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Pass The Wine

I was hoping to build off of yesterday’s great ride with Eli and keep the feeling going into my weekly lesson with Andrea, but between daylight savings, work, and school I couldn’t seem to get it together.

I walked into the lesson feeling super confident with how Eli was going, but after about 10 minutes in I told Andrea that I just couldn’t seem to get my shit together mentally. I felt like my head was entirely stuffed with cotton, and there wasn’t much happening as far as riding effectively. Eli agreed and full pony mode commenced… lucky for me!

A visual representation of how well Eli and I were working together today.

He started incredibly behind my leg, as he usually does when there is another horse in the ring and even with a stick AND spurs he just wasn’t having it.

We started on our usual circle, making sure I had his eye and the ability to move his hip as needed to get his focus on me and the work at hand. It was at this point when I realized I was probably in for a not so fun time. We wiggled. We waggled. We ignored all the things. I admitted to Andrea that I wasn’t functioning and shit started sliding downhill faster than that one pair of leggings I have that seem hellbent on showing my asscrack to the world.

From there we moved to working on leg yielding from the quarter line to the rail, which he’s pretty good at, and we sort of seemed to be able to half ass, until Andrea saw right through that bologna and had us go down the centerline to the rail… which… well…. nothing really happened other than he laid on my hand, then laid on my leg, then laid on my hand again.

From there we tried to do a few spirals in and out on a circle, to which both our brains imploded and he mostly just ran around with his head parallel to the ground ignoring me and I sort of just uselessly sat up there while Andrea yelled at me to stop fidgeting with my hands and kick the damn thing.

Welcome to the shitshow, folks. 😂

We then moved on to some canter work to see if we could just get him moving FORWARD off my leg. To which there was a lot of (as Andrea so delicately put it) porpoise-ing. The term is entirely accurate to what the creature was doing and my brain was happily emitting a high pitched squeal to go along with the show.

The words “I hate you” were uttered loudly as I was kicking his flailing ass around, but it worked and got him sort of thinking again. We then changed direction and Andrea set up a small vertical in an attempt to help him find the ever elusive left lead.

I’ve been playing a lot with him successfully getting and maintaining this monstrosity on the lunge line, but we save the chaos of finding it under saddle for my lessons.

After bowling through the jump about a dozen times, arguing about the fact that his head actually has to be turned vertically not horizontally, and taking an ear tip directly to my eyeball we took the long approach, I kicked like a bastard, and off we went for about a half “circle” of bonafide left lead canter like the god damn grown ups that we are.

Andrea took mercy on our poor exploded brains and called it good before I could make any more of a mess of things, and Eli got lots of pats for not actually ejecting the 120lbs of useless human co-piloting his happy ass around.

The takeaways?

1) I need to learn to up my mental game, and figure out how to put my crap in a box for later when I ride this horse, because the train stops for NOBODY. He’s never going to be a horse that says “I got this, you’re good.”

2) I need to be more assertive with my aids and at least trust that Andrea trusts my seat and my stickability. She’s not actively trying to kill me, and I need to shut up and ride the damn horse.

3) I pulled it together and we still got it done. We had a big win not only with the left lead canter, but neither one of us quit, and I rode out all the crap. Plus, we did it with another horse in the ring and neither one of us had a meltdown over it.

I’m well aware that we all have rides like this, where none of it is jiving, but we got through it, managed to end on a high note.

I allowed myself a (large) glass of wine in the name of self pity and then tomorrow I’ll zip up my boots and do it all over again – just a lot better.

Treat yo’ self.
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Spring, Is That You?

We had some amazeballs weather yesterday, like… over 60*… and it felt so very good! We were able to get a ton of stuff done around the barn, and started the ball rolling on some bigger projects we’ve been planning all winter. While turnout is super limited because of the mud, it was still great to have a barn full of naked ponies for the first time all year!

Both my kids got their first bathes of the year, since Abby got quite sweaty during her groundwork session and Eli thoroughly enjoy the mud in turnout like the piglet that he is (you can check out his handiwork on IG @thelazyottb). They each handled it in their own ways, per usual.

Abby marched right in the wash stall (for the first time ever in her life) and stood quietly while she got scrubbed on. I think she’s going to enjoy life as a show horse… the girl loves a good pampering session! We’re going to have to get the girl a tailbag though, as she can’t seem to figure out how to move her tail when she pees.

