Monday, September 26, 2011

Just Finding Ourselves

I enjoyed a nice time with Milo today. Last week we were working on the new bending exercise almost exclusively. The last two rides before the weekend were frustrating, for both Milo and I. So I tried to approach today's ride with new vigor and without thinking about the prior rides. I had freshed up a little bit on the Peggy work from her book Sunday night, and pulled a few more great concepts out of it (it seems even though I have finished the book, every time I peak inside I come out with more valuable information and reminders).

Mondays are a tiresome day for me. They are my only guaranteed day off from work, which means I have to pack my cleaning stalls at Sarah's and cleaning pastures at Milo's barn into one day. Not to mention that fall classes started back up last Monday just shortening the time in the already full day. Between school, cleaning, and being drenched from a downpour that lasted the entire day, I was rather tired by the time I got to share some time with my horse. Who, had been hiding in his shelter the entirety of my pasture cleaning, watching Mom slave away for his livelihood.

But I digress.

When I did get him into the shelter of the main barn, I took my time grooming his dry (and still clean under the blanket) self. His summer coat is shedding off in droves, leaving me a little sad to know the days are numbered that I can enjoy his beautifully chiseled head until the winter beard comes back.

I tacked him up and led him into the arena with my Peggy "equipment", such has become habit now. As Peggy comments in her book, groundwork shows what the horse needs on that day. I also see it as a great place to warm up and help Milo find connection on the line before trying to find any under saddle.

The groundwork went well (as has been for a while, I need to get video or something because the way Milo moves on the line compared to how he used to - Wow!) and I mounted up. Milo felt very centered and within himself and we started with the bending and serpentines as we had been the week prior.  I tried to stay soft but focused, allowing Milo to supple and bend in his neck, shoulders, and withers but maintain a more sharply turned head. As the work at the walk went well, we went into the trot which was nice as well. Milo had been getting a but anticipatory for the direction changes and when going off pattern and coming back to it still didint seem to do the trick, I put in some snake trail exercises to help him oscillate at the poll and stay fluid through his body without anticipating a sharp turn coming up. It seemed to do the trick.

Throughout the ride I had been really testing direction change through seat only (that is, circles and the like - not the bending exercise) and was finding my horse was incredibly responsive to it, reminding me that I need to always try and stay as soft in my body and as focused on my hips as I encourage Milo to be all the time.

With the late time of day (school kids at the barn for lessons), and the obstacles set up in the arena, I knew I wouldnt have much (if any) opportunity to work the bending exercise at the lope. Which was fine as it turned out anyways because Milo needed some reminder to just stay focused on a circle and hold contact with the outside rein, pick up his shoulders, and find some straight. The lope work was not fantastic, but oddly enough, I was still having a good time. It made me think about how bored I might be if I had a horse that just plodded around without a personality. Some days it seems that is what I want, but other times the small challenges, the imperfections, those are what brings the smile on my face. And the moments where I knew my horse is really trying for me.

Although that feels like a good place to end, I must add that just before finishing our ride, Milo leaned out towards the rail too far and I put my outside leg on him to get him back on track. He didnt respond and ended up getting my jeans caught on something on the wall. I felt a rip and a noise and looked down to see a huge hole ripped open on my pants leg. Milo couldnt care less about what just happened and aimlessly came back off the rail. Good thing my boots are tall or else whatever snagged could have easily cut my leg. Sheesh Milo, these were new jeans too just bought a month ago! You owe me forty bucks!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Milo's Dilemma

Milo and Chica are becoming rather fond of each other. It sure doesnt help that she is going into heat so is totally in love with Milo now. But it is too adorable. When I put Milo away, Chica was out being ridden. It took Milo a few moments to realize his beloved was missing.

Poop in front of gate. Observe.

Look inside both shelters. Ponder.

Scream for Chica because you can't see her.

Look to Mom because maybe I can help solve your problem.

Check out the back side of the shelters. Maybe she has been hiding there all along. Pout because she is not.

Call out for Chica again.

Investigate the thundering sound of hooves on the adjoining rental property. Could it be her?

Go check them out even though it's clear now that the small herd is not Chica. At least they are company.

Wait for Chica to come back. Watch the top of the driveway.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A New Bending Exercise

Sarah took the snake exercise one step further with Milo and I Sunday. Although different from the snake exercise, it has similar qualities in that there are serpentines involved, but much more so in just the head oscillation we were going for in the snake. This new exercise was not given a name, but it's purpose is to open the shoulder and allow Milo to release the tension he is still holding over his shoulders and at his withers. It is another key to unlocking that very tight and protected area for Milo. The bulges over his shoulders are reducing in size, but this next element should really help him lift at the wither and stay soft and supple through the shoulder, neck, head and body.

With Milo's head turned to one side with just the inside rein (I was not allowed to support him with the outside rein), and mind you this is a soft feel, allowing Milo to keep his head down and soft but bent around, Sarah had me walk small but forward circles and abruptly change directions and repeat the other way. The purpose was not to get a perfect circle, in fact, many times we did not complete an entire circle before changing back the other direction. The purpose was to open up the shoulder area for Milo by going from one extreme bend right into the other.

We increased this to the trot and repeated it all, making the circles tighter and more challenging as time progressed. As Milo did well, we could go off pattern for a bit - trot a large circle, go a little on the rail, then come back to the exercise. Milo was starting to feel really soft and loose, and I was even feeling that "knock" right as Milo hit straight, then turned to the other direction as Sarah had described the feel to me.

