Thursday, November 19, 2009

Breakthrough

Alicia and I have a habit of closing down restaurants. They are usually putting the chairs upside down on the tables or mopping the floor by the time we look around and realize we should probably go, and have been talking horses for a solid couple of hours. In one of these many talks, all of which I cherish of course, Alicia told me that when she takes lessons with Anne Kursinski, sometimes things that Anne tells her won't click until months later, and then she'll realize what Anne was talking about in the middle of a ride. When Alicia told me this, I thought, "Gosh I wish that would happen. More often than not I feel like things are sailing over my head, barely sinking in, or getting lost in translation. But last night I had one of those moments, for the first time.

The advice was this: "You need to make a place for yourself to sit on your horse." When I first heard this from Alicia, I had a vague sense of what she meant but no sense of how that would feel or how it would be accomplished. Last night I got the feeling and thought "Oh! I get it!" I was perfectly centered in the middle of my horse, comfortably sitting with his stride, balanced, secure and relaxed. And it wasn't a fleeting feeling. It lasted. And it was good.

Here is how it came about. We warmed up at the walk and he felt good. No gadgets, no gimicks, because I wanted a true sense of how his adjustment had changed his way of going. It definitely made a difference -- no more head tilt for starters. When we moved into the trot, he was forward and relaxed but he wasn't quite balanced. I started doing some big serpentines and he tripped twice behind, which is like a giant neon flashing light that reads: "Your horse is on his forehand and his hind end is actually about a mile behind you doing absolutely nothing. Would you care to fix this before both of you topple over?"

Ah, yes. Perhaps I should do something about this, before, as the sign says, we topple over. So I went back down to the walk. I remembered that one day this summer we had a lesson out in the grass field and Alicia had me work on halting using only my seat and leg, sending him forward if he tried to balance off my hand for the halt, and then asking again. So I went back to this. This time he caught on very quickly (he is after all a Wunderkind) so a couple of times I asked him to back softly after he halted, using a lot of seat and leg. The first few times he wanted to swing his hind end to the left or right as he backed up. I straightened him out slowly and asked for another couple of steps of backing. When he backed up straight, lots of praise.

When I had a really balanced walk, pushing off from his hind end, I went back to a sitting trot. And what a sitting trot it was. I thought about pulling my knee away from the saddle, sinking into my heel, sitting evenly on both seat bones, and stretching tall through my shoulders (the shoulders may have only been partially accomplished. It's a weakness).

For the transition to the canter I stretched tall, lifted my hand, kept a firm contact on my outside rein, and asked him to canter with support from my inside leg. Excellent departure, and beautiful canter. And then suddenly I felt it -- I had made a place for myself to sit. My legs felt like they were just wrapped around him (nevermind they come halfway down his sides). I could feel his back lift beneath me and his hind end become completely engaged. I was using my inside calf muscle to balance him in my canter circles -- and he was responding and holding his bend! I lifted my hand and sat deeper down the long sides of the arena and his canter stride stayed the same length. I never got displaced from where I was sitting. I felt like I was six feet tall and had the grace and strength of a ballerina. It was amazing.

Then the moment came when a choir of angels began to sing. I had this awesome canter and I really thought about my downward transition. I thought -- just ask for it the same way you asked for the halt. Seat and leg: stretch tall and sit deep, use your inner thighs. And it worked! There was no herky-jerky emergency-break style downward transition. It was light as a feather, and his trot was big and bouncy and soft. It felt so good I almost quit on that, but I wanted to see if I could make it happen in the other direction.

And the best part is -- I did! His right lead canter is always easier so I was optimistic. I centered myself again, asked for the upward transition with an elevated hand, firm contact on the left rein and supporting right leg. Another beautiful transition, into the same uphill soft canter. I had a place to sit. I had a moment where I thought -- now don't get too discouraged if you can't repeat the downward transition. This will still be a fantastic ride. But I thought about my halt transitions, asked the same way, and got the same soft downward transition. I actually said out loud: "I get it! Tucker! I totally get it!"

I quit on that note and gave him all kinds of praise and affection. And he knew he was good too. You could see it written all over his face while I was cooling him out: "I am the MAN."

