Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The faces of Whitmere

In addition to the new laptop, I also got a new digital camera. It's a Nikon Coolpix and so far I like it a lot if you're in the market for one. Since I wanted to play with the camera anyway, I figured this would be a great opportunity to introduce you to all the wonderful horses at Whitmere.

First, and most importantly, this is Outsider. She is Alicia's mare and competes in the upper level jumpers and will be doing local Grand Prix this year. She's a total freak of nature, in a good way, has a huge heart, super athletic, amazingly talented. And she knows it. She also knows she is prettier and smarter and more important than me, and reminds me of that all the time. Like last week, for example, when she thought it would be funny to push me down in the snow. . . .

Next is Windsor, who is the same age and has the same birthday as Tucker. I wish I had gotten a better picture of this handsome guy. He does the 3' equitation junior medal classes with his owner, who is a very talented young lady. I had the pleasure of watching their lesson with Anne Kursinski last weekend and I was just blown away. These two make an incredible pair.

And of course, you all know the star of our show.  Remember how Tucker gets special treatment on Sundays?  Well we did a bran mash today since it was so freezing cold out, and it seems someone got a little impatient and stuck his foot in his feed tub and made a huge racket when the wheelbarrow wasn't brought to him promptly. . . .  Some might say he's spoiled, but I think he's just well-loved.


This is Caktus Joe. He does the Junior Jumpers with his owner when she's not away at college and has been leased recently to another rider in our barn who retired her horse Montel, who is below. Joe is a genuine character, and another extremely talented guy who makes 4'+ look like the easiest thing in the world. As you can see, he knew exactly what to do when I pulled the camera out.

Here is Indy, who belongs to my friend Kathleen, and is one of Tucker's turnout buddies. He's four, and loves to play rough with Tucker and his big brother but is also a real sweetie around the barn. I'm supposed to ride him on Sunday before we leave for the show, I'll let you know how it goes!


And this is Rodie, a barn favorite, who also belongs to Kathleen. He's an off track thoroughbred and just an all-around great guy. Everyone loves riding him and Kathleen just adores him. They compete in the jumpers right now, but Kathleen is coming back over to hunter princess land and doing the hunters with me on Sunday!

This is Chloe, who is the third member of Kathleen's herd. Chloe just moved in to Whitmere and is coming back from having time off at Kathleen's house and does the jumpers with Kathleen. She's an incredibly sweet mare.
 

Next up is Summer, whom I've told you about already. Summer is a five-year-old Dutch Warmblood cross, half-sister to Julie, and she won the non-thoroughbred yearling filly class at Devon.  This picture doesn't do her justice at all (sorry about that Summer). She's incredibly pretty and is really coming along in her riding though she's still somewhat green. Summer and Tucker have been sweethearts for a long time, since they grew up on the same baby farm.

This is Junior, who also belongs to Alicia. He's a young thoroughbred recently off the track who is learning the ropes of the hunter/jumper world and is going to be a really cool horse. He's taken to jumping like he was born to do it, so we have really high hopes for his future. Plus, you just can't help falling in love with that face.

This is Vince, who used to be turned out with Tucker (that's Vince in the background in the bottom photo). He is another off-track thoroughbred who found a new career in the hunter/jumper world, and a total sweetheart.

This is Kal, who's made a few other appearances on the blog. He's a very cool horse whom I love hacking for his owner Jess, as you all know by now. He and Jess do the jumpers, though he used to be a hunter as you can tell from the pretty picture. (Not that I have any bias toward one ring over another, of course.)



And last, but certainly not least, here is Montel. He is a rare German warmblood breed, called a Berlin Brandenburger. These horses are bred for bravery and are very popular in the European Grand Prix ring. Montel has had a long successful career, travelled all over the world, and is now retired and absolutely loving his life (as you can see, he gave himself a little therapeutic mud mask today). He is one of the smartest horses I've ever met and such a good boy. I'd say he'd do just about anything for his mom. You all met him when he and Tucker started going out together. I just love that picture.


