On to Saturday

Ok, so I drove home at 4 am and crashed for a couple hours, then woke up and headed to my lesson. Except it wasn’t my usual lesson; Hardy’s mom is in town from Germany so I took a groundwork lesson with the barn owner instead. She does Dennis Reis stuff.

Yall have figured out that I’m a pretty sweet redneck but I am in fact a redneck. I kinda roll my eyes when I see “natural horsemanship” stuff, not because I fundamentally disagree with it but because many natural horsemanship devotees are, uh, total wusses who let their horses walk all over them and never ride. Well, I will say that most NH stuff coddles horses a bit more than I do, so to a certain extent I fundamentally disagree.

Anyway. It’s not like I want to compete at dressage, but I’m learning a hell of a lot from those lessons. I definitely know I’m far from perfect with horses, and I’m sure there’s something I can learn from Dennis Reis. So I woke up, only slightly drunk, and went to a NH groundwork lesson.

The first mini-lightbulb thing I learned was how to ask a horse to change sides politely. I just normally ask my horses to stand still, and I walk behind them or under their necks to get from side to side to do whatever – brush, trim feet, cinch up saddle. Dennis Reis makes the horse move while you stand still. It’s kinda cool.

You’re standing next to your horse at liberty (in the round pen, obvs, cause it’s NH). You put an arm under the horse’s neck and gently move his head to the other side of your body. The horse just kinda lifts his neck up and back like you’re a fence post and he’s responsible for getting around your body. I like this idea, because psychologically the horse should be moving for the owner. It shouldn’t be my place to scurry around the horse unless I want to – the horse should be moving for me cause I’m the one in charge.

The second mini-lightbulb was the psychological impact of roundpenning. We did role playing. I know! It’s so dumb! But it worked.

We split up into pairs – there were three students and the instructor. Each “horse” picked a circle and wouldn’t go outside of it. Each “human” walked just barely behind the horse’s shoulder, in a tiny circle in the center. May I stress again just how DUMB this felt?

I started walking in a large circle. The instructor started walking in a very small one. I felt like a retard for half a circle, then I realized she was following me. No matter how fast I walked, I couldn’t get away from her. She stepped slightly ahead of me, and I understood, viscerally, why horses slow or turn when you get ahead of them in the round pen.

Look, I know that whole explanation sounded dumb. It FELT dumb. But it really hit home on a gut level. I understand how and why roundpenning works so much better now.

… I still can’t take the man seriously with that crazy handlebar mustache. More tomorrow!

Woah, is it Monday already?

I had an action-packed weekend and I really need to start posting before I start forgetting!

Ok, Friday. I woke up and I was all “yippee I’m a lawyer!” so of course I had to go for a ride.

I got out there pretty early and found my Champ and saddled him up. We went on a looong ride, like 2.5 hours, exploring all the trails on the property. Champ found one particular kind of greenery that he really likes. It’s not grass, it’s some little green groundcover that looks almost like thyme. I tried to tell him that he is a horse and supposed to be a grazer, but he just flipped an ear back at me and kept browsing his new favorite forb. Uppity horse.

We saw a wild hen turkey! We came around a bend in the trail and she was about 25 feet away. She took off and flew away and Champ tried to convince me we’d just seen a Terror Bird, but I was having none of it.

After my ride, I went back home and chilled out for a while. Then my friends called and I ate dinner with them, then we went over to another friend’s house and played cards til 4 am and drank a lot of beer. It was a ton of fun.

More later.

Verdict is in

I am an official Mississippi lawyer. Woohoo!

They didn’t post the results last night, which made for a very long night. Or this morning, or at lunch, but it’s ok cause they’re up now.

Kinda in shock. Law. Yer. For reals.

Posted in me

A lesson, a lightbulb, and a deer.

My dad’s pretty cool. Generally, he supports whatever I want to do – from “let me actually physically help you with this” to “I don’t understand it, but I’m right behind ya!” Horses are definitely in the latter category. They’re big, he doesn’t understand their behavior, they’re expensive, and they’re dangerous. He’ll ask about them, but it’s more out of bemused politeness than any real desire to hear the answer.

