"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Friday, March 1, 2013

When Your Body Won't Cooperate

I had a loooooong ride on Jezebel yesterday.

Her left hind (where she got cut last Monday) was fat when I brought her in from the field, despite being turned out. I lunged her a couple of minutes before grooming her, just to watch her move. She seemed sound at walk and trot. Her leg was hot to the touch, but she allowed me to palpate it. I hosed off the leg to get the mud off so I could see it better (no pus, but it looked like it had still been draining blood till recently), then texted Sally to let her know how it looked. She was okay with me hopping on Jez to see how she did. Sally arrived just as I was finishing tacking up, so she'd be able to watch me work her girl.

Jez's puffy left hind (the black leg)
Jezebel did fantastically, and Sally took several photos and videos of us warming up. She was rounding up at the trot and NOT trying to zoom all over creation. However, when it was time to canter, one of the trainers came in with one of her senior students, and another of the more timid, older riders entered the arena as well. For some reason I assumed that both of them were taking a lesson, and made it my duty to stay out of their way. However, after 30 minutes of this, it was getting old really fast-the flow of the first student's lesson was backwards: they started popping over fences, then were doing fast trotting and cantering down the long side of the arena (I'm not sure what kind of exercise that was-we all have our opinions about this trainer, and they are not nice opinions...), while the other rider cantered her horse around at a Western lope pace. It seemed like there was no way of staying out of the way of both riders simultaneously, so I decided to hold off on attempting to canter, and when I found myself trotting circles in front of the gate because I couldn't move anywhere else in the arena, I gave up in frustration and took Jezebel into the indoor.

We had a lovely 15 more minutes of walk and trot in the indoor. She was focused, calm and soft. Of course, we had really gotten going, when the 2 riders and the trainer left the outdoor arena. Sally and Heather with Nate walked by, and invited me back out.

We had a great time, chatting about some of the most recent goings-on at the barn, admiring Heather and Nate (Nate is a handsome OTTB, but he is gorgeous when Heather rides him), and attempting to get Jezebel to canter. I could not get her to canter correctly on the left lead AT ALL. She kept coming up on the incorrect lead, then correcting either front or back (not both) and cross-cantering. She was resistant enough about it that I started to think maybe she was guarding her left hind, so we switched directions and cantered on the right lead without a problem. There is a classical dressage trainer that comes to our barn every 2 weeks. I'm hoping to watch one of her lessons next week, as I'm interested. If it works out, I'll probably take some lessons on Jezebel as well as Lily-I'm still fairly certain I'm doing something wrong with that left canter lead, and would like some corrections.

We did a lot more trot work after that, and then the temperature started to drop and the wind began to pick up. Jezebel started to get more and more quick at the trot, and she started doing this weird evasion when I asked her to circle-she'd overbend and pop her outside shoulder, drifting to the outside of the circle in a sort of warped version of a shoulder-in. This only got worse the more I tried to correct it, and of course by this time I had decided I wanted to wrap up, but couldn't if she was being naughty. Sally thought I was deliberately asking her to move laterally while circling, which gave me an idea of how to fix it: I asked Jez to circle, and when she pulled her little stunt, I pushed her hind end to the outside with my inside leg, forcing her to really have to use her hindquarters laterally in a true shoulder-in around a circle. I won, and we called it a day.

Sally got on for a little bit, but Jezebel was in the same odd mood for her, and she decided to cut her ride short. I just think the little mare was done-I had ridden her for almost an hour and a half without realizing with all of the interrruptions, which is much longer than the 45 minute-1 hour average I normally ride her.

Thankfully, her leg responded really well to all of that exercise-the swelling was completely gone by the time Sally took her into the barn.

The horses had been in the back part of the field, but luckily they all stampeded down right as I was opening the gate to go get Lily. She came flying in the middle of the group, halted a ways from the gate, saw me with the lead rope in my hand, turned tail and ran!! She made me chase her halfway across the bottom part of field, which royally pissed me off. (At least she didn't go back up the chute, though she did think about it-that's where she came to a stop!) She finally stood by the fence and turned around to look at me with pricked ears, like, "Oh hi! I didn't see you there!" Uh-huh. Right.

She had somewhat of a wild look in her eyes, and tension throughout her body as I tacked up, though she didn't fidget in the cross ties like she usually does when she's in wild woman mode. She was extra-flinchy to everything I did, however, so figuring she's still amped up from being in heat, I put her rope halter on over her bridle so I could lunge her before riding. I decided to ride her in the indoor, as it was really getting windy and cold outside.

I lunged her a bit, and she wasn't doing anything crazy on the lunge, so I set her free. She immediately wandered off to the far end of the indoor to stare out the gate that faces the big field, from which she could see her friends clustered at the field gate. She didn't respond when I asked her to trot off. It always makes me mad and sad when she blatantly chooses her horsey friends over me. I went over to the whip bucket by the indoor and pulled out a lunge whip. As soon as she saw that in my hand, she immediately got to work. I let her gallop around, then she settled into a gorgeous extended trot, which I had her do in both directions. When she responded and didn't offer to gallop around any more, as a reward, I stopped. I stopped by ceasing to move (I'm always walking in the center when she's moving around me), pointing the whip down, and stopping the energy. It's like bringing my insides to a standstill-if I don't do that, she doesn't stop. So of course, she did stop. But she didn't come. She turned around and went right back to the far end of the indoor! I cracked the whip, something which I never do, which made her jump and spin around in terror (despite me being 2/3rds of the way down the arena away from her-that's how reactive she is to whips!), and  another 10 minutes of gallopy running around ensued. Several times I tried getting her to stop and come to me, and she would respond but she kept being a brat and going to one gate or another (there are 3 gates to the indoor-one leads outside, one faces the row at stalls at the opposite end, and the middle one leads to the wash area). She NEVER does this, so she was really being defiant today. Each time she did that, I made her work some more. Finally, I stopped, and she stopped mid-canter stride, ears pricked and facing me, and took a couple of steps towards me. "Lily, ven." I bowed, and wiggled my fingers. She came the rest of the way. Phew! That took a lot longer than I had expected.