I've realized that I left one out, though she's really just a guest at Whitmere. She is being leased by Joe's owner at Sweet Briar College and came home for Christmas break for her. Her name is Tina and she's a big flashy bay mare that we are all really enjoying getting to know. Sorry you didn't get to make your internet debut this evening Tina. . . . I'll have to fix that at the show on Sunday.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hello out there Tucker fans!

This post coming to you live from my new Dell laptop. . . . it is spiffy and shiny and blue, and I'm sure will inspire nothing but brilliant prose for your reading pleasure.

As some of you know, I left my job at my former place of employment on Friday the 18th, and have been without laptop/blackberry (read: footloose and fancy-free) for a whole week. It's been wonderful. I got to spend some time with my new week-old niece, Ella Grace, spent a wonderful afternoon with Nicku from Eye on the Horse, and best of all took three lessons last week. When I showed up in the middle of the day on a Tuesday to ride, Tucker was feverishly thumbing through his daily planner and couldn't figure out what day it was. But I think after his initial confusion subsided, he was really happy to have me around all week.

My first lesson you can pretty much read about on Nicku's post, but I'll go ahead and give a little more detail. We worked on getting Tucker to engage his inside hind end and then worked on my position over fences. A little lightbulb moment for me: when I can keep him balanced from behind on our approach to the fence, he typically lands with the same balanced canter and almost always will get his full lead change. This requires the perfect combination of a few things. He has to be collected back-to-front in the corner and on the approach, and then I either need to keep that collected canter with my seat, leg, and hand or just allow him to extend his stride if the distance is longer without chasing him or letting him get strung out or on his forehand. Regardless of whether the distance is tight or long, he needs to jump free of my hand, without pulling as he leaves the ground, which requires me to stay back with my upper body and hips, carry my hand, and soften and follow as he leaves the ground. When he approaches balanced, he jumps well, lands balanced, and has an auto-lead change. Makes perfect sense, right?

My second lesson was a flat lesson. We used the chambon, and worked on hind-end engagement again, and getting him to stretch down without getting off balance and without losing the connection. He flatted extremely well, and we really like him in the chambon, so I'll definitely keep incorporating that into my routine now and then. It helps him reach down into a lower frame without locking through his jaw or poll and without trying to balance off my hand as he reaches down. Since he stays soft and light up front, I can just concentrate on moving him off my inside leg and keeping an inside bend through his whole body. Overall, great lesson.

My third lesson was a semi-private yesterday with Kathleen and her horse Rodie. It was a lot of fun and very productive. We worked on haunches-in on the flat. I need to work on maintaining my inside bend and not letting him get too much angle and swing his hips to the inside. When I keep less of an angle, I can feel that he's working harder and staying engaged from behind.

He was a little fresh that day, so the first few jumps we landed and halted on a straight line, which helped. We started jumping courses, and since Kathleen does the jumpers we did some roll back turns and broken lines, which were really fun and different than our usual routine. Tucker is so rideable for stuff like that, he makes it all seem kind of simple.

During this lesson I really worked on waiting for him to make a decision about the distance, and taking my cues from him. If I really concentrate on how he feels, I can tell whether he wants to wait or move up, and then I can guide him accordingly, by either using my voice, staying close to him with my seat and balancing for a quieter distance, or lightening my seat a little and softening my hand if he sees a longer distance. It's amazing how well that works. Tucker has a great eye! Alicia had me count out loud (1-2-3-4) on the way to the fence and landing, and that helped immensely. As Alicia put it, counting out loud just helps us keep up with them, because they naturally will regulate their own rhythm.

All in all, it was a really good lesson and lots of fun. I walked away feeling very connected with him, which can be a blessing and a curse. He is so incredibly perceptive of my every little move that, as long as I work on staying on the same page as him, it can be almost effortless. On the flipside, if I get the slightest bit tense, he'll get tense, which is when he starts trying way too hard and making too big of an effort. It's all about staying relaxed and focused and trusting my horse.

