Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Tuesday Night Brawl

 Ok...so brawl is a bit overkill but man what a lesson last night turned out to be. I'm more sore today than I think I've ever been after a ride. I'm sure Leonard is tired too. It ended up being a private lesson which was a good thing. It also ended up being 1 hour 20 minutes long!!  Private lessons are generally 45 minutes and we worked for every single second of that 80 minutes. Phew. 

 The absolute coolest thing with my riding right now is that for the first time ever I'm seeing real, actual progress. I'm no longer hearing the same corrections as I was two months ago. Sure, there are lots of things to work on, but at least they aren't the same things. The same is true for Leonard. After decades of constantly working on the same thing with the same horse and never really seeing any progress, I'm now working in a program and with a horse who is learning. It is really freaking awesome. 

Leonard would like you to know that he had a near death experience right before the lesson started

This does lead to some...moments...though. Last night was one super large moment. 

The lesson started out really good. Lenny was softer than he has been in a little while, his balance was better from the start and we got A+s for our lateral work. In fact, the warm up went so well that EN decided it was time to move on to new territory: adjustability. 

She set two ground poles at 4 strides. I was familiar with this exercise from Eeyore though the goal was to always hit the same striding, we never worked on changing that striding as we went through. Last night the goal was just that: adjust the canter to get a set number of strides. We began by cheating a bit, going to his easier right side first.  He picked up the right lead super easy and we got the 4, we came back around in a more collected canter to get 5, then finished by cantering around a final lap to hit the 4 again. The goal for me was to start to feel the difference between the two canters to predict if we would get it right. 

Two baby goats were hanging by the arena. Leonard was both fascinated and extremely scared

EN had warned me that this was tricky and we may not get it right. When we did it perfectly she was shocked. I was grinning like a fool about to feel her pride get crushed by incompetence. What is the saying? Pride cometh before a fall? Something from Shakespeare along those lines. 

Both Leonard and I were feeling pretty peacock like in our ability to hit that exercise out of the park. We were also both huffing pretty hard. I don't recall ever having cantered that much in years. We took a short walk break then turned to repeat the exercise to the left. Oh man was this hard. 

The moment he braved taking a sniff, the little turd head butted him in the face! 

First it took three tries to even get the left lead. The first time through was fine. We had to get the 4 which is easy for him. Then we were to get 5. We never did manage it. It was a combination of a lot of things but mostly I wasn't getting my aides working properly and then he began to get tired as we cantered and cantered and cantered and cantered. You get the point. After the last pole I was to start collecting him which actually wasn't the hard part. He listened quite well to that. The issue became the turn to the exercise. The arena is pretty narrow. The poles were set just on the inside of the quarter line which made the turn off the short side a bit tight especially for me and Leonard. Leonard also tends to tire easily going left, making turns harder to balance this direction. 

We'd be coming in to that turn fine but then he'd drop a bit on the forehand while cutting the corner which stalled us a bit. I'd then put my leg on but he'd open up so then I'd half halt right before the first pole which several times led to him breaking to trot through the exercise. He also tended to leave a bit early over the first pole then use that as an excuse to open up and reach through the exercise to always end up getting 4 strides seemingly no matter what I tried before or during. I know that my timing wasn't good enough for the half halt plus I wasn't getting the feel of adding leg enough. We tired it several times but things started to get less organized with each passing until it got a bit out of control the final time through and I lost all brakes. 

Gemmie has been coming in from the pasture sweaty. For a mare who barely sweated through all her endurance competitions, this was concerning. I purchased some clippers to give her some relief. Wyatt thought it looked fun and asked to help. 

Looking back, I think Leonard was just plain tired by that point. We had cantered longer than ever before plus he doesn't do well mentally with drilling. He really likes getting things correct so the longer we went the more peevish he became. Anyway...we finally stopped that exercise and moved on-ish. By this point Leonard was pretty tense and no longer really listening to me much. We tried a different exercise, but again looking back I think we should have moved on to something completely different at this point. Oh well...learning is part of the game. 

The next exercise built off the first. We were to come over the poles, 4 strides was fine, then make the short side turn to come over the diagonal 4 stride line of cross rails. Ugh. This was ugly. We came over the poles but Leonard flipped me the bird after the second and decided to porpoise instead. I freaked a bit and pulled instead of pushed forward so the turn was unbalanced and ugly. It was only 2-3 strides down the short side until I needed to turn again for the line. I still didn't have him in front of my leg or listening which led to another ugly turn then flying through the combination. We manage to go over and get the 4 but it was awful feeling plus I had no brakes on the backside. Both Leonard and I were feeling frazzled. 

