Friday, December 19, 2014

Awesome Night Ride!

So my last ride was in a lesson, which went well for the most part, and boosted my confidence a bit, but since it was in an arena, which isn't Arya's strong suit, I wouldn't call it FUN.  The one before that was a night ride, the first time I'd been on Arya since the day I fell off, and I just couldn't relax, and we cut the ride short due to my anxiety.  :-(  The ride before THAT, of course, was the one in which I came off.

So I've been both itching for a really good ride (defined by no anxiety and hopefully a little trotting) and a bit apprehensive about riding for a while now.  But tonight was a good ride, even if it wasn't a very long ride.

I get off work an hour earlier on Fridays, a bit before it gets dark, and was hoping we'd hit the road/trail while it was still dusk.  But alas, I got off work about 10 minutes late, ran to the feed store for Shar, got behind a slow vehicle, and of course had to fetch my pony out of her pasture, unblanket her, groom her, tack her, and then lunge her.  At least I could SEE her in the roundpen this time.

She was a little feisty at first, kicking out toward me (but not AT me, if you know what I mean) each time I asked her to change direction.  So I amped it up a bit, asking for a nice working trot instead of letting her trot slowly or even walk as I often do.  She got to make some pretty frequent turns until she started turning nicely without kicking out, and then she also got to slow down a bit.  After a few nice turns at a nice slow walk, I called off the groundwork and headed for the mounting block.  She did great for mounting, though Shar did me the favor of holding onto her.  (She's not very naughty, just sometimes walks off while I'm still working on getting on, which I'm not the most graceful at yet.)  She even stood stock still when Shar walked away.  Good girl!

We headed out, and to my surprise, I wasn't nervous at all.  Though I did talk up a storm to keep it that way--sorry for talking your ear off, Shar!  But really, I was fine.  It helped that Arya was really relaxed.  Her ears were flopped sideways, relaxed.  And she didn't mess with her bit--she really likes the Myler D-ring I have her in.

When we first started off, it was fairly light out, for being full-on dark.  What little moon there was was still up, and there were some clouds near it to help diffuse the light.  But the sky cleared off (nice and starry!) and the moon went down, and it did get a bit darker.  It doesn't help when you pass by a brightly-lit house (whether from porch/security lights or Christmas lights) then pass back into darkness--the contrast doesn't help, and it takes a bit for my eyes to adjust.  The horses didn't seem to mind (much--Flash did a little spook when we were passing a brightly-lit house).

We did some trotting.  Normally, my out-of-shape-ness is what limits how long we can trot.  Sometimes it's Ary's out-of-shape-ness.  Today, a couple of our trot sessions were ended due to Shar's leg-jelly-ness because she had a stirrup-free lesson earlier in the day.  I'm glad she was game to go out again with me, and impressed that she was able to trot at all after that, let alone post!

There was one time where Arya was dragging a bit behind Flash while we were trotting, and she started cantering to keep up.  But unlike the last ride in the dark, I didn't panic that she was spooking.  I one-rein-slowed her back down to the trot after a few strides.  Shar heard us coming up behind her and recognized the gait from the sound of her footfalls and asked if we were okay, but we were fine.

The only time I got "scared" (and it was more the kind of scared you are when someone startles you in the dark or something, but you instantly know it's just your spouse/kid/friend/whoever, and not an axe murderer) was when we were ambling along, almost home, and Arya ducked her head down.  She does that frequently, to rub her face on a foreleg, and I try to get her head back up ASAP, and to allow her to do it when we've already halted on my terms, but I'm not as good about that as I should be, and it's still a bad habit of hers.  For some reason, this particular time just gave me a really good startle and I actually shrieked.  Poor Shar worried what had happened, but I reassured her I was fine.  And I totally was--didn't have a nervous feeling in my stomach at all, just had a good startle for a split second.

