Saturday, April 1, 2017

News!


So here is the exciting news that I eluded to in my last post! Charmer and I have moved barns. We are now boarding (for the time being) at the barn where we take lessons, and for this month, I have been able to put Charmer into pro training - which means he is going to get at least a dozen rides by our favorite trainer this month, along with a few other high level riders and trainers that work at the barn!

I wish I could have said something abut this move ahead of time, but we were in a bad boarding situation and I couldn't risk our barn owner knowing about anything. To give a little background, the owner was still feeding the horses and things, but a lot of things had gone down that made the barn owner and I not get along whatsoever, and it turned into a little bit of fear for my own safety as well as my horse's.

But on a happier note! This move is exactly what we needed. I was a little hesitant on how Charmer would react to moving from a large dry lot to a 12'x12' stall with turnout (there are runs but they are flooded right now). Everything seems to be going really well though! He is loving the fact that he gets grained twice a day at this barn, as well as four feedings of hay. He seems like quite a happy little camper about his situation right now actually. Plus we picked up a back on track mesh sheet to help ease a little bit of his occasional back soreness, and I think he likes that as well!! I am excited to see if it helps him long term after wearing it for a while.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Vets, Tack, Excitement

Tonight, Charmer has a vet/chiropractor appointment. Mostly a routine "get all the things back in line" checkup, but also checking up on a few things to ease my paranoid, nervous, crazy horse mom brain. Assuming all goes well in his appointment tonight, I will have some very exciting news coming up tomorrow. I cannot say anything until all of the i's are dotted and t's are crossed, because the situation is somewhat delicate, but suffice it to say, I am busting with excitement and nervousness about it right now.

This is my face about our exciting news 😁


Also there is a new piece of tack that is gracing my plain bay horse's face. I haven't gotten the chance to ride in it, but it is a new noseband from Uisce Saddlery. I first heard about them from SprinklerBandits blog and got a sudden itch to get one. I have wanted a white padded, fancy stitched noseband for Charmer for quite a while now, and that seemed like the perfect thing to order. It arrived in just under 3 weeks, within the time frame she gave me, and the quality is great! Not to mention that the stitching and the white padding look fantastic against Charmer's plainer-than-plain bay face. I can pretty much guarentee that this will not be the last item I am buying from Uisce Saddlery! Hopefully someday I can work up my courage to get a color padded noseband, but I'm not quite gutsy enough yet. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

WSH Icebreaker Show: Photo Dump

I am basically too tired to do a real write up on the show that we had on Saturday, but in order to sum it all up - the day started a little rocky, but once I got on and we got to work, Charmer was a superstar! We had some of our best rounds to date. We kept our brains in our skulls and we ended up being one of only a handful of horses all day that did not buck, bolt, spook or refuse at anything. Also, every pole stayed up! Charmer did not even try to take anything down. Lots of people commented that he looked really nice, and calm. So yay for a successful show and I hope you guys enjoy this photo dump.

Rocking our warmup
Trotting through puddles
Power trot
Loving the burgundy and navy look
Crossrail king
I love the mountains in these pictures
Eating up those 2' jumps
"2'3" and scary fillers? Psh, easy."
Snappy knees
"Oxers are no big thang"
Wow look at me actually looking up!
Ever so careful hind end
He rocked this turquoise oxer line
Just stepping over little square red oxer
Lots of refusals from other horses at the scary flowers
But Charmer didn't even blink!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Battle of Confidence Vs. Fear

Approximately a year and a half ago, I broke my pelvis. I was at a horse show, riding a horse for a local lady. There were a lot of various mistakes made by several parties (myself included) and long story short, it ended up with the horse falling down at a warmup fence. She took the pole down and all would have been fine if she was more experienced, but she was too green. She lost her footing, I jumped off, and she ended up crashing down on top of me with her left shoulder on my left hip.

