October 21, 2020

October 20, 2020

Aeres Riding Update: CGP Lesson and Contact Breakthroughs

A couple of weeks ago, I hauled Aeres over to CGP's in order to take back to back lessons on both ponies. I felt like a rockstar, especially when she had a cancellation between my two lessons and told her groom to help me swap horses in between. And when, after my second ride, the groom wandered down the aisle asking everyone if they wanted a glass of hot apple cider with apple whiskey. This barn takes full service to a whole other level!

Standing like a baby deer for some reason in her brother's stall after just getting off the trailer

Up to this point with Aeres, I hadn't really pushed her buttons on her issues under saddle. Between clicker training and ulcer meds, she was already a completely different horse on the ground at this point, but under saddle she retained a lot of anxiety.

So happy and round <3

CGP loved her - said she looked like a lot of fun and compared her to her up and coming imported young horse a lot. But she said that it seemed like she never developed an understanding of the contact in the snaffle bridle, which makes sense in the context of her former owner's words to me, that she "goes best in a double". 

Basically, without the leverage of the double to keep her head down, Aeres had been a head flinging, anxious mess under saddle the whole time I'd had her, which may come as a surprise to anyone who follows me on social media, where I've carefully cherry picked the best few seconds of each ride to share, since Aeres is kinda sorta a sales horse and doesn't need her dirty laundry aired out online.

CGP also said it seemed like this horse probably had her previous rider's number to an extent, and that she (Aeres) was used to getting her way all the time, so this lesson was going to be a lesson in "tough shit, sister". And that's what we did. She told me to keep my hands as wide as my knees and to be sure to keep the contact at all times and never let the reins go slack or the contact inconsistent no matter what Aeres did. She had me do the same flexion exercises that we've done with Connor to teach him he needs to follow the bit with the slightest pressure, first at the halt, then at the walk, and then at the trot.

Happy girl in private turnout

Aeres objected strongly to not being the boss (mares!), so there was a lot of waiting her out, but by the end of the ride, you could see a glimmer of understanding coming through. Also, not to mention, she was absolutely foot perfect about hauling, getting a bath from a stranger in a new place, and all that stuff.

When I got home, I started clicker training under saddle for the first time, clicking for the right responses to contact and flexion primarily, and a week later when Mary came out to ride her, she had to pick her jaw off the floor.

"Jen! She's like, a different horse! Her relationship to the contact is TOTALLY changed. What have you been doing with her? She's so much fun to ride now!" It was true, Aeres was polite in the contact and more dramatically, hadn't tried to suck her neck back into her body like a turtle a single time the entire ride.

From a month ago - this is a good moment but with a lot of tension


Last Sunday with Mary aboard

Is it completely fixed? No. But the combination of earning her respect in the CGP lesson where I finally pushed her buttons plus doing the clicker under saddle really vaulted us forward.

Even more exciting is that her attitude under saddle is changing. Her ears and eyes showed anxiety, fear and tension before, but now they're developing the same softer look I'm used to seeing on the ground now. Her default walk used to be so rushy, you'd swear she was going to break into trot at any moment, but now it's more of a prowly panther walk. And this deserves a longer blog post, but she seems to find comfort in being asked to do the same thing over and over again, whereas Connor would see that as drilling.

I love watching this horse develop!

October 19, 2020

Rainy Sunday Connor Ride

I continue to visit Connor once a week, for a lesson if CGP is in town or just to ride if she isn't. Last weekend she and her horse traveled several hours to her trainer's farm for some kind of developing FEI young horse thing, so I was on my own when I arrived on a cool, rainy Sunday yesterday.

He looks like a draft horse after my eye got used to Aeres

It was the first time in a couple of weeks I stopped to appreciate his condition. This horse is ROUND everywhere now, but in a muscular way, not a fat way.

I didn't get a good picture of this, but in particular his SI and hindquarter region is stronger than ever with obvious muscle development, which is probably part of the reason why his free walk caught my eye in the mirrors yesterday - it looks SO different. Usually his free walk looks like his front end pulling his hind end along, but in the mirrors yesterday, the hind end was moving with a purpose I had not seen before. He seemed more aware of his hindquarters and was just moving differently than I was used to, hence my desire to film it:

I realize the change that caught my eye won't be super obvious in a shaky GIF, but it's all I got.

During my ride, I realized that I'm finally starting to feel like I could bring him home and not screw him up, at least at the walk and trot. Now that his relationship with the contact is so supple and flexible, it makes it easier to be aware of when I'm pulling and to focus on myself rather than managing every little detail for him.


