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Elle, 1997 Oldenburg mare
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Discussion Starter · #42 ·
A change of scenery

Back on Tuesday, I spontaneously hit up a local friend, whom I do not see often enough at all anymore, and we went out for a mid-day trail ride on her lovely, bombproof little trail horses. She has lots of woods and trails on her property, and some nearby fields she has permission to cut through, too. It was a perfect sunny day, hot but not too hot, not too humid. She rode her little paint gelding who is an ex-reiner, and I rode the mare she bought a year and a bit ago, whom I've been dying to try out. This mare reminds me a lot of my old horse. Similar build -- not big, but long and low, and rides "bigger" than her size in a really nice way. Great personality in this horse and a very good brain. Nice movement, too, with a big step in her hind legs and a nice swing in her body. I suspected she'd be a joy to ride and she was even better than I had hoped!

Haha, if her horse goes missing, I'm sure I'll be the first door she'll come knocking on. :lol:

The trails were a bit challenging, with some steep parts and some downed trees across the trail in a LOT of places. The horses didn't care whatsoever, and stepped quietly over everything. Neither one put a foot wrong the entire time, and it was nice to just take deep breaths and RELAX on the trail! I normally ride English, but we had Western saddles on and I was glad we did. I probably could have stuck it all in an English saddle but having the high pommel in front was nice security on the downhill parts -- especially when the little mare decided that mid-way down a steep incline was a great time to suddenly drop her head and have a snack!!!

The horses got poked by a lot of branches and twigs, and at one point her horse got a huge stick stuck in his tail, flipping and dragging along behind him. Did. Not. Care. Just... wow!!! While the horses I ride in my lessons, and in the ring, are *pretty* good at keeping their cool, I can't imagine any of them having NO reaction to being scraped and jabbed by branches... or peacefully dragging a hunk of tree along!! She really does have lovely, solid horses, and I'm impressed and a bit jealous!

My body mostly handled the ride well despite not being used to the varied terrain anymore. The only thing that was bothering me was, when I first got on, the saddle did shift a bit to the left and even though I shifted it back and it *seemed* centred the whole ride, it's like my body wanted to keep trying to shift it back to the right anyhow, and my right leg got stiff and uncomfortable. This is occasionally a "thing" with me but it wasn't dramatic or anything. All in all I rode quite balanced and relaxed, and the whole thing just felt wonderful! Usually I'm at least a BIT nervous on the trail, especially on horses I don't know really well or in challenging brush like this, but I was fine. So nice to have a lot of my riding anxiety getting better.
 

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Elle, 1997 Oldenburg mare
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Discussion Starter · #43 ·
Getting to know Bambi

This morning I went out to ride, finally, after nearly a week off. Work was absolutely insane, and the massive wave of heat and humidity did not make riding an appealing prospect for man or beast. And even though it's a scorcher here still, this morning wasn't too bad so off I went.

Now, last night I had texted my coach about coming out this morning, and she told me Elle was already booked for some lessons today, so I should ride Bambi instead. Totally fine. I still want more miles on horses that I'm not as used to, and the more variety I'm getting, the less it's weirding me out when I do have to switch things up.

Got out there, my coach was gone for the morning so I grabbed Bambi from the VERY back of the field, dragged her into the barn with her sloooowwww-walking behind me, and tacked her up. Now, I noticed that Elle was in a stall for some reason even though most of the other horses were out. I thought that was weird but assumed there must be some reason, and I went ahead and tacked up.

Well, JUST as I was done and leading Bambi out, I noticed a note on the whiteboard saying things had changed and that I could ride Elle instead this morning, and that's why she was inside. You know -- to save me from having to go catch her from the back of the field. *MASSIVE FACEPALM* I didn't have time at that point to switch horses, as I had to get to work after my ride, so I went ahead and rode Bambi while Elle stewed in her stall, wondering what in the heck she was doing inside on a beautiful day. (Sorry Elle!)

I've been using bungee reins over the poll and through the bit on Bambi. MASSIVE improvement. I know some people don't like them as a training tool, but man oh man, what a different on this little mare. She has a short neck, high head, and will often dart and wing her head around all over the place when you ride her. It's almost impossible to keep a steady contact, and the more she moves around the worse it gets -- so then she moves MORE. Augh! With the bungee reins... peace and quiet. They provide a steady elastic contact, and as she can't evade it she doesn't try, and we're both MUCH happier. She goes rounded and quiet and stays focused.

We did lots of walk and trot transitions to get us both warmed up and paying attention. She was in a much better mood than the last time I rode her, when she was getting cranky and pinning her ears at time. She did have a little bit of muscle soreness (just normal "post-workout" soreness) the previous time and was not appreciating it when I sat the trot. Today, though, sitting her trot was lovely and she didn't seem to mind a bit.

Transitions today where better too, and she didn't try to reef on the reins coming back down out of canter. Not at all. So that was awesome. She has quite a SPROING going from walk to trot, that surprised me a few times today, but her trot to canter actually felt a lot smoother this time. Whether they were better today, or I'm just getting used to them, I'm not sure. Her canter was a lot easier to get and stay with today and quite pleasant. I'm still riding it in a half seat for the most part, but I did sit a little deeper with it at times today.

She has different sensitivity levels to certain aids, and I'm still getting used to that. When I'm turning and I lift my inside rein and push her ribs over with my inside leg to get bend, she'll actually move right over, so our turns were a bit more dramatic than necessary, hahaha, but it's nice that she was so responsive.

Another cool things today: got all the leads right! Her right lead can be tricky to get, but today, correct every time!

She did start to wing her head around at walk near the very end of the ride, I think as her way of saying "Okay I'm tired let's pack it in." I was mean and made her trot every time she did that. Would come back down when she relaxed. Then trot again the next time... Did this a LOT. Ugh. Eventually picked a nice quiet walk moment to hop off and call it a day.

Brought her back in, untacked her, and let her and poor impatient Elle back out for the day. :D
 

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Elle, 1997 Oldenburg mare
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Discussion Starter · #44 ·
Temper temper

Well, I guess not every ride is going to be sparkles and fairy dust.

