Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Voodoo Pony-Dolls & Tiny Breech-Wearing Effigies

And for every day we find redemption, there is another to follow where it all falls away...

Yesterday I would have only summed up our ride as "WWWAAAAAAAA!", today it feels more like "BRAUGH!!!"

Yesterday I felt like yanking all of our gear off, throwing it to the arena floor, stomping on it a few times, maybe even throwing myself to the ground and banging my fists on the arena floor as the sand rose around me and dust filled the air. Perhaps I'd spend a few more moments clutching my dressage saddle, rocking slowly and just quietly wailing.

Perhaps. If I was, you know, that kind of person.

Instead I nodded, listened, bit back my frustration and self-doubt and carried on practicing for 20 more minutes. It certainly didn't make me feel as good as I'm sure pounding the sand may have, but at least there was no need for laundry or washing the debris from the bottom of the shower later that night. One must focus on the small perks...

I did at one point offer W the reins, in what I'm pretty sure she took as humor. I am a funny person, let's be honest. But in truth, it was a quiet plea to just spare me my own continued frustrations and failings. I don't often ask others to fix my problems, but this one has me plum tuckered.


I've spent the last couple hours trying to make myself feel better, saying all the things one would say to a person like myself. "Oh, it's only 15 minutes of practicing 3 times a week for 6 weeks! You think he'd get it in just 5 hours?"

5 hours is like 6000 dog hours. And...a lot of horse hours. So yes, yes I do.

"He's never had to do it right for 12 years. You can't expect it to change overnight."

It hasn't been overnight. It's been forever. Maybe forever plus a day. My calendar doesn't go that far back...

"You're not a pro. You can't expect it to go as quickly as a pro since you're both learning."

So why am I up here teaching?

"These things take time."


End of debate, end of conversation, end.


So let me tell you about yesterday.

We warmed up with another lesson going on in the ring. He was a good boy, perhaps a bit tired and slow from two days of work. We moved on to shoulder-in and I aimed to get the same beautiful canter depart in the corner that I got the day previous.

I got flustered, as I knew W had one eye on me, even though she had the other on her lesson. She knows we've struggled at this. We fell apart, had no canter, just a lot of rushing and we went back to shoulder-in.

We tried twice more and each time I could honestly SEE W watching us. Someone should probably point out that if you plan on showing, you'd best get used to people watching and critiquing you. You should. I haven't.

I've always struggled more with people I know then people I don't. It matters a lot more to me if W thinks I'm an incompetent ninny who shouldn't own a horse and if she teaches me for the next 8 years, I'll never manage a proper canter depart. Some people's opinions matter and I hate disappointing.

Finally on our fourth attempt we depart properly and make a half circle of the ring. We come back to a trot, slow to a halt and I'm grinning proudly and turn to W.

"Good, right?!" I ask exuding great pride.

"Wrong lead."

It was a merely a statement. There was no judgement, no condemnation, no disappointment. Just a statement. Like a scratch and win card saying "Please try again".


My mind suddenly reeled that maybe I have ZERO clue when I'm on the correct lead! Maybe I spent the whole day previous "thinking" we were striking off on the correct lead when really he's just perfecting the counter-canter?! Maybe it's all in my head and we're a great big freakin' disaster. I'm wholly inept. Perhaps I've been teaching him WRONG all these weeks and only taken things from bad to worse. 3 loops of COUNTER CANTER?! Is it possible? Am I that clueless? Or do we merely flop back and forth between right and wrong and I've only managed to confuse the poor boy because everything yields a reward because I'm too clueless to tell the difference?

I suddenly didn't know the answer to ANY of my questions. I desperately wished I had just ONE on video so I could reassure myself that Monday was not some success created by a desperate mind. What felt like the correct canter, was the correct canter. But now...

I don't know.


And that's where I wanted to unsaddle my boy and have a childlike tantrum. Where for the first time in our training I seriously wanted to hand him over for professional training before I made a great mess of it all. Where I wanted to admit defeat.

Not for Moon's fault. It's not his in the slightest. It's mine. And I don't know how to teach him canter properly.

And THAT pains me.


We continued to practice but I put the canter aside. It just stung and the wound was too fresh. I lost all confidence in my abilities and why practice if I can't even tell he's on the correct lead??

