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>Tucker Explains the Wizard of Oz

May 16, 2011 6 comments

>So, I get to the barn on Saturday afternoon, very much looking forward to a nice ride outside.  I hadn’t seen Tucker in a couple of days, and the rain was holding off.  Perfect recipe for a great Saturday.  Couldn’t wait for some quality time with the best horse in the world. 

Just one problem.  As we exited the barn after tacking up, Tucker morphed into full-on, high alert, neon-sign-flashing-DANGER, drama-llama mode.  Okay, no problem, I’ll lead him down to the outdoor ring and get on there.  There was some construction happening and apparently all the loud noises were blowing his mind.

Little did I know what was in store for me.

We get down to the outdoor ring and I found myself having to hand walk my now-possessed beast in circles, which, at the time, was a lot more like flying a kite than leading a horse.  In his defense, there was a little more going on than your basic construction.  They were delivering big, pre-fab sheds on the end of a flat bed truck, and they were unloading directly in Tucker’s line of vision.

Finally, sick of staring into the whites of Tucker’s eyes and listening to him snort above my head, I decide to climb aboard.  After a few minutes of dancing and prancing, he settled down into a somewhat normal walk, though he continued to arch his neck, twitch his lips around and stare wild-eyed into the distance.

I decide to try and communicate.  Get his mind off his, um, troubles.  I head to the point of the ring farthest away from the sheds that are clearly going to kill us, and we do some spiraling in and out circles, some leg yields, and he eventually starts to relax and even stretches down a little.  He takes a big deep breath and I finally feel him starting to bend around my inside leg and start tracking up.  His back was relaxing.  Phew.  He’s finally back to normal. 

So, I ease him up into a trot.  OH MY.  He responds by stomping his front feet, shaking his head from side to side, and squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeling.  Uh… not exactly what I was expecting.  Okay, okay, okay.  Walk.  Just walk.  Calm down.  Please.

He walks and almost immediately settles back down.  I figure it’s a fluke.  We do a little more working walk and when I feel him getting bored to tears again, I cautiously ease him back into a trot.  Feet stomping!  Head shaking!  Squeeeeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeeeee!  Oh dear lord.  Walk.  Please.  Walk.  Just… walk.

Me:  Um, Tucker?

Tucker:  Yeah?

M:  Mind explaining what the HECK is wrong with you?

T:  What’s wrong with ME?  What’s wrong with YOU?  It’s not safe out here you know.  We are in a very, very dangerous position.

M:  Didn’t realize that.  What exactly is unsafe about the outdoor ring?

T:  (He scoffs)  No, no, not the outdoor ring.

M:  Okay…. I’ll humor you.  Where is the danger, exactly?

T:  It’s the houses.  They are dropping houses.

M:  Oh, well, I really don’t think we need to worry about that.  They’re not going to drop any houses on you.

T:  You don’t know that! 

M:  Actually I kind of do.  There’s really no chance that one of those houses is going to fall on us.

T:  Not on my watch, that’s for sure!  But I can only do so many things at once. And I can’t watch for falling houses while we are trotting.  I mean what am I, a magician?

M:  I see.  So that’s why we can’t trot. 

T:  Now you’re catching on. 

M:  Since when do houses fall on horses or people?

T:  Haven’t you seen the Wizard of Oz?

M:  Tucker, there are no horses in the Wizard of Oz.

T:  MY POINT EXACTLY!  Horses are very intelligent creatures.  We don’t stick around when there are falling houses.  Dogs, lions, flying monkeys, that movie had everything except a horse.  And that’s because horses are way too smart to get distracted and wait around to have a house fall on their heads, so some filly can come along and steal our shoes.

M:  I see.  Let’s try trotting one more time okay?

T:  Squeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeee-eeee!

M:  *Sigh.*  Nevermind.

I don’t really think anyone would have believed me, except that when I got back up to the barn, I was explaining how the ride went to someone:  “Ugh, he was a NUTCASE today.  Every time I tried to trot, he’d shake his head and stomp his feet, and sq–” 

eeeeeeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeeeeee!”  He was then kind enough to demonstrate for us. 

Once again, my horse has valiantly saved me from the brink of danger.  Thank heavens I have him to protect me at times like these.  Quite sure I would be lying under a house somewhere otherwise.  And some strange girl would have stolen my shoes.

Categories: flat work, freshness, humor, Tucker

>Back to Work

March 27, 2011 5 comments

>”You’re going to ride it right?  Please tell me you’re going to ride it?” 

Uh oh.  This was the question that met me when I walked into the barn. 