This morning I rode Elle for the first time in over a week. There's still a pretty bad heatwave hanging around here, but I rode early enough that it was "normal" levels of summer heat, and had not yet become "constant dripping sweat and death" levels of heat and humidity.

I went into the ride with the intention of doing some no-stirrups work somewhere in the last half... but Elle went from her usually agreeable-ish self to a massive crankypants not quite half way through the ride. I don't know if she was tired, or having a problem with the heat, or if she was just having a "day." But she threw one of her favourite tantrums for most of the ride, which she hasn't done with me since last year! She leeeeeeeaaaannnns heavily on the bit, gets her weight down on the forehand, and BARGES around, strong and fast. Still more or less doing what you ask -- if you want trot, for examples, she BARGES AROUND in trot. If you want canter, she BARGES AROUND in a fast, heavy, choppy canter. Blows off any of the smaller leg aids and reins aids and you have no choice but to yank her back very impolitely.

There are ways to school her through this (or at least improve it) but I didn't push her too hard as it really was getting a lot hotter as we rode and, I suppose, she was allowed to have an opinion in those conditions. Plus we had a bit of a vicious cycle going in canter, where her angry, stiff, heavy, choppy canter was making me bounce in the saddle like a jackhammer, which surely made her canter actually worse. Blurgh. Needless to say, we at no point did any no-stirrups work.

I still enjoyed myself, and it was in many ways a good and productive ride... Even practiced some shoulder-in before she got really mad... but poetry it most definitely was NOT! :shock:
 

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Elle, 1997 Oldenburg mare
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Discussion Starter · #45 ·
A surprise two-horse evening

I had a fun night last night, although my riding was really not where I wanted it to be.

Elle was booked for a lesson already, and was in fact being ridden when I got there, so I had a lesson on Bambi. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable on her for the most part.

However... I skipped dinner. I was held up trying to get there by, first, my partner leaving me with NO gas in the car and us having to scramble to put some in there using the gas cans normally reserved for our generator. Then I had to wait for a train. Then I got stuck behind a delivery truck that was doing 10-15 km below the speed limit (in an area where most people do 15-20 above). So, no time to eat or even stop for a quick drive-through bite somewhere. And I realized my entire diet that day, to that point, had consisted of 1/3 of a bag of fresh cherries, two portobello mushroom caps with cheese and pizza sauce, a few pieces of chocolate, and a lot of coffee. So, my car wasn't the only thing running on fumes by the time I got to my lesson.

We did some pretty straightforward WTC stuff and some trotting poles. Bambi is extremely nimble and even when I didn't set her up right for the poles, she still managed to pick and bounce her way across them, and make up for the direction she lacked from me.

Early in the lesson we did quite a bit of walk to canter transitions, most of which went pretty well. We got a lot more wrong leads than we did the other day -- the other day I think we got them all correct -- but it wasn't too bad. I find her a little too easy to catch in the mouth unfortunately, but in my defense she has a habit of catching herself in the mouth a lot, so sometimes it's hard to say who's at fault.

Once we started trying to integrate a stretch of canter on the loop back to the beginning of the trotting poles, however, things got VERY sloppy. She decided she'd had enough cantering and got stiff and resistant and did the "screw you" trot instead of giving me a canter transition, and I lost some confidence in asking for the transition which made things worse. Ugh. There was a lot of running around in a big mess and losing our steering and breaking out of canter. And wrong leads all over the place. Not pretty. The lesson ended a bit early because I think it was pretty obvious that Bambi and I were both frustrated and tired and there would be diminishing returns from that point on.

I hung out at the barn chatting with my coach and one of the boarders for about the next hour, then a student called to ask for an impromptu jumping lesson, so my coach's plan to ride her own horse weren't going to work out. Would I like to ride him instead, while she taught the lesson?

So, I did! I'd tried him twice before and was an absolute mess at the time. I hoped that this ride, after all the extra saddle time I'd put in over the winter, I'd be a lot more competent and confident. Welllllllllllll.... Walk and trot were fine. We had some abrupt unintentional downwards transitions as he tried to figure me out. My coach rides him 99% of the time so he's not exactly used to a change of rider. But we started to get a groove. And I didn't freak out when he got looky about stuff, which is big for me.

However...... cantering was a TOTAL bust. I think, at most, I got three consecutive strides before he would peter out again. His hip action in the canter was completely different than I'm used to, and I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I kept getting so unbalanced by the transition -- his big hip THROWING me out of the saddle and off-balance with the hind leg stepping under -- that just staying ON through it was a feat for me, never mind actually pushing him to STAY in it. I had actually cantered him a little bit in two lessons in the fall, but it was a pretty huge fail then too. Last night's was even worse.

By then, though, I was exhausted, STARRRRRVING, and my back was getting sore and tense, so it wasn't helping matters.

It's so odd. Some horses I have no problems in cantering in my first rides on them, while on others, it's like I'm riding a completely different animal. Some rides I feel like, yeahhhhh, I'm good at this! And other times I feel totally stunned by my lack of ability to do basic things. Siiiiiiiiiigghhhh.

It is what it is and I won't let it get me down -- riding is also about learning and improving -- but it's so strange, and so HARD, sometimes. I get to beating myself up for not being where I think I should be after three years back in the saddle. And sometimes I get better at something but there's this backsliding in my skills that'll happen and I'll lose it again.

Oh well. I'll try to at least eat dinner first, next time!
 

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Elle, 1997 Oldenburg mare
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Discussion Starter · #46 ·
Further cantering frustrations

Last night I went out to ride a horse I was riding regularly two seasons ago. He's a nice slightly older gelding, built like a tank. His background is primarily Western, but he's kind of had a little bit of vaguely everything done with him.

That season, I rode him English. I'm more used to it, it's the tack I had, and he went much, much better in contact and on a direct rein, with a bit, and with me in my own saddle.

Last night's ride was my first ride on him since last year, and his owner had switched him back to western tack and a VERY loosely fitted hackamore.

