I can’t stop looking at my horse

I’m getting better about giving with the reins instead of pulling; however, if I’m not looking at my horse’s face and giving him a trillion neck pats, I get insecure and my hands start creeping backward again. I’m especially insecure when we are going over a pole. How can I look at a tree on the horizon when the most threatening thing in the ring is underneath me? Yea, that was brutally honest. Should I edit it out? Probably. I’m going to leave it because think it’s what a lot of people are thinking and struggling to overcome.

Max schooled me on looking at obstacles during our last ride. I was zeroed in on the cone right in front of us and we ended up stopped with it directly under his nose and me leaning over his neck, with my nose pointed at it, too.

I’ve always had a focus issue; I’m either looking at a tree on the horizon or I’m looking at my horse’s face and neck. I know it’s possible to see both, but I zone in on one or the other. It’s just another checkmark on the sit tall, soft hands, heels down list that doesn’t seem to have an end.

This was all going through my head while I was riding today. That and my kid who really wanted to go to the barn with me and then suddenly couldn’t wait to go home as soon as Max and I managed one nice 10m circle at a slow trot. It was a 10m circle because I’ll take a general “somewhere that wayish” direction with Max’s head down over a specific one with it up in the air.

I’m hoping that the confidence we gained from trotting over poles today will become more confidence tomorrow, and I’ll sit up and look where we’re going.

It’s hard to be the girl that’s dealing with all of this while everyone else in the arena makes going straight at a specific pace look like the easiest thing in the world. It’s not that I want to compete against them and do better, it’s just that I wonder if there’s something basic that I’m doing wrong. You know — something other than sitting up straight, having soft hands, maintaining a correct leg position, and looking up.

I just want to shove them in my saddle and see what happens. Does Max relax and go straight or does he toss his head around, try and pull the reins out of their hands, and start tracing modern art in the arena sand? AKA – Is it just me?

Hopefully, I’ll find clarity through this whole process and eventually help Max be his best self.

We Just Need to Learn to Relax

I made it out to the stable. Max and I toodled around with a bunch of pint-sized kids while they took a group lesson. My brain doesn’t want to give me any credit for it being a chill ride. I just fed a vampire yesterday, and Aunt Flo showed up this morning, so I was about as slow as I could go. Max had some weird pink thing going on in the corner of his eye, and he was squinting a little bit, so he might have been in a slow frame of mind, too.

I made up a mantra for us and repeated it the entire ride.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Max; We just need to learn to relax. 

I kept him going in circles, over poles, and around cones. I didn’t let us get into any pulling matches. If he started charging ahead, I just told him “and walk.” I’ve been told by more than a few people that making him walk instead of trot is a reward, a way to get out of work, but this horse wants to zoom! It’s worth a shot. 

Time flew by; that’s how you know it’s a great ride. I wanted to stay on forever! I had to be fair to Max since he was chill and stayed with me so well. He looked proud of himself and more confident. He didn’t give me any of his little nervous nibbles.

He had Twizzlers for the first time today. Maybe it was just Twizzlers magic?

A good ride is a good ride. I’ll take it!

I didn’t fall off!!!

Wednesdays are lesson days. I thought we were ready for our lesson. I couldn’t ride as much during the week because I felt sick to my stomach, but the couple rides I had were pretty good. Last night, Max and I were able to trot over a pole, circle back, trot over, circle, trot over, with nary a blink.

Today, we went OVER the pole and landed with a great little canter. I am not ready to canter, no sir, please just keep at the trot. I threw my hands and legs in every wrong direction possible and started yelling, “HELP ME!” I’ve cantered Max twice, involuntarily, and both times were a disaster. To be fair, I’ve snuck in two or three strides when I felt confident and headed straight at a wall, but nothing serious. My trainer saved me. She took over the brain operating. I just did what she said, and whew, everything slowed down and was O-K.

She didn’t make us do anything else after that. We walked around and over poles forever, then she had us give her another trot. Max’s trot was extended, fast, and bouncy today. If I asked him to slow it down, he would go from full speed to barely moving. I would have taken the barely moving, but he didn’t want to stay there. I tried to just slow my post, but the pep in his step just sent my butt straight up the moon.

My brain has tried to overthink this all day, but it just felt like an off day. We just need to keep practicing, and breathing, and practicing breathing. I didn’t fall off, and that’s good enough!

