Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happy to take good advice

First off, I have a great trainer, who also happens to be my 19 year old daughter. She has taught me everything I know about riding, and us doing this together has been a blast. But.........I am just not getting my body to do what I want it to do when riding English. My legs keep sliding forward, and I hit the saddle way too hard and bounce.
So last night I went to the barn to ride, without my daughter. Which is a rather new thing, but I feel as though I can do that now, I can go ride even when she can't come and that is pretty cool. Well, as long as there are people around, in case of an accident (we live by the rule: NEVER ride alone!). My son came with me last night, even though he really does not like horses or the barn, but loves his momma.
Pippi was in the field, but came when I whistled and was quite ready to go back in after a full day outside. We use a special whistle when we call her from the field, to varying degrees of success, but it is super fun when she looks up from grazing and comes trotting over happy to see us.
After brushing her and tacking up, I was ready to go. Pippi is very kind, and especially so to me. She knows I am a novice and takes it easy on me. We walked for a long time, and then I asked for the trot. As usual it was touch and go, I know my diagonals, but my seat just is not right. Pippi knows it to, and slows to a walk to let me know that she does not appreciate the heavy bouncing on her back. She is a great teacher that horse.
Now, I know what I want, I just can't get my body to do it. Recently they got some new help at the barn, a young woman named Jamie, who I immediately liked. She seems to be tough, no nonsense, and quite friendly. Spotting her, I took my advice ( I always tell kids to ask for help), and asked her to check my form. She came into the indoor arena, and corrected my seat. Pulled my legs back, asked me to sit on my butt, and then slide forward rocking my hips, and straighten my back. That's it! I have been trying to create a curve in my lower back that is not necessary, it is all in the hip joint rotation!
Off we went, and Pippi stayed in the trot for as long as I wanted her to. We did figure eights, we hopped over some poles, we were DOING IT!!! Trot trot trot. I was rising and falling smoothly and without bounce, my legs stayed put, my back did not hurt because I was no longer struggling to arch it, and I was ecstatic!

It is always a good idea to ask someone else to explain something to you if you are not getting it. They may give you a whole new explanation that finally hits home, the key that finally unlocks your issues. Can't wait to practice some more.
Just wanted to show off my Pippi again:

Monday, March 28, 2011

I have been very busy, and have not had the time to go to the barn since Friday. As a mom I am quite familiar with the feeling of guilt, and now I have the added guilt of not spending enough time with Pippi.
The connection I feel with this horse is strong, but I am always worried that not being her main caregiver (feeder, stallcleaner), will lead to a loss of our bond. Hopefully one day I will have a property where she can live with us. Does other boarders worry about losing their bond too?

  I love just being with her; playing in the arena, brushing and grooming, or actually riding. Daughter and I stopped by last night, as she was finishing her dinner, and it was nice just to see that she was doing okay. Tonight I am going to miss some of my sons first baseball game of the season, just so that I can spend some time with Pippi. I mean, I went to his scrimmage this is cool, right?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Overcame fear, now just STUBBORN!

Trailer Loading update:

