-or-reward. For me, I need to figure out how I can separate this into clear cues, each with a single correct response and easily identifiable ways of correcting or disciplining any number of wrong responses.

Let's take our main issue: left bend. We have been working on the simple 'Go' response, and her forward button is fantastic. In fact over the past week or so her gaits have become more powerful and forward, her rhythm more steady, my half-halts more effective, and her leg-yields much more prompt.

But bending to the left is, um, a challenge.

We got to where we could bend properly while walking on a 20 meter circle. Nicely forward, reaching into the bit, swinging with the back, stepping under herself, proper bend.

But pick up the trot, and it all goes out the window. I haven't had any eyes on the ground, but I'm pretty sure she's evading by dropping her inside shoulder, swinging the haunches out, and leaning on the inside rein by tilting her muzzle to the outside.

Extremely aggravating, I tell you. If I make her move over, she just moves that butt out further. I couldn't seem to get the shoulders out and the butt in while maintaining a good bend. It frustrated me because I couldn't come up with an appropriate, clear-cut discipline, and she was not coming any closer to giving me the correct answer no matter how many times I applied the specific aids.

So: I had to break it down.

Yesterday I had one of those weird, productive-but-frustrating rides. I was working on this left-bend problem and wasn't really getting anywhere, but I was going over it constantly in my mind, worrying at it like a dog with a really good chew toy. What I was doing wasn't working, but it felt like I was on the right track.

Today, it started working.

What's the problem? Haunches on the outside, shoulders collapsed inside, can't fix it. Okay, so not only do I need her to bend correctly to the left, I need to get control of her butt and her shoulders.

Okay. So, I need to move those haunches in, to the left. I can practice that by working on turns on the forehand - and for those, a very clear cue/response/discipline-or-reward sequence is available. Inside leg back, outside leg supports, reins keep the head straight, move the butt over. If she doesn't respond, tap with the whip.

So we work on that some, and now at least she's aware that when that outside leg goes back, I want her haunches to move over.

She already moves her shoulders when I ask her to, so that's not the issue.

I practice bend: since she can hold correct bend on a walk circle of 20 meters, I do that. Let's use the tools we have. Once I have a perfect walk with perfect bend, I ask her to trot and I hold her in that same body position. She can't hold it very well in the trot, but I can get a couple strides in and praise her. This is important. I gave her the ability to give me the right answer. Before, no matter what she did, she was never right. Now, I set her up for success, and she gets to experience a brief lightbulb: Oh, yes, that was correct!

Oh, one last thing, one I should have realized long ago. I lean to the left on turns. Duh. Left bend is a problem, I work hard to fix it, as I work hard I start to lean because I really want her to bend to the inside, and voila, my weight on the inside throws her off-balance and pushes those haunches out. Correcting this really helped.

So, end result: her left bend isn't perfect. But it's getting a lot better, she's a lot happier because she gets to give me the right answer more often (because the right answer is now smaller, simpler, and easier for her to actually accomplish), and I'm a lot happier because we're making progress and I am able to be consistent.

I think I talked about consistency in a post before. It's important.

So is praise, for Pandora at least. Super important. I'll talk about that more later, I think, but she is a totally different animal when I remember to tell her when she does something right.

I'll definitely have more on the whole That Winning Feeling thing later, too. Like I said, lots of thinking lately, but I'm sure appreciating it. This was the first dressage school in a long time where I felt like I was getting somewhere, not shooting myself in the foot from lack of experience. I should try to note what happened, so I can try to repeat Really Good Rides like this. Let's see: I was thinking really hard and applying new solutions and they worked. I was trying to understand things from Pandora's point of view and break things down really far and be super consistent. I was analytical, not emotional. I used a lot of variety. Hmm. All things to think about.

I also did some "Judge Booth Therapy" with her tonight. She is a little bit silly about judge's booths at dressage tests, something about going straight towards a big scary (truck/table/etc) with people sitting on it right at the end of the arena really freaks her out. Then she spooks at it for the rest of the ride. Easy enough to work on at home, with potentially big score results if that tension is gone in tests.

So I grabbed a plastic chair, some traffic cones, and some flower boxes and arrayed it all into a nice visually complex arrangement at the end of the arena. Sure enough, lots of hairy eyeball and sideways skitter and the like. Darn mare almost got me off once too, spooking at the combination of the "judge's box" and the barn owner's kid swinging buckets out front. Made me laugh, at least! She was much more sensible about it by ride's end. I sort of ignored it for most of the ride, just made her bend to the inside as we passed it and sometimes go down the centerline towards it. In all I think it'll be useful to get rid of this fear.

