Friday, September 28, 2012

Self-Help...or Kicking Equestrian-Depression's Ass

I'm sure you've detected a bit of a depressed tone in my more recent blog posts regarding my horse and I.  I have been in a slump, for sure. Ben - well, he's just being a horse, a 4 yr old one at that. He's testing what and where he can, and I haven't been a good enough rider to be a leader in the saddle.

So what can I do - I can moan and complain. Or I can try to fix it. And since I have goals with this horse, I'm electing the "fix it" option.

I've started reading and doing some RiderPilates ( Already, after just a couple tries, I am getting the hang of it, and can say that it has already benefited me in the saddle.

Additionally, I also started reading Janet Foy's book "Dressage for the Less than Perfect Horse." It's been fantastic, and has already given me some little tidbits on what to do with a sluggish horse who wants to fall behind the aids.

And finally, I bought that Kent and Masters saddle. I've been riding now in my friend's for a week, and I can honestly say it has been much easier on my body.

Tonight I was able to take both what I've learned in RiderPilates (doing a pre-ride warm up, and also a breathing technique in the saddle...and focus), as well as some pointers from Janet's book...and lo and behold, I had a great ride.

I can't discount what my trainer also said. Her little voice was nagging in my head...and it was also mixed with Janet's voice...turns out they say the same things, LOL. During my last lesson my trainer told me I was giving Ben too much time between transitions, especially if/when he fell out of work - like dropping tempo at the trot, or dropping out of canter. The problem has been, for me, anyway, that i feel like i need some time to reorganize during these unplanned events. So i'm essentially giving him a break and telling him it is OKAY to stop. Damn. Janet's book said the same thing. So today I worked very hard on keeping him "ON". If we were cantering...we were cantering. If he fell out of it, and he did, several times, he was put right back in no matter how ugly it was.

And it worked, but I worked for it. Its not as if I was suddenly magikal and could just sit there and have this lovely horse flowing underneath me. Not so much. I earned every friggen stride - even the bad ones. He was pulling on me, rushing, slowing down bulging this way and that, and it was up to me to keep him on the task. It got better a few minutes into it- its almost as if he just stopped trying all the BS and got to work. Mr. Asleep was awake and we got not only some great canter but also some lovely trot work. I had a connection, and an outside rein. It was lovely.

Take that, you naughty Depression!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Be Still, My Aching Left Leg

Had an AHA moment last night.  My left leg, for the first time in the history of riding Ben, was able to be still. A combination of a better fitting saddle, and breaking a trainer said "try to keep your left leg from moving so much"...and so I tried to stretch it down. And for some reason, this time, it worked. It felt like a stable, still object.

I was able to repeat the same feeling several times.

Hells yea.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Good Boy

No pictures today...because I was riding! Yahoo!

Ben had 3 days off - it was a good experiment for us to see if he'd return to being naughty after another short break.

This break didn't unleash the grumpy-beast. I used the Kent & Masters saddle I'm borrowing from a fabulous friend, and though it is the smaller seat size, it suits me much better than the Isabell. Ben was pretty nice. I got some good trot work and some good canter work too. I kept it short and sweet because it was getting late and he is being ridden early this morning.

Phew. No telling if this will last, but boy it was sure nice to have a good boy on my hands!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Difference a 1/2" Makes

As luck would have it, the fitter who carries the Kent and Masters line of saddles was up at the barn today, and happened to have on her truck an 18" Kent and Masters S-series. It had the external blocks, but I could overlook that for fitting purposes.

Rather than pull out my dusty, dirty, sometimes naughty gelding (that I had no interest in riding due to extreme soreness on my part after subjecting myself to a 10k race yesterday), I decided I would make a less-naughty horse out of the water barrel and cavelletti blocks. I also lovingly named him Barry the Barrel Horse. He doesn't have much of a wither, and is quite stoic when letting me try saddles on him intended for a horse of a rather different shape.

