I'm finally feeling well enough to do ground work with the girls. I get transient dizziness with certain positions or changes in position while moving around in my day-to-day stuff, which is now completely inconsistent: kneeling can cause dizziness in one instant but not on another, for example. I find that natural vs artificial light can make a difference in that too, but it is also inconsistent. I was finally able to run up to the front desk to attend critical emergencies at work this week (and not a moment too soon, as we had an insanely busy week with a lot of really sick animals). I tried going to the gym for a light workout (30 minutes on the elliptical) on Saturday AND working Lily on the longe in the afternoon...and it was too much. It didn't make me 24/7 dizzy again, which is what would happen in the beginning if I exhausted myself, but I had a migraine that night and woke up on Sunday feeling like I'd been hit with a ton of bricks. Go figure. Concussions are so weird, man. But it's nice to finally be on the other side of this. I'm hoping to be able to ride again in another two weeks, based on progress lately. And Calm, Forward, Straight: I took your advice and bought vitamin E for myself and I swear it made a big difference in my progress! It could be placebo effect or maybe the improvements were just going to happen anyway, but there was a marked reduction of symptoms after I started taking it. THANK YOU!
On Friday Gracie was VERY "up" when I went to get her from the field: I ended up having her move in a circle around me as we walked all the way from the big front field to the barn, like a satellite around a planet as said planet orbits across the solar system. I was wearing my helmet (since I can finally wear one without the gash at the back of my head hurting: the sutures finally came out) and had my dressage whip with me. Gracie isn't afraid of whips but she is appropriately responsive and respectful of them. Given her attitude, I was glad for both the helmet and the whip: she never tried to get in my space, but if I felt the least threatened all I had to do was carefully point the whip at her shoulder or her hip to get her to move away from me accordingly. I just stayed calm and centered. I honestly wasn't surprised about her reaction: she had not been properly worked with in a month. She was very much like this the first time I ever worked with her.
I tacked her up with a rope halter, bridle with D-ring French link snaffle and the surcingle with side reins not attached.
The back field of the barn, the one with the hill, had not been used as a pasture until recently because there was some barbed wire reinforcing the wooden fencing that Kathy wanted to get fixed before letting the mares out there. However, it was the one other pasture other than the front field that still had long grass in it. Her and Zoe put up some temporary black plastic fencing to cover both the wood and barbed wire so the pasture could be used, with the goal of doing proper repairs on the fencing in the spring. The mares have been going out there at night for the past week so they've gotten to see the black fencing plenty of times.
Gracie apparently forgot this. She was a snorting, whirling mess when I took her out into the back field to longe and she kept looking over at the fence in concern while doing her dragon snorts.
Kathy's farm drains beautifully as the entire property is set on an incline. But with the freeze-thaw cycle that is an everyday part of winter in this area + the straight 7 days of rain we had last week, even on the best-draining property the ground is going to be deceptively slick for ponies going faster than a trot.
Normally when Gracie is this "up" she'll tear around me at a mad gallop and slip and slide all over the place, and even fall because she is too busy being an idiot to pay attention to where her feet are going or the footing underneath them. Which is why we hadn't properly longed in a long time, concussion aside.
Well, she totally surprised me. She trotted around with tail flagged doing her dragon snorts every time her feet touched the ground, tried to accelerate into a canter...and then slowed back down to a trot when she realized the ground was slick.
I gradually moved her over to the far corner of the field behind the run-in shed where the ground is flattest. She was doing an all-out extended trot. I asked her to canter to see what she would do. In the past, she would take off into the canter and blast off into a gallop, again with complete disregard to footing.
She flagged her tail excitedly and picked up a canter. She was going to the left, the direction in which she had always fallen when running around at liberty prior to getting her worked up by the vet.
At the third canter stride, she gave a whopping slip with her left hind. A big one. The kind that would have caused her to fall previously. Except she did not fall: she caught herself. And instead of continuing to canter like an idiot, she broke down to a trot. Just like a normal horse with survival instincts and a brain would do.
I gave her a TON of praise and let her trot on, basically focusing on just getting her to relax more on the longe. I asked for short canters a few times in both directions to make sure that the caution I'd seen was not a fluke. It wasn't. She'd pick up the canter to oblige, then break to a trot in the spots where the footing was iffy.
|Nice soft eye on the previously spazzy mare.|
|Tracking up nicely.|
Maybe my vet was onto something when she mentioned that Gracie's original frequent falling was just her adapting to being able to just move at speed in a larger area. She hadn't had that in over a year.
