Tuesday, May 14, 2019

PTSD with horses: a personal journey

When I was little I was fearless. I think you are born with a certain amount of flight and I was not as gifted by the common sense fairy as some.

That is right... I made some horrible Paint illustrations for this blog!

As you mature, you learn. Fire is hot, Florida is the lightning capital of the world, Florida has 7 venomous snakes, you are allergic to bees - don't pet them, caves are fun until you have to dig your dad out and you get skewered by an old mining ladder... Important things!

When you take up horses, you learn new skills. How to read when a horse is going to: stop, buck, rear, bolt, spook, or drop a shoulder at a jump. Most of all, you learn to read emotion and intent. When to push a boundary and when to sit and wait.

More amazing Paint illustrations. You're welcome.

You reach a stasis. How to be reserved and cautious, and also open and asking.This happened for me in my early 20s. Finally intelligent, experienced, and open enough to realize that working with horses was walking a balance among the emotions of humble/confident/surprise. You hear horses make you humble a lot and they definitely made me humble considering where I started.

And then, at least or me, life happened. I would get hurt, I would let that hurt fester into a gall, and my body would grow over it like it never happened. A broken bone, a concussion, a scary fall. All water under a flooded bridge. Then more life outside of horses happened --- graduate school pressure, and crazy jobs ( I was both bitten by a lemur and yelled at by an Air Force General in the last 5 years.... for work). Finally, what broke the dam was a #MeTooSTEM experience that left me suddenly jobless and scared.

After everything, I fell back on my only constant -- horses --- and found that my comfort level had shifted in flight. Suddenly, small things in and out of the saddle created panic. I could not understand why I felt so afraid and so angry all the time -- even at the smallest things. I went out seeking answers through doctors and therapists and found out I had PTSD. Which makes so much sense. At least one source of stress was immediately eradicated. I was not going crazy I was just different now.

With PTSD, I feel like I operate completely differently compared to how I used to. I used to have a comfort zone that I pushed through into a zone of uncertainty and that was growth. Passed that was my limit --- and probably something I should not be crossing anyway. Now, I feel suffocated by this film of anxiety and fear that I have to break through to get to my comfort zone even with normal tasks. If I manage that, then I can start to push through to growth. Recognizing this  definitive difference is a huge milestone for me. For years, I have been comparing pre-PTSD me to post-PTSD me when it is not the same critter at all.
Pushing out of this BS

Life happens to all of us. I think we all have a little PTSD -- whether that be from bad falls, car crashes, or some asshole. I think horsemanship in my 2nd act is all about figuring out how I need to adjust to who I am now. What about you? Are you meeting yourself where you are now? Have you accepted who you are today? it is still a process for me.

Friday, May 10, 2019

I do ride sometimes

Since getting back into things I have been trying to get in 4 or more short groundwork sessions with Grayson and 2 rides on Lacey every week. Lacey and I are back to basically where we were pre arm breaking. 
Her mouth stays very active even in a halter.

We are just riding in the fancy bareback pad and rope halter right now because that seems to be what she prefers. I am not planning on showing her so I don't really care what gear we use. 

Enjoy a boring video of me riding with hilarious commentary from my 2 year old and husband.

We are working on relaxation in all gates but especially canter. She gets a little worked up both within and after canter work. She is a bit or worrier and perfectionist, so she is the type of horse you are constantly working to counteract anticipation... But she loves routine too so it is a balancing act. We are also working on not getting behind the vertical. She really wants to curl up and I am trying to gently encourage her to raise her poll and stretch.

Do you have a cookie human?

I just love this horse. She is the perfect ride for me right now. She is sensitive and particular but also super sane and sensible. I think it's the weird Arab/Clydesdale cross? We have a ton to work on, but she is also a confidence builder for me. The best part about her is the more I relax the more she does. She is a perfect reflection of me for better or worse. I am so lucky that I get to borrow her. 
She has really cute pseudo-feathers 

My goals in the near future are to develop our canter, add n some ground polls and small jumps to keep things interesting, and to take more hacks in the big pasture. But mostly I will just focus on enjoying a lovely horse that is perfect just the way she is.

