Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dickhead Returns

Too cute to be called Dickhead.
A while back I wrote a post about our family's use of nicknames and the fact that Indy may have
thought his name had been changed to Dickhead. (He's young and blessed with ADD and I have a tendency to communicate through the use of colorful language).

I find that things with Indy follow a pattern.  Lots of really good behavior and then some not-quite-so-good behavior.  Like tonight, for instance, was one of the latter.  It was a gorgeous night, we'd had a lesson on Sunday that was not one of our best (totally my fault) and I thought a trail ride would be a low key experience for us both.

And the trail ride part was great.  The beginning and end parts, not so much.  When we left the barn I noticed the outdoor ring had a new wall jump that looked like it came from a giant Lego castle.  There was also a round pen with poles set like a pie cut into a bunch of pieces. Some of the round pen walls had fallen and were laying on their sides.  Did either of these new items in the ring bother Indy?  Nope.  He marched right up to investigate, sniffing them and noodging them with his nose.

Round pen and pole exercise. Or Pie. Take your pick

The issue came when we left the ring. I went to steer him left and he planted his feet and refused to budge.  The issue?  A patch of grass he walks over pretty much every day.  Heck, he GRAZES on it darn near every day!  He snorted and refused to go near it, backing up, hopping up and down, and trying to wheel around.  We went back and forth for a bit, and eventually he gave in and we went over it.  Maybe not the particular patch we were fighting over, but we went forward over grass that was very close to the patch we were fighting over.

Then we wandered around the farm and on the trails, and that was wonderful.

And then we came back and I got the bright idea to bring him over to the offending patch of grass to CONFIRM the correction we'd made.  Big mistake. HUGE. What can I say? I'm a dumbass.  We argued.  We discussed the issue at length. He cited reasons why we shouldn't go over the grass, I contended it was the only acceptable outcome. We expressed our divergent opinions, crossing over the driveway and every damn blade of grass except the ones we were squabbling over.  As you can imagine, my language was a bit salty.  I may have called him Dickhead again. (I did. Several times. I felt the situation warranted it. I have opposable thumbs, so I get to make those calls.)

The Grass Patch of Doom. 
Clearly terrifying.
I decided it was time to try something different.  I know you're not supposed to get off, but that wasn't getting anything accomplished so I got off.  And started to do some ground work, moving his haunches and front end, getting him to back up or come to me, just to get him to listen to me again.  At first he was resistant, but I persisted and he became softer and more willing.  We did our groundwork for about 10 minutes, on the offending grass, no less. (He didn't seem to have a problem with it once I was off him, the little booger).  Once I felt he was completely focused on me and what I was asking him to do, I got back on him and walked him up to the Grass Patch of Doom.  He hesitated, but went over it. I made a fuss over him, jumped off, and let him grab a few bites of grass.

Maybe conventional wisdom says I shouldn't have gotten off him, but the way I was doing it wasn't working.  I felt the need to reframe the conversation, and in this situation it worked.  That doesn't mean I should or will get off in the future.  It just seemed like the right thing to do tonight.

And we're okay now.  He got lots of kisses and scratches and he put his head in my arms for a long hug.  I said I was sorry for calling him Dickhead, and he told me he may have been over-reacting about the whole grass thing. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Where Did That Come From? The Mystery of the UEB

Pretty, yes?  Wish I knew how I got it.
We're equestrians.  We work with 1200lb animals with minds of their own and often very little
respect for personal space.  Factor in there are all kinds of ways to get hurt: Falling off, getting stepped on, getting kicked - these are some of the realities we face.  And let's face it, all of those things are gonna leave a mark.  Usually a pretty impressive one.

That's not what I'm getting at here. I'm talking about the everyday bruising you see and have no idea how you got them.  You know, the ones your significant other sees and says, "Yikes, what did you do to yourself now?"  The ones where you look at your (insert body part here) and say, "I don't know." 

It's sad, but true.  You really have no earthly clue as to why your (insert body part here) is a Rorschach blot of red, blue, purple and green.  No clue. Nada. Nothing.  Bupkus.

