You Teach Me, I Teach You

(10 points to your appropriate Hogwarts house if you identify that theme song…)

I wanted to be a teacher when I was in middle school/high school. Like, REALLY wanted to be one.  I had some amazing, inspiring teachers who had held my hand when it needed to be held and I wanted to be that person for a kid like me. Many thought this was a lovely, admirable goal but I had a few very wise folks give me a side eye because they realized, long before I did, that I have no patience for people. I scoffed at them for awhile, before begrudgingly admitting that they were right: I had no patience for other people. However! I had unending patience with critters. It would totally translate into patience with people, when the time came, right?

Right…?

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Found that out in college. I have no patience for other humans and want to smack most of them. Tiny humans I tend to be better with — they’re kind of like puppies and I like puppies so they’re okay — but anything older than 5 gets the hairy eyeball when they want me to teach them something. I don’t consider myself particularly intelligent, but I’m a relatively quick study and expect everyone to be equally as quick. I also expect everyone to not need a whole lot of guidance and to independently figure stuff out for themselves, because that’s what I do.

I’m sure you see the issue here. There’s a reason they quit giving me the new reps when I was still in customer service at Dover…and that reason was, plain and simple, I sucked at it.

Moral of the story is, teaching has never been my strong point…until you give me an animal. 

Critters are different. I’ve always had quite a bit more patience for the furry ones, and I like watching creatures learn. I don’t feel the same frustration with the process, probably because my expectations from the start are so much different with animals than they are with people. I love seeing or feeling that lightbulb moment when said creature finally understands what I’ve been trying to communicate, they give it, and they get a reward. I love the eager student who then throws me this response every time I ask because they KNOW now, and because they know, everything is okay in their little world again. Some people hate training because it takes time and effort, but thankfully, I’m not one of them.

It’s not always smooth, though. There is one other thing about training critters that can sometimes trip me up: hitting the end of my knowledge. I hit a point where I’ve built everything I can from what I know and can teach successfully, and then have to figure out where to go from there. I am young, prideful, and sometimes overly independent, so 90% of the time, I try to muddle my way through by piecing together a MacGuyvered approach through reading, YouTube videos, and the occasional discussion with a friend. There comes a point, though, where there’s only so much you can glean from reading/YouTube. I’m just smart enough to know that pride and independence cannot get in the way of properly educating a horse to be a good citizen, which means that calling in outside help is usually a better option before you get in over your head.

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“Plz to be explaining why you’re hugging my butt, Human…”

I don’t feel “over my head” with Sirius. I did with Simba, to be honest. I was overwhelmed by his lack of try and didn’t know how to go about combating that. At the end of the day, we fed off of each other and his lack of try became my lack of try…and, well, we know how that ends. Sirius is eager, though. He wants to do the right thing, whatever that is, even if he doesn’t understand it. I was willing to blindly muddle my way through with Simba because I hit a point where “good enough” was, well, good enough. With Sirius, I don’t want “good enough”. I want us to be the very best, like no one ever was (aahahahaha I crack myself up). So, while I’m not feeling overwhelmed and like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I’m willing to throw everything I have at this horse to make the very best happen. “My everything” at this point means going out and finding someone to walk me through teaching him the things he needs to know, so I can be 100% sure it’s done correctly without me puzzle-piecing things together. Don’t get me wrong, I am an adequate rider. I can stay on through most stuff, have enough experience to know when to discipline and when to pick my battles, and am mostly confident working with and around horses…but, I have holes in my training. Give me a green horse and I can ride it, but don’t ask me to teach it anything outside of forward, backwards, left and right. The finessing stuff is just not something I’ve had a chance to explore with someone guiding me. Sure, I could probably puzzle it out…but I don’t want this horse being an experiment on my end. If I’m going to learn how to do this stuff, I want to have someone walking me through it. 

As I said last time, I made the decision to ask J for some lessons after I realized that a ground person in general would be beneficial for me. It’s been over a year since I last had a horse I was actively, consistently working with and it’s been a little bit of a struggle to get into riding mode instead of pure passenger mode. I really needed a year of just playing with horses, and I’m eternally grateful that I got what I needed, but switching gears is taking more effort than I expected it would. Once I realized that, it made sense to reach out for a few lessons.