I am still so amazed at what a difference a half an inch will make. You can see for yourself - angles and such aside, the 18" let me stretch my leg down without my knee jamming into the thigh block, I didn't have to scooch anywhere to find the seat, and best of all, my seat bones weren't screaming. Rather, I was able to just sit, and have the top of my thigh rest parallel to the thigh block, and have my lower leg just hang, with no jamming in any joints - hip, knee, or ankle.

I made it a point to sit in these 2 saddles - back and forth, for over an hour, and each time, I could feel little differences even more. The winner is the 18" Kent and Masters S-series, but with a moveable block. Not too keen on the surface block at all, I like having the ability to velcro the blocks on at different angles as necessary.

I also had the good fortune of picking up a rider pilates DVD and book. Can't wait to get started with that- may be my winter project!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Its About the Journey...Right?

And sometimes the journey sucks when all you really want to do is get to your destination already.

Before I go on - just wanted to update that trainer did ride Ben yesterday, and said he was fine. A little sticky at the walk, but fine afterwards. Her verdict- she thinks he's got growing pains.

I agree with her, but I also think there is more to it. I do think he has soreness. Specifically on the left side of his body. I do think he is growing, too. And I also think he's becoming very particular about his rider- maybe due to soreness/growing. But his tolerance is quite low for an ammy who is less precise, less balanced, and overall less effective. I do not have the ability to make him go well, to show him the light,  he has the ability to then screw around and then get pissy when I try to correct him. I think a lot of it is attitude- in a "you can't make me" kind of way. It's a negative cycle that is not getting better.

So- how do we fix this? I think part of my riding him poorly is pain related on my part. Simply put, I have never been that comfortable on Ben, though when he goes nicely he's much easier to ride and I quite enjoy him. But when he's not going nicely, which is the majority of the time at the moment, I am in a lot of pain, I can't find my balance, and I can't be effective. I need help.

One thing I have zero'd in on is the saddle. The Isabell does me no favors in this department. And so, I have kicked off The Great Saddle Search for Ben and I.

So far we have been seen by two local fitters. One is a rep for Albion, and she is quite lovely. In that demo I learned a ton about my own needs in a saddle, and how little changes in the seat, thigh blocks, pommel, size can mean huge changes in my own comfort. By the end of the demo, we had zero'd in on the best match for Ben and I that Albion can offer: an 18" platinum ultima Genesis, standard seat. And the price tag for said saddle: $4,000.

If you just threw up a little in your mouth, don't worry, so did I.

However, knowledge is power. I walked away knowing which Albion would work. And also what to look for in any saddle when it comes to finding my own comfort.

On to Option B, potentially C...the Kent & Masters. At $1800, just about half the price of the Albion. Fitter came out and did wonderful tracings, and also identified some sore spots on guessed it- on the left side of his body.

I already own one Kent and Masters dressage saddle- I find it to be quite comfortable, even more so than the Albion I tried. I was hoping that with a quick change of gullet and perhaps a shifting of the flocking, that this saddle would work. As it turns out, it was not meant to be- it just rocks too much on Ben and is quite unstable. Kent and Masters, though, has recently come out with a new line - the S series- which is a bit more low profile. The fit for Ben was good. With some adjustments to flocking, it can be made to work for him. For me, it was quite easy on my hips, but boy that seat is hard, and it seemed to be hitting me a bit funny. All the same, during the ride, I felt like I got over that weird feeling. As it happens, a friend of mine has this saddle and offered to let me borrow it - and so I've been riding in it for the past few days. And my seat bones are sore, though my hips feel great. Shit.

What I'd really like to do to rule it in/out is to find an 18" and sit in it to see if that changes anything. While it appears that a 17.5" in any saddle works for me by looks, I've been finding more comfort in larger saddles.

So - I haven't quite found "the one" just yet. I do, however, have pictures and tracings and so if need be, I can send those off to other saddlery's to start looking at other saddle options. However, I do know that the saddles that could fit us are not exactly cheap - I'd be looking at anything from $2500-3500 and up.