Eli, on the other hand, threw and epic tantrum which resulted in us flying backwards into the arena not once, but twice. He’s only been in the wash rack about 452 times in the last year and a half. Once we got in, he was his usual fussbudget self, but gave it up after a few growls and let me scrub him up.

Unamused

After he dried off, we took a quick spin around the arena and then took a stroll up to the hay field where he was just as happy as I was to get out of the indoor and enjoy some fresh air. The ground was soup, so we just walked up and down the paved path to the outdoor a few times, but it was just what the doctor ordered! He was excellent!

While I’m sure we have a bit of winter still to come before the warm weather sticks around for good, it was super motivating to get a little bit of a teaser and I’m super grateful everybody played nicely so it could be enjoyed!

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Good Weather

It finally felt a little bit more like spring today, so with the impending promise of bad weather I decided to skip the arena work and play with both the kids out in the big hay field. The footing is the right mix of kind of frozen but kind of wet, and I wanted to take advantage of that to get everybody thinking about where our feet are going. I was also super curious how they would handle the switch up. Usually the first few works outside are a bit of a rodeo!

Abby was first on the list for the day, and since she lives outside 24/7, I was pretty comfortable pulling her out and heading straight up to the field. She’s taken one or two walks up to the outdoor, but hasn’t ventured much further. We started our work on the big conditioning hill, hiking up and down for about 15 minutes until we were both huffing and puffing.

Not a fan of hill work

Once we got the blood moving, we walked out to the furthest part of the field and once I was sure I had her eye, I fed her more and more of the lunge line and let her work out the tricky footing. Watching g her figure it out was fascinating, as she was incredibly careful about where she put her feet without slacking on what I was asking her to do. She seemed to really enjoy the challenge of it all, and settled super quickly into the task at hand. I lunged her all up and down the field without a single hiccup. She was happy to work wherever I asked her to, despite it being mud or snow or puddles.

We finished the adventure with a slow walk back to the barn, and I let her walk in the ring for a while. She’s a super froward thinking girl, so it was great to see her take a breath and just walk herself out at the end of the line. I’m always super impressed with her brain and her willingness to say “yea, let’s try that!”

Next up was Eli.

Despite spending the majority of his day outside, he came screeching into the barn with his eyes popping out of his head and his brain going a million miles an hour. After spending twenty minutes galloping around me like a mad man, he finally settled enough to offer some nice stretchy trot work but was still concentrating on everything BUT me… not wanting to take him out into the field without more of his attention, we brought out the sketchy grain bag from hell. A lot of the time redirecting him towards working through something “scary” really helps bring him back to earth and feeling more confident in himself.

“Redirection”

It worked like a charm and after spending some time immersing himself in something other than what everybody else was doing, we had him checked back into Earth. We took our stroll up to the conditioning hill and did our up and downs for 15 minutes as well before walking out to the far end to work.

Unlike his sister, Eli’s response to strange situations is to either not move, or go 100mph. He was unsure about the footing (despite his $225 fancy winter shoes with studs and borium) and instead of taking the time to think, he decided the way to handle that situation was to go slipping and sliding around until he figured out slower was better. We did the same thing, moving up and down the field, and while he never once tried to drag me home, he needed a lot more help navigating the whole situation.

It’s so interesting to me how they each handle situations so differently, and while we ended on the same positive note it definitely took two completely opposite roads to get there. I have a lot of learning to do from both of them and I’m considering myself incredibly lucky to be doing just that!

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Progress, Not Perfection

Despite a few hiccups (eye post to come later) the Dude and I have been making what feels like some slow, but steady progress.

We’ve started asking him for more and to work harder on things that are harder in my lessons, and I’ve been diligent in doing my homework in between and keeping him in a fairly strict program.

The pinwheel in the Pessoa system.

I’ve been getting much better about getting on and doing what needs to be done to get things rolling, despite still being pretty nervous in some situations (I’m looking at you, snow coming off the roof) and we’re getting it done.

Eli has SUCH a pony personality 99% of the time, and while he’s not mean or nasty, he really likes to wonder why he should ACTUALLY do the thing. He generally gives in pretty quickly, but things can get a little chaotic in the progress. I need to give up the idea of being a passenger and learn how to just kick on; regardless of what kind of shenanigans are happening underneath me.