Well, he hadn't been ridden, except for a couple quick bareback rides, since last year. He was a very good boy from a safety standpoint. Wasn't hot, didn't do anything wacky. But he kept pulling me towards the other horse, towards the gate, towards the corner, etc., and he's never been great off leg aids for turning. And he doesn't really neck rein. And the hackamore... well, it did pretty much nothing. So I was a passenger of his whims.

I still managed to enjoy myself at walk, jog, and trot, but cantering with no steering and questionable brakes, in a saddle I wasn't used to and that was far too large in the seat, did not go well. A few strides of me getting thrown around all over while he careening in some random direction. Or, on my last try, him suddenly accelerating because I couldn't rate his speed at all with the reins. I couldn't slow him, just stop him because the hackamore was all-or-nothing. And its "all" wasn't much.

He's always been tricky to canter well, but after my major canter fail on my last ride, too, I'm worried I'm going to develop a complex. However. Tonight I have a lesson scheduled on Elle, I think, so that will hopefully help me check back in with myself. Hopefully she's in good form tonight!
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 · (Edited)
When you screw up so badly, you come out the other side?

So, tonight began by being hilariously... magical?

Earlier today I thought to myself, maybe I should text my coach and confirm that we're still on for tonight. And then I thought, nahhhhhhhh, I wrote it on the whiteboard right in front of her and I'm sure everything's fine or she would have told me. I'll just go.

So as I pull into the driveway after my 40 minute drive, I see that Elle is already tacked up and being ridden in a lesson by her other regular student. So, I'm immediately somewhat irritated because I thought I had booked her specifically for this ride. (I don't usually care if I ride someone else, but it had been a long time and we had specifically discussed reserving her for me for that lesson.) I shrug it off and figure something must have changed, and walk into the barn and see that I had actually booked her for myself for TOMORROW night. Oh boy. Shoulda sent that text. Oh well, I get my gear on and figure I'll go grab Bambi and just ride since I'm there anyhow.

I walk out of the barn and... am immediately handed Elle, fully tacked and warmed up ready to go. I WAS there on the wrong night, and the other woman had absolutely booked her lesson then... BUT at almost the exact time I pulled in, she was in the middle of deciding that her twisted ankle was too much and she was going to have to stop her lesson just 10 minutes in.

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT???

Best mistake ever or WHAT?

We worked on half halts and flexion. Unfortunately my reaction time is NOT great. So when my coach said outside rein, I was still shortening my reins. When she said inside rein, I was still just engaging the outside rein. When she said to back off the inside rein and straighten, I was still just starting to apply the inside rein. Oh boy. I am not exactly renowned for coordination or reaction time, but we sort of stumbled through it. We did start to get some roundness and flexion but Elle, who was already irritated because she thought her trip back to the barn to meet me was the end of her night, was NOT happy. Given her preference, she'd rather go around with her nose poked out as far as possible and your hands holding her head up for her. So she didn't appreciate the insistence on giving and softening. But we started to get moments of it, so that was a good feeling.

My sitting trot was decent though not quite as consistent as I like, but I was able to sit and follow quite well. My canter, however, was VERY stiff. Not surprising given the semi-humiliating canter fails in my last two rides. I was more or less expecting it. But I got the job done.

Funniest moment of the night: me saying "After last night, it's so nice to ride a horse with a good canter ag--!" and Elle IMMEDIATELY had a huge stumble.

Most unintentionally impressive moment of the night: Elle was getting annoyed and trying different evasions, and when I asked for a right-lead working canter on a right circle at one point... I got super collected left lead canter with a true right bend. "You just got THE hardest type of canter to get!!" LOL, go me?? :lol:

We talked about my stiffness. I wasn't able to sit the canter the nice way I had been in the winter, with loose hips and a following lower back. In fact, my lower back has been incredibly locked up lately, and seems to be getting worse every ride instead of better. So I brought up the fact that I hadn't actually done any no-stirrups work since April, and that I *had* been doing it almost every ride then, when my seat was so much deeper and better.

So this was the BEST part of the night. I crossed my stirrups in front of the pommel and did some sitting trot where Elle stretched down and lifted her back and we just CRUISED around the arena. She was super, super into it. I don't know what it is about my sitting trot when it clicks, but many of the horses I ride seem to love it and go into this awesome mode where they really click with me and seek contact and round themselves. Even when it was bad. Even when I felt like I was bouncing like crazy. I don't know what it is. Anyhow... I definitely was NOT bouncing like crazy. All the tension on my back and hips and thighs unlocked, and I think all that muscle memory from me practicing so much over the winter and spring just suddenly clicked right back on. IT. WAS. AWESOME. We moved up into working trot, and into medium trot, and I still stayed with it all and had no bounce and no balance problems. My coach was carefully watching me for tension and would call out whenever one or both of my lower legs started to tense or clench in any way, and I'd immediately stop the problem before it got worse.

After a few laps and serpentines of this, I went back to walk to cool out and the benefits were immediately obvious, as my back and hips were unconsciously moving and rolling to follow every step. And I felt SO GOOD.

So I know what's on the menu for me now: no stirrups trot work any time and every time I can fit it into a ride!!!
 

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Discussion Starter · #50 ·
Getting "it" back

After the other night's breakthrough with my return to relaxed no-stirrups work, I was eager to get back out for a ride on Elle while I was still feeling that high and relaxation again.

This morning was quiet and beautiful, with a bit of cloud cover and a slight breeze, so much better weather for exertion. Elle was extremely relaxed, and stood completely still to be brushed and tacked -- except when I got at those mosquito bites on her neck with the soft curry glove I was using. Then she made happy faces and stretched her head and neck out and leaned into the scratches. I was happy to find my rubber curry glove again. I greatly prefer them to a standard curry comb. I think they do a much better job, and give the horse more of a massage. Plus having just the thin rubber between my hand and her skin means I can feel every bump and have a much better sense of whether a problem or change has popped up somewhere.

I started the ride just doing a bit of flexion left and right at the walk. I did it a lot more soft and relaxed than I did in the lesson, but also found she was much more willing today anyhow, so I didn't need to be as firm about it.