The canter, something about my biomechanics made us both revert to a lesser quality of work, so I just left that alone for the day and made a note of it to CGP for my next lesson. But the walk and trot, I'm starting to be able to get the same quality of work on my own that I can in lessons, which means one or both of us are internalizing the changes she's making to him, and I'm excited about that.

October 15, 2020

Semi-Professional Feed Room Organizer

Ever since my trainer's program ended and the barn reverted back to the care of the BO, I've felt strongly invested in making improvements out there. Partially because I want caring for that barn to feel as easy as possible for the BOs so they never try to sell it, and partially because I work there twice a month now, and certain things have been driving me crazy as a sometimes employee.

Like this.

That's our command center in the extremely tiny but surprisingly functional feed room (seriously, the wall you see above is the total depth of the room, which is less than 3 feet deep by maybe 7 feet long). With so many different people doing the feeding and stalls now, we needed "If the BM is hit by a bus, here's the instructions"-level information sharing that didn't involve scratching out and rewriting information on a sheet of paper.

After completely normal (for me) levels of overthinking, this is what I came up with:


Everything in black is in permanent marker. Everything in blue is dry erase. At one glance, in one place, you can see everything you need to know to take care of this barn.

But I didn't stop there. I moved the barn calendar out of the tack room and into the feed room, so the feed room (which is open to the aisle in the center of the barn) becomes the centralized communication point.

Both of these are getting hung on the wall as soon as I remember to bring my drill to the barn...


I added a corkboard for farrier receipts and checks, which is on the aisle side so our farrier can just reach around and pin things to it easily.


And then I cleaned the whole damn thing out, because it was full of "welllll I didn't know whose that was so I just left it" detritus that accumulated between the various management changes.

This wasn't all of it. Also that's the feed room with the ladder inside it.

Once I was done, we had a lot of empty shelves, but that's a good thing. I'm sure we'll find things to put on them, but this room is too small to have a bunch of useless stuff in it.

Tiny but super functional.

Other side. I also shoved the feed bin up against the wall, added a shelf above it, and used a hook and chain to create a way to keep the door open without having it further out into the open space

...ahhhhhh that felt good.

October 12, 2020

Say Hello to Meatloaf

After Bitsy passed away, we knew we didn't want Hank to be alone for long. The hard part was actually finding a dog - the shelters are SO picked over right now if you want anything but a pit bull, which I love all the pits I know, but Nick and I have a type at this point and pits aren't it.

Derpy, our type is derpy

But along came Meatloaf, who wasn't exactly what we were looking for, but ended up being what we fell in love with.

"Hi! Are you my family?"

Meatloaf was listed as a Husky mix but is definitely not that. My best guess is that she's mostly but not entirely Cattle Dog, and I expect maybe some Shiba or Basenji in there too based on her coat, face shape and attitude.

That is not a Cattle Dog face

She's about two years old, and was dropped off at the shelter because she nipped the family's kid, which like, ok. Clearly she had had next to no obedience training, no boundaries set, been given no reason to focus on people, and might be from a breed that has been bred to nip to herd animals. My first instinct after getting to know her was that she didn't nip out of aggression and therefore I wasn't worried about it.

After that, she spent five weeks in the kennel, going on two overnight visits (a requirement before this shelter will let you adopt, which I think is great) and being rejected both times. On the second one, she was rejected because she played so hard she triggered the owner's other dog's seizures, lol.

Playtime won't be a problem in this house

She took a few days to settle in and warm up. She's a naturally anxious dog in new situations, and I don't know that her former owners took her out of the house much. She actually nervous peed in my backseat when I took her on the 7 minute drive to the barn yesterday. But with time in each situation, she settles down and becomes her outgoing playful self, so this is just something we'll have to work on.

Yesterday, I had the perfect opportunity to see how she did at the barn when Mary came out to do saddle fittings for two friends and then ride one of those horses as payment (which she loved - she tolerates my ponies but warmbloods will always have her heart!). So it was 3 hours of me and Meatloaf standing in the aisle and the arena just chilling.

She was anxious and on guard the first hour, startled by the horses, but by the second hour she was relaxed enough to lay down and roll on her back for belly rubs. She got startled the first time Mary picked up the canter, but quickly got over it, making her already a better barn dog than Hank (who wants to play with the horses every time they start running, haha).

After five weeks in a concrete kennel with a Kuranda bed, Meatloaf cannot get enough of all of the softest things in the house, including this mattress topper we had in a pile to send to Goodwill that she's since commandeered as her own bed.

Bitsy was never a good barn dog and Hank requires too much energy and attention to bring to horse stuff if I'm by myself, so I'm excited that Meatloaf might be a good partner in crime for horse things.