Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Moving Forward

Since I got a dose of reality and learned so much about life as a whole, I decided there was no other decision to be made but to move forward. Moving forward meant that I had to pull myself together and realize that there would be many ups and just as many downs. Training a horse isn't easy, but it needs to be fun. Looking at the big picture vs. the small picture is how this blog got started. I wanted to be able to record progress, look back, and smile.

After the clinic, I decided to get back into a routine. I had to ride with goals and intentions of working on a particular problem before I could move on to the next task. With meeting new goals, I had to try new things so we didn't both get bored. I started to work in new areas around the farm, and to try our some jumping on our own. Spyder is so willing to please, you can point him at an obstacle, and he doesn't flinch. He trusts that the rider on his back is pointing him towards something worth a try, and he tries harder than I could have ever imagined. July, after the clinic, August, and most of September was dedicated to progressing and pushing forward. Realizing that going back was OK, and accepting that helped us so much.

Crossing a bridge

Dom came out again at the end of September, and we began working on bending into corners while pushing into the bit. I knew I'd have some homework after feeling my legs burn. In October, I worked with my trainer in the field by the barn and the dressage ring some to work on getting into the bit and bending some more. We really needed some help with steering, and the bending and pushing seemed to be helping quite a bit. I felt like we were getting somewhere, and most definitely when I got to see the pictures Dom took in September. It was more than just teaching my horse how to go and bend and push into the bit. It was me sitting up straight, posting up, and helping out his balance and movement.I had no idea that my position made all the difference!

My slump

The lift

Saturday, January 26, 2013


I felt really guilty for getting to the point where I did with Spyder with his behavior and slump on learning. I wasn't sure what I did wrong, but I did blame myself for pushing him too hard. I do think he was tired of me asking for too many new things, so we had to go back a few steps before we could go forward.

My call with Dom that I spoke about in the last post was an emotional explosion of my thoughts. I wasn't convinced that I would be able to progress his training (and listening to others wasn't helping). I didn't feel we could move forward and get back to a show or a lesson where I didn't have to explain myself. With gaited horses, they were taught to do a certain thing, and I couldn't get past that fact that I would teach him how to trot and canter vs the pace, then get somewhere and look like I didn't teach him a thing. I thought long and hard, and was this what I signed up for? I didn't want to admit defeat, but I had many conversations with Chris about my confusion in terms of my horse.

Did I screw up? Was he what I wanted? Would I ever be able to get back to where he was? Should I give him back? What if he's not happy being ridden? I was all over the place with my thoughts. Chris was a big part in convincing me to step back and look at the big picture. Was I having fun? He was sick of listening to how much I loved my horse one day and how I had the worst ride the next. That was such a loaded question, and I honestly wasn't sure if I was having fun. Chris came to the show where all of the pacing started, and he could see my frustration which wasn't helping Spyder calm down. He suggested that I take a break and I get help. I didn't need to finish the show and get both of us worked up more than we already were. I needed to decide for myself (and not listening to other people) if this is what I wanted. Chris was very right, and I'm glad he showed up at the fairgrounds to see the start of all of my confusion.

The conversation before Dom came out went just as that...  Was he going in the direction of what I was looking to do? I felt like such a failure and felt so guilty for having the "I can give him back" attitude. Dom's assessment was so helpful, and she let me know that he was perfectly capable and willing to do as he was asked. She asked me all kinds of questions... Do you want to show? Do you need to show right now? Are you looking to jump him? Are you having fun? Are you willing to bring a more consistent routine? All of these questions led me to believe it was possible, I just had to assess the situation. I think that what I was doing with him and what I wanted to be doing with him were two very different circumstances.

Was I having fun? Not always, but when I did, it was reassuring to feel as happy as I did. Those great rides where we both understood what each other were the moments that made me realize I should have never thought so negatively. Loosening up on his rein and just letting him find the trot and his balance helped so much. It turned into trotting around the farm, and not fighting each other around the farm. Once we could trot without fighting each other, we could work on going round again. Chris and Dom were both such a help in my decision to do what made myself and my horse happy. Taking each moment one step at a time, working on patience, and pushing through the hard times were a few of the lessons learned.

To date, I can't think of another situation that has taught me so much in terms of listening to myself, taking advice, not doing as others say you should, thinking for myself, gathering patience, looking at the big picture, and figuring it out. No, I didn't do it on my own, but I felt like the people around me cared enough to give me the resources to make that decision for myself. Not by telling me what they thought, but by getting the questions to me for my decision - and not for anyone else. I would say the guilt was worth the lessons learned and the journey I've been able to overcome with my horse.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Trouble

And so I left off with our trouble... Why was my horse pacing and not trotting like he did all along? I decided that I needed to network with people who could offer advice, and so I found online forums, groups, suggestions of people to chat with on Facebook, and more. The support I got for my networking idea was overwhelming and quite amazing. The only thing that I could think of that would have changed things would have been his farrier visit or maybe his new weight since he matured and grew out of his racehorse look. Maybe he was sore, but he certainly didn't seem it.