Next it was time to hit the lope. Now, all week long I have been trying to keep my legs and ankles relaxed in the right position (just behind the girth with toes easily pointing forward, not out), so I was a little concerned that I might get tight because this exercise made me think instead of being able to focus on my ankles so much. I never did hear any reminders from Sarah to stay soft so they must have been ok.

It was interesting as we tried the circles and bending at the lope because when we would come off pattern to a circle, the basic circle was where Milo would fall apart. But finally it seemed to make sense to me how the exercise was actually supposed to be worked, and there was a moment where I thought I needed to change outside rein back and forth as needed as we went from counter canter to regular and vice versa. In reality what I really needed to be doing was staying consistent with the true outside rein, even on the counter canter. What I really needed was to "stop being so nice" as Sarah put it, and instead of just guiding Milo through the serpentine, I needed to get a real bend just as we were getting at the trot. I also needed to half halt as needed, but not get heavy in my hands.

So as I came along the long side again, I stayed consistent with my outside rein and got a true bend in the counter canter, and instead of just applying rein pressure, I gave a real half halt. The serpentine was beautiful and just as we came out of the corner my horse loped beautifully. No two men in a horse suit here and no scrambling. It was great. We worked the other direction as well and I got what I was supposed to feel on the other lead too.

To solidify the exercise more, on Monday after I was done cleaning Sarah's stalls, I was able to take a little time and work one of her rehab horses, Joe, on the same exercise. At a higher degree of difficulty, it was fascinating to see from the ground how the exercise was executed and also the results that were shown in Joseph.

I approached my ride that afternoon with no expectations, but knowing this circle and bending exercise was going to be what we worked on exclusively for the next week or so. At the walk and trot, Milo was great. As we moved into the lope, I was aware that I didnt have to fight to keep my ankles relaxed or in the new position. They stayed soft easily and in fact, Milo stepped into our lope very nicely and I enjoyed a nice lope around the rail before getting to work on the exercise again. Milo felt great, and all the pieces were falling into place, I couldnt help but smile and laugh to Milo - this exercise was actually fun. And when I went off pattern and loped a circle, there wasnt a single thing I felt I needed to adjust. It was the kind of feel good ride that reminds us why we ride. No elaborate flying lead changes or patterns, but my horse trying hard for me in an exercise that is very difficult to do. And then to do well at it as well. Just gave me those warm fuzzies.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

So, How Are Things on the Food Front?

I said there was more to come on the pasture update. That is inclusive of the food issues we were experiencing.

To refresh your memory, Milo had been exhibiting bad food aggressive behavior at meal time towards others. This had been an ongoing issue since I got him four years ago, but things seemed to be resolved between he and I. However, with him living on a pasture with another horse, there was always someone else (or another horse) involved between him and his food. A confrontation between he and a feeder at the barn made me really try and figure out how I was going to "fix" this issue towards others.

Since then, I had been volunteering to feed him as many times as I was able to try and see what kind of attitude he would present to me. I wasnt sure what to expect, but was assuming he wouldnt show any ill behavior towards me when feeding. I was right, but determined to work on the issue anyways. What I did was enter the pasture with the grain buckets and proceed to go into the stalls and feed the horses (namely Milo to work on this exclusively). Now, the feeders never have a reason to go into the pasture to feed, but on the rare occasion (like with the aforementioned confrontation), and to better work on close-quarters feed time for anyone else who might handle Milo during feeding (ie, someone feeding at a horse show, like when Melissa fed him at the last horse show).

Entering the pasture with the grain buckets (and longe whip in hand initially), I would insist that Milo stay away from me while I held the buckets. He never tried to come into my space and quietly followed behind me at a distance towards the pasture (I was vigilant, however, in knowing where he was so at no time could he suddenly advance to me). I would dump the grain into the stalls, and continue to maintain Milo outside of the stall. He had to wait patiently, quietly, and without any sort of bad behavior before I would exit the stall and let him enter. I would leave, he still had to wait until I verbally said, "OK" and pointed him into the stall. No issue, and I would let Milo eat a few mouthfuls of grain, then I would loudly demand, "OUT!" and point him out of the stall. I never had to use the longe whip, but I would raise it for him to know I meant business if he didnt listen to me first. I could not exit in a scramble or with his hind towards me. This continued to work fine.

Then I up-ed it to still maintaining a pleasant demeanor when I was in the stall with him. I wasnt sure how to approach this because he could very well get me good being that close to him and his food. But I didnt anticipate anything, and simply would walk into the stall, then loudly demand, "OUT!" and point my arm towards the exit, raising the longe whip if needed. Repeat a few times, and Milo started to sigh and get sort of bored with it all. Then I increased this even more - touching him when eating and even trying to pull his head out of the bucket. I wanted to really try and push his buttons and see what might happen. Again, no issue, and I still would demand "OUT!" when needed and not allow him to turn hind end towards me when exiting.

I repeated this exercise many times during feeding. I was then pleasantly surprised to find at the horse show that he not so much as flicked an ear as I entered the stall with food. I do not allow him to steal food out of my hands as I walk it into the stall, and he never tried to turn his rear towards me either. To hear he did splendidly for Melissa seemed to seal the deal for me.

