Riding with lightbulbs.

Have you heard the expression about lightbulbs coming on when you get a good idea or come to a realization about something? Well my last few rides have been extremely productive as far as lightbulbs are concerned. I’ve been riding Baron up the road with all sorts of scary things like traffic, garbage cans, mailboxes and German shepherd dogs. He does great with all that, no problems at all. Then we ride up to a huge vacant lot that is grassy and flat and absolutely frickin’ perfect for riding. Problem is, he tends to get a little wiggy in wide open spaces. He wants to be a racehorse again and I want to enjoy a nice calm ride. So the whole goal for our last few rides has been relaxation and forward movement without feeling like he’s about to explode. He has been awesome and more relaxed each time. First time out, I tried to keep him at a walk/trot and he cantered some anyway. He came back down pretty easily, but he was snorty and high headed and not very quiet and hunter-ey. This morning I was able to keep him at a walk the entire time until I asked for a trot. He was still looking around and very alert, but much, much more relaxed. It didn’t help that the kids at the daycare across the street were yelling, “Hey lady! Bring the horsey over here!”

The boys showing off for the new mare in the pasture.
The boys showing off for the new mare in the pasture.

The lightbulbs I was talking about were realizations about my seat. My biggest fault in my position is that I lean forward. It’s a common defensive mechanism, but it impedes my ability to be balanced in the saddle. My heels come up, my shoulders hunch and I brace, particularly during cantering. I realized that I had been tilting slightly forward in the saddle and resting on my pubic bone instead of my sitz bones. It’s a slight difference and I don’t think any of my instructors could have seen it from the ground. They could see that I was leaning forward, but the problem wasn’t in my upper body leaning. It was in my seat, leaning onto my pubic bone instead of sitting back onto my sitz bones. Once I focused on tilting back onto my butt bones, it solved a lot of other problems. It was easier to keep my heels down because I wasn’t perching on the balls of my feet. It also brought my shoulders back naturally instead of having to concentrate on keeping them back.

The new mare is not impressed.

The biggest thing I noticed was that I was able to achieve downward transitions with only my seat and no reins. I just stiffened my back and sat deeper and he came down. No reins, no verbal “whoa.” Just sitting differently and bracing my back, even in a wide open field with traffic and screaming children, I was able to bring him down. Now, this may seem totally obvious to you and something I should have figured out long ago, and maybe you’re right. But seriously, shifting my pelvis backward onto my butt bones was monumental.

New boarders = new members of the Baron Fan Club

It may take me longer than other people and it may be painfully slow, but I am becoming a better rider. Baron forces me to be a better rider. He’s not an easy ride for me. In retrospect, I probably should have bought a 15 hand, fat quarter horse who was dead broke. I would probably have been further along in my riding by now. But I love riding big, beautiful Baron. He forces me to improve. He doesn’t pick up my slack and cover up for me in the saddle, but when I ride correctly and balanced, he all of a sudden becomes this beautiful, calm, forward mover. We don’t need special tack, harsh bits, martingales or gadgets. He just needs me to up my game in the saddle. Amazing how that works, isn’t it?

New Mare came from a bad situation but she quickly learned that children often come with treats.
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Sunrise Ride: Totally Worth It!

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I rode at 6 this morning. I’m not a morning person, so that’s hard for me. But it was totally worth it. First we did our farthest ever off-property ride. About a 10 minute ride from my barn is a huge grassy lot that is currently empty. I’m sure it will be developed soon, but until then it is the perfect riding spot- grassy and flat! Baron was AWESOME. We passed lots of scary things- cars, early morning power walkers, trash cans, church signs, etc… He was very calm and level headed about it. When we got to the empty lot, he amped up the excitement level. There’s something about a wide open space that makes him want to RUN. I kept him mostly to a walk, let him trot a little, but didn’t do any cantering. Then he walked back to the barn like a champ, only bunny hopping once when a trash can fell over.

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Once back at the barn, we did a little trot work. He was moving so nicely after hacking out. He was relaxed at the walk and trot and just an absolute joy to ride. My biggest hurdle today was my fitness level. My legs get tired and my riding gets sloppy! I need to get back in shape in a hurry.

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I’m just so happy with how we’re progressing. He looks like a completely different horse than he used to, and my riding is improving slowly but surely. He’s a rock star. I’m so in love.

We’re cantering!

Okay, riding obsessed friends, let me tell you about our canter work and you can help me improve my riding! We’ve been working on trot/canter transitions. In the past, while trotting along I’ve squeezed with my legs and Baron thought I was asking him to trot faster. After a couple rides where we worked just on that, he understands that squeezing my legs during the trot means I’m asking for a canter. Pictures are courtesy of my 5 year old daughter who took video and snapped some still pics with my camera.

I love this shot! He looks so happy! It's one of my favorite pictures of us.
I love this shot! He looks so happy! It’s one of my favorite pictures of us.

He’s a fast learner. He really listens and tries to figure out what I’m asking him to do. I’m always amazed at what a willing worker he is. And he loves to canter! He prefers a fast, spread out, ground covering, exuberant canter and I prefer something a bit more sedate, but we’re learning to communicate and meet in the middle. He’s actually cantering very well. In just a couple rides, he’s gone from a fast, kind of spastic canter to moving in a collected, round way. I know these pictures aren’t great, because you’re looking through round pen panels; that’s what you get when your photographer is a 5 year old. But look how round he is!