Since I was doing a pretty awful job, I handed the clippers to him. He did better than I had

EN took note. She had us drop way back down to basics. We walked. She had me randomly pick fences to walk over. He wasn't allowed to trot, jig or jump. We just wanted a forward walk, picking over the jump like a log on the trail, then calmly walking on to another random jump. It took about 3 or 4 jumps for him to calm down again. We spent about 10 minutes doing that then picked up the trot and repeated the exercise. He remained focused, soft, and forward. I could feel his brain kick back in. 

We ended by trotting into a single crossrail on the diagonal, cantering away, then cantering the 5 stride outside line. He remained soft the entire time. 

For having only been clipped once in her entire life, back in 2016, she stood perfectly still for the entire thing. She is the best mare. She is also now much more comfortable, no longer sweaty, and even cantering around the pasture again. 


It was a good, if hard, lesson. Not only did I learn a new tool with working on adjustability in the canter, I also learned a valuable lesson about both Leonard and I. We both get frazzled when working on something new that we don't get correct. In the future I will need to pay more attention to this and request that we move on earlier before his brain gets fried. 

 

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Honeymoon Is Over (With Media!)



 The last three rides on Leonard have been very different. Of course, he is still Leonard so....yeah. But he has been earning a nickname of Spicy Jalapeno Leonard of late. 

It began with our usual Tuesday Night Lesson last week. Tuesday was farrier day so he was kept up in the barn all day. It meant that when I rushed home from work he went straight from stall to trailer to lesson. I expected a bit of energy. He was a bit "up" but mostly distracted by everything going on at the barn. They have changed to evening turnout which coincides with my lesson time, so spunky horses were being turned out all around the arena as we were warming up. He did eventually settle and give me some nice work, but he wasn't his typically amenable, easy going self. 

The Hubby made it out halfway through so I even have some media!! While my arms are always an issue they were worse with the new bit as we kept the reins already attached and they were cob length. 

Life got super busy on the farm with a major project so he didn't get ridden again for a while. I had a work outing this week which led to me pushing my lesson to Thursday. I made sure to get on and ride him at home Wednesday. He was distracted. Again though, it had been a while and he is always more distracted at home calling for and looking for the rest of the herd who were all still in the barn after eating dinner. He settled mostly, but it wasn't the ride I've come to expect from my Lenny. 

Then yesterday was our lesson and he yet again came in to it distracted, wanting to jig, he even broke to canter! He NEVER breaks to canter from a trot. If anything, he will ask to walk or halt when he gets tired. It was odd because we are also having a major heat wave with temps near 90F for the first time all year. I'd have expected him to lack energy, not have more of it. Maybe he loves the heat??

That tiny rider in the distance? It’s the Kiddo! He was trailing a horse to see if he’d be ok with him versus the pony he usually rides so that he could join a group instead of private lesson. He prefers riding with other kids than by himself but the two ponies are used for that lesson. He liked this guy just fine. 

One of the things I love the most about riding Lenny is that he is the only horse I've ever ridden that is naturally a metronome. I ask for trot and we trot at the exact same pace until I ask for something else. It is a breath of fresh air from having to micromanage every single step as we speed up or slow down randomly. The last three rides though have not been that. 

Last night he was "bad" enough that mid ride we switched him to a Big Bad Boy bit: a gentle happy mouth two ring elevator. It took a bit for us both to get used to but after a while I had my lovely metronome of a pony back. I really had missed that. EN wants me to ride in this bit until our next lesson and then try to switch him back to his regular french link full cheek snaffle. 

(The below video shows our struggle with the left lead. We very nearly got it but then his haunches moved and he swapped.)



So why do I think he has gotten some ants in his pants lately? A couple  things. For starters I think the honeymoon period has ended. I've had him for 4 months now with weekly lessons for I think 2 months. He is settled in nicely at home, gaining some much needed weight though I still think he needs a hundred pounds of combined muscle and fat to be where I'd like him, and just turned 8. I think he is beginning to feel more comfortable and less shut down about everything. Some of his angle like behavior I think was more him feeling things out. I am perfectly fine with all of this. I mean, it is super nice to see his personality start to come out. It took Hammy a full year before he started showing me his true self and still now 2 years in he is surprising me daily with hints of hidden personality. I think it will be a good bit of time yet before I know the real Leonard and I am happy to see him start to feel more comfortable. 