I was able to load Pippi into the trailer twice, using feed and positive reinforcement. And then Pippi decided to change her tactics. Her entire body language changed, and it became clear to me (and to my daughter) that she was no longer afraid of the trailer, she just did not want to enter it. The reward was not interesting enough unless she was totally starving. Well, that changed everything. It is not as though we can always starve Pippi each time we want to trailer her, so our tactics had to change.
Now, like I have stated before; beating her onto the trailer is NOT an option. But intimidating her onto it, Heck yes!! Pippi is very stubborn, very very stubborn. When she puts the brakes on, they are on, and no carrot, treat or hay will  entice her to move a muscle. She never becomes aggressive, and so is not dangerous, but she is willing to stand motionless forever to get her way. She is a statue, and just will not move a muscle.
So, it was time for my daughter, the 19 year old Pippi trainer and my trainer, to take over. I had no dea what her plan was, and since I baby Pippi to death, it was better that I did not know. On Thursday at nine am, my daughter, who is on spring break, called, and stated with a great amount of pride: "we are on the trailer."
This is what she did, and quite frankly I think it is pretty clever:
She used the long lunge line with the chain, as a lead line (so the chain was not over Pippi's nose) and asked Pippi to enter the trailer, stupidly Pippi refused twice (even with the treats and incentive). So the chain was put over her nose, thru the halter, which Pippi knows means BUSINESS! We hardly ever use the chain, deliberately, so that Pippi knows that when it comes out, we are not playing around anymore. Daughter then threaded the end of the lunge line thru one of the tie rings at the front of the trailer, walked behind the stubborn mare, and looped the line around her butt. Then she asked Pippi to "walk up," which Pippi refused. So daughter pulled gently on the rope, which simultaneously pulled Pippi head towards the inside of the trailer and pushed her rear forward. Pippi felt that backing up was not an option with the rope behind her, and so she walked into the trailer. She was given a hay bag, and her feed as a reward. And daughter brushed her and massaged her while they stood in the trailer.
Not at any point did Pippi act distraught, she just kind of gave up the fight. That evening we did the same routine together, and  fed Pippi her dinner in the trailer. The next day Pippi walked in the moment the chain was placed over her muzzle, no need for any other sign, she got it and walked in as though she was entering her stall.
I asked daughter if she had seen this done before, and she said she had seen it done with one person pulling on a lead line and two people using a rope behind the horse. She had seen the rings inside the trailer, and decided that using those she could totally do all the parts alone. With a lot of people, more than the two of us, Pippi seems to get worked up, when she is uncomfortable. She loves people, and especially little kids, and cats, but when she is stressed she gets more obstinate with each human that comes around. The talking and discussing and all the hands touching her, pushing on her, looking at her, makes her sink into herself and she just sort of disappears. The manager where we board, won my heart when she told me that she was worried about Pippi one day, because she was not herself and that she felt that Pippi was "robotic." (It turned out that Pippi was getting sick and not tolerating her feed, but the physical signs of that was not yet apparent). I have tried to explain this personality trait to people, with some odd looks, so it was great to have someone know and "see" my horse.
My daughter was able to control Pippi, with no force, and to do it alone so that Pippi was as comfortable as possible. The trailer has left now, but our friends will bring it back in a week, so that we can practice again. Good on you daughter, and Pippi too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Al fresco dining at it's best

As we were walking towards the trailer yesterday afternoon, Pippi and I, I was explaining to her how great it was going to be to eat dinner outside in the trailer. She was not buying it, saw the trailer, and stopped short. In my hand was the hay bag, filled to the rim, in my other the lead rope attached to a horse that was clearly not interested in going closer to the trailer.
So I circled around the other side of the trailer, the non scary side, and we went right up to the open door in the back. And there we stood, for a long time. I hung the hay bag in place in the far corner of the trailer, we took a walk around the trailer again, stood at the door, leaning in........... repeat, repeat, repeat. Ate some fallen hay on the trailer floor, walked back, forward again, sniffed the floor. I stepped into the trailer, picked up some hay and held it out, "come on girl, come on, walk up, come on." Her back legs wanted to, and walked all the way up to her front legs, and she was balancing as if on a ball. Just could not get those front legs to move, and I worried that she would fall forward as stretched as she was. I backed her up, looked at her and said "Pippi, naa er du sulten, saa kom inn hit og spis middagen din." (Pippi, you are hungry, so come on in and eat your dinner) She looked at me, breathed, raised one leg, placed it inside the trailer, did not like the sound it made, but quickly decided to keep going. She walked in quietly and slowly, and I showed her the hay bag. I shut the door behind her and went in the escape door, and stood on the other side of the closed separator wall. She was not eating, walked in place, and I spoke with her. She looked at me, and I told her to go ahead and poop, and she did. I showed her the hay again, and she started to eat frantically. I lowered the bag so that she was eating with her head lowered, and it seemed to calm her. I also fed her the grain, which she really enjoyed.
After a less that successfull attempt Monday night, I had decided to feed her a small breakfast Tuesday morning so that at dinner time she would have an extra incentive to enter the trailer for her feed. I am sure that did play a part in why she finally went for it, but I also think that my mindset played a huge role. When I spoke to her in my native tongue, I am sure I sounded different, and perhaps a little calmer. My intention perhaps clearer, I don't know, but I realize that it may have been just enough to show her to trust me.
We stayed in the trailer, eating, for about 30 minutes, before we walked calmly off the trailer.
It was fantastic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Trot issues