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I’m finding that I’m able to sit his canter now, where in the past I always rode it in half seat. I’m becoming a better rider, but he’s also giving me a much nicer gait to sit. He doesn’t feel like he’s about to explode anymore.

Here’s the part you can help me with. When I squeeze and ask for the canter, he usually gives me a few fast trot steps and then a canter. How can I get a quicker, smoother transition?

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In the picture above, I’m signaling for the canter by squeezing with my leg. My heel has come up, and my hand is up because I’m grabbing mane. I still do, just in case. I’m wondering about his head in the picture. He has long periods where his head is down, like long and low, and then it comes back up. I don’t know if that’s something I’m doing wrong or if he just doesn’t have the muscle strength to work correctly for a longer period. He is so skinny, always, no matter what I feed him. He is starting to develop more of a topline though and I hope he can build some muscle this winter with more regular rides.

Finally, here’s a fun picture of the dismount. I look like a graceful gazelle in this one!

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What is this ‘free time’ you speak of?

My kids start school this year, both of them. Elle is going into 1st grade and Hunter into preschool. I have Thursdays off from work and both children will be in school, safely watched by SOMEONE ELSE. Do you know what this means?!? I can ride my horse! Consistently! Every Thursday at the very least! I have waited 6 long years for this!

With that in mind, I have some goals for the fall and winter. Oh how I wish I could show, but I have no trailer, so that’s out. We’re just going to focus on the basics. Rather than trying to jump or worry about ribbons, I’m going to use the dressage tests as a guide to get solid basics with Baron. Starting with Training Level we’re going to work through each test. I don’t have a square arena so I can’t ride the tests exactly how they’re laid out, but I can work on what each test is supposed to accomplish, like a smooth halt, rhythmic gaits, relaxation and happy, willing, forward movement.

The training level tests should be pretty quick. I think we do many of those things well, although I’m just guessing on my 20 meter circles with no letters to judge by. I draw a circle with my eyes and then try and get as close to that ideal as possible. Intro is more difficult because the canter is introduced and we need major work at the canter. I still ride in half seat at the canter instead of sitting it. Baron almost always tosses his head on the first center step. I’m not sure whether that’s because of excitement or annoyance at an unclear aid, so we’ll have to work that out.

I just want to be a good rider, a rider that makes a horse better. I want Baron to have a solid foundation and be an all around pleasure to ride.

Horses No One Wants

I belong to several horse sale sites on Facebook and I regularly check Craigslist to see horses for sale in my area. I’m not going to buy another horse (probably) but I love horse ads. I love to see the $10,000 horses with their shiny coats and perfect braids. I like the super cute quarter horse who is built like a tank, ponies around five year olds and is only $300 because the owner can’t afford to feed him for one more day. Some of the ads are laughable. You want $3000 for an unbroke, unregistered, underfed ragamuffin because you think he has potential to be a 1D barrel horse? Mmmmmkay. 

But it’s the senior horse ads that really get me. They’re advertised as beginner or child safe or bombproof, but that’s code for ‘He’s worked his heart out for me and now he’s tired.’ These horses are solid citizens. They have hundreds of trail miles, they’ve carried nervous husbands and gleeful, exuberant children who pull on the reins and poke their ribs, they’re to thank for that first blue ribbon for horse crazy girls who have long since outgrown them. Now they are for sale at age 18 or 22, because they are stiff or require an expensive joint supplement or need grain and can’t get by on just grass anymore.

These are the ads that break my heart. Some are cheap or free and are ‘to a good home only.’ Some of the owners are asking thousands of dollars, trying to profit one more time at the expense of an animal that’s already done more than enough.

Everyone knows a senior horse is a vet bill waiting to happen. I get it. Boarding a horse you can’t ride costs the same as boarding a horse you can ride. Once the horse is no longer ‘useful,’ people try to pass them along. These horses deserve better. 

The ad that tore me up the most was on Facebook through an equine rescue as a courtesy post for the owner. A young thoroughbred, former show horse, free to good home. He’s not sound and will never be sound again due to a major injury sustained while carrying his teenager rider. The post had several photos of this girl and her horse. She looks elated mounted on her horse, his bridle adorned with ribbons. She’s hugging him in his stall, his ears are perked and they both are happy. Now he cannot be ridden- no more shows, no more ribbons, and she wants out.

Maybe her parents are to blame. Maybe they won’t pay for a horse she can’t ride. Maybe the girl wants a new horse and her parents can’t afford both. I understand the expense of horse ownership. But I don’t understand trying to pass off your best friend. You can call me judgemental or say that I don’t know the story behind the situation. Maybe so, but I still think it’s sad.  The horse worked, he gave his all, and through no fault of his own, he was injured. I think in that situation the right thing to do is find cheap pasture board and let the horse live out his days in grass filled bliss. Find someone with horses on their property who will charge you next to nothing to keep him there. But don’t give him away. He could end up at an auction or a slaughterhouse. Yes, it sucks to have a horse you can’t ride, but we owe these animals something for their service. We should be good to them because they are always, always good to us.