Sunday, June 3, 2012
I swear it feels like I JUST posted! How is the last post from nearly two months ago?
I am disappointed to admit that it doesn't feel like Ace and I have made as much progress as I would have hoped in the last two months. However, we have made progress. Baby steps.
Unfortunately, I haven't had a lesson in a month. But, I'll return to that point in a moment- first, an update on what Ace and I have been doing.
Most recently we have been perfecting transitioning from a walk-to-trot-to-canter-to-trot-to-walk while lunging under saddle. He is definitely catching on, and calmly transitioning to the canter rather than panicking into a canter which was his preferred method before. Like everything else we have worked on, perfecting this on the ground first will help to ensure that training goes smoothly once I'm riding him through all the transitions. As far as riding him goes, I've been trying to really work on our "big trot." He simply doesn't like moving that quickly with a rider so he tends to act like a surly teenager and try to get away with a slower western jog.
Now, the point of this post- accepting that sometimes life just gets in the way of what you're trying to do. In this case, while I was trying to have one lesson per week with Michelle, life happened. I tend to get frustrated when things don't go how I want them too, but in this case, I've been trying to accept simply doing the best I can.
My fiancee and I live on a limited budget. I just graduated and have a wonderful job that I enjoy- it just doesn't pay much, and he is still in school working a minimum wage job. We have always prioritized spending money on lessons because they help Ace and I so much. But, the money just wasn't there in May. In addition to Ace we have two more horses, three dogs, and a cat. One of the dogs has been having medical problems so we had a lot of extra expenses we weren't anticipating. In addition to that, we're buying a house and supposed to close this month. That means we need money for pasture fencing, closing costs, home repairs...we have no "extra" money. Which means, no lessons. It's frustrating because I know that Ace and I would be further along if we had been able to have lessons with Michelle in May, and I know by not having lessons in June we are going to get even more behind. It's frustrating because I just want the money to be there somehow. It's frustrating because there is nothing I can do about it. For right now, this is how it is. I just need to deal with it.
I am constantly having to remind myself that Ace and I don't have a timeline. It doesn't matter when we start to canter, as long as we do! What matters is that we don't go backwards. What matters is that I don't get discouraged and I just keep doing what I can on my own. What matters is that I'm doing the best I can.
(That being said, I really hope the best I can involves more money sometime in the near future because I really miss spending Sunday mornings with Michelle and Ace!)
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Can we talk about just how NOT crazy this horse looks for a minute, please?
Ace and I didn't have a lesson today on account of it being Easter Sunday, but I did take advantage of the sunny weather and work with him this afternoon. He was so wonderful. He is on a roll lately. We have nothing but great days.
My parents were in town so my Dad was kind enough to sit out by the round-pen and take some video for me so that I could share it with you.
But, back to talking about Ace...look at Ace! We certainly aren't perfect yet by any standards. But, for Ace, this is a lot of progress. This is a lot of hours spent re-training the basics. This is a lot of frustration, and joy, and dirt, and dust (God, so much dust- this drought needs to end), and steps forward- and steps backward, and goofy days, and great days. This is what work looks like.
Ace is floating here. For this split second captured in a frozen image on a computer screen- Ace is floating, and I am floating with him.
Progress is beautiful, people. Progress is beautiful.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I choose the quote above to begin this post because it's exactly where Ace and I are in this moment. My dreams for him are coming true. But, we are a far cry from perfect, and we are working our asses off to get there.
When Ace used to move with a rider, he went forward like a small child jumping between the furniture in an attempt not to touch the lava that is the floor. He was never sure of anything. He couldn't figure out how to put his feet down, or where the ground was, or how his body worked. When I touched my legs to his sides his head would shoot up and his back would arch. If I moved the bit too much, he began to panic. To ride him in the round pen was a disaster. He didn't know how to bend his body in a circle with a saddle, let alone a rider.
As a result, I became a rider without contact. I kept my legs off of him, rode with a loose rein, and we stuck to straight lines. He could move forward while I sat on him.
I knew this was all wrong, but didn't know how to fix it. How to fix it has taken Michelle teaching me how to teach Ace to start over.
This week, I got a taste of what a confident Ace feels like to ride. There was no more sporadic foot placements from his insecurity. He is not only sure of where the ground is, but he is sure of his ability to cover it. He now reaches for contact with the bit. He relaxes when I move it. We both have a new grasp on how to use the bit to create a line of communication between us.