How lucky are we, horse people? Do you ever stop and think about it? On a regular old Wednesday night, I got to do something that made me feel thoroughly satisfied and completely elated. Do you ever think about the fact that people who don't ride must get that feeling so much less frequently? Sure, they have other things that make them happy, but that walking-on-air, everything-is-right-with-the-universe feeling that we get after a good ride must be so hard to replicate in a life without horses. I am so grateful that a few nights a week I get to see this face and know that my life has meaning. This horse is such a blessing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

All better

I am happy to report that Tucker and I went for a very light hack yesterday morning and he felt 100%. (So, for now, at least, you are all saved from endless pictures of fluffy kittens snuggling with large-eared warmbloods).


Last week, I had lunged him on Thursday night and he just didn't look quite right (but I was too afraid to blog about it on Friday the 13th due to fear of a jinx -- just ask Jane). He wasn't lame and his footfalls sounded even, and he appeared comfortable, but when I watched his right hind vs. his left hind, he wasn't tracking up as well on the right. It was very slight, maybe only an inch difference. I thought it might have been the Elastikon bandage bothering him a little, but his ankle also could have been still a little tender. I figured I'd give him the benefit of a full week of recovery just in case.

Sunday morning I got to the barn early and helped turnout and feed, and then rode Tucker and Summer. The cut looked normal, with a healthy scab, no swelling or redness and no heat. And Tucker felt loose and forward and happy to be working again. Alicia watched him go and thought he looked good. So we've officially survived the fetlock scrape of 2009. Phew.

Even though all I did was walk with Summer, she was fun too. She's the perfect size for me (at least a hand shorter than Tucker) and she is absolutely gorgeous -- shame on me for not taking pictures. I'll have to try and take some. She was very quiet and relaxed and seems to have a nice mouth and good response to your leg aids. Pretty good for a girl who's been on the long recovery road for a few months!

Tucker met with his chiropractor today and got some adjustments. Dr. M often comments that he's incredibly sound behind and I was happy to hear the same thing today, so really no worries about the right hind. He did need adjusting up near his poll which I had anticipated because I noticed on Sunday that when he was stretching long and low he was tilting his head (ears to the right, muzzle to the left) which is something he does when he needs to be adjusted.

Here's a (rough, lawyer's attempt) sketch of what was adjusted:




No idea if that's going to be legible, but he had the Atlas on the right and C3 on the left adjusted (near his poll) and C15 in his back, behind the saddle but before his roach. One of Tucker's several conformation flaws is a roached back (vertebrae that curve upward and stick out from his back). You can just make out the bump in the picture -- it's just behind where I've marked c15 (at my best estimate). Dr. M said that usually horses with a roached back will have some discomfort there but it doesn't appear to bother Tucker at all, which is great. He also said the adjustment in C15 wasn't related to saddle fit, which is a relief since I spent a lot of money on that saddle not too long ago!

So all is back to good in the world of Tucker!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Just when you thought...

... that I couldn't take any more cute pictures of my horse, I took a bunch with a kitten on his back:





Sorry, I promise once I start riding again I'll start posting something other than adorable pictures. Tomorrow I'm riding Summer, a beautiful young mare who belongs to my friend Eva (and who happens to be Julie's half sister). Summer and Tucker used to live on the same baby farm, and were reunited at Whitmere. Summer is still rehabing from a strained ligament so I'll just be walking, but since I've known Summer her entire life, I've been anxious to get on her and see what she's like.
So, hopefully I'll have something a little more interesting to report, but until then enjoy the "awww" factor and I hope everyone is getting to spend time with their horses this weekend!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tucker love

I love my horse. I know you all knew that already but last night (since I am still babying his wound) I just hung out with him in the barn aisle, taking pictures and playing with him. There is something so endearing about a horse that stretches out his muzzle to kiss your face. I concluded last night (for the millionth time) that I just love him. Every silly little hair on his head.

I promised a picture of his snazzy new haircut:

And here's a profile shot of his handsome face:

And here he is in the new thinsulate blanket, which fits perfectly:


And lest anyone get the mistaken impression that Tucker is the only character in the barn, here is photographic evidence to the contrary. Here is Joe, helping me groom:

And here is Indie, helping me, um, cross-tie (?):


I love the look on Tucker's face in this last picture. He was curious and amused by Indie, until he realized the thing Indie was playing with was attached to him. It instantly became not so amusing.

As for the injury, there is still some heat in his fetlock. I am hoping to get on him tonight for a light hack so I can determine if he's sound. I'll wrap his hind legs with polo wraps and ice his leg when I'm done. We are continuing with the wrapping and triple antibiotic ointment (you can see the Elastikon wrap on his right hind in some of the pictures above), but I'm thinking that tomorrow, if there's a healthy scab forming and no sign of infection, we should stop wrapping and let some air get to it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Chronicle of My Horse

Check out the new COTH website. It's very cool. Just read an interesting article on the fit of breeches that makes me think I probably shouldn't be wearing the ones that I love (The TS low rise schooling breeches). Muffin top? What muffin top?

Also, check out "The Chronicle of My Horse." It's kind of like facebook for horse people (of course, we can't just have facebook. We need something different, of our very own, that's entirely horsey). I made myself a member page, and even added and RSS feed to the blog (look who's getting tech savvy!) so hopefully I'll expand Tucker's fan base!

Clearly, I'm getting lots of work done today. . . .

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Update on the Boo-boo

I had a horrible nightmare that Tucker had blown a low hind suspensory, one of those heart-wrenchingly-life-like dreams, complete with the vet visit, the ultrasound, cold-hosing, hand-walking, and telling his sad story to all who would listen.

Despite my apparent equine hypochondria, Tucker appears to be doing just fine. The folks at Whitmere changed his bandage today and Alicia said it looks good. There was heat in the leg yesterday (which could have prompted the nightmare) so Jess iced it for me, but today it felt normal. They re-wrapped it tonight with antibiotic beneath gauze and elasticon but didn't put standing wraps on, so we'll see if his leg blows up. My hope is that since we've been keeping it so clean and protected, there won't be an infection and won't be too much swelling. I'm planning to head out there tomorrow so I can give him lots of attention, which I'm positive will aid in the healing process. I might just get on him bareback and walk him around, which usually makes him pretty happy.

Am I nuts for treating a cut so seriously? There are folks out there whose poor horses are battling major soundness problems and here I am fretting over a minor injury. Might seem a little silly, but he's my baby. Can't help it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A beautiful weekend & Tucker gets a boo-boo

Taking a minute to share with you all about my beautiful weekend!

On Saturday I got up early, ran some errands (including a stop at Dover -- why is it that I can't get out of Dover or Target without spending $100??) and headed to the barn for body clipping.

When I got there Tucker was standing in his stall with his ears back, pouting. Everyone else was turned out, but he had gotten a bath the day before in preparation for clipping . . . and with all the rain the paddocks are pretty muddy . . . so no turnout for Tucker. He was totally offended.

When I first put him on the cross-ties he had that same pouty look on his face but then he realized what we were doing. Tucker loves body clipping. It's a solid three hours of mom-time. I don't walk away to chat with people, I don't leave to go get things from my trunk, I don't touch any other horses. It's just pure, unadulterated attention on him for a solid block of time.

He is so good about clipping. He doesn't move a muscle except when I say "over please" or "lift this foot please." When I do his face, I slip the halter around his neck and he puts his head down around my knees and leans against me. I'm telling you, this horse is a fan of attention in any form. The only thing he really doesn't like is his ears. I didn't have to twitch him this time though, just had someone slip a chain over his gums and stand there, and he didn't fight it at all. So that is progress. I am slowly working up to being able to do them without a chain or anything. I can now do the base of his ears and some of the outside without assistance. He looked absolutely beautiful when I finished and he was all smiles after a full afternoon with mom. I'll try to get some nice pictures this week.

I also rode him in the chambon for about 20 minutes, a very light hack with it set loosely to see how he would react. He didn't seem to mind it and I'm thinking it's going to help. I'm going to try again one night this week with it adjusted one hole so that it starts coming into play a little and see how it goes. I really appreciated everyone's comments on the last post and I'll try to keep the dialogue going on the subject of his flat work and my methods and what works and what doesn't.

Yesterday I worked at the farm all day and had a lovely day. Didn't make it to the baby shower . . . but the autumn weather was absolutely perfect for a day of barn work. The kittens helped me do morning hay:


And I got to see how Tucker enjoys himself in turnout:


Sadly, Tucker went for a bit of a romp after this roll and managed to give himself a nasty cut on his hind right ankle. Our best guess is that he came to a sliding stop and there was a rock in the ground that he cut himself on, because it goes right down the back of his fetlock joint like a seam. So I cleaned it well with betadine, determined that no stitches were necessary, put triple antibiotic in the wound, wrapped the area with gauze and elasticon and set him up with standing wraps behind for the night. He's just going to get handwalked today and turnout in the small stone dust paddock tomorrow and then we'll see how it's healing. I don't think it will make him lame (unless there is something else internal that we don't know about yet), but it's in a really bad spot and I want to make sure it has started to heal and close before he goes back to work. We're going to give him until Wednesday and then re-evaluate. He's walking sound on it (though of course held it up to show me as soon as I started to clean it and made his best "Ow mommy ow" face). I offered to carry him back to his stall, but he decided to be brave and tough it out. I'm thinking it's a long way from his heart and he's going to be just fine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flat work: under construction

So after my lesson last Sunday, my back was so sore from Tucker trying to yank me over front of the saddle that I could barely sleep, and have been sleeping only with the help of various heating devices (hot water bottle, flax seed herbal heating pack, electric heating pad) all week. On Monday morning as I was curled over cave-man-style shuffling around my apartment, I thought, "This has got to stop."

You know I'm a big believer in the selective and judicious use of gadgets. I believe that they have their place in a program, if it's the right gadget and it's used properly.

I have four issues that need fixing: (1) Tucker throws his head in the air for upward transitions, or when something becomes "too hard;" (2) Tucker roots the reins out of my hands, mostly at the canter and especially after jumps; (3) Tucker gets rigid through downward transitions, his hind end falls out behind him and he jerks his head up, especially from the canter (trot is improving steadily) and we think he may just not understand what I want; (4) when Tucker anticipates a lead change across the diagonal of the ring, he will stick his head straight up in the air, run, and only do half a lead change.

I'm working on ways to fix these things without the use of gadgets and we're making slow progress in some areas. (1) I'm working on forward impulsion at the walk, and using more seat to ask for upward transitions. Walk-to-trot has improved dramatically. Trot-to-canter is usually good. Walk-to-canter is still touch-and-go. (2) I can leg yield from the rail to the quarter line at the canter to prevent him from rooting down the longside of the arena. Either it keeps him more connected back-to-front or it just gives him something to think about. (3) On the downward transitions, I apply leg yielding as well. Canter-to-walk is generally, to be quite honest, still a disaster. (4) I've started doing more counter-canter, so that he (hopefully) learns that coming across the diagonal doesn't always mean a lead change. Sometimes he has to hold a counter-lead, sometimes he's going back to the inside lead. Too early to tell yet if this will work. (Mind you, he does perfect changes for Alicia, so clearly it's me. But, at least I know it's not physical.)

On Wednesday night, I tried a set of draw reins. Alicia has a pair that has bungee cording, so they have more give than regular draw reins. I've used draw reins before to teach him to go long-and-low (nose to the ground) but never in his working gaits. This did not work. He was behind my leg to start (something that's never a problem). I got him coming forward and then he wanted to lean on the draw reins (not the point, this made my back hurt more). Worked on some shoulder-in, haunches in, and transitions, got him a little bit lighter but with a lot of effort on my part (gadget was supposed to make things easier). At the canter, my half-halts created this awful chin-to-chest reaction (obviously not the goal). Then he spooked at something, hit the end of the draw reins, panicked, ran backward shaking his head side-to-side wondering what monster was pulling on him (oh dear, definitely not good). He never fully relaxed after the spook despite my best efforts at relaxation, though we did get a decent canter by the end. Terrible, terrible downward transitions though. More stiffness, more resistance, total confusion on his part.

So obviously the draw reins did not help. There were things I liked: it was easier to control bulging through his shoulder, for example, and his haunches-in movements were awesome off both legs. Also, for a training tool for me, they were good because they forced me to carry my hands (I tend to ride with my hands way too low and my reins too long). Generally, what I didn't like was that they encouraged him to stiffen through his jaw, set against my hand, and fall behind my leg. In short,the cons outweigh the pros.

Last night, I rode him in a corkscrew. I usually use a double-jointed rotary. He was fantastic. His trot work was truly excellent. Lateral movements were great, cavaletti work was relaxed and forward. His canter was very good. He tried to root once, caught the business end of the corkscrew, his head shot straight up in the air and he kind of bounced off my hand for two strides. I didn't pull, just kept my hand steady, let him fight it out with himself, so to speak, and then softened my hand as soon as he relaxed. He learned from it and didn't try to root the reins again. The rest of the canter work, including the counter-canter, was very good. And at the end, I got a lovely canter-walk transition. He did one I didn't like, I calmly picked up the canter again and asked for another downward, this one was better but not perfect but I patted his neck to let him know he was close, and then he did one perfectly. Soft and forward, not balancing off my hand, into a nice soft forward trot. Good boy!