What I needed to do

I should know by now that, even though add title is at the top of the screen, one always adds the title last. Just like I should know by now that “i’ll do this tomorrow” always means I’ll most certainly not do it tomorrow.

I wanted to ride today so bad that it hurt. At least, I hurt. I don’t know if it’s PMS or just a random bug, but I’ve been fighting a losing battle over the past few days to keep moving. I even tried to compromise by just heading to the barn to lunge Maximas, but getting dressed was enough to make me dizzy. I laid down in bed and woke up an hour later to my grocery pickup alarm.

I fought back by listing a bunch of my unwanted crap on the FB marketplace.

Writing was the one thing I could do from a sickly state. I found the perfect writing prompt to wrap up a day of closet emptying and classified posting. “I Don’t Want This Anymore”

I didn’t do what I wanted to do today, but I did accomplish what I needed to do.

Three weeks = Worked Down Horse!

Maximas is finally worked down. I got on him today, walked him around a few times, and braced for the zoomy trot — but I got a lesson horse trot, instead! He settled into one speed, exactly as fast as I made him go, and went where I told him to go! I was amazed. I was able to check his shoulder and make sure I was on the right diagonal. I could let him go around on a loose rein. I don’t know what caused it to click for us, but I hope it stays that way.

I saw a Reddit comment a few days ago that has been helping me a lot. They advised me to put my weight along the outside of my foot. It’s really helped me drape down and around, as well as find my balance easier. While I was playing around with that, I found a nice groove to fit my legs into, and the combination makes me feel like I’m finally balanced and snug. I can go right up into two-point. I’m still working on maintaining two-point, but that’s a given. It’s easier to practice with a horse that’s not trying to win the Kentucky Derby.

I could have worked us for hours today. What if I don’t have another good day for weeks?

I was able to look up, which I’m always getting in trouble for not doing in class. I could feel Maximas’ shoulders, and I started getting the feel for giving little half halts and leg nudging when he lost balance. I also worked on lowering my post. That one did a number on my abs. I’ll take a number on my abs over jackhammering Maximas’ back.

Tomorrow, I plan on laying out some cones and poles and trotting us around/over them. My trainer spent our last lesson trying to get us over poles. We threw ourselves at it with the gusto and anxiety of a Grand Prix jumping course. I’m looking forward to redeeming ourselves in our next lesson.

After our ride, I popped my helmet on the kid and led Maximas around as he gave her a pony ride. She’s going to start lessons this summer. I wonder where she will end up in the horse world. English or western? Trails or competitions? I wonder if Maximas will be her partner, too. If I keep riding him five days a week, probably not!

When It All Comes Together

I’ve been manically consuming anything to do with horses for the past week. I finally had the ride today that I needed. I was able to get Maximas to stick to the speed I wanted, instead of just running around and making us both look like ninnies.

I also wrote a poem from a writing prompt on one of my facebook groups.

There’s a lot of busy human energy around me. Everyone either wants to win the giant lottery jackpot or is convinced that the presidential inauguration will be the end of the world as we know it.

I took this picture as I was leaving the stable. The sky was so pretty and calm. I want to be like that sky.

Love Poem for Maximas

A happy cloud saw a sad little girl.

He grew hooves and a mane,

And lifted her

To heaven.

Getting Stuck in the Rabbit Hole

I get stuck in rabbit holes. I’ll find something that interests me so intensely that I hyper-focus on it and wake up to find that days have passed. My brain hurts. I’m dazed.

I’ve been down a horse rabbit hole for the past few days. I’ve learned a lot, but all of that information has overloaded my processor. I want to break it down and document it all, but I just need to force myself to step away for a bit.

I’m going to go back to watching mindless youtube videos, now…

Running Martingale Breakthrough

I made a massive breakthrough with my riding! I am so excited. In my last couple of entries, I’ve expressed how frustrated I have been with my lack of security. It’s caused me to be heavy on the reins. I freak out whenever trying to trot. Today brought me a giant step closer to overcoming that block. I can’t say that I’ve entirely broken past it, but I think I’m pretty darn close.

All I had to do was make better use of a piece of tack that I’ve already been using. In my opinion, everyone who rides English can benefit from this piece of equipment.

Maximas in his Running Martingale – You can use my affiliate link to buy one just like his on Amazon!