On the drive out there this morning, I had turned the seat heat on high in my car, even though it's pretty hot here and my AC isn't working. Why? Because it did seem to help to warm up and loosen up my lower back, which has been VERY very tight and tense lately. Whether or not this was the reason I couldn't say for sure, but my canter was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better today. I felt softer in my back and legs and could follow along. I had been riding like that for ages before the last month or so. I think that switching around to different horses kind of got me off my game, even though I think it's been extremely beneficial for other reasons.

We worked on lots of transitions within the trot, randomly changing between BIIIIIIIIIIIG trot and little itty bitty trot without breaking gait. She did wonderfully. We also did lots of transitions in and out of canter on a circle, with a flying change to change direction and work the other side. She broke from canter into trot a couple of times on me when I didn't ask for it. However, I had been trying to collect her a bit so in a way I did sort of ask for it -- just not for that! We'll get it figured out.

I wound up the ride with a nice loooooonnnng session of no-stirrups trot. My initial sitting trot wasn't quite the magical, smooth-as-butter experience that it was the other night, but still felt pretty great. I did have to keep her to a slower trot, and my balance was a little wonky right off, but we both settled into it. I also did a couple bigs laps each way, including a couple times crossing the diagonal, in no-stirrups rising trot. Definitely going to be feeling the burn later!!

So nice to have my lower back finally unclenching. I definitely need to keep up the relaxed no-stirrups work. When I was doing it every ride this past winter, I don't think I realized just how much it was contributing to the rest of my riding. Well, now I know!!
 

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Discussion Starter · #51 ·
Transitions, transitions... transitions!!!

Today was a really nice, solo, relaxed ride. The sun was out but it wasn't too hot yet. No biting insects -- just the odd lazy fly hanging around. I put on bug spray as I tacked up, more out of habit than necessity. Elle stood very quietly, so relaxed her lower lip was dangling and she had floppy donkey ears. Once again, currying her neck got a big happy reaction as it scratched all her bug bites for her.

We had to go through some strands of temporary electric fencing to get out to the ring, and every time I stopped to undo a piece to get through, she took the opportunity to shamelessly snatch some bites of grass. More snatches of grass as I got things ready at the mounting block. She doesn't normally try for this, so I wasn't really on my game to stop her. It was sort of cute and funny as it was so out of character, really. And she just seemed so chill and happy that I was a bit indulgent about it, though I didn't let her grab and grass when it was time to DO something. Like, you know, actually get ON her. LOL.

I started by just walking her around with my feet out of the stirrups, swinging my legs a bit to loosen myself up. She perked up under saddle but was still a relaxed sort of "active" as we moved around. She seemed like she was just in a great mood the whole ride, which made me feel happy as well. I've been going early to ride lately, before work, and this was such a lovely start to my day. Life and work have been extremely stressful lately, so it was a much-needed cheer-up at the perfect time.

We moved from walk into a big rising trot on a fairly loose rein, letting her pick her pace and move without much interference from me. She was nice and forward and felt great. After warming up a bit this way we started on a lot of transitions. Rising trot, walk, sitting trot, walk, halt, back, etc., in a totally random order at random places. She was lighter in my hands today and also a bit better about doing downwards transitions from my thighs and seat. Still a long way from how responsive she was a few months ago, but again, she has more riders of different levels now so some loss of that kind of sensitivity isn't too surprising.

Canter was decent today. My seat wasn't as awesome as it was when I was riding 5 times a week, but it's still better than the jackhammering I was doing just over a week ago. Weirdly, I was better on the right lead and stiffer on the left lead. Normally I follow better to the left, so that was a change. Whatever. Bodies are weird. I'm just glad I'm getting softer with it again.

She was being so good and so pleasant that I did a bit of canter on a slightly longer rein. Hands low and wide and following softly. It was really nice. She gets so, so heavy in the bridle at times in the canter that I worry that I'm inadvertently relying on the pressure in the reins to keep my seat. Not what I want. So to be in the perfect kind of mood and relaxation to have a more relaxed contact was a very important opportunity on her. I'm happy to report that I kept my seat and balance juuuuust fine. I know myself well enough to know that I CAN do that, but due to bad experiences with horses taking off with me in the past, having a short and ready contact in the canter is like a security blanket for me a lot of the time. I still have a sensitive hand but I don't have a trusting hand, typically, so this was good mental as well as physical exercise.

I wound things up with even more no-stirrups work, again. Some rising trot for a lap or two both directions, then some sitting trot all over the place. I tried to do lots of little exercises to keep my brain distracted so my body had to relax. We did a tight four-loop serpentine that only went as far as centre line, a couple of times. Some loop-backs. Some changes across the half-diagonal. Etc. Once I felt nice and in sync with the motion we stayed on the rail, I loosened the reins a little and let her stretch while I concentrated on reeeeally opening my hips and lifting the front of my pelvic bone with my lower abs.

I got this absolutely wonderful sensation of my thighs hanging down in this extremely open way, like they were these huge weights that were holding me on and pulling me down either side of the horse, like they were so heavy and so secure that I couldn't possibly ever tip off. But not in a locked up way -- I was really moving with the motion. And Elle was moving into that openness, her trot getting bigger and more forward and I actually had to get a little LESS open a few times to slow her down. It was a really awesome feeling, one of the best I've felt in any sitting trot. Relaxed but strong. Really grooving along together. Love those times in riding where something really clicks and you can be fully present and revel in the moment.

Who would have known even a year ago that sitting trot with no stirrups would become one of my favourite and most transcendental parts of my riding??? :shock:
 

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Discussion Starter · #52 ·
So I watched some video...

I haven't ridden since last Thursday. When I did, I dragged my partner out and had him shoot some video for me. I hadn't seen much video of myself, except for the odd short clip, in about a year, so it was nice to see some really comprehensive video of my lesson.

What I liked:

-Lower leg is steady and strong, with the right amount of give and motion, and my toes are at good angle. Turned out a natural amount but definitely not duck feet. Given that I used to ride off the back of my leg with toes out almost completely sideways, things have definitely improved!!

