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.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

I am finally back in the saddle!

I have been gone for a while…. In my defense I have some pretty good reasons. Number one is that I made a human! Number two is taking care of baby humans turns out to be very time consuming! For the first 6 months I hardly did any riding or training. But a year and half in and I feel like I am finally finding time for my horses consistently enough to start documenting our progress again. I really love reading about all of the other horse blogger journeys and I miss this community! So, I pledge to be a better blogger for 2019.

A few brief updates:

My wonderful trainer during pony hugging therapy
Oak – I stopped riding Oak at about 40 rides. My balance was too compromised by my ginormous belly to feel safe anymore. After giving birth and healing I tried to pick back up on where I left off. He went right back to where we were fairly quickly but after my 5th ride or so I began to realize that his tension under saddle was not getting any better the more I rode, so there had to be something we were missing. I talked to a trainer friend and she came out to assess him and see what was going on in that cute little hobbit pony head of his. After he exploded up and backwards with her for just lying across his back bareback we decided he was still having trust issues (humans can be dense sometimes). So I went back to the beginning AGAIN. This horse has to hold the record for most restarts at this point. I decided to step back from Oak, take more riding lessons and maybe find a lease to get back in shape with. If I was going to be restarting this horse again I needed to regain some confidence. I found a lovely lease that I have had about a year now (I introduce her below) and I am slowly feeling like myself again. I also found a wonderful trainer (Whole Horse Equitation) that has been working with Oak and I. It has been a really slow process this time where we are working through all of his layers of distrust and fear. Oak is like an onion or an ogre… He deserves his very own update post so I will stop there.

Grayson – He has been sound! Yay!! I talked a little bit about his injury before, but he tore his deep digital flexor tendon 2 years ago, but it took us a long time to diagnose it unfortunately. When we finally figured out what was wrong we put him on long-term stall rest with some corrective shoeing. I was pretty sure he would never be sound again. After a year of rest and then a long rehab of walking and limited turn out my Gray son is sound! Yes! We have A LOT of catching up to do training wise. He is 4 and turning 5 in June, but I have not done much with him between his multiple injuries and my pregnancy. We are both finally on the same page and hopefully moving forward. We are working on wearing a saddle, moving forward on the line, and tolerating human silliness. I am finally allowing myself to be excited about his future again.

We have done a lot of work just finding his forward
Lacey – Lacey is my wonderful lease horse. She is a 15ish Arab/Clydesdale mare. She is the perfect horse for me right now because she is very sensitive and can be reactive but she is also sensible. She has been helping me get back in to shape and get some confidence back and I have been helping her learn to relax. 
The wonderful Lacey!

Ok that is enough for now, but I am going to work on introducing myself to the world of horse blogging and I hope to be a better blogger now!