And he really doesn’t understand the whole lesson thing. It’s not snobbiness about dressage, it’s just that he plain doesn’t understand what else I could possibly have to learn. I don’t fall off (much), the horses do (roughly) what I want, end of story. About every ten days he asks if I’m through with my lessons yet. I keep telling him it’s something you can keep learning your entire life, but he has no frame of reference and you can tell whatever I say doesn’t really sink in. Ahh, well.

I’m certainly not “through” taking lessons. I was thinking about it Sunday – not in a “am I really getting my money’s worth out of this” sense, but more of a “I wonder what I am learning” sense. Then I had my lesson, and I learned two things.

The first thing we did – the VERY FIRST THING after I got on Clipper – was a turn to the left at a walk around Hardy, the instructor. I’m always odd and clumsy when I first start a lesson, and I muddled up the first turn. I activated my left rein, looked to the left, and asked for a walk. My right rein was flappin in space, probably so loose it was banging Clipper’s neck. Clipper started wobbing off in a strange oval, Hardy said “pick up your outside rein!,” I picked up my outside rein, and KA-BLAM!, Clipper started bending perfectly.

It was a lightbulb moment. More like a lightning bolt moment, really. It was exactly what I’ve been reading about for what, two years now? The outside rein contains the energy of the horse and supports the bend. The outside rein supports the bend. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that, or something like it, and puzzled over it and mentally shrugged my shoulders. There’s a thousand more little lightbulbs waiting for me – reading dressage without ever doing it is like reading fiction – but there’s one down. Too cool.

Then we walked and trotted in a bunch of circles in one half of the arena. I still make mostly wobbly circles, or lose my impulsion, or my legs start flapping around like a barrel rider, but I’m improving. And again, since I was noticing it, I could tell that when I got it all together and asked for a bend with my reins and legs just so we’d bend, me and Clipper, smoothly. I can even kind of almost feel when my outside leg is right, how it helps contain his butt. Yay!

We were working in half the arena because a kid on a pony was having a lesson in the other half. The pony in question doesn’t like other horses and apparently will kick any horse that comes near her. Anyway, the kid’s lesson finished a little before mine and Hardy wanted me to trot around the entire arena and do voltes in the corners or something. So off we went!

I swear to god I didn’t ask for a canter depart. I just squeezed no harder than I’d been doing all morning and asked for a TROT. Clipper, for whatever reason known only to horses, took off like greased lightning. As soon as we hit the first turn, he settled down into a canter, but I was trying to grab reins and sit down and not lose stirrups or fall off or whatnot and it took two laps before I could even hear what the instructors were saying. “Sit DOWN” was the gist of it, but then we were on the long side and Hardy yelled “outside rein!” and I just barely pulled the outside rein and we skidded to a halt.

I scratched Clipper’s neck and apologized for whatever I’d said to him that made him decide to do THAT and we turned and walked quite sedately to the middle of the arena, where all the instructors were standing trying not to turn white or purple or green. I just kinda laughed and said “told you I don’t fall off much!” and we started trying to figure out what brought that on. Hardy didn’t think I’d done anything wrong, per se. He thinks maybe it was just suddenly having the whole arena, plus that we were pointing towards the gate and going past some trees. I privately suspect that Clipper just wanted to see if I’d fall off or get the lesson over with any faster, cause that’s how horses roll.

Anyway, my calves aren’t perfect but they’re getting there. My hips are still waaay too stiff and thus the bouncing. Bouncing is no good. “Must quit bouncing” is the second thing I learned in my lesson. Obviously I still haven’t gotten off my ass and done any yoga. Swear to god, tonight I will.

After all that excitement, I went over to the field and grabbed Champ and we went on a nice sedate trail ride. Found some more trails leading off to a different pond. It’s SO pretty back there – next time I’ll bring my camera and take more pictures. On our way back out, we flushed a good sized doe. She went bouncing off while we sedately admired her. Cersei smelled her trail and thought it was pretty exciting but came right back when she realized Champ and I weren’t going to chase the deer with her. She’s a wonderful dog.

And Champ’s a wonderful horse. He gave me some “what the hell are you doing that for, woman?” ears when I practiced riding with my calves wrapped around him, but he quickly realized I wasn’t expecting anything different from him. I think it is easier to post with more leg contact.