-Geez I've gained muscle! Before I started riding again three years ago, I had gone through major stress from a move and starting a new business, and in that process I lost a ton of fitness and gained about 20 lbs, a lot of which was just belly and hip flab. While the number on the scale hasn't actually changed, my shape certainly has. I have way less paunch and I'm thicker in the major muscle groups. I didn't even know it was happening! Although the gaping waistband on my jeans today should be a clue.

-My back and core are visibly stronger. While I'd like to be following the motion even better than I am currently, it's obvious that I've gained a lot more strength in these areas and, while the motion could be more fluid, I'm definitely capable of holding and carrying myself instead of being smacked on the butt by the saddle while I thump around in trot and especially canter.

-My heels are naturally deep, but maybe even..... tooooo deep? I'm in a dressage saddle now but I've got some hunterish heels happening. I don't feel like I'm bracing into my stirrups. They don't feel too short. And my ankle flexion is really good with the motion dropping down the back of my leg when I rise in trot, drop in canter, etc. So... maybe that's just what works for me? I do have BIG feet so maybe the angle looks more dramatic because of that. :razz:

-For the most part I look pretty straight and symmetrical, aside from a few things I'll mention below.

What I didn't like:

-Ugh, my hands are bobbing a LOT more than I would like. I worked on it for a while and it got better, but I've been less attentive about it lately because I took it for granted that they were better now. Sigh. Back to working on that now, I guess.

-I still have a tendency to tip forward in my transitions, at times. Depends how distracted and/or tense I am at a given time. Again, the old hunter brain is kicking in, I think, and it's like I want to get into a forward seat whenever it's "action" time. Not so useful when the "action" is a seated collected canter.

-My left elbow likes to show off. It's like "Hey, look at me! Here I am! I'm an elbow!!!" My right elbow prefers subtlety and stays nice and close to my side.

-My shoulders are *pretty* good, and not rounding forward, but I could really stand to lift my chest more and that would improve my upper body carriage in several ways.

-At times I'm dropping my left hip more than my right hip when I should be straight and level. By way of some kind of diagonal compensation, my right shoulder wants to push out to the right. This is not ideal. It's not DRAMATIC, but I should be balancing, not counterbalancing with my upper body as ballast.

So, for tonight's lesson, I'm going to try to remember tooooo...

-Lower, steadier hands!
-Flex my left elbow BACK, not out
-Try to notice if I'm bearing down on my left hip and pushing my right shoulder out to compensate. Try to do a bit of the opposite to correct it and then find centre.
-LIFT MY CHEST!
-And sit up straight and further back during transitions.

Because THAT'S all totally doable in ONE ride. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

:clap:
 

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Elle, 1997 Oldenburg mare
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Discussion Starter · #53 ·
Wow, that was a WEIRD lesson, but a productive one.

We did all walk trot and worked on getting flexion from Elle and getting her in front of my leg. Her chiropractor has prescribed flexion and softening to deal with muscle stiffness in her neck, so like it or not it's for her own good. She's in absolutely wonderful physical shape right now and has made steady improvements over the eight months or so. Even though she's now approaching senior status she's practically aging in reverse!

However, she has a tendency to lock her neck up and brace against the bit and will fight her rider rather than give. Hence the "physio". So, last night's lesson was a schooling one...

Lots of half halts, flexion of her neck and poll, anything to get her to soften even a little. The more I asked, the more she would lock up and refuse to move forward. She's often ridden in mild spurs by her regular, advanced riders, but I hadn't had a pair of spurs on since I was 13. Well! My coach popped some on me to see if that would help keep her impulsion up, if necessary, while we worked on her front end... but I was so nervous about accidentally poking her that I kept my leg too much off of her. So, opposite of the desired effect...

My coach hopped on for a few minutes instead and had her flexing and moving forward almost immediately. That's why she's the one in charge, haha. She did say it was NOT easy, though, and Elle looked pretty unimpressed even though she actually did everything she was asking. She did settle into it after a few minutes. When I hopped back on I tried some side to side flexion of her neck and poll at a standstill and she gave quite easily. After that the ride was MUCH more productive.

It's hard to develop feel for something you've never had to do before, but I started to get the hang of timing things to ask for flexion on the sit of the trot, while also using my inside leg and seatbone to encourage her to bend and fill out the outside rein. I'm not sure which one of us actually worked harder.

However, the feeling when it all clicked was very rewarding. She was very forward and felt powerful without feeling at all like she was running off. Every part of my body felt engaged and so did hers. Looking forward to this process feeling better and easier as we both improve at it!! I expect I'm going to feel quite sore very soon...
 

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Elle, 1997 Oldenburg mare
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Discussion Starter · #54 ·
Yesterday I had a morning ride on Bambi, and today I had a morning ride on Elle.

When I arrived yesterday morning I started walking toward the barn, heard angry yelling from the back of the field, and suddenly seven horses were running past me, loose, towards the barn. Seems Bambi crashed through the electric while my coach was trying to adjust the fence and took the whole field with her. So we had some "fun" rounding them all up. No one got hurt. Just a bit of distraction and frustration! Sort of nice, in a way, to see that that kind of chaos happens to even experienced people!

Bambi was great. I hadn't ridden her in a while but really enjoyed myself on her. Now that I've discovered how much better she goes in bungee reins -- even loosely adjusted -- it's much easier to manage her high-head-short-neck combo. She stays consistent instead of winging her head around all over, even though the bungee reins are barely engaged.

There was a beginner lesson going on in the ring at the same time, but it was mostly walk and mostly on a lunge or a lead, so it was easy to stay out of the way and just kind of cruise around. Lots and lots of trot, circles, changes of direction. I'm still getting used to how she feels, and her transitions. Some of the transitions are really big and springy, and she has a tendency to throw her head and crash into my hands so that's something I've got to prepare for. I'm good about not catching horses in the mouth, but it's harder when the horse seems to want to catch themselves in the mouth!

Cantering went a lot better. I was able to sit more deeply and follow more softy. I thought about pushing my knees down and back a bit, which helped to keep my legs from creeping forward and also helped me keep my stirrups! I also thought about doing less with my upper body. That was one thing that really stuck out on the video from my lesson last week: a lot of my stiffness and tipping forward in the canter seems to come from too much activity in my upper body. Like I'm trying to keep the canter by pumping up there or something weird. I'd been trying to fix things lower down as I assumed that was the source of the problem but... nope. So I thought about being upright and more still above the waist, and riding the canter with my seat and lower body instead. It helped a LOT.