After being carted off in an ambulance, getting x-rays, and a whole lot of waiting, I found out I had broken my pelvis in two places. Luckily the breaks were fairly stable so I didn't need a full body cast or surgery, but it still meant I couldn't ride for a while. The fear, anger and depression that followed consumed me almost entirely. Even when I could walk and ride again, I was depressed and frustrated that I just couldn't ride the same - and maybe I never would. I was angry about the constant limp I had and the excessive pain that I was in. And I had absolutely crippling fear at the thought of getting hurt again.


I kept riding, going to shows, etc. to keep convincing myself that everything was fine - that I was fine. But the reality was that I was not. I honestly was horrified of cantering a crossrail. I didn't do it for probably at least 6 months. 3 strides out from a jump, I would just lock up and stop riding. If Charmer tossed his head oddly or took a canter stride even a centimeter larger than I wanted, I would panic.

There were so many days and nights where I would come home from the barn crying. My spirit was broken and I knew it. My confidence was gone. I was scared of everything.


Charmer did the best he could to keep his brain in his head and do what I was asking, even though I was never asking right. His athleticism and heart saved us multiple times when I was just sitting like a useless sack of potatoes.

I reached a point where I just knew I needed help from someone that knew more and that rides better than me.


We took a lesson with Trainer S, and most of the lesson consisted of lots of flailing and general "I'm done" attitude from Charmer. I don't blame him. He put up with my fear, frustration and poor riding for longer than I think any other green OTTB ever would have. Trainer S told me that I am a capable rider - provided I make a plan and ride proactively and don't just sit there like a useless sack of potatoes. Easier said than done. But I tried. And failed. My confidence just was not there and I couldn't make it grow back overnight. No matter how hard I tried.


I kept doing my best to force things. I figured if I just keep making myself go out, do things, ride more, etc. then it would all just work out and I would magically be the rider I used to be. Well as you can probably guess, that is not what happened. The result was usually me still locking up and not riding, and my poor horse somehow squirreling the both of us over the fence.


We spent a long time changing various tack - we got new saddles (dressage and jump), we got more bridles and bits than I care to admit and more. It had reached a point where I had a pony that was not thrilled with his setup, and a rider that was too scared to fix her riding. So the one thing I could do was try to fix the setup for him. We went from hackamores to Micklems to figure 8s, from french link bits to corkscrews to Mylers. Nothing made it better.


Then we found the magic bit. A Nunn Finer shaped cartwheel bit. Winning. Charmer was finally happy with his setup. Unfortunately for me, this meant I no longer had an excuse to blame our problems on. Now I just had to get myself under control and, you know, actually ride.


Our winter consisted of changing up some tack to fit me better (we got Charmer sorted out, so now I needed tack that worked for me too). And a whole lot of Jayne on the ground yelling at me to go forward. Use my leg. Look up. Ride. Those things. Utterly crazy, right? I mean that can't be right. Actually be proactive and not be a passenger? But because I generally think she kind of knows what she is talking about when it comes to pony things (shhh - don't tell her that) I decided to listen to her.

I was having to break tons of habits all at once. Looking up instead of looking down. Actually releasing instead of just freezing. Try to keep my leg under me instead of let them flop around uselessly. Folding in my hips instead of locking up and not moving. It was a lot to work on, and it still is, but it gave me a goal.


As soon as Trainer S was back in town, I set up a lesson. And much to everyone's surprise, me actually deciding to be proactive in my riding, and not being a immovable robot, actually made my horse do infinitely better. Wow, actually listening to all of those things that smart people told me, worked? Who knew.


In the second lesson, when asked to canter, I had a revelation. I asked him to canter, and did not seize up, I didn't immediately pull back on the reins, I just asked and allowed him to go forward. I wasn't scared, I wasn't afraid to die, I was having fun. Fun. This has been a word that has practically been out of my vocabulary for the last year and a half. I got up and I just smiled. I laughed. I was breathing and talking, not just shutting down. I think that was the moment that I realized how far my confidence battle has come.