Unfortunately, a cheap fix, even used, is looking less and less likely. Even if I find a used saddle, say an Albion, that fits the specs, it will likely need flocking adjustments and fitting, which will add a couple hundred bucks to the ticket- at which point I am closer to the cost of a new one anyway. It would have to be a really great deal, and these saddles seem to hold their value (which is great if i find myself an Albion owner at the end of all this).

I am trying not to let saddle-fitting anxiety rule my life, but thus far I have been unsuccessful. I just want to find it, and move on. And hopefully not be out $4k in the process. I've been trying to tell myself to enjoy this as a learning experience rather than an obstacle impeding my progress. This is an opportunity to learn and grow, and gain knowledge where its lacking.

But I just want a well fitting saddle, dammit.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The 4 Yr Old Dilemma

You know you have a problem when you thoroughly enjoy riding your aged, gimpy, walk-only mare far more than your fit, athletic 4 yr old.

Ben has had a case of the naughties all week. This started out on Sunday, after a 2 day break, after having a great week prior.

On Sunday he was just not having anything to do with being a riding horse.

On Monday he gave the trainer some lip, but worked out of it.

On Tuesday he gave her more lip, but worked out of it. On Tuesday afternoon he was pretty good for me (more to come on that in a later post- I dont routinely have him be ridden 2x a day)

On Wednesday our lesson was cancelled, but I rode anyway, and he was a jerk for 20 minutes. He never actually worked out of it, but he stopped screwing around but was still nervous.

Today - trainer rides him - we'll see what she gets.

So what to make of all this. My first thought is the P word...Pain. Could it be possible that he is sore - either from work, tack, rider crookedness on my part, or maybe even he did something in turnout? I mean, this has not been a gradual descent into naughtiness- it just showed up on Sunday, BAM.

Could it be that he is being a testy 4 yr old?

Could it be that he is burned out and needs a break?

Could it be that he needs a little Come to Jesus and work a bit harder?

With 4 yr olds, its difficult to diagnose, and therefore also, treat.

My inclination, my gut, tells me there is pain or soreness. Specifically on the left side of his body. I think said pain and soreness may be due to saddle fit, rider crookedness, natural horse crookedness, and the introduction of working smaller circles mixed in with big circles.

What is my evidence?

- I know I am crooked.
- I know from feedback and riding it myself, that smaller circles to the left is much harder for him. 2/3 of the 10-15 m circle he can do..the last 1/3 he drifts and cant do it.
-We've been asking him to take smaller steps, and soften his back. This is the complete opposite to what he was born to do. 
- He is resentful when I carry my whip on the left, and use it on the left.
- Saddle fitter came out on Tuesday (more on this later) and highlighted 2 problem areas on his left right behind his shoulder and 1 higher up, closer to his croup...on the left.
-His body is changing, again.

This doesn't really explain why after 2 days off he's super cranky to get back into work. Or does it? He was off a couple of days, and then the re-introduction to work, aka pain, is too much to bear.

The fact that he works out of it with the trainer also tells me that it could be pain. She is much lighter than I, far more balanced and thus effective. She can get him focused and using his body better, whereas I cannot.

So where does this leave me. I have a hard time believing that my horse is being a prick for the thrill of it. He's not that kind of guy. 

Now what to do about it...

Monday, September 17, 2012


Like a nice owner I am, decided Ben deserved a 2 day break from the action. He's only 4, and his body is still growing and developing, so 2 days of rest sounds like a good thing, right?

Sure, until the day comes for you to get him back to work.

This is a known thing-  Ben is typically a crank-pot to bring back into work after some time off. Not always, but I'd say about 75% of the time.

I went to the barn looking to have a fun little ride. What I got was a lazy horse who really didn't think much of my desire to go. If he wasn't just completely sucking back he was flinging his head and body around, surging forward, being pacy. Any real request was completely shot down by him. I tried to get a long canter hoping it would help - it kinda did...but not really. Going over poles kinda helped...for the 1 second he was over the poles- everything else was pure crap and pure resistance.

