Clay Wright Lesson

I’m still new to taking private lessons with my own horse, so today was quite the experience. Clay Wright is a local trainer who I watched a few times at my last barn, and jumped at a last minute open spot this weekend. V, who is working with Flash for/with me, takes lessons from him too, and I was hoping for some ground work and strength building exercises.

Backing up with engaged abs and not like a giraffe

Flash took 10 minutes to decide to load (to be fair, he’s only been trailered once since he moved to the new barn in March), hauled well except he got super sweaty. I love my new Trailer Eyes camera and that really helped my driving at least.

I’m listening to Clay, Flash is elsewhere clearly

The biggest thing I learned from Clay is a few concrete, slow and quiet ways to get Flash to tune into me. He’s very distractable and not always with me, which means taking him new places always feels like a bit of a gamble. I know he’s a solid, well travelled and well trained horse, but sometimes he hops off the trailer in a new place with limited space in his brain for working with me. Today we practiced exercises based on moving Flash’s weight forward and back, keeping his shoulder off of me and tuning into whatever speed I’m going took a whole hour…but what an educational hour! It was quite the workout for us both, even though we just walked around in a few circles and stood a lot.

Like watching paint dry…but so critical to further safe and enjoyable adventures!
Giving to pressure… eventually

Flash isn’t too spooky or reactive, just spacy, but by the end of the hour he was much more tuned into me and not bracing for whole minutes against the pressure of me asking for simple things, like lifting his weight up and back or just ever so slightly forward. He was definitely still able to be distracted but asking something of him constantly means he can’t fully tune me out, which was Clay’s point. The more I ask of him and keep his attention, the more he’ll realize it’s easier to stay with me and in turn be more confident with me.

Both of us more or less listening to Clay

There’s more buzzing around my head but this pregnant lady is tired and in desperate need of a shower! All photos on the post courtesy of the amazing V!

Always a post workout roll

Basics are good

Here he has his thinking cap on…

I had to admit to a friend today that despite all my experience in the horse world, I’ve never studied or really learned how to build a horse’s strength and carriage up from the basics. Oh I’ve picked up some tricks here and there, but no consistency.

V says he’s actually pretty good at shoulder in!

My main goal for the next two months, my last of this surrogate pregnancy and first of pregnancy recovery, is to build Flash up to the point that when I’m ready to ride again, he has the strength to carry me (who will definitely be a wobbly mess for awhile). Right now he’s definitely in pasture puff status and while he’s happy to be so, I dream of adventures together so to work we go!

We are so lucky V is working with us both! So much to learn!

Today V showed us a good amount of in hand work, which revealed that Flash is stronger on his right side than his left. I have been asking him to stretch and step under himself every night, which is helping a bit.

Bending and picking up his shoulder

While lunging him Flash got super speedy and started to canter around and give little bucks, telling us he’s anxious and trying to figure out the right answer…and that building up his fitness will be a long process but we have time. Once he figured out the right answer (stretching down and stepping under himself) he calmed down, though breaking into a canter was still easier for him than stretching. But he’s an awesome horse and he’ll get there…with his opinions firmly intact!

The post workout roll is always entertaining!

Every time I see or work with this great golden dude I fall for him a tiny bit more. I’m so excited to finish baking this beautiful baby for his parents and climb back in Flash’s saddle!

Work is hard but pasture life is easy!

Bluebird Day

I received hard news from my boss on Friday: a coworker, a senior manager I supported and was mentoring me a bit, was found dead in her home.

For this and various other reasons, I desperately needed a good day, a smooth day when I didn’t have to worry about a million things and everything just moved…easily.

Today delivered and I seriously lucked out in every way. Truck and trailer are both roadworthy, sealed, organized and basically as good as they get. Flash loaded more or less willingly (I’ve mostly accepted that he’ll load cause he’s a good guy and not because trailering is fun or neutral for him), and I got zero traffic up to Washington.