Really hard to win, part 2

After the debacle with Poppy I was still feeling perky so I decided to ride Dixie. She was easy to catch and totally fine with the saddle and bridle, but she refused. to. stand. still. Pretty frustrating to have that horrible habit back again.

I tricked her into standing, actually. She was standing near the truck, wondering about the bits of alfalfa pellets that Poppy had left. I eased her over near the tailgate, climbed on my bumper, and slipped on her back from the off side. She bolted. Oh great, we’re back to bolting too.

I rode it out for a while. She wasn’t steering at all, so we were playing chicken with large trees. (She does have a lot more sense than Poppy, and I made sure we weren’t near any clotheslining-height trees.) If we were pointing in a direction she didn’t want to go, she would grudglingly halt for a few seconds before she’d try to spin. If we were pointing in a direction she did want to go, i.e. towards the other horses, she just walked / running walked / racked / galloped towards them. All I could do was gallop her in a circle til she was facing away from the others, then ask for a halt and I’d get at least a slow down or maybe even a momentary halt. Through all of this, her ears never swiveled back to “see” me.

I wasn’t worried, for whatever that’s worth. My seat was awesome. I never felt off-balance or nervous (except for one time when I really thought she’d run into the house rather than stop, but I refused to back down and she did, in fact, stop.)

Once I realized she wasn’t just blowing off steam – that she was, in fact, not going to turn or stop or do much of anything for me – I got off. I lunged her, exactly the same as Poppy. Afterwards, she was completely calm – until I moved from in front of her head to near the stirrup. Argh.

I tricked her the exact same way, with the alfalfa in the truck bed, and climbed on again. We bolted some more. I thought dark thoughts about how horrible I am with horses. Why do I bust my ass to feed these guys when obviously I can’t teach them anything at all? I have nightmares about their health. I take lessons. I buy books. I read everything I can find. But despite it all, I am a horrible horse rider.

We screeched to a halt by the truck again. I got off and sulked for a while. Obviously none of my trying mattered. Best to give up now.

Dixie stared at me. She obviously was trying to use her horse telepathy to tell me to please sell her. I sulked some more. She kept staring.

But she wasn’t actually trying to freak out and run off. Maybe she didn’t hate me?

She started pawing. Not trying to yank the reins out of my hands and run away, just standing stock still and pawing. Like she was pissed that we were still here, by the truck, being boring.

I’m pretty dense but eventually I can figure things out. I fished Champ’s bridle, with the nice mild curb bit, out of the back seat. Took the other bridle off of Dixie, scratched her sweaty itchy face for a minute, and slipped Champ’s bridle on. She dropped her head and opened her mouth for the bit. I got the straps adjusted (three holes smaller for her than for him) and flipped the reins over her head.

Stepped back near the stirrup. She shifted her weight. I picked up the reins and said “Ho.” She stood still. I swung up. She stood still. I got my right foot in the stirrups. She flicked an ear back at me. Touched her sides and we were off. Picked up the reins and pulled back, gently, and we stopped.

She wasn’t perfect, by any means – she still really thought we should go ride in circles around her friends – but she was about 700% better than before. We rode til the sun had gone completely down and the last light was fading. She was FINE. Giving me ears occasionally, to let me know she knew I was up there. Steering mainly off of legs, with just a bit of rein pressure to remind her that I meant something. Stopping when I picked up the reins and made contact.

I finally took us back to the truck and got all the tack off of her. She hung out while I rubbed her itchy face. Stayed while I loaded the truck. Followed me to the round pen where I picked up my lead rope. I kept telling her to shoo, to go find Champ and Poppy, but she just followed me around like a friendly stray dog. Finally, when it was clear that I was getting in the truck to leave, she wandered off and started grazing.

It was a pretty awesome end to a pretty horrible horse day.

I’m left wondering why the hell I want to ride her in a snaffle? I mean, I know the big deal about snaffles – I totally understand now how little lateral control you have with a curb – but why do I care so much about riding her in a snaffle? I don’t understand why she so obviously prefers a curb, but she sure as hell doesn’t even know I’m on her back with the snaffle. Horses! Argh!