What a cute dork. She is so shiny!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Reverse Round Pen

Gray has some issues with forward. Number one is he is naturally an energy conserver. He does not do a lot of recreational gallivanting in the pasture despite being a young dude. The exception is chasing. He loves to chase a ball, or a dog, whatever. I have been told it’s an Iberian horse thing. Frolicking with him in the pasture has always been pretty harrowing. Now add lack of confidence in moving freely due too multiple injuries to a weird predatory sloth and that pretty much sums Gray up..

I have worked on getting him moving in a variety of ways including using pressure and release and using a target and a clicker. He does best out of a round pen and when you help him by walking with him on a big circle though he still feels sucked back and sluggish most of the time. With the target, anything over a walk and he has a tendency to get over-excited and go into chase mode which is not very fun.

Enter the idea of reverse round pen. It is a reverse because the person stands inside a ring and the horse is on the outside. This technique is great for green horses that might get too excited when you add some speed to your liberty work. Here is more information for anyone interested.

I made my reverse round pen out of rope and temporary electric fence poles. Mine was small — around 20 feet white. I plan to make it larger once he gets the hang of it. They don’t need to be super sturdy, they are more of a visual reminder than anything else.

I did 2 sessions with Gray this weekend. First one he was very nervous of the ring itself. I think he assumed it was hot! So our first session doubled as a targeting and approaching scary objects with confidence session. The second session we worked on walking forward and relaxed, changing directions, and a little trot. We started out with his familiar target, but I quickly started to phase out the target for hand signals. The idea is to start near the outside of the circle guiding the horse around and as he starts to understand what is asked you can more be to the center and reduce your signals.

Here are a couple videos I got from the second session.

This first one shows us with our target switching directions and walking. Right now I am reinforcing him when he matches my steps and when he is relaxed and stretching.

In this video you can see I dropped the target and I am using my hand and energy to prompt him.

This last video I just like how happy and forward he looks and how he is matching my walk.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Methods to The Madness Part II: Climbing out of the valley of dispair

Oak and Grayson first meeting
After Bodhi died I had to do the lonely horse shuffle (when you start down the twisting  path of getting animals because your current horses need friends) which meant I had to start from scratch again building relationships with my new horses. I started to seek out resources again on horse training methods and philosophies and was astounded by how much the positive reinforcement horse world had exploded. I had sort of lost touch because I had been busy with graduate school and then new jobs. Also, I had kinda forgotten how hard starting horses was since it had been 8 years since I had first started Bodhi, so I guess I was a bit complacent.  Back in 2007 there were a couple of books by Alexandra Kurland ,Shawna Karrasch and Sharon Foley and a few websites were starting to pop up. When I plugged back in in 2016 there were tons of blogs, Facebook groups, Instagram influencers, and best of all local trainers and clinics! I was beyond excited and started just binging content.

Here are some samples of concepts that I have recently been chewing on:

 In general I have been learning more about the negative impacts of punishment, stress, and adversives on the learning and general well-being in horses. I have also been learning a lot of new concepts and considerations (I am just listing some examples here, and I am trying to include resources if you want to read more).
I was really loving learning all these complexities and considerations, but if I am being honest I am feeling a little overwhelmed too. Will I ever be able to be able to know enough to be the effective, ethical, and kind trainer I want to be? Innocence is truly bliss and all of a sudden I was seeing all these signs of stress in my horses that I did not know were there before whether I was training with the clicker or with pressure and release. I was often reminded of this chart of learning --- I am definitely in the valley of despair right now!

Look at that cute face!

Which brings me to now. How do I climb the slope of enlightenment and get to the plateau of sustainability (this sounds like a terrible video game)? I still have this baby horse (Mr Grayson) that needs training and now I have more knowledge than ever (for me) but absolutely no idea what my way forward should be. To add further complexity (yay) Gray is a more complicated horse than Bodhi was. He is both more confident and playful than Bodhi but also more sensitive and reactive. He also has the added layer of being very hesitant to move forward, both in part because of his personality and the long list of injuries that he has acquired in his short life that either cause pain and stiffness, or memories or pain and stiffness.