Now, thats not to say that "problem solved, all things are great now", this will need to be maintained and tested with other people still, but it certainly feels as if things are on the right track. And although I cannot ensure he will always be respectful towards other people, at least I can feel confident knowing that he is quiet and respectful towards me, and that is all I can truly expect from him.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Pasture Update

Maybe some of you have been wondering what the latest has been with Milo allowing me to catch him. As you might remember, there was about a week there were he would turn tail and run away from me for upwards of fifteen minutes. He and Chica thought the game was super fun, and I was about at my wits end.

Some commented here, and I also talked to fellow local horse people about opinions. Many believed that chasing him was not the answer, but to make him want to be with me, not be punished. Im not sure that I particularly followed that route, but I think a combination of a few things happened:

First, Milo figured out pretty quick that he was working himself in the hot heat twice a day now. When I could finally catch him he would be huffing and puffing and sweating all over. Unfortunately for him, he would still receive a workout as usual from me. I think a week worth of double workouts might have sunk into him that running away really isnt all that fun or productive for him.

I then decided to bring a treat to the pasture with me. Not a bribe, but a reward for when he would allow me to catch him or to come to me. Initially, Milo would simply stand stock still, but let me halter him. After the halter was on, I would verbally praise and rub on him, then give him the treat as a reward. I then started bringing out two treats; one for Milo and one for Chica. Because Chica was the real instigator behind all of this, I wanted her to see me entering the pasture as a positive as well. If she would approach me and let me rub on her, she got a cookie as well.

Next I started dispersing the cookie treats. I would start only bringing a cookie every couple of times, usually one cookie one day, no cookie the next, cookie the following again. This was to be able to start weaning Milo off of expecting a cookie, but rather just greeting me without anything - as things had been before for four years.

I'm pleased to report that there have been no incidents, in fact, Milo as been trotting towards me in greeting (today as an example as well). While sometimes I might have a cookie to reward him with, sometimes I don't, but it doesnt seem to be effecting his willingness to greet me with the halter anymore. I've been very pleased to feel that I have my  good ole boy back again, eager to work and happy to see me. Let's hope his little shenanigans are behind us. But so far, things are looking bright again on the pasture front. More to come.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Muscle Memory

Poor Wesley was a bit stiff and sore when we pulled him out of his stall yesterday morning. I found out that the big handsome boy suffers from navicular and today his hind feet were bothering him. Sarah warmed him up on the ground first, getting him to step out laterally and engage his front end. It took a little time, but soon Wesley discovered again that he can use his hind end. He wasnt lame or off, so Sarah let me have my lesson on him still. What an experience that was.

Typically, when I get to ride Wesley, we are working on me and Wesley is teaching the rider. Yesterday, however, it was refreshing to be on the other side of the spectrum, the side that Sarah is usually at, getting the horse back to straight and fluid where he needs to be. I learned a valuable lesson that some rides we get a lot of "work" done, but other rides we need to focus on getting our horse back to that optimum level. This, Sarah said, was why she had me doing this on Wesley. Because of the last horse show. And because I needed a lesson in riding behind the flying lead changes. I needed to be shown how to work the horse, in his off days, through his body and back to prime working condition.

It was a great lesson. Sarah reminded me to keep my ankles relaxed, stretch tall, and hold the beach ball in my stomach. She further got me to "melt" into the motion of the horse and really feel when he was fishtailing, pushing his shoulder out, or generally not being straight. There were some fantastic moments. And after the ride I exclaimed that "I had ridden without a diaper! There is hope!"

A few hours and a couple clean pastures later, and it was time to try this out on my horse. Milo had just had three days off and I knew we were not going to be at that "optimum level" to get a whole lot of "work" done. I had to be receptive to the subtlies that my horse was providing to me, and respond to him accordingly.

However, it seemed, as soon as I sat astride my own horse, my holding patterns came flying back at me full speed. I had an incredibly difficult time relaxing my legs and finding that perfect "sweet spot" I miraculously found on Wesley earlier (I have a hard time keeping my leg straight below me and slightly behind the rear cinch. But on Wesley I discovered how to keep my ankles relaxed and keep my leg where it is supposed to be). Rather, I had a hard time of it keeping my leg further back in my own saddle and my own horse than on Wesley. It was frustrating. My horse was also a bit confused by my efforts to hold my legs in a somewhat different location.

We worked on some of the same exercises I had done with Wesley earlier, and I was shocked and dismayed to find how crooked and drifting my horse is. Is it because I came from moments of true straight on Wesley that I could now see and feel the crookedness in my own horse? I also realized that I was throwing away my reins for Milo and not picking up a contact on him as I so readily was able to do with Weez. What's the deal?

I got about two thirds of the way through the ride before things finally started to click. I was able to find the sweet spot for my leg and maintain relaxation in my ankles. I could have a steady contact on the reins without fear that I was holding my horse back or over using the rein. There was one stretch on the rail where my horse was locked onto straight, and I could feel it. We finally got a lope that was not scrambled and didnt feel like two guys in a horse suit, as all the lope work prior had felt.


If I could just find a way to stop those holding patterns and muscle memory in my own saddle and on my own horse, things just fall into place. Always more to be aware of.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You?

Where were you when the world stopped turning, that September day?