Towards the end she got tired but I pushed her through some of it as we are trying to get her fitter. I just pushed her in posting and sitting trot and did some serpentines and circles to get her moving and bending. I'm actually finding her quite pleasant to ride now that I know her better.

She does, however, start throwing her head around at the very end of the ride when she has decided she is DONE DONE DONE. I've dealt with that in the last two rides by pushing her into trot as soon as she does it and then letting her walk as soon as she's quiet about it, but she was much more insistent with it this ride and at one point I felt like there was a chance she was going to start giving me little rears in front. She didn't, but I also chose my moments in pushing the issue and feel like I found the right timing to not reward that behaviour but also not escalate things. I've never heard of her rearing (and it wouldn't have been a dramatic one if she had) but I generally trust my instincts on this stuff.

One super awesome thing from the ride: she did not cough, not even once!! She's been struggling with a terrible cough since coming back from a lease where the hay was bad, but it seems she's maybe finally really over it!! Yay!!

It's late here so I'll update on the Elle ride tomorrow. It was nice though!
 

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Discussion Starter · #55 ·
I've had three more rides since the one I last wrote about. Work has been very time-and-energy consuming lately so I haven't had the opportunity to sit down and write about any of it. Technically I shouldn't be doing this right now, either, but so it goes. Sometimes you just have to do a thing anyhow. :/

Ride One:

Last Tuesday I rode Elle, in not-a-lesson. For the first time ever she decided to be hard to catch. I had a feeling she was dreading the flexion work we've been putting her through lately so I decided to be easier on her and compromise. I rode her in a set of bungee reins, not set very tight at all but just enough to encourage her to come a bit rounder than she does without. The ride was good and I really worked on myself, based on some of the things in the video that I wanted to correct. I was very happy to find my "seat brakes" again. There was this muscle group I had managed to isolate this winter, that formed sort of a V-shape in the bottoms/backs of my thighs/seat. If I think of stilling it and pressing down a little I get a nice, quick but subtle downwards transition on her. It's pretty cool. But either it stopped working on her or stopped working in me for a while, because it was the first time that was being effective since the winter.

I also thought more about keeping my knees down and back, though it wasn't as big a difference as I had felt on Bambi.

I kept my upper body more still in canter, again, and thought more about my seat and the backs of my thighs doing the work of balancing and supporting me. When I can keep my upper body from getting too involved, I sit the canter better. It's like everything above the waist wants to "pump" in time with the canter. And it looks a bit silly and is totally ineffective. So. Definitely worked on that.

I also did some sitting trot where I practiced what I called the "elbow dance." My sitting trot work is improving a lot but my hands, elbows and shoulders get too tense and my hands want to come up and bounce. So by keeping my hands a bit low and wide, and thinking of doing small rhythmic movements of my elbows in time to the trot it relaxed my arms and my hands stopped wanting to bounce around. Better!! Also, I like how silly the idea of doing an "elbow dance" sounds, so I'll definitely remember that one.

Ride Two:

The other night I had a lesson on Bambi. We worked on getting her more forward. Because she's long-legged and short-backed, and only about 15hh, she FEELS like she's really moving out quickly even when she's not. I was suprised just how big and forward her trot needed to be to get her tracking up. I also had to work hard to get a right bend in her, as that's her stiffer side for sure. She's blind in her right eye, so I think she tends to favour looking to her left which might contribute to that crookedness. She does listen to inside leg though, so it was effective once I got it together.

I'm still perching in canter on her, more than my coach would like, so she had me do... wait for it... canter with no stirrups! On this horse I still barely know! Aughhh!! She told me, "You're a better rider than you think you are, and *I* know you'll be completely fine! I am not worried one bit." So that was a nice compliment, and I did some transitions in and out of canter on a circle to the left (my good side and the horse's good side) and was pleasantly surprised by how good my seat was. It felt really cool, and I did follow better with the motion. I could feel all the muscles in my seat and the backs of my thighs contracting and adjusting to balance and rebalance myself, and I felt very supported and secure. It's amazing how much more strength and feel I've developed in my seat since even last fall! Very very cool!

We then switched to the right lead, on a right circle, and things were... less golden. Hahahaha. As soon as we got into canter she started THROWING her head around and her back end kind of dropped a bit and I went "AAAUUGGHHH!!" and immediately pulled her back out of it, and asked my coach "WHAT was THAT??" She had mercy and let me take my stirrups back for that direction. LOL. Unfortunately, even though I sat that weirdness well, it did make me tense up so I was back to perching and feeling stiff. Ugh. So she just had me get into canter and STAY in canter, and work on getting that right bend and not letting her fall into the circle. Since my body was REALLY wanting to be in a two point instead of trying to follow, I decided to just mentally work with that and pretend we were riding a cross country course towards a big jump, to keep the focus and momentum going. We did at least five laps of a large circle without breaking, so that was better. But I still didn't really SIT the way I should have. Baby steps though... And cantering the one way without stirrups on her was a BIG step!!!

Ride Three:

...will be in the next entry! It was today and it was fun!
 

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Discussion Starter · #56 ·
I had two rides on Elle that I haven't written about yet. They were actually pretty similar and sort of blurred together so I won't get into a ton of detail about them.

The ride I had on the weekend was nice but kind of pokey. It's good to see her relaxed into her work again though, instead of hating it because we're being "mean" about the flexion. She's starting to lose some of the bracing in her neck, so that's a good sign for everyone. When I tested her lateral flexion before and after the ride, she came into it more easily, though she was resistant the first couple times and locked up for a while before softening to the side and getting her release. It was much better at the end of the ride, presumably because everything was warmed up by then. I had her in the bungee reins for this ride, and while, back in the winter, she seemed locked against them and miserable and like they were the meanest things in the world -- grinding teeth, swishing tail, no impulsion -- they now seemed very loose (despite being the exact same reins, exact same length) and she hardly seemed to notice them. She's definitely starting to soften, thank goodness, and get better strength and flexibility.