I wandered down the aisle and found Tucker, who just came in from turnout, covered in mud and walking in circles around his stall.  He paused for a nanosecond to sniff me:  “Hi mom!  Sorry!  Can’t stop!  Busy busy busy!”  He was like a kid on too much sugar (or, more accurately, me on too much sugar).  Apparently the spring grass has gone to his head? 

Tucker is clearly feeling all better and has been finding all kinds of ways to amuse himself (and drive the barn managers nuts) this week. Unfortunately, as you could probably tell from the lack of posts, I had a really busy week at work and didn’t get to ride him at all this week…. Something tells me I better remedy that for the coming week, or Tucker may find himself equus non grata.

My endlessly patient and mildly exasperated barn manager proceeded to tell me that Tucker has torn the mats up in his stall every night, pulled all the blankets off his blanket rack every day, and has been generally disruptive, noisy, and annoying all week.  Lovely, buddy, just lovely. 
 
Her best story?  When she came back from teaching a lesson to find him wrestling with his blanket in turnout.  He had managed to yank it half way up his neck and his face was completely hidden from view inside the neck hole (are you picturing this?).  He was leaping through the air and striking out at it.  Fearing the worst, she ran out to the field, convinced he was stuck and panicking.  But no, oh no, he pulled his head out and looked at her, totally amused, and then went back to his game, grabbing the chest buckles in his teeth, then burying his face up to his eyeballs and boucing around the field like a wild 1200-pound puppy with a new toy. 

Only my horse.  Only. My. Horse.
 
Given his current state, I quickly booted him up and led him down to the indoor to run around while the ring was empty.  The second I unclipped the leadrope, he squealed and spun and took off at a full gallop, gobbling up the length of the arena in about ten strides.  He lept, he spun, he bronced, he bucked, he tossed his head, he struck out with his front feet, he kicked out behind, he squealed, he grunted, he whinnied.  I just stood at the gate and watched.  Uh… at least he’s sound?  Even if… slightly deranged?  Then he trotted for a bit, and walked around snorting at things, and then went back to galloping a few more laps, and then when he was done, just turned and walked toward me, calm as could be.  “Ok mom, all better.  Man I needed thatPhew!”  I handwalked him for a minute or two and then got tacked up.
 
Despite the theatrics, I’m happy to say he was a dream to ride.  He was soft, and relaxed, and listening, albeit completely unfit and out of shape, so we took a lot of walk breaks.  He got some nice foam on both sides of his mouth, did everything I asked, and seemed to enjoy the work, which made me very happy.  When we were done, he stood on the cross ties with his ears up and his eyes half shut, licking his lips.  Much nicer horse than when I arrived.  That’s more like it.  At least I know he misses me when I’m not around, right?
 
I actually forgot how lovely he is to ride.  Well, maybe I didn’t forget, but I did get a new appreciation for what a fabulous horse he is, after not working him for so long.  So nice to have my boy back.

>Stitches are out, and so is Tucker!

March 21, 2011 5 comments

>So, I took the stitches out on Friday night.  The wound did not heal as nicely as the wounds on his face did (though my vet warned me that would be the case).  There is still a bit of a ridge where the laceration was, which may go down in time.  I’m still keeping a very close eye on it and keeping it as clean as possible, but so far there are no signs of infection or complications.  Happily, he is quite sound on it, and it does not appear to bother him at all at the trot (haven’t cantered yet, but I’m sure that will be fine too).  He has been sound at the walk but I was still sort of holding my breath until he took the first few trot steps and I felt his normal metronome-like rhythm.  So nice to feel that lovely trot again.

Not surprisingly, Tucker is FRESH.  The poor guy has done nothing but handwalk and bareback rides at the walk for the past two weeks, so it’s completely understandable.  He is still perfectly relaxed and quiet at the walk.  As for the trot…  we can trot for about 2-3 circles before there is head-shaking and foot-stomping and mini-broncing, and general frolicking and carrying on.  He is mostly trying very hard to keep himself under control though, which I appreciate.  There was one rearing-pirouette move which I could do without ever seeing again… but the other horse in the ring with us left (before I realized she was leaving), which was understandably very upsetting.  Separation anxiety and all.  You know how it is.

The best news of all is that he is getting turned out again!  Thank goodness — hopefully this will have him returning to normal horse mode soon.  I just hate the thought of a horse stuck in a stall, even when it is necessary, as was the case here.  Both days this weekend I worked him first before turning him out, and I think that was a good idea.  I also hung out with him in the field for a while, which helped keep him under control.  It seems that I make a decent turnout buddy, even though I don’t roll and I don’t graze.  I’m still pretty good company though, and there are usually treats in my pockets.  So, I’ll do.