Where do I start? A few SPHO (Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization) people let me know that their guess is that he was sore. From what?  Four year old horses don't run around and play or do stupid things in the field... it can't be! I talked with a lot of people about the fit of the saddle, chiropractic work from being out of line, sore muscles from being worked in places that haven't been worked before, and so on. None of those seemed to be what the problem was, but what did I know.

I would lunge him in the round pen to see if he would be as pacey without a rider, and he wasn't. What the heck was going on? I did get a few other suggestions for exercises to do and steps to take to teach him not to pace. The first was poles... trot poles... MAKE him trot. Well gee, if he's already not comfortable trotting, maybe I should make him? The second suggestion was to simply stop him when he does it - stop him and ask for the trot again. I tried this and some days we would get the pace, others the trot would work. One other suggestion was shoes, and I considered it... then I considered the fact that I was crazy for even thinking that was a valid suggestion. Put shoes on a horse that doesn't need them, spend more money when you don't have to, make him more uncomfortable by weighing down his front end, and again, MAKE him trot. I had this same suggestion for the canter.

WELL, I didn't want to make or force my horse into doing anything. I wanted him to learn how to do it. The way I'd be riding him to teach him would be nice - not over poles and not with shoes. I needed to learn how to ask him, how to teach him, how to make him understand, and to slow down with everything I expected of him. I was asking for too much too fast, and I really think that I just ended up confusing him, making him anxious, and getting us both frustrated with each other. Time out!

My time out consisted of calling Dom. Calling Dom meant crisis - nothing else worked, nothing seemed to be progressing, and nothing was more shameful than not being able to figure it out. Dom was beyond helpful in listening to me vent and offering suggestions. She let me know that her schedule was open to come down to the barn to help in the event I wanted to go that route. I was upset and let her know that I really wasn't sure if it would work. It was too much effort and not enough results - I was seeing the little picture. The BIG picture was getting a 4 year old horse to a farm and in less than a year, steering, moving off of leg, starting to canter, doing ground poles, taking him to shows, and going round. REALLY? What should he be doing at this point? He couldn't have been trying harder than he did, and he was just trying to tell me something.

So Dom came out, she checked out the barn before I got there after work and was super happy to have found him happy and healthy in the field. I took him out, and right away she noticed how pushy he was. Yes, I'd had some issues with him being pushy, not respecting myself, and letting him walk all over me. I didn't think of it until Dom pointed it out, but I always dismissed it as him being the alpha horse in the field and being so young. Being young had nothing to do with it because I needed to be teaching him that his behavior was unacceptable... one of the many reasons I appreciate Dom's honesty and criticism.

She got on him to see what the issue may be in mid June since lessons with my trainer slowed down due to her busy summer camp schedule. Issue solved, it was no issue at all. I watched Dom ride him out in the big field where I had ridden him in the dressage ring (yes, it's a ring in a huge jumping ring... I'm spoiled there). Why was it SO easy for her and SO hard for me? I never rode him out to the ring along the track, and she rode him out there and in the open. He did throw his attitude fits, but I watched how she pushed right through them and kept him moving. So I asked her what I was doing wrong... well, nothing too drastic. Since she rode him for the first few times under saddle before I adopted him, she knew his level of training and could see that I had put forth the effort. I was not being firm enough with my discipline and didn't engage his hind end as much as I could be to pick up the pieces and work on balance. So was this a simple balance issue all along?

I worked on being more firm, letting Spyder find his balance, and things started to come together. They were coming together so well so I decided to take him to a despooking clinic with Frank Sweet in July. It was ironic that I was back at SRF with my horse for that clinic because it was one year to the day that I had him. Oh what fun it is in an English saddle getting yelled at by a cowboy, "Go forward, get your horse forward!" ... with no spurs, no cowgirl skills, and no real power behind my leg. Let's just say we trampled a plastic scary bunny, jumped over some fake crows, ran through pool noodles, freaked on a tarp, danced through hanging ropes, looked at our reflection in balloons, and walked over a bridge. It was super fun, and I was so happy that Margaret and Katie were able to join me on their horses (even if we did break down and have to call for rescue on the way home with the trailer). I was happy to know that Spyder being so young wasn't the reason he was scared as so many older horses at the clinic were, and it was great to learn the skills to help me through our fears. I just wasn't assuring him that I was really asking him to do something, but once I did, we got through the obstacles fairly well and had a great day.

This was when things started looking up again...

