Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The BEST Motivation

It's been a busy couple of days, with myself acting as manager at work during our big semi-annual meeting. Which meant long days and exhaustion : P

Monday evening I headed out to my make-up lesson, prepared to have a chat with W. When I pulled up to the barn and started the walk up the driveway, the dog came running over, barking. I hate to admit it, but I flinched. Our family dog when I was a child (ironically a german-shepherd cross) had aggression issues and bit me when I was three. My parents subsequently took him to the vet clinic and had him euthanized. To this day, I’m still apprehensive around aggressive dogs (and a little guilty that the dog died because of me...but I'll save that conversation's for a professional!).

I’m not sure if W saw, but she called the dogs over and put them in the house.

When we met up, I told her about my concerns, asked if this had happened before and just let her know how I felt.

I didn’t exactly get the response I had hoped for, but I suppose I got what I expected. I also learned that the dog was previously a drug-detection dog, and the only other time he attacked a person was when a worker had alcohol on his breath when he came to the barn. To which I had to remind W that the BF wasn't drinking and he certainly doesn’t do drugs! And the whole thing only made me more concerned; drug-detection dogs, are animals who have been taught to attack and take-down humans under the guidance of their handlers. The thing that concerns me, is that this dog is no longer receiving the guidance and making the attack decisions on its own.

But at the end of the day, it's not my dog and W didn't think it was going to be a continuing issue, but rather a one-off. My experience tells me that there's little advantage to belabouring a point when someone has a set opinion and I left the conversation with no real resolution. I certainly will continue to keep an eye on the dog and will be more cautious in their presence. And should something happen again, we'll have this conversation again, until perhaps, eventually, the point will be made.

As for our Monday lesson, Moon started out well, standing beautifully while I mounted. Unfortunately, he then immediately trotted off before I had my stirrups. Bugger.

His flexion continued to improve from Saturday, and while still not nearly what it was before the time off, he's coming around. We had some great over-tracking and flexion by the end of the lesson, though I grew frustrated when he seemed to lose his implusion and became stubborn when asked to trot, constantly slowing down. My legs got tired of thumping his sides and I noticed one more time when my methodology would differ from W's. She asked me to continue bumping him until he decided to keep going as transitions are harder then maintaining pace. I on the other hand, would just ask him a few times, and then pick up a crop. "Ask, Tell, Demand" is my motto. I finally opted for the choice of digging my heels in.

He did give me some lovely straight-aways and tried to break into a canter a few times over. We had a few disagreements in what direction we were bending, and our leg yields were not what they were the day before, but I do think he was better overall. And man, our turn-on-the-fore are getting pretty impressive.

I packed him away, figuring I'd be out Tuesday to put some more practice in before our regular Wednesday lesson.

...and then I wound up going to an amazing dinner at an awesome restaurant with our visiting Mexican and American guests...with a boss that leaned over early on and said "Stop looking at the prices, it's all on me". : ) Let's just say that I got home ridiculously late and it was totally worth it, missed pony ride or not.

So today was the last day of our meeting, which was long and arduous, especially when you're running on two night of no sleep after a week of work travel. Worth it, but still, tough. When the meeting ended I just wanted to hop in my car and head home to nap on the couch...only for one of our visiting directors asking for a ride to our laboratory...and me being the only one who lived in the right direction, meant that I was on driving duty. Again, it was great to chat with a collegue about current developments in the field, but it meant the introvert me had to spend another 30 minutes being a socialite. And all you introverts know how exhausting it can be to come up with random conversations with strangers.

When I finally got home, it was time for me to head right back out to the barn in order to make it to my lesson on time. And it was raining and there were ice pellets falling from the sky. Perfect.

Walking up the driveway to the barn, I started to feel a little better. Fresh air and a warm barn full of ponies. Two of the kids that work in the barn (one to pay for board, the other to get to ride more) were just putting away their horses and it was kinda nice to chat with them. So frequently you come across kids whose parents paid for everything to do with horses and riding. Lessons, expensive clothes, tack, showing, board, everything. But not for these kids. They muck stalls. They feed and lead the horses out and dump the muck carts. They're not worried about getting dirty. They'd rather hang around the barn then go home and watch tv. They love the horses, describing every personality of every horse in every stall. Even listening to the boy describe his ride, going on about how next week W might teach him "something called Leg Yielding, how cool is that??!" : ) Just awesome.