It's like when you were in college (or for some of us, more recently) and went to a party.  You'd wake up the next morning and at some point, maybe during a shower or while getting dressed, you'd notice one, two, or maybe a constellation of bruises and have no recollection of doing anything to cause them.  So you'd check in with a friend, hoping (or maybe not) that they could enlighten you.  Maybe a fall while table dancing, a botched keg stand, or an overzealous attempt to learn to Nae-Nae.   Most of the time the cause was just random drunken clumsiness.   The verdict?  Unexplained Party Bruising.

Well, I'm not drunk when I'm at the barn.  I'm not, I swear.  (Alright, I may have the odd glass of wine now and again, but only after I'm done.  I'm a safety-first gal, you know!)  So why the heck can't I ever remember how I get all these black and blue blotches all over my body? 

Unexplained Equestrian Bruising.  One of life's little mysteries.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Momma's Boy

Hello Momma!
Nothing's better than your horse showing you that he loves you, right?  When a nicker greets you the
second you walk into the barn, well, that's the best part of the day, isn't it?  The bright-eyed, ears-forward "Hi Mom!" look is, to me, better than wine and chocolate combined.  And if you've followed this blog, you know how I feel about wine and chocolate.

Indy is an extremely people-oriented horse, and he has definitely identified me as his primary person.  He loves my kids, but I am very clearly his MOM -bold, capitals, and underlined.

He doesn't just nicker or whinny when I come into the barn, he shrieks: "MOM-MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"  It's kind of adorable, and it makes me melt.  You gotta love it when someone's that happy to see you.

And when our horse comes to you in the field, that's a great feeling, right?  Like they love their grass and horse time, but they love you more. Sug would come to me when she saw me at the fence. More often than not Indy will see me, shriek, and come flying over in a gorgeous extended trot with his mane and tail flying like a shampoo commercial. 

Other signs Indy is a complete Momma's Boy:

When he grazes, most of the time he likes to be next to me. Right next to me.  As in almost on top of me. Every now and then he'll raise his head to noodge me, like he's making sure I'm still there.




If he's on the cross-ties and I leave, he often yells for me.  If there's something scary, like the big fan they brought in to help cool the barn during the hot weather, he starts whinnying as soon as I leave his side.  I can walk the 10 feet to the other side of the aisle and he'll do a rumbly little whinny
.  If I leave his sight the decibel level and intensity escalates until he can see me again.

He was so funny at a horse show we recently went to.  I walked around the front of the trailer to get something from the dressing room and he started hollering as soon as he lost sight of me.  The second he saw me through the dressing room windows he stopped in mid-yell, jammed his nose against the window and exhaled loudly, as if to say, "Oh, thank God. I thought you'd left me."  (I know, anthropomorphize much?)

If I come to his stall when he's eating he will actually leave his feed tub and come over to me.  Have you ever seen a horse do that? I haven't.  Maybe it was because Sug wouldn't leave her food unless I was covered head to toe in Stud Muffins, peppermints, and Oreos.

I mean, on one hand I love that he's so attached.  On the other I worry that he's got separation anxiety and there's something I need to be doing to make him more self-assured.

What does you horse do that shows you he/she loves you?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Field Trip For Indy

Where are we, Mom?
I have a (relatively) new trailer, which I call the HMS Valium.  When I first got it I did not have a horse.  Pretty much the whole "cart before the horse" cliché.  As you can surmise, I did not get to use my trailer much.

Then in October I got Indy.  When I took him to get a pre-purchase exam there was much drama surrounding the loading process. Indy wanted absolutely nothing to do with the Great Big White Box.  When we moved to a new barn in October, my trainer and I thought rather than fight with him we'd see if he would like a different type of trailer (mine's a bumper pull with a rear loading ramp, theirs is a 3 horse with a ramp on the side.)  He didn't.  He didn't want to get on that trailer and when we arrived at the new place he came flying off it like his hair was on fire.

Over the fall, winter, and spring I worked on his trailer issues and learned some natural horsemanship from the lovely Dom Nawrot of Thumbs Up Horsemanship.  I want to do clinics and trail paces, so I need Indy to get on the trailer with no histrionics or bribing. I also figured learning natural horsemanship would be a great way to understand Indy better and bond with him.  We took our time and didn't push him and now Indy has no issues whatsoever getting on and off the Great Big White Box.