In that ride I did a lot of sitting trot without stirrups. Something about this seems to put her into this super-relaxed (but still forward) state with her head down, neck rounded, eyes half-closed, almost like she gets some kind of endorphin release from it. It's strange but... flattering? Unfortunately I think she went a little TOO Zen at one point because she tripped HARD coming back onto the rail from a circle and I was just relieved that she didn't do a faceplant. We recovered fine but I threw in some more transitions to wake her up again!!

I even cantered a circle each way, no stirrups, as I hadn't done that on her since December, I don't think. It was fine, thankfully!! Reminded me that I need to weight my inside seat bone more on a right lead, though. My torso and hips sometimes seems to want to counterbalance each other diagonally, when I don't have stirrups, instead of staying in a good vertical alignment. A good thing to recognize and work on.

Yesterday's ride was pretty similar. Elle was actually happy to see me and came up to me in the field, so I think she's forgiven me for the difficult flexion work from before. During the ride, there was a hose running across the ring for some reason and I couldn't do anything about it once I got out there, so we had to navigate carefully and daintily over that, but it was pretty flush with the ground (but very visible!) so not particularly worrisome. It was also raining, so I skipped things like the bungee reins and anything else that would require more time before I hopped into the tack. (Didn't want to get the saddle soaked before I even got up there.) Flexion and softness were MUCH better today and I was able to get her to soften her neck and come into the bridle without an argument.

On the theme of bending and flexion, there were some markers set up in the ring to create a false "wall" where the edge of a regulation dressage ring would be. They were equal distances from each other and made perfect "cones" to bend around. So we did some weaving through those at sitting trot. My sitting trot with stirrups is much better and more relaxed when I'm distracted, so it was good for me to give my brain something to do, and good for her to work on getting her big body to noodle between them.

I also did them at a canter with flying changes, but did every other marker as they were pretty close. The flying changes are getting a lot better. One major thing that helped me was reading, somewhere, that the flying change should actually be treated as asking for a new canter transition. So, I guess, a canter-to-canter transition? Anyhow, it was the thing that I needed to hear to make it work. My coach has never put it to me that way because I think, for her, she breaks it down into the individual cues in sequence. I was putting them together too slowly, though, so the other phrasing is better for me.

I also did some posting and sitting trot without stirrups, and a couple of laps of canter each way. My canter had some bounce to the right that I couldn't eliminate, but my hips and upper body were in better alignment. I think my hands were steadier, over all, in these two rides, too.
 

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Elle, 1997 Oldenburg mare
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Discussion Starter · #57 ·
Good ride this morning!

It's rather nice, looking back at most of my recent entries, to see that that's how I've been feeling about them for the most part. :)

I had my choice of horses this morning but decided to stick with Elle for now. While I feel I *should* be working on getting used to the others -- and I think it IS good for me to get comfortable with change -- I've been wanting to tweak and fine tune some stuff with my body, my tension levels, and the balance and straightness in my hips. Elle is, as horses go, one of the most balanced and straight that I've ever ridden. So when I want to work on getting *myself* more even, she seems like the right choice.

My sitting trot with stirrups was a bit of a mess today. Bouncing more than I should, stirrups clattering around. Ooof. I have good days and bad days. I remembered to do my little "elbow dance" to keep the tension out of my arms and keep my hands from bouncing. It's hard to focus on fixing more than one thing at a time, sooooo... Yeah.

Canter wasn't as stiff or bouncy today. I do need to get my hands back down, though. It used to be that I was riding with my hands too LOW, so getting me to raise my hands a bit in canter was something we worked on, but now I've taken it too far! Whoops. I'm also trying to get the rhythm right in when/how much to follow. I think maybe... steadier in the outside rein but a bit more give in the inside during the "down" portion of the stride? I've gotta revisit that in a lesson. It's interesting trying to time different aids with different points in the movement. It's a more specific level of training than I've ever had, and requires more timing and feel than I've ever had.

See that blog title there? I think I finally have eclipsed my "rider" status from my teens. I'm no longer "just" an adult re-rider -- though it's certainly not a label I've ever worn with shame. But I have better feel, better coaching, better lots of things now. And while my late-30s body is nowhere near as quick to adapt as my teen body was, in some ways the slower progression has been good because I've put a lot of thought and study and determination into it, instead of just doing the thing with no real understanding of the function or the reason or the variables.

I'm still a wuss about jumping though, and avoid it like the plague, except for a few times a year when I feel "crazy" enough to canter a single cross-rail or two-footer a couple of times. In my teens I DID jump, up to 3' at one point, but even when I was competent at it, it still gave me the heebie jeebies. I wouldn't be surprised though if my jumping were technically better now because I've put so much work into balance and strengthening on the flat. Who knows! Not in a hurry to find out though. Blahhh.

Anyhow, back to the ride itself. I did a bit more "pole-bending" through the arena markers at the trot. Did some big and small swoopy canter arcs around the ring, asking for flying changes. The canter-to-new-canter transition idea continued to work well for actually getting the changes more or less when I actually asked for them.

I'm still not getting that nice, melty feeling of really following the canter well and smoothly, that I was getting back in the winter. This whole got-it-lost-it thing with riding is... interesting. I try not to let myself get frustrated and just enjoy the little wins when they happen.

At one point we did a little loop in canter, zig-zagging in off the track and back onto it, slightly, but keeping the same lead. On the right lead it went really well. On the left lead... uhhhh. We moved badly off the rail, switched leads to the right trying to get back on the rail, than half-switched back to a left lead but crossfiring in the back, while cantering too fast, before she corrected herself. Hahahaha oh dear. My fault, I'm sure, as this is NOT something we've practiced and I have NOT done much counter canter work. And the little I've done has not been particularly successful.

We did some shoulder-in at trot. It was more of a neck-in because we hadn't practiced in a while and I kept forgetting to use my outside leg.

Finished up with no-stirrups work. Big laps of rising trot. I find if I post the trot without stirrups for long enough to tire myself out, I'm nice and relaxed for the sitting trot work because I'm too tired to get tense. Hahahahahahaha. Whatever works, right??