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Journey Begins

 So where did I leave off? Oh yeah, Spyder comes to Split Elm...
First day at the farm
His new stall - Day 1
I have notes on some of my very first lessons, and we've come a long way, but I'll start from when he knew just about nothing. It was hard finding a place to start being that I never started a horse rather than a young one. I mean it is what I wanted, but was I ready for this? I was excited and nervous at the same time. Umm, why did I pick this horse? What do you teach a horse that only knows, "OK, there's a rider my my back. Cool, now what?"
Paddock to himself - he's changed so much!
I'd say I taught him something looking back, but mainly because I had direction from my lessons and instructors. I am very glad that I have people that can help guide me in this process of, "What do I do now?" So back to my notes. I believe he came to the farm on my Mom's birthday, July 15 so he had just turned 4. He went out in a ring by himself for at least a week to get used to the new place and figure it all out. I rode him a few times in the round pen as a caution of what could have happened being that he was young and may have been scared? What did I know? I got on him and he didn't care! I took him out in the field to graze for a bit on a lead to bond and what does he spook at? A LOG! A LOG that doesn't move! Oh boy, what did I get into?

Back to lessons - I didn't even get there yet because of my rambling... they start with "steering and going". Wow, embarrassing and beyond what I could teach a horse myself? I have those same comments for 1 lesson each week for 5 weeks. 5 weeks of steering and going, here we go. We did most of this in the pen where he was turned out by himself since he was used to the area on the farm, and then moved to the grass area that has some cross country jumps for looks that was next to this ring. Come September, we worked on moving off of leg to add in a new test. At the end of September, we were able to start to work on developing a canter to see how that would go - not TOO bad. My horse liked to throw in some small bucks in the beginning, but nothing that could get me off. It's weird, but I think they are fun to push through.

His first show - AC 4-H
Come October, we moved to a new area on the track, conquering one area of the farm at a time. We would alternate between his paddock where he was turned out originally, the side field, and the track which made learning more interesting with all kinds of new scenery. This month we got to work on more cantering, and now pacing his trot since he was starting to get the hang of what he was being asked to do. In the middle of the month, we went to an open show at the Atlantic County 4-H fairgrounds which was something new. I wasn't sure how it would go, but we did the "older and bolder" division so we could stick to walk/trot. He was PERFECT! In the ring he threw one fit because another horse cut him off, but I was just happy to have made it out alive, and as Grand Champion might I add. Ok, I know, I know, it's 4-H, but I'm still happy that we did well. It was fun competing with "normal" horses on a pacer because people wouldn't have known the difference if his big head didn't give it away! We even did the cross rail class which was just 2 jumps because we were having so much fun. I never jumped him, but he tried his best (and threw in some exciting pace steps between the two jumps)! We summed up this month with cantering a bit more. What a beginning!

November was a bit colder and somewhat muddy so we would go over to the indoor one night a week for practice in the trailer (yeah, like standardbreds need practice with that) and for something different. This month, December, and January were spent mainly in the indoor where we got to work on a little bit of jumping, ground poles, more cantering, pacing the trot, and transitions. It was fun knowing that a horse with a standardbred trot could collect and slow it down a bit. Man, they have HUGE gaits! We did get outside a few times this winter - on the track was one of those days where we got to practice with puddles. Water is such a scary thing to trot through, but we got through it.

In February, we got to work in the dressage ring in the big field since we worked on our circles and speeds to practice a test. Flat work was never my thing, but I was so proud to see that I was becoming a better rider from it, and I did all of this along with my horse that became a better ride. February began moving off of leg which has helped our flat work and bending out quite a bit! I never thought I would do so many quarter lines, but they went from omg, my leg is killing me because you won't move over to just closing my leg and having him move out... such a great feeling! Spyder hurt himself in the field like any playful 4 year old would (knee injury/cut and was swollen) so we had a week off which I'm sure he loved! He managed to do this while I was 6 hours away one weekend skiing in Vermont - thank goodness for farm owners that live on property!

Late February, March, and April brought more scenery between the indoor, dressage ring, track, round pen, and field. Circling objects became a huge accomplishment being that our steering wasn't all that great, but I knew it was getting there. Going round became a new feat which was fun, but also added confusion to the mix being that I was not always focused which confused my poor horse. I had to think about too many things - move forward, keep trotting, go this way, now go round, now keep going this way, ok, now turn, ugh, no, go round again... whoo, this was work! I'm so happy that I have a horse that puts up with me and is so patient, kind, and forgiving... if only I could obtain those qualities.

April - the first of us going round!

At the end of April, I had a hard time with Spyder after attending an open 4-H show. We signed up for the older and bolder classes again, but he was not very happy to be there. Maybe it was my nerves because he was so fresh, but it was not fun. Spyder never really does anything THAT bad. He might grunt or kick out because he's frustrated, but this was I hate you, I don't want to be here, I'm going to do a tiny rear thing and turn how I want to turn and do what I want to do. My nerves and frustration led to pacing which was 1) not fun 2) super fast and 3) not what you do at an open english show? I didn't make it to our jumping classes because we were both frustrated with each other, and I knew something was up.