So he has the day off today as a reward. Tomorrow, I am going to try out a Chambon and see if that will get the results we're after. I also definitely want to try jumping him in the corkscrew. He was so soft and light in my hand last night, I'm really curious to see if that will keep him from landing and rooting after the jumps. Obviously, I'll need to stay very soft with my hands but I think I can do that.

Tucker gets body clipped tomorrow, and hopefully I'll have time for a ride in the chambon once I'm done with that. Alicia will probably have to ride him for me on Sunday because I have a baby shower to go to (it makes me feel guilty, but does anyone else resent when people plan things during the day on a weekend? Don't they know they are cutting into my barn time? Hmph.)

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

He's Mr. Ed

I SO should have moved to Hollywood with this horse and gotten him into commercials and films. He clearly has no concept of the fact that he's not a human and does not belong in human spaces.
After we ride I do a little stretching work with him in the aisle, with the help of some mints (or candy corn, or m&m's, or tootsie rolls, he's not picky). So last night we're doing our stretches and I dropped the last mint and he stepped on it and crushed it (and proceeded to lick it up off the floor). We hadn't done our second left-side stretch yet, and since the barn doors were shut and he wasn't going anywhere, I left him standing loose in the aisle when I went back into the tackroom to get another mint. I turned around from the bowl of mints to find the following:

"Yes! She finally left the door to the treat room open!"

"She even left the key in the door. Silly human. Like stealing candy from a . . ."


"Oh hi mom, there you are, just talking about you.
So where do you keep those yummy things?"

"On top of the fridge maybe?"

"Wait. . . I think I smell something . . ."

"Bingo!"

"Mommy? Can you open that bag please? I don't have thumbs."

Can't you see that face on a commercial? Not exactly sure what it would be a commercial for, but obviously he's not camera shy! This horse cracks me up. Some day I may get sick of taking multiple photos of silly things he does, but I doubt it, so I hope you're all enjoying it!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Discount Tack Stores

In response to the overwhelming popularity of yesterday's post, I figured I'd share with you all some of my favorite places to look for a good bargain. Some of these may be painfully obvious to you, but try to at least groan quietly as you roll your eyes at me.

1. horseloverz.com. They always have great discounts. I buy all of Tucker's weatherbeeta turnout blankets here. You can also usually snoop around online for discount coupons (google "coupon code") and there is usually a deal out there for free shipping, 10% off, or $10 off. Email me at tuckerthewunderkind@gmail.com and I'll give you a link to the website where I found coupons. Not sure if they're listed there with the website owner's permission, so I don't think I should post them.

2. The classifieds on Chronicle of the Horse. There are giveaways (always the best place to start, mostly free horses but sometimes people give away blankets, tack, etc.), tack classifieds, rider apparel classifieds, horse apparel classifieds, and miscellaneous classifieds. People sell really nice things (usually gently used) at reasonable rates and I've bought a few things with no problems. Obviously, just use your judgment about giving out personal information if something doesn't seem quite right.

3. equine.com. Mostly horse ads, but you can search for tack and equipment too. I bought my saddle here last year for a HUGE discount. It had only been sat in twelve times and is practically brand new.

4. chicksaddlery.com It's a Western site, but I've bought halters, grooming supplies, etc. from them and they are much cheaper than most English sites.

5. ebay Stores. We all know you can get great used stuff on ebay, but the ebay stores sell brand new discounted items -- even better! Edgewood has a factory outlet store, and I've been coveting an Edgewood bridle. Obviously there's always tons of used stuff on ebay. In particular I've had good luck finding Tailored Sporstman schooling breeches on ebay for a lot less. Though, now that I think of it, I also just found a pair even cheaper at Smartpak. (Don't worry, I am not a size 24. The price and size have gone down since I ordered them).

6. Dover Saddlery also has a closeout page. Before you buy the full price item -- check there first! Sometimes the same item is in the regular pages and in the closeouts, just in a different color, etc. Also, if you live near a Dover store, remember that they will ship an item to the store for free if you go in and order it and then come pick it up. So no sense in paying for shipping!

7. State Line Tack. I know this is an obvious one, but they're having a Clearance Sale right now and some of the deals are too good to pass up.

8. Thinline, Inc. is also having a closeout sale. I have their leather open front and hind ankle boots, and the saddle fitter pad. Both are excellent quality and I got a discount on both using a coupon code. Again, email me and I'll give it to you. Note that the coupon can't be used on closeouts.

