No Mares for Connor

My trainer moved her horses and gear to the new barn a few weeks ago.  You know when you introduce a new horse to a facility/field and everything is bananas for a little while?  

Take a group of three horses that hasn't changed in years,  add two (Connor and Z), wait a few months, subtract two (the two retirees that moved to another facility owned by the BOs), then move six new horses from their old barn to a new barn all at once.  IT. WAS. CRAZY.

Fellow boarder, me and my trainer looking on at the Labor Day cookout we had at the barn while our horses ran around like idiots.

This is how we found out my sweet, go-with-the-flow pony who is legendary for his ability to not give a damn who he's turned out with or where he's turned out cannot be turned out with mares.  They were fine in a mixed group of 4 geldings and 1 mare for several days, then all of a sudden he decided (16.2hh...) N was HIS, and the poor appendix they're turned out with was not allowed to get close to her (all the other geldings were cool though).

He ran the poor guy around and snaked his neck and pinned his ears and I've never seen him even so much as pin his ears at another horse before, so I was pretty stunned.

He's sexy and he knows it?

It was such a surprise to all of us that Connor of all horses would act like that, but some geldings are just like that.  So, single gender turnout for the little guy from now on!

But it took us a while to catch them all that day because they were galloping around the big field like carousel horses.  By the time we did ,Connor had earned himself a very deserved teeth scrape down his spine that's mostly healed by now, and thankfully was right in the center of my saddle's gullet so no time off.


Warmup Connor vs Work Connor

Having two trainers, plus me being a little more autonomous these days, is interesting.  Sometimes all three of us are approaching the same problem from different angles.  I am definitely interested to hear if I'm on the right track about this if any of you smart Dressage people have any ideas.

NK: "Something about the way you sit on him encourages him to power down instead of become more active.  Encourage activity behind."

Regular Trainer (RT): "You need to start asking for the canter out of a more active trot so we can avoid those sticky transitions."

Me: Why does my warmup take so long and at what point does it get better...  (Haha, I asked this same question a month ago, turns out it was my hands, now I'm asking the same question about a different warmup problem this month.)

I'm pretty sure all those things are related.  I videoed my lesson last week to try to pinpoint when he really came on my aids, and it helped.  The screenshots below are from that ride.

This is the beginning of a ride.  We are at this phase for...a long time...every ride.

Right now I'm trying to develop that relaxed feeling of him seeking the contact before I ask for anything that might induce tension, given our issues with tension in the past, but that means our warmup is super long, and I think a lot of that time isn't really productive.  I know what the feeling is in my body when riding the "shut down" sitting trot and the active one, but I don't want to ask for it too early - and I think I'm misjudging when the right time to ask for that is.

I think I need to find a way to get both forward and relaxed much earlier in the ride.  This is the same ride about 45 minutes later:

His long warmups are concerning to me, because I'm thinking about giving myself a 30th birthday present of a Jeremy Steinberg clinic the first weekend of November, and I want to spend the rides working on the horse in the second picture, not the first one.

We can get here, every ride, it just takes a while.  Also interesting to note the difference between my sitting trot (which I don't find hard, but am clearly doing something wrong in) and the posting trot.  This is posting trot.

This is probably also related to the fact that we can't let him switch off during a ride, be it a break mid-lesson or between the warm up ring and show ring.  He goes from being the horse in the "good" pictures above back to the horse in the first picture and we can't get him back.

I said we weren't going to work on the canter until after Championships, but that hasn't been entirely true. forward sooner the answer?  Or should I still be searching for that relaxed/seeking the bit/balanced feeling first before pushing for more?  Chicken or egg?


"Day 1" Rides

I've gotten several comments asking about my new weekly riding routine with Connor, now that I'm riding 5-6 days a week.  I'm not quite ready to write that post yet - I still feel like I'm figuring that out myself - but I have noticed some little patterns.

One of those little patterns is that the first ride back after a day off is always "meh".  It's not bad, but it's not going to knock my socks off.  It won't be the ride in which we school something challenging or new.

Not going to get this level of straightness on a Day 1 ride

Realizing that has helped me temper my expectations, especially after business trips.  I go into the first ride aiming for soft, bendy, on my aids, stretching over his back and seeking the contact.  I get there, and I quit, no matter how badly I want to keep going.

It's been such a healthy realization for my super-competitive mind to acknowledge that there's an ebb and flow to the week, and to the quality of work we get each ride - and that it's on a more granular spectrum than just "day off" to "hack" to "Dressage schooling."  There are Dressage schooling days, and then there are Dressage Schooling Days.

I'd be okay with getting here on Day 1.  Also, man things have changed a lot since Pony Cup.