I had managed to snag a mid Monday lesson with a new trainer, Rebekah L., And boy both she and the facility she trains out of were definitely worth the drive! The sun was shining and it was warm enough for Kade and I to have a picnic lunch in the grass while we relaxed from the drive.

Rebekah is the first new trainer I’ve introduced myself to in years, and this time with my own horse! My main goal for the spring is to get Flash and I to a solid, well matched place, so we can pick up from there when I come back from pregnancy recovery in August. Might as well make the most of our arena time while we’re stuck there, and today’s outdoor arena was just… breathtaking. I don’t go for hyperbole much, but the sun was shining, the views of the hills were beautiful, and the footing was fantastic. I just wish it were a tad bit closer and we’d be there all the time!

Flash trailered well, relaxed while we waited and I tacked fuzzbutt up, and only called once to the horses all around him. He had a few opinions under saddle, but nothing to budge even my out of fitness butt. Rebekah gave me one main pointer that I was desperately needing-carry your hands! Huh, so that’s why I lurch forward at the posting trot, my hands were way too low!

Flash and I have tons of work to do, but there’s a well trained, happy partner under his blonde, cookie hogging exterior and I’m more excited than ever to bring it out. Good boy Flash, very good boy 🙂

A new exercise

Today when I arrived at the barn, someone had left a grid of poles laid out that I was immediately excited to try. Due to various reasons (being pregnant, super busy at work, and the occasional winter doldrums) I haven’t been riding Flash consistently. I brought him home in August and before that he was pretty much a trail horse, but under that cookie seeking exterior is a well trained horse.

We’re back to basics while we’re stuck in the arena, mostly while we really learn each other and build fitness (I won’t really get to keep it but hopefully he will!) Since part of my “be safer while pregnant” agreement is nixing trail rides, the arena is what I get so I’m trying to make the most of it. I’m also half contemplating previously unfathomable ideas like a low key local w/t/maybe canter schooling show. Me, show???? I haven’t bothered to do that since Pony Club!

Blondie thought he was done when I dismounted…🤣

So here’s our attempt at this serpentine grid, and side passing down a pole, serenaded by frogs, coyotes and restless children 🤣

Practice Makes Better

Before I get into the play by play of tonight’s ride with Ray, I wanted to give my trainer Terraka a good shout out. Today I pulled a few firsts, made possible by her giving me the go ahead to ride after work once a week. I was able to head up the barn with my dog and practice some things from Celena’s clinic while it was all still fresh, in the quiet and peace of the indoor while the rain poured outside.

My tentative plan to do a short trail ride was immediately abandoned due to my wimpiness of not wanting to ride in the rain, and since there was no one at the barn I erred on the side of caution. Riding alone is one thing; riding when there’s no one nearby to help another. I set up some obstacles and exercises and tacked Ray up (thankfully he was chilling in his stall, so no mud to deal with!)

I stuck with his snaffle instead of the Kimberwick, as he doesn’t even really need a bit for the ring, but I wanted to test his give to the bit. It definitely got much better after the hour was up! Instead of setting his jaw and sticking his nose out when I gathered contact, he dropped his poll and sighed, much improved!

I practiced on my two point/soft seat, man that needs work! I still tend to brace too much in the stirrups and lean forward like some poor, over boobed bimbo, but practice makes better. Ray only tried to squirrel out once, but I just took a deep breath and kept him chugging along. He made my legs work for it!

I did two “firsts” this afternoon, well, first post child anyway. I cantered in the ring, a full circle! We worked on rating, as he wanted to charge canter toward the gate and slog away from the gate, I was able to keep him moving without him tossing his head above the bit. After the heavy work was done, I popped his saddle off and slid back on bareback. I didn’t trot, just cooled him out at the walk cause that poor redhead is not made for bareback riding. Oohhh, those withers!

I’m utterly satisfied by this evening. Once I made the decision to stick to the ring, I was much more relaxed and focused more on riding correctly than just staying mounted. Clearly I still have a long ways to go, but now that I’m able to ride twice a week things should move a bit quicker. Neither Ray or I are quite conditioned for Grizzly, so we’re aiming now for Prineville, a similar ride I haven’t yet been to a few weeks later. We’ll go camping at Sisters Cow Camp instead of Grizzly, and get a good solid ride in at the 7-9mph we need to hit to actually finish a ride.

I can’t wait!

 

PS I was able to take videos of myself due to the case Tom made me buy for the iPhone; the Rokform case comes with a heavy duty magnet that sticks to pretty much anything metal & it sure comes in handy!

Clinic Time!

For my birthday this year, I went full adult and splurged on a Celena Pentrack clinic. Time amazingly well spent with the endurance focused dressage trainer, and my Evernote app is full of pearls of wisdom on everything from saddle fit to working with a buddy sour horse. I was exceptionally lucky in that I was able to ride both days on two different horses, both of whom presented interesting challenges for Celena to guide me through.

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I put the kid in charge of taking pictures…time to get him a decent camera!

On Saturday I moseyed up to Shelton, settled in and met up again with 20 year old Shadow, whom I was able to squeak out my proudest completion two years ago, a 35 mile ride at Mt. Adams. I earned every mile of that ride, and god bless Shadow for chugging on through it with a rider who’s ankle died at mile 25. This weekend, however, he decided he was deeply in bromance with his owner’s other horse Rocky, so I spent most of my time with him convincing him I wasn’t the Boogeyman. I took him out for a trail ride on Saturday, walking the first mile before he settled down enough to mount.

My first highlight of the weekend came when I looked up, took a deep breath and realized I was once again out alone with just my dog and a good horse, miles of trails in front of me and the sun weakly shining down. My happy place.

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Clearly worried but willing!

Of course when we got back, saw Rocky, and I wanted to check to see if Shadow would go back out again, we had to spend a good quarter of an hour backing and circling and hollering down the driveway, but we did it and I stuck it.

A few hours later I hopped on Streak, the barn owner’s and my friend’s Texas bred Quarter Horse. Now, keep in mind this was this horse’s home facility, I’d spent a good chunk of last summer riding and working with this horse, and I put my kid on this horse for lead line lessons last summer. Streak decided he hated the bit, hated the corners of the arena, hated the chickens outside, and had totally forgotten what it meant to trot in a straight line. My low moment of the weekend came when Celena futzed with my seat and informed me I’d put my stirrups back on totally wrong.

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The makings of a ride camp dog!

My third highlight was once again sticking it out on a horse determined to holler and spin and squirrel his way through my riding time, but I almost learned more than if he’d been his normal even headed self. We dealt with his rooting at the bit, haunches turn, rating speed and responsiveness to my seat and the bit, and I eventually turned out a horse that remembered his job, mostly.

My third highlight of the weekend was piling blankets and pillows and dog beds in the back of the Emerald Queen and driving around the country block to the local drive in theater. Kade, the dog and I watched the Black Panther from the back of the SUV, scarfing down charred cheeseburgers and candy while cuddled together and watching the nation of Wakanda take shape before us.

Sunday morning I dragged my tired butt up and again put on riding clothes and my new, perfectly fitted half chaps for another spin with Shadow. He again wanted to have fits over his bro being in the outside round pen, so Celena and I spent the time working on my seat and engaging the poor lonely horse’s brain. He’s a good boy and eventually settled down, while Celena guided me through (ie tortured me) with two point trot poles. Man, have I still got a ways to go towards building strength for 50 miles of soft posting.

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Shadow considering his life choices

The last highlight of the weekend came during the after lesson chat. I’d last ridden with Celena a year ago, so this was an invaluable chance to check in with her about my progress, and boy she’s noticed! She said she barely recognized me when I drove in, nearly 40 pounds and a bunch of hair lighter. I still have a ways to go, but she’s pleased most especially with my quiet seat (minus the occasional unsoft landing), solid legs and grit, which she terms stick to itness. High praise indeed from an exacting trainer who expects us to give our best selves to our horses, so the horses can do the best for us as comfortably as possible.