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Cute beast is cute!

I chose J for a whole slew of reasons, some of which I’ve already detailed.  She knows Sirius well and she has the skills and experience to help us get to where we need to be. Lastly, and maybe most importantly right now, I am as comfortable with J as I can get with another person. She is possibly one of the only people on the planet I don’t feel constant emotional and mental pressure from when I’m in her presence. I knew that, in itself, was going to be extremely beneficial because my general reaction to other humans is tension, which isn’t conducive to a productive learning environment. 

In short, it made sense…and based on the past few weeks, it’s been a really, really good decision.

J came out first three weeks ago for a short session that was mostly an evaluation. Now, I’ve been riding WITH J for over a year now, but not UNDER J. She is very good about not injecting her opinion unless it’s asked for, so this was my first formal instruction from her. I was mildly nervous, per usual, but that quickly dissipated as our usual banter wove itself into her teaching style. She is very good at articulating her point and getting it across in a way that is both easy to understand and easy to visualize. I’m a pretty visual learner, so I usually have to have someone show me something before I really “get” it, but J only had to take Sirius from me once when I gave her a deer in the headlights look. 

Sirius’ groundwork was remarkably good that day — he was consistent and soft on the lunge line, and willingly yielded both fore and hindquarters. It was his best groundwork to date at the time (first weekend in January) and even I was impressed with him. Sometimes it takes an outsider standing with you for you to really observe a horse, and he has come leaps and bounds with his pre-flight check groundwork stuff. 

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J got this very sweet shot of Sirius snuggling with me.

J only worked with us under saddle for maybe ten minutes before having to leave, but it was a really productive ten minutes. I got on, and Sirius immediately buzzed forward into fast and bracey. I, instinctively, tightened up on the reins and went to turn him in a tight circle. J called out to me to loosen my reins a few notches, and open one rein and turn him in the complete opposite direction…and then let him go straight. Er, okay. Sure. So, I did. He went through the turn, walked for half a stride, and then tried to gait. J had me immediate turn him in a wider circle in the other direction. 

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“Plz to be explaining why you’re hugging my butt, Human…”

Lather, rinse, repeat…until he was walking on a loose rein. Granted, J didn’t get to see that part because she had to scoot, but but the end of 20 minutes under saddle, I had a nice, flatfoot walk. I could tell Sirius was mildly confused but also pleasantly surprised by the heaps of praise he was getting. I vaulted off after two laps around the front of the ring at the walk, and he happily toodled after me back into the barn for a good grooming.

The next weekend was a bit of the same, but we added some corto into the mix. This is where things got really, really cool.

Now, I’ve been riding for almost 20 years. I’ve ridden a whole slew of horses and have some really awesome stories about those horses. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever ridden one like Sirius. I’ve ridden hot and sensitive, sure, but I’ve never ridden one who tried so hard to be in tune with his rider. He has his moments when his hot and sensitive nature overwhelms him, but when we both get it right? Magic.

Nearing the end of the lesson two Saturdays ago, J wanted to incorporate some corto into our walking now that Sirius kind of had the idea of what we wanted. We went up to the front of the ring and put ourselves on a smaller circle. J asked me to corto, and I clucked to move Sirius up into his gait. He gaited off nicely, per usual, from just my voice. After a few strides, J asked me to come down to the walk. I gently closed my hands on the reins, and he obliged.

J then asked me to try just using my seat to ask him to move forward. Now, my experience with using my seat for forward motion is with reiners — aka, up and out of the saddle for your fast circles and run downs, and then coming back into the saddle to slow down or cue for a stop. These are big, exaggerated movements that cause big, exaggerated responses. Sure, I’ve always used my seat to ask for a stop.”Sinking down” into my seatbones was drilled into my head as a youngster. I’ve never actively asked for incremental forward movement with my seat, though, so it was a new concept for me.