Dom suggested that before we take him somewhere serious like a show we should take him on a quick trip "around the block" to give him a good, low pressure experience. That went well, so last weekend we decided to take him to a horse show about an hour's drive away for some schooling.  It gave me a chance to get some more trailering time under my belt, it gave Indy a chance to spend more time on the trailer, and it also helped give him some exposure to a horse show without the stress of competition. (As far as I can tell it was only the third show he'd ever been to).

Noah and Indy paying close attention to Dom's instructions

My son Noah came along as moral support, another set of hands, and to make sure my nerves didn't get the best of me. While we were on the road he regularly reminded me to "Breathe, Mom" and "Go wide around the turns" and "The speed limit is 50, Mom. You should try to do that." Thanks in large part to his efforts we arrived in one piece. The second we opened the trailer Indy stuck his head out, looked around like Dorothy after she landed in Oz, and proceeded to holler his little gray head off.  He yelled, someone else would reply. Indy hollered again, somebody else would holler back. Have you ever seen the Disney movie 101 Dalmatians? Remember the Twilight Bark?  It was like that. For about 20 minutes. Non-stop.

We brought him over to the rings to graze and Indy visited with everyone who would stop to talk with him.   Since I haven't shown in over 2 years and didn't want my nerves to affect Indy I asked one of the barn's working students to school him. Call me a wuss if you want, but the main goal for the day was for Indy to have a good experience, both on the trailer and at the show.  The schooling ring was insane and  Mike's calm demeanor worked well to keep Indy focused.  He also took Indy out for a school around the jump field, and you know how sometimes it's just nice to see someone else ride your horse? Where you can just gawk at your horse and think, "Pretty horsie. MY pretty horsie." This was one of those times. Mike is tall and graceful and Indy's dapple grey coat and silver/grey mane and tail looked gorgeous in the sun.  Sadly I was too busy staring that I neglected to get any pictures. DOH! Mom fail.

Hanging with Indy and Noah all day was great.  Noah was my rock: He served admirably as parking and exiting consultant, scouting out the parking spot where I would have the most room to back the HMS Valium up if needed.  When it was time to go he did a little recon and found a way for me to wiggle out without having to back up. (I have terrible Trailer Reversal Anxiety). He made sure that there was always an adequate supply of Oreos for me and mints for Indy. Most importantly, he kept me laughing and relaxed (or as relaxed as I get) which in turn helped keep Indy relaxed.

So our first real "field trip" went off rather well, and I'm kinda looking forward to our next excursion.  My barn-buddy Dave tells me I'm on my way to becoming a "Bad-ass Mother-trucker."  I like the sound of that - think it comes on a t-shirt?

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Four Words I Never Thought I'd Say...

I like jumping these things, Mom. 
If you've followed this blog at all you know I consider myself a big old chicken when it comes to
jumping. I would never have called myself a particularly bold or confident jumper, but at one point in my life I was jumping 3'. Then I channeled my inner lawn dart and tried to force my head through the first level of the Earth's crust while at a horse show. I've been working on finding my missing mojo ever since.

Some might ask why I continue jumping.  Hell, I ask myself that all the time.  Especially since I love flatting.  I've always loved it. I love trying to make a round, rather than oblong, circle.  Seeing if I can get a shoulder-in that is actually on three tracks, rather than a shoulder-vaguely-moving-in-the-right-direction.  I love that moment when you can feel the horse's back come up and the hind legs swing through.  I love all that stuff.

But I continue the jumping thing to challenge myself.  Because I don't want to give up yet. Because I want to get my mojo back.  Because I want to prove to myself that I can do it, dammit.

So here's the thing: I.Love.Jumping.Indy.  Love it.  He has this stride that makes finding distances feel easier.  Or maybe he's just smart enough to find the distances for us.  Probably a little bit of both.  I don't know how to explain it.

When we're flatting, his stride is long and not as adjustable as I'd like.

Me: Indy, we're shortening your stride now.
Indy: I have a 12' stride.  Why should I shorten it?
Me: Because sometimes we'll need to.
Indy: I'm a hunter. We do 12' strides. 
Me: Noooooo. You're a hunter/jumper/equitation/dressage/hunter pace/all-around horse and sometimes you will need to shorten your stride.
Indy: Pfffftttt. I have a 12' stride. I'm a hunter. Relax, Mom. I've got this.