So really, it was an uneventful ride (though I've managed to ramble on quite a while--have a nice peppermint if you read this far--Arya and Flash got some!), in a good way, and we got some trotting in.  Now I just really need to have a nice, daylight-filled, trot-and-canter-punctuated TRAIL ride, and I'll be a happy girl again, equine therapy wise.  :-)

Shoot, forgot to take pics again.  So here's what a photo I might have taken might have looked like, had I taken one and had one of Shar's neighbors houses looked like this:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Lesson Time

Had a lesson today on Arya.  Not my first, by a long stretch and not really her first, but our first together.  And she hasn't spent much time in an arena, so I was concerned with how it would go.  But other than not wanting to trot, and not loving standing still (though she got much better at it by the end), she did great.

It was 2 1/2 hours total, with the first half focused on groundwork, so she wore the saddle, but no bridle:

We worked on leading nicely, stopping when I stop, and backing up when I back up.  The last one was the hardest for her--she knows how to back up, but when you're walking well ahead of her, asking her to keep a "bubble" of space between us, and then expect her to back up just because you do, she doesn't get it.  She figures I'm just backing up to come back to be next to her so I can rub on her and pet her or something.  So it involved a bit of "hazing" with the rope to get her to understand.  She did okay.  We also did a bit of lateral work, like moving her haunches over.  It was good work.

Then we mounted up.  First we had to just stand there while the instructor talked, which Arya was NOT a fan of.  Getting on means getting moving, usually.  So it was good for her to learn this lesson.  Then we all walked and practiced one-rein stops (use contact with just one rein to turn horse until they come to a stop).  Arya is a champ at this--clearly her previous owner worked hard with her on this.  And she's lazy, which helps.  Shar and Flash had a harder time with this exercise, because he's more athletic and amped up--he just spun in littler and littler circles, without actually stopping his feet.  :-)

Then most of us stood while one person at a time went through a course the instructor set out.  We had to trot through four trot poles, make a circle, then return to the walk.  Uh oh, here goes.  Not sure whether Arya's dealt with trot poles (though I hand-walked her through them during the groundwork portion, and she has been WELL broke to deal with stuff on, around, and under her feet).  And she doesn't love trotting in an arena.

For the first go, I just trotted her beside the trot poles, attempted to keep her at the trot through the circle, was complimented on my use of just one rein in the circle, and then gave up when she started walking halfway around the circle  But she did better than I expected, honestly!

The second time, I walked her across the poles, and she did great.

The third time, I attempted to trot her over the poles, and she had a rough time finding the right spots to put her feet, came to a halt, and we walked the rest of the way through.  Oops.

But really, not too bad for a horse that hasn't spent much time in an arena, especially lately.

We then worked on some lateral work and two-point (I couldn't get Arya to trot more than a couple strides, so that was pretty much a bust.

The instructor has a thing with her lessons where the riders are supposed to back their horses up the hill out of the arena (from the ground, not riding)--it's good for their backs, plus probably helps the attitude that leaving the arena is great fun.  :-)  So that was an interesting exercise, then it was back to the trailer, blankets back on the ponies, and home again.

It was a nice ride on a nice day!  Shar and I both hope to go back again soon, her with both Flash and her greenie, Goodwin, and both of us might potentially take lunge line lessons (you ride without reins while the instructor controls the horse on a lunge line).  She'd take them on Flash, but I'm not sure Arya's consistent enough for that, so I'd probably ride one of the instructor's horses.  It's really good to focus on your own riding (including balance) without worrying about controlling the horse.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Back on the Horse

So, I fell off (well, she bucked but a better rider coulda stuck it, so I don't really like saying I was bucked off) two weeks and one day ago, and am just NOW getting back on the horse.  Yes, I got back on her again that same day, but this is the first ride after having a chance to process it, and as Shar and I discussed today, both first rides are difficult in their own way.

The first ride RIGHT after falling off is tough because you might be physically sore, you'll definitely be shaken mentally, and emotionally, you're probably either pissed or scared.  You've told yourself a few versions of why/how it happened, attempted to mitigate them however you can, and now you're getting back on, which is a test of those theories and remedies.