In order to climb up the slope, I have decided to go back to something simple to regain a sense of stasis again and to give me something solid and actionable to move forward with. SO I bought a membership to the Tristan Tucker training modules. Which is very much unlike me, because I normally just glean the info I can from books and free content I find and I don't normally "buy in" to training programs marketed as systems. But right now I have just too much floating around in my head, and I needed something to focus on.

So  I chose TRT because the training philosophy kinda spoke to me for addressing Gray's specific challenges -- mainly a lack of self control/impulse control and awareness and also a lack of ease/relaxation in the body. I also like that he does not spend a lot of time talking about dominance theory (pet peeve) and that he has a dressage background.  I know he really is just another pressure and release/negative reinforcement clinician, but I do like the packaging of shaping the horse to have self control over his reactions and body. Gray needs help with controlling his own emotions and feet more than any other horse I have worked with. Also, I feel like I have a firm technical grasp of the applications of negative reinforcement, but I have focused on clicker training for so long I really need help getting better in my application of pressure release, and TRT is as good as any to teach me that I think.
We are at least getting better pictures now with TRT #closetalker

I feel like I also need to add a caveat -- I am definitely not saying that I could not address Gray's problems with 100% positive reinforcement. Actually I know of a ton of amazing clicker trainers that are doing just that with horses that have similar issues.

I am not sure what has made me choose TRT over clicker this time. It just feels like the right thing to do I guess.  Maybe I making this all sound like some sort of logical progression, but I actually feel like this has been a very intuitive journey --- just following what feels right to me. I felt like Bodhi led me to learning about clicker training and postive reinforcement, Oak led me to learning about acceptance vs. tolerance, and Gray is now leading me towards learning about how to help a horse with body awareness and emotional control. I know it is a cliché but, my horses are the real teachers. I am not sure where this journey is taking me, but I am trying really hard to relax and enjoy the process.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Methods to the Madness Part I: Decoding

When I started riding at 8 at a hunter jumper barn, my awareness about how horses learn and communicate was non existent. I got the typical gruff kick-to-go education that most kids probably got 30 years ago.

At 13, I switched to a dressage barn and started to learn about rider bio-mechanics or how our bodies impact our horses movement and balance. This started me off down the road I am still on today.

At 15, I started as a working student at a hunter jumper consignment barn that had recently adopted Parelli Natural Horsemanship. This was the first time I learned about applying pressure in a deliberate way to shape behavior. PNH also helped me grasp some of the underlying problems causing "bad behavior" in my first horse, a feisty playful thoroughbred.  It was also, in hindsight, where I first started to develop an aversion and distrust for this particular brand of horsemanship. What turned me off was a combination of the language used in PNH ( I felt like it was anthropomorphic and vague, but for other people I know this system really works which is great),  and some instances I personally witnessed people being abusive to their horses. I feel like PNH opened my eyes in so many ways --- both in good ways like that we could be so much better to our horses if we considered their biology, and how they learned, and in not so good ways-- that when you try to market the complexities of the horse-human relationship into a nice little monetized package the nuance is lost, and a lot of horses are still misunderstood and mistreated. It was at this point I pretty much vowed never to follow another of these "big name clinicians" again.

Taking it easy with my old retired guy
After my mixed experiences with PNH I was even more hungry for knowledge about horse training, and so I stopped going to clinics and taking lessons and started reading. I read books by or about Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and Xenophon, and Mark Rashid,  I enjoyed seeing the similarities across all of these horse philosophers -- the importance of good timing, compassion and patience, but I still felt like I had a hard time applying the theory into practice. I ended up selling my first horse, the young, feisty Thoroughbred, during this time because of my busy life as a full time college student, and also because of all the mixed feelings and changes I was feeling around horsemanship in general.