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The main points I’m going to be focused on leading up to Grizzly are working with Ray and using some of Celena’s techniques to work through the first few miles of race brain, which includes letting him make mistakes I can softly correct, versus expecting him to race and holding onto his face. Continual core and leg strength building will continue, I really have to keep my arms and elbows hanging underneath my shoulders, instead of the constant “give away” I do now that leaves me sore after miles of incorrect positioning.

There’s so much more I learned while mounted and from watching other’s ride with her all weekend, things that will percolate in the background until I have need of them. Having this clinic at the excellent T&A ranch was icing on the cake, most especially the propane heaters for Sunday when the rain and wind really whipped up! If you’ve read this far, a million thanks to Celena, Andrea, Amie & Terry for a perfect birthday weekend.

Bonus: Celena declared Cyrus her favorite clinic auditor!

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Mr. 2Spooky

(Setting the scene: sitting in my beloved Emerald Queen, still at work, waiting for the World’s Best future husband to come rescue me and my non independent woman self from a super flat tire, and a spare tire I can’t get out from under the vehicle cause I’ve never practiced on this truck yet).

After looting the local 4H tack sale with two far fetched friends on Saturday, I put the new to me tack to use on Sunday.

My proudest score of Saturday was a almost brand new Equipedic pad for $100, which is totally worth boasting about and bonus, Ray had no issues with it!

A still relatively new to me riding partner and I headed out for a long slow ride, as we’re aiming to turtle Grizzly together. I have always ridden with others much more experienced than I, both with endurance and the local trails. Yesterday I got to be the ‘senior’ riding partner, and we never once got lost! She mentioned several suggestions I had that I’ve picked up from others (hopping off every 10 miles or so to pee and stretch and adjust tack, letting horses graze for a few minutes every so often, and walking the last bit I to camp/the barn) were super helpful, so thanks to all those who’ve instilled good habits in me!

While it was a good 12 mile ride (no rain!) I was reminded once again that Ray is a different horse than super laid back, goofy Jokker.

Mr. I’m actually a teenager spent a good chunk of the ride just super casually glancing around, going full giraffe at random moments, and not quite fully jumping sideways at Every. Single. Culvert. I rode every moment of the ride, working to not let my emotions rule because Mr. I’m not actually trying to dump you tried to pretend he was a super spooky four year old.

I kept the image of mile 18, trotting easily down trail halfway back to camp and a well earned completion award and roaring bonfire in mind as I again reminded Mr. I go so fast than no, you can’t bolt all the way home, and please don’t tailgate the peeing mare.

Rather than being terrified, I enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself to match the horse, and not get sucked into his attempts to weasel out of work. He did eventually accept the notion and we settled down and enjoyed ourselves (minus the redhead eating culverts).

Lessons learned: definitely going to try a Kimberwick or at least a running martingale next time; he has a habit of sticking his nose straight up when he disagrees with the riders chosen speed. “Neener neener, can’t tell me what to do now!” Shortening my stirrups was both good and bad; my seat was much better, but it tired my right ankle our faster and forced me to constantly reset my bad balance (something I’m hoping Celena can help me with at her clinic in two more weeks!)

My proudest moment was also the scariest; we were cantering back home and I could feel myself tipping forward over his neck, reins not short enough to do any good, and if he’s stumbled or shied I would have been dumped, just like I fell off Reno at Grizzly last year. Fortunately this year I heard some old trainer’s loud ass voice shout ‘Sit on your ASS!’ so I did and we came back to a more controlled canter that I cowgirl whooped my way through cause yeah, super badass enough to correct that mistake this time!

The only thing I really need to work with Mr. Fastest Possible Speed is rating, which I know will be worse the first five miles out of ride camp. My twin goals are dialing in his bit/martingale combo and working on my core strength so I can keep with him for those long miles.