On Saturday when I turned him out, he rolled immediately, and I still had the lead rope in my hand as he did this so that I could prevent the taking off upon standing routine, which turned out to be a good idea.  I handwalked him around the paddock for a while since he clearly was wild-eyed with excitement.  Eventually I undid the lead rope but stayed close by, and he started off just wandering around with me.  Then there was some really impressive roaring and striking with the gelding across the fence, at which point he of course managed to get his foot semi-stuck on the bottom rail, and helplessly turned to me.  (“Hi.  I’m stuck.  Can you fix it?”  I just shook my head.  What does he do when I am not around?)  Once he was un-stuck, he commenced trotting the fence line, did some additional pawing, and let out some frustrated whinnies when he realized that the gelding across the fence could touch his girlfriend, while he was separated by double-fencing.  Totally cruel and unfair fencing arrangement, if you ask him. 

Then there was a brief minute or two where he displayed some wicked bucks, followed by a moment of total insecurity when he heard sirens on the highway and trotted straight to me, put his head down under my arm and refused to leave my side.  “Mommy!  Scary noise.  Hide me.”  Silly horse.  I waited for him to settle down to grazing, and then slowly made my way out of the field.  He did some more calling to me when he noticed I was leaving (even though I’m not the greatest turnout buddy, I am still better than nothing) but eventually, he decided he’d just hang out and graze, and then spent a very quiet hour out there.

Sunday I lunged him before riding, because I wanted to give him a chance to get some of those monster bucks out before he was turned out loose and while I could control him a little.  Very, very impressive acrobatic displays.  I have never seen him buck so high and so hard.  After the huge bucks though, he was willing to start listening to me again, and trotted around very quietly and did some good stretching.  I got on and rode briefly afterward, mostly at the walk, and other than the rearing-pirouette moment, he was actually pretty good.  Sunday’s turnout was totally uneventful.  Same routine, I walked him around a bit before letting him go, and then he just rolled and went straight to grazing and walking calmly around.  I left him out for two hours while I did some organizing and tack cleaning, checking on him every so often.  All I could see was the outline of his back, head down, occasionally shifting grazing spots.  What a sane, sensible horse I have.

So anyway, while I think it will take me about another week to get him to the point where he’s sane, and then we’ll have to work on our fitness level, we do seem to be well down the road to recovery.  So, the start of our show season is pushed back about a month I’d say, but in the grand scheme of things, I can’t complain.

>Sometimes, Life has other plans

January 6, 2011 11 comments

>Remember how a few days ago, I talked about how I’m learning to be flexible?  Well, apparently the karmic forces read that post, had themselves a chuckle, and decided to mess with me.

I headed out to the barn, fresh from being totally inspired by watching Mr. Morris’s clinic, thinking I’m going to work on getting Tucker light, and forward, and supple.  Use my legs.  Allow my upper body to “accompany” the horse.  Allow his back to be free beneath me.  Haha.  Ha.  Ha.  (The karmic gods are grinning an evil grin, even now, as I write this.)

When I got to the barn, I was given the great news that we are getting a nice indoor bathroom installed in the indoor.  No more freezing our butts off in the porto!  This is excellent news.  What I hadn’t realized, though, was what this was going to mean for my ride. 

We walked into the indoor and were greeted by a large orange excavator, an SUV, a big hole, a cement pad, and a very polite man in coveralls in the corner, doing something with the cement pad.  We exchanged pleasantries (well, I did, Tucker was kind of dumbstruck), and I gave Tucker lots of time to look everything over before I mounted, gave him lots of pats, humored his snorts and big scared eyeballs, and once he finally took a deep breath, climbed aboard.  That’s when the fun started.

Mind you, I’m a little spoiled.  He doesn’t do anything really that bad when he spooks, so I was able to be amused, instead of annoyed or frightened.  Another horse could have seriously lost it. 

My first pass at the walk, Tucker was in full drama-llama mode.  I imagine his thought process went something like this:  “Mother, do not panic, but there is DANGER in that corner.  Fear not, m’lady.  I, your valiant steed, shall protect you from the Man, and the Hole, and the Large Orange Thing.  I have experience with these sorts of Things and will tell you that Large Orange Things have a tendency to Make Loud Noises, but do not be alarmed.  I shall move swiftly past this dangerous area, I shall not take my eyes off of these creatures, lest they should attack suddenly, and I shall escort you quickly to safety.” 

I gave him a pat for his “bravery” and we changed direction and did another lap of the ring.  Upon reaching that corner, we repeated the same pattern, with slightly less “high alert.”  More like “moderate alert.”  “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more.  As I have done before, I shall carry you through this treacherous territory.  We shall face all manner of evils.  There is a Man, and a Hole, and Large Orange Thing with a Tendency to Make Loud Noises — but do not give up hope.  I, your brave and conquering hero, will not rest until you are carried safely past.”