We worked on some more shoulder-in and bending. Finally I ran through a mock Dressage test, but he was completely obstinate to circling left. Either I was so stiff and frustrated up there that I was messing him up, or he was sore. I don't even know anymore...

After two failed attempts and him suddenly spooking at the stupidest of things (the mounting block, a know, things that have been in the SAME place in the arena for the last 9 months and he's NEVER even glanced at previously). So I made him move past those objects without shying and then called it a day. A long day.


I only noted two things after untacking him and checking every leg and hoof for heat or swelling, and neither is particularly notable. One was that he still has pretty obvious sole bruising on his right fore. The sole is bright red in two spots though he's not sore when I press on them with my hoof pick. Not a new phenomena since the bruising was there before his last trim as well.

The other is that his saddle or saddle pad is rubbing his back, just in front of his hindquarters. The hair on both sides has been rubbed short and scraggly. It's no longer shiny and just feels rough. I'm not sure if it's due to the new pad he's been using (just a cotton pad, nothing fancy), or perhaps he's gained muscle to affect saddle fit, or is using his hind quarters more to drive and in turn is more active in that area.

I swapped him back to his merino fleece 1/2 pad to try to alleviate the problem for today's ride and suspect it will take awhile for new hairs to grow. I'm going to contemplate saddle fit and what might be necessary to keep that back panels of our saddle from rubbing. My thought is that either it needs to come up at the back or down at the front. I have a pad that allows for inserts, so perhaps I'll add a back insert and see if that helps him any.

Finally I opted to give him a couple "stretches" from the Equine Fitness book, including the tail pull and leg flexes. Neither seemed to do anything for him, he just stood there disinterested. I also tried to give him a bit of a back massage, but he was more interested in making faces at a mare or scarfing through the garbage bins.


So now I sit at a total crossroads. Yesterday's sadness over our struggles has worn away to frustration and impatience. I'd LOVE to hand him over to W at this point and ask her to put 30 days on him teaching him what leads are and how to get them. But on the same hand, I'm very proud of what Moon and I have learned together and want to prove to myself that we can overcome this hurdle together as well. Except that I don't have the 14 years or so of steady training I suspect it will take.

Yes, I'm being dramatic. No, I'm not in the mood to care.

There is a clock ticking. And there can't be when it comes to training. But I celebrate another birthday in just 4 weeks. I head to our first show in 9 weeks. I see the end of summer looming, the start of winter approaching, the subsequent spring, summer, fall, winter consumed by building, the years that follow a mixture of life and work and farm development that leaves me yearning for just one simple accomplishment before life consumes my fun: To have a horse that has canter leads.

But perhaps it doesn't matter in the end? He'll always be my rock solid trail buddy, we'll always have plenty to compete at a walk-trot and one does not need leads to gallop across the beach or climb a valley in the woods.

Oh my MoonSox. I'm sorry I just can't get it right to teach you what you need to know.


And I should in advance, thank everyone for the likely words of support and encouragement that follow. Don't worry, I'm not considering the end to our dressage career, I'm not thinking of throwing away our dream of showing this summer, I'm well aware that at not even 30 I'm (hopefully) far from past both youth and fun, and have plenty of time ahead of me, and I'm never giving up on Moon and what we can do together. I'm just frustrated and being mellow dramatic makes me feel better. Lots better. Let me bathe in my sorrow and self-pity for a bit. Tonight's a lesson night so I'm sure W will coax me back into considering that the Moon-pie and I are the best candidates for next year's Olympics and such. But for this morning...and maybe this afternoon...I'll just wrap myself in the belief of utter failure until my annoyingly stubborn self resolves that we'll train six days a week twice a day for the next two months until that canter makes a frigg'en appearance.

Trust me, I'm stubborn that way.

And, should anyone want to include a miracle cure in their comment, something that in 4 easy steps yields perfect canter leads, I'll subscribe and do whatever weird or perplexing ritual is required to achieve it. Be it moonlight collection of herbs and the consumption of weird concoctions, or voodoo pony dolls and tiny breech-wearing effigies.

I mean, seriously, I'm getting desperate here. ; )


  1. Super-quick less than sensitive comment in the two minutes being doing things at work -- will do better later! But: what are you doing to set up your departs?

