15 November 2014

Success at the sitting trot

    There are days when you believe that no matter how hard you try, you just don't GET it.

    I cannot remember the number of times I've had an instructor tell me to go through a series of steps in order to do something else(i.e. "pick up the outside rein, cue with your inside calf, sit back, sit forward, etc).  I try to follow her 'orders',  yet don't believe I've managed. Sometimes the horse obeys, and sometimes..most of the time..he does not. I try and try and when I finally DO get the desired result, the instructor (who has a better eye for another rider's performance then I will ever achieve) says, YES!

   "Did you feel that?" I am asked. 

   No. I honestly don't  know how I did it. It's dumb luck. It's probably why I don't have much success with riding, in that I'm inconsistent. But I don't usually admit it, guaranteeing failure.

    I must admit that the woman I've taken a few lessons from in the last two years is very good. With her, I'm not afraid to say "No, I've no bloody clue what I did or how I did it." .She's good with that, and tries different things, until I find something that does work, for instance, doing a half halt.

   I end up feeling frustrated and at the same time, humbled by my horse's patience with me. Every time I've dismounted from a lesson, I apologize to Raven.
He is so patient with me. He's a gentle but insistent taskmaster. He won't do something unless I ask it correctly. No matter how badly I fumble around on his back, he still has that lovely glint in his eye that says he loves me.

   It explains why I don't take that many lessons. I don't even pretend to believe I know more than the instructor. I certainly don't know more than the horse. I'm pretty stupid, actually, and sometimes wonder if I have any business being atop a horse.

   But I love them, and I want to ride. So for the last two years (yes), I've been working on me. I've taken a few lessons, more out of a sense of obligation to the instructors, because I don't believe lessons do any good. For me, at least.

    This is not hubris, or arrogance. I know damned well I DON'T know better than the instructor. I know my limitations.  The hard drive in my head is is full (and always thinking of things other than riding) and I find it hard to follow more than one order at a time. 

     I've always, always been the type of person who has to learn by doing. I'm terrible at following written instructions, especially complex, multi-stepped ones.  I even have to break recipes down into single steps. Being told to do something when I'm attempting to do something else is even less helpful.  I know that is ME. It takes a great deal of experience and a talent to be a riding instructor. I don't know how they do it.

    Having learned how I learn, virtually all of  my riding the last two years has been done bareback, and without a trainer. I want to be able to feel the horse. I want to hear myself. I want to find that balance, that relaxation, that everyone else seems to summon without effort.

  Because riding IS an effort. Non-horsey folk think that horse riding is merely a matter of sitting in an expensive saddle and saying 'giddyup'. You and I know much better. It's physical work. It's equal parts athleticism and art.  Coming to riding (NOT horses, just riding them) late in life, I don't have that ability to absorb and process the physiological feedback that young children seem to possess in abundance. I'm old. I'm broken in several spots. I am utterly convinced of my vulnerability and mortality.

   I can't say, either, that riding bareback at a walk is the most exciting thing I've ever done atop a horse. (THAT was when a neighbor's western saddled Morgan gelding ran away with me, and I enjoyed every bit of it, hanging onto the saddle horn the entire furiously paced trip).

     Going back to the basics has taught me something I cannot adequately describe. I can quiet my mind, now, and listen to what Raven's body is saying. I'm very right sided (and right handed) and have to force myself to listen with both sides of me, but riding bareback at a walk has taught me balance without reins, and relaxation.
When I mount, when we first walk off, I drop the reins and just let Raven drop his head and walk out. Only when I'm comfortable and feel secure will I pick up the reins.

   Today was sunny but bitterly cold. I hadn't planned on going to the barn, but Sue called me...did I want to ride?

   I bundled up in layers and met her. I'm glad we did. Being the only ones foolish enough to brave the sub freezing temperatures, we had the arena to ourselves.

   I usually ride Raven first, bareback, to warm him up. Then I'll dismount and Sue saddles him, and makes him work. So it was today.

   After fifteen minutes or so, Sue asked, did I want to try trotting?

  The last time I tried trotting, bareback, I failed miserably. I quit when I realized I was bouncing right off his back.
 But it's been six months or more. Let's put him on a lunge line and try it.

   To cut to the chase, it was...fantastic. I finally feel as if my two years of "work' has paid off. Holding onto a clump of mane, one handed, I rode a sitting trot. It was...well, it was a revelation. When I felt myself beginning to fall sideways, instead of tightening up and bending forward,  I instinctively relaxed...and leaned back.

   Voila a'!!! I was sitting his fast trot. I was SITTING HIS TROT. Bareback.!!

   Sue was as ecstatic as I was. She told me later, "I knew right away when you got it, it was all over your face." I was hyped. I'd done the right thing instinctively, not having to THINK 'relax', 'lean back", straighten up. I was ramrod straight. I was relaxed, balanced, I was sitting the trot. I'd done it without thinking. I'd LEARNED.

   Keeping him on the lunge line helped. Sue kept him in frame, which helped enormously. When he was carrying himself, stepping underneath himself, the trot felt effortless.