I figured since he managed not to give himself a heart attack yet, we could probably attempt a trot.  We circled at the other end of the ring for a few minutes, where I had about 80% of his attention.  Not bad.  I figured we could try trotting down the long side.  “Alas, I fear the worst is upon us.  My rider has lost her sight.  She moves forward blindly, completely unaware that she is steering us straight into the belly of the beast!  I must take over the helm!”   We then started trotting sideways, across the arena.  Lovely half pass Tucker. 

I made a circle to see if we could possibly travel in a straight line past the corner of doom.  “She may have lost her mind entirely!  I’ve got no choice but to move as fast as I can past the Man, the Hole, and the Large Orange Thing with a Tendency to Make Loud Noises!  She clearly has no sense of the imminent peril we are facing!  Thank God one of us is a flight animal!”  We managed to trot around the corner, albeit at a pace a little quicker than what I had in mind.  Still, though, he was holding it together.

I stuck to the top half of the ring for most of the ride, occasionally venturing down to the bottom third but trying not to make too big of a deal.  At one point though, we were tracking left, approaching the death triangle from the short side of the arena, when the nice man working on the cement pad emerged from his SUV.  Tucker stopped dead in his tracks, head straight in the air.  “The Man is emerging from his cave of death and destruction!  What evil plan is he hatching now?  I mustn’t move a muscle, and perhaps he will move along and leave us unharmed.  My rider is oblivious to the danger, it is up to me now.  If I move one inch, there is a chance that the Man will use his Large Orange Thing with a Tendency to Make Loud Noises to drive us into the Hole, never to be seen or heard from again.  Well I’ve got news for him:  Not on my watch buddy!  What’s this?  She’s sending me on?  Has the WHOLE WORLD GONE MAD?!”

Given that he was actually twitching at this point I figured I better give him a break and stick to the top end of the arena for our canter work, staying on the far side of the few jumps that were set up.  Cantering circles at the other end of the ring went reasonably well, though at one point he almost fell over trying to turn left and look right at the same time, and accidentally crossing his front legs in the process.  I tried really hard not to laugh out loud at him.  I figured at this point we could probably risk cantering the top half of the ring.  “Alright mother, I’ve been quiet long enough but now you are just being unreasonable.  Have you totally lost it?  There is a MAN!  And a HOLE!  And a LARGE ORANGE THING with a tendency to MAKE LOUD NOISES!  Get it together will you?  You are going to get us killed!”  As we scooted across the middle of the arena with our tail between our legs, it occurred to me that perhaps I should return to the circle.  “Phew.  She seems to have gotten the picture.  At least now we have returned to the safe corridor, behind these wooden barricades.  They’re not much, but they’re something.”

I came back to a trot and did some little figure eights, looped around the jumps, anything to get him to focus for more than a nano-second.  He actually relaxed for a few minutes, even stretched down (!) when trotting away from the Center for Horse Torture.  So I figured we could canter left now.  Nice transition, decent canter.  Wonder if we can circle around the jumps?  “MOTHER!  Pay attention!  MAN!  HOLE!  LARGE ORANGE THING!  LOUD NOISES!  Must I constantly be in charge of everything?”  Okay so, maybe not.  We ended doing some more trot work so that his eyes could return to their sockets and he could resume breathing, and quit for the night.  I figured a couple of minutes of relaxation was a success, given the circumstances. 

While cooling out, he wandered over to the corner.  Reached his nose out and touched the excavator.  Peered down into the hole.  Put on his cutest face for the man in coveralls.  “Hi!  I’m Tucker!  What’s your name?  You sure do have lots of pockets.  Anything for me?  Hmmm?  I like mints.  Got any mints?  What’s that thing for?  Can I eat it?” 

If nothing else, he is certainly entertaining.

Categories: flat work, freshness, humor, Tucker

>Tucker the Wunderkind, the Movie

December 20, 2010 13 comments

>Last night I rode Tucker at home and he was W.I.L.D.!  You know that feeling when you get on your horse and he needs to trot… immediately?  That’s how it started.  So we trotted for a while and once I felt him start to relax I figured it was safe to pick up my canter.  Figured wrong.  I picked up my canter and as soon as we got to the top of the long side, he exploded like something cowboys would be fighting over at the PBR.  He bronced and lept and bucked and carried on all the way down the long side (and you know how big that ring is).  There was another rider in the corner putting her horse’s cooler on and she turned around to see what the commotion was… for a second there, I’m pretty sure both our lives flashed before our eyes.  Thankfully I was able to stay on somehow, and got him trotting on a circle in the middle of the ring for a bit. 