After college, I got my first real job and my retired show horse from childhood that I had adopted and cared for had passed away (the gray in the pictures), so I was left horseless. I was ready to try anew and to put some theory into practice. Enter Bodhi and un-started 2 year old Haflinger.
One of his first shaped behaviors: soccer!
Our first ride.
I was boarding Bodhi at a small private farm with no other riders. It was just Bodhi and three retired pasture puffs, so I had to do it on my own. I went back to the literature and found 2 books that I really based Bodhi's entire early education on: John Lyon's Perfectly Practical Advice on Horsemanship series and  Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. The books by John Lyon's are surprisingly filled with applied behavioral theory that immediately made sense to my scientifically trained brain. Don't Shoot the Dog is the perfect primer to learning theory that perfectly complimented the negative reinforcement-heavy Lyons' Horsemanship books.  Learning about the difference between reinforcers and punishers was a serious game changer and led me to learn about using positive reinforcement in horse training--- which blew my mind wide open at the time. I fully admit that it had never occurred to me that there were two types of reinforcers (negative and positive) and that we normally only use one in horse training (negative). It was huge shift in my conciousness to learn about the power of R+ and how to mark and shape behavior. It was like all of a sudden I noticed one hand had been tied behind my back and I finally got it free. Bodhi also transformed before my eyes. He went from a slightly stubborn, naughty pony to an engaged student and partner.

Bodhi and I went on to have a wonderful 8 years together (which you can learn about in my first blog here). A large part of his training and development was using positive reinforcement but I still used pressure and release (negative reinforcement) too. Bodhi and I continued our education with this foundation of understanding that I would always reinforce the behaviors that I wanted with positive reinforcement (pats, cookies) or negative reinforcement (remove the pressure I was using and let him rest), and we got to learn so much by going to dressage, reining, extreme cowboy and obstacle clinics, and learning from trainers across the reinforcement spectrum. I also felt like I had this secrete weapon of behavioral shaping with a marker (clicker) up my sleeve that gave us an edge. I would always just smile knowingly when clinicians would scratch their heads at how quickly Bodhi picked up on things.

Also, I felt like once I had a basic understanding of behavioral theory I was able to finally decode the flowery language that left me confused with some of the big names. It still annoys me, but now I can at least understand what  all these used-car-salesman clinicians are trying to say! ;) I felt like I  was just building my tool box with all these great tips and tricks and I have the confidence to just leave the stuff that I find too anthropomorphic or forceful in the sawdust.

That brings us up to the tragic death of Bodhi, and the new cast of characters you all know now.... and what I am learning now -- and what I will write about next so stay tuned :) 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Just keep swimming

I feel like I am slowly crawling back to where I was in January which of course is a long way away from where I was pre baby. Probably best not to think of it that way. It seems so overwhelming when I look at how far I have to go to get back to what I think of as normal, so I prefer to just take what's in front of me.

 Just keep swimming...

Isn't it glorious?

My wonderful husband made me a hopefully me-proof mounting block. If I flip this puppy then i probably should not be riding.

I was able to try it out today with my first ride since breaking my arm today. Lacey was wonderful. She was ready to work, soft and relaxed. Considering it took us months to get to that point in the first place, I am over the moon she carried that over to our first ride since January. I am so lucky to have her.

I have also started Gray's training again. I think I am going to try out the Tristan Tucker training modules. I plan to do another post to outline why I decided to try these out (because I have been agonizing over it) but for now have any of you heard of or tried the TRT Method, and if so what do you think?

I visited Oak last weekend and he is doing really well. Going on trail rides and starting to be used for lessons already. Sadie the mustang is getting more comfortable and is becoming easier to catch and handle. The fly mask was quite the adventure!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Ch Ch Ch Changes!

I couldn't help myself with the Bowie reference, but we have made a couple of changes around the farm lately...
walking on a lunge

First is my cast is off! Yay! I am working hard on my PT and they said I may be back in the saddle in 6-8 weeks. Way too long, but at least I can see the end of the tunnel!

Second is Oak going to stay with my trainer for the time being. She really likes him (she calls him her hobbit pony), and he seems to get along really well at her place. His gnat allergies are not as bad and we think he may feel less stressed by NOT being the top dog in the herd. He prefers middle management. She thinks that she will be able to use him in her lesson program with a little more work. It is a win/win because I can focus on training Gray, but I don't have to sell Oak, and Oak is getting miles and an amazing education with my instructor.