So, there's my day. Best ride I've had in awhile, I was grinning like an idiot the whole time I put stuff away. And you guys get a nice big long post, which is only about a quarter of all the crap I had going on in my head while I rode, but I'll get around to all of it eventually.

Right then - next up, the importance of praise, more on the cue/response/discipline-or-reward thing, more sports psychology fun, etc etc etc.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Questions to Ask Yourself

When I ride with a clinician, or even a regular trainer whom I haven't seen in awhile, they often ask questions designed to quickly give them a good idea of what they should do with me: What are you working on lately? What's your horse's biggest issue? What's are you trying to accomplish lately?

Since I spend so much time writing and thinking about riding, I usually have a pretty solid answer. Sometimes, though, the question catches me a little off-guard and I'm not sure how to concisely answer in a way that will best allow the teacher to help me and my horse.

In this post, I've compiled a list of questions designed to give a great deal of information in a fairly short answer. For me, it's a good way to give the most useful answer when a trainer asks a question, therefore producing the most useful teaching from them. It's also a very good way to probe your training/riding situation and get a deeper understanding of the status quo.

Here's my answers for Pandora.

What have you been working on lately?
Building up to our old levels of fitness since a short lameness, staying off the forehand, and sharpening her responses to aids. For myself, consistency in aids and correct leg position.

What is your horse's biggest weakness and strength?
Pandora's weakness: wants to be on the forehand a lot, therefore producing not-so-great dressage and a tendency to dive before fences.
Her strength is her fantastic attitude - she is always willing and ready to school dressage, try something new, or go tear up a XC course.

What is your biggest weakness and strength?
I most need to develop a consistent, correct position. Sometimes I have trouble waiting for the fence to come to me instead of jumping ahead, and I struggle with leg position in dressage work.
My biggest strength is my determination - I will always keep working towards my goals and through my fears, and scary fences won't get the best of me because if I point my horse at it, I plan to go over it.

What are your goals for the next few months?
I plan to bring Pandora back to her previous fitness levels. I will ride in a big clinic in mid-September, where I hope to learn a lot and keep up well with the other riders, and plan to take and pass my C-1 rating in October.

What are your goals for the next few years?
I plan to move up to Novice-level eventing this Spring and, assuming all goes well, Training either one or two years after. My ultimate goal is to complete a Training 3-day event during or before the summer of my college graduation.
This means we will be making a lot of progress in all three phases, especially dressage.

What would you like to learn to do?
I would really like to learn how to teach Pandora better dressage. I am sort of at my experience limit here, and I would like to be able to make sure all of the building blocks are in place and progress into First Level work.

What is your horse's most common resistance?
On the flat, leaning on the bit some but especially going crooked. While jumping, rushing at the base of the fence.

Anyone else have any good questions that you think are useful for making the rider think or giving a trainer insight? While you're at it, you should answer some or all of these questions for your own riding. Leave a comment, or if you would rather write a post about it, comment with the link and I will add it to the end of this post.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

DIY Icing Boots

So as you all know, Pandora kinda sliced her leg up in late June. For the next few days, she had three legs and a stovepipe - nothing terribly wrong, but I wanted to ice it to help it go down. Holding gradually melting packs of ice to her impatient legs whilst my fingers go numb is not my idea of a good time, nor is hosing her leg for 20 minutes which doesn't do that much good anyway because it's not cold enough, nor do I want to shell out a bunch of money for big fancy ice boots.

So after a quick search on the always-informative Chronicle of the Horse forums, I decided on my plan of attack. It actually turned out very well, and eventually I plan on buying enough materials to ice all four legs at once (for icing after strenuous work, rather than expecting an injury on each leg!).

I thought I'd share it with you, because it's a pretty neat, non-messy technique that might come in handy.

Here's the material I used, though several variations would work.

1 flexible sheet of individual gel squares (like these)
1 ace bandage (stretchy, so careful not to pull too tight)

Here are some substitutions you could probably make without much trouble:
- use large gel ice packs instead of the square-sheets I used
- make your own by double-bagging Ziplocs, filling with a water/rubbing alcohol mixture, then freezing to make a slushy/moldable ice pack, then taping several together (too much work for me!)
- use a polo wrap, track wrap, or some other wrap over the ice instead of an ace bandage

I'm sure there are plenty of other variations, too. Here's what I did.

