Horses, Life, A Touch of Geek

Archive for the ‘Riding’ Category

Milton & Me

Still waiting. So, a thoughty post.

All the physical parts are in place: trailer, truck, Coggins. Now we need to have all the people in town at the same time. Our most recent random gesture [Sand Colic?] seems to be working. Milton seems to be settling. I would almost … almost … be willing to try him in the enclosed ring myself. But we’ve waited this long for someone else to get on him first. Might as well stick with the plan.

I can’t envision riding Milton on a regular basis. Seriously, my imagination fails. Is he not the horse for me? Proof that one has to ultimately pick one’s own horses? Or am I so discouraged that I am unwilling to hope? Or am I grouchy bitch who enjoys wallowing in negativity? No idea.

Last weekend, Milton got away from Greg on the long lines. On his way back to the barn, Milton neatly jumped the ring tape [Spooked]. Not what you want to see in a driving horse, but encouraging for a jumping horse. (A storm blew. Greg halted so they could quit. Not fast enough. When we got to the barn, Milton was waiting for us in the aisle, giving us a look that said, ‘Didn’t you people realize it was raining?’)

Although Milton jumped 3′ with his front feet, the trailing lines took the tape down mid-body. Unknown whether his hinds would have gone clear.

What happens if Milton turns in a riding horse and a driving horse? How’s that going to work?

Despite living together for almost 30 (!) years, Greg and I don’t actually share that well. HIS dogs; MY cats. He helps me with MY riding; I help him with HIS driving. Mathilda was HIS horse; Caesar (aka Previous Horse) was MY horse.

What happens when we both have an equal claim on the same horse?

How do we settle show conflicts? Lesson conflicts? How does the level of the show/lesson factor in?

If we haul to Stepping Stone, does Milton drive or ride?

If Greg has a lesson, does he get the days beforehand to prepare? No point in wasting lesson money.

What if driving requires different shoes? Can one jump in those?

What if driving/riding training develops the horse in a way not suitable for riding/driving?

Or do I think too much? This has been mentioned in the past.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Rodney Recap

Some positives, one major negative.

Strolling – Rodney and I went for a mounted stroll in the pasture. Although we only went as far as the water trough, it was a wonderful, relaxed beginning.

The single stress came from me. When we turned to go back, he swung his head a little too near our no-climb mesh fence. I had just read a cautionary post, Saddle Seeks Horse: Avoid This Dangerous Donut in the Saddle. Horses getting entangled was on my mind. I thought ‘Eeek, he’s going to get his bit caught and freak’. He didn’t. I eventually calmed down.

Later we went for a group hand-walk all the way around the field, twice: me, Rodney, Milton, and the dog. It was chaotic. I told him to deal. He did.

Standing – I got on near the barn (another new trick) walked to the middle of the ring and stood. Like a statue. Compare this to our less successful attempt in May [It Takes A Village]. He was so completely locked into park that I quit after a few minutes. Nothing more to prove.

Shipping – Rodney took a drive to Stepping Stone Farm. His first time off the property since he arrived. WHAT’S THAT? Oh, okay. WHAT’S THAT? Oh, okay. WHAT’S THAT? Oh, okay. And so on. He’s the sort of horse who would like to show at the same facility several times a season, year after year. Fortunately, this seems to be the paradigm these days.

Rodney at SSF

Jumping – I got cocky and trotted a jump. It. Was. Awful. He zoomed. I grabbed. He hurtled over. We landed in a heap. He bucked. All of these are fixable, except the last. Bucking after jumps is where the rot set in 7 years ago. First a tiny hop after a jump. Then, bigger crow-hops after smaller jumps. Then bucking and spinning without jumps. That one tiny buck tells me that, despite the small victories, nothing has changed.

Full disclosure. My groundcrew, i.e. Greg, thinks my horrendous riding made Rodney feel restricted. Could be. Being the optimistic ray of sunshine that I am about my horse career, I have to take it further. What if all this work amounts to nothing? What if there is no miracle ending? What if buying Rodney was just stupid mistake?

So, I’m back in a funk.

This version lacks toxic self-hate of Snit the First [Anatomy]. Instead I have creeping discouragement & disappointment. I have a horse that didn’t work out. Oh, well. Dreams die every day. My mood is not as deep, but is proving harder to shake. The beige plane is back.

“… the future stretches in front of me as a comfortable, featureless, beige plane filled with an endless repetition of ‘petty tasks and worthless jobs’*, occasionally to be interrupted by tragedy, and gradually descending into terminal rot.”
[For the Record] 2013
(*Terrible Trivium, demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit, from the Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster)

I know I should be grateful for beige. In many life siutations, beige would be a vast improvement. But it’s so … beige.

In the time between the up of the dressage lesson and the down of the jump, I had a handful of great days. The work-both-horses, get-to-the-gym, cross-everything-off-my-to-do-list kind of days. I felt as if I had taken the motivation pill from Limitless, only without the morally questionable side effects.

I’m trying to model that behavior even though I no longer feel energized.