It took me a few minutes to figure out how to do what was being asked of me. It’s a bit hard for me to describe, but I literally just add the slightest amount of tension to my seat and just think “corto”. The second it happened, I’m 100% certain there was a big, dumb grin on my face…because not only did he corto, he cortoed quite calmly and slowly, instead of steamrolling himself forward at mach ten. Then, the smile stayed plastered on my face because I released that tension, and he dropped back to a walk. SO FREAKING COOL. I know this is elementary stuff for most folks, but I have many training holes and have been riding horses that were not mine/not sensitive enough to really help me understand what this level of riding could be about,

I did this a few more times before repeating my vault off of him and covering him in kisses. He’s so pleased with himself when he gets praise. He’s such a smush.

This past Saturday, I almost boogered out…the weather in the morning was total shit, and I spent half my day in the office because inventory was about to be upon us and I had a hundred things that needed doing. However, when I got out of the office, the sun was almost shining and it was warm enough to where the snow was squishy…so, I suited up, and shuffled over to the barn.

I’m super glad I did, because we had a really lovely ride. Just in three rides of “redirecting” him when he gets zoomy, he’s relaxed markedly under saddle. In fact, I was able to mount him from the mounting block with almost no issues for the first time. He has come SO FAR from the panicked mess he was not too long ago, and has learned the command “stand” almost perfectly. I also started leaving his rope halter on under his bridle, mostly because he is super comfortable and secure with cues from the halter if it gets to that point (it hasn’t, but it acts like a security blanket of sorts for him), and I switched him into a double jointed snaffle I had lying around. I’m treating this as an accelerated (and I only use that word because he learns so quickly and he DOES have a fair amount of training) re-starting, and wanted to go back to basics with what was in his mouth. Unfortunately, Chad the Vet had to reschedule for Wednesday the 27th, so I’ve been consistently checking his mouth for ouchies and have pretty much sworn off using the reins if I don’t have to right now until that gets checked out…but he has taken to the snaffle quite well. He’s heavy in it, but lightness will come later.

Anyway, we did more of the same redirecting when I first climbed into the saddle. Once he was quiet down by the front of the ring, I expanded our circle a bit. We had to repeat the redirecting a few times, because he gets rushy going back towards the barn (mild barn sourness, clearly), but he settled very quickly. So, after a few good laps, we went back up front where the footing was best and worked on our walk-corto-walk transitions.

Which were AWESOME. I pretty much just thought “corto” and off he went. It is such a neat feeling to have a horse that in tune with what you’re asking! I experimented with turns as well, and he was quick to pick up moving off of my seat for turning. This horse, you guys…he is just so. much. FUN.

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Kisses for good ponies!

I cut it short after that because he was being so good and we were both enjoying ourselves, and I don’t like pushing it. He enjoyed many scritches and cookies, and was happy to go back outside with his friends.

Sunday, we just lunged because the footing had re-frozen and I wasn’t about to risk it. The far end of the ring was crunchy enough, so after a rousing game of chase (*mutter*), I caught my naughty beast and he gleefully zoomed around me on the end of the lunge line, even through multiple changes of direction. When I finally stopped flying my kite of a horse and he settled down to listen, we got some nice transition on the lunge line, worked on sidepassing on the ground, and then played with the mounting block.

He is really almost 100% with the mounting block at this point. He stands stock still when I get on, and only gets antsy when I approach the block. He is VERY protective of his left side for some reason. Once I place him at the block and tell him to stand, he tries his damnedest to keep me from moving around to his left side, attempting to “block” me with his head. I know for a fact this horse has never been mistreated or abused, so his reluctance over having someone approach him from the side to step up onto a mounting block is very curious. Regardless, most of our work was just standing still while I stood on the block. He’s quit his frantic circling, but the second you move to climb up on the block, he shifts his hindquarters away so he’s facing you, again, blocking you from being on his left. So, I would correct him, and try again. It took maybe ten minutes of this before he stood and let me scratch him from up on the block. I repeated this a handful of times, before swinging on bareback. Perks of having a short horse? A three step mounting block is PLENTY tall enough to simply swing your leg over his back for a bareback ride!

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Had him packing his bit for consistency…definitely the quietest he’s been with a bit in his mouth.

Of course, he just had his rope halter on so I sat up there for a minute, sang his praises, and stepped back down. We did this a couple more times, before I shrugged and asked him to walk off. We did a few circles in each direction at the walk (I didn’t even have to redirect him once, which was FABULOUS), before I slid down again and gave him many kisses.

