Saturday, October 19, 2013

We Did It!

Today was a milestone...I finally worked up the nerve to ride BMR aside.  I'm still pretty nervous about getting on him at all and still haven't worked up the nerve to ride him outside the paddock, but today I decided it was now or never and I'm glad I did.

Mind, I had some concerns since hunting season has just begun and given BMR's reaction to the noise, he's never been around gun fire before.  There was a hunter just out of sight, about 200 yards from the barn and with every shot BMR's eyes got bigger and bigger.  But he is at heart a lazy soul and after a bit any sort of reaction just wasn't worth the calories used.

I grabbed my old "M'Owen" to use, partially because it is so light and partially since it's an old friend that I really feel secure in.  After all, I've known this sidesaddle longer than I've been with my husband and together we've jumped hundreds of fences, ridden dressage tests, and headed down parade routes all over the country.  Proper fit is, as always, the biggest obstacle in riding aside, and this saddle will need some flocking to truly fit correctly, but the pressing issue was locating an appropriate girth which was small enough.  I ended up selecting the smallest humane girth I could unearth in the tack room and adding the only separate balance girth I own. (Those of you who read my blog know I'm a fan of the short balance girth.)   I'm also a fan of rule breaking in general, especially in rigid in disciplines such as dressage and sidesaddle, so frequently I'll follow my own counsel on what works.  I prefer a humane girth to the standard three fold for multiple reasons; once I found a three fold with humane ends...oh, why did I not purchase it?!  So, I'll use a humane girth even on a sport horse, but if I were going to be riding where I might be seen I would pick a nicer looking girth with keepers.  In this case, I ended up with both girths pulled up as high as possible, and yes, I am lunging BMR in a chambon.  I know this is anathema to dressage purists, but I find it works well for saddle seat horses being transitioned to sport disciplines, plus I just don't see evil in using it versus standard side reins.

The very picture of energy
Since our accident I always lunge BMR prior to mounting up, and boy am I glad I did since this is what happened:

Well, I'd planned on bending that leaping head anyway...
BMR really has some focus problems, and I thought that living outside would accustom him to uneven footing but this has not been the case.  While cantering on the line he was paying more attention to the other horses than his own feet, which slipped out from under him and heaved him down on to his left side, right down onto the pommels...down on to where my legs would have been!  I'm so relieved at not being pinned under BMR for a second time in one year, tho' I must concede that the ground was softer so I might have escaped  with only a few bruises.  But anyway, he lay there on his side for a few seconds, looking entirely unconcerned and actually nibbling at a few shoots of grass before climbing back to his feet.  When it was clear that he hadn't injured himself I gave the old M'Owen a closer look to find lots of new scratches and bent leaping head, which oddly enough fit better than it did before!

I suppose a sensible person would have thought, "This saddle has just suffered an impact and maybe it's not safe to ride in...", but a sensible person I am not so I mounted up anyway.  I must take a moment to convey just how terrified I was; I never know how he is going to respond and I can't count on him being sensible.  Even Owen has a sense of self preservation that I can rely on.  Plus, I really wasn't sure how stable the saddle was going to be.  As it turned out, it was a bit on the wobbly side, a combination of requiring flocking and girths being too long, but with careful weight placement (sit up on that right hip!) I was able to keep the saddle centered and riding well.  When I swung my right leg over I was sooooo very careful not to startle him, and very tentatively nudged him forward.  After a few steps it was clear he could have cared less what kind of saddle I was in and I started grinning like a Cheshire cat! (Like a possum in sh*t, my father would say in one of his more redneck moments).  I hacked him quietly on both reins, and even worked up the nerve to trot a bit, tho' I did keep myself well forward over my right knee since I'm still concerned that his back needs strengthening.  After seeing him fall at the canter a few minutes before I didn't have the nerve to try it myself, but he let me use my bat in place of a leg and bent well in both directions, and after a few minutes I decided to declare victory and put him up, carefully palpating his back for any soreness (there wasn't any.).

I do hope we are witnessing the genesis of a wonderful sidesaddle mount!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What to do about BMR?