We kept trotting until the ring was empty, and then I hopped off and pulled his tack and let him run around.  Clearly he had something he needed to work out… because he ran, and ran, and ran.  Then trotted for a minute, and ran some more.  I just stood in the middle of the ring and watched (he actually looked gorgeous once he stopped bucking).  Finally he had enough and trotted a few times all the way around the ring, so I caught him, tacked him back up, and hopped on again and let him walk for a while to catch his breath.  I wanted to end with a few minutes of work but we took things nice and slow and easy, trotting circles, working on getting him to accept the outside rein, bend through the middle, keep an even tempo (tiny little bite-sized goals).  We ended the ride cantering circles like a normal horse so apparently he had gotten everything out of his system.

I went to Alicia’s this afternoon for a lesson and I wasn’t sure exactly how he would be, but I’m happy to say he was absolutely perfect.   I rode him in the hackamore and he flatted really nicely, though I’m having trouble lately with keeping him from over-bending tracking right, which we’ll have to work on some more on our own.  We warmed up over some small jumps and then started working on a gymnastic down the center line and he was absolutely fab-u-lous!  He was soft, and quiet, and jumping so nicely.  I’ll let the videos speak for themselves….

Is that a wunderkind or what?  Don’t you just love him?  He makes it looks so easy.  3’6″ feels like nothing for him.  This was our best gymnastic yet (they seem to be getting better and better every time).  I definitely like doing gymnastic work in the hackamore.  He stays so incredibly soft and jumps so nice and round in it.  Never thought I’d say this, but I actually asked Alicia to put the jumps up a little for our last time through!  This horse does wonders for my confidence.

After our lesson we went down the barn aisle and I let Tucker say hi to all his old friends.  He was so sweet with all of them and they all seemed happy to see him.  I love the way he sniffs noses and blows in their faces, and then he’ll sometimes lick their muzzles like a puppy.  Just the sweetest thing.  Then when we opened the door to head back to the trailer Tucker didn’t want to leave!  He backed all the way up into the aisle, just about broke my heart.  I felt so bad taking him away from his friends.  There’s always a chance that Tucker will end up living with his little herd again… though probably not right away.  Right now I’m just hoping that at some point soon all the pieces of my life are going to start making sense again.  Tucker certainly made his wishes known today in case anyone was wondering though!

Things are a little up in the air in my life right now, but today I had one of those rides that totally clears your head.  Makes everything just snap right back into place.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I love that horse so much.  I can’t even put into words how special he is to me.

>Derby Day Recap

November 16, 2010 8 comments

>

So Saturday was a marathon.  I got to the barn at 6:30 a.m., fed Tucker his breakfast, hooked up the trailer, loaded my tack, then got him braided (mane and tail) and cleaned up, and loaded around 10:00.  My braids are looking great these days, but I am still painfully slow, which means I have to get there super early to get them done.  I’m happy with the way they look though, and it makes showing as often as we do a whole lot cheaper, so in the end it’s worth it.

When I called the horse show at 9 a.m. to get the number of trips in the classes before me, I was estimating that we’d be showing around noon.  More and more people kept adding to the classes though, which meant that noon became one, which became two, which became three, which became four.  Poor Tucker hung out by the ring with me for hours, because I brought him down way too early but then wasn’t sure if I’d have enough time to bring him back and forth to the trailer again… turns out I probably could have shipped him home for a few hours and come back.  But the delays ended up working in our favor… because it meant that our cheering squad arrived!  “On The Bit” at A Horse and a Half and another friend of ours, who sometimes posts comments here as “Boomerang” came to cheer us on, and very graciously took the videos and photos here, and were all kinds of helpful, and even left a bottle of champagne in my truck!  Such good friends.

Woodedge did an absolutely beautiful job with the course.  I loved it.  You’ll see in the videos below that there were some really cool elements, including a circle of hay bales where you had to canter through a small opening and jump out (in the background in the photo on the right), some beautiful natural hedges, logs, barrels… stuff you’d expect to see on a hunt course.  It was just perfect, the ring looked amazing, and it was a really fun course to ride.

All afternoon I watched horses that were saying “you people must have lost your minds, there is no way I am going near that hay bale circle of death” and “there are monsters under that brush jump and I’m saving your life and mine by not going near it” and “who knows what evil creatures lurk inside those barrels?  may-day! may-day!”  I’ll admit, I was starting to wonder if Tucker’s bravery would hold out, but in my heart of hearts, I knew he’d handle it all okay.  I figured he’d overjump everything the first time around but I didn’t think he’d stop.