It's great to be back! I promise I'll catch up on all your blogs this week!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A pleasant surprise


I finally decided to buy this picture of Tucker, because it's just so beautiful. Summer's mom always tells me that if there are photos I like, I should just buy them, because I'll want them later on to remember the various stages of Tucker's career. She had an incredible horse with whom she had a very successful show career, and she said her one regret is that she didn't buy more professional pictures of him. So, my Christmas present to myself is this photo. It'll look great in my new office!

So, on to the pleasant surprise. I knew the photo was taken on the day we did the Tri-State Hunters at HITS, but I couldn't remember which day of the week it was (of course, I now realize I could have looked at my blog archives -- which is the whole reason I started blogging in the first place -- but I digress). So I looked up the show results online, and guess what I came across? My boy kicked some butt!

He was 4th in the first class out of 45 horses with Alicia riding him, and 8th in the 3rd class out of 41 horses with me riding!

Confession: I have been (for virtually no reason whatsoever) feeling like a terrible rider lately. My riding has improved so much since I've started training with Alicia, and yet I have periods of time where I think I'm forever destined to be mediocre at best. I'm a perfectionist, an over-acheiver, and in my worst moments, a pessimist.

I'm sure you've noticed from time to time in this blog that I can get a little down on myself and my riding. I love to take the blame for mistakes, and I worry that I'm not good enough to showcase my brilliant creature's natural talent, or even worse, that I'm actually ruining him. I can also get a little down on my horse, and worry that I am just blinded by my overflowing love for him, and maybe he isn't as nice as I think? Maybe he never really grew out of his "ugly little colt" phase (this is how he was commonly referred to in the first few months of his life) and I just grew to love him so much that I overlook his flaws?

So, the internet gods smiled upon me today and sent me this little gift. I know, it isn't much. But it was just what I needed to remind me that I actually can do this, and that my horse is every bit as nice as all those other fancy-pants hunters we saw up at HITS.

I was feeling so glum today, really for no reason at all, and this really helped me turn my attitude around. I am so proud of him, and so grateful to have this incredible creature in my life. He is a blessing sent straight from heaven.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Tucker loves about Sundays...

What's the best part about your mom working at the barn on Sundays? You get to lick the bowl after she feeds bran mash.




This has become Tucker's Sunday afternoon routine and he loves it. Clearly I take any opportunity I get to spoil him rotten. I just love this big goofy horse. Sometimes I look at him and I'm totally overwhelmed by it.

I rode him around bareback today because it was freezing cold and he just happily hacked around like a big lazy pony. He's so comfy bareback and so much fun! At one point he started trotting faster and I was bouncing around so much that I started giggling and couldn't stop. I should ride him bareback more often. Helps me find the kid place. . . .

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sterling

Remember the adorable kitten that used to go for pony rides on Tucker? Well . . . his cuteness got the better of me and I took him home. Since he's gray, I named him Sterling. (Also a reference to Mad Men, my favorite tv show.)
It was a very rough start . . . Lilly was offended by everything he did. She would growl if she so much as heard him playing with a toy in another part of the apartment. His very existence was infuriating! I wasn't sure if she'd let me keep him, but I figured I'd leave it up to her, and if she came around, he could stay. I started off leaving him in a huge dog crate full of toys, a kitten-size litter box, and a little food. He loved it in his play pen! (He still goes in now and then to play). Once I was sure she wasn't going to destroy him (just hiss and make horrible faces) I started leaving them loose together.

Last night I came home and Lilly greeted me at the foot of the stairs. This has been her habit every night for the past four years, but since Sterling arrived, she would usually be hiding under something when I got home. So Lilly at the bottom of the stairs either meant she had stuffed Sterling in a drawer somewhere, thrown him out the window, or maybe -- just maybe -- they had become friends. Further investigtion revealed that Sterling was sprawled out all the way across one of the top steps, and appeared in one piece. Sure enough, Lilly got to that step, they touched noses, and she trotted happily to the kitchen for dinner. No hissing, no howling, no horrible faces.

I'm not questioning it, I'm just going with it. Lilly makes the rules at my house, and the rest of us are just happy she lets us stick around.

Oh, and, Sterling was originally helping me with this post. . . but he fell asleep.







Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow Covered Horse Show

So Jersey got dusted with some lovely snow on Saturday. As you can see, Tucker thought the farm looked beautiful all dressed in white:


Despite the snow and freezing temperatures, we were determined to horse show on Sunday. Alicia showed Tucker in the Level One Jumpers, and Kathleen showed her horse Rodie in the Level Zero and Level One Jumpers. We were back and forth on Saturday night about whether the roads would be okay, but luckily they were all clear and we were good to go.

So we loaded Tucker and Rodie up on the trailer and off we went. Rodie and Tucker get turned out together now. Rodie's in charge of the group, Tucker is in the middle, and Indie, being the baby, is at the bottom of the pack. The middle is a good place for Tucker. He needs someone to boss him around, otherwise he gets playing way too hard. At any rate, Tucker was overjoyed to have a buddy on the road with him. He usually has his trailer all to himself, which he doesn't mind, but life is just so much sweeter with friends, as far as he's concerned.


The horse show was a great schooling experience for Tucker. Since it was so cold out, there was no outdoor schooling, so to compromise, they let people go in the ring and hack, and jump the outside lines to warm up (even though it was a jumper show, it was just a schooling show). Tucker happily hung out and made out with his mom in the corner during the Level Zeros. He was totally chilled out, amused and interested by all those horses jumping around in the ring in front of him. I don't think he realized that there would be anything more expected of him than that. . . .

Then Alicia got on him. Baby meltdown. As soon as she got on, he got stuck in reverse. Which wasn't good because we were in a tiny portion of the ring that had been roped off, surrounded by a whole bunch of other horses. So I grabbed his bridle and led Alicia around in little circles. This worked for a minute. Then he backed up again, bumped into the wall, and was content to stand in the corner feeling very unsure of himself. Then he went in the ring and started exhibiting all his nervous habits. Trotting sideways, trotting around with his chin to his chest, diving to the left over the jumps. Alicia just shook her head and laughed at him as he jumped around like he was schooling for the mini prix. Alicia and I talked about it later, and it's like his brain starts working faster than he can handle and he makes himself way more worried than he has to be.

Naturally, the first class wasn't the prettiest, but Alicia did a great job with him. The first fence was a yellow oxer on the outside toward home, which he jumped like it was going to eat him. Then he landed and wanted to drag her around the corner, but since he couldn't, he just shook his head side to side in frustration. Then there was a roll back to a red vertical away from the in-gate, set on a short diagonal landing right. Since he was too busy shaking his head and not paying attention, the jump caught him off guard and he swaped to his right lead on take off. Bending line to a black and white vertical set up on the outside (on the far end of the ring -- so fence one and fence three would have made up an outside line). That actually worked out okay and Alicia made him add in seven to try and keep him under control. He did his left to right change, with a bit of an extra leap to it (his front end came way up off the ground, but he kept cantering).

Then it was another bending line toward home, a natural oxer set as the first fence of the other outside line bending to an oxer on the diagonal coming directly toward the in-gate, landing left. He actually jumped in softly and again they added for seven, but then he overjumped the oxer so hard on the way out that I could see the top of Alicia's tall boots over the standards. He landed from that one and did his leaping thing -- not quite broncing, not quite bucking, the only way to describe it is leaping. He lands from the fence grabbing the bridle, coiled like a spring and then catapults himself up into the air in the next stride. It's rather disconcerting. What I thought was amazing about that moment was the look on Alicia's face. She looked completely calm while this horse was leaping and contorting underneath her. I asked her later whether she is controlling her anxiety, or whether she just has no anxiety in moments like that. She said it's just not an option for her. So I guess it's a little of both.

The last line caused a bit more trouble -- he lost his power steering. It was a two stride, a vertical to an oxer. Tucker seemed to think these jumps were just too close together and he wouldn't fit, so he jumped the vertical and dove to the right in the air. They landed so far off center that Alicia circled and came around to it again. The second time, he tried to do it again but Alicia was ready for him and opened her left rein and used her right spur to keep him straighter. The line was pretty tight for him, so I didn't really fault him for thinking he wouldn't fit, especially since he did listen the second time. That class was a power and speed, so they didn't keep going because of the circle.