A great song from Alan Jackson in memory of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

I remember where I was on that day. My sister and I were just eleven years old, wildly jumping on our beds one school morning when we were supposed to be getting ready to go. We came running wildly out of the bedroom and into the living room, where our Mother sat horrified in front of the news screen, coffee in hand. She snapped to us that we needed to settle down. We still did not understand what was going on.

We arrived to school, to hear over the P.A. system what tragedy occurred. The news stations were on in all of the classrooms. It was starting to sink in what was really happening to my small sixth grade mind. The United States, land of the free, the greatest place to live, my home and my country whose national anthem and pledge of allegiance I dutifully sang and chanted. It suddenly did not feel so safe anymore.

All the students were sent home early. I dont remember what happened in my home that night. But I do remember the insecurity of suddenly not feeling safe. It was a terrifying concept to a naive eleven year old girl.

Where were you when the world stopped turning, that September day? Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke, rising against that blue sky? Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor? Or did you just sit down and cry?

To the men and women lost. The service men and women who bravely gave their lives to help others. To the families and children whose world's forever changed. You will never be forgotten. The world will never be the same.

A Little Off Topic...

Just thought I would let you guys know that I started a second blog called The Crafting Cowgirl. I love to "craft" and create, and all of the projects I have worked on (and plan to) just didnt fit in with the topic of this Milo blog. So, I created the craft blog. If any of you guys have an interest into the woodworking, yarn crafting, painting, or decorating spontaneity and projects that I have, check out the other blog as well. You might just be inspired to create and craft yourself!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Development

An interesting development occurred during my ride on Wednesday. Milo just about refused to hold a counter canter. As I would come across the center to change direction for the counter canter, he would bunch up, get tight, and try and perform a lead change. I would attempt to kick his hip out laterally in the counter canter, but the touch of my spur would result in Milo either a) trying to change leads, or b) kick at my spur with the corresponding hind leg.

Attempt after attempt was made for Milo to go into and hold a counter canter. I was being incredibly fair about this - not asking for more than say a circle of counter canter and only a step or two out laterally from the hind. We had done much more difficult counter canter work in the past. But Milo must've thought he was too good for counter canter work and believed he could skip some extra work and just go into a lead change.

It took quite a few attempts before I decided to just counter canter on the rail, and hopefully get Milo to hold it and go back onto a circle. This method worked, and finally I was able to get a lope to counter canter circle, back to a regular lope. I praised him of course and that was all I finished working on for the day.

Thursday, for whatever reason (I was wearing shorts in preparation for my cart pushing shift at work to follow), I decided it would just be a bareback kind of day. I didnt want to have to bring a second change of clothes so I arrived at the barn in shorts and a reflective shirt. Not wanting to stick to the leather saddle, I opted for the bareback pad (In other news, I think it will soon be time to replace the faithful pink bareback pad - the cinch buckle barely works now, it is getting rusty and difficult probably from a lot of sweat).

I worked Milo on the line for about twenty minutes. Working mostly on the off-side has been my approach the last week or so, and transitions have tended to be the focal point. Keeping connection as well as softness through the body has been the goal (no tension, bracing, or hollowing) primarily in the walk to trot, trot to lope, and lope to trot transitions. But through repetition, combing the line, and staying soft in my body, we did achieve some nice work on the ground.

Then I got on, and we had a beautiful warm up. I focused on using m seat bones primarily for direction and cuing. We worked on the butterfly exercise Sarah gave me, the snake exercise, circles, and nose in hip out. All with a light seat and direction from my seat bones. I was very pleased with the ride so far. We moved into the lope and Milo surprised me with an even cadence and a lifted back. I even surprised myself in that I wasnt falling from one side to the other and found it was much easier to stay centered and relaxed than at my last bareback ride. I had noticed that Milo seemed irritated by my new attempts to keep my legs in "lope position" and seemed much more comfortable with the both of them in center. But he surprised me this day by not paying them any attention, and in fact, pushing the haunches in on an arc when asked. The lope work was going splendidly.

I pondered moving into the counter canter work that we had had difficulties in just the day before. Milo had been throwing some small bucks and kicks in the last ride during this work - could I stay on if he tried that today? I cowgirl-ed up and decided to work on it anyways. If I got a little dirty I was only pushing carts later on, who would care?

I came across the center of the circle and kept my leg firmly back to encourage him to hold a counter canter and step his hip out laterally. Although with less attitude this day, Milo still tried to avoid the difficult work and instead just change leads. Again we played this dance a few more times and then I finally wised up and decided to go into the counter canter from across the diagonal, catching him off guard from the typical change in the center. The first try seemed to work until we hit the next corner and he changed leads again. I tried a few more times and again had to resort to getting the counter canter on the rail, then, when it felt good, going into the center for a circle, back to lope circle, and back to counter canter circle. This time Milo obliged to the counter canter circle and didnt try and change leads. Good boy!

I'm curious to what his thought process is behind this, and if in any way my body is not allowing him to hold a counter canter. I have been trying to focus on my seat and make sure I dont change the direction of my hips to unintentionally cue for a lead change. But either way, Milo needs to wait for me to ask for a change and not just try and do it to get out of difficult work. Nonetheless, it did put a goofy grin on my face considering getting a lead change had been the directive lately, and now, without an agenda, it seems thats all my horse wants to do!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Agenda-less Riding

I decided after looking at the show roster a second time and discovering that only Open Reining was offered instead of both it and Reining 1st/2nd Year as I had believed I saw, that I was not going to attend the Washington State Finals show coming up here in only a few short weeks. I had been looking forward to going to this particular show since October of last year, and as summer began coming to a close, I was beginning to get very excited for it. This show is the final one of the Washington State Horseman's B System series throughout the state, and it is the "must" event of the season. Everyone goes to it - many locals we have all known and competed against, and even those we dont know from the breed circuits come to vie for one of the many, many buckles offered. Needless to say, my final decision was a little hard to swallow.

