Monday, January 24, 2011

Fresh Tracks

This weekend was one of some serious revival/renewal.  Saturday I finally dragged myself to a doctor and got 3 ribs, two vertebrae and one hip snapped back into place.  I didn't really know that they were "out" of place, but never in my seriously physically therapized life have I walked away form an appointment with such an immediate sense of pain relief and "fixed-ness."
The ribs were knocked out from my fall, but the vertebrae and hip were long standing issues that I've sorta gotten used to and never knew that they could/would go away with such minimal correction.  Needless to say, I'm now obsessed with this doc and already booked a return trip for Thursday.  I informed Pia that my bodywork bills will be taken straight from her budget. (even mares have to make sacrifices..).  She was either ignoring me, or didn't like her bodywork anyway... who know.

Due to my extensive bodywork and other appointments, the mare got Saturday off, which teed us up for a potentially interesting day at the barn on Sunday when Supermom returned (but this time to watch me ride the mare).

So as entertaining as hearing about the various pops and shocks that resulted in my happy back is, I'll skip straight to Sunday and recap our day-o-Supermom.

In fact, I'll skip right to the summary.

Mare was great.  And I feel awesome.


I was a bit apprehensive about riding the beast after a light lunging on Friday (sore back was gone, I think she just strained something little during our mega ride on Thursday..) and Saturday off.  I was not encouraged by the vigor that P was displaying in the cross ties.  She wasn't bitchy, or even snotty, but she was vert... umm... alert.  She was puffed up to her full height and extra interested in absolutely everything that was happening.  Horses moving, dogs sniffing, cars coming and going.. P was intrigued and intently interested in the bright shiny world.

Not a great sign for me, who usually prefers her ears out sideways and eyeballs half closed, but oh well.  Supermom and I set up my saddle for my fancy new airbag-vest and hit the ring which was freshly dragged. The physical blank slate for our session felt like a really nice way to step back into the arena with her...

We started on the lunge and P was (as always) good.  One thing that continues to impress me in our relationship is how obedient this horse is on the ground.  Her respect for space and body language on the ground is near perfect.  Her manners on the lunge are great.  She whoas  and goes on verbals, never pulls the lunge line and even increases and decreases her stride within a gait on command.  It's admirable, but something that makes our struggles under saddle even more frustrating.  (because my typical strategy of "return to the groundwork" doesn't apply.  We're already functional at that level...).

Supermom did have me raise my expectations a bit for her lungework.  We affixed the lunge line in a way that helped to encourage a bit more bend and flection on the circle. It worked great and have the additional side effect of also increasing her attention on me.  Supermom had me admonish Pia for even the slightest head waggle (I hadn't been as strict on this) which resulted in an even more focused mare (yay).

About halfway through our lunging, another horse joined us in the ring, but P didn't even bat an eye (yessss).  After working both sides for about 12 minutes total, we unhooked, tightened our girth and hopped on. 

I clipped in my vest, made a mental note to un-tether before dismounting (I swear I'm going to deploy this vest by accident...) and got to work.  P was calm (no ace!!!) and didn't seem too bottled up, so we moved straight to the trot and although she wasn't extra forward, she was trotting and made no overtures to actually stop and fight.

Two tight circles and one lap around the ring later and we were forward and swinging.  Supermom decided that she would basically give me a lesson from the ground on how she would be riding P (for which I'm thankful), so the first order of business was a few basic adjustments for me and my approach.
  1. Hands wide and LOW. Like really low.  Like training-wheels, baby, low.
  2. Slightly more forward seat.  
  3. Relax my shoulders (oops)
  4. All hand movements go wide (open rein) and straight back (to my thigh), none of my crappy-crutch of crossing over or lifting.  Bad, bad. 
We cut the ring off (avoiding the gate) and got straight to busy with the goal of getting P to work forward and eventually (god willing) release her back.  This started with big forward trot around the ring... with figure eights and smaller circles thrown in.  Supermom told me to start unsticking her ribs with lots of bending and over-bending and a bit of shoulder in.  She had me really using my corners and constantly asking for P to drop into an even longer and even lower frame.  It only took about 5 minutes to get Pia really working forward and keeping her nose at or slightly in front of the vertical in a much less compressed frame than she has typically been working in.

(side note: although I was previously doing lots of stretchy circles, my fear/trepidation kept my reins short and Pia's neck fairly checked so as to avoid any serious antics... in retrospect I think my "defense" was working against us..)

We popped into the canter early, working a lengthened stride down the long side and a more balanced stride through the corners.  P felt great.hunchy back or stressed neck.  I almost fainted from exhaustion after a full 8 minutes of canter work (can you say GYM). but I was thrilled that P was moving and even when she broke a few times, she popped right back into the canter when I asked (yeehaw!).  It wasn't perfect, we did have two small discussions that warranted small circles (again regarding the open side of the circle), but ultimately I felt safe in my corrections and we were able to move forward immediately without escalating the "fight."

After our canter work, the mare got a long walk break (longer than usual) but she returned to the trot right away.  More bending, more forward and an introduction to spiraling our circles in and out.  We worked from 20 meters down to about 10, staying in a very forward trot the entire time and maintaining a fairly low frame.  I gotta say, that for working her butt off  P's ears were soft, her neck was relaxed and she was starting to let her back/ribs go and start swinging.

By the end of the hour, we had a consistent, happy, forward trot, and P was maintaining her own lengthened frame without much encouragement and Supermom only had to "remind" me about my hands/shoulders every 2 minutes instead of every 30 seconds.

All in all a big improvement.  Yes she was falling on her forehand at the end, and yes we were both sweaty messes, but both seemed the result of actually working and moving for an hour, not from being locked in battle mode.

After the ride, P got lots of cookies and currying.  I realized that I cannot WAIT for spring to get here so I can pressure wash the sludge of winter off the mare.  There is a layer of grime that seems to be permanent and even with weekly laundry, P is rendering her blankets muddy, smelly and gross.

Once P was put away, Supermom and I were off to the tack shop to spend waaaay too much money.  Pia is lucky that she was good, since my renewed affections for her resulted in some serious splurging.  New Stirrups for me, new boots (brushing and bell) for her and some liniment which realistically is something we could both use...

Not a bad day.  Not a bad day at all.

Today I'm attempting to replicate our ride (though maybe slightly less intense) before I'm launched out of town for a few days due to "work."

I've been doing some hard thinking about our training schedule and currently I'm thinking that I'm going to back way off our lessons schedule and let P's attitude dictate how quickly we progress.  I think we just need to return to basics and reestablish that we can work forward without stressing out and let the mare muscle up and grow her topline before we push much beyond a training level frame.

Supermom made the observation that it's possible that between Pia's "personality" (that probably deserves air quotes..), her late development, and her previous experience with pain/trauma (as a baby), that she may just not ever be accepting to anything that's painful for difficult.  Add in the dulled sensory issues from the Wobbler's and we've got a mare that might need special ed for the rest of her life.

I think I can handle that, just as long as we can keep having some rides like the one we had on Sunday every week.

I'm optimistic that Pia was trying to tell me that she wasn't ready or capable of partnering with me on what I was asking of her, but that she is ready and capable of some baby work.

At least I hope that's what she's saying. :)


  1. Hey, do whatever work makes you feel awesome after a ride:) Congratulations!

  2. You're making me think I need to go have some bodywork done myself! I am sure there are all kinds of things need popping back into place in my back.

    That sounds like a great ride -- best one I've heard you write about in a while -- and I think your last few paragraphs make total sense. I like that she ended the ride forward and happy. For what it's worth, I've noticed that tension in my arms or wrists, or crossing over my hand, has a major impact on my horse too, more so than anything else I might do with my position. So glad to read about the progress!

  3. Chriros are the best people in the world.

  4. After my fall last February I was in such intense pain. I decided to go the next day to the Chiro, and it made a 99% improvement. I went from being unable to walk to almost pain free.

    So glad you had a good ride. I wonder if our girls are on the same cycle?

    It makes sense as to why Pia doesn't respond to pain/work so well due to her knees. Poor baby princess.

  5. You know that makes a lot of sense. I didn't even think about it before I guess because I had no idea what you guys were working on or what level you were working. If she's perfect during ground work then the next stage is riding basics. I think going back to the basics is a great idea. I'm glad you had such a great ride!

  6. I think that sounds like a wonderful idea. Always best to go by whoever or whatever you're teaching in order to teach. Congrats on a good ride!


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