Despite the rocky start though, his second class was really great. Again they opened the ring up for schooling in between, and while he didn't look exactly calm, he was much more relaxed than he had been the first time. For one thing, there was a lot more distance between his chin and his chest. . . He jumped both outside lines and although he was still overjumping, he didn't look like he was landing and dragging Alicia around. Still a little crooked in the air, which is just a nervous habit of his, but definitely an improvement.

The first line was a bending line toward home, the black and white vertical on the outside to the red vertical coming toward the in gate. This line was better, and he added in a nice seven strides. Then the yellow oxer on the outside, but this time going away from home. I could actually see Alicia soften her hand in the last stride because he was no longer dragging, and he jumped it much softer. Bending right to a vertical across the diagonal, landing left. He only got half his lead change in the bending line and jumped the vertical cross-cantering, but he didn't get too worried about it. [I'm blanking on the next jump. It might have been the black and white vertical on the outside again, toward home. Somehow they got from the far end of the ring tracking left to the two-stride coming toward home across the other diagonal, landing right.]

The two stride was interesting. In this direction, it was an oxer to a vertical, and of course he jumped the oxer huge and landed a good 9 feet away from it. But at this point, he was thinking a little more clearly, and compressed himself and fit two strides in (or, maybe one and a half). Since he was all the way to the base of the vertical, he jumped it straight up in the air, but he was careful about it. Then he came around the corner without pulling and running. The next fence was the natural oxer on the diagonal going away from home, landing left and then bending to a green vertical on the other diagonal, landing right. I thought that line would be hard for him, but he was great. Then the last line was an outside line off the right lead coming straight toward home, and he was jumping straight toward me so I could see that he was jumping much straighter, no diving left or right.

So all in all, it was a good day for Tucker. He started off on the verge of a meltdown, but he got over it and ended up pretty rideable. I still don't think I would have been able to handle him if I were in the saddle, but I am really glad to have Alicia around to give him these good rides and convince him that it's no big deal even when he thinks it's way more than he can handle. I left the show that day feeling like a very, very lucky girl to have such a great horse and a great trainer.

Monday, December 7, 2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

And now, the long awaited story of the Thanksgiving Day Ride from Hell.

I've already concluded that Tucker was wild for two weeks due to terrible weather and limited turnout. But it was important to me, during that time, for Tucker to realize that having extra energy does not mean he can completely disregard his rider.

Alicia made a comment during one of my lessons prior to Thanksgiving that Tucker was not just fresh, but also completely ignoring my leg. So, I carried a dressage whip for three rides. Keep in mind, Tucker is terrified of whips. But I figured I could carry it and not use it, and hopefully get him to listen to my leg. Since I was also getting run away with and dragged around the ring, I switched bits again to the corkscrew. Again, I figured I can keep my hand soft but when I need it, I'll have it. In sum, I armed myself.

Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, we spent most of the ride at a walk, because that was about all he could handle. I figured if he's really losing it, simplify the equation. All I wanted was a good walk on a 20 meter circle, no running sideways, no spooking, no throwing our head up in the air. It took half an hour to accomplish this, but I did. Needless to say, it was all I could do to keep my annoyance in check. But, I had agreed to simplify the equation, and once I got the answer I was asking for, I had to quit for the night.

When I woke up on Thanksgiving and drove up to the barn for an early morning ride, it was sort of like waking up still mad after having an argument with a loved one. I got back on and felt like we were picking up right back where we left off. But I was determined to be patient, not get mad at him, and keep asking until I got what I wanted.