Granted, there is nothing physically stopping me from going still, it's not like I "can't" go. Its that I dont see a real need to go. See, as I watched the Open Reiners beautiful runs at this last weekend's show and listened to their fantastic scores, I knew they were a league out of reach from me still. I am happy with where Milo and I have come in only a short span of time working with Sarah, but we are still not at the Open level. Sarah encouraged me saying that she believed I should still go to the Finals show. But why? Spend money on the class cost, the judges fees, the office fees, take time off of work, and pay in gas prices for the haul an hour and a half away. And even if I did haul in the morning-of and save on overnight fees and stall rental costs, would this big-ticket event be worth one class that I didnt feel I had a strong contention placing well in? Basically, a schooling show for me? The experience would be great, but the numbers dont seem to be adding up.

I've been mulling over my decision for the last two days since I finally voiced it, and I am feeling more and more secure about it. In fact, it seems, my agenda-less riding has improved. Suddenly, my horse wants to execute flying lead changes, he spins great, and our lope is continuing to develop nicely (more on this in another post). We feel more straight and connected than only a week ago. The poundage of stress for the impeding show seemed to have improved my riding. No longer am I riding thinking in terms of calendar days left before the "big show". Instead, I'm riding without a calendar, simply trying to improve upon my horsemanship.

In the last two days, I have been able to find connection on the groundwork again, find my left seat bone, and ride much more relaxed and quietly.

It's amazing how an agenda truly effects our outlook on riding. And you know what? I'm not too bummed about my decision, for there will always be another Finals show, and a whole winter series of schooling shows to look forward to now. Yippee!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just Some More Show Photos...

Just some show photos I enjoyed receiving from one of Sarah's other students who was there competing. Thought you might enjoy them as I milk this show into another blog post. :)

Another Sarah student banking Milo's mane for me. I took a "back seat" on this one - she does a fabulous job. 
Hehehehe, Milo. 
After riding, cleaning boots and tack, on the floor, in the cold dark evening. 
Looking like a reiner! :D

Haha, before pushing my hat back down. And when did my horse develop a neck?? Wowza!
Hmm, I could scrutinize this picture, but Im just gunna go with, "I like it anyways". 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

I trudged out into the brisk cold morning, and headed to the barn to feed Milo. To my surprise and pleasure, I found he was already fed by Melissa. I went onto alert and asked her how he acted towards her. The night before he had been perfectly pleasant when I fed him his hay and grain, but I wasnt sure yet how he might respond to someone else. Melissa actually responded saying she hadnt even thought about his aggressive history until just now when I asked her about it. She said he was perfectly fine and waited at the feeder without a pinned ear or curled nose. I was very happy to hear that good news.

I cleaned his stall, ate breakfast, and checked in at the show office. The reining patterns werent yet posted, but I knew my first class was the same pattern as the last show, pattern 12, and Melissa had described the Novice pattern briefly the day before, being pattern 7. I got dressed and then looked at the now posted patterns. Pattern 7 made me a little nervous as it is a run in pattern and a bit complicated, plus I knew I would be trying for lead changes in this pattern. But I tried not to let myself get worked up.

My horse, however, had runny manure, was calling to just about every horse that was now coming into the fairgrounds, and generally was quite stressed. Sarah had some wet clay so he got a half syringe of that. After about a half hour, I realized my horse was quiet. Phew, I thought, maybe he was calming down. But wet poo and more calling came back. I tried not to think about it.

Time to tack up and warm up, and my horse was mouthy and dancing in the cross ties. Boyfriend and a couple we are friends with had made it up to the fairgrounds, and he was acting ornery and rude to them. Again, I just tried not to think about it. I climbed aboard and headed to the warm up pen. No calling, but he still felt quick, and some more wet manure slipped out from his rear. I tried not to think about it. But today Milo was much more fluid in his hocks and could step his hip out and nose in easily. He snake trailed pretty easily too, but I wanted to not go into the lope too quickly. I kept schooling and suppling at the walk and trot, then finally moved into a lope after a few more people left the small arena. He felt good, after I realized that tension in my ankles was causing him to run away from my leg. Once discovering this, I took a deep breath and stayed strong in my core, letting my legs go and not picking up my hand. It took a few strides, and then Milo came up underneath me and loped nicely.

I commented to Sarah about this realization, and she was happy to hear I was in a better mind set than at my ride the night before. She also helped me re-wrap his polos with a better method than I had been using. The big arena was now open for schooling, and we had about a half hour before reining was supposed to begin. I made my way into the show pen and schooled again at the walk and trot, hip out, snake exercises. The pen was busy with not only reiners but pleasure riders too, and Milo seemed somewhat distracted by the heavier traffic. There were also volunteers outside of the arena spraying hoses into it to try and keep the dust down. Fortunately, Milo didnt give much mind to the water cascading in on the rails, and didnt pay much attention to the traffic either.