When you are so excited by the new place that you forget to chew.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Anatomy of a Snit

The Short Version

Had a meltdown. Decided to stomp away from riding and blogging.
Had a great lesson. Decided not to.
I meant it at the time.

The Rest of the Story

Descent into Despair
My first lesson after Mid-South was terrible. The bridle was set up in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Because I was concerned that it would go wrong, it did go wrong. I managed to upset an absolute beginner horse. Seriously, people who have never ridden a horse ride Bingo. At one point, I was so bent out of shape I was shaking.

That was one meltdown too many.

I was done.

Since I would not be riding, I would not be blogging [Breaking Radio Silence, 2nd para]. I drafted the post, scheduled for today. That gave me a week. If I still felt the same way, off I went. Maybe not forever, but for now.

Wallowing in the Deep End
Since I was upset, I treated myself with care and respect and sensitivity. HA. Things I said to myself in a 24-hour period.

I thought I found an answer at Mid-South. Apparently not. Turns out there are two horses* in the world I can ride, and one of them is dead.

Rodney is 18. I’m kidding myself.
Milton bucks whenever he is asked to canter.
The only ASB I can ride is Sam. I upset the rest, including Bingo. Bingo!?!

Forty years is enough time to hit one’s head against a wall.

I recalled every meltdown and bad show I’d had this year. In drafting the departure post, I looked up previous rants and realized nothing had changed [Que Pasa?].

(*Caesar, aka Previous Horse, & Sam.)

Wallowing in the Shallow End
Greg did not believe. Part of me admitted that he was probably right. I knew I was being over-dramatic, but it felt real to me.

Strangely, I was going to miss the blog more than the horses.

Somewhere in there, I realized that, at the very least, I would continue to sit on Rodney. We’d never go anywhere, nor amount to anything, but he was here and we could at least go stand in the ring.

Riding Out of the Miasma
After a fun-filled day of this, Mr. E. Came for our third lesson [Dressage 1, 2]. It went great, on an absolute scale not just grading on a curve for Rodney.

Well, okay then.

I guess I’ll stay with Rodney.
… and Milton.
We’ll figure out something with the Saddlebreds.

Looking Back, Looking Forward
I seem to flirt with quitting every so often, either riding or blogging or both [2012 Where Do We Go From Here?, 2013 Hiatus/I’m Baaaaaack, 2014 Sine Die … Or Not, 2015 Whither Now?. Not to be confused with non-quiting meltdowns, 2016 A Look Inside My Head/Headspace Update].

Although I have elected to plod forward, all of this remains bubbling below the surface. It will probably continue until I achieve whatever my psyche considers a success [Nerves Update].

Onwards. For the moment.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Hitting the Trail

Saddle Seat Wednesday

An ASB trail ride.
Note the position of my feet.
Photo by Courtney Huguley

Sam: Just because we are on a trail ride, that does not give you permission to go all hunter/jumper on my ass. Please slide back to the back of the saddle and keep your feet out to the side where they belong.

For hot-house flowers, everyone did excellently, including flushing a turkey that startled the riders as much as the horses. Alas, I must count myself among the hot-house flowers. Previous Horse was never good on trail. He was a jumper. After a minute & a half, he considered himself done.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Where The Rot Sets In

Saddle Seat Wednesday

I had another long ponderment planned to build on last week’s discussion of my deteriorating saddle seat position [Back To Kindergarten]. I find myself without enthusiasm for the thinking. Short version.

1) The position is unfamiliar, which makes me insecure.

When things go well, I can cope. When things do not go well, I revert. I do not revert to hunter/jumper. I do not revert to bad saddle seat. I pick a third option. I revert to bad hunter/jumper. That looks all kinds of lovely in a saddle seat show ring.

2) I don’t like being in a car without steering and brakes.

Alvin canters off. Big refuses to come back from the extended trot. Sam bolts. Or rears. Or spooks. Robert hops into the air to protest too much leg.

Oh well.

In these cases, the horse and I are still connected. The horse is saying No!, but we are still conversing, after a fashion.

What I don’t handle is a horse – or the possibility of a horse – not in touch with reality. By this, I mean a horse so scared, or so mad, that they no longer know where they are, nor care where they are going. (Bill Walsh on the subject of ‘they’ as a gender-neutral third-person singular, scroll down. But I digress.) If I even think the horse is going to lose their shit, my cute equitation position is the first thing to go.

The latter is not uncommon. Folks who spend their lives schooling green horses, retraining problem horses, or tuning up client horses adopt positions that prioritize safety over style. My reaction is technically valid, just hypersensitive and extreme. Moi?

Both tendencies have been present as long as I have been riding saddle seat. Lately, they have been exacerbated by my New Tank Syndrome, i.e. riding saddle seat while reestablishing dressage/hunter/jumper [Kindergarten].

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Back To Kindergarten

TLDR: Saddle seat deteriorating. Trying to fix.

