12.31.2015

Obligatory Goals Post

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Here it is. I'm going to keep goals this year super simple and quantifiable.


Riding Goals

    • Take at least 1 lesson a month.
    • Ride 3-4 times a week.
    • Work on at least 2 different exercises each ride.

Show/Clinic Goals

    • Attend at least 2 shows next year.
    • Attend one clinic.

Personal Goals

    • Lift 2x a week.
    • Run 3x a week when daylight permits (spring/summer/autumn).
    • Stretch 10 minutes, every day.
    • Lose 5 lbs.
    • Track calories (1400) on weekdays, splurge weekends.
    • Read at least 1 book a month. 5 horse books over the year.
    • Contact close friends 1x a week at least (I'm bad at maintaining contact).

Financial Goals

    • Sell Hastilow saddle.
    • Pay off CC debt.
    • Pay off 1 private loan.
    • Double my current savings.

12.29.2015

New Toys

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Christmas always brings a bunch of new horse toys to play with.

I've already posted about the awesome warm-up sheet that my parents bought Fiction for Christmas, but they also completed his daily outfit with a set of boots.


On the other side, I received a much needed helmet bag, a new set of Roeckl Chester Gloves (apparently my rubber reins are murder on these), and a pair of Ovation Winter Euro Sear Front Zip Kneepatch Breeches. I'm not normally a fan of Ovation products, but since my Kerrits winter tights are already dying (worst tights ever), I needed a new pair and these were cheap so I asked for them for Christmas. So glad I did - I absolutely love them. Warm, tight-fitting, not at all bulky, and with an awesome zipper pocket. They also feel like they will hold up exceptionally well!

We had a couple rides over the holiday weekend. Fiction was great on Saturday but we struggled on Sunday. He was either tired or cranky - who knows. Unfortunately he didn't get Monday off as planned because the saddle fitter came out with some dressage saddles for me to try!


She brought a couple brands for me to try, but I was really determined to ride in some Bliss of London Loxley saddles because I absolutely love the way they look and all of the different customization options that they have. I've seen these saddles in person before, so I was aware of the quality before she even came out.

The Bliss of London brand is relatively new - about 5 years old. My saddle fitter loves working with them because they are very quick to address orders/issues and she can work directly through them and not with a middle man so that allows her to offer the best prices to her clients. I believe the person who started the company used to work for Black Country, so the saddles are somewhat similar.

Anyways, the Loxley line is the cheapest of the Bliss of London line of saddles. She brought three different saddles for me to try - low, mid, and high price ranges.

Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures, so I'll supplement with pictures from their website:

From Bliss of London
This was the first and lowest priced option. I sat in it and immediately didn't like it.
From Bliss of London
The second saddle - mid range option. I really liked how deep the seat was and how non-restrictive the knee blocks felt.
From Bliss of London
Third option - most expensive. Will someone please explain to me why less leather = more expensive? It felt nice but not as wonderful as the mid-range options.

I decided to test ride the mid and high-priced options. Sat in the monoflap first - tried some trot, immediately hopped out. It just didn't feel right at all.

We swapped to the mid-ranged option with the molded knee flaps and it definitely put me in the proper position. No perch-seat like the Albion and my legs laid exactly where they needed to go. It took a bit for me to get used to sitting in a dressage saddle again and at first it felt off, but the more I rode in it, the better it felt. We tried some leg yields out and they felt wonderful - no fighting my position like I'm used to.

So I hopped off, the saddle fitter took some measurements, we talked customization options, and I put in an order! I'm happy that the saddle I was lusting after ended up being a great fit - especially now that I know what to look for thanks to that horrible Albion!

From Bliss of London
The above picture somewhat illustrates the options I went with. Stitching (of the saddle) and welting color options are free with purchase. Cantle options cost additional money. I went with grey welting and grey quilting on the cantle. A subtle effect that I think is unique but still classy. No bling for me!

It should take about 6 weeks for the saddle to come in but I am super excited and can't wait! It will be nice to ride in a dressage saddle that actually suits me :)

12.25.2015

12.21.2015

2nd Lesson

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It was around 29*F when I got out to the barn in the morning. Fiction was bright-eyed and alert, as the horses were in the process of going out and he was left behind so I could groom and tack him up. He got a few lessons in not invading my space, but still didn't settle down at all, so I wasn't very optimistic about getting on him.

Once I was on, I wrangled the hyper creature into a walk circle paired with halts/rein backs to get him to start listening to me. We were about 10 minutes into warm-up when my Instructor arrived.

