I was still feeling not great this morning from being on the recovery-side of a nasty cold/flu, but was determined to make it to lessons and (if possible) volunteering as well. So I made myself some hot tea (to deal with sinus congestion), forced myself to eat a little protein, and hauled my rear end out the door.
Catching Dragon has now become fairly routine. I no longer twist up the halter and can put it on fairly quickly. I know how to chase off treat-beggars. I am learning who is always going to be a pest and to what extent. I’ll probably have this figured out right in time for everything to change when we move indoors in a few weeks (and thus no longer are herd-catching). I also bought a pair of muck boots, so even though the ground is finally
hardening up a bit what mud there was worried me less.
This morning Dragon was a bit peppier than I’ve seen her in a while. She looked at me curiously when I came over with a bit of a ‘my turn?’ look, made it very easy to halter her, and didn’t hesitate a second even though I was pulling her away from breakfast with no treat-bribe. She didn’t even bother to stop for a drink of water on the way out.
I mentioned to Jill that she seemed a bit more awake today. She didn’t seem to think too much of it, but mentioned that Dragon had been ridden hard yesterday and had a busy day planned today so she had actually been stalled overnight and fed a bit of grain to ensure she was ready and well-rested, and thus had only been let out a little while before I had gotten there.
We warmed up briskly, with Dragon not making it full lap of walking before she suggested we speed up. When I let us into the Western Jog she did it beautifully
- keeping a slow but strangely energetic pace without the slightest speed change, headset perfect, pushing herself into corners with barely a suggestion, and generally making us both look very good. I’d love to take credit for this - but I don’t think I did anything terribly differently. We jogged happily through a pool of falling autumn leaves - it was lovely.
Then, on our second lap around the arena, she jumped sideways.
If I hadn’t had stirrups I would have been in serious danger of falling - I DID go off-balance for a fraction of a second and felt my seat start to slip slightly before I caught myself - but in the next instant I was back square and solid. Jill started rapidly issuing commands at me regarding getting Dragon going in a tight circle, though I did not get as much a sense she was going to bolt at that point.
So apparently what happened is there were some new decorations (fake halloween headstones actually) leaning against one of the jumps which Dragon decided was a sufficient excuse to spook. I say ‘excuse’ because apparently Dragon has a very old habit where when she got very energetic and bored she would decide to spook at something utterly random in a fairly dramatic fashion. At first, this was worrying to people and got her treated like a nervous hot thoroughbred - a lot of sympathetic gentle acclimatization work. This was apparently a mistake, because it makes the behavior much worse and made her do it much more often. It mostly went away after it was realized she was doing it for attention/fun and started treating it as more of a behavioral problem. She hadn’t tried it in a long while. It’s been over a year since the last time - and with that it was almost always specifically in the indoor arena when she was stalled with no turnout for a while and would get very pent up.
So the first bit of the lesson time was dealing with this spook and trying to teach Dragon that the headstones were not, in fact, horse-eating monsters. We circled them a bunch, spiraling in closer - with the eventual goal of getting her to smell them. Jill would have preferred I been much stronger with her on this point, but honestly I wasn’t strong-enough handed (or willed as her back arched up) to keep her from walking past them. This horse can be hard to stop in the best of times.
But after long enough of her dithering “Oh you want me to sniff THIS fence over here, NEXT to the thing I’m complaining about? OK!” I was losing patience (I believe this was try #6. This was getting old...) I went through and after she pushed through my halt command to turn to walk right on the other side of the same fence
- I made her back up to where I wanted her to stop - step by step. She didn’t like this one bit - but not in an ‘oh I’m scared’ way, more in an ‘ick I hate this exercise’ way.
It was slow and painful - but it worked. After we got back to line-of-sight on the spooky object it was mysteriously completely and utterly uninteresting. There was no acknowledgement that it was OK - it just sort of ceased to exist. Jill and I were both watching it a little (Jill would later tighten my girth a touch just in case) but the only acknowledgement I got from Dragon after that point was decidedly not
looking in its direction - and even pushing her shoulder out a little bit towards it as we walked by and turning her head away slightly (which is what Jill was asking me to make sure she was doing so she wouldn’t keep rubber-necking at it… but Dragon was doing it before I was aware that’s what I was supposed to be doing…).
So that was interesting.
The rest of the lesson was frankly a lot more routine. We did a lot more posting trot (it’s getting better! It’s also getting a lot less exhausting.) and more two-point (including at the walk, which is surprisingly hard). There was more stirrupless riding and stirrup-catching exercises. I played around with what Jill called ‘pattern work’ which is weaving a series of pretty tight turns while maintaining good form and a solid posting trot.