Third is we took on a third horse in Oak's place so we are now back up to three out here. We agreed to help our trainer out and take one of her pasture puffs on as a free boarder so she could have room to take Oak indefinitely. Sadie is a mustang mare in her 20s that my trainer rescued a couple of years ago. She is shy but sweet and we are having fun getting to know her.

Gray approves of his new friend

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Finding my balance

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post... I know it was very doom and gloom. I never handle getting injured well and then to lose my buddy of 16 years at the same time... it has been really rough.

And yes before I say anything else I have learned my lesson and will be asking my husband to build me a more sturdy mounting block. It seems as though I can't rely on my cat-like resources anymore... 😜

Being so down and out has also made me really re-evaluate where I am going in life. What do I want and what is fair for my family? It was great to hear the validation that balancing work/horses/motherhood as a mom of young children is hard because I find it extremely difficult.  It was also really nice to hear from you all that keeping my horse hobby as a mom is not selfish. I have a lot of support from my partner to have me-time with the horses, but I feel a lot of external pressure to give up the"extravagant lifestyle" of horse ownership. I do worry that horses are expensive, and that if we didn't have them we could travel more, or do other activities as a family. But on the other hand, I think growing up on a farm, and seeing your mom work hard at a sport she is passionate about is valuable too. I still feel like I am struggling to decide what the right choice is, but it is nice to hear from others that have done this and made it out the other side just fine.

One possibility I am considering is a compromise -- re-home one of the horses. Which still causes a pit in my stomach.  I have been training other people's as well as my own horses for over 15 years -- but always as a side-job and now a hobby. I consider myself a pretty accomplished ammy trainer. Emphasis on the ammy. However, I have only ever had one personal project horse at a time even at my best. Now I find myself with TWO projects, and also a full time job, a toddler, and a serious mom bod. I have never been more out of shape and lacking in confidence than I am in this moment. So.... Maybe this is not the best time to challenge myself with not one, but two untrained horses? I know I could train both of these horses on my own 5-10 years ago.... but now? Maybe not right now. My ego really hates admitting that.

So that is where I am at now...  I am not ready to give up horses completely, but maybe I need to go back to just one project horse. It could be a way to compromise and scale back on my horse spending while still not completely giving up. I would only consider it if I found a better home for one of them than what they have here with me, so no one is going up online or anything.  I am just starting to consider the possibility that there may be a better arrangement out there for them than what I am currently offering. I take a lot of my pride (ego) in my care and training, so I think it takes a lot for me to even consider that there could be something better for them out there, but I am letting myself humor that possibility now...

Oak is doing really well at the trainer's barn. She is having someone else pony him while she just sits on him, and that seems to be a really important step for him accepting a rider.... and definitely a training technique I could not accomplish on my own. She really loves him. She calls him her little hobbit horse.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sidelined and saying goodbye

***warning --- extremely mopey, depressed post ahead-- proceed with caution***

I have been too depressed to post. Also I hate typing with one hand, but I guess it is time for an update.

About three weeks ago I had a great ride on Lacey, I had a ponying session with Oak and then I thought "lets see if I can get further with the mounting block after a ponying session."

He was stiff and weird, so I kept pushing him a little just by staying still holding my leg around his barrel waiting for him to relax. Instead he moved sideways. The mounting block begin to tip but I called his bluff by not bailing and saying "whoa". He paused... and then shifted away more (the bastard).... which should have just meant I landed on the ground next to him like I have done a million times. I have even flipped the mounting block once or twice and landed on my feet mostly. But nope not this time. This time when the mounting block flips, I land in a heap on top of it and hit my wrist just right and... snap! There goes my stupid radius.

 I laid crumpled in the arena just bawling for several minutes. The wrist hurt of course, but it wasn't that. It was a release of all these emotions of frustration and anxiety that had been building up each session with him. It was the crushing weight of feeling like a failure again and again. And it was the instant realization that all my forward progress with the other two horses and the running will have to come screeching to a halt.