It's also helped me maximize my lessons.  If you remember my schedule from the old barn, I never came out to the barn on Wednesdays, and my lessons were always on Thursdays.  So, our lessons have almost always been Day 1 rides in the past.

Now, I'm able to see a lesson coming, make sure I ride the day before so that we can genuinely work on tough stuff in the lesson, and plan Connor's off-days accordingly.  It's helping me take baby steps toward feeling out a real weekly schedule.


Crafty Blogger Gifts

It's been a long week full of more travel, crazy work stuff, and heavy blog posts, so I just wanted to end the week with something a little lighter.

I've been the recipient of a couple of amazing handmade blogger items lately.  First, a stall sign made by Olivia at DIY Horseownership:

I love the sparkly gold and white thread she used, and that shade of wood is my favorite.

I'm not sure if I'm just projecting my own image of Connor onto it or if she really used a photo of him to do it, but it definitely looks like him shape-wise too.  Way impressive if this is based on a photo of him, Olivia!

And second, I won one of the test bags in Amanda's giveaway:

Definitely think about picking one up if/when she makes it available.  It's proven to be well-made and BIG.  Way more carrying capacity than I thought it would have.

Currently holding all of the spare cables, dongles and other nerd gear I need for my job.  And a pair of safety glasses.  You never know.

Thank you to you both and to all the bloggers that are just providing me with escape opportunities as I read your blogs between meetings!  Love this community.


A Big, Guilty Confession

Real talk time: My lifetime best 1-3 from the rated show last month was not the biggest reason I was thrilled with that show.

August 2017.  Photo by Lisa Brezina

I have a confession to make, something I haven't written much about out of, y'know, guilt and shame: For years, Connor has continued to get his tongue over the bit maybe once a month, usually during lessons when we were applying pressure or trying something new, and often at shows (but only ever in the warmup).

Tension.  May 2015.

The reason why he felt like he needed to put his tongue over the bit started to become clear this summer.  He stopped doing it entirely starting around June, or, around the time I really started to become aware of and fix my pulling elbows and tense thighs.

July 2013, Leg Up HT, the first time he ever got his tongue over the bit.
Also, lol, those braids.
I know getting the tongue over the bit becomes a habit for horses, but Connor was using it to communicate to me that something was wrong, so he stopped when I stopped.  Even after all that time.

He was only doing it to escape from the pressure, so when I took the pressure away, he didn't feel like he needed to do it anymore.  I know I'm lucky it didn't turn into a habit, and I know horses are forgiving, but I honestly don't feel like I deserve that level of forgiveness from him, poor guy.  How did we get so lucky to have creatures this noble in our lives?

My body is like a vice around him here, you can see the tension in my shoulders and hips. May 2015.

He hadn't even thought about putting his tongue over the bit in maybe 6 or 8 weeks by the July 2017 IDS show, when he got his tongue over the bit in warmup there.

Two things hit me like lightning as I got off to put his tongue back.  #1: My riding has been causing the tongue issue all this time, and  #2: Even if I had solved it at home, I was riding him totally differently at shows.  More pressure, more tension, more hands, reverting back to my old habits as I imposed my artificially created mental pressure on him.

Heartland, April 2014

He couldn't know that day was our second level kamikaze run and I was freaked out about going into the ring without him on my aids.  He just wants me to be the same rider no matter what.  Doubly so because he's a big chicken, and he needs a consistent leader to make him feel safe in a big scary show environment.  He likes sameness and predictability.  It's why he didn't want to event.

Aaaaaaaaand everyone's seen this before but it doesn't make this picture any less amazing, our very first Dressage test ever, June 2012.

So at August's rated show, more than anything else, I just wanted to prove to Connor that I could be the same rider for him at shows as I am at home.  And I was.  He's never been that soft or relaxed at a show before.

He even focused on me more, probably because my body wasn't saying "Something is wrong!  Be nervous!"  I felt it, but seeing Lisa's pictures proves it.

Out of all the photos she took, it's hard to find any in which it looks like I'm pulling on him.  It's the most open I've ever seen his throatlatch and the most relaxed I've ever seen his topline - and the most forward I've ever seen my elbows.

August 2017.  Elbows forward.  Photo by Lisa Brezina

We still have such a long way to go, but we weren't going to go anywhere real until we fixed this foundational hole.  We could've faked our way up the levels, but it would have been just that, faking it.  With an unhappy horse.

August 2017.  Rider needs to sit up, haha.  But I'm STILL not pulling even sitting like this.

I am so grateful to this little horse for not chucking my ass a single time over the years as I slowly learned and grew as a rider, and continuing to nicker at me every time he sees me to this day.  I hope I can make it up to him with many more years of much more enjoyable riding for both of us, because I really have internalized these changes and I'm never going back to the way I rode before.  He deserves every Mrs. Pastures cookie he gets and then some!


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