The other reason is that things are getting harder for him. We are expecting more of him. Leonard loves a challenge, but only a challenge he already knows the answer to. Give him something he can ace and he is proud as a peacock. Give him something he has no clue how to answer and watch him get real pissy real fast. 

This happened Thursday right from the start and I think it set up some of the peavishness we saw. I mentioned to EN that while the right lead canter is very solid, the left lead is difficult. I already knew the why to it. While Leonard is getting better and stronger, he still is weaker going left which leads to a lot of wonky bend in his body. Holding himself straight is hard. When we trot left he likes to cut the corner, throw his haunches in and crane his neck out. It makes it tricky to pick up the left lead. EN had a technique for this. 

I love this picture. We were having some issues at this point but yet look at my face. I’m smiling! Really smiling!! 

We started with a turn on the forehand. He was to stand still (already an issue, he didn't want to halt at all Thursday) then I was to use my right leg to move his butt over and pivot around his front feet. He had no idea what I was asking so he moved forward. I corrected. Asked again. He moved back. I corrected. Asked again. He pinned his ears and chomped at me. Lenny does not like getting things wrong. At one point he was standing there, I put my leg on and he turned his head and put his nose on my foot like “stop using this. I don’t know what to do!”  

Eventually we got it, but man was he upset about it. We let him walk on a long rein after but I could tell his hamster was going as he chewed the bit to death. 


Once he had time to process that we began again. EN is really having me use my legs a lot more than I am used to. To set up the canter she really wants to see me use the inside leg to push the haunches out before asking with the outside. We came around left in trot and he was all sorts of crooked. He was also really pissy so he wasn't responding to my inside leg pushing him back over. EN had me halt square. Ok. Then she told me to turn on the forehand to the right. Ok. We were now facing the fence and standing diagonal. 

EN said "ok...put your outside leg on and canter left"

I said "FROM HERE?!?!?!"

EN burst out laughing. "Yes, from there. Look ahead, right leg back, go canter"

I had a mini stroke.

But....

I did it! I put my leg on and asked for canter and Leonard picked up the softest, most beautifully balanced left lead canter from a halt. A halt!

Leonard also thought that was HELLA FUN. His ears perked back up, he was light in the bridle, he was soft. We practiced that once more left, he nailed it, before trying it right which he nailed as well. Big Boy felt like a champion again and got all the pats.

(The below shows the left lead issues. You can see in the very first part how she wanted me to have him standing facing the rail then canter left. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone in a good way)



From there we started on a small course. Leonard decided that cantering was more fun than this so he started jigging and breaking to canter. This is when EN said he needed to try a new bit. We switched him out then I went off to try it out. About 5-7 minutes later he was soft, easy and my metronome again. 

We did a small course of two related lines: I know the first was a 5 stride on the diagonal but I can’t recall the striding of the second which was on the outside line. Possibly it was 6. Either way he did fine. We trotted in, cantered out to both. The last course was a simple diagonal single to outside single. 




By the end the lesson had gone for 1 hr and 15 minutes though a lot of that was walk breaks, working on lateral work at the walk and then changing out his bit so he didn’t work physically hard for all of that. It was mentally hard for him though so I’m interested to see how the next ride goes at home.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

24 or 26 Looks Goods On Her

 Gemmie is about to turn 24. Or maybe 26. I’ve lost track a bit and I don’t have the energy to dig for her registration papers to get it right. She was either 18 or 20 when we did our 100 miler back in 2016 which is how I’m figuring out my math. Good horse mom. 

Gemmie was the first to get a spring bath. She is still shedding some but looks good. All pics are smeary cuz I forgot to wipe the lens after sweating all over my phone grooming/bathing her. Oops 

Anyway. 

She is doing well. A bit grey in the face. A bit slower to want to gallop in the pasture. A bit pudgy in the middle. 

She is now on Pergolide daily for early signs of insulin resistance. She tested negative for Cushings so that was good. Her glucose was up a bit higher than we were comfortable with so on the meds she went. Plus she is in a muzzle during the day.

She doesn’t seem to mind. 


She is sweet, she is the boss, she is still aloof. She represents so many firsts in my life. First owned horse. First time I ever hooked up a trailer. First time I ever drove a trailer. First solo trail ride. First endurance at 25, 50 and 100 miles. First time jumping. First cross country schooling. First Combined Test. I wouldn’t be who I am today without having brought her home 13 years ago. 


Happy middle age to my mare!!!