    1. For quick reference: Lately it's been shoulder-in into the corner, slight lift with the inside rein, outside leg back, my body upright and a kiss (for good measure). All of this after a good 40 minutes of softening/connection work including lots of leg yielding, change in direction, transitions, etc.. I don't even TRY canter if he's not soft and supple (for him).

      If he just rushes, we make a 10 m circle then leg yield out of it with him not rushing (repeat if he does), 10 m circle to the wall, leg yield off wall and back to wall, 10 m circle in next corner, "shoulder-in" down the long side of the arena back into the corner and then same request.

      If he's anticipating that corner, we just do our 10 m in another corner and shoulder-in down a different long-side and canter in that next corner.

      Coach says he's still stuffing his shoulder out at the last second and twisting his neck right at the depart. She suggested straightening him but now I've run into a "I'm in a corner, I'm shoulder-in'ing and now I'm straight? And where does he get the right lead??!"

      Hence: BRAUGH!

      And don't worry about sensitivity. You're far enough away to be spared being hit by any flailing limbs or cast off dressage gear... ; )

    2. So I am just one jerk on the internet (and it sounds like you're already doing all the right stuff!) but...what happens if you:
      - Go counterbent in a circle in the trot and then ask for the canter as you return to true bend?
      - Ride a 10m trot circle in the opposite direction to the lead that you want, then change rein onto the direction you want to be going and ask for the depart as you do?

    3. Also, total sympathy on the nerves! I don't know anyone who doesn't get twitchy when they're riding out of a lesson but in front of their instructor. I had an extra-special-fun time while I was riding my instructor's horse for a while over the holidays. He would walk by and I'd want to go, "SHE WAS FINE TWO MINUTES AGO BEFORE YOU GOT HERE." But then I tell myself, it's good if he sees my worst moments -- then he can figure out how to help me fix 'em! (I hope.)

  2. Oh, I'm a dope and forgot the post immediately previous in which you explained. Okay, never mind, back later. Sorry!

  3. Just found your wonderful blog and will definitely be coming back :)

    1. Welcome Emmi! Pleased to hear that my woes have inspired you to keep reading!!! ; ) I promise to have a more optimistic post in the near future!! Perhaps when the weather warms up and I rediscover the joys of applying lip balm during shedding season... ; )

  4. That is a very freaky pony voodoo doll right there. Sorry to hear about your frustrations. I don't have any help with the canter leads problem but I do know a bit about frustration. Remember that as you start to push yourself and Moon more, you will hit obstacles. I have total faith that you guys will overcome this, and whether that's just the two of you working it out or having W put 30 days on Moon, you WILL progress. If I had the money, I'd put Tessa back in training in a hot minute. It's not a failure of your training if you decide to do that. Otherwise, I highly recommend long bubble baths after days like these.. :)

  5. Guess what! Rosie and I are in the exact same place! Here is my solution at the moment - just canter. Get the departs departing with out me fussing, with out ME rushing. Just tap her hip with my whip to get her in front of my leg, sit up and ask. Wallah! She goes EVERY SINGLE TIME!

    I'm actually wanting to find a nice field or hill and canter up - don't care about lead - just canter.

    You'll get there. I agree with Mona Sterling - hot bubble baths but I like to add wine or beer of choice.

  6. Ah! I was in you place not to long ago, except I am not nearly as advanced as you and Moon! And what you said to me was such an eye opener!

    You and Moon have come so far! You guys will be awesome when you compete! I find that usually right before a big surge forward in training, there is a little backslide. So I am hopeful that you and Moon will be making huge strides forward.

    I am also glad to hear that you ended your session on a good note. And I feel the same way about people watching me that I know vs strangers watching me.

  7. One thing that I had used with my young mare to teach leads (and lead changes). Was to stop in the centre of the arena, sidepass to the left, to get the bend, then ask for a right lead. To ask for a left lead, sidepass to the right.

    I had issues getting her left lead and this helped a lot. And if it's any help, my mare counter cantered so balanced, I had to get someone on the ground to confirm the lead she was on.

    Parelli/natural horsemanship people have also said putting exagerated weight and shifting it back on the outside of your seat works. The idea is that you are asking the horse to use the outside hind leg to propel forward so you put more weight there. This also alleviates some of the weight on the inside front, since you want the shoulder to lift. This also helped my mare. We started really exagerated and with a bump on her outside hind end then gradually worked down to more subtle cues.