I eventually managed to make it the house and gather up the husband and kid to take me to emergency room. Just as I had predicted I had a broken wrist and I am in a cast for 6-8 weeks.

I am not taking the setback well. I am really low on resiliency right now, and I am being a sulky baby. I admit it, but it was so difficult for me to crawl out of post-partum depression/fog, and I have lost so much confidence in my abilities and physicality since having a baby. I was just starting to feel like I could regain who I was before the baby and before the devastating loss of my partner Bodhi.  Part of me feels like this is the last blow though, and that I should give up on horses and focus on being a mom. I feel selfish that I spend all this money on a hobby that I am floundering so terribly at. I feel like I am not doing these 2 misfit horses any good by not getting them properly trained. I used to be a decent horse trainer, but now I have all this physical emotional baggage that I can't seem to overcome. I feel like I am just wasting everyone's time and I should just call it. I keep trying to relive the glory days of Bodhi and these horses are not him and I am not the "golden the pony girl" anymore.

Oak is at my trainer's farm for a month. I made the excuse that I wanted her to keep him going while I heal, but I secretly wonder if I have just given up.

This picture pretty much sums it all up. I miss my horse, I miss my dog, and I miss my pre-baby body. None of these things will ever be the same, so maybe I should find peace in not chasing them?

To make it all even worse I had to say goodbye to Stella -the dog in the picture. She had been my sidekick since I was 18. Losing her 2 weeks ago has really solidified the realization that this part of my life is now behind me. Maybe I will find peace if I just let go of horses completely? It is a thought.

If you have made it this far through all of this mopey garbage here are some pictures of my two best friends in the whole entire world. I was really lucky that they picked me to hang out with for the time that they had. They are resting now side by side. RIP good friends.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Oak update: consulting the tarot

I have been going back to read the posts I wrote about Oak from 2016 and 2017. I was able to restart him under saddle in less than a year. I felt pretty darn good about that. But obviously I missed some stuff because he never really got rid of his tenseness. Now after a hiatus it feels like we are back to day one again, but this time it feels like we are not moving forward at all.

Because of his explosive reactions to people just climbing on him bareback we decided to bring it back to just getting him to accept human touch. We have approached this by trying to desensitize him to our touch, pressure, movement and weight all over his body.

We quickly learned that just draping ourselves on his back or hugging his neck was too much pressure. He mostly freezes --- stops breathing, tenses all his muscles, and his eyes get either hard or wide.... If you let that build he will explode. It's really hard to predict when he will pop when which pretty common of horses that go into an introverted state. He is especially distrusts feet. He gives them this weird look when he can see my leg/foot over him. Its like a mix of I want run from it and attack it. Its not a nice look.

The plan for the last three months has been to have my trainer work with him once a week and me as many times as I can, on accepting and relaxing. This entails standing on the mounting block and draping various body parts over him  until we see some sort of release of tension (blinking, licking and chewing, breathing normally). Then we take a break, release him, give him scratches and praise him. Then repeat....

We have progressed I guess. He give us a lot more indications that he is processing at least (licking and chewing and yawning) but instead of becoming more relaxed he stays static, so I am wondering if he has actually learned we release for these behaviors, so he does them but not out of any real relaxation. Can a horse even do that? I am not sure.  Either way it feels like we are stalled at putting our full weight on him sitting down. Anytime we do that he tenses, sucks back, and starts looking for an exit strategy. It is not something I feel comfortable sitting on. In all honesty I often start shaking from the stress and tension of his stress and tension. It does not help that I am doing some extreme hip openers while I wait from a sign from him that I can release. I have been calling it extreme yoga. More like high stakes yoga. Relax or get flung through the air on a terrified hobbit pony.

I also do weird stuff to him like drape polo wraps around him to change things up...
So that's where we are at. I can sit on him bareback but I feel like I may die and he tries to leave after 30 seconds. Yay?

He has been my primary focus since October and I am starting to feel a bit stagnant. What I am trying to practice is its the journey over the destination but its hard when the journey is just slapping against this giant barrier.

