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Fail Friday: Or Not?

As predicted in my January Goals post, riding has gone out the window for various reasons.. but for the first time in a long time, I can proudly say it has nothing to do with just not wanting to do it.  I also had some issues with my Equilab App that required technical support and reset a bunch of stuff so any rides prior to last week are gone (boo!). In terms of minutes/hours, I will have to estimate at the end of this month.  I am roughly half way to accomplishing my January goal of spending at least 4 hours in the saddle, but due to an onslaught of reasons, I'm feeling a little bummed that I may not hit it.  Perhaps i'm getting a little ahead of myself considering I still have nearly two weeks, so I suppose this isn't a complete Fail.. not yet, anyway.

After turning her loose for 10 min, my saddle moved forward about 3".. Saddle Fitter can't come soon enough!!
In November I heard on the radio to expect two weeks of frigid temperatures, followed by two weeks of pure bliss (weather-wise) for the remainder of the winter, and so far this has wrung true.  We are frequently bouncing between -40 and +2C and have had as much as a 30 degree temperature change within 24 hours (Seriously, tell me how fresh YOUR horses have been and let's compare). Due to the nature of my boarding facility and my rule that riding between -15 and -20 is iffy, and riding beyond -20 is a hard-no, it hasn't allowed for much time spent in the saddle.  During our warm spell late last week I managed to squeeze one ride in but the following day I had a new REMT out to work on her, and subsequently I gave her 2 days off as she was quite sore. I managed to get one ride on her before we jumped back into the deep freeze, and it was a remarkable one!

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Sierra still palpated a little sore while I groomed and tacked up so I decided to turn her loose and see if she was stiff before committing to riding, but I packed my bridle and helmet to the arena just in case. I sent her out and she started a little stiff, but quickly exploded into her exuberant, bucking broc routine and I decided to mount up.  Due to the fact that she had already gotten a little sweaty and the temps were quickly plummeting, I decided to do a Walk ride.  For those who may not be familiar with this concept, I try to do at least 1-3 Walk rides per month.  There is so much both Si and I can work on in the walk and I think that she enjoys the 'low key' days where we are both basic bitches toodling around.

One thing that I have been thinking of addressing more firmly is Sierra's inability to stretch longitudinally under saddle and her still somewhat fake connection.  She has never had a real concept of stretching or seaking the contact and while I have been plugging away at the bigger picture of that nice, natural, marching, 8+ free walk that Kidd had been blessed with, I recently concluded I need to step back and stop focusing so much on the end goal, but rather the baby steps that will get us there.

The gains are real tho
Sierra is very weird about balance. If she feels off balance or as if she has unsteady ground underneath her, she will often panic. I find this a bit ironic, because the footing in the indoor is sketchy at best, and she doesn't seem to mind too much.. but asking her to change her balance is incredibly mentally stimulating for her, and it doesn't always end well. Like most TB's, her conformation designed is to be out behind and flat so asking her to rock back onto her hind end often results in a slightly frazzled OTTB mare.  I have been picking away at this in unsuspecting ways, such as cookie stretches between the front legs wherein her front knees bend and she panics and gives up, but I am noticing improvement in her level of comfort with the foreign concept of trusting me to put her body somewhere that feels unnatural to her.  I have also been slowly addressing it at the end of each ride when she is tired and more interested in reaching through her topline through just walking on the buckle and striving for that marching, energetic walk, but I have been feeling it's time to actually install some buttons.

Throughout my time with Sierra, most of it has been spent 'fixing' or 'correcting' or 'perfecting' certain things. I have not really had the opportunity to teach my own riding horse something 'new' for a few years now (pre-injury with Kidd), and I forgot how incredibly rewarding the feeling is.  I've come to grips with the fact that Sierra still does not have a super honest reaction to my leg, and while I do choose to pick my battles to keep the waters calm, happy and progressive, I feel like it's improved significantly and therefor I think we have made the first few baby steps toward developing a true stretch and connection.

As we set out at the walk on a bit of contact, I decided that as long as she put in a little bit of effort, I would be satisfied. Rome wasn't built in a day, right?  I decided that in lieu of seeking the bigger picture, I would just work to have her interested in the idea of stretching downward from my leg, regardless of if she fell on the forehand - I can address that later.. but evidently I didn't realize what a quick and compliant learner Sierra can be, because we made hella-good progress.

As I walked around I worked to maintain a steady contact and a consistent calf pressure without clamping my right thigh on, as I concluded this is what I wanted my stretch aid to be.  I contemplated the discussion the REMT and I had regarding needing to hold something for at least 30 seconds to establish muscle memory, and this was my goal - even if it meant it was completely incorrect and unworthy of a dressage test, I just wanted her to stretch her neck down for 30+ seconds, from the leg and with her nose poked out, as she likes to curl behind the vertical (tell tale sign she's not in front of my leg).  Each time Sierra tried to understand, I applauded her effort by relieving the pressure and giving her an over exaggerated scratch on each side of the neck while I told her how brilliant she was.  As we continued on, I began letting my [notched] reins out once we accomplished it at each notch, and within 25 minutes she was maintaining the contact as far while I was at the buckle and having to stretch forward to give more rein length.  More importantly, it was coming entirely from my leg and I knew it was a true reaction when she was comfortable maintaining it throughout circles, changes of directions, and laps large.  While i'm sure we looked a bit like a Camel who was tying up, I relished as Sierra blew her nose in relief and pride, and it was an overwhelming feeling to go from being the leader of the Fake It Til You Make It brigade to developing a true and correct contact with a horse seeking the bit from the leg, regardless of the rein length.  Elated, I dismounted and gave her a big hug.  This mare is truly something else.

Farrier was shocked she would willingly walk into the open tack area, and stand their quietly for her trim
The next day and the days to follow, we dove back into the unrelenting -30's and naturally, it was Farrier day.  I managed to persuade my Farrier to come to the farm where Sierra is, as I wasn't confident I could get my trailer through their narrowly plowed driveway which has a shallow double S turn in it to boot.  Despite being a bit rushed, Sierra was fabulous and my Farrier and I chatted away.  He told me how impressed he was with her, and how far she has come in her ground manners since I brought her home.  The first time he did her feet, she was a dick to put it plainly (various rasps to the belly were had), and I felt a sense of pride.  Maybe I do have a bit of an idea of what i'm doing.. Maybe this isn't a Fail Friday post after all.


  1. Walking is certainly the most boring of the gaits, but its where we can get a lot of shit done! Good for you for working on the walk - all the other gaits are going to be so much easier for you!

  2. I’ve been doing a ton of what I call conditioning rides with my horse so far this winter. Starting generally with around 25 minutes of walk. He’s getting so little exercise on his own even with turnout - frozen ground and parking at the round bale - that he needs to extra help for sure. So we just walk and walk and walk until he starts loosening up. It truly is a miracle worker! And focusing on using these rides to help my horse feel better has had the advantage of keeping me on track for getting my saddle time. Good luck with your January goal - there’s still plenty of time left to log those two hours !! Don’t quit before the race is over ;)


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