It is amazing how much this horse is teaching me, in such a short amount of time. It’s also blowing my mind how much I’m loving every single second of it. He is such a vibrant little horse with such a big heart that you can’t help but want to smush his face. I’m so, so proud of him already and am so grateful I get to call him mine. I sincerely hope we have many years of teaching each other things.

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Cherry the mini!
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My handsome beastie.
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Sirius’ BFF, Ben the Gypsy Vanner.
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Ben’s EPIC mustache.

In unrelated news, I house sat this weekend where I had the Corgi Crew and got many Corgi kisses.

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Jake the Pembroke…not picture: Hannah the Cardigan and Isaac the Cardigan, both equally as adorable.

And I met Lindsey Stirling  and her sister Brooke at their book signing!

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Aaaaand Alan Rickman died and I cried. A lot. #pathetic

I’m not sure if there will be ride time this weekend because snowstorm and inventory (UGH). Here’s hoping we get just enough snow so maybe we can hit the trails Saturday or Sunday…!

Holidaze

If you know me at all, you know I’m not a holiday person. My usual excuse is my job, but seeing as I’m no longer a customer service lackey, I don’t have that to hide behind. The magic of the holidays was squashed many, many years ago and I don’t expect it to ever come back. I’m okay with that. It is what it is, and I’ve become a talented actress over the years so my Scrooge attitude doesn’t bother anyone else. At this rate, I should be nominated for a damn Oscar.

fml

Anyway, this year has been significantly easier with the lack of pissy customers and a lack of places I have to be — my family didn’t get together until today (which I sadly had to skip anyway due to a nasty virus that’s knocked me on my ass), and the folks I live with were out in Arizona, so I spent Christmas burrowed in a pile of blankets playing video games. It’s been a much brighter holiday season because of lack of pressure.

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Giving some Christmas lights the hairy eyeball. I don’t like them either, buddy, but we both have to get over it…

It’s also been significantly brighter because of a certain little grey beast.

We are getting along quite well and are figuring each other out. The more I learn about him and the more he reveals himself to me, the more I adore him. Groundwork has come quite far in just the past two weeks. Last weekend, for the first time, his attention was completely on me without me having to remind him to give me eyes and ears whenever he wasn’t actively doing something. He’s also gotten the idea of turning on the lunge line — all I need to do is slide my hand down the line and invite him to turn in, and he’s already turning. He’s also figured out how to differentiate that from a whoa…which he has also gotten loads better about. Stopping and standing has not ever been his thing, especially under saddle, so achieving it on the ground was a good step in that direction.

There are also little things that he’s doing that are indicative of a progressing relationship. Earlier this month, he started being more reactive with scritches. I was standing and talking on the phone to a friend with him loose in the ring, scratching his neck and withers. He twisted his lips happily, and then swung his head around to wiggle them against my face. I burst out into delighted giggles, which clearly reinforced the behavior, because he’s continued to do it ever since. He’s adorable.

Under saddle, he and I had a fabulous ride Saturday the 19th. We took to the rail trail and boogied our way down to the quarry, which I haven’t seen in a year or two. I worked very hard at being 100% relaxed physically in the saddle and it definitely helped with his goofy spooking. Thankfully, it’s just annoying — he’s not a bolter, spinner, bucker, ect but when you’re cantering down the trail and your horse suddenly full body shudders away from something, it’s a little jarring! I have a decent enough seat that it’s never even halfway unseated me, and I usually just laugh, but I like my teeth not clacking together, thanks! Sirius was not ridden by himself often at J’s, so I don’t fault him for being a little “up” in a new place with new trails. He is awfully similar to Simba in that way…and in the way that rocks seem to be terrifying. He’s such a goober!

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Mason, NH quarry off of the rail road trail. 

Sunday the 20th, I was really mean and I did this:

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And you know what?