Ok now for the tarot part...this is where it gets a bit woo. My significant other went to a poker night and I was left by myself, so I decided to pull out my horse themed tarot deck (there was wine involved). I am a woman of science I swear!

I try to keep an open mind, but I'm also aware of the fact that a deck of cards probably does not have the ability to predict the future. I have always liked tarot cards though because of the art, and when a friend gave me this beautiful set of horse specific cards how could I say no? I decided to do a reading for each horse for funsies.

The process:  I am totally oversimplifying but you draw 5 cards.  card 1 is your central issue, card 2 is the most conscious and obvious thing about the situation (can also mean your default). Card 3 what's on the horizon, card 4 refers to a subconscious factor or overall mood, and card 5 is what's happening at the deeper unconscious level.

Here is Oak's "reading"

Card 1: Fear aggression, competition and moving beyond survival. I could see that our central issue could be moving beyond survival mode. So point one goes to magic cards.

Card 2: Physical collection, balance and agility. The description mentions honoring the horse's efforts and not asking the horse for too much physical effort wise. I am not really sure how to interpret this one as the most obvious thing about our situation. I am not really asking him to physically exert himself right now. Maybe it means he is reacting to us throwing off his balance? Not sure...

Card 3: Knowledge that defies logic, exploring what society suppresses and treasure in hidden darkness. So this is what's on my  horizon? Oh geeze. Another quote: "learning to ride the energy of what can't be explained involves courage, creativity, and well-honed instincts." So I can't explain Oak (true story) and I need to develop more courage, creativity, and well-honed instincts to ride him? I would agree with that. Not sure how to go about all that honing of my instincts though....

Card 4: I pulled the vigilance card for my "subconscious factor or overall mood." It stands for anxiety associated with change and fear or vulnerability. I think Oak is very vigilant so this card is fitting.

Card 5: For my final card I got the lightening horse which represents a flash of inspiration, a glimpse of the next level, and manifested possibility. This is what is supposedly happening at a deeper conscious level. So it is saying he/we are getting glimpses of the next level,  so it just looks like we are going nowhere? Got it.

Monday, January 14, 2019

My "saddle" solution

Saddle fitting feels like an endless battle. Also, unlike most things, the more I learn the more hopeless and confused I feel. I was happy in my world of gullet sizes and re-flocking to get a reasonably well fitting saddle. The more I learn though the more I realize that those are just partial solutions for overall saddle fit. My trainer said something to me a couple of weeks ago that really just spoke to the voice in the back of my mind that I have been trying to ignore since I started my saddle fitting journey. Horses are not factory created so nothing is going to truly conform to their backs that comes from mass production. Which is really bumming me out. I am definitely on an ammy on a budget, I have three horses currently, and now I feel like I need to buy a custom saddle for each of them. Even one custom saddle is more than I payed for both of my horses combined! Ughh…. Not to mention my lease horse Lacey. I don’t really want to buy a custom saddle for a horse I don’t even own. 

I have been riding my Haflingers in Duetts for the past 5 years or so, which I like, but the dressage saddle I bought and got fitted to Oak does not fit Lacey, my current riding horse, or Grayson. After what I have learned about saddle fitting it probably does not fit Oak either but I am afraid to look. My solution? A Christ Fur “Saddle”. My trainer had one and let me try it and it felt wonderful. 

They are not cheap and I was worried about spending so much on a fancy bareback pad, but I think they are substantial enough to be sufficient for the riding I am doing now (which is the dressage version of just piddling around). They have removable foam inserts along the spine and fleece rolls to secure your leg in place. They have a place to attach stirrups and lots of extra padding. I have ridden in mine twice and it feels amazing. I can’t feel Lacey’s backbone at all, which is great because she is very bony. With the stirrups I feel the same security I do in a regular saddle. And it is soooo comfy.

Hopefully it will work until I decide what I really want in my next saddle. I think that will really depend on which of my two boys becomes my main riding horse. I ordered mine from Horse Dream Importers and they have been really responsive in answering my questions and sent along a free bottle of special detergent to wash my new pad.