We can do this and we can enjoy doing so, even more when the sun decides to shine! Hows everyone else’s conditioning coming?

All of the sunshine!

I can tell I got an absolute, glorious overload of sun yesterday based on how quickly I fell asleep last night and the reddish tinge to my fair Yankee skin today (for the record, I did wear sunscreen!)

Even more remarkable than wearing sunscreen and riding in a T shirt in March is that I rode solo for the first time in…well, years. As a catch rider I’m always riding with the owner of their spare horse I’m riding. Now that I’m part leasing a horse, there’s a possibility I could be out alone at some point, and what better time to practice long lost skills than a perfect spring day?

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Can’t top this shot!

As a bonus, Cyrus got to come along for his first trail ride, proving himself a suburb trail dog…though for walking rides only (as a short nosed Boxer, regulating heat is tough on him).  He stayed out of the horse’s way, stayed close by, didn’t bolt after any furry creatures, drank from any water we crossed (trust me, that’s huge for Mr. Princess Former Show Dog!), and had perfect voice recall. I wouldn’t have taken him out if I’d really worried about his recall, seeing as how people are rightfully super picky about misbehaving dogs wandering around, but it’s nice to be proven right.

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Pics or it didn’t happen right?

Mr. “I Can’t Believe This Is Happening To Me” and I put in some quality time, with short though frequent discussions on the meaning of the words “forward” and “walk.” My only goal for the day was to get to the new crossroads clear cut area (which made for a 6 mile out & back ride) where we walked the whole time. Since last week’s ride was a speed workout at Hardy Creek, on the way back to the barn Mr. “We Go Fast Now?” struggled a bit with this concept. But with plenty of circles, half halts, full halts to contemplate the quiet cows and marching back out onto the trail, no one died and I never came off. I won’t lie, I hopped off voluntarily and walked whenever Mr. “I’m actually a Giraffe”‘s back turned into that upside down U, but this ensured that my anxiety level of going outside my comfort zone never matched Ray’s desire to spook at anything so he could go home, now.

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I can’t match tack or gear, but I can match animals!

That said, I probably could have ridden the entire 6 miles. Mr. “I could spook at that bush, hay bale, mailbox, strange horse” never actually threw anything that frightened me. Whenever he became glacially slow, sidled sideways or tried to turn for home, it just brought out the stubborn “I have a goal and you have a job to do” inner bitch of mine, but man does she get the job done. Once that part of me popped up, I actually enjoyed myself. How could I not, riding in the warm sun on a cute redhead with my handsome dog bopping along behind?

Clearly I still have work to do. I need to be fit enough to ride at Ray’s speed and stay balanced; we need to try a different bit, maybe a running martingale for endurance rides based on what the trainer thinks; and I need new half chaps (I’ve lost so much weight mine can’t stay up anymore!)  The Canby 4-H tack sale is this weekend, so I’ll be looking for a few nice girths, another saddle pad and breast collar to add to my growing tack collection.

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The most relaxed part of the ride!

Things I have figured out include my lovely Barefoot saddle with lovely sheepskin cover and custom stirrups; riding in my new running shoes (so much more comfortable on a hot day than my hiking boots!), not over layering (that’s what killed me my first attempt at Grizzly), what to pack in my pommel bag; and to always, even for short walking rides, wearing my Osprey hydration pack.

Extra shout out: Anyone willing to lend me a camper trailer for said third attempt at Grizzly? See you on the trails!

IMG_5344.jpgMr. Best Redheaded Steed!

Giggle Attack

I spent my Sunday in the best way possible: Ignoring the bittersweet feeling of being dragged out of bed way too early for a weekend to drop Tom off at the airport, bound for business in South Korea. Instead I headed to the woods and giggled my way through a 12 mile ride in the woods on my favorite spotted pony, the incomparable Jokker.