May came and I rode on my own, without lessons to try to figure out our issues. Why did my horse trot and trot and trot and now decide to pace? What happened at the show? What did I do wrong? Did I push too hard? I needed to decide what to do, how to get help, and who to ask questions to. It was almost a year of moving forward but something had to push us back - what was it?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The History of the Beginning

So for 2013, I decided that I'm going to try to keep a better record of my accomplishments with my horse, Spyder. He's a 5 year old standardbred gelding that will be 6 come June. He has kept me very busy since July of 2011 when I adopted him, and I couldn't be more proud of the work we've both come to notice!

First, I'm going to have to go backwards to start at the time that I got him a year and a half ago. Once I get up to that point, I plan on keeping up with our story of training as best as I can.

Where do I start?

I guess I'll start with buying my first house. This is when I decided that I needed to move on from my pony that I had at my parents. I'd be living an hour away from her, and I had been for some time so she was a backyard pet and very lonely. When I started my full time job just out of college, she got very bored and would escape to visit the neighbors horses. My parents would get frustrated with the calls that she would be next door just as I was with their calls at my new job. I knew it was time to move on, but it was hard having my pony all through college. I knew I had to let go so I found her a good home which was just around the corner from my parents where she would get the attention she deserves and the other horses she wanted to be with. It was a hard choice, but it was for the best.

We all know that once you are into horses, you can't get out of them, but I really did think that was the end. I sold most of my horse items and prepared myself for what would always be in the back of my mind... riding. I ended up finding a farm in the town where I moved with a training package that allowed me to pay for 6 lessons at a time at a reasonable cost. It was fun, but I wanted something more. I was the oldest of them in group lessons, was sick of riding lesson horses and ponies, and decided I would move back to the barn where I rode in college for lessons and a lease.

Ritz and I in college
I went back to leasing which was a start. Ritz was a cute little Welsh pony that I rode in college during my lessons with the equestrian club. I want to say it was a month, maybe two, and I just couldn't stop thinking about my own horse... BUT WHY? They are more expensive, more time consuming, lessons aren't included in the price, you have to add the vet, the farrier, and all of the extra tack that you "need" when you have your own. The thoughts didn't stop there.

I looked at a few horses to say the least, nothing was what I was perfectly happy with. I would take videos of my visits to send them over to my trainer, and there were none that stood out. There were two occassions where I was almost ready to move them to the barn for trials, but something would come up or I was lied to. Thank God for the internet! Now what? I looked at a palamino haflinger cross, a draft gelding, a quarter horse cross, a paint, a thoroughbred, and I still had no success. I wasn't even being picky! That's when I thought, hmmm... I used to know about a few rescues/adoption places, I'll look there.

One of my ventures brought me to where The Standardbred Retirement Foundation has a whole lot of horses available! The adoption coordinator was very friendly and super helpful in getting me more information on several horses I had asked about. I was excited because I had a standardbred pacer growing up, and I knew how willing of a breed they were. I knew I wanted something on the younger side, preferred a gelding, and wanted to jump. This didn't really narrow my search, but I knew there were a lot of evaluated horses to check out all in one place. I took off of work a half day to get up to the farm in Hamilton, NJ to see if there were any that would be a match. This is where I met Dom, she helped me find a few horses to try by asking me a bunch of questions.

One of those horses happened to be Spyder, Grayland Spider was his racing name. He was young, big, bay, and he was just started. Dom hadn't gotten on him much in her rotation of rides, but she knew he was capable of what I was looking for and fit the criteria. I looked at a few under saddle, and a few we didn't even get to the point of tacking up, but I knew I had to get on Spyder for a test ride. He was the last one that we pulled out of the field, and I was nervous because I wasn't too excited about any of the others. It was the hottest day of the year, and he was quiet as expected, and he tried everything in his power to do what was asked of him. He barely knew much, but he knew how to impress. He didn't think twice about being asked to trot, to canter, and to hop over a small crossrail that he had never seen or even had jumped anything before. He was too cute!

 One of Spyder's first rides - w/t/c

My day at SRF went well! I left there with a huge smile on my face, and I couldn't stop thinking about Spyder. I DID forget to mention that before I left that day, I filled out a "just in case" adoption contract being that I was already an approved adopter and he was young, sound, and desireable. He was mine from the second I saw him, and I went back to get him that weekend with my trainer. The videos below are ones from the day I saw him under saddle. He went to the farm where I kept my pony a few months while I was at college - Split Elm Equestrian.

 Spyder's first jump - he tries so hard!