  1. Start with a horse leg, or in my case, a horse leg that looks suspiciously like a stove pipe.
  2. If you'd like, hose down the leg to help it get colder faster. Wrap your ice sheet (this is where I think the sheet I used will be much easier than any form of large ice packs) around the leg like a regular bandage quilt.
  3. Then, just like you're doing a standing wrap, tuck the edge of the ace bandage under the overlapped area of your ice sheet.
  4. Wrap all the way down and up so the ice pack is pretty much covered, then secure. You can use the little metal hook thingies that come with ace bandages, but I lost mine so I just used a turn or two of vetwrap.
Essentially, you're doing a standing wrap, only you use a sheet of frozen gel instead of a pillow for quilting.

And you're done! Mine worked extremely well. There was no slippage to speak of and Pandora didn't mind the wrap at all - she was loose in her stall eating hay.

My only complaints are these: it melts in about 10 minutes and the ice sheets appear to have no gel in them because the frozen individual squares are pretty hard. So the sheet itself molds well to her leg, but you'd probably get better coverage with a sheet that has actual gel in it. I know they make them, but I was limited by local selection - maybe you'll have better luck. I imagine gel sheets would stay frozen longer, too.

Bonus methods:
  • Turn a bell boot upside down and bring it up over the fetlock. Fill with crushed ice. Stick a bunch of frozen otter-pops vertically in the ice so they go up the leg, then wrap over with an ace bandage, polo, or track wrap.
  • Cut the leg off an old pair of jeans. Duct tape it shut at the bottom of the area you're icing (down near the fetlock, probably), fill the whole thing with ice (plus water if you'd like), then tape the top shut. Note that the tape isn't going on the leg, it's just taping the jeans up snug so the ice doesn't fall out.
  • Here's an idea, though I haven't seen it done - buy some shipping boots a size larger than you normally would, then sew a bunch of mesh pockets on the insides that you can fill with ice or ice packs. This one seems like it would be labor-intensive at first, but super easy to use!
  • Just buy some freakin' ice boots and be done with it! :-)

Either way, I was quite pleased. Not bad for about $5.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

About Breakups. . .

Well, I said I'd post more about breakups, didn't I?

Yesterday we put in our notice at our current barn. I know, it makes almost exactly one year that we've been here. To me, that's not very long. My first boyfriend lasted a year and half - a very long time when you're fifteen - and the first boarding barn lasted almost three. One year is not a particularly long time.

But I swear if we had to go through another winter at this barn, all four of us - my mom, myself, and the horses - would go absolutely crazy.

As I mentioned yesterday, the horse world is a very very small place. This is why I try to keep complaining about anyone or anything to a very vague minimum, and I haven't mentioned the many many times over the past six months that we've gone to look at potential new barns. This is also why I won't complain too much about the current barn in this post, but I will definitely explain the main reason. It is not a value judgment against the barn owner, just a personal preference that is unfortunately impossible to fulfill at our current location.

My horses need to go outside.

I mean it.

Pandora and McKinna were in their stalls for approximately 23 hours per day this winter. At least four months straight. Every day when we arrived, we put them in the arena to let them work off some steam while we took care of stalls. Every day, they ran and bucked and generally acted like idiots, because they'd been standing in their stalls all day and night. Pandora took to flipping her head in her stall, which drove me nuts, but can you blame the girl?

Right now, they're out 24/7 in a paddock, and it's great. Sure, I'd prefer a safe pasture with well-maintained grass, but grass year-round is practically an impossibility in the very soggy Willamette Valley. They're cheerful. We feed them extra hay, because the 4 flakes per day included with board just isn't enough. Both horses are thrilled to see us, because it means their daily share of beet pulp and grain, but they're perfectly content to be in their paddocks too.

But I can't go through another winter like that.

It left me feeling tense. My mother and I are both pretty empathetic towards animals (read: big softies). I can't stand it when my very fit, high-energy mare is crammed in a 12x12 box all day. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it now. Every time I thought about going out to the barn, where Pandora was practically jumping out of her own skin, my stomach started to sink.

Now, Pandora is a very, very good-natured horse. Even when she's 'up,' she's polite and manageable and will never run you over. But honestly, if you were cooped up in a 12x12 room all day every day and let out for an hour for some mental and physical exercise, they'd call it prison.