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With the possibility of the last endurance ride of the season in three weeks, Foothills of the Cascades in our backyard, we focused on elevation and enjoying the single track trails which will be closed to us as soon as the really wet weather arrives to usher in winter. We spent a perfect few hours heading up…up…down up down up switchbacks giant hill lean forward step up walk down aaaaaand back up. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to tack up and just ride; Vicki’s been nice enough to let me leave all my gear on Jokker’s saddle, so I don’t have to fiddle with everything each time I get to ride him.

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During a rest break at the very top of the hills I crinkled open a Rice Krispie treat, a guilty ride day pleasure which Jokker couldn’t help but have a very strong opinion about. His opinion boiled down to the same as a toddler’s, “How DARE you not share woman!” I spent about five minutes laughing so hard I had to actually work to stay in the saddle as he kept tossing his head up for a bite, while Jokker’s dam KC jiggled with her normal Arab mare impatience to be moving forward.

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On the way back down we stuck to the logging road, where I was able to sit deep and really stretch Jokker out as we tried to catch up with KC and Vicki, faster and far in front as usual. If you’ve met him in real life, you’ll first notice the spots, then his size…or vice versa. Either way, the boy has a canter that truly cures all ills…and I feel privileged every time I’m able to ride him. Foothills, give us a dry year, and don’t have any rocks with our names on them!

 

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Yesterday

The song I’m turning to most recently to keep my spirits up is “Yesterday”, from Imagine Dragons. It has just the right combo of upbeat musicals and slightly somber vocals that matches where I am about now.

Here’s to my future

Here’s to my yesterday

Here’s to change

Oh, here’s to my yesterday

No tomorrow without a yesterday

Here’s to my future

Goodbye to yesterday

I’ve had close to twenty interviews for various administrative positions in the last few months, and exactly zero offers. My cover letter and resume are impressive enough to get into the room, but not enough to reach the final offer. As one can imagine, it sucks large to know I can do a kick-ass job, but not be able to convince people of that.

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On the other hand, training is picking up. I spent a weekend in heaven, riding no less than four different horses, and working with riders and their horses in six different riding lessons. I spent two full days on horseback or in the barn, helping horses or their riders with various issues, strength building, saddle fit, and helping people be more comfortable with their horses. I found a better bit for a young mustang; reminded a beautiful palomino that standing is preferable to being bugged about moving; saw a smile bloom on a rider who finally found a comfortable trot out of his large Quarter Horse gelding.

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I made a joke to Tom that clearly, the universe is trying to tell me something…but we all know how unreliable the universe can be. Building a business is hard, let alone a horse based business, in these times when fewer and fewer have the money and time for such a money and time intensive animal. Pesky adult things like insurance, regular non-equine bills, and a child starting up with sports and swim lessons and whatever else he’ll grow to be interested in to find money for also need to be accounted for.

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I have a decent base to start from, however. A supportive partner with a solid, decent job; a happy go lucky kid; a lifetime of experience with varied horse pursuits and training philosophies, from Pony Club to working draft horses to kid’s camps. I have a good handle on my own strengths and holes as a rider and horse person (don’t ask me much about nutrition, ask a vet!) I have a much better sense of business, of organization, of customer relations than fresh faced college me ever could.

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The path forward isn’t clear, and rejections sting, but I’ll keep plugging along at it until something gives. A steady paycheck has something to be said for it, although being home to send Kade off to school and pick him up is a large draw for me right now, just being available when he needs us. I have the feeling first grade is going to be a bit tougher than kindergarten was for the short blonde dude, so I’m really hoping/planning for the time we can bring a dog home to give him a friend, a playmate, a warm shoulder to lean on when the parents just can’t understand. Wilson is a very good cat, but he’s still a cat, and I’m a firm believer in the right kid/dog combo. Plus, it’s hard to sleep in or give into laziness with a talkative dog that really needed a walk an hour ago singing in your ear at 5am…though it’ll be interesting to see if “dog needing to pee” or “cat DEMANDING to be fed NOW” wakes us up first!

 

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