We did post-over-cavaletti - this is getting MUCH better though it’s definitely not there yet. I confirmed it’s not just my imagination - she rides very differently over cavaletti poles than she does over the ground even if she’s still technically just trotting. The pace is the same but amount of up-and-down motion is noticeably increased and it subtly affects the timing/position of my butt coming back down onto her back (so it seems to screw up the timing to me - but it’s not). I also got to learn to intentionally
get a little behind-the-motion going into
the cavaletti series to keep her from excitedly rushing into it. Apparently with her (and with several horses like her) at the beginning of a day/course of jumping you may have to energize/encourage her going into jumps/exercises but after just a couple you will almost always have to work to contain her instead - learning how to partner with a horse and how much to energize/hold back will be one of the key things to work on as I go into learning about jumping courses.
We did more lunge-line work - notably some new and I believe supposed-to-be-harder balance exercises (hugging myself, more various arm motions). The trickiest one was hands-over-head while posting trot, straight into two-point from there (so hands come down right into position), then back to posting trot. Getting as far down the neck as Jill wanted my hands (so no curling in on myself or slipping my legs back) without actually needing to touch/balance on the neck was genuinely really hard - but fun. Jill likes my feet and legs in two-point but is working on getting me to flatten out my back more.
We did a little bit of sitting a much more active english-style trot. Jill told me she wants this very solid as preparation for the canter.
Of course, the world seems determined to ensure that I don’t make it through an entire lesson without doing something hilariously wrong. In today’s case it was trying to dismount. I underestimated how weak my legs would be (... I’ve been pretty sick...) so when I went to lower myself down my stirrup-leg unexpectedly had muscle-failure part way through and sent me down pretty hard. I ended up off balance and stumbling backwards, nearly (but not quite) falling on my behind. At least I managed to dropped the reins before I would have yanked them - so small victories in checking my reflexes.
Overall it was a really fun lesson. I am honestly a bit glad to be over the hurdle of my first spook that involved the horse doing something seriously weird (rather than just freezing up and rushing like the trail horse did). I was honestly expecting speed-control to be an issue today just with how peppy she was - but I was caught very
off guard by the spook. (I mean, I had been by that exact spot twice prior in the past 5 minutes). I am pleased both that I stayed on, but also that it didn’t rattle me too much - though I will confess I had to fight my instincts a bit to keep pushing her back so aggressively to the spot that was “spooking” her. I had kinda hoped this was basically how this would go. Volunteering Day 2
So after the lesson I was flat-out-exhausted and seriously debating if I wanted to go in today. But I had said I would show up to discuss some future event stuff and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, so I hauled my pathetically-weak behind in.
I volunteered for a nice calm job cleaning out and organizing grooming gear. I spent most of the the day scrubbing dried mud off of less-used gear to try to get it looking decent again and combing hair out of brushes. Some brownies had been brought in for ‘team blanket’ for dealing with the shed as a thank-you (Seriously? It was not that bad) but other than being on my feet and inhaling an awful lot of dust (which normally doesn’t bother me at all, but was misery today) it wasn’t too physically demanding.
I did get asked what I did career-wise and upon explaining it ended up in a conversation that went something like this: Her:
“Do you know anything about computers?” Me:
“Well… yes…” Her:
“What about websites? Could you teach me how to update our website?” Me:
“Um, I could probably figure it out. Are you guys using a CMS? Style Sheets? Raw HTML?” Her:
“You are speaking Greek…”
So after a bit of discussion I may end up helping out updating the website, because apparently it’s horribly out-of-date and they have a very hard time keeping it current. They have a lot of cool ideas on what they’d like to do (sponsor a horse stuff with monthly updates on the horse for example) but so far they’re having trouble just keeping the actively adoptable horses listed on the site and taken down when they’re no longer available. There’s someone else who volunteered to do content/pictures but has only minimal technical skills (... I am tempted to try to fix that).
Honestly, it’s been years since I’ve done any real website work - and I said as much, but I doubt this is tricky. Scanning the source on the main page it looks like they’re using some sort of hosting-provider provided CMS. I will spare this forum a bunch of techno-babble on the pros and cons of that approach, but at a minimum so long as we’re just updating things it should be hilariously easy to do. I will hopefully get to see the back-end sometime over Thanksgiving week when I have some time off and thus can do a mid-day meeting with the organization head (who is apparently currently trying to maintain the site herself).
This sort of thing comes up a lot
to tech people who get anywhere near nonprofit organizations, so it’s not that surprising. I am
a little surprised how fast I was asked about it though and there’s a little part of me that wants to go into a security rant. On the other hand, they sound like they’re in a tough spot where the site is hardly ever getting touched so I can understand the drive to get something happening with it quickly.
This will not, of course, help me learn anything about horses… but it’s an awesome cause and hopefully this won’t end up with me committing to more work than I intend.