Yes, I have been very remiss in my postings... but then, I've been very remiss in my equine activity.  In fact, parts of me wish I'd never learned to ride in the first place.  My accident with BMR damaged me seriously in many ways and it seems the most lasting one may be to my confidence. As of my last set of radiographs one of my vertebrae is very stubbornly refusing to heal, and according to my orthopedist may never do so.  "After all, " he said, "at your time of life (careful here, Doc; you're heading onto thin ice) , bones may fail to heal on their own." So what does this mean? Surgery? Apparently not worth the effort. But could I ride? I showed him a YouTube video of a dressage rider sitting an extended trot in an attempt to convey just what I planned to subject my middle aged bones to. He shrugged. "If you can stand the pain, fine..." although clearly he thought I must have taken a harder blow to the head than I let on since I wanted to return to such activity. No, he didn't approve but I wouldn't actually cause any additional damage, provided of course I didn't repeat my feat of performing as an equine airbag.

BMR has not been standing idle all this time. He spent some time with an advanced event trainer, and since his return I've been working him regularly in the long lines. I've even been lunging him over gymnastic grids with some heights up to 3' and he floats over.  So what's the problem, you may wonder.

Honesty, fear. I'm terrified of riding. My first few attempts to ride consisted literally of me willing myself into the saddle, sitting rigid with terror for a few seconds at the halt before bailing from the saddle to the ground, bringing me to a hand shaking, cold sweated, heart pounding state. This went on for several weeks, and I must add that BMR quite approved of this new easy going training regimen, and before too long he began to modify it in his favor. He quickly discovered that taking a step or two backward only hastened my departure from his back and it wasn't long until I'd trained him NOT to stand for mounting. Simply placing my foot in the stirrup cued him to shift backward and I now lacked the backbone (pun intended) to stand up to him and put him in his place. 

Therefore I returned to ground work and driving, which is odd, since in general I consider driving to be more dangerous than riding; but I had no fear concerning sitting behind him. My fear even extended to reliable Owen, who I have been regularly taking out aside. He senses my hesitation and like any wise old equine is quick to take advantage. Not that he did any thing horrid or dangerous, but he would test me. In the past he never would have hesitated to cross a bridge or hop a log, but lately he practically thinks out loud "Does she REALLY expect me to do this?"  Even in ring work he's a bit slow to respond and there's usually some commentary (snort, puff, unnmpf) to go along with the work. I don't trust him fully as I did previously, and now open fields that once I would have galloped across with reckless abandon are now traversed in a careful collected trot.

Naturally my fear has resulted in frustration and anger that I have been taking out on others (humans, not quadrupeds) and this has not gone unnoticed by those around me. I m clearly not the rider I once was and it has been suggested that I sell BMR, an act I toy with from time to time. But if I sold him, I would sell it all and hang up my aprons for good. Sometimes I find myself mentally drafting advertisements for a huge sidesaddle and accoutremont sale, including one supreme school master and a Baron horse trailer.

I have pushed myself as far as riding BMR around the paddock next to the barn, and his basic flat work is coming along well; he picked up the leg yield and shoulder fore at the trot very readily.  Two days ago I summoned the courage to hack him out in the field...we started walking away from the barn toward the gate, and BMR stopped dead, tucked his head to his chest, and started running backwards.  It's amazing how quickly a smaller horse/pony can get behind your leg, isn't it?  I pummeled him with my heels but he ignored me and started shaking his head, exactly what he did prior to going over on me this spring.  And yes, it's just a plain old pony temper tantrum but it scared me nonetheless.  I immediately turned him sharply to the left, kicked him up to the trot on a 10 meter circle, and before he knew what was what, we'd passed through the gate to the field.  Once out there I actually had the guts to pop him over a small line of bounces.  After the first trip through he put his head down and bucked a bit (you know, kept bouncing even tho' the bounces were no longer there!), but I kicked him forward and by our second line he had settled down went through quietly.  Bruce had been watching us, and he thought BMR was going quite well.

Is this back crying out for a sidesaddle or what?

I know the answer to BMR is to tire him out. I get feedback from others stating that on days he is worked his ground manners are much improved, but pushing him harder is also pushing me harder. Still, something in me just can't give up and walk away.  My paltry goal with him is to show him at USET in the walk/trot division next year...walk/trot? Me, an FEI level rider aspiring to Walk/Trot? 

Pretty pathetic.