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Field Trip No. 01 -- 02|24|2019

I'm hoping to do more posts like this throughout 2019, hence the title.. but on Saturday my friends had organized a surprise birthday party for me in the city (for the record, my birthday isn't until Feb 28), and of course, the supper conversation revolved around horses.

One of my best friends "C" used to be my right-hand-lady (or side b!tch, if you will :P ) .. She was a client, a friend, a show buddy, a co worker, and a massive support system all wrapped into one.  She's from Van Island and when she moved to AB she left her heart horse, Hershey, behind as he was leased to a lesson barn.  We brought him up a year after  she moved here and she began taking lessons with me and they found so much success together once we got him sorted out.  We rode together almost every day, we clinic'd together, we showed together, and worked our asses off together.. but last year she took a devastating blow when Hershey sustained a break to his Long Pastern in the pasture and his fate was undetermined.  It was discovered in March and had already begun to heal - at the time he was being leased by a beginner w/t'er and honestly, he looked pretty damn sound, but I noticed a teensy bit of swelling and it gave it away.. Fast forward to many, many months of time off in a small paddock then small pasture and he's now boarded where Sierra is.  He will never jump again, and will be limited to his lower level flat work, but he is clinically sound.  She was previously showing very well at First and hopes to get back to First again, but time will tell.  She just brought him out to where Sierra is on Feb 17th and hadn't been on him yet, as he's incredibly out of shape and needs to be brought back slowly.

Over Supper, she mentioned that she may haul him to the local indoor to ride and bath the following morning, and even though I have some PTSD nonsense with that arena, I was temporarily possessed and said "Oh let me know if you do go, i'll bring Sierra!".. From there, we made a loose plan and as nervous as it made me, I figured since I intend to ride in a small show there next Saturday, it was a good idea to get as many rides on her in there as I can before the show.

Intently watching a young barrel racer lope endless circles on a severely overweight QH and looking like one herself

Sierra has had 10 days off.. Of those 10 days, she got turned loose in the arena to stretch her legs once..  Between the frigid temperatures and me being sick, I was basically house-bound for several days this past month.  In addition to a fresh pony, the last time Sierra was at this barn was when I lent her to a friend for a Jumping Clinic in October and it was an absolute disaster that ended up with Sierra piling the friend twice, and trying fairly seriously about 10 other times.. then to top it off, "C" was up and at 'er and offered to haul Sierra in and just meet me at the indoor as it's half way between where I live, and where Sierra and Hershey are boarded. So, I had a fresh pony who was hauled by stranger in unfamiliar trailer, who's last experience at this barn was about as bad as it can get and was going to be ridden by a nervous nelly.. Sounds like a great idea, right?

In texting a friend who boards there on my way in, she offered for me to snag her lunge line and/or ear plugs out of her locker if I wanted, but I've learned that lunging just amps Sierra up more.. Much like an energizer bunny, there's not much point in trying to 'tire her out' before hand, and I usually get further by just getting on, promoting relaxation and pretending to be brave, so I decided take that route.  As usual, I hand walked around the ring a few times and reassured then ignored her through all the "OMG WHAT IS THAT" gawking.  She was still leery of the far end, but it seemed like a waste of time to continue walking past the same thing hoping it would stop being scary (definition of insanity, everybody...) so I decided to just get on.  C had just mounted up on Hershey for the first time in about 8 months, and as I got on she was telling me how he felt like he was going to explode and how nervous she was. I thought to myself about what a terrible, terrible decision we had made but I was tacked up and at the mounting block, I had might as well just do it.. at least if I biffed it, the sand was soft.

