Tuesday, February 23, 2010

High in the Sky

Greta and her pasture buddy to the left. CUTIE!!

Before I go into other issues, Greta has been doing quite well everywhere else lately. She's been super sweet despite being in heat, even trying to eat my hamburger Sunday! Our bond, though tested right now, has seemed to have strengthened and we feel a lot more comfortable around each other. When she acts up, I'm not afraid or angry, I could never be angry at her, but just overall annoyed. She'll follow me around without a lead or halter even, and has improved so much at keeping her attention on me. She even stood still while I put some ground poles down Saturday! She still loves her barn cats, so I need to get pictures of that. God, she's too cute and sweet! But she can be bipolar as well....

On the topic of "electric atmospheres" from a Hubertus Schmidt clinic covered in '20 Tips From a Master' by Beth Baumert in Dressage Today:
"When your horse is good at home but nervous at shows, got to neighboring places. Don't work your horse when he's tense. Make sure he is loose first."
I am definitely taking this to heart. Now that spring is almost around the corner, Greta has had her first heat cycle of the year! Leave to Greta to go into super-crazy-pee-every-ten-seconds-heat early, and at nearly 13 years old now! Is that healthy? That meant the Wolfgang May clinic Sunday was a bust as far as learning something new - excessive transitions and circular patterns still did not deter her from being "high in the sky" as Mr. May put it lol and trotting fast little steps with her head up - but on the very positive side, we did have some very good moments on the A side of the arena and she did a lot better about loading and settling in. We were the first to ride, so she didn't have a chance to settle in before the ride, but after the ride while we were waiting for our trailer mate to finish her lesson, Greta settled in nicely in her waiting stall.

I am dissapointed in myself for not being able to handle the situation nicely: I didn't really master the whole "relax your seat" until the later half of the lesson! Instead I had a vice grip on the reins trying to slow her down. FAIL!

Reading that quote from Dressage Today, along with a very wonderfully timed article in Practical Horseman about preparing and desensitizing your horse to new surroundings, whether it be a show or clinic, has gave me some new ideas to cope with Greta's "spring fever" far better than I did last year! It will also spice up our riding routines, make way for some better out-of-stable experiences, and make for less stressful heat cycles (for both of us haha!)

But first, let me proudly announce a breakthrough in previously stated mission. Greta has a new, well, obsession with one of her pasture mates. I had been told about Saturday morning, but didn't actually see it in action until her pasture mate pulled up in a trailer after her owner took her to jumping clinic. Greta flipped. I have never seen her so obsessed over another horse! I didn't really know what to do, so I just let it slide. Monday, when jumping lessons were going on, my instructor's daughter trailered her horse in as usual. But Greta, likely thinking it was her pasture buddy, flipped out again. I had asked for advice the previous day if there was anything I could do about this (as I realized it could be an early sign of some ridiculous separation anxiety) and was told to take her out and free lunge her, to teach that if she wants to be anxious like that then she will have to work, and if she's calm, then nothing happens!

So Monday, when Greta began to flip, I took her out and tried to free lunge her. She would not pay attention at all! So, I clipped the lunge line to her and tried some of the yielding the hindquarters exercises I had been taught until she focused, which was pretty soon. Then I let the line out a bit more and actually lunged her. By the way, the bucking issue is long gone now, yes! The entire session was about ten minutes, so as not to work her hard but just use this as a little reminder, and when she seemed calm I put her back up. She was great until her pasture buddy actually appeared around the corner to join in the lesson. And the ordeal starts all over again. I took her out, did the yielding the hindquarters exercise, lightly lunged her, and put her back up. Now she remained calm! She took the occasional glance to the trailer on once side of her stall, then the arena, but otherwise was very calm. Greta's personality can get her frizzled over some situations, but boy does it make her super smart and a quick learner! Now whether or not her calmness held when I left, I have not heard, but because I have not heard I'm assuming it did. We will keep this up!

So now, the plan:

When we work in the indoor arena, the arena Greta is most familiar with, I'll try to place some unfamiliar things around the side, like her blanket or a jump standard. She's been wary when stuff like that happens, but we're going to make these unfamiliar objects work to our advantage. The outdoor arena, which we haven't been able to ride in much due to either the extreme heat last summer or the constant rain this winter, is fairly unfamiliar to her, so when I can I'm going to try and alternate between the indoor and outdoor arena so she's used to change in her work environments.

Trail rides and hacks: when I can. If there's somebody to go with me, I'll be all for it. There's a large field next to the stables, and I'm sure we can utilize that. But first, we'll try and do some work in the pastures so she can be used to working out in the open and not trying to bolt but instead listening and behaving as if we were in the nice, familiar indoor arena.

Lunging before rides: not necessarily to tire her out, unless she seems to really have a lot of energy that day, but more to get her into focus mode. Greta is very alpha, and according to Hilda Gurney in Dressage Today, "mares, in general, tend to worry more than geldings," so being so distracted is like her way of taking the lead, I guess. I don't want to establish a dictatorship with her - we've all seen what happens to dictators in the history books - but I do want to establish a healthy partnership with me a little bit more on top.

My instructor said jumping would be a great outlet for Greta's energy, and I agree. But we need to get the flatwork down, especially the canter. It's been a year and her canter is still a borderline gallop. If we do any jumping, it probably won't be until next year or even later. And we also need to have a vet check to make sure she's totally clear for jumping, though I'm sure that if she's clear for heavy flatwork, then some small jumps (once again, this would be a fun little activity, not anything competitive) wouldn't hurt. But I've been wrong before.

I know many of y'all have or have had anxious, excitable horses. Beyond overall relaxing myself as I've been instructed, was there anything else you did to bring their focus back into gear at home, shows, and clinics? Greta is awesome at home, but she's something else everywhere else!

I'm considering canceling the March 28 schooling show. Maybe we're not ready for it? I love this girlie so much. I want what would be best for her.


  1. Your mare is adorable and I enjoy reading about your adventures with her.

    After reading about your trials and tribulations of late, I have two thoughts.

    One: For the excess, unchanneled energy concern, look to the horse's diet. Regular turnout (with buddies) is also closely tied to energy management.

    Two: Check the fit of the saddle: not just the width and angle at the gullet, but also the width of the channel, the contact of the full length of the panels, and the levelness of the seat. Too much padding or closed-cell foam pads will also restrict movement and comfort. A seat that is not level will create frustration for the rider, because a neutral, relaxed position will not be possible. The horse will respond in a variety of ways from impossibly dull and immovable to hypersensitive, fast, high-headed and anything in between. I have seriously paid my dues on this one, so I try to spread the word whenever I think that it may help the horse and rider be successful.

    Good luck!

  2. Thank you for your suggestions Val. I have looked into both of what you suggested and because she is not on any feed high in protein, just a feed high in fat to keep a good weight on her (it's 10% protein I believe, and lots of fat) then hopefully feed is ruled out as ignitor of sillyness, plus she gets her raspberry leaves twice a day for evening her out lol. Saddle fit is good too. I even had three "senior" riders, including the instructor, double check tonight. I did lower the stirrups by a hole and my seat seems to be MUCH better!

    Considering how awesome she did today, I strongly believe all our frustration stemmed from both my getting tense whenever she did the smallest thing wrong (big factor) and from her being in heat. She's still in heat, though today is probably her last day, but when I relaxed and did not get so grabby with the reins then she was awesome! The horse is only as good as the rider I guess!!!


Comments are greatly appreciated and, most importantly, Greta loves you for commenting ♥

Thanks guys!