It took about 20 minutes altogether before she settled into the nice trot you can see in the photos above. At that point I asked her to halt and clipped the side reins on loosely. This is the third time she's worn side reins ever, as far as I know, and she was a little resistant initially.
|"I shall go above the bit!"|
|A little better.|
I walked her out to cool down as she had gotten quite sweaty. Even when in full work, one of the surprising things about Gracie is how quickly she will lose condition. She's not the kind of horse that can have a two-week break from working and pick up where she left off fitness-wise. I wonder if that is going to change now that she is at Kathy's and moving around more.
I left this setup with the ground poles before leaving for the day:
The next day, Saturday, was Lily's turn. I was originally going to work both mares but I was surprisingly tired after the piddly workout on the elliptical that morning and decided to just work with the easier one of the two.
Lily has been a little herd bound the last few times we've been to the barn. She even got away from Charles last weekend and ran right back down to the big field before he could get her all the way to the barn! On Saturday however she was focused and goofy.
Like Gracie, she decided that she had never seen the black fence in the back field before and had a case of the zoomies. Though she also tends to get the zoomies initially anyway when working on the longe for the first time in a while. I have to let her canter around before she's ready to settle down into the trot, ground poles, intervals or whatever plans I have for her for the day's session.
|You can see the offending black fence in this photo.|
|Lily goes ZOOM!|
I've mentioned before how Lily is a perfectionist and gets frustrated if she slips or trips. Charles actually caught it on film! She was being very silly about cantering on the downhill part of the circle and she finally gave a little slip with her right hind. She immediately bucked in frustration. It always cracks me up when she does this.
More settled but not quite ready to pay attention. She was cantering the uphill and trotting the downhill.
She trots in then decides to break into a canter, doing the last set of cavaletti as a bounce the first two times through. Note the head toss after she does the bounce! She was annoyed. The third time through she did a short canter stride and was happy with herself. I later spread the cavaletti out so that they were all even. She was very pleased about this and cantered through very nicely. Silly mare.
She was a little more anxious about the grid to the right, taking ALL of the cavaletti as bounces!
We then did about 10 more minutes of w/t/c on the flat with the side reins on. Charles took some stunning photos.
And then we called it a day!
I was really happy with Lily. She was paying attention to me and trying her hardest to do what I wanted. She's lost some condition and muscle over the last few weeks, which I was bummed to discover. I can't wait to be able to ride again!
On Sunday it was Gracie's turn again. I was surprised to have Tornado Mare on my hands once more. So she got tied to the fence for a bit and I walked away to adjust the grid for her and thus give her time to settle down and think about things.
|I will note that yet again she did not set a foot wrong.|
|FINALLY trotting around me...|
Gracie in all of her nervous tail-flagging glory.
She was still a bit zoomy and not responding well to the request to halt at the end, but you can see her stretch down for a few strides at a time. The side reins needed to be longer so she could stretch out as well; I fixed that later.
We reviewed the proper halt again when I had her go over the cavaletti.
I unclipped the side reins and had her go through the grid a few times at the lowest setting, but with the longe line still threaded through the inside bit ring and clipped to the surcingle. She trotted through nice and even in both directions. The cavaletti were then raised to 18" and she snapped up her knees and hocks as she trotted through.
We reviewed simple halting and backing up at the end and finished the session on a good note. She had many fire-breathing dragon anxious/"up" moments throughout the session again, but I'm hoping with more work she settles down. I used to think she was just being sassy, and while there sometimes is sass, sometimes there's quite a bit of anxiety too. She has always been prone to getting worked up on the longe, and I'm not sure if it's because that's how she was trained way, way back when? I'm talking before being re-started by Trainer Bob, by whomever first started her under saddle.
I was talking to Kathy afterwards. She watched several of Bob's training rides with Gracie but she never actually saw him work her on the longe. This doesn't mean it never happened, but maybe she never got to associate enough positive experiences with longing? Honestly, she reminds me a lot of Lily when I very first started working with her: Lily was terrified of being worked on the longe. It took a long, long time for her to come to trust me enough to work like this:
Rome wasn't built in a day. I'm hoping Gracie gets better and more relaxed as she realizes that nothing bad is going to happen to her on the longe. It was SO great to see her paying attention to the footing though! Not a single slip, trip or stumble during this entire session, even with all of the running around she did in the beginning.
They both get the next few days off from work; we'll revisit this on Friday.