Even when I had a little reality check in our third lesson, I still had the ability to ride a forward canter to jump. And jump things more than just a teeny crossrail. The war that I have been fighting with my own fear for the last year and half has been brutal, rough, and exhausting. But for the first time, I feel like I am starting to win that war. It seems like I am finally having more confidence back in my life than the fear. As much as I knew I missed feeling confident, I don't think I ever fully grasped how much. I have so much more joy, excitement and peace in my life now that I am finally confident again, doing the one thing that I have always loved.

I am not naive enough to think that "well now I am just magically confident again and I will never be afraid of anything again". I know that this is a battle that I will be fighting for years, if not the rest of my life. But the feeling of being able to fly with my best friend, with a big smile plastered on my face, is the thing that keeps me going.

This feeling makes everything worth it

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reality Check

After two weeks of absolute magic in our lessons, I knew I couldn't expect it to last forever. Our lesson this weekend ended up being a little less magical-unicorns-dancing-on-rainbows-with-sunshine-and-happiness and a little more remember-that-your-horse-is-a-seven-year-old-OTTB-who-is-still-green-and-just-learned-how-to-pick-up-his-feet.


We warmed up fairly well at a decent w/t/c. Our canter work is definitely wayyy better in these last few weeks (yay!). We did some 20m circle work over a couple of poles w/t/c and she brought up the same point that she has for the last couple weeks - I'm too nice. I tend to be too giving with the reins and don't give him the poke in the belly when he is falling in. I need to work on being a little more assertive and a little less "nice".


As soon as we started jumping it went a little downhill. For some reason I was just casually looking down at the jump. Couldn't tell you why. So of course that made Charmer nervous about whatever monsters I was staring at. After a while we got over the fear of monsters, but it was not fantastic there for a little bit.


A little bit of Charmer's head shaking "wildness" came back (I put that in quotes because it was not as wild as I've dealt with before - it just wasn't as calm as the last two weeks). We started off our little course with a rollback, which he was not horribly thrilled about, so that got fairly significant head shakes almost every time.


Our course was trotting into the green gate, then canter rollback to little red crossrail, and then canter into the 2'3"ish vertical. We have definitely started to step up our cantering jumps game, which is really really exciting to me. We got a little wild to the vertical a few times, but it was definitely more manageable than he has been before.


I should mention that up to this point, especially with the trot fence in the beginning, I was getting him wayyy too deep into the jump. Finally about halfway through the lesson I listened to Trainer S and got myself together and stopped burying him at that first fence. Once I pulled it together, Charmer got a little less violent about his head shaking. He just needed me to, you know, ride.


Then we added a left turn circle after the blue vertical and headed to this cute little 2'6" yellow vertical. Unfortunately, I could not see a distance to this jump to save my life. We pulled this rail twice. Hard. But thankfully, Charmer was in a fairly forgiving mood and did not decide to dump my butt into the fence. Thanks pony <3

Sassy lead changes for the win

We schooled through our four jump course a few more times and finally I figured my life out at the yellow jump and stopped screwing him up and Charmer flew over it.


We also had a life-flashed-before-my-eyes moment at one point where I thought Charmer was going to take another step at the blue vertical, but instead he decided to go for it (he was right, I was wrong). So I in turn got super left behind, and ended up slipping my reins out to the buckle and only had my right hand left on the reins. I had a moment of "this is the end. He is going to kill me" but instead he just cantered a few strides while I got my reins back together and fixed my life.


Trainer S had us try that line again and it went a whole lot better (thank goodness) and pony got a whole lot of pats for not killing me.


We added on one final jump - a nice 2'3" purple vertical. Charmer was all "NO TOUCHY" again with this one. The first time we put all 5 jumps together, it was not great - I did not have enough forward and kept burying him at the fences - which in turn made him a grumpy pony and threw some nice I-didn't-like-that head shakes to tell me off. I deserved it.


Then we did the course a second time. And I actually insisted on forward momentum, stopped burying him at the deepest spot I could find, and actually looked up and rode. And it was one of the nicest courses I've done on him.