The trot started out like he was holding his breath. Okay, so he's worse than last night. When he's really nervous he wants to tuck his chin to his chest, so I spent the first fifteen minutes or so just trying to get him to take a deep breath and uncoil himself. I usually just send him forward, but since that was making it worse, I just had to try to relax myself and wait it out. He did eventually start to get a little less tightly wound at the trot. Then we cantered. On a circle, he was okay. Then I tried to go down the longside of the ring, past the door, where he could see the other horses being brought out to their fields. (Recall, awful weather meant he hadn't gone out in a few days, except for the little stone dust paddocks.) So, he decided he couldn't go past the door without leaping, bouncing, spooking, galloping, scooting, or cantering sideways. It was so explosive that our farm owner told me she saw it from her house and thought "that can't be Tucker." (No, it's not Tucker, it's the fire breathing dragon that has replaced Tucker.)

So I went back down to the other end of the ring, back to my circle, until we could handle cantering in a circle. I tried to be patient, but firm. Explosion not okay, sideways not okay. Forward, in a straight line, without aiming for the rafters. Then I started gradually moving the circle down the length of the ring, so the circle got closer and closer to the open door. Once again, door = explosion. It became very clear to me that I was riding through a temper tantrum. Tucker wanted to be turned out, his friends were going out, it wasn't fair, and he was giving me the equine equivalent of throwing himself on the floor kicking and screaming.

So we kept cantering. I softened when I could, and when he decided he was going to run, or explode, or yank the reins out of my hands, I stuck my feet out in front of me, sat deeper, and made my contact firmer. I resigned myself to the fact that we were going to keep cantering until he could canter -- not leap -- past the door. It was a matter of respect. He was trying to bully me, using his strength against me, and throwing a temper tantrum. It was important for him to learn that's not acceptable.

We had a moment when I think this became crystal clear to him. He decided that fighting me on his left lead was getting tiring, so just before we got to the door, as we were passing through the center of the ring, he switched his lead to the right. Really? You're making it easier on yourself to keep fighting me and you think that's okay? Nope. Not okay. I kicked him with my right spur probably harder than I have ever kicked him. At that point in the circle I was facing a mirror, at which point I saw him leap straight up into the air in something akin to a levade, but he did land back on his left lead, so he got the message. I have to tell you, I don't feel bad about getting after him like that. Because within two more circles, he was cantering past the door like a gentleman.

I let him walk for a bit because at this point he was panting like a dog, and then we switched to the right lead. I only cantered for about 5 minutes to the right because at that point he seemed to have come back from the dark side and decided to behave himself.

At the end of the ride he was still wild eyed and unsettled, but he was at least listening very carefully to my aids. We did some lateral work at the walk and he was listening and responding appropriately, no tantrums.

Do you watch the Dog Whisperer? You know how when Cesar comes into people's homes, often what they are most guilty of is loving their dog without disciplining their dog? I think I might be guilty of that with this horse. He's generally such a good boy, and extremely well-mannered on the ground, so I never get the feeling that he's taking advantage or walking all over me. But, in this ride, he was definitely trying to be a bully -- which means I had to step up and get him to show me a little respect. It was an important lesson for him, and an important lesson for me.

Horse agility

Summer's owner shared this with me and I had to post it. She does agility with her dogs so I think this must be particularly amusing for her! I know some of you do clicker training, maybe this will give you some ideas for new tricks!

I'm sure this video will make or has made the rounds. . . . but maybe you can say you saw it here first!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Wunderkind has returned

Good news! Fire breathing dragon appears to have left the premises. I have had a week full of fantastic rides. The Wunderkind is back, and I couldn't be happier. I missed him so while he was apparently on vacation to some sunny hideaway and left his rebellious twin brother in his place.

I still have some things to fill in from the past to weeks. I want to do a post about our Thanksgiving Day Ride From Hell, and what I learned from it. But for today, I'm going to post about my great rides this week.

I've been riding him with a flash attachment and it is making a world of difference. I have it on pretty loose, I can fit four fingers underneath it, with my hand flat against his muzzle. But even without being too snug, it is really helping us make the right connection.

Tucker seemed to have figured out that a good way to evade work is to root the reins out of my hands. He also has a tendency to grab the inside rein, especially tracking left, which makes it difficult for me to ride him inside leg to outside rein. But riding with the flash, this hasn't happened at all. I'd imagine the flash just prevents him from repositioning his jaw so that he can't grab the bit. Instead, he's staying soft and light and bending from my leg instead of my hand, which means his whole body is bending instead of the portion in front of the saddle. Which, obviously, is the goal.