Still working on the rising trot, and somehow could not get the rhythm going last night. I choose to blame it on the boots as I was wearing work boots, and not my riding boots. In reality I just can't get my legs where they need to be. My seat is more Western than English at this point, but at least I am aware of that, so now all I have to do is fix that.
Easier said than done. My daughter, and trainer, keeps saying to get off my butt, and land on my "whoohaah." "Don't land so hard." "keep you weight in the stirrups." I line my shoulder, hip and ankles up, and I swear I stay that way for about half a stride, before my legs slide forward, and I land on my butt again. Poor Pippi. Best horse ever to practice on. I used to wish I had an easier horse to ride, but have come to realize that Pippi will force me to do it right, because when I do she trots along, but when I don't she slows to a walk. Pretty quick way to show me that it is not working. I am getting the diagonal thing though.

Oh, still working on the trailer loading too. Our friends, amazing friends, brought their trailer back for us to use until Friday. How about I tell you more about that when it is going better?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pretty Please...........get on the trailer

When we first had Pippi join our lives, we made the decision to always treat her with kindness, patience and understanding. Harsh treatment was not an option, unless she was deliberately endangering us. That was sorely tested today.
We are working on trailer loading. She used to load super easy, but last year when some friends trailered us, their horse balked and became irate while being loaded into their trailer in the dark. Pippi saw his reaction, and ever since we have had issues. BIG issues, but true to Pippi she just plainly refuses. Stops and refuses to go any further.
Unfortunately we do not own our own trailer, and so have very few opportunities to practice trailer loading. But we do have a very small wash bay, at the barn where we board. So, in the last few weeks we have loaded into the shower, with pretty good results. The first time it took 40 minutes, before the carrots and constant sweet talk got her to decide to walk in. The third day it took less than on minute.

Today was our big chance to practice loading as some friends of ours were bringing their minis to our barn to practice in the arena. I was very excited to see what we could accomplish. I got her from the field where she was happily munching along, but she immediately came to me and greeted me by cocking her head to the side and seemingly asking "what are we doing today?" She was filthy, so I spent some time brushing her and letting her check out those scary little minis. Funny how horses just seem a little freaked by mini horses, but in Pippi's case there is a reason for that:
Yeah, the resemblance is uncanny, and enough to startle even the most level headed horse.

I finally walked around to where the trailer was parked, with my hoodie pocket filled with baby carrots. I told Pippi what we were doing and we walked toward the opening. She stopped a few steps from the opening, and I spoke softly to her and offered her a carrot each time she stepped forward. We then walked in a big circle and approached the trailer again. This time she walked closer before stopping, one step closer, one carrot and all of sudden she just walked in. Like out of nowhere, we were just standing in the trailer. She seemed as shocked as I was, but not at all freaked out. I gave her a carrot, petted her, told her she was a "good girl" and we just stood there for awhile. Then we turned around and walked slowly out of the trailer.

I felt so GOOD! My pride knew no bounds, and my daughter who was working with "mini Pip" was overjoyed. I was petting Pippi and she was bumping me with her muzzle, as though saying "oh come on....." Great moment. We had succeeded where so many had doubted us, and told me over and over again that "you just need for force her on the trailer." Well, we showed them! Hah!

Riding on a great wave, we had some grass, and then tried loading again. Wish we would not have done that! Should have stopped while the going was good. She was refusing again, and that is when a helpful person came along.
Admittedly I have only been in the horse world for 2 years, but I have met a lot of helpful people. Many are in fact helpful, but some are just arrogantly informing you of what you are doing wrong, trying to take over and belittling your efforts. This person was that kind of "helper." He scoffed at my efforts to reward Pippi's progress and told me that "you can't talk a horse into loading, you just have to show them." (he has had 29 horses, so he KNOWS!!) I asked him to please not touch my horse, which he promptly ignored and shoved Pippi forward by pushing her rear.
Now; I may not know a lot about horse care, I have not had 29 of them, but I do know a lot about Pippi. And what I have learned is that if you lay a hand on her and shove her toward something that scares her, she will just shove back. So the more he shoved, the more she backed up. I kept asking him to stop, but as a "horseman" he knew what he was doing I suppose, mostly he knew to ignore me. He kept slapping her rump and shoving her, and Pippi just kept backing up. I finally raised my voice, and he stopped with a glare at me, and another verbal lesson in the futility of my efforts.
Suffice it to say, after that Pippi refused to enter the trailer. We kept up the approach, reward, retreat for a long time, but finally had to quit as the trailer was leaving.
I keep reminding myself that she did enter the trailer once, but it still feels a little like failure. Wish we had been left alone..... Our friends say they will bring the trailer over for us to try again, and I know we will conquer this soon.
I think one of the lessons I need to learn is to have confidence in my training ways, and not let others intimidate me. I must learn to have a look of  "No worries, I got this!" so that others will hesitate to interfere when I am clearly doing what I intend to do. I love hearing advice, and about others experience, but I don't want to be bossed around. Do you know what I mean?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Aaahhhchooo - Oh no!