When we're jumping, I can shorten his stride effortlessly. Or lengthen it. No discussion.

I don't do that control freak/ micromanage him like I've done in the past. I mean, yeah, I do it sometimes, but nowhere near as often.  Not every fence.  Has your trainer ever told you to just let go and "melt" to the distance?  Before Indy the only way I'd have been able to melt to a fence would be by wearing a parka while riding at noon in 90 degree heat.  Let go?  No chance in hell of that happening. Apparently with Indy I've found I can "Let go and melt."  Or "Let go and let God." Kinda feels like the same thing at times.

And Mr. ADD does not see any trolls, dragons, ring gnomes or other nasties when he's jumping.  Nope, all he sees are the fences in front of him.  Mr. ADD becomes Mr. FOCUS.

Who are you calling Mr. ADD? 
So now I don't dread that portion of the lesson when the flatting becomes the jumping.  And if my trainer asks if I want to do something again, or do another course, I do it.  Most of the time without that little voice in my head asking, "Are you sure that's a good idea? We survived the last course, maybe we shouldn't tempt fate."

I'm not saying we're gonna be doing the high performance hunters or the 1.20 jumpers any time soon, but I am definitely saying I love jumping Indy.  Which is a pretty big step for me.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What's In A Name...Or Nickname

 Of course I'm paying attention to you.
Like the Shakespeare reference in the title?  Makes me sound edu-ma-cated, doesn't it?  Am experiencing
the need to feel I know something about something, because I am learning I know squat about horses.  Indy has been a great teacher in that respect, and every day I learn something new from him. Kinda like when you have kids and after they leave the toddler stage you think you've gotten the whole parenting thing down and then they become teenagers and you find you are pretty much just bobbing and weaving and trying to stay on your feet.

Anyway, the name thing.  We're big on them around here.  We name our cars, my trailer, the house, even the panini maker (Aunt Gilda, if you must know. Long story.)  Not only does everything have a name, but it usually possesses at least 2 or 3 nicknames.  This can often confuse people who don't know us that well, as evidenced by one of Noah's interactions with his kindergarten teacher.  She asked everyone in the class to tell her their parents' names.  One by one the kids said Jane, Bob, Bill, James, Susan, Nadim, etc.  When it was Noah's turn he piped up with, "Jackass and Hun."  Which resulted in our first experience with parent-teacher conferences...

Some examples:

Sophie: Toots, Soph, The Child, Soapy Grapes
Noah: Bud, Curmudgeon, The Boy, Sheldon Jr.
RJ: Big Man (because, at 17.2 hh, what else?), Moose, and (when he's being a boob) The Great Git

Jackass, Hun, Toots, & Sheldon Jr.
My husband's car is German, and we call it Otto.  Mine is a Chevy Tahoe, which felt so monstrously big when I got it I started calling it Sully, after the monster in Monsters, Inc.  Sully is also frequently called Da 'Hoe, which makes The Boy cringe, which is half my reason for calling it that. My trailer is called the HMS Valium.

And then there's Indy.  Indy has picked up several monikers in his short time with us.  He is called Baby Grey, Monkey Face (no idea where this one came from), Momma's Boy (in the good way), Little Man, and Stinky (again, no idea why as he smells quite nice).  Depending on the day and his behavior he's also been called Turd, Lackwit, DammitHorse, Little F**k and Dickhead. After our past several rides he's probably sure his name has been officially changed to Dickhead.

When my vet was doing Indy's PPE, he commented, "A bit ADD, isn't he?"  I tend to agree.  Indy's attention span is all over the place and his impulse control often leaves much to be desired. And while it can be tempting to interpret these behaviors as indicating lack of intelligence, it's really the opposite. Indy is one smart cookie, and I'm learning it's my job to figure out ways to keep his agile mind busy and focused on me.

Brain games for Indy

Anyway, clearly I was doing a crap job of it this past weekend, as the ADD was in full force, which meant there was a lot of "AAACKKK, a troll!" or "EEEK, my shadow!" or "OH NO! Horse-eating water trough!"  Which meant there was much neck-riding and cussing from Mom.  Hence Indy's name change. 