We went into the lope, and he still felt a little rushed. I tried to remember to stay strong in my core and relax my ankles. When I would, the lope was great, but it wasnt consistent. However, we did school some nice stops, rollbacks, and some excellent spins. I was feeling more prepared, but still lacking confidence. They called the order of go for the first class, the Dave Reaume Memorial Green Reiner. This was pattern 12. I remembered the pattern after looking it over once more, and we headed into the arena.

Although this class allows for two hands, I went in one-handed not feeling like I needed both hands. The pattern didnt call for a lead change either, so I felt more relaxed already. We stepped into our first lope circles to the left. I was surprised by the clean lope departure, and we found a rhythm in the first two circles. We stopped pretty clean in the center. Our first two spins felt fairly good, but I knew I held some tension in my body. We raced into the right lope departure, which wasnt clean, and I had to work a few strides to get Milo back to me. He did, and we loped a couple of nice circles to the right. Although the circles were good, they didnt feel as wonderful as those we had in this same class back in July. I tried not to think about it and we stopped in the center for the next set of spins. Again, I held some tension and after the two spins were over, I was a bit disappointed knowing our spins were much better at home and schooling than we delivered in the pen. Oh well, they were now over, and we loped off for our rollback. We came around the top of the arena and I tried not to over think the stop that was coming. My horse stayed straight and I relaxed my ankles a bit. I even remembered to say Woah as I softened my lower back. For the first time in the show pen, I felt our stop was good. We rolled back up the arena and I was happy with that maneuver as well.  I tried not to think about stopping in front of the judges, but as we came down the wall in front of them, I thought too much about the stop coming up, and I lost Milo a bit only a few strides before the cone. The stop wasnt bad, but it wasnt as good as the rollback. We backed and we were done. I turned Milo and he tried to trot off, still feeling fresh, huh?

They moved the classes around a bit, and instead of my novice class to follow, they ran Open Reining next, then Novice. So now I at least had a class in between to look at the next pattern and give Milo a break in the shade. I knew the pattern now, and waited with a somewhat twisted stomach for the open reiners to finish. I watched their runs and heard scores like 78 and 75. I felt a little discouraged by that, but tried not to focus on it. It was time to get back on now, and as I walked Milo a bit, he felt fresh still and raring to go. I opted to enter the ring two handed. I am happy that I did.

The pattern called for a run in (although where the arena gate is held, you really cant), with a left rollback, followed by a right rollback, than a stop and back. Four spins to the right, four and a quarter to the left, begin with three right circles, lead change, three left circles, lead change, one final run down, no back. I knew the pattern. I just needed to do it now.

Just before the judges nodded, I remembered to push my hat down, but I didnt gather my reins. I pushed Milo into a left lead and he felt straight and good. We stopped and rolled back, with some cheers from the crowd. It felt good. I didnt ask correctly for the next lead and Milo cross fired. I tried to get a lead change, but didnt really ask, and for some reason I was obsessing about how he was on the wrong lead. In hindsight, I should have focused on a good run down before the next rollback, but I changed his leads with a simple change, and ended up getting a terrible stop. Rolled back for the next run down, and gathered my reins a bit. The stop wasnt too bad, and we backed, but I didnt line him up to center properly. I had been thinking too much about how disappointed I was in our lines.

Four spins to the right, and instead of sitting deep on my inside seat bone, I hammered him around with too much leg. I was again disappointed in our spins. The left spins didnt make me feel any better, especially when we finished them and I saw I was way off center from the judges. Oh well, and we loped off into the right lead. Two large fast, and I pushed Milo for a little more speed. As we came into the small slow, I felt the downward transition was good, although looking on tape now it doesnt look like much. I got halfway around the small slow before I realized I had a lead change in only a matter of a few strides. We came to center, and I asked for straight, then a change. He changed, although front to back. I whispered good boy, happy for the effort anyways and we loped two fast. After the change it took a circle at least to get him to somewhat lift up and lope properly, and the slow circle transition didnt feel as good. I thought about the approaching lead change throughout the three circles, and ended up not getting it. I broke him down and got a simple change. We were almost done. I loped him up the back side for our last run down, and was too afraid to push on the gas. I felt my horse had been flipping me off during the ride and I didnt want to lose all control. We stopped hard and he tried to go into a back. I kicked him out of it.

We left the arena with people telling us what a good job we did and how nice we looked. I heard a score of 62.5 and felt defeated and frustrated. I told everyone how upset I was with my horse, and remembered the bad ride from the night before.

Thinking back now, I really wasnt upset with my horse. I was frustrated with myself. I let a bad ride from the night before haunt my performance the rest of the day. I wanted Milo to perform when I wasnt in the moment with him, and instead got mad at him for it. Instead of thinking about all the bad things I felt we did in the show pen, I should be emphasizing the good parts of it instead:

We scored just as well in the Dave Reaume class as we had at the last show: a 68.5 from both judges. This placed us second under both judges out of four entries.

We accomplished the best rollbacks and stops in the show pen to date. I didnt over think our rundowns (not every one at least) and got stops I knew we had. My horse is reaching up under himself with his hind end much better. As Sarah says, he no longer looks like two guys in a horse suit - he looks like the makings of a reiner.

Looking at the videos, he is much more over his hocks in his spins. Although not well cadenced like we have schooled, he is picking up speed and holding a plant foot better (at least in the show pen, much better at home).