However, the first ride after you've been away from the horse for a while, whether it's the same horse or a different horse, and whether it's the next day or weeks, months, or even years later, though, is hard in other ways.  You've told yourself why the fall happened, but now it's distant enough that you're doubting your rationalizations.  And now it's a whole new day (/week/month/year/horse) so you can also worry that something entirely different might happen.  Is this the same horse you fell off and you only have to worry about what triggered that fall, or maybe she's in a whole different mood now, or you're getting onto a whole different horse and you don't even know what might set it off...

(Or is this all just me and I'm a worrywart?)

So anyway, Shar texted me today to ask if I wanted to ride tonight.  I had the gear I'd need with me, and it was a really nice day--partly cloudy, unseasonably "warm," full-ish moon...  So sure, I was in.  I showed up at her house, though, and it sure seemed dark.  I had to halter Arya by braille and lead her to and into the very dark barn.  But then we were in the barn with lights blazing and I got her cleaned up and tacked up.  Then we headed to the round pen, which was out of any beams of light from the barn, so leaving the bright barn and heading to the round pen left BOTH of us night blind--I couldn't see the round pen until we were right on it, and Arya misjudged the entrance when I led her through the gate after opening it--she caught the stirrup on it and startled herself.

I got my keychain out and used my little LED flashlight to find the lunge whip and start her off.  She seemed confused, since she couldn't see my body language, but our eyes adjusted (and the LED light helped), and we got some good lunging in.  First I just had her trot in only one direction to watch for any bucking that might be attributable to the tack, but she didn't buck at all.  Then I did our usual direction changes, both trotting and walking, just to get her paying attention to me and following my directions.  She did perfect, considering the conditions (dark plus still a bit slippery), so it was time to mount up.

But it was SO dark and I was SO nervous.  I was really tempted to just tell Shar I didn't want to do it.  But I couldn't wuss out, and while it would be nice if it was light for it, I was gonna have to get back on at some point.  So why not now, right?

However, after her difficulties finding the opening to the round pen before, I decided not to mount in the round pen and ride out of it, so I hauled Arya and the mounting block back into the light from the barn.

That's when R got home from work and pointed out that one of the bolts on my stirrups (I'd just changed from the ones that came with the saddle to the caged stirrups I already owned) was really loose.  Good catch, R!  I might have lost a stirrup in the dark at the very least, or possibly fallen off if she'd spooked (or even trotted, with my balance, especially in the dark) while I was riding home with one stirrup.

So, with that fixed and Shar ready to go, too, it was time to get on.

Deep breath.  Mount up.  She was fine.  I was rather nervous, though.  The cinch seemed a little loose, so once again, R came to my rescue and tightened it up for me.  I only tighten it enough to keep the saddle from falling off when I lunge, but I'd tightened it before futzing around with stuff.  Apparently not enough!  With that taken care off, we were off like a herd of turtles (as Shar often says).

Arya did fine leaving the property and following Flash down the road.  We were even going a different direction than we usually do, on a route she's only seen once, and from the other direction.  Her eyes and ears turned to the side every once in a while to check something out, but for the most part her ears were forward and she was striding out down the trail, even passing up Flash and taking the lead.  I was still rather nervous, but some deep breathing and attempts to sit deep in the saddle (and lean back a bit rather than curling forward as is my instinct).  Then we turned and headed down a road she'd never been on, and she still did fine.  I was chatting with Shar and trying to keep breathing.  Everything was going fine.

Then Arya spooked at something.  We think it was Shar's dog, Noelle, coming into her vision suddenly after being behind her, but who knows.  Luckily, she didn't go sideways, so I didn't lose my balance.  She took a couple of canter strides.  I instictively panicked a moment--cantering doesn't feel much different than bucking when your brain isn't really thinking, but then she slowed and my brain kicked in at about the same time, and we were fine, though my heart was racing a bit.  But I was more okay than I would've thought a few moments earlier, and we kept on going.  We got down to the house with Christmas lights we were heading for, and there was also a horse (or pony?) nearby, who whinnied at us.  Between my nervousness, the funky lights, and the presence of another horse nearby, Arya was a little on edge.  I was a LOT on edge.  It didn't seem like it'd be getting any brighter, and it didn't seem like I'd be getting any less nervous, so I asked if we could just retrace our steps and head home rather than taking a longer route home or doing anything more adventurous.