At one point, and I'm not proud of it, I got really pissed off at him. I was not asking for anything hard- just go at a normal tempo trot. He would not do it. So I admit, I spanked him with the whip, once. He of course kicked out at my single spank, and then was nervous and grinding on the bit, and STILL resistant. I resolved nothing. I know that getting angry never solves an issue on horseback...and yet...I still allow myself to get angry. Gah.

So, seeing the error of my ways, I just decided to do something else. A gal came into the arena to mount up and promptly left to go ride outside, so we practiced going to the gate and closing it- which has a snap latch so its a bit harder than just a normal gate. That was a good little exercise to get our minds off the bad ride. And it was nice to be able to praise him for something he was trying to do well.

From there, I walked him out and just quit. There was no point in trying to get anything out of us. We'll try again today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Its the Small Things...

Ben is a pretty laid back guy. For a four year old, he could be spectacularly naughty, but he just isn't. he's a cuddly, fun horse to be with.

Except when you need to dress his hooves.

Seriously, of all the things that could bother a horse- sprays, mane pulling, baths, etc...the one thing Ben has objected to is hoof dressing.

I'm not normally one for foofy things, but I've been experimenting with Keratex hoof hardener this summer in an attempt to see if I can help Ben keep his shoes for the full cycle.

Trying to paint this horse's hooves has been ridiculously difficult.

And finally, a couple of days ago, he just let it go, and has been fine ever since.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Adding a Little Color

Yes, I've reduced myself to the equivalent of equestrian kindergarten= rainbow reins. $3 worth of colorful electric tape and I got myself a training aid.

And you kmow what, it bloody works. I TOTALLY ride with my left rein shorter than my right. And when I can straighten out my left side- origination in the hip, that rein feels equal to my right. Funny how that works...or not, because it means I have quite the issue to sort out.

After a rather horrible, deflating ride on Saturday (turns out taking 2 weeks off doesn't actually miraculously make one a better rider...quite the opposite in fact), today my friend and I decided to mix it up and do something fun. So out came the poles and cavelletti blocks.

Ben got his first taste of jumping!

Now lets not get ahead of ourselves- our cross rail was quite, ehm, low, and the majority of them he just trotted right over. But the important thing is that we had fun. I laughed and smiled and felt really lucky to have such a willing guy. He really liked it too - if allowed, he'd go over every time. He does that with trot poles too- he makes a beeline for them every.single.time.

And as if by magic, popping over the cross rails  and through the poles put a little pep in his step, and softened his back and our resulting canter and trot work was awesome.

It was just what we needed.

I'm not sure how much of this I will do with him - I am very wary of pushing it with a 4 yr old, but on the flip side it seemed to make the flat work better, so I think dabbling with this might be a good thing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When You Want to Quit...

It's been 12 days since I've last ridden my horse. What started as giving him a couple days off to recover from our totally awesome beach camping adventure turned into a friend-crisis which called me away from my horse habit for a few days. Not that I had the time to get to the barn - with the Evergreen State Fair traffic clogging up 522 & US2, not to mention the really annoying road closure just before our barn, I also didn't feel much like riding anyway.

Never fear, though, my fabulous trainer is still putting rides on Ben. She rode him 3 times last week, and 2 so far this week. Last night I heard that he's been absolutely FABULOUS. She's been doing so much with him, and even working on sitting trot. He's just fantastic.

Yay - right? Well, sorta. It totally guts me to hear how wonderful these rides are going because....I haven't ridden him! She's not having to repair constant damage I put on my horse when I ride him. Its very clear that my problem with my horse is...well... ME.

This doesn't exactly inspire me to climb back on because now I feel terrible. I'm confusing my wonderfully good natured 4 yr old. He'd be better off just having someone with a clue, aka the trainer, ride him.

Maybe I should just not ever ride him again and sell him to someone who can ride better than me. Doesn't he deserve that kindness?