Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mountain > Mole Hill

My last post included a description of something that's been going on with JR that was slightly worrying me. We all know that I tend to worry unnecessarily about many little things. Thankfully this was simply one of those times. However, by describing what I was feeling (in amateur's terms) a reader decided to leave an alarming comment essentially telling me I needed to get an equine chiropractor and vet out immediately or I was going to make it worse. Initially I was both scared shit-less and pissed off. First of all, I HATE "Anonymous" comments and I have now removed that option from commenting. If you have something to say, be ready to back it up. It's like when I got the all caps comment telling me to turn my horse out every day whatever the cost. That's good advice and I had already decided to put him in turnout, so why did you yell it as an anonymous face on the interwebs? Who are you to be the expert? Why did you find it necessary to yell it? And about this latest Anonymous comment, are you a vet? Do you have experience you could tell me about? Isn't "My horse acted like that once and we were able to correct it with chiropractic and some exercises given by a vet" a much more helpful and valid comment? There are horse people who know it all, horse people who don't know anything, and horse people who know some things and are happy and humble to learn more. I am the latter and have very little interest in those who think they know it all. NO ONE KNOWS IT ALL. Yes, I yelled that.

I have a blog-friend (she can "out" herself if she wants to) who just got some comments posted on her YouTube videos telling her all about the things she was doing wrong with her riding......the comments were by a 14 year old girl. What business does a 14 year old girl have telling ANYONE they need to work on their riding!?!?! I was so angry I wanted to tell her to STFU but I refrained. It was tough, but I knew lashing out at her would only make her defensive and I didn't need to go there. My friend may delete the comments if she sees fit.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. If you've been a long-time reader you know that I often refer to my beloved equine as the 8-Legged Moose. Though we've come a long, LONG way since I got him 11 months ago, he still has 4 left feet and I am still an amateur rider who lacks training experience and a certain amount of confidence. I do not always possess the ability to convince my horse to perform to his potential. This is one of those cases.

I'd taken the rides easy since the last post. He never felt like he was in pain or refused, he just felt weird, so I spent my short rides trying to interpret what was happening. I know (but did not mention) that part of the lead switching was because I had been experimenting with lead changes on him and he would start to anticipate those changes. He really does want to please me so sometimes he takes my corrections (using my inside leg to move him back over to the wall combined with asking him to collect) as CHANGE. To me this is an understandable miscommunication and I don't punish him, instead I work to make my aids more clear for him. This answers a LOT of the lead-swaps because they happen when I ask him to change his balance. The other part of this mystery goes back to his 8-Legged Mooseness. He was not well schooled at the lope when i got him, and I have a video I took the first time I tried him out where he is very slow to take the lope and doesn't keep it very long. He's gotten TONS better , but what it boils down to is that I am not good about supporting him. (from what I've been told he didn't start any arena work until the summer before I bought him and has gone from very little arena work to doing respectable patterns in less than a year) The whole concept of keeping the body straight through the turns, bending appropriately is still a foreign language to me. My beloved Banee was so hypersensitive to leg aids that the slightest touch would send her into Tempe changes - I learned to keep my legs off and NOT use them. I steered only with my hands and my weight. So though I've been riding for over 15 years, I'm still an intermediate rider. Combine a rider who is still learning how to balance a horse with a horse with zero balance and what do you get? A horse that breaks his stride in the corners, misinterprets sloppy cues, and a rider who doesn't know what's wrong. That is why I take the advice from my trainer who is there, who can see and feel what is going on and can help me. NOT a faceless nobody on the Internet.

KAT lunged him yesterday morning at my request to see if she could see anything immediately concerning. She didn't see anything but didn't put him in a lesson so she could further evaluate later. In the evening I hopped on him while she was half-way through a lesson. He was better than he had been on Saturday and actually gave me a lovely posting trot and I felt like I was floating along the arena. It's so nice when things you've been working on start working! When her lesson was done she said she could see how he was losing his cadence in the really tight turns I was making in serpentines and circles. She hopped on him and messed around with him. She said she could feel how he was over-correcting when asked to bend and so was losing the cadence but she showed (reminded) me how to keep him aligned better. So I wasn't imagining it, but it wasn't really him, it was me. My lack of confidence sometimes keeps me from riding with enough authority to get the job done. Watching KAT be as capable as she is and watching JR not only listen to her but keep his pleasant demeanor reminds me that I can be a little more insistent. I got back on and tried what she said and his turns were fine and he didn't swap once. I've also been holding off on the lead changes. I only started them because the last show had a flying change in the horsemanship pattern and we failed miserably at it. We're still working on slowing his lope and some days are better than others. He did finally drop his head and lope along to the right and a decent pace so I patted him and cooled him out. The other horses had left the arena and he gets very cranky about having to walk around the arena when the other horses have left him. In his mind they must be going off to do something really fun that he's missing out on. So I un-tacked him and sprayed him off really well and scraped him cool. He was covered in mud when I got to the barn. Just enough rain to make the right kind of mud that he just LOVES to coat himself in. On the way back into the barn he insisted on carrying the scraper so I let him. He dropped it half-way to his stall and actually picked it up when I asked him to. He dropped it again but was more interested in trying to visit with Rocky through the stall door than he was in the scraper so the game was done.

So, Dear Readers, comment away. I really do enjoy your comments AND your (constructive) criticisms, but please, remember that my descriptions can not possibly be enough for your definitive diagnosis. I do have a very capable trainer/instructor who is well educated and has a lot of experience. She's honest and fair and I am not afraid to ask for her help, nor am I afraid to ask for a second opinion if what she says doesn't feel right. I am and will always be learning.


  1. Thought I'd come out of the background for this one.

    You are doing one very important thing right: not punishing him for unintentional flying lead changes. I have had several clinicians stress this to clinic participants. If you ever expect your horse to change willingly and well whenever you want then you can't punish them for doing lead changes when you didn't mean to. The only correction you make is to return to the exercise you were working on just like nothing happened.

    I have heard that swapping leads and cross cantering can be a symptom of back or hock problems, but if your coach says that he doesn't seem to have back or hock problems I would trust her.

    If you want to do a double check for yourself you can lightly run something a little bit pointy (like a hoof pick) down his back from his withers to his tail about six inches down from his spine on both sides. If he really flinches or otherwise reacts poorly, then I would have the vet out because something might be not quite right.

    Sorry for the essay!!!

  2. Your trainer does sound very capable - you're lucky to have her - we should all be so lucky! Nice that she was able to feel and see what you felt - it's really cool that you feel such things. Good ideas on how to adjust what you are doing to help.

    I'm not a fan of anonymous comments either - except those that are just not registered users and leave their names.

  3. Hey!
    Thanks for the shout out. I tried to send a message to that girl but she didn't respond. I figure it is a free country she can say what she wants. The only feedback I need is from my trainer and the judge. I watched her videos, and both her horses have their shoulders popped and necks counter bent, so a smart person can look at that and draw their own conclusion as to how good a judge of equitation she is.

  4. Well I read your post all the time. I really enjoy what you write and how you write it. I don't comment a lot because I have never ridden western or english so have no idea what you guys are on about but I still enjoy reading and foloowing your progress.

    I have made mistakes in the past thinking that everyone is right except for me. I have upset my horses in the past due to trying anything and everything. I have also learnt to trust my own judgement when it comes to my own horses. I know them best - I see them everyday, I feed them, rug them, ride them, work them on the ground so I believe I know how to read them generally. But I still listen to my instructor when I have one and when I trust them.

    I reckon KEEP UP THE AWESOME WORK!!! :o) Yep I yelled that because I think you are going great guns! :o)