Like a pony, he’s also very adorable

I’ve also pinpointed the point in which my brain explodes, and it’s when he gets big and snorty. For now, I’m doing the best I can to NOT put myself in those situations (unless I’m in a lesson), which happen mostly when the arena is busy. I feel like it’s super important while I continue to build more confidence in him and myself. I’ve had a really tactful barn teenager ride him in situations where he might get “big” so he can work through his stuff without my emotions getting in the way. While it sounds stupid, it’s honest and it’s my reality.

On the red horse side of things, we’ve been playing a TON on the ground. It was pretty clear to me after she was home for a few days, that homegirl likes to have a job… so the last few weeks have been all about introducing her to new things, concepts, and situations. I’ve been lunging her over all kinds of different poles, raised poles, and caveletti combinations in all sorts of different rigs. Not only so that she can learn to use her body and build muscle, but so she’s exposed to all kinds of different things and learns that no matter what there’s a job to do.

It’s almost impossible to take a non-blurry picture. The creature never. stops. moving.

She’s risen to ever occasion beautifully, and continues to show some awesome athleticism. At only 15h, she’s catty as all get out, and I’m chomping at the bit (har har) to swing a leg over and see what we’ve got. I originally intended for her to be a sales project, but she’s proven to already have a considerably better brain than her “big brother” so it’s making the idea of selling her harder and harder to think about.

I mean, who REALLLLLY wants to buy a 15h, chestnut, TB mare anyways… right?

Love them

Both kids have been making so much progress, I’m walking in the door exhausted but with a huge smile on my face every night. Spring is just around the corner, and I’m excited to see what the warmer months hold for my awesome crew!

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Winter Sucks

Let me just say how much taking care of 40+ horses in Northern Vermont weather is mostly sucking my soul out of my body… I get home from work, curl up on the couch with my heating pad and my dog, and try to talk myself into doing it all tomorrow. The horses are wild, the snow is heavy, and my kid is always sick.

Luckily, though, the light is at the end of the tunnel. Sugaring season is almost upon us, and that’s almost as good as Spring up here! I can’t wait to only put on two layers of clothes to walk out the door, and get a little bit of my motivation back. I love me some vitamin D!

Eli has been going really well, despite the inconsistency that comes with his mother being the barn manager, a human mother, and a grad student. He’s trying really hard to rise to the occasion and figure out the things that I’m asking of him. His personality has really started to blossom since we’ve been doing a ton of groundwork and he’s turning into quite the character. He reminds me a lot of a Labrador puppy… always into something.

I share a lot of our adventures on the ‘gram! Follow us there, @thelazyottb

He’s been really benefitting from regular acupuncture and chiropractic for his TMJ, poll, and shoulders. They seem to be his biggest problem areas and the body work combined with our fancy new Thinline has him moving the soundest that I’ve had him in the last year and a half. This winter has really turned into a good time for us to take the puzzle apart and try putting the pieces back together, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to get it done. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with going back to the drawing board, especially with a horse as quirky as E is. I’ve pulled together an entire village to help us, and it’s been a great decision.

Neeeeeedles!

Mentally, I’ve been doing a lot better when it comes to dealing with him as well. We started taking weekly lessons with my brain coach, Andrea, and she’s been my secret weapon when it comes to dealing with his BS under saddle. I’m a lot quicker to get control over myself, and we’ve been building a ton of great experiences over the last few months. She’s helped talk me through a lot of the more negative emotions that I’ve been feeling lately about bringing this thing along (mostly wondering wtf I’ve gotten myself into and worrying that he’s actually the absolutely wrong horse for me) and my mindset is slowly turning from the negative to the positive, which in turn effects my rides and my overall outlook on things.

Sporting his Tota Comfort noseband… recommended to us by a friend and making a huge difference!

Putting all those things together this winter has me super excited about going into spring and summer. I’m so motivated to keep making progress with this guy, and figuring out all the pieces to make life click for us both. I’m forever grateful for everybody whose made these things happen for us!

The other exciting thing? Ms. Abby is home! She had a super productive field trip at W Show Stables and now that she’s got a great foundation, it’s time for her to hang out and be a horse for a little bit. We’ll bring her in around May and see what we’ve got! I’m happy to have the whole gang under one roof.