After the trot work we did not one but TWO big circles, each way, of no-stirrups canter. I instinctively wanted to wimp out after the first circle because I didn't feel *perfectly* balanced but I knew I was being oversensitive to it and needed to push through it and I'd be fine. And I was. I even survived some rushed big jarring trot when she was tired and fell out of canter a couple of times. I'm a bit bouncier than I'd like in the canter, even without stirrups, but it just needs lotssssss of practice.

Anyhow, it was really nice and I feel really good! Looking forward to my next lesson so that I can check in with all the work Elle and I have been doing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #58 ·
A terrible no good very bad day...

I had a lesson tonight. I also had one on Saturday that I haven't written about yet.

Saturday was supposed to be on Elle. When I got there my coach told me she was going in to the house to eat something, and I should tack up and just text her when I was ready. I caught Elle, brought her in and started to get her brushed... and she started curling her lip. At first, cute and funny, but she kept doing it and I remembered from the winter that this was a symptom of tummy troubles with her. Well, crap. I looked her over and noticed all her veins were popped up on her skin, like she'd been working out, even though she'd just been standing in the field. More lip curling. I offered her a handful of hay. Nope. Hmmm. Led her outside in case there really WAS something funny-smelling in the barn. But the lip curling continued, her eyes looked kind of glazed, and she had zero interest in grass, and she was just shuffling along hanging her head.

Of course, my phone chose this time to not connect whatsoever with my coach's phone. We waited a bit, paced around in the driveway, and finally I walked up to the house, and tried to streeeeeetch with Elle standing at the top of a set of concrete stairs while I leeeeaaaned over to knock on the door. Juuuust reached!

My coach came out and checked her over. Good gut sounds, not dehydrated and not acting like she was actually colicking, but she agreed that she definitely seemed a bit off. Elle got something for her tummy pain and a stall and some water, and I got Bambi and tacked her up instead. (Elle was herself again by morning, happy to report.)

The ride itself was pretty unremarkable. Mostly because I was very tired from being at a concert the night before and wasn't really as on my game as I could or should have been. We worked on flexion and bend, keeping her straight on the rail while bending her to the inside, straight, to the outside, straight, inside again, etc., right through her body while keeping her moving in a straight line. The canter was a bit wonky as she started out stiff in one hock, but she warmed out of it fine and the ride went ahead pretty well. I was still bracing in the canter but not as badly as I had been on the previous ride.

So, tonight....

I was in a bad mood all day. It's peak period time and my body and my emotions were not being kind to me. But I rallied and headed out to my lesson, looking forward to getting to go ahead and ride Elle, and just work on myself, feeling good on the horse I'm comfortable on. Wellllll... not meant to be. When I got there, Elle was already being ridden in a lesson and had worked up quite a sweat. Maaaannnn. I hadn't specifically asked to ride her, but I thought I would be okay as the other student doesn't normally ride her this night of the week. So I got Bambi and was just in a FOUL mood as I got ready. I wasn't blaming anyone. Obviously something had changed on the schedule and of course riding Bambi was completely reasonable. But my mood wasn't reasonable.

To make matters worse, Bambi would NOT get out of my space while I tried to get her ready. The more pressure I put on her hip or her quarters to move her over, the harder she would lean into it -- and she started squatting and squirting. Not only was she unwilling to get out of my space, but me shoving her was TURNING her ON!! Augh! I finally had to get a crop and give her several hard cracks to get her to stop being a creepy weirdo and MOVE. Which she did, without really batting an eye. Apparently in her current state four hard snaps with the leather end of a crop constituted a fair and polite request.

She also puffed up so much that the girth that normally goes up four holes per side would barely do up on the first hole. All the while... in squirting stance. Thanks Bambi.

By the time I got out to the ring I felt like even one wrong WORD from anyone was going to make me burst into tears. I'm normally a pretty positive, level-headed person at the barn, but... Bambi and I were apparently both wildly hormonal (though manifesting in VERY different ways) and I was worried the lesson would be a trainwreck.

BUT!!!! Plot twist!!!!!

The lesson was AWESOME! Apparently being in a super cranky mood turned me into some kind of super-rider. My right leg was initially cramping and being a bit weird but once we were a bit warmed up, everything was ON! I was totally focused, I was in a put-up-with-NO-BS mood, and rode Bambi FORWARD and put up with neither her crap nor mine. We trotted and cantered around tonight like we had PLACES TO BE. It was SO GOOD! And being so determined, suddenly none of my physical hang-ups had any of my attention whatsoever. I just did what I needed to do and my idiosyncrasies, tensions and tics just melted away. And so did most of hers. I didn't CARE if she wanted to toss her head. Or trip on her own feet. Or look at this or that. We needed to GO GO GO because I was cranky, dammit, and we were GOING!!

The results: no bounce or bracing in my body in the canter. No unintentional two-point or half seat. No hesitation, no weirdness picking up one lead. No nothing. I followed well with a deep seat, even in a forward canter. And while we still had some minor steering issues (she doesn't like to come off the rail to circle to the right) it was nothing like the problems I was having on her before.

So apparently the secret into turning Bambi into Superhorse and me into Super-rider is to be in a godawful verge-of-tears mood when I mount up. Hahahahaha. Or more realistically, I need to be more assertive and really take command and ride FORWARD.

One of the coolest things? She actually RELAXED the most she ever has when I've ridden her, and we rode several big laps and loops of forward, stretchy trot with her head DOWN. This horse is normally a short-necked giraffe so according to my coach this was a rare treat indeed! And flattering that she decided to give me that.

All in all, it was actually a much better and more productive lesson than the one I thought I was going to have! And one I really needed, as I've been getting a bit worried that I was only a good rider on Elle but not on other horses. But we nailed it tonight! Woohoooooo!
 

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That is a fantastic lesson, sometimes being a little mad works better with horses that need a very assertive energy and presence to try. Guess Bambi got the message that you weren't fooling around and didn't find her antics amusing, time to get serious. I'm glad your day ended on a positive note :)
 
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