On Sunday, Michelle took us off of the lunge line. We trotted. But, not in a goofy green horse trot. A real trot. A confident trot. A trot that felt like Ace was saying, "Look at me now. I am HERE." More than that, we trotted in circles. Ace and I both began discovering that he can bend in the middle. Even with a saddle. Even with a rider. Even while moving forward. His body bends!
More than everything he's learning though, is the change that's in his head. He is thinking. He is willing. He wants to learn. He is happy. He is an absolute joy to work with.
In the next few weeks, we are going to try a canter.
This has me thinking about our goals. It is high time I made a list of them. So, here we are:
- Canter on Ace
-Walk, Trot, Canter outside of the roundpen
- Have a lesson at a schooling show
- Go on a trail ride
- Participate in a fun, simple, dressage show
- Do a competitive trail ride
- Do a limited distance endurance ride
- Do a 50 mile endurance race
I'm not setting a time line, because I don't want to rush things. I don't care how long it takes to get to anything. Time doesn't matter as long as Ace and I don't stop working. As long as we never give up.
Dreams do come true. But, they certainly do not ever come free.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Besides working with Ace, my life consists of a full-time job, taking care of the horses (my barn currently has three of my own and three boarders), planning a wedding, taking care of the house, and any number of other things I have going on at any one time.
I am busy. I don't have an active social life because there is no time, and if the boy and I didn't live together I would never see him.
I have to remind myself of this quote often. Sometimes several times a week. Sometimes several times a day.
I get home, I'm tired, I have a thousand other things to do. It's so easy to say, "It's too hot." or "Ace seems off today." or "I have to get this laundy done/bathroom clean/dishes put away."
But I repeat that quote, over and over and over, and I change my clothes and go outside and work with Ace. I take 90 minutes out of my day to groom him and lunge him and ride him.
And you know what? There has never been a day when I regretted it. When I came back in and said, "Damn! I really wish I had done these dishes earlier rather than working with Ace."
Because my work shows. When he gets worked four days a week, our progress is phenomenal. It's mind-blowing. I'm not working with the same horse I had a year ago. I'm working with a smart, wonderful, loyal gelding who wants nothing more than to do right by me. Ace enjoys working. He sees me coming and nickers to me and shoves his face into the halter.
I realized yesterday that this was important to share, because I'm sure everyone has those days when it's easy to be "too busy." Yesterday was one of those days for me. I literally repeated, "If not, you will find an excuse." outloud to myself as I dragged myself to the barn.
But, within an hour, I was riding Ace. And not just riding- we were trotting around the round pen practicing half-halts. All on our own. Without Michelle, without a lunge line "just in case." Just the two of us working. And he was PERFECT. So perfect. And I realized in that moment, that his perfection was SO worth me working with him even though I didn't really want to.
Life shouldn't be about making excuses. Life should be about making decisions.
I am making the decision that I am going to turn Ace into the incredible horse I know he can be. And sometimes that decision means not making excuses.
Monday, March 12, 2012
I like to think that I am coming along just as wonderfully. I'm learning more and more about how to ask him to move from the ground so that I can understand how to ask from his back. But, most importantly, I'm learning that "Old Ace" responded with fear because of pain while "New Ace" is sometimes just cranky or sore from all this work he is doing now. I over-think it because of his history. Really, he's just a horse. And I need to remember that. This was of course pointed out to me by Michelle who doesn't let me get away with any more silliness than she allows Ace.
It's nice to gain outside perspective. And it leads to fabulous lessons!
Ace used his brain, I used my brain, and then I rode him at a walk and trot further from Michelle on the rope than we have done before. Next week we're going to go even further from her- and maybe (maybe!) even come off of the rope and go solo.
To say I'm very excited is an understatement.
In related news, it felt SO GOOD to be on MY OWN horse again!
My first trainer said to me once, when my ten-year old self was amazed as she swung up onto a little mustang in training bareback on her 50th birthday, "Your body never forgets. It's like riding a bike. Once you know how to ride a horse- it all comes rushing back as soon as you settle into the saddle."
She was very, very right.
Monday, March 5, 2012
"The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving." - Oliver Wendell Holmes
Ace and I are headed in the right direction, we're just moving slowly.
Slowly because I'm learning and Ace is re-learning, but it's ok that it's slow because as a horsewoman I am on this incredible journey and there is no horse I would rather be on it with than Ace.
He and I had an incredible lesson yesterday. He never reached his breaking point and had a melt down (what I call his sudden flashbacks of fear or frsutration). He was being forced to think, which I know frustrates him sometimes, but he trusted us that it was ok that he didn't quite "get it" yet. He is finally understanding that it's ok if he doesn't ever "get-it" the first time- he will get it eventually. And when he does, he is so proud of himself! Once something "clicks" there is praise and carrots and he chews and perks his ears and knows that he is awesome.