9. Jeffers - another good source for weatherbeeta blankets. I haven't ordered from them, but I've considered it because their prices are very good.

10. One last non-equine site. Do you guys know about freecycle? It's one of my favorite things. It's just a bulletin board where people post things they are giving away. The idea is to keep huge items like couches out of landfills, so it's not only economical but also environmentally sound. People will post things they are giving away and also "curb alerts" if they see a couch or something in front of an address in the area. You need a yahoo id to join, which is free, and then you can sign up for whatever groups you want (I picked my county and the next county over) and they will email you the bulletin board daily. This one really came in handy when I was furnishing the new apartment. People give away beautiful pieces of furniture, you would be amazed!

Those are the places I frequent. My best advice is that whenever you are looking at an item, whether it's horse-related or not, google the item. Then you can compare prices and shipping rates and make sure you're getting the best deal. We all have our favorite sites and stores, but my loyalty goes out the window if I can find a better deal elsewhere! Happy bargain hunting everyone. Fyi, to your right is Tucker's response when I asked him how he felt about paying full price for anything.

Please use the comments section below to add your own favorite discount sites. I am always on the hunt!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thinsulate blanket

You know, I've been obnoxiously complaining lately that I have the worst luck in the world, that nothing ever ends up going my way or even going as planned.

But the internet gods decided to smile on me today. The other day when I was driving home from the barn deciding what day I'm going to clip Tucker, I thought about how I used to have a Roma Thinsulate blanket for another horse I used to ride, and how nice it was, and how sad I was that they don't make them anymore.

Beval's also makes a thinsulate blanket, which some of the horses at Whitmere have, but it doesn't have shoulder gussets and I'm very partial to blankets with shoulder gussets. So I decided to do a little internet search. Wouldn't you know that the ONLY one I found online is exactly Tucker's size, and in Tucker's favorite colors (green and blue)?* And at a great value!

By the way, I highly recommend the site where I found it, it's called http://www.saddlesandmore.com/ and it's loaded with really good used stuff that all appears to be good quality (brand names) and in relatively decent shape. If you're in the market for something, I would highly recommend checking it out. Blankets, tack, bits, saddle pads, books, etc. You know I love a good bargain and I really had to stop myself at just one purchase on this site.

It was, however, a very good purchase and I think a very lucky find. Thank you Universe, for making a small effort to balance things out.

___________________________
*Editor's Note: I only know that Tucker's favorite colors are green and blue because an equine psychic told me that, and I'm not so sure that Tucker was entirely forthright with her since he also told her that some other horse had bucked me off, when in fact he was the one who bucked me off just days prior to my conversation with her. My theory is that it was like when you are too young to evaluate the plausibility of your lies and blame your imaginary friend for drawing on the couch when your mother asks. Which, obviously, this writer knows nothing about from her personal experience.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Knock it off, and get over it

So we had our lesson this morning and it wasn't all pretty but it was a great learning experience.

We worked on the flatting and it seems, as far as the counterbend goes, when I want to go back to an inside bend and he then wants to get heavy on the inside rein, I need to shoulder-in. We did quite a bit of shoulder-in work today and I was very happy with how that went. Tucker was listening and when I was asking correctly was really responding well. I love when that happens, when the horse acts like a barometer for how correctly you are applying your aids. Ask right, get the right result. It doesn't always happen, sometimes you ask right and they still don't want to cooperate 100%, but in Tucker's best moments he is just like that. I had a lot more control over his hind end both laterally and in terms of staying connected, which I was happy about. Our canter transitions, both upward and downward, still need quite a bit of work. But our flat work within the gaits, including lateral movements, is really coming along.

We did a lot of work with three cavaletti set nine feet from each other on the long side of the arena. He was great through them at the trot. We discovered that tracking left when I was posting on the wrong diagonal, I had more weight on my inside seat bone and the trot improved. Thought that was really interesting. During the left lead canter he wanted to flatten out and rush through the cavaletti, so we worked on me sitting tall, leg long, lifting my hand and eye and keeping him straight with right rein and left leg. He improved as we went, and we added trot work in between, and some shoulder-in, to get him re-focused and listening again.