Shar is such a good mentor--she agreed to that, and told me she was proud of me, and didn't push me any further outside my comfort zone than I already was.  I really appreciate that!  She encourages me without sounding patronizing me.  She encourages me to push my comfort a little bit without being pushy, and of course by allowing me to board at her house, she's very supportive with her actions and not just words.

We made it home totally safely, including when a driver came toward us, saw our funky reflective gear and wondered what he was even looking at, so he slowed down and chatted with us (well, with Shar--Arya and I were further off the shoulder and she was eating and/or scratching her face).

After arriving home, I untacked, and Arya was SWEATY!  Not all over, and not under the saddle, just on her chest and neck.  We ONLY walked.  Guess between my nervous energy and her own, she got a bit of a workout anyway, somehow.

We went a whopping 2-ish miles (my tracker says just under, Shar's says just over) in 40-ish minutes.  Woo.  ;-)

I didn't take any pictures, but here's what it would look like if I had:

We discussed when our next ride should be, and I just don't think I'm up for another night ride before getting in a nice daylight ride, so most likely won't ride until the weekend.  :-)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pretty Ponies on Parade

My friend Shar asked if I (and a few other friends) wanted to participate in the Christmas parade put on by her little community (smaller than a small town, bigger than a neighborhood).  The theme of the parade is Toyland, so we were originally each going to go as toys--her as Raggedy Ann, and me as Gumby (Arya's a pretty good twin to Pokey).  But then she suggested bedecking our horses as My Little Ponies, which sounded like too much fun, so we shopped at dollar stores and Joann's, and got together with plenty of time before the parade to get the horses ready.

Arya in back, Jill holding Goodwin's tail while Shar looked for her zip ties.

Willow in back, and Jaxon in front.  Both have a ways to go before they're ready for the parade!

Turns out Goodwin looks great in gold!

And Arya's beautiful in purple!

Arya wasn't too sure about having curly gift ribbons dangling from her forelock, but after a little shaking to see if she could get them loose, she figured they weren't too bad and was fine with them the rest of the day.  The mane and tail ribbons never bothered her at all.  Pretty sure this is her first time being decorated, so she did great!!

Jill still has a ways to go on Willow

But Romina's getting Jaxon quite well decorated!  She has red and yellow tack, so took that color scheme a ways further, like I did with Arya and purple.

Goodwin doesn't look very amused...

But Shar loves it!

We went down to the staging area and got into place for the parade.  We were number three--after the grand marshal and before a "hot wheels" car.  Shar chose this spot instead of one directly in front of the fire engines (that do turn on their sirens, honk their horns, and flash their lights, so good choice!).

The float in front of us held quite a cast of toys and nursery rhyme characters.  There are some toy soldiers, Jack and Jill and their cute kiddo dressed as a puppy or bear or something, Mother Goose, and some other characters...they all had awesome costumes.

And, of course, Santa!

Color guard at the very front of the parade

When the float in front of us turned their music on, Goodwin got VERY interested

When we started off, Arya (who had been uber calm up to this point) got very animated.  Not sure whether it was the hubbub or taking her away from her grazing break, but she was prancing around and trying to push me off the road (like she was trying to get to food, but who knows).  I tried circling her, and she didn't respect my space very much the first time or two, but luckily the car behind us did and she settled in just before we got to the spectators.  We got a few oohs and aahs from spectators, and I let a couple little girls pet Arya, and she was an angel.  We got some after-parade photos of our pretty ponies:

Goodwin and Shar, and our ribbon for first place in the category Pets and Horses (I'm pretty sure we were the only entry, but hey, it's a ribbon!)

Jaxon and Romina

Arya and me (too bad her eyes were closed)

Willow and Jill.  That hat/scarf/gloves multi-purpose and multi-function garment was awesome!

We all had a great time, the weather wasn't too cold (and the parade route had thawed, even though Shar's house was still frozen solid), and the horses were well-behaved.  First parade for all of them, I believe!