Trainer S was pretty happy with where we ended the lesson. She would have been happier if we had started at that point (lol), but by the end we actually kind of looked like we knew what we were doing. It was not my best ride, and Charmer made sure to tell me that. Even still, I am happy that we are at a better place than we have ever been. He is rideable now, even if he gets a little "wild" and now I have to work on setting him up better and riding more proactively. We are starting to be able to jump more than just two crossrails in a lesson. This lesson definitely helped bring me back to earth a little bit after having a couple really magical lessons, but even with a less-than-perfect lesson this week, I am still so proud of where our journey is taking us.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Not a Fluke

After having such a fabulous lesson last weekend, I was quick to set up another one for this weekend. True to form, Pancho and Charmer loaded up like champs. The drive over was quiet and calm, and everyone unloaded quietly and happily when we arrived.


After tacking up, I had to make the decision of whether I lunge or just get on and see what happens. Due to a busy schedule this week, I hadn't been able to ride since our last lesson, so it was probably the smart decision to lunge.


Which of course means that I did not make the smart decision and ended up just getting on. There was a lesson going on before ours, so we went onto one side of the arena to work on our warmup. Something just seemed to be in the air, because both of the other horses in the ring were definitely excited and looking around, and Trainer S said that someone had fallen off earlier that day (because ghosts in the field next to the arena). Pancho and Charmer were both a little up, and so Jayne and I figured we were going to need a little gallop session. 


So we both got ready for them to be crazy and excited. And then we asked for the canter. And they just cantered. This has happened two weeks in a row. It is super strange. 

At one point, the two horses in the lesson before us both saw a ghost or something and got a little excited and bronc-y, and they were headed towards the corner where Jayne and I were standing. And Jayne was sure that Charmer was going to get all excited too, but instead he stood like a rock. He never even uncocked his hind foot. He kind of looked in the direction of those horses and flicked an ear at them and was all "far be it from me to participate in such shenanigans". 


Trainer S, Jayne and I have all seen this horse do all sorts of weird, crazy, wild things, so last week seemed to be out of the ordinary. We all expected something to happen today. Especially with scary ghosts in the next field. So Trainer S's first order of the day was "go canter 10 laps around the arena". We all expected Charmer to bolt or buck or something, but instead he just cantered. Just cantered. 

Again, just like last week, we were all shocked. After a little more time warming up for both him and Pancho, we started off on the jumping exercises. The first jump was just two trot poles leading up to a teeny crossrail.


And Charmer just ate it right up. He trotted in, cantered out, and didn't even throw a fit when I asked for a simple change of lead in the corner. We trotted maybe two steps and then he was right up in the other lead without any problem.

Then we added on a second jump. A little 2'3"ish vertical. S said we could trot or canter in. I opted to trot.


I came in, and I was sure there would be fireworks afterwards so I leaned back (it was not on purpose, but I was struggling trusting this new horse that I have). And you know what he did? Nothing. He cantered away ever so politely and even forgave me for not trusting him one bit.


S had us canter in the next time, and he was a complete rockstar. I felt like I was riding a trained jumper. He didn't get upset when we got a weird distance, and he cantered away without trying to be in the rodeo. 


We just kept adding on more jumps to the little course we had going, and with every new question, he answered it without hesitation. We cantered more jumps than we trotted by the end of the lesson. Before this day, I could count on one hand the amount of jumps we had been able to canter in a lesson. By the end of the lesson, I was confident and comfortable riding him in a forward canter at every fence.


 I think in the back of everyone's mind last week, it seemed too good to be true. There was no way that the horse that could barely handle 2 crossrails in every other lesson had pulled it together through a small course. But he came out on Saturday ready to show off. I think he is trying to say that it is not a fluke. He is ready and willing to work. He wants to be a safe, trustworthy horse, not a wild and crazy one. 


Our first schooling show of the year is two Saturdays from now (March 25th). It is at WSH, the same place we take our lessons, and I can definitely say that I have never felt this excited or confident about taking Charmer to a show before. We are going to start off the day with crossrails and just see where it goes. But if this horse keeps showing up for work like he has the last few weeks, there is no telling what we will be able to do at the show.