I think my favorite ride of the week was last night. At the trot I worked on doing lots of little reverse turns, changes of direction, circles around the jumps, and shallow serpentines to try to get him to smoothly change his bend. Since he was so soft, there was actually a loop in my inside rein as we reversed, and he was turning completely off my outside leg but never lost his inside bend. Since he wasn't bracing against my hand at any point, he had to balance himself from behind. His gaits even felt more comfortable. He was so good and so consistent that I only rode for about 20 minutes. I love being able to reward him by ending the ride early when he doesn't put a foot wrong.

I had a great lesson today too. His flat work was very good. On the lateral work, I still need to remember that during the right to left leg yield, I need to keep him straight off my left rein but not brace with my left hand and restrict his forward motion. Otherwise he gets sort of "stuck" and it feels like he's not moving off my right leg, but I think it's because I'm not giving him anywhere to go.

The jumps were great. I am finally starting to believe that he really could care less about my amateur mistakes. He is definitely the most honest horse I've ever ridden. He will leave the ground from anywhere and there is never a question in my mind about whether he'll jump. We can leave from a mile away or practically under the base of the fence and he'll just figure it out and leave the ground. I'm finally understanding that as long as I don't worry about it, he won't. I guess it's a matter of realizing that he doesn't know that a distance is "wrong." Sure, a short distance might be a little harder for him but unless I give him some cue that I'm worried about it, he has no sense of what the "right" distance would be. More often than not, when we have a good canter rhythm, all the distances work out naturally. But when I miss a few times, like I did today, it's so nice to know that he doesn't hold a grudge.

Still working a little on my position over fences. I have gotten my lower leg underneath me and I'm getting much better about keeping my hip angle open so that my upper body doesn't end up on his neck. But I need to get the feeling of staying closer to the saddle, with more bend in my knee. Right now I think I'm working so hard on keeping my lower leg from slipping back that I'm bracing with a straight knee, which is forcing my hips too far up out of the tack. It'll get there. Like everything else, it's a work in progress.

All in all, this week was a great week riding-wise. Made me feel so grateful to have such a wonderful horse. Especially given that the last couple of weeks with him were so difficult. The highs make the lows totally worth it, don't they?

If the roads aren't icy tomorrow morning, Alicia is going to show Tucker in the Level One jumpers. It snowed all day, so we'll see. . . .

Friday, December 4, 2009

Isolating the variables

So the past couple of weeks have been made up of highs and lows in the world of Tucker. As you know, I had an amazing ride on November 18th. That horse then disappeared temporarily, and was replaced by a fire-breathing dragon. Obviously, this is troubling. It’s the kind of thing that sends riders like me (prone to self-doubt and over-thinking) into a downward spiral of anxiety and eventually depression, that goes something like this:

1. That one great ride was a fluke.
2. Tucker was just having a good day; I won’t be able to repeat it.
3. I really don’t have the talent or the skill to ride my horse properly.
4. I am doing this amazing animal a huge disservice by continuing to ride him in my bumbling, misguided, inarticulate manner.
5. I am doing a disservice to the world by keeping Tucker from maximizing his full potential.
6. I should give him to Alicia to be her next Grand Prix horse. I am sure, without me holding him back, that he can take the world by storm.
7. Perhaps I’ll take up golf.

Ah, yes, I believe professionals refer to that as the seven steps of equine-induced psychosis.

I did eventually have a good ride, on November 29th, which I’ll write about in another post. This allowed me to talk myself down off the proverbial ledge, and start thinking a little more clearly about what might have actually been going on.

So, I thought I’d try to look at all possible variables. The first is turnout locale. At the last farm he was at, they had a very firm policy about horses staying inside when the footing was wet. This program is great for hot house flowers, really bad for Tucker. Whitmere uses the four stone dust paddocks when it’s raining. Which are better than nothing, but it’s definitely not a full day out in the field.