It’s hard to take a good picture with a 4 year old, in 2* weather with the wind howling…

All in all, winter has been soul sucking but there have been a bunch of bright spots to keep us rolling through. It’s definitely been incredibly frustrating to juggle the amount of horses that I do, plus a toddler, plus grad school, plus two young horses, WHILE trying to maintain a good home life… but we’re getting it done!

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7 Weeks

My last post in October was when Eli hurt himself. He somehow lacerated his knee in his stall over night. You can scroll down if you want to check it out.

It took exactly 7 weeks (literally, he busted it on a Saturday and he got cleared from our vet on a Saturday) for him to heal up, I followed the plan to the letter… as well as adding 3 x’s weekly manga wave treatments from our in house practitioner, Stephanie. While he was on stall rest, since he was stuck in a stack wrap, he was allowed twice daily hand walks as long as he could keep his hamster on the wheel. We got a lot of help from Uncle Ace… but the dude was MISERABLE on stall rest.

Thanks, Pony Club, for my extensive wrapping prowess.

The Dude got hella nasty being stuck in his stall. To the point where he was charging people and left a pretty nasty bite mark on one of the guys cleaning stalls. I think the entire barn was traumatized. He was rearing a striking while I was hand walking him, even fairly heavily sedated. It was a nightmare for everybody involved and I was seriously upset by the huge shift in his behavior. He’s always been testy and grumpy (like his mother) but he’s never been outright mean.

When we was cleared to start back to work, what confidence I’d gained in him was gone and I was totally terrified. To which he decided that he needed to either A) slam on the breaks and absolutely refuse to move or B) rear. I had a pro helping me from the ground (who Eli even decided to strike out at), but was totally frozen because he had done such a 180.

I decided it was time to reach out to a local sport psychologist (and fellow horsewoman and eventer) to figure out how to get my brain to function properly to get the horse going. It was seriously probably the best choice that I’ve made in my entire career. Andrea was super honest and told me that the things that I was feeling were normal, and I wasn’t actually crazy. I’ve always been a more cautious rider, but my horses have benefitted from it since I don’t push them too far. This was to the point where I wasn’t doing ANYTHING, and she was quick to tell me that sometimes that’s just how our brain’s function. My horse had turned into a different creature while on stall rest, and it wasn’t a good creature at all. It was a dangerous creature and my already cautious brain was saying “no ‘effing way, lady. You gon’ die.” Which was entirely unhelpful because then it proceeded to shut down… not the greatest way to ride a 1200 lb creature who is dealing with his own baggage.

Stressed

While I was getting my brain straight, one of my coworkers suggested that I reach out to the local cowboy, Billy Smith, to help get Eli’s brain straight as well. He showed up the same week that I reached out and immediately clued into the fact that Eli was completely shut down as well.

We’re the dream team, I tell you.

He spent three hours with us, showing me a ton of ground work that I could do with him to help get him confident and focused. He was immediately aware of the fact that Eli holds all of his stress (and mine probably) in his TMJ and his go forward button was stuck there… which makes sense. Even in the pasture while he’s playing, he’s not super stretchy, his conformation just doesn’t lend to it with the way that his neck comes straight up out of his shoulders and he loves to gallop around like a swan.

He suggested that we have a natural balance vet out to check his teeth and see if we can get him loose through that TMJ area.

We got that done, and while she didn’t see a huge issue, she agreed that he’s super tight.

We then spent a few weeks working on the ground work that Billy showed me, and his attitude drastically started changing in the stall… to the point where I could do full blanket changes while he was eating, without anything on his head. He went in and out politely and started running over the gate to meet me at the end of the day which to me where all huge wins. I decided that it was time to hop back on and see where we were at, since both of our mindsets seemed a lot more confident.

Our first ride was pretty pathetic, with Zach watching from the ground… I got on, the Dude walked… I put my leg on, the Dude slammed on the breaks, whipped his head around, and bit my leg as hard as he could. I got off and immediately did some ground work. Got back on. The same thing happened. More ground work. Back on I went and he managed to trot two laps around the ring and I gave him lots of pats, hopped off, and put him away.