We got one lead change. Although it wasnt a correct one, we got one. This is a first in the show pen too. The secret behind it seemed to be that I was in my body for that moment, and not in my head. I let it happen, and although it wasnt super pretty, now we have a building block to start on in the show pen. Edit to add: I have watched the video over and over, and looking where we lost the second change, it looks like Milo actually changed in the back but before he could change in the front, I blocked him and slowed him down. I wonder, had I just been patient would he have balanced himself and changed? I really must give him more credit than I had been - he really was working for me, everything was just a little more rushed than I expected. 

We accomplished a harder reining pattern than we ever had before. The Novice pattern certainly wasnt novice friendly, but we stayed on course and actually didnt do as bad as I had given us credit for. Come to think of it, just being on pattern for both classes was another accomplishment. :)

Our scores for the Novice class were actually 62.5 and 65 from the second. This gave us second and third out of three. Although one judge threw away his score cards before I got to see them, I did get to see the scores from the 65 judge.

I really should not have been as down as I was after those classes. Milo really did give me an effort, even if it wasnt what I was anticipating for that day.

P.S. What do you think of my "chinks" outfit? I got a lot of compliments on it! And it sure saved me from being hot under my heavier black equitation chaps (and black hat that would have followed!).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Stressful Day Before the Show

Melissa and I hauled up together to the Port Angeles show first. When we arrived at the fairgrounds Friday afternoon (after an additional hour added to the haul due to Labor Day Weekend traffic), we were dismayed to find the entrance gate padlocked shut. As we called and texted anyone we could think of, waiting pulled over in the grass, Sarah told us to check the perimeter and find if a different gate might be open. We opted to do that, and if no luck, at least unload the horses out of the hot trailer. Fortunately, we did find a second gate open and the road from there led around the fairgrounds and to the horse barns and arena. So we gingerly brought the trailer through the gate and around the small fairgrounds, and got the horses unloaded. The next step would be finding someone to unlock the main gate before Sarah and her big rig arrived - it would never be able to make the tight turn we had to take using the alternate route in.

As we tried to figure out that next step, we did want to get the stalls bedded and the horses out of the sun. We got their two stalls ready to go (fortunately the horse barn was not locked) and began getting the stalls ready for the next four horses to arrive. Meanwhile, we saw the only two cars parked in the fairgrounds pulling out of the far gate, and locking it behind them. This was not good: not only had we not found someone to unlock the gate for Sarah, but now we were locked in the fairgrounds and there was now no access back in or out. This immediately sent Melissa and I into a small panic mode and we set off across the fairgrounds in search of anyone who might be here with a key. We knocked on the office door, whose hours and sign read closed. Melissa scrambled to get in contact with anyone who might be able to help, and I walked the fairgrounds a little longer in hopes of finding some groundperson there who could help.

As my search came up dry, I made my way back to Melissa, who was still calling numbers. Then, by some miracle, two dogs were let out of the caretaker's house. Then, a woman briefly appeared at the doorway and made eye contact with me. I immediately approached her and told her the situation. Fortunately, she did have a key to the main gate, and mentioned that the other fair workers had left believing that Melissa and I had a key. Well, obviously that wasnt the case, but she unlocked the main gate and just in the nick of time as only a few minutes passed by before Sarah came into sight and pulled the big rig into the grounds.

Crisis averted!

Melissa and I had managed to get all of our things unloaded so we were available to help speed up the process for Sarah. Ponies and supplies all situated, we new we had to start riding soon - it was already seven o'clock and we only had an hour or so of daylight in the outdoor arena. We all started tacking up, and heading towards the arena.

My horse had already been acting funny that morning when I was bathing and prepping him to leave. He was fidgety and had excess energy. In hindsight, I should have at least longed him before bathing him. At least it would have taken some edge off of him. When we arrived at the fairgrounds, he seemed to get mildly attached to Grace (probably because they hauled there together, that always seems to be the case with Milo), and got distressed watching other horses leave the barn as well. He had been pitifully calling to horses as we had been unloading, and started getting some runny waste.

Things fared no differently as I got astride him. He was set to high gear - my horse had never trotted with this much forward ever before. We trotted, and trotted, and trotted for ages, adding some nose in hip out and snake exercises along the way. He felt good and finally settled down a degree, so we started on our loping work. Everything seemed to fall apart. I couldnt get a decent lope out of him, he would blow through my hand and every time to tried to spur him for lift he would run away from my leg. The counter canter work was a mess and he refused to come up over his back. We couldnt get a circle to save our lives and every time we reached the center he wanted to blow his shoulder out - wouldnt listen to my outside rein or leg at his shoulder to keep him straight. I was so frustrated.

I walked straight to Sarah who was longing a horse, and she asked what was wrong. I just need help I said, sort of throwing my hands in the air. Sarah told me that my horse just came from a three hour trailer ride and was probably stiff and sore in his hocks. He couldnt lift. Tonight was not the horse show, tonight was schooling and getting him fluid. She made me work on a figure eight at the trot, nose in and hip out each direction. It was such hard work to even get him to listen to my leg to push his hip out. Sarah now wanted to see a lope, and it was just as bad as before. She told me I needed to sit in the center and make Milo work, not me. That all sounded well and good, but it was not happening. She told me to stop and do some walk work. Nose in, hip out, back, forward. Loosen him up. So I did for the remainder of the ride, and as the sun disappeared and everyone was heading back into the barn, she finally said that he looked more fluid in the hocks. Great, but I couldnt feel it. I was just frustrated and didnt want to talk.