Well, turns out I completely underestimated him.  Not only did Tucker jump everything bravely the first time around, but the trip that Alicia did on him was the best I’ve ever seen him go.  She really did a beautiful job with him.  He was smooth, and elegant, and looked every bit like a super-fancy, polished, made hunter.  He didn’t over jump anything, nothing phased him, he landed on the correct lead after every jump, and he looked gorgeous doing it.  It was one of those proud mom moments where you can actually feel your heart swelling in your chest.  I was so happy with him.  He ended up 7th in that class out of at least 45 horses (there were so many they actually couldn’t tell us in the office the exact number)… and let me tell you, there were some absolutely beautiful horses there.  That was a great ribbon.  Since he was so good, there was no reason for Alicia to do a second round, so we let him go back to the trailer and have a drink, get untacked, and eat some hay for a bit.

By the time I got back on him to show, the sun had gone down but it wasn’t totally dark yet.  The lights were on in the arena, so it pretty much still looked like daylight in there, and it wasn’t pitch dark yet outside the ring.  I’ll let the video speak for itself, but I couldn’t have been happier with how it went.  I like the second half better, after I took a deep breath and let him go forward a little (though unfortunately the outside line wasn’t caught on the video — good help is so hard to find — just kidding girls!), but as far as he’s concerned, he was absolutely flawless throughout the whole thing.  I just loved it, I had such a good time.  I’m so lucky to have such a brave, clever horse.  He was 5th in this class, out of about 30 horses (and once again, beat some beautiful, impressive, fancy hunters).  I am really, really proud of him for putting in this round.

After this round, we then had eight more trips, a course walk, and a drag before the Derby.  So, by the time we walked the course, it was pitch dark.  I was second to go, so I walked the course and then hopped right back on, trotted and cantered once around the warm up ring (which had a couple of lights), jumped one vertical, and walked up to the gate. 

I stood in the gate and surveyed the course, and I felt really good about it.  My nerves were under control, I had a plan, and I felt pretty confident.  Unfortunately… we got in there and the lights got in Tucker’s eyes… and I don’t think my confidence exactly translated down to him.  I totally understand, he’s never been ridden in a ring with lights in his life, and it was probably pretty shocking for him.  He didn’t do anything awful, but it wasn’t exactly pretty….  In the interest of truth in blogging though, and making sure you all know that things don’t always go flawlessly… I’m posting it here for posterity.  (Please be kind in your comments!  We’re still figuring things out!)

The video doesn’t look nearly as bad as it felt.  It’s hard to tell, but he got a little freaked when we first came in the ring with all the bright lights, but then he settled and jumped the first jump okay.  Then he got a little stuck by the in-gate, and in my effort not to provoke any reaction from him because he felt so tense, I didn’t do enough (well, didn’t do anything) and we drifted right, botched the in of the line, drifted right some more….  Then he swapped off behind coming to the two stride… I think I just lost his concentration completely by then.  He jumped the two stride okay, but then landed and scooted (though it felt a whole lot worse than it looked).  My first reaction was to fall back on bad habits, I buried my hands in his neck, but then I made a circle, regrouped, and got a more relaxed soft canter.  He actually approached the center gate fine, but when he landed and scooted again (taking the gate down with him), I opted not to continue.  He seemed to be getting progressively more rattled with each jump, and I decided it just wasn’t worth it.  Maybe someone else would have made a different choice, and honestly I’ve been back and forth over it in my head and I wonder if I just should have shook it off and kept going. The rest of the course involved jumping the vertical where I pulled up, then the hay bales, then the oxer on the outside, then the log and brush at the end of the ring where he was being spooky.  Maybe he would have settled… but maybe not.  In the moment, he felt like he was going to lose it, and I just wasn’t willing to end on a really bad note and decided to cut my losses before things got worse.

When you get to know a horse well enough, you can feel the difference between when they’re pretending to be spooky, and genuinely scared.  This felt to me like he was legitimately overwhelmed by the lights in the ring, and even though he was doing his best to hold it together, I could feel that he was tense and holding his breath and jumping hard.  Even when we got back to the trailer, he still seemed rattled and out of sorts.  He made me so proud earlier in the day that I’m not going to fault him for it.  He’s still young, and that’s a lot for him to handle.  I think if the Derby had gone in the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day like we had expected, things would have gone wonderfully. 

While this is going to sound like I’m tooting my own horn here, I have to say that I’m proud of myself for not getting scared, panicked, and paralyzed when he got a little spooky.  A year or so ago, maybe even less, I would have been terrified and shaking like a leaf by the time I came out of the ring.  Instead, this time, I felt a little disappointed that the class hadn’t gone well, but I understood that it was a lot for him to handle, and I know that he wasn’t being naughty on purpose.  Overall he’s incredibly brave and sensible, so he’s allowed to hit his limit now and again.

By the time I got into the truck to drive away, it was pitch dark and freezing, and I was wiped out and starving.  Alicia and I stopped for a quick dinner while Tucker slept in the trailer, and then I took him home, got him unbraided and wrapped and tucked in for the night, and dragged myself home and to bed.  There is nothing like a hot shower and curling up with two purring kitties after a long day like that!  I laid in bed and felt exhausted, but happy.  All in all, it felt like a fabulous day, and I’m just grateful to be the kind of competitor that can take the good with the bad, and appreciate how great my horse is even when he’s not perfect.  We really felt like a team, and he gave me some really fabulous efforts that day.  That’s what it’s all about right?

>Mommie Dearest?

October 14, 2010 4 comments

>I hate having fights with my horse.  As I’m getting after him, I have visions of Joan Crawford.  NO… WIRE… HANGERS!  When I have a ride where I have to discipline him in some form or another, I feel totally remorseful immediately thereafter.  I untack him wondering if he hates me, if he thinks I’m a mean mother, if he’s totally confused.  (Though in all likelihood, he’s already forgotten about it and is wondering where the treats are.)  I would be the worst parent ever.  I’d send my child to his room, and five minutes later go upstairs to apologize.

So maybe writing about it will help me decide whether I was too hard on him, or whether I got through to him and did the right thing.  And of course your comments are always helpful in helping me regain that ever elusive perspective.  This will probably be a really long post… so either grab a snack and get comfy or wait for the Friday Funny.  I promise it won’t be more over-analysis and introspection.  Friday’s post will actually make you laugh.

As you know, I’ve been having some trouble with herd-boundness.  Though it seemed to be getting progressively better with each ride, until tonight.  It was a little chilly this evening so maybe that was making him just fresh enough so that he couldn’t focus.  We started out at the walk on a left circle at the top of the ring (farthest from the door).  I got him going forward in a long, low frame, and then started collecting him a little more and asking him to keep stepping forward but into a slightly more elevated frame with a little more contact.  I noticed that every time we hit the point in the circle where he was facing the door, he looked out the door and lost the bend a little, but I was trying to ignore it to start with, figuring it would get better.

Then we moved up to our trot (good upward transition) and as soon as we were headed toward the barn he rooted the reins out of my hands, sped up, and then craned his neck toward the door, head straight up in the air, and 100% tuned me out.  So I went back down to the walk and then did a few walk-trot transitions.  When I got back to the point in the circle facing the door, he rooted the reins again in a downward transition.  So I halted him again, and then asked him to back up.  The backing was very crooked, there was more rooting of the reins, and lots of resistance to my leg.  He did eventually take three steps back in a straight line though, so I patted him and walked on.  We did some more walk-trot-walk-halt-back transitions and I actually had one series of transitions that was very soft and responsive (facing away from the barn).  So I then continued with my trot and worked down the long side of the ring, toward the door. 

When we got to the end of the ring closest to the barn, he was so focused on the door it was almost like he was spooking.  His haunches came totally to the inside, head straight up in the air, staring out the door, trotting sideways.  Since my leg and seat were doing absolutely nothing to get through to him, I picked up a stick.  I tried again to bend him to the inside and ask for a slight shoulder-in as we reached that same corner, but he completely ignored my aids.  So, I smacked him behind my inside leg.  Since that caused him to plant his feet, hop up and down, and shake his head from side to side, I smacked him again and closed my leg to send him forward, which he did.  I then kept him on a left circle down at that end, and each time we reached that point of the circle, for the next 3 circles, I did an exaggerated shoulder-in so he wasn’t facing the door and pushed him across the end of the ring with my left leg. Then I did another circle but dialed down my aids, and just asked for a little exaggerated inside bend.  One ear stayed pointed toward the door, but he held the bend and listened to me, so that was progress.  He still felt a little tense, but at least he was responding. 

I then went across the diagonal and started a right hand circle at the far end of the ring.  He was better about the door in this direction (or perhaps he had decided I was psycho-mommy and he better behave), so I tried to just take a deep breath and relax my arms, my back, etc., and soften.  He relaxed a little too, which was good.  I then worked my way down the long side toward the door, but added in a few circles along the way to keep his focus.  Then we circled right at the end closest to the barn and again I did a shoulder-in as we were coming toward the door and around the end of the ring, but didn’t exaggerate it.  He managed to do this correctly, despite one ear lasered in on the door.  We did another circle and since he held the inside bend, I didn’t push it.  We went back across the diagonal and I put him on a left circle at the top of the ring, and worked on getting his haunches to the inside (he swings them out to the right tracking left).  He responded, and stayed relaxed, and I actually got a really nice trot for a few minutes.