Favorite guys

At this point, the general consensus that Eli is just so stuck… he can’t figure out how to go forward. He’s like a young horse that is still putting the idea of leg together… so we’re going to treat him as such. Right now I spin him around on the lunge line to remind him that cluck means go and then hop on a trot him around on the buckle for 10 or 15 minutes…give him lots of pats and good boys, and then he’s all done. When we can make it a full 15 minutes without slamming on the breaks when I apply leg, we’ll increase the time… but for now, we’re just plunking with no pressure, agenda, or goals other than to get him around.

To have to go all the way back to the beginning is so frustrating, but everything happens for a reason, so I’m just rolling with it. I’m a very much “I want it and I want it now” kind of person so this will probably be good for me as well. I’m excited to start taking some lessons over at Andrea’s so I can work on myself and get back over fences again before he needs me to help him with that.

So here we are, 4 months later… back to square one but honestly way more motivated and confident than we were before he got hurt. They weren’t kidding though when they said it takes a village… because it’s certainly taking one to get us rolling!

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One Year

I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, and a year ago when I Paypal’ed my $1,250 to a trainer I’d spent five minutes on the phone with at 5am while I was heading to a horse show, I was pretty well convinced that I’d gone off the deep end.

I’d found Eli’s ad on the Finger Lakes Finest FB page the day before and he sparked my interest enough that I sent a text to his trainer asking if he could give me a call.

I heard nothing all day, then on my way to the horse show at 445am I got a text saying “if you’re up give me a call about that brown horse.”

I immediately did and chatted with Eli’s trainer, Mike. I told him I was looking for a project and Eli was my type. He responded with “he’s tough to gallop, but he’s a good horse.” Because I’m not the best decision maker and I AM the best impulse buyer, I was sold. He accepted my offer and it was a done deal.

The looks on everyone’s faces when I walked into the horse show office and announced what I’d done were priceless.

Ashley (who’d also found a Finger Lakes horse a week or so earlier) and I set off bright and early the next morning to pick up the boys, and when we walked into Eli’s stall we both wondered what the hell I’d just done.

He was absolutely insane. His front legs were crooked as shit. He’s got weird eyes anyways and Racetrack Eli was a sight to behold. There was a lot of kicking all the way home.

After a bit of a rough introduction to turn out (ace is our BFF), he settled into his new life reasonably well.

I discovered him to be a handful but without a mean bone in his body. (The time he picked me up and chucked me out of the wash rack doesn’t count.)

On the ground he’s quirky. Lord help you if you touch his ears. He will NOT stand to be clipped, even under incredibly heavy sedation. He will not have his mane pulled… we can barely shorten it with scissors. He LOVES to be bathed, but can barely manage to be brushed. He adores when you scratch his crest, but don’t brush his mane.

In the saddle, he’s tough, but there is a kindness in his disobediences. He’s probably the most immature 5 year old I’d ever sat on. He can take one hell of a joke. Outside stimuli is our biggest challenge, particularly other horses. He wants to touch every one he sees. He gawks and runs into things. He was so very weak.

We went on adventures to horse shows, starting with GMHA. We tackled the bridge, the warm up ring, and walking into the creek. We had an amazing first experience, and he grew leaps and bounds.

We went to Fieldstone, which was the first “A” show either one of us had been to. We learned about the merits of schooling at 5am and avoiding the horses being lunged. We loved Fieldstone!

We tackled Vermont Summer Festival, which was chaotic and exhausting. We had a backslide ending in a rearing fit in the warm up. We went home with a new plan, and an adjusted trajectory.

I made the decision to scratch from the Retired Racehorse Project, and was relieved when I sent the email. The atmosphere down there is so big, and one competition wasn’t worth my horse’s brain.

We injected his SI and his back, and I have an infinitely better horse for it. He needed almost three weeks off to adjust to this new feeling, and I was happy to give it to him.

He’s gained almost two inches and a few hundred pounds. He’s still immature and quirky, but he’s the kind of horse that I know has so much try and so much give, I’ll feel secure galloping down to any size fence.

It’s been so slow. So, so very slow and I’m fine with that. He’s needed it. He’s not a horse that will be rushed or pushed. Physically he’s a completely different horse than what I brought home and mentally he’s fragile. This first year has been all about getting him to a point where his body and mind is simply trainable.

I cannot wait to see where he is in the next 365 days, and am so looking forward to another year’s worth of adventures!