We started off with a walk exercise. On a 20 meter circle, she had me stop him, back him up a few steps while applying inside leg and rein, and then move him forward while applying inside leg to push him out. The emphasis was on not actually stopping, just pausing through the motions, and really giving to the inside.

Freshly dragged arena!
It was interesting to see how Fiction responded. A few times he got stuck because he was so confused. Then, as he started to understand, he got stuck because he would round his back and rein back instead of hollowing which was quite a bit harder so it was more difficult for him to move forward immediately after a rein back.

After we warmed up with this exercise, we moved into the trot. To the right he was perfection. To the left he was pretty tense and hollow. Instructor pointed out that my entire body is different to the left. To the right my leg hands perfectly and wraps around him. To the left, I don't utilize my seatbone well enough and my leg suffers. So I had to really concentrate on my left seatbone/leg. Once I did that, Fiction relaxed into the contact. She also pointed out that he isn't as elastic to the left, so I need to egg him on to get his back left leg to track up properly.

She was impressed by how much we've improved in the past two weeks - she even complimented how soft my hands were, which almost brought tears to my eyes because right now I desperately need to hear that I'm doing well by my horse.

Since we had improved so much, she decided we were ready to canter. Her instructions were simple - all I had to do was sit and ask for the canter like I meant it. Otherwise he just blows through my leg and ignored me. To the right he was great. We did some spiralling in and out, and really worked on counter-flexing him a few strides and then flexing him back to the inside, making sure to predict and prevent any upset. We wanted the motions to be smooth.

His goal for this picture was to look as ugly as possible haha. Modelling the Christmas present mum and dad got him - new wool exercise sheet :)
To the left we were all over the place. Again, the seatbone. Fiction likes to lean in at the canter to the left and I have always been taught to lean to the outside to prevent this. Instead, Instructor told me to really sit on my inside seatbone, which will feel like I am leaning horribly to the inside, but instead I'm actually straight. It worked like a charm. Fiction developed a nice, gentle, non-leaning canter to the left. It was an insane amount of work, but it was so freaking rewarding.

We ended it with some nice stretchy trot. For trot-walk transitions, she asked me to slow down my posting until he walked, but to post the entire time. It really helped round him into the walk. She also advised that since he objects to the gathering of the reins after stretchy trot/walk, that I should spend tons of time on dropping and gathering reins while warming up or cooling down to get him used to the feeling.

It was an excellent ride and put me in an amazing mood. Unfortunately, it will probably be our last lesson until Instructor gets back from her time spent down south. There is another dressage trainer that frequents the barn though, so I do intend to hop into a lesson with her to see how it goes!

12.16.2015

New Tootsies

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I'm am so very relieved to be moving on from my last farrier. He treated me like some ignorant little child and had very little consideration for my input. Not how I recommend conducting business.

Old shoes (~8 weeks growth).
The appointment took about an hour because this new farrier spent a very long time inspecting Fiction's feet and hammering out the shoes so they would fit perfectly. He was super conversational and nice. He constantly gave Fiction scritches and called him Mr. Wonderful which I thought was super cute.

He did change a few things in regards to Fiction's front feet. He pointed out that my previous farrier had a smaller, narrower shoe on Fiction's foot (something my fellow boarder also mentioned) and had been short-shoeing him, so Fiction was pretty squeezed and long. So, he put broader shoes on the front feet and also set them where they are supposed to be. He mentioned that Fiction needs to grow more heel and that this should help, and it should also help to free up his movement a bit.

New feet~
And, as a plus, he also mentioned that Fiction has superb feet for a Thoroughbred - something he doesn't see often. He also doesn't think there would be a problem going barefoot. This aligned with how I've felt all along, but since I'm not a farrier/hoof expert (though I do conduct a ton of research), I've always gone with the flow and the last two farriers told me that Fiction has terrible feet and kept wanting to put pads on him, etc. Just goes to show you the vast difference of opinions that pops up in the horse world!

After the appointment I tacked Fiction up and headed into the arena for a 30 minute ride. We spent the entirety at the posting trot, working on softening/suppling and contact. He was wonderful, save for a few small lapses in attention when the cats ran across the arena. He was still dry when the ride came to an end, but the farrier appointment had eaten up most of my time allotted for the barn so I couldn't continue to work him.


I'll be out for another ride on Thursday and then a second lesson with the new Instructor on Saturday. Super excited to show her how much progress we've made, though I'm highly confident that Fiction will choose to forget everything that day haha!

12.14.2015

Relaxing Weekend

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There is just something about this new barn that makes time pass by so quickly. I hardly even notice when 3-4 hours fly by. It's fantastic.

Saturday I spent time chatting with one of the BO's daughters. I then nabbed Fiction from the field, tacked up, and headed for a ride outside. The weather was excellent, though a tad on the warm side for a horse with a winter coat.

I rode for a little less than an hour. A lot of trotting. Fiction was excellent but lazy (understandable). I sat a lot of the trot, as he tends to respond better to my seat that way and it keeps me from engaging my hands. We've been keeping it simple lately, so we just worked on what we had learned in our lesson. I made sure to change directions a lot and mix it up a bit for him to keep his mind engaged. He was a happy little horse that day!


On Sunday Fiction was a muddy mess. I scrubbed the dirt off of him, tacked up, and headed out to the outdoor arena for a 30 minute ride. Fiction was wonderful. I was able to get him to respond exceptionally well at the posting trot, and we went around with beautiful relaxation/on the bit with very little contact (think .5 lbs each hand). I'm pretty sure I was beaming the entire time.

After the ride, as a treat, I headed into the trails. The footing was a bit iffy, so we weren't out for long, but it was really nice to get away from the barn. Fiction only got a little nervous when he slipped in some mud - otherwise he was a real gentleman.

As I was scrubbing his feet and treating them for thrush, one of my fellow boarders came over. She happens to also be a farrier, and I asked her if she thought he could handle being barefoot in the front. She said she normally pulls shoes for a few months a year and has pulled a lot of Thoroughbreds. She has high confidence that Fiction should be fine, and that he has super nice feet for a Thoroughbred (this is contrary to my last farrier who told me my horse wouldn't last a day without shoes when I pulled Fiction's back feet, which turned out to be completely false). She also told me that my farrier has been short-shoeing my horse and has caused his toe to grow super long.

Good thing I dumped him and scheduled an appointment with a new farrier for tomorrow, right? I never did like him and made the decision to stop using him after he very clearly did not trim Fiction's back feet during his last appointment but charged me for the trim anyways.

She mentioned that come January/February, once we get a solid covering of snow, she would be happy to help me with pulling his shoes/giving his feet some time to breath. So this is tentatively on the books.

12.09.2015

When Disappointment Translates into Anxiety

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If you've followed me here from my last blog, you will know that even though I pride myself in recognizing my ignorance and attempting to rectify it, I am not always successful. Nor do I always go about it in the right way.

Life is full of learning. I like to learn by research and planning ahead, rather than by stumbling through a situation, failing miserably, and learning from my mistakes. Organized trial-and-error is my jam.


So about six months ago when I realized that I had spent the last few years riding my horse completely wrong, I sunk into a relatively deep depression. I'm sure that was reflected in my writing and many of you were probably fed up about it. That's fine - emo-filled blogs aren't exactly my cup of tea either.

I stopped riding consistently. I even stopped going out to the barn; I dropped from 4-5 visits a week to 1-2. Fiction lost all of his muscle tone.

Now, with the change of atmosphere, a new Instructor, and a new outlook on my riding, this depression has been resolved. I am back to riding 4-5 times a week and Fiction is back to being a content and happy horse.

But there is still some lingering anxiety. Despite following the new Instructor's advice to a T, practicing zen riding, and really relaxing on my horse, I am afraid. Afraid I will continue to sour him. Afraid I may never fix myself or him. Afraid that we will never advance beyond putzing around in an arena.


This performance anxiety has even crept into my desire to show. Even local, unrated shows seem absolutely daunting to me. Completely out of reach. I know this isn't the case, but it doesn't stop that nagging in the back of my mind.

At this point the doubt doesn't stop me from riding, taking lessons, or tentatively making clinic plans. The only effect it has had on my riding is my self esteem and my decisiveness. I've regressed to a point where a part of me craves someone to hold my hand and get me through this. I don't want to try new things without the watchful eye of a trainer that I trust to tell me that I'm not still damaging my horse in some way.

It's interesting because everything points to progression. I rode my horse last night and not once did he pin his ears or get angry with me. He was super hyped up and I had a hard time controlling him, but not once did I get impatient with him. I sat the trot a solid 35 minutes, calmly asking over and over for what I wanted, until he relaxed. It was an excellent ride that reflected a great deal of progress on both sides even though it may not have readily appeared that way to an outsider.


This isn't a 'woe-is-me' post looking for sympathy. Rather, it's a recollection of my mistakes, an attempt to realize that those mistakes, even though they have consequences, are okay, and an attempt to start myself along the realization that my anxiety is silly.

I'm on the right path now. All I have to do is stick to it.

Has anyone else experienced a crazy amount of self-doubt before? Any tips on how to get through it?

12.07.2015

First Lesson

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The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of riding. It's nice to be back on a four-days-a-week riding schedule, and Fiction has really benefited from all of the attention.

Anyways, on to the lesson. The new Instructor is a 4* Eventer who was recommended to me by a fellow blogger. I've heard nothing but good things about her from various people, so I actually didn't feel too nervous going into the lesson.

Modeling his new stable blanket.
I explained to her quickly that I feel like the past three years with Fiction have been mishandled and that I would essentially like to start over. She had me walk/trot/canter him in each direction just to get an idea of what we had to work with.

Her conclusions?

    • He is a very well built horse with a short back and an excellent trot that will lead to fantastic lengthenings when he's properly trained.
    • He has an ample amount of baggage from previous training. You can especially see it when you ask him to move forward/transition/move off the leg. He likes to pin his ears/swish his tail/protest. He immediately becomes defensive even before I ask him to do something, as if he is expecting a fight.


So here is how we learned to work through it:

    • For trot transitions, I should put my hands forward to go no-contact with his mouth. Pick up trot. If his response is nasty (pinned ears, etc.), drop back down to walk, repeat. Once his response starts to even out, take up very small contact with the inside rein. Repeat this procedure every time we make a trot transition.
    • We then moved on to spiral-in/spiral-out circles. Essentially she wanted me to apply the inside leg and inside rein, but leave the outside aides alone. If he blew through his outside shoulder, that was fine. She just wanted him to learn to step underneath himself and yield to the leg. Every time he flicks his ears forward and ignores me, I should apply inside leg to get his attention back. If he pins his ears and makes a fuss, ignore him as long as he does what is asked.
    • Consistency is key - just keep asking the same way, over and over, until he realizes that we're not fighting.
    • Keep him forward, all the time.
    • After the circles we attempted to do some work on the straight sides, but Fiction started losing his brain. So she had me drop into a sitting trot and put him in a shoulder-fore. This worked much better.
    • Back to the circles, at the sitting trot. Again, same idea as the spiraling exercise. However, she asked me to slow my own rhythm at the sitting trot. It took me a second to figure this out, but all I had to do was engage my core and still my lower back. Fiction is so sensitive to my seat that he immediately slowed and dropped his head. This was the response we wanted. Once we got this response, I was to increase my rhythm to drive him forward.


We ended the lesson there. She made a few more points. She wants me to ignore the canter for a month and focus solely on the trot. Rides should be 75-80% trot, and the rest should be walk. At the walk, I should leave him completely alone. As long as he stays in the arena and doesn't make a fuss, he can walk however he wants to walk.

I really, really liked this Trainer's approach to Fiction. Everything was slow-paced and relaxed with an emphasis on the happiness of the horse. She reassured me that even though he has obvious baggage, he picked up on what we were teaching him fairly quickly and she doesn't think it will take long to work him out of his defensive behavior.

Sure enough, I repeated what I learned in the lesson during my ride yesterday and he was already 100% better in terms of his mood and willingness to listen. I'll definitely be taking another lesson!

12.03.2015

Clip Job

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Two years ago I clipped Fiction for the first time. It was a learning experience and I didn't much care for the type of clip I had decided to give him. At times he ended up too cold because I had simply taken too much hair off, I didn't blanket super appropriately, and there were no shelters for him in the paddock. Plus, it became a pain when blankets began to rub him and when temperatures fluxuated so much that they forced me out to the barn even when I didn't plan to ride just to adjust his blankets.


It was so time consuming and annoying that last winter I didn't clip him at all. He was happier (and warmer) and even though I grumbled from time to time about having to groom all of the mud out of his fur or walk him for ages to dry him off after a workout, it was all-in-all an OK experience.

This year, however, since the new barn offers blanketing service, I decided to clip again. I did some research and opted for a modified Chaser/Trace clip combo.

I had to do it while he was dirty, so the lines came out uneven, but I'm not showing him so I don't particularly care.

We've had many rides since the clip and it has made life so much easier for us. Especially since he comes in from outside basically clean so it really cuts down on grooming time.


Speaking of rides - he has been on and off great for me. His canter has been fantastic lately on the circles but not on the straight. His departures are horrible still though. His trot is mediocre at this point but his walk has vastly improved. This constant 4-5 rides per week has actually really helped us. We're also averaging hour-long rides (warmup/cool down usually included), so he is getting his tail worked off.

Progress with the whip is slow. He freaks out every time I switch hands or move it (I never even touch him with it) and it takes a good 5-10 minutes to get his brain back. I've been very patient with him though. It may take a while, but maybe one day I'll be able to upgrade to a dressage whip.

Finally, in some very good news, we have a lesson scheduled this Saturday with one of the three trainers at the new barn. It will be nice to have some fresh eyes on us!