  Oh my gosh. THIS is how it's supposed to feel. This is the breakthrough. I'm not afraid. I trust Raven, I trust Sue...I trust myself.

  I know most of you, my readers, have been riding for years, and probably don't even remember the moment when you discovered you could actually do something more than a walk on a horse.

   For me, it was today.

   I hope I don't backslide, but I probably will. It's inevitable, but...I did it once. I can do it again. Because now I know what to do  and how to do it. Raven taught me. I taught me.

    As an aside, Sue had her seminal moment, too. She mounted a happy, warmed up Raven and achieved something she's been working towards, too. A passage.
Oh my gosh, Raven was gorgeous. What a lovely passage. I could barely keep from whooping in excitement when I saw them passaging across the arena. My gosh, Sue, you missed it, you can't possibly believe how good you two look.

   "Oh yes, I can" she said, with the same stars in her eyes that I'd had earlier,'you can't believe how fantastic it feels."

   Yes I can.  We are miles apart in levels of ability, but yes, I can.

06 November 2014

The trouble with feet.

     Raven has been in the New Barn for two months or so. Within a week of arrival, he'd torn out the electric fence in his paddock during a fracas with the geldings in the paddock next to his; somehow knocked out a couple fence boards; and unfortunately, strained a ligament in his left fore while acting Big Stud For The Girl Next Door.

     It took a few weeks of confinement to the small turnout pen off his stall and an injection in order for it to heal. But he did heal. So we began to ride, only to discover a new issue: his hind feet are crumbling.

Arrrghhhhhhhhhhh. It's a very bad feeling to see the farrier pull a shoe and part of the hoof falls off.

This comes from one or several of factors: Our wet, wet climate, genetics (to a degree), nutrition, and shoeing.
    In my opinion, it's a combination of 1 and 4. I know Raven's breeding. He's 1/2 Trakehner, 1/2 Thoroughbred. He has virtually no white anywhere on him-just a spot on his lip and a faint star, just a scattering of white hairs that vanish under a winter coat.

     I know what he's been eating for two years. We have never stinted on the best for him. In fact, Sue moved him from Bourbon Stables after the owner decided to save a few bucks (and still charge the same money) by going cheap on feed.  Raven went from locally grown orchard grass and whole oats to the equine equivalent of Doreetohs and Fruit Loups.  (sic) (I misspell purposefully in order to keep the advertisers from hitting you and me with ads.)

Our wet climate keeps the feet wet. Farrier number 1 warned us to keep Raven's  feet as dry as possible. But there's only so much you can do when you live in a gigantic car wash. You don't want to keep him in a stall 24/7. That drives them insane. And kills them.

    Because Sue's former farrier has been unable to work because of his wrists and back, she had to find a new one. After doing a lot of culling, she hired Matt.

     Despite my not being a farrier, I always wondered about how the last farrier shod Raven. He'd always had to build up one of the hind feet with a bit of epoxy, but now it'd gotten much worse.

    In such a small field of work, every farrier knows every other farrier in the region. So Matt was very circumspect in his appraisal of why the hooves are crumbling. He didn't say so, but I know he believes the former farrier was partially to blame. Nor did he imply it in order to keep a new client. He was late to the barn because his prior appointment, one for four horses, was suddenly doubled to eight when 'everyone realized the farrier was there and would you please work on my horse?" I can't blame him for saying yes.


   The discussion between the three of us touched on how Raven had been shod before Matt got the job. Maybe the first farrier didn't allow the heels to adequately expand. Maybe he put too much pressure on the sides. I don't know. But now we have about a year of work to get his feet to grow out. Matt built up the hooves with epoxy and gave me a recipe for goop to put on his hooves to keep them dry, because if 'he stands around in the mud, that epoxy is going to come right out."

    Yes. The recipe is: Mix Venice turpentine and iodine in a 60:40 ratio. For us in the US, that's a cup of turpentine to 5.5 ounces of iodine.

Apply to the soles and on the outside of the hoof, no higher than the nails. Do NOT get it anywhere near the coronary band, as it will burn the tissue. Venice turpentine is made of larch tree resin. Be careful when shopping for it. It's different than the more readily available turpentine used by painters. Venice turpentine is an astringent, and the iodine is to kill bacteria that every horse steps in every single moment of his life. Try not to get it on the frog. Apply about three times a week. (this last is for Raven's case.)

    It could have been worse. Sue doesn't vanity clip him. Meaning, she leaves his whiskers on and never, ever trims his pasterns.

     Some people think that cowlick of hair coming off the back of his pastern is unsightly, and trim it off. Yes, it makes for a 'cleaner, prettier' leg, but that cowlick serves a very important purpose...like a rain chain, it wicks water away from the hoof.

     Extrapolating this in my biologists mind, I wonder if draft horse breeders didn't understand this when they set about breeding draft horses. One can't think of Clydesdales, Shires, and even Friesians without thinking of their 'feathers' (extremely long haired pasterns)

    Sue is upset about it, but I try to tell her it will be okay. It will take time and work, but we'll get him back to good footing. Literally.