Saddle Seat Wednesday

Back where I belong.
Photo by Courtney Huguley

Confidence is not doing well when things go right, or it is not just that. Confidence is knowing you’ve got it covered when things go wrong. I have this with Sam. I never managed to get there with Desi or Mr. Whizbang. Which is a long way of saying that I am back riding Sam [Sultan’s Miracle Man].

How do I feel about the demotion? First off, it is a demotion. Sam is a beginner’s horse. If I have any hope of saddle seat progress, I need to ride other ASBs better than I have been lately [Graduating From Sam]. Which leads to, secondly, the demotion is legitimate. I’ve been a hot mess for a while. The shows were simply the culmination [Report Pro-Am, Report Dixie Cup]. So, third, if you have a problem, go back to the point that you know it was working and go forward from there.

How was the first ride back on Sam? Awesome. The beginning was weird. It was as if I had never ridden saddle seat. I automatically slid to the middle of the saddle and put my put my leg on. When I sat back on the cantle and put my knee in, my entire body screamed ‘Why? Why are you doing this? It is so wrong.’

Since I was on Sam, I felt able to experiment. Legs were out as an anchor point. So, I put a hunter curve in my back for stability. This had the added advantage of bringing my shoulders back. I had let the reins, and therefore the horse, get long. Not long as in on the buckle, or even long for hunters/dressage. More of a working trot length. However, that is still too long for saddle seat. They want a short, short rein with a soft, light hand. AFAIK.

I shortened my reins, asked Sam to be more compact, and everything snapped together. Suddenly I remembered how to saddle seat. A few of our passes were the best I am capable of. Seriously. As good as anything I have done.

I’m going with the conflict of styles theory. The better Rodney goes, the worse my saddle seat has gotten. The more I ride hunter/jumper/dressage, the more that feels familiar. At the moment, I can’t cope with changing from one to the other on a new-to-me horse.

In Lads Before the Wind, Karen Pryor calls the problem the New Tank Syndrome. When adding a new feature (Rodney), the solution is to relax the other variables (saddle seat) for a while.

I called this “going back to kindergarten,” and it became an accepted practice in all our training. When a new and difficult criterion was introduced–working in a strange tank, for example–all the rules about perfection that had been established would have to be set aside temporarily (perhaps for a day or two, perhaps for no more than half a training session) while the animal learned to accommodate to the new circumstances.

The strict trainer who cannot tolerate “going back to kindergarten” simply wastes time and causes stress, trying to force perfection from the beginning in a new circumstance when it will come back anyway once the new circumstance has been accepted. I have seen this happen dozens of times in a human situation. Here’s an example: singers and musicians who perform splendidly in a rehearsal room then get yelled at for making gross errors with the music in the first on-stage rehearsals; yet they may be, for the first time, scattered in new groupings, standing on ladders; wearing huge costumes, and staring into spotlights. People or porpoises, it’s the same problem. It’s the “new tank syndrome,” and you can lick it by relaxing criteria temporarily, by “going back to kindergarten,” In the long run it is not time wasted, but time saved.

Pryor quoted in Stale Cheerios: Going Back to Kindergarten

Sam is my back-to-kindergarten. Of course, Pryor also says that it should be a short period. I am ignoring that part. Perhaps my summer will be comfort rides on Sam until I get used to swimming in the hunter/jumper/dressage tank again.

Eventually, I think I will be able to ride Rodney and stay with saddle seat. Eventually being the key word here. There is no logical reason why I can’t ride both ways. I’m not asking to be Michael Jung and ride at the highest levels of three Olympic equestrian sports. I’m looking for some jumping, a little eventing, the occasional spin around an Academy class.

The two styles may even complement each other. During my lesson, I widened my hands – a Mr. E maneuver [Dressage Lesson] – for a moment to smooth out Sam’s shoulder around a circle.

New outlook. This it is not a conflict. It is an opportunity to look at the same activity from two perspectives.

Then there is Coach Courtney’s summation of the situation, “You’re a head case and we love you for it.”

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott


We jumped!

12″ of victory.
(Technically 11″ 1/2. Jump heights always get inflated.)

In truth, Rodney jumped and I went along for the ride. It was all his idea.

We often set up standards and a few poles for Rodney to walk over so that he doesn’t feel trapped in the sandbox. I like to start a ride on the buckle [Fifth Leg Training] to give the horse a chance to settle in, get coffee, read email, and so on.

Combine a crossrail with walking about on the buckle. Can you see where this is going?

The first time caught me completely by surprise. There was discussion of whether it really was a jump, if he truly had both front and back feet off the ground at the same time. The second time, I was better prepared. We came out of the corner, stayed straight, kept a nice walking rhythm, got to the base, whereupon Rodney said, ‘You know Boss, this is gonna be easier if I jump.’

Over we hopped. Neat as you please.

As with our few steps of dressage [Lesson], reporting that my awesomely talented horse jumped a tiny crossrail is several shades of pitiful. I don’t care. I’m THRILLED. It was my first jump in way, way too long.


Rodney is unimpressed with my efforts at documentation.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott