5.24.2016

Restructured

9

Sunday ended week one of our new structured riding plan. I have a chart that I'll share in a separate post (forgot to take a picture!).

Unfortunately, two of the five days did not include any of the planned riding.  I had other commitments (pet-sitting an incredibly sick dog that needs medication at specific times) but I still forced myself to go out to groom him and give him his ulcer medication on both days. It didn't end up mattering - he would have gotten the time off anyways, as he somehow blew up his back two legs. They were swollen and hot on Friday, a bit better on Saturday, and almost back to normal on Sunday when I rode.


On Sunday, he was a complete gem. I spent most of the ride concentrating on myself. We even tried an interesting trick I learned in the new book I'm reading: bridging the reins while riding to remove hand action. I tried it at the trot on a circle and Fiction calmly remained at the same pace and completely listened to whatever aids my body gave him.

Near the end of our ride, the BO introduced a new horse to the field right near the outdoor arena. The horses went crazy. I expected Fiction to also lose his mind, but instead he remained in tune with me and created zero fuss.

When I returned to the barn, I had three separate people tell me what an amazing horse I have and that I should never, ever sell him (two of which had no prior knowledge of my intent to sell him just a week prior). Though, the BO acknowledged just how hard I have had to work every time I get on him.

I hosed him down, gave him a liniment bath, and grazed him a bit.

So many tubes~
Sunday also marked day 5 of his ulcer treatment with omeprazole paste. BO reported that he has a) been nickering for his food, and b) eating more and more of his hay. He is now getting 1.5 lbs of grain (down from 3 lbs) a feeding combined with 1.5lbs of grass pellets, 1 cup of DuMor Ultra Shine flax, and his SmartDigest + Tri-Amino supplements. That, combined with a increase in turnout (he is out 24/7 on nice days now) and a continuation of alfalfa pellets before riding, will hopefully begin to resolve all stomach issues.

I have noticed some interesting changes. Fiction has been more alert and attentive in the cross-ties, when previously he would stand there half asleep with a dull expression on his face. He swishes his tail a bit less while I'm grooming his stomach. And he seems calmer under saddle.

5.17.2016

Reassessment

9

I want to start off by thoroughly thanking everyone who gave me sound advice on my last post. If you couldn't tell, I was having a bit of a breakdown that was, honestly, a long time coming. And, truthfully, Fiction wasn't the primary cause - he was just what I chose to focus on in the moment.

This past weekend was a roller-coaster of emotions. I limited my exposure to the outside world while contemplating my future. This involved a lot of cookies, hot chocolate, and older Korean dramas. I went through several different scenarios, but every time I would settle, something unexpected would happen. Seriously. This was a weekend of surprises I really could have done without.


Everything settled by Sunday afternoon. Fiction will be staying with me.

Despite how melodramatic my last post may have been, Fiction isn't a bad horse. He's just sensitive, hard to ride, and damaged (probably permanently) from poor training techniques. Fiction is fixable. Hell, in the past few months I have seen vast improvements. Sometimes it feels like a one step forward, two steps backwards kind of deal, but in all honesty, it's not. It may have been back at our old barn, but with the new Instructor it has been nothing but steps forward.

The problem is with me. While I'm usually great at facing adversity, sometimes it just gets to be too much and I just shut down. My last post was the byproduct of serious mental, physical, and financial stress.

That being said, some things are changing.

    • I ordered ulcer medication. I'm also working out a different diet plan for him. If you have any suggestions for horses prone to stomach upset, I'm all ears!
    • I'm going to retain his stall board status, but I am going to request that he be left out as much as possible during the spring/summer/fall months. After how much weight he lost this past winter, I'm hesitant to place him on full field board. It regularly gets below 0* here. So, hopefully, the BO and I can work it out so that he can spend the good months out nearly 24/7 and in the winter he can have his stall. I'm hoping this will help not only with his ulcers but also with his energy level.
    • Starting this week, we will both be on a riding schedule. No skipping days unless it is an absolute necessity. I plan to establish weekly riding goals (small, achievable, not concrete), along with set exercises. I will be keeping a personal riding diary to track progress. I think this will be good for both of us - it will give me something concrete to work on and it will give Fiction a steady job.
    • We will continue with the previous plan to incorporate more training rides and lessons each month by trailering out to our Instructor's place a few times a month.
    • He will, hopefully, be put into training next year when a slot opens up and the cash is available.

We will hopefully continue to show at local schooling shows this summer, as planned. He needs the exposure and they are cheap enough to justify the cost. In terms of financial issues, I've moved funds around and made some changes + picked up a few extra sources of income to help. Everything should mellow out as the few unexpected expenses that cropped up are dealt with.


Last night was our first structured ride. The plan was to work on the following: walk-halt, walk-trot-walk, and trot-halt transitions. No stirrups - sitting trot only. I allotted 30 minutes of drill time. We finished the ride with two hill runs - one at the trot and one at the canter. Fiction was a bit heavy in the bridle but responsive and willing. It was a good ride.

I then cleaned his sheath while I waited for the farrier to arrive. Fiction got his tootsies trimmed and complimented by the farrier who marveled over how nice his feet are. Definitely good to hear, as I plan to transition him to barefoot this winter.

Anyways, I apologize for how much of a downer the last post was. My confidence has resurfaced and I am in a much better place now. Ultimately, Fiction is the only horse I can imagine riding down that center line.

5.13.2016

I Think I Want to Break Up With My Horse

26

And maybe riding for a while. Who knows. Warning, this will probably be a long, rambling post. Kudos to you if you make it through.

I'm going to try to keep this from being whiny. I'm just exhausted, frustrated, and searching for answers. The blogger world has some amazingly insightful people, so I'm hoping you guys can help me figure out what I should do.

Right now I'm facing what I would call the Sunk Cost Fallacy of owning Fiction. I've had him for nearly 4 years. We've done absolutely nothing. I've never had a fun show on him. I have had some fun experiences - primarily hunter paces. And only now am I having fun trail riding him. Aside from that, riding him is a complete chore. I try to be very positive on this blog which sometimes skews the truth a bit. The real facts? Fiction is the hardest horse I have ever ridden and riding him has never really been fun. I've been able to laugh it off for a long time now because of my unending patience...but now that is starting to give.

This was not fun.
There is a lot of financial stress in my life right now and I tend to be very pragmatic when I view financial obligations. Right now, Fiction isn't justifying his monthly cost. I'm not getting the emotional return from my investment and it's wearing me ragged. I can't afford to eat out, buy new clothes, etc., because all of my extra income goes to my horse and to paying extra on student loans in hopes that one day I will be able to afford even the basics.

It is slow, and agonizing, and painful, and I cry about it daily.

Last year was when I first started contemplating selling my horse. It was a dark time, right before we left our old barn. Then, after we arrived at the new barn and got a new instructor, things started to brighten up a bit but the thought of selling Fiction never left my mind. And now, instead of a nagging voice in the back of my head, these thoughts are screaming at me 24/7.

It got so bad that I avoided him for a week. I didn't even go out to see him. When I finally made it out last night, I cried while putting together his supplements, I cried while grooming him, and I cried the moment I got on him. Once we started riding, I managed to wrap up my emotions and we had a somewhat productive ride....doing the same thing we've been doing for the last 3 years. And by productive, I mean I rode for 20 minutes until he was finally able to relax and stop jigging/breaking into a canter/freaking out and throwing his head. Then I quit.

This was also never fun.
I've previously discussed this with my Instructor. She told me to give it a year. I'm not sure I can wait that long. She told me I'm the right person to ride this horse - that my patience and softness gives me an advantage. But I'm tired. I'm mentally and physically exhausted.

I have two real options here.

Option 1: Sell him.

    • There are a few reasons why I hesitate here.
      • He's an insanely difficult ride. He needs a pro or someone experienced looking for a project horse. He's fancy, built uphill, and has some fantastic movements. He can also jump the moon. He would be an easy resale if someone put the work into him.
      • However, right now, I consider him almost essentially worthless. He knows very little (plus he's a bit broken), and unless you're a pro, or you've ridden him as long as I have, you will get nothing from him. He doesn't like to work. He has talent for days but no desire to apply it.
      • So, selling him presents the uncertainty of where he will end up. A difficult horse like him might bounce from home to home if I'm not careful, or even end up bound for slaughter. I don't know if I could bear that.
      • I'm also the type of person who commits to animals. I like to give them forever homes. Unfortunately, with horses, this isn't always an ideal scenario. But I know Fiction. I know every little tiny thing about him. And I know just how complicated he can be.
      • Maybe if I put more work into him, years down the line we will be able to accomplish something. Who knows? Am I willing to wait years? If I sell him now, will I miss out on the fancy horse he can be/will I be able to find a horse just as fancy?

Option 2: Put professional training into him
    • You're probably thinking the same thing I am - if I'm struggling so much financially, how the hell can I afford professional training? I can't. Not with how things are now. But I've worked out a scenario where I possibly could.
      • Drop him to field board. This would save me $200/month. Money that I can pool into the money I already have set aside for lessons/training rides.
      • I then have two options: continue to pay field board at my current facility to secure my spot and send him off to training and pay full training board there. I would have to dip a bit into savings for this, so is it worth it? OR, move him to the training facility permanently, if able to do so (who knows if there is room? Still needs to be discussed), but lose the spot at my new barn that I love.

Either way, full field board is still looking pretty darn good at this time. It would require me putting out some money for some nicer blankets upfront to get him through the winter and potentially being unable to clip him/only clipping small areas, but who knows. He might be happier that way? Fiction was out 24/7 when I bought him. He loves being outside. He doesn't like to eat his hay indoors, so maybe being outside 24/7 would help with roughage consumption. And maybe it will cut down on his energy?

And this isn't much fun now, either.
As it stands, he's showing signs of ulcers, so I'll be doling out the money to deal with that. Maybe it will help his mood improve. I'm going to speak to my Instructor on the 20th during our next lesson and see what we can do/what she would recommend.

I know I need to take some time to breath. I still plan on forcing myself to get out there and spend time with him. Lounging at home lamenting about the problem is not going to help - it will only make it worse. So, does anyone have any words of advice or encouragement? I'm kind of struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now.

5.02.2016

Training Ride

4

The show on Sunday left me exhausted, so I gave Fiction several days of break before I hopped on for a bareback ride on Friday night. He was decent - a little up in the air since he got spooked by my whip while I was mounting - but he responded well to my leg and we had some great leg yields.

Then Saturday morning I headed out early, groomed him, and put in about a 15 minute warm-up ride before my Instructor hopped on him for the first time. I was a bit nervous - it is hard for me to trust people on my horse now - but Instructor knows this and made sure to reassure me before she got on.


I watched her work him for a good 20 minutes. She took a long time at the walk getting to know him before she even ventured into the trot. Fiction gave her a ton of sass every time she asked him to do something a bit more complicated than he is used to. For example, she had him doing haunches in/out down the long side at both the walk and trot.

When she finally let him off on a break, she asked me what my first thoughts are when I get on my horse. I told her that my first thought is to relax, because the more relaxed I am, the more relaxed Fiction is. She said she understood that, but that she wants me to start thinking broader. With Fiction, she wants me to immediately think left leg = move right, right leg = move left. In other words, I should be getting Fiction responsive off of my leg immediately.

She also told me she understands why I sit the trot a lot, as he completely blows through you when you start posting. And she said she also understands why I tend to get perched a lot, as he loves to pull his rider forward and down. That is why the sides of his neck are so overdeveloped.

No real horse media so enjoyed tired pups after a walk!
So, Instructor gave me some tools to work with and she thinks that they will help when it comes to shows.

1) If I do the sitting trot, I need to do it without stirrups. This helps prevent him from pulling me forward off of my seatbones, as there are no stirrups to brace against. She thinks it will also be very good for me in general.

2) If he gives me sass, I need to give him more leg.

3) Work on bringing him back for now. He has all the forward that we could possibly want. However, right now, we want to focus on correct work, and to do so he needs to slow way down.

4) Half halts. Fiction needs half halt after half halt. Basically, the long side should be 'leg, half halt, leg, half halt, leg, half halt' when doing a haunches in. Even when I straighten, there should be a half halt every other stride.

5) I should focus on the tempo of his gaits. Tempo should never change unless I ask him to change it.

6) Make sure to reward him when he does well. He's going to get a bit heavy in the bridle at first, so make sure frequent releases are given. If he starts to drop and get even heavier, half halt him up.

Yes I shave my dog. I know this can be a point of contention with some people, but Halo cannot function in the summer without being shaved and it truly does not harm her in any way. Been doing it for years!
I got on after her and rode him around for about 15 minutes at the walk and trot with haunches in/out. He definitely felt completely different after she schooled him. I got a good idea of what she wants me to accomplish before I hopped off, gave him a liniment bath, and turned him out.