The second variable is turnout group. Tucker had been banned from turnout with the group because he, um, played a little too hard when they added two more geldings to turnout with him and Montel (another way to put it would be chasing horses who get too close to “his” Montel with his teeth bared and ears pinned, but no need to get too technical). So Tucker was temporarily put into turnout by himself. I know he doesn’t like this. It’s what caused the slice on his ankle, and I witnessed a few major panic attacks around the time we started bringing horses in from turnout. In fairness, he did graze quietly for the majority of the time he was out there. But it’s possible that being alone was just enough to increase his anxiety level to the point that he wasn’t his usual cooperative self under saddle. He’s now going out with Indie & Rodie who, coincidentally, belong to the sister of another blogger, Elizabeth at She Rides, I Pay.

The third variable could be time of day of the ride. He’s used to being ridden at night, when it’s quiet and there are no distractions and usually no other horses in the ring. Maybe he was really only being fresh because of the excitement of other horses, people, noises, etc.?

The fourth variable, pretty obvious, is how much he worked in the days before. Did I give him two days off in a row? Did I have a lesson? Did I just give him a light hack?

And, of course, the fifth variable is me. Am I getting on him when I’m particularly stressed out? Did I have a bad day at work? Was I stressed about dealing with my family on Thanksgiving? (Of course, I have to question whether it’s even possible to accurately rate my own stress level, but this ain’t exactly a scientific study, given that there are 5 variables and no controls). Is he better when I’m taking a lesson?

So, I thought I’d make a little chart (just in case you thought I wasn’t doing anything Tucker-related while I wasn’t blogging). With the help of archived weather reports, which are available online through the National Weather Service, I figured out the turnout history. To give you a truly accurate sense of just exactly how Type-A I really am, here, for your viewing pleasure, is my chart:

Date

Ride

Weather

Turnout

Rider

Stress level

Time

M 11/16

Adjusted

No rain

Field alone

N/A

N/A

N/A

T 11/17

Very good

No rain

Field alone

AM

Ok

pm

W 11/18

Excellent

No rain

Field alone

MQ

High

pm

Th 11/19

Didn’t ride

Rain

Stone dust

N/A

N/A

N/A

F 11/20

Didn’t ride

Rain

Stone dust

N/A

N/A

N/A

Sa 11/21

WILD

No rain

Field alone

MQ - lesson

Ok

pm

Su 11/22

Good

No rain

Field alone

AM

Ok

pm

M 11/23

Didn’t ride

Heavy rain

Maybe none

N/A

N/A

N/A

T 11/24

Wild

Rain

Stone dust

AM

Ok

pm

W 11/25

Wild

Rain

Stone dust

MQ

Ok

pm

Th 11/26

Crazed lunatic

No rain

Field alone

MQ

High

am

F 11/27

Better

No rain

Field alone

MQ - lesson

Ok

pm

Sa 11/28

Didn’t ride

No rain

Field w/ I&R

N/A

N/A

N/A

Su 11/29

Very good

No rain

Field w/ I&R

MQ - lesson

Ok

pm




















I don’t think we can say for sure that any one thing is the determinative factor here, since I’m only looking at two weeks and there are so many things that change. I do see a pattern, however: on the days when he was good, he had at least two sessions of turnout in the field before he was ridden. On the days when I rode after he hadn’t been ridden and he was turned out in the stone dust only, he was especially bad. Time of day doesn’t seem to be a factor, except that on Thanksgiving, which you see I’ve classified as “crazed lunatic,” I rode him first thing in the morning, when other horses were on their way to turnout. But that’s a story for another day.

He’s been very good for me this week so far, but we’ve had much nicer weather and I’m sure he’s been out all day in the field with Indy and Roady. The conclusion I’m drawing is that he’s at his best when he gets a full day of turnout with friends. Since I can’t control the weather, I’m thinking about possible solutions, like possibly just letting him run around the indoor at night if I know it’s been raining all day before I hop on.

If Tucker only knew how much time and energy I spend analyzing him. And people think this is just a hobby. Ha!