Spoiler Alert: We survived, even though she was still questioning things
Much like Hershey, Sierra felt like a ticking bomb waiting to explode, and I reminded myself "tension breeds tension", and I worked at the least scary end until I felt her begin to relax and we proceeded to trot.  If I can credit myself for anything, it's that once i'm on, i'm pretty solid and sticky in the tack, I just have a mental block with the lead-up to getting on, it seems.. Natraully, once I asked for the Trot she did her typical "wont go forward, might stop, might bolt" reaction that I've grown to recognize after some time off, but we worked through it like usual and once she agreed to go more forward, she felt lame because she was so tense.. Again, I asked myself why did we decide to do this?!  Alas, eventually she began to relax and she gave me some really beautiful moments of rhythm, relaxation and connection.  I was happy that what we have been working so hard on all winter had somewhat transferred through into a 'scary, new situation', even though it was a struggle to maintain because something would always startle her and we'd get tense and awkward again.  The mare-camel spooked like 10 friggen times, but she was quick to come back and I couldn't fault her for trying her darnedest for me.. Plus, her spooks are pretty lackluster compared to Kidd (AKA my sports car)

The arena where we board is SO small and the footing is questionable at best, so I vowed early on not to canter her.  Any time I tried, it resulted in bucking, stumbling and cross firing due to lack of balance and sturdy footing, and it wasn't conducive to a happy, positive ride.  Truthfully, I was ok with this because it's blatantly obvious that we can do years of work in the Walk & Trot. I know she can canter, and it's actually quite beautiful and lovely to ride so I wasn't terribly upset with the decision, but given that I entered the Hack division at the HTS I Show on March 2nd, I figured I should attempt it.

By this point, I had been on about 30 minutes, flip-flopping between relaxed over the back, and inverted and considering the nearest exit but I did my best to stay stable yet relaxed and the thought of Canter crossed my mind.  Thankfully, I didn't dip into the dark corner of what-if's, and I began some suppling exercises to get her as relaxed and rhythmic as possible before I asked. I hadn't realized, but C had hopped off and grabbed her phone, re-mounted and began videoing for me (yay!!), and on a whim with almost 0 preparation, I sat, slipped my outside leg back, gave a kiss and she popped into canter almost immediately.  I rode the transition like crap because I honestly didn't expect her to go (let alone that well), but she Cantered on like she has been cantering every day.  I Cantered her a few circles then broke to trot and went to the right.  The right is our bad way, and the direction she struggled the most with on her leads, but to my surprise just like to the left, she picked it up with ease, and after a few circles I broke to a stretchy trot before giving her giant hugs and double neck-scritches.  She wasn't nearly as 'through' as I would have liked in the Canter, but in all honesty, she wasn't through in ANY gait last year when I bought her, so the fact that the walk and trot is coming along nicely is fantastic, and gives me hope for the Canter.  I can see now how my goals this summer will become "maintain R+R+C in w/t and develop it in Canter".  

Following our ride, I walked down to the 'scary' end to dismount before hand walking her for a few minutes.  She worked up quite a sweat between the stress and the deeper footing, so C and I decided to take advantage of the hot water and wash bay.  While it significantly lengthened out our time spent at the arena that day, it was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday.

A much deserved roll before we bathed
I think despite the constant set-backs of weather, work, lack of daylight, lack of energy, small arena with subpar footing and everything else that effected my ability to ride 4-5x a week this winter, we have made massive leaps, and I can't wait to see where we are a year from now.

Out of focus but cute AF
Overall, I am incredibly happy and proud of both of us for this.  This was not only a stretch goal for February, but it was a huge personal accomplishment for me.  I have a lot of 'issues' with this facility due to spending 6+ years working, managing and boarding there which resulted in quite a few falls, major spooks, some bad memories and so on.  We rent it for our Sport  Horse Club when we run shows, events and some shows, but I run them and rarely ride so it's 'different' in that regard...  Even though I have overcome so many of the fears I've blogged about in the past since acquiring Sierra (thanks girl), this facility often brings them all back to the foreground.  I was shaking as I tacked up and felt like I was going to puke for the first time in nearly a year, but I pushed through because I know if I didn't, it would be even worse on Friday when I tried to ride there the night before a show.  I attribute a lot of Sierra's angst during our ride to my own nerves, and for that I am once again reminded how incredibly grateful I am for this horse.  I owe so much to Kidd, but he is also 50% of the source of my fear & anxiety related downfalls, and Sierra has been a large part of the life and love breathed back into my passion of riding.    Granted, she does cause me some anxiety too, lol!

My overall goal for 2019 is to do some scary sh!t and love every minute of it, and so far i'd say i'm well on my way!


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