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He was perfect. He didn’t bat an eye at ANY of it, including the very shiny, annoying tinsel. He even seemed to LIKE it. A coworker came out to run my camera while we cortoed around the ring, and he was happy to do so. He even preened a little when I turned him loose in the ring with said coworker to push him around for me so I could step behind the camera. He puffed up and strutted a little bit. Can I also mention that he lunged in perfect circle around my coworker at liberty? That was cool to see, and I repeated the feat the next day just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. I wish I had access to a round pen…liberty work with him would be a blast!

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The cold never bothered us anyway. (PS: I’m mad I forgot to wipe down my boots after getting on…)

A few more friends came over to visit and I demoed Sirius’ gait for them. His gait, admittedly, takes a hit in the ring. It’s not his favorite place and he is not shy about expressing his displeasure. He’s never BAD, but he’s much stiffer and more likely to give me lip about commands, especially when it comes to slowing down or stopping. Stopping under saddle has been an ongoing battle. He’s is a hot, forward horse so when he’s asked to stop and he hits the bit, he feels claustrophobic and has a mild meltdown. Usually, it’s a half rear/spin thing. It is irritating but also somewhat amusing because he is 14.1 hands of childish temper tantrum and is easily corrected. However! Based on the past few weekends of working on this and it not being consistently better, I clearly need a better game plan. The stop itself has come leaps and bounds — I can ask for it and get it more often than not, but he is tense and unhappy about it. If he tries to go forward and I close my hands on the reins, he hits that bit and has his temper tantrum. I pull his nose to my foot and ask him to move his hindquarters over a couple time as a punishment, but it’s not really mitigating the issue.

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Nerd pony in his pretty sheet!

So, after a particularly messy ride last Sunday, with rearing and temper tantrums and a complete inability to walk, I touched base with J. Now, I say that like we don’t talk anymore. That’s complete and total bullshit. We chat off and on during the week via Gchat at work and have nighttime conversations a few times a week after work. J’s been a wealth of knowledge when I ask for it, and has been really, really good about being hands off if I DON’T ask for it. Anyway, despite the fact I don’t actually feel like I’m in over my head yet, I did ask her for some input because I’m not one to shy away from outside perspectives. She had some good things to say…and it dawned on me that maybe the smart thing to do would be to take some real, live formal lessons from her. I’m certain she can really help us both here. I don’t need “intense” training, but I find I do much, much better when I have someone physically there to focus me. She knows me relatively well and has a good sense of where my limitations are, and knows the horse inside and out. I know she can help us patch up the few holes Sirius has that I’m not sure how to navigate the patching of, and then continue on to adding some fancier buttons, such as lateral movement, collection, and real balance at all gaits. I have very lofty goals overall, but for the next six months, I’d really like to work on just having a responsive, soft critter. The rest will follow! So, we’ll start that up weekly and, provided the weather keeps holding, do that through the winter.

I’m also doing my due diligence and having Chad the Vet come out on Tuesday. I rode past my coworker K’s house last weekend, and she pointed out that she could see sharp toothies from where she was standing, at least 5 feet away from him. So, Chad the Vet (who will be masquerading as Chad the Tooth Fairy) will be coming to check his mouth out. That could absolutely be contributing to his resistance all around. I’ve also been obsessively checking his back, and while I don’t have any reaction when I palpate his back (even with a bit of force…nothing!), I’ll continue watching that as he muscles up, especially in the spring.

In less analytical news…Sirius had made a new friend! Everyone, this is Ben.

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Clearly not a recent picture…but it’s the only one I have. Need to remedy that!

Ben is a super cute, super sweet Gypsy Vanner gelding. He is A’s daughter’s gelding, and he had been away at “school” at a local boarding barn. Unfortunately, some troubling tummy issues have him back at home. He and Sirius have decided to be buddies — A has caught them rough housing and munching together since Ben got home. Sirius is such a social creature, and I’m really glad he has a friend — Lexi and Cherry, the Quarter horse and mini respectively, tolerated him but wouldn’t really engage him in play. Ben is already playing bitey face and is play boxing with him, and he’s loving it. Makes my little worried mama heart sing!

So, that’s the update! Now that we’re on the other side of holiday hell, I feel a little more mentally equipped to start looking forward to our modest goal for 2016: learn to communicate with each other. That’s all I want this year…well, and some fun rides tossed in for good measure!

Happy 2016, everyone!