So, we finally found a place. For the first time, we'll be going full care. It's expensive, but it includes some pretty high-quality free choice hay, Safe Choice (not my first choice of grains but not bad), alfalfa for hard keepers, turnout/in, blanket/unblanket, stall cleaned, and so on. For Pandora, free-choice hay is huge, especially really nice hay. Between that and supplemental alfalfa, she should hardly need any grain.

The arena is pretty nice and a good size. They have a wash rack, no hot water, but we've gone through winters with McKinna without hot water before. Nice tack room, nice feed room. Everything appeared well-organized and clean.

Most importantly, our horses can go out. Their stalls have all-weather runs attached, and the turnout situation is very flexible. From the sound of it, her horses get turned out most of the year anyway, in the all-weather outdoor during the nasty months if necessary. But she also said if we'd like ours to be out on one of the bigger pastures year-round, we could do that too.

Just like with Pandora's recovery, I'm cautiously optimistic. I was super excited about our current barn just before we moved in, too, though I honestly thought they'd get year-round turnout. Communication error, apparently.

Anyway, that's the big news for the week!

I rode Pandora today for the first time since Lily Glen (mid-June). It was very weird for both of us at first, I think! After a little while, we both got used to each other again, and had some fairly normal walk-trot work for about 20 minutes. So far, so good. I'm still not willing to be too optimistic and start setting goals, but she hasn't taken a bad step yet. Hopefully we'll get through the reconditioning process with no hiccups and be ready for another rating in September.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

Awhile ago, my mom and I went to audit a dressage clinic. It was held at a local barn -- the one where we boarded for two or three years when we very first got into horses. We hadn't been out there for a couple years, so driving down that gravel road and walking through the aisles brought back a lot of memories.

Really. I swear old boarding barns are like ex-boyfriends. (Or girlfriends, I suppose.)

At first, everything is great. What a fantastic place! Beautiful, close to home, well-maintained, an ideal price range, flexible, friendly and with a satisfactory answer to your every concern. You tell all your friends how excited you are. You're torn between bragging all about it to fellow horse people to show them how lucky you are, and keeping quiet because you don't want to share.

You move your horses and all your stuff to the new place, practically singing with joy. Each time you drive down the lovely gravel road to the new place, you think to yourself how lucky you are to have a boarding barn where you get x, y, and z benefits. No other barn in the area has such an impressively large arena. But of course, size isn't the most important consideration.

As the weeks fade into months, you settle into a comfortable existence. Sure, they don't sweep the aisles as often as you'd like, and the barn dog is kind of annoying when he runs behind your horse, and they're not too timely about fixing fences. But this is what you know and love: you couldn't possibly imagine being somewhere with a smaller arena, without the beautiful layout of the place, without the spacious stalls and perfect location. No, you're perfectly happy where you are.

But then some more time goes by. You start getting into disagreements - small ones, but they begin to wear at your illusion of perfection. You grumble as you drive out the long, dusty gravel road to reach the barn. The hot water in the wash rack has gradually come to a dribble, with no repairs in sight. Your horses have been in for a week because there's a board missing on one of the paddocks. That stupid barn dog will not leave your horse alone, and no matter how many times you ask, they just won't keep it out of the barn.

"Okay," you say, "enough is enough." Ah, that frustrated monologue you have with yourself on the long, dusty, potholed, windy gravel road, chewing out your boarding barn in the privacy of your car. "You never listen to me, you're always leaving stuff all over that I have to pick up, and you're just not taking care of my horses! I'm sick of it!"

But breaking up is hard to do. So you wait a few weeks, or months, while you mutter and grumble and the barn dog attempts to teach your horse to be terrified of all dogs ever. You start looking for a backup place, unless you are capable of slinking back home with your tail between your legs, which doesn't sound much better than staying here. You surreptitiously begin to move some of your extra stuff home.

So eventually you buck up and do it. Either it goes well or it doesn't - sometimes it's quiet and simple, sometimes you find yourself moving out about a month before you expected. You try to leave things on a good note, because the world is small and the horse world is smaller yet.

But it's okay, because you found this new place, and it's fantastic! You tell all your friends how excited you are. . .

Sometimes you go back and visit an old one, for one reason or another. Clinics, shows, maybe a mutual friend boards there now. It's easy to remember all the good times when you're unhappy with your current situation. "Oh, it wasn't all that bad," we began to say when we visited that barn for the clinic. "And wow, I'd forgotten how amazing this arena is." Then, of course, we remembered all the reasons we'd left, which hadn't changed much if at all. And so we came back to our senses.

But breaking up really is hard to do. More on that later. . .
Related Posts with Thumbnails