W showed up as I finished tacking and asked if I was going for a, Lesson? Apparently she didn't realize I wanted to do two in one week, but since she was there and had no other plans, we were on.

Let me say, there is NO scrap of thought left in my mind that Moon is a MUST work horse. Some people say that they love their horse because they can leave them in the pasture for a month, hop on, and they're exactly the same as the day they put them out there.

I think that's awful. I DO NOT want a horse like that, after experiencing Moon. What, as a rider, do you feel when you get on your horse that's been unworked for so long, and they do everything you ask of them, do it well and give you no attitude? Well, for one, why ride more frequently? Two, has my horse actually learned anything demanding enough to require muscles, attention and finess? Three, either I'm an incredibly good rider or my horse and I have no enhanced communication tools. Four, there's no progression. Nothing demanding work and focus and attention from me, to work towards progress and improved skill.

Moon is NOT the kind of horse that's the same after a month on pasture. He's not the same after 4 days without work. He's stiff, surly, irritable, tight, inverted, everything we hate as riders.

Today, after working Saturday, Sunday, Monday and heading into his fourth day in five days, he was back to nearly being Mr. DreamHorse. NOT as impressive as he was after 7 straight days of riding, but not too far off. He even stood PERFECT when I went to mount him, taking only one tiny step after I was in the saddle. PROGRESS! He was so good we started working on smaller circles at a sitting trot (15 to 10 m) leading to coming out of the circle in a posting trot, straightening for 2 strides, leg yielding to the quarterline, transition to walk, change in bend and immediately transition to walk, stride through the short side of the ring and then repeat with small sitting trot circle.

Boy oh boy. We did our best, but I must say that I'm a very tight person. I grip. I even have a very painful bruise on my inner knee to prove I pinch at the knees. Fortunately, it was so painful I wasn't able to pinch on that one side today! And it was a good reminder when I tried to! It's incredibly hard to relax and just move with the trot. Plus steer in a smaller circle!

We weren't perfect, but we made it through the exercise and saw improvements the whole way through. W was confident enough in our work that she wanted to see us attempt a canter circle. We weren't going for much, just looking to see what he was capable of. The last time we tried he was too stiff and we just ended up in a rushed trot leading to a single canter stride and a messy fall-part.

Despite my confidence, he wasn't successful on the circle. We started heading right and on three attempts he picked up the wrong lead and couldn't turn properly through the corner. Bless his heart, he never actually ran me into any walls, fabric or not.

Going left, he was able to pick up the correct lead, but we wound up with it being on a straight away, having a rather crummy attempt at turning and falling back out of it. Again, no casulties and I'm proud that he offered it to me. I've NEVER asked him to pick up a specific lead. I've never really asked him to canter a circle. And I haven't a clue what anyone before me has ever done. So I don't fault the poor guy for not being able to do it. All things in time.

When I hopped off, I felt 100% better. Awake and happy and feeling good. Like a 2 week carribean vacation compacted into an hour on horseback. They are AMAZING therapy.

Now all I want to do is ride again (despite the fact that I've dozed off twice while rereading what I've written here!). I have this desperate need to keep riding him every day, as I KNOW it makes a difference. AND THAT is the coolest thing about a horse that isn't the same with 4 weeks in a pasture. I can SEE change. I can SEE how much a difference my time at the barn makes. As W pointed out, if every time you get on your horse it improves, you KNOW you're doing something right! : ) What BETTER motivation is there to get out there every day and ride?!

So yes, sometimes when I'm gone a few days, I'm the weirdo in the arena whose horse won't even trot. But give me four days and we'll be leg-yielding the crap out of you! : )


  1. I can understand your concerns about the dog, although I love dogs, I really hate dogs that are kept at livery yards. Guard dogs need a good handler/trainer and sadly lots of the horsey people that keep them haven’t got a clue.

    Riding can be frustrating I get frustrated far more than I should but it does no good and just makes us worse riders for doing so. I am with you on the crop over leg if he won’t move off the leg I don’t see the point in nagging him too, a quick tap with a crop should help to teach him that he needs to listen to what you are asking him to do and react accordingly, still that is just my opinion and everyone has there own way of doing things.

    I am glad that on a whole your riding is improving and you are most importantly enjoying it, keep up the great work.

  2. Sounds like a great ride :) Horses sure are amazing therapy :)