I wanted to give him something else to focus on, so I started going back and forth over a set of trot poles (three in a row, about 9 feet apart) that were set up on the center line.  I had to halt twice going toward the barn because he tried to throw his head up and run after the poles.  The first time he threw his head up in the air and swung his hips left during the halt.  The second time the halt was much softer and straighter.  Then I started figure-eighting over the poles, going away from the door up the center line and turning left, then away from the door up the center line and turning right, etc.  Since the poles were set about 9 feet apart, I asked him to put two steps between the poles and then the next time through, really collect his trot and put three steps in, then two again, and so on.  I’ve worked on this before and it’s really hard for him, but I wanted to challenge him so maybe he’d concentrate.  Tracking right he collected and extended well.  He’s stronger in that direction and he’s happier to accept my left rein than my right.  Tracking left, we had a little difficulty, he tried to get crooked, his head came up and he sort of bounced off my right rein, so I thought maybe I was blocking his forward motion with my right rein again.  I did it a few more times, being careful to stay as soft as possible with my right rein, and it improved.  So I patted him and let him walk a bit.

After he caught his breath, I picked up my trot again and did some walk-trot transitions, and then went into my right lead canter.  I did one circle at the canter, then one at the trot, back to canter, and so on.  Mixed in there we had some really nice transitions, some not so good (mostly downward transitions headed toward the barn, where he threw his head up and got strung out instead of holding his roundness and stepping through).  I went across the diagonal and changed my direction again, headed toward the barn, and I totally lost his focus.  If it’s possible to get run away with at the trot, I did. 

So I went back to my figure eights over the poles, since that seemed to get his attention.  He was having none of the collection tracking left, so I stayed on a left circle and tried to work through it.  I tried keeping him straighter, using less hand, more hand, more seat, stretching taller, more leg, but all to no avail.  He kept walking right in front of the poles, then trotting and putting two steps in, and no amount of me keeping my leg closed and driving with my seat was going to change his mind.  Then he planted his feet in front of the first pole and wouldn’t walk over it, so I tapped him on the shoulder with my stick.  He spun right, then ran backwards, then did a mini-rear.  I actually said out loud “Seriously?”  But, I wasn’t going to be bullied.  I tapped him again with my stick behind my leg, and closed my leg and made him go forward.  He rushed forward and was tense, but it was (sort of) the response I wanted so I made a circle around the poles and gave him a pat, then went back to circling right over the poles until he could do that in a relaxed fashion.  I did it once more to the right asking him to collect for three steps, then went back to the left asking for two, and then stayed left and asked for three.  It wasn’t particularly smooth, but he did put three steps in between the poles and didn’t break to a walk, so I left the exercise alone for the night and asked him to canter. 

The canter transition was actually lovely (probably because of all the collection), but he rooted the reins out of my hands as soon as we headed toward the barn and took a few huge steps.  So, I got the canter back under control and did a downward transition, and trotted until he relaxed again.  Once we had a more regulated trot, I went back to the canter and this time there was no rooting.  We did two circles and since he stayed relaxed and under control, I went back to the trot.  We trotted once around the whole ring, and on the long side headed away from the barn I let him stretch down, and then walked once we got to the top of the ring.  I walked for a while on a long rein, but asked him to keep stretching down and walking forward, just to try to end on a relaxed positive note.  Then I dropped my reins completely and left him alone while he caught his breath.

So, the patterns that emerge:  he was worse tracking left, and almost all of his little episodes occurred toward the barn.  The fact that everything happened tracking left isn’t too surprising, since that’s always his weaker and more difficult direction, though I’ll have to keep an eye on it in case it’s a pain issue.  He’s due for an adjustment and acupuncture next week, so I’ll know for sure then.  His obsession with the barn isn’t too shocking either.  He’s never liked to be alone, and he’s probably feeling insecure about being in a new place.  I do hope that it’s going to improve though.  I ride at night after everyone else is done, always have, probably always will.  So, it’s one of those things he just has to get over.

Now that I’ve written about the ride, I see that it wasn’t all bad, which makes me feel a little better.  There were relaxed moments, and he was able to concentrate on a few of the exercises for brief periods.  I could do without the tantrum, and hope he gets over his fixation with the door.  Not sure if getting after him was the right thing to do or not, but it did seem to work.  I’ll be interested to see if the next ride is better or worse.  I don’t like using the stick, but maybe there are moments when it’s necessary to get the point across.  Your thoughts?