I can't wait to hear it announced at horse shows. Can you imagine? "Joining us now is Dickhead, owned and shown by Amy Vodraska."

He's so darn cute it's impossible to stay mad, though. 

Future posts will be focusing on How Amy Is Learning to Positively Parent Her Precocious Pony.  Stay tuned.

Such a cute face

Thursday, March 31, 2016

I Had A Kick A$$ Lesson!

Why you think so much, Momma? 
It not good for you!
Quite frankly, I wasn't expecting a lot from tonight's lesson because I'd missed a few days of riding
because of a business trip, and my back was killing me from lots of windshield time and trying to wedge myself into the little rental roller skate I was driving.  Great attitude, right?? Way to start off on a good note.

Inner Me: Let's set the bar low, Aim. If we use survival as the goal, anything better is icing on the cake, right?? HOO-RAH! Positive thinking in action, girl!

I had some time to watch some of the lessons before me and some of the riders were finding some of their courses challenging. 

Inner Me: Well, crap.  If the good riders are having a rough time, what they heck is my lesson going to look like?  Maybe I should pull the aging adult ammie card and suggest a flat lesson today.

Yep, that's me.  Just BRIMMING with confidence.

Given the crappy inner monologue going on in my head, it's amazing I even got on Indy, who was being a bit more ADD than usual.  Which I took as a sign that maybe we really should just do a flat lesson.

I don't know what changed.  Maybe that I just stopped overanalyzing it.  Before I got on I made the decision to take Indy aside so that I could do some groundwork and get him focused on me.  Then I got in the ring, warmed up with lots of lateral work and transitions to keep him listening and thinking about my aids. I also thought about what I was doing every stride.

Inner Me: Make sure you keep the rhythm steady.  Inside leg to push him in the corner.  That didn't work well, more inside leg next time.  Try a transition to trot. Hmm, no response off the leg.  Add more leg. Still doesn't work.  Add spur. Whoops, that worked!! Ok, let's do more trot-walk-trot transitions so we can get him thinking more forward from the leg. 

The flat part of the lesson went very well.  He's getting stronger and more balanced, and I'm feeling stronger and more balanced.  The lateral work is getting better; when we leg yield his shoulder doesn't get to the track 10 minutes before his butt does.

All that was good, but the part that jazzed me the most was the jumping.  We've been doing lots of cavaletti work and today's jump session started off the same.  We were doing well with those, maintaining a rhythm and jumping out of stride.  The my trainer told me to catch one of the "real" fences after the cavaletti.

Inner Me:  Wait!  What???  No, we do cavaletti. ONLY cavaletti. No real jumps!  (I know, hard to believe that I once jumped 3', huh?) 

I didn't stop question my trainer.  I just went and did it, and it went well.  Before I could congratulate myself on coming through unscathed my trainer told me to do the cavaletti, the real jump, and then two more real jumps, set as  a 7 stride bending line.  (In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you the jumps were the height that the ponies were jumping, 2'6". Maybe not real jumps for most folks, but I'm writing the blog so I get to call 'em real jumps.)

I nailed it.  I mean, was I Medal or Maclay perfect?  HELL no!  But I did the numbers and made my distances.  I'd no sooner finished that course than my trainer gave me another, adding one more jump.  We did that well, too.  I even managed to make a couple decisions about pace and line without dithering and ruining our momentum.

Inner Me:  Shit!  This is the 5 stride line! Need to move up. LEG!!!! Ooohhh, that worked well.  Amy! Concentrate on the next fence, you dope!  It's the 7. Aaack, came in a touch too strong, bending out should help. Oh, yay, that worked too!

Again, was it like watching Amanda Steege or Tori Colvin?  Not by a long shot.  It was pretty much Get 'Er Done riding.  But I got it done without feeling like the wheels were going to fall off and I was going to die throughout the whole thing. 

My brain is a funny thing. It either works for me or against me.  (Sometimes I think a pre-ride lobotomy would be helpful.?  Today it worked for me.  Now I just gotta figure out how to get it to do that again.