I put him away, mad, and feeling defeated in my classes already. From a wonderful ride on Thursday, to this the night before the show, I was unhappy on many levels. I wanted to pack up and go home. Tack cleaned and horses fed, we headed into the campers for dinner and I downed two Mikes Hard Lemonades faster than I ever had before. I wanted the night to be over.

It soon was and we were up and at 'em at 6:30 in the morning.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Slap that Diaper on me!

A few rasps and clips from the farrier's knowledgeable hands, and Milo had newly balanced pretty footsies - just in time for the horse show on Saturday. I wanted to have every manageable balance provided for Milo for optimum success. I tacked up the eager pony and we headed into the arena.

Not before I almost forgot to tape the diaper onto my rear. The joke, by the way, comes from Sarah reminding me after my lesson on Saturday, to "remove my diaper" after dismounting. I think the term has just stuck now because, well, its a felt shim  attached to my rear and it feels like a diaper when I walk with it on.

Huggie in place, I mounted Milo. We warmed up one handed at the walk and trot, working on the snake exercise allowing Milo to osculate at the poll and follow his nose, coming up over his back and relaxed from side to side. He was honest to both sides as well and not stiff to the left as he had been before. Two and three track work as well, and Milo and I were feeling synced together and things felt terrific.

I put Milo into the lope, working on our one-handed walk to lope departure - which was good. We loped along on an even but light contact on the rein, and my outside leg back behind at the rear girth, a practice I am trying to make a habit to help Milo understand the lead change cue more clearly. This also helps me keep my seat bones level as well.

Throughout the week I have further experimented on the new shift of weight to the inside seat bone through turnarounds, by using my weight on the inside for a typical turn as well. Wouldnt you know, turning, circling, and spins have all come much easier (as well as serpentines and the snake exercise) with this new way of weighting my seat bones. I dont feel like I am leaning at all to the inside, just slightly shifting my weight to the inside, to center, and to the outside where needed. It really has been fun to experiment with. I have been using the weight shift as a single cue as well (not holding in the same position throughout a circle), to not allow myself to "lock" into a position, but I felt it would also keep Milo more sensitive to my subtle seat change needed for lead changes.

We loped along on a steady and nice circle, and I learned the benefit of riding every stride.

As we came to the center of the arena on a circle to the right, Milo anticipated a lead change (I believe) and tried to duck out the other direction, and also started tail flinging and getting hollow. This happened because for that moment, I wasnt riding. I had pretty much taken a back seat and was just enjoying the ride. But this told me two things: one, I had to pay attention to the weight in my seat bones, the positioning of my legs, and staying strong in my core; two, it was a reminder to not work on lead changes in the center of the arena.

I corrected Milo and loped a few more circles, then decided on a whim, to lope him along the diagonal and attempt a lead change. I chose the diagonal because it offered the most space to attempt the change (as I had done at my last lesson as well), and also because we wouldnt be schooling in the center of two circles. I brought my legs to center, for a moment my horse straightened, and then I moved my new outside leg back and slightly shifted my weight. My horse cleaning changed leads, so well in fact, I had to look down at the new leading leg to confirm we had changed leads. It felt so effortless from Milo with no fuss or anticipation and from very subtle cues. I was floored. I praised Milo, but kept loping.

I loped a circle or two on the new lead, and had a crazy thought; why not try a lead change the new direction now - without working on a counter canter before? It seemed somewhat ludicrous, and that I would be pushing my luck after such a nice change. But the horse show would require this, lets see what we've got.

So I rounded the corner and came across the diagonal again, changed my legs, followed by seat and leg again, and voila! Milo changed right over to the other lead. How was it this easy? I was one handed to boot! Then it hit me: one handed or not, a lead change is through the body - the seat and the leg. I really dont need to be hauling on the outside rein, just lifting for a support if needed (which was not these first two changes). I was ecstatic. But could we keep going with this? Would I get three, and maybe even, four clean changes, consecutively? I thought I was pushing my luck too far, but the thrill of those clean changes just tantalized me.

I loped a few more circles, and came across the diagonal again - clean change. Third in a row.  It felt a little rushed and hollow, however, and I should have known to school a little more before trying the next change. The tape from my diaper had failed, and the shim slipped out from under my rear. I knew I should have used a fourth piece of masking tape. But we continued on, and the fourth change resulted in a buck and a dive thrown in. Oh boy, no way Milo can you do that. I schooled him a little more, and Milo started rushing on the diagonal. Remembering Melissa and Grace's extra lead changes, and the suggestion Sarah gave to them, I decided to work a little on the counter canter. To get Milo kicking the hip out again and not anticipating the change. I started wondering if my hip angle was out of wack again now without my trusty diaper (shim), but I was determined to get a change regardless of the support.

Back across the diagonal, and again he threw a buck into the change. Down to simple one step changes I decided to try, and after three or four of those, we got another absolutely beautiful change. I stopped Milo right then and jumped off, giving him a huge and happy pat on the neck, and kisses on his beautiful white face. I couldnt believe how well he had performed. I walked out of the arena with a huge smile across my face. It's coming I remembered the many texts received from Sarah reading. The effort is paying off. Good horse show or bad horse show this weekend, we just achieved the impossible, my Milo and I.