I originally started using this running martingale at the advice of my first trainer. Maximas’ teeth grow very fast, making him a rodeo horse unless the dentist floats them every eight months. I had to “randomly” deal with a rodeo horse before I knew that about him. His mouth pain would trigger him to jam his head up into the air, twist it sideways, and off we would go. (and off I would go) My trainer advised me to use a running martingale to prevent him from doing that to me. It works by threading each rein through a metal loop that affixes to an extended piece from a breastplate.

Running martingales help give the rider extra control by discouraging the horse from raising its head beyond the point that the bit works correctly in the horse’s mouth. It works by stabilizing the reins and applying downward pressure on the mouth via the bit and reins when the horse raises its head too high.”

Horse and Hound
The Amazing Running Martingale

While I was riding today, I remembered one other essential function that my trainer had pointed out – the breastplate “seat belt.” I held onto the breastplate that loops over the horse’s neck, and I suddenly felt at complete ease. I had an anchor for my hand that kept it from flailing all over the place. I instantly felt the difference in Maximas. He evened out into a rhythm and relaxed (a little bit). I wasn’t able to send him crazy signals to his hypersensitive mouth just because I have spastic, noisy arms while I come back into riding. I’m hoping that a few rides with that anchor will help me to imprint that consistent hand position into my muscle memory. During this first ride, I kept one hand anchored to the breastplate. If I needed to pull on that rein, I would switch my other hand to the breastplate.

When I first started riding, I held onto the front of the saddle when I felt unsafe. As I learned better riding position, I felt more insecure when I moved my hand that far back and down. When I use the breastplate as a handhold, I anchor my hands at Maximas’ neck base. There’s enough give in the breastplate that my hand can raise a few inches in the air. I could maintain a safe balance in the saddle between my feet in the stirrups and my hand(s) on the breastplate if we have another rodeo moment.

My trainer was in the ring with another student (it was a beautiful day out, just before a winter storm comes into town, so the arena was full of everyone riding their horse). She turned and boggled at me a few times while Maximas and I happily trotted around. I’m not saying we were the picture of perfection, but at least we were going all the way around the ring, I was letting Max have his head, and I was able to take on the role of soothing “good boy!” rider instead of freaking out and yanking on the reins the entire time.

I signed up as an Amazon Affiliate for this post. I wanted to link to the exact running martingale I use. I know from experience that it’s stressful to figure out which product out of an internet full of brands will work. I’ll probably link more products in the future for that reason, so I figured I would go ahead and set up with Amazon. I buy everything from Amazon because of their fast shipping and how easy it is to make returns. I had one fantastic experience when Maximas tore up a brand new $200 blanket on the first day. They took it back and gave me a full refund, even after throwing it in the closet and forgotting about it for a few months.

It was all crap, but I did it!

Yesterday stood out as one of those days where disaster tinged everything I tried to do.

Wednesdays are horseback riding lesson days. I usually have a 40°F cutoff for riding. Anything below that and my horse skitters around with winter glee while my fingers freeze off. I broke that rule because this is my magical No Zero year. The result was pretty crappy. The McDonalds I grabbed on the way home from dropping off the kids was determined to consume my mind with the urgent need to go to the bathroom. It could have also been that I was just a scaredy-cat. Maximas was a complete sweetheart, winter skittering aside, but I couldn’t relax. My teacher kept assuring me that my horse was going slow enough to drive his fuzzy mind crazy, but the thought of him going into a working trot just terrified me.

My last fall would blare at full blast on a replay loop in my head. I would fall forward, so Max hurried up to catch me, which prompted my legs to flail out. Max would decide, “welp, crazy lady up here is having a meltdown, so I’ll just figure out where to go on my own.” The voice in my head would say, “SEE!? He’s going off in a random direction! Stop him before you end up galloping across the arena and end up on the dirt!!!” All of this in the space of 5-10 strides. My arms bodily yanked the reins to make us stop. I could hear the inner groan in my teacher’s head.

I’m also working against four years off from riding. My muscle tone and balance have evaporated. I have moments where I start to feel the rhythm that Maximas and I used to take for granted, but it is impossible to maintain. I’ll fall forward, over post, or keel over sideways. It’s hard to accept my best effort when I know I have done so much better in the past. I know my horse is doing what my body is telling him to, and it sucks, and I’m getting tired of forgiving myself every second for repeating my mistakes.

The only thing that will fix it is more practice. I have to keep messing up until I get it right. My horse forgives me. I should forgive myself, too. Hopefully, today will be a little better.