I rode him at a walk and a trot like it was no big deal, teaching him about half-halts and giving to the bit rather than fighting against it. We had a few totally-wrongs, a lot of almosts, and a handful of perfects. We made progress everything was a postitive experience.
Days like yesterday keep me going. But, what also keeps me motivated are little things I find online about him. Like this tidbit, from one endurance rider to another on a message board, warning not to buy him sometime before I got him:
"Because he's nutso. He is bay with 4 whites like that one, and he's been passed from home to home, injuring people as he goes."
Ace has quite the reputation on the small Southeast US endurance racing scene and it is what drives me. It's why I started this blog, it's why I decided to keep him rather than sell him, it's why my fiance and I scrounge up enough money for lessons every week with Michelle, and it's why I keep trying with him- on the good days and the bad.
Because Ace is not naturally, "nutso." People made him that way. And I am determined to undo what so many others have created.
I have no idea what direction Ace and I are headed in. I don't know where our slow road is going. But, it would bring me immense joy if it happened to take us to an endurance race in Georgia someday competing against people who claim Ace is "nutso."
Monday, January 9, 2012
She is a genius and she has taken both of us, "back to basics."
We began our lessons by re-teaching Ace how to lunge and re-teaching me how to lunge him.
Contact was a concept I was familiar with but wasn't utilizing in all the ways that I should. I lunged Ace on a line, but I wasn't really using the line to communicate with him.
First, we had to teach Ace confidence. I literally began this re-training process (of myself as much as Ace) by teaching him how to walk forward on his own. This lead to walking around me on a line. Next we added trotting, and cantering.
Now I can send him away from me and using my voice ask for a walk, trot, canter and he responds. This is accomplishing multiple things. For one, it teaches him to respond to me and it teaches me how to read him. But, it is also building his muscles and teaching him balance and collection. When we began in September he couldn't hold a balanced canter for more than a few strides. Now he can hold it for 15 minutes.
Eventually, we added a saddle and bridle to this process. He had to learn all over again how to carry himself in a confident, balanced manner. But, now he calmly and confidently will walk, trot, and canter under saddle. As his muscles develop, it seems so does his mind.
The next step was to add me to the equation. We spent several lessons with me draped over Ace's back as loose dead-weight. I would just lie across his back with one foot half-way in the stirrup while Michelle lead him around the round pen. At first he could barely move. He literally didn't know how to put one foot in front of the other with weight on his back. His head would be in the air, his hind-end would be skirting around as if not connected to his front end, his back would be arched and tight. Then, eventually, he realized he could do it.
So, we swung a leg over and started the learning process again.
We are now to a point where I can ride him at a walk and trot around the round pen. We're still on the lunge line and only a few feet away from Michelle, but it's like I'm on a different horse. Him on his best day before isn't half the horse he is during a lesson now.
But, this post is supposed to be more about the teacher than the students.
Michelle doesn't tell me to do things differently, she explains them in a way I've never heard before so I understand what I'm doing (and why) in a way I have never been able to before.
We started feeding Ace carrots when working with him because a chewing horse is a confident horse. It's like tickling a crying child. If you tickle them it forces them to smile, and they can't cry while smiling. If we give Ace carrots it forces him to chew, and he can't have a meltdown while he's chewing. It's a simple idea. It makes perfect sense. But, I had never thought of it that way.
She used a lead rope to show me how Ace's back muscles connect to his neck muscles. Holding it straight across to demonstrate a relaxed Ace, and bending it down in the middle to demonstrate why his head goes up when he is about to spook.
It isn't that she has an immense amount of knowledge- though she does- it's that she explains it in the most perfect way.
She is totally re-teaching me how to have contact with the bit. For a girl who grew up riding little western ranch horses on incredibly loose reins it's a fairly new concept. But it's working with Ace. And I'm not against learning something new. She has me using the reins to "have conversations" with Ace. Currently he isn't responding exactly how he should be. But, he is responding. And as Michelle pointed out, for Ace, that's progress.
By trade Michelle is a dressage trainer, and it is the very basic, raw, concepts of this discipline that I am being taught. They are the basics that are going to add up to Ace being absolutely incredible.
Michelle is slowly but surely giving me the tools to be as successful as a trainer as she is. I'm years (probably tens of years) away from even being comparable to her, but that journey has begun. And every journey has to begin somewhere.