Then we started jumping. We started trotting in to a short two-stride with a nine-rail in front (a ground pole set nine feet from the first fence). The first time through he didn't listen when I asked him to wait so he was tight jumping out, and then the second time through he was smarter about it, which was great. Then we added a third jump to the line, so it was a short two-stride to a short three-stride. Same thing, the first couple of times through the three-stride he blew me off and didn't wait, then he got smarter about it and started listening. I was really happy with how I was able to hold my position over all three fences, my leg stayed under me, my upper body was good, and to get the collection in the lines I remembered to sit, press forward with my hips and lift the hand. One of the best moments was when he landed on his left lead, cantered one stride and did a full left-to-right lead change. Brilliant. Once he got into the routine, he almost always landed right. Smart boy. So that part was really good.

Then we added two diagonal fences. The first was a wall (it's about 2'6") with no standards. That one went really well. Then there was a 3', pretty airy oxer with fake flowers on the ground in the middle of it. The first time we jumped this, Tucker saw a distance that I didn't see and left the ground well before I thought he was going to. It actually ended up fine, I was in a good position to start with so I just grabbed a little mane and stuck with him. That one made us laugh pretty hard though.

We did the whole thing again, and this time to the oxer I didn't see it and we were really deep, he had a rail and landed all pissed off doing his violent head-swinging, leaping, scooting business around the corner. But, it was kind of my fault that he had the rail so I wasn't really going to fault him. We went back to the wall on the other diagonal, again that went well -- I asked him to add and he politely listened. This time to the oxer he was really naughty. The distance was right there and one stride out he just dragged me past it and jumped up huge, and then threw the same temper tantrum through the corner, and this time it was worse. There was a second where I thought I was coming off straight into the wall but then I managed to hang on. It was so uncalled-for that I yanked him up and slammed him to a halt in the next corner, and growled at him to KNOCK IT OFF. He was so shocked that I got after him so strongly that he actually hopped up into a little mini-rear. But it was well-timed, and deserved. I'm all for being understanding and accepting that he's a horse and he's going to have his moments, but that's up to a point. He also has to learn that he can't get away with being rude or acting out for no reason.

So we made the oxer a big cross-rail and did it a few times from a slow sitting trot, and Alicia reminded me to soften my hand in the slow sitting trot as we approached so that I wasn't stiffing him off the ground or coiling him like a spring (which causes him to land explosively), and then making him halt on a straight line. The first time, even from the slow sitting trot he wanted to drag me around the corner but I made him halt and then patted him once he did. Came around twice more at the slow sitting trot with a halt, and then he landed softly and we cantered quietly around the corner. I was really happy to see how quickly he got over himself and started behaving again.

Then we went back to our wall on the other diagonal, and made him land halting there as well. I actually never got a good halt on a straight line there but decided not to have an argument with him about it because he did quietly come back to a halt just past the corner. Then I picked up my canter again and went back to the oxer. Came off the rail and we just kept drifting right so the distance I saw out of the corner disappeared and we got really tight and he punched out the first rail. This caused yet another temper tantrum around the corner, but I got him back under control and this time didn't pull him up quite so abruptly since he did have the rail and that genuinely upsets him.

Alicia had me turn my right hand upside down. She does this a lot and it really helps -- instead of holding the rein with your thumb on top you turn your hand over the way you'd hold a driving rein. The problem was that I wasn't using my right rein at all as I came out of the turn and he was just drifting all the way to the right of the oxer. So we went back to the single wall, and this time he was more focused. He and I both saw a conservative distance, so all I had to do was stay back with my shoulder and sit very still and he waited nicely. We halted again (slightly past the corner). Then I had a moment of total panic. I walked a small circle and realized I was starting to hyperventilate a little, and I heard Alicia say "You okay?" but I couldn't answer. If I had stopped for a moment to think about whether I was really okay, I probably never would have jumped the oxer again. So I said to myself "Oh, just get over it," picked up my canter again and came to the oxer. This time I remembered my right rein, we stayed straight and the distance worked out nicely. He kind of snapped his knees and jumped it really hard but that's to be expected since he had the rail the time before. On the upside, my leg was anchored solidly underneath me and he didn't jump me loose. The best part was that he cantered quietly around the end of the ring like a gentleman.

So two things about that jump were great. One, it was great to see how quickly his attitude changed. When we got to the jump well, he didn't hang on to what he had done during the times before, but instead just behaved himself like he's supposed to. Two, I was able to get over my fear and anxiety and ride through it. Riding is such a mental game, it's such a huge accomplishment when we can put aside an emotional or mental block and get the job done by good riding.