The most frustrating part is that we've been doing tons of groundwork this week, and she had been responding really well. My only wish with the groundwork is that some day she will choose me over her friends. That is all that I want. She gets to be free with them 10 hours a day, and at night when she's in her stall, she's still with friends-the horses stalled next to her are part of her little group in the field. It's not too much to ask of her to be 100% with me for 2 of those hours, 5-6 days a week. She only gets ridden 3-4 of those days-on others we do groundwork or I just take her out of her stall after work to groom her.

Some day we will be like Klaus Hempfling and his horses...

I keep trying. I do wish he explained his method a little better in his books, as what I've applied from his techniques has worked better with Lily than a lot of the other NH methods.

So I got on. And she was all mellowed out. I will say that we might have overdone it on the galloping around, but I couldn't let her get away with running over to the gate every time I asked her to come. I decided to keep the session short, as I was tired too after riding Jez.

My back and hip had gotten really tight again while riding Jez so I knew that my ride on Lily was going to be a difficult one simply because my body wasn't cooperating. I could feel my sciatic nerve on the left side, and the tension in my muscles on that side despite being relaxed-Lily was going to be misinterpreting. It never ceases to amaze me HOW MUCH this mare can feel through the saddle. 99.9% of horses learn to tune this stuff out-she never did.

We walked and trotted, and when I asked for the left lead canter, we were a MESS! Lily kept leg yielding into the center of the arena (that's how much the muscle tightness was shifting my balance!) when I shifted my weight to cue the canter, and then when she finally did pick up the canter, I was doing something weird trying to rebalance at the canter because she just COULDN'T continue. Change of plans-we were going to work on going forward today. No circling, no collection, no fancy stuff-just forward. I stayed as straight as I could in the saddle, no weight shifting, no leg cues, sat back and cued her verbally into the canter. She offered up her short collected canter, and I pushed her through it. She moved into her fast little canter, but I had to stay with her with the energy and with leg pressure, as my body was still involuntarily telling her to slow down, and if I so much as relaxed, she would come down to a walk! So we used this to our advantage-we did canter-halt transitions, and this is the first time EVER that she has nailed them. Square halts after cantering. Wow! Not only that, they felt easy for her! After halting, I'd make her back up, and we'd pop into a trot-her trot would be uphill, light and forwards, which was way easier for me to post to while staying out of her way, and I was able to maintain it down the long side of the arena. And then I remembered this video, and I based the rest of our session on what I could remember from it. Watch!

This is doma vaquera. Doma vaquera was the training originally used for training bullfighting horses and working cow horses in Spain, and focuses on collection, agility and lightness. Reining, Alta Escuela, classical and modern dressage are all derived from doma vaquera. It has turned into its own sport in modern times. Read more about it here. The description of the ideal doma vaquera horse fits Lily. There is a group that is starting doma vaquera and garrocha in the Western US...I hope it reaches the East coast at some point. I wouldn't mind having access to a DV trainer in this area-I think Lily would thrive on it. It is dressage on steroids-look at the horse above do canter pirouettes and half passes! And those crazy lateral counter-canter circles towards the end...wow. Jesus Morales, the rider above, is one of the top doma vaquera trainers in Europe-he is a gorgeous, quiet rider, and his horse, Cantinero, is beautifully balanced. Note that there is only one hand on the reins. He is NOT neck-reining-this is forbidden in doma vaquera.

Doma vaquera principles applied (please disregard the bull and just watch this AMAZING horse!):

I've posted that video on here before but couldn't resist showing it again. I heart Merlin!

So back to yesterday. We cantered in both directions, transitioning to halting, backing up, and trotting, then did leg yields across the diagonal to change directions. I would then turn her down the center line, halt at A, and we'd CANTER all the way down to C, where we'd halt. Then back up, and trot up the long side and repeat. We did this a couple of times. It was nowhere near perfect, and did not look like Jesus Morales's work with Cantinero above, but you get the idea. lol I was trying to halt carefully after cantering-I didn't want her doing any sliding stops on her little toothpick legs, so we had some walk strides after cantering before the halt, and she started to get squirrely backing up before trotting-she began anticipating the trot and the direction we were going to turn in!

After that, we did some trot leg yield serpentines lengthwise down the arena. Lily did them so well despite my uncooperative body that, as soon as we finished the last loop of the serpentine, I stopped her and dismounted as a reward for being so patient with me. I thanked her and walked her out on foot.

Wearing her ear bonnet. I had put it on in anticipation of the wind-it blows her forelock back and tickles her ears.  She's sporting the new mullen mouth pelham with 5" shanks, which she likes and is a happy medium between the soft rubber 4" shanks and the low port 6" shanks (I've gone from having a collection of snaffles to a collection of pelhams...wtf?) She has not tossed her head again since that one time I wrote about.

1 comment:

  1. Aaghh I get mad-sad when Q does that, too! Its the EXACT same thing with standing at gates and going to windows and mostly just gravitating toward her horse friends. It doesn't happen ALL the time, but it does happen fairly frequently. For this reason, I tend to bring Griffin inside even when I'm not going to work-work him just so she can have the proximity of a friend and thus be a little better behaved. Blaarrgg! Mares!