Barn chores

     Rob and I spent some time helping the ponies clean their houses this weekend. We had some awesome help from one of the barn parents and then Rob and I got everything looking beautiful. Today it was super toasty, and the ponies were sweating just standing in their stalls. Rob and I hung the fans. Jellybean tried to help. 

     While Robert was hanging the fans, I cleaned up some of my tack room mess and swept the barn aisle. I found our little crocheted ear bonnet and decided to torture the ponies. 

     Happy Sunday!!


Oberon and I reach an understanding (Part II)

     So Oberon and I ended our first lesson with Sarah on a really low note. I was completely frustrated with my lack of knowledge, and Oberon was probably scared and confused. I was frustrated for a few days, and repeated many times how little I liked him and even threatened to sell him if he didn’t improve. 

     Then Robert stepped in. Saturday after the lesson, Robert picked up the gauntlet I threw on the ground and impressed me. He tacked Oberon up and then put him on the lunge line. Robert got his attention and asked for transitions and focus. Oberon paid attention, and Robert didn’t push the issue on the line. He mounted and rode Oberon around the large arena, especially in the corner Oberon gave me so much trouble in. They had a really lovely ride and I started to see some potential in Oberon again.

      Rain stopped our next scheduled lesson, and the next. So last week I finally got to ride Oberon in a lesson. I prepared myself mentally to focus on the ride and got Oberon started. I lunged him to get his attention and remind him that I was going to be in charge AND take care of him. Then I rode him in the cutting pen for our lesson with Sarah. We worked on establishing a bend with our inside leg, pushing the horse into the outside rein. We applied this at the halt (turn on the forehand), walk, trot, and canter. Then we worked on the exercise at the w/t on a figure 8. 

     Oberon gave me trouble at the beginning when he thought about being spooky. I drove him forward and immediately asked him to work harder. He decided that working at a normal level was preferable to working harder after a spook. I had laser focus for this lesson, which made all the difference in the world. There were plenty of distractions outside the arena, but we managed to overcome them. 

     All in all, the moral of the story here is that Oberon needs a strong leader. He cannot relax without someone telling him what to do every second. And in order for me to be that person, I have to bring my game face. If I can’t find my game face, Oberon definitely gets a day off. 

The horses that made me Part I

     I was inspired reading another blog post this morning, so I decided to write a brief-ish history of the horses [and my riding experiences], starting at the beginning, complete with old pictures of bad riding 🙂

     I have always been interested in horses as long as I can remember. Every family friend that ever owned a horse was begged to ride, and every time we saw a horse I know I asked my parents to ride. I got really lucky in 8th grade band class. Middle schools hand out all kinds of announcements, and an equestrian team happened to be on the list! I got my parents to take me to the open house, and I met Beverly and things took off from there! 

      The first horse I ever really started to ride was Levi. This isn’t actually me on the horse, but this is a picture of Levi around the time I rode him. Levi was the safe and steady horse I learned the most basic skills on. I don’t remember a lot of specifics, but I know he taught me the basics of being assertive with his laziness!

Levi with one of the other barn girls

     Before we could start cantering, we had to trot without stirrups for ten laps around the arena! Luckily we had a comfortable quarter horse to practice on. Zip was a large quarter horse who lived life in a very relaxed mindset. He was western pleasure bred, and didn’t move out for anything. Zip conveniently had the most comfortable canter, and I spent lots of time trying to ride him (he was very popular). He was a great lesson horse, and as I became more balanced, I moved onto other horses. 

Adjusting my stirrups on Zip

     After about six months to a year riding with Beverly, I started getting more balanced and braver. I wasn’t worried about switching horses, and I didn’t fall in love quite so seriously as some of the other girls. Beverly gave me the opportunity to ride lots of her horses, before she introduced me to Red.

Lucky, a Morgan cross
I don’t actually remember this horse’s name, just his large belly :p

     During the summers, Beverly ran a summer camp and we got to help out as much as possible. I taught kids how to groom and tack up their horses, then led trail rides and supervised ring riding. I learned a lot helping out with summer camp, and over the years I was allowed to take a more active role and eventually get paid!

     After summer camp, we got ready for our first schooling hunter shows at the wonderful facility TTC. I got to ride Red at the show, and I tried to ride him as often as possible after that. Red had a comfortable canter and I gained a lot of confidence riding him. He also had a natural, easy jump that made everything more fun, even as I was unbalanced. 

Mom and me, circa 2005

Developing a good canter seat took me a long time
Learning how to jump was easier on a great horse

    I rode Red for a while, until Beverly realized she could put me on new horses and I could start riding greener horses. Most of the “greener” horses were safe at the walk/trot/canter, they just lacked refinement in everything and had not been taught to jump [Some of you might be realizing where my comfort zone came from]. The first new love of mine was PJ. PJ was a large bay standardbred cross, as our best guess.

My riding team on one of our first XC school days
Ahhh The “best” pictures

We cleaned up pretty nice.

     I rode PJ for quite awhile, and even got to take him to a show. I taught him everything he knew about jumping, and he tried hard for me. He was a great horse, especially for me at the time. Then he was sold, about two months before the next horse show. Ironically enough he became a foxhunter, which seems like a hint of things to come later on. 

     Enter Breeze. Breeze was a TB/cross, although with what I never knew. Looking at him now, I can think MAYBE quarter horse, or maybe just backyard bred TB. He was energetic, and didn’t have brakes or steering. He was extremely good natured, and didn’t try to hurt anyone.
We were still figuring each other out
I always liked this picture

     Breeze was a fun horse to ride. I really started to get more serious at this point in my riding, and I wanted to compete more and jump bigger things. About the time I was 16, I met some new people who lured me away from Beverly with big promises. I think this is the end of Part I. Beverly taught me all the basics and then some. She taught me how to be safe and how to ride green horses. I am very, very grateful to her for that knowledge.

Typical teenage rebellion: Wear jeans to a jumping clinic
I think this was my first oxer

Oberon and I face off, or when I learn how little I know

     Growing up I was always the one that bravely rode the naughty school ponies. I was good at asserting myself and making the horses do what they needed to do so more timid riders might stand a chance. I have built my entire riding career on similar offshoots. Along those same lines, I have avoided most horses that I thought were hotter or had a [few] screws loose. Enter Oberon.

The coolest, most stubborn Haflinger pony

     Now before you say, “poor Oberon, Amanda is mean”, let me preface this a little. I finally got in touch with Oberon’s previous, previous, previous owners, and learned about his upbringing. He was bred at Foxcroft Farm in Conroe, Texas. He grew up in a fairly boring way before being sent to a trainer in Dallas and returning. He never quite made it to beginner/intermediate lessons, so he became an advanced student lesson horse. At many programs, the advanced lesson horses are less needed, and Foxcroft was no exception. Consequently, Oberon spent several years hanging out in the pasture enjoying the scenery. Until, the farm went up for sale. Being one of the less used citizens, Oberon [previously known as Half of That/ Yoo Hoo] was sold near the beginning. And so his journey through several under-educated owners went on, until he was lucky enough to meet Jennifer. Jennifer poured some money into him before selling him to us.

     So Oberon joins our farm, very thin, but on the up and up. We feed him and try to ride him during the nicer days. And then we feed him. And then he eats some more. Now, I don’t know if the feed he gets is necessarily making him hot, in fact I doubt very seriously beet pulp and alfalfa pellets make a horse drastically more energetic. In any case, Oberon has gained several hundred pounds since we got him, and he is starting to feel much better. Not directly correlated, but Oberon is also extremely nervous about many things, including cows, cars, and mobile bags. I have been approaching this situation with extreme annoyance, and a general lack of patience for his nerves.

     You may remember I recently started taking dressage lessons with the awesome Sarah Denham. Well, knowing Oberon had some background in dressage, I thought it might be a great strategy to learn some of Oberon’s buttons and understand his crazy little head. Cue the worst weather. Very windy, chilly, and some kind of cold front moving into the area. It was suggested to me at a few weeks earlier, that Oberon should be worked prior to getting on to focus his energy. So I was trying to run him down a little bit [an aside here… I feel a little bit embarrassed by this, because I am generally a fan of using the lunge to work, not run]. Oberon’s next move was to ignore me and gallop along one side of the “circle” and trot the other side, while spooking at the initial scary thing, as I became more and more annoyed.

     Perfect storm right? Luckily, Sarah managed to step in and take charge, since Oberon and I were just feeding off of each other. Sarah attached the reins as side reins and then demonstrated how to really make him work on the line and focus his energy on her as she gave him confidence. Every move of his hooves should be approved by me, and if he varies from my prescribed course I need to correct him. In reality this was accomplished by lunging with the largest circle where he would pay attention (10-15m).

     At this point, I was emotionally exhausted. This horse and I are not on the same page at all and I could not fathom what else to do to reach him. I was just not used to dealing with a horse that needed such comforting (ironically in the form of ignoring). I mounted and worked at the walk/trot before I had to go (we also started late to add to the storm). This is a very kind rendition of what happened. I suppose its more accurate to say I had a psychological breakdown. Lots of stress combined with not understanding how the horse worked made me out to feel a little bit crazy and exhausted. Lucky for me, we have a fantastic barn family, and while my pride was hurt pretty bad, thats the least of it.

     The moral of this story is that the quarter horse training methodology doesn’t work on every horse, and I need to rethink how I approach Oberon and how I can help him feel safe so he will work for me. Part II is coming soon, in which I achieve some level of success.

A nap in the limited sunshine!