I was speaking with a friend about how I am finally, sort of, getting a handle on the rising trot. It has taken me forever to get a smooth consistent rise, and to usually be on the right diagonal. Pippi is a bouncy horse, mostly due to her size as she is only a little over 15 hands, and takes small steps. With my own long legs; I have struggled to find a way to get my muscles to operate correctly. My lower back muscles have winced, my thighs screamed, and my bootie, well sitting at the office was an issue one day.
My friend, who does not ride anymore due to medical issues, spoke of how riding really helped with her back issues, and with aligning her whole body. She has had issues with her hips for a long time, and riding helped where other exercise and massage therapy had failed her. She misses riding so much.
I mentioned how riding has really helped my daughters posture, and as she is 5'11" her posture is important. Tall girls look terrible when their posture is bad, as my own mother reminded me daily.

So we both agreed that riding is wonderful, it is fun and can really be beneficial to overall health and fitness.

"And I did not pee myself when I sneezed either, when I was riding all the time," said my friend. We are both moms, and as all moms know, a surprise sneeze can cause some issues and potentially some embarrassment. I had not even thought of that, but that is reason enough to keep trotting right there. Even if I hated it.
We should spread the word: hey, you're a mom, do you tinkle when you sneeze? Do you like horses? You should ride!

Rising trot, and you won't have a spot!

I can see the commercial now: a middle aged woman, watching her daughters soccer game, and talking to a bunch of other parents, seasonal allergies, oh no she is about to sneeze..................ahhhhchoo! Panic spreads on her face, she ties a sweatshirt around her waist, and makes an excuse to run home. "Does this happen to you? Well we finally have a solution that does not involve medications, or surgery." Cut to the same woman riding at a trot rising up and down, up and down.

It would get me in the saddle.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I LOVE my horse

and quite frankly if you don't like my horse, I get offended. Especially if you say so out loud, like a young woman did yesterday.
I realize that a lot of people want what is referred to as a "push button" horse, the kind that stands still forever after you say "whoa" and does not seem to crave or ask for any interaction from humans. They take their cues, pick up the right lead, and make their riders look good. But they don't pull the zipper of my jacket up and down, show me where to put their feed or ride gentler depending on who is in the saddle.They don't turn around to see where the cat is before they move their feet, make sure that they are perfectly lined up over the "toilet" in their stalls before ........well you know, or yell when you leave them in the field.

So, you can keep your push button horse, and I will keep my living, breathing, thinking and feeling companion.

My passion

We have enjoyed the company of Pippi for almost two years now, and it has finally become clear to me that I am indeed a horse person. For the longest time, it was somewhat intimidating for me to think of myself in terms of a real horse gal, but indeed I have become one. I am embracing this new status, green stained shoulders and all.
Here are the signs that finally convinced me to that I can count myself among horse people:

- I buy clothing, used mostly, with the idea that they will work great in the barn, be good for riding, and I will not care when they get stained by green slobber, or incidental barn muck.
- I speak of my horse, Pippi, and other horse related topics more than anything else, boring non horse people to tears I am sure.
- Pippi takes up the bulk of my financial spending outside of household bills. (and I don't mind, in fact I embrace it)
- I look forward to going to a dirty, filthy, cold space to wrangle a giant, stubborn mare while sitting in a comfy chair, in a warm clean office.

So I am a horse gal. Yay. Who would have guessed?

I have been struggling to write in this blog, it has been a stop and go thing, and I believe that is because I have not been writing about my one true passion: Pippi and learning to ride.

So here we go. Walk Up!