Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Thank you again to everybody who replied about Champ. My husband understands, and my parents know how much it hurts to lose an animal you love, but... most of my real life friends aren't in to horses and they don't understand. It's really nice to know I'm not alone.

So I rode this morning. It was pretty good, then pretty bad, which bummed me out a little. I'll persevere, but I'm kind of discouraged.

I did what Andrea suggested and turned Dixie out in the arena. She trotted out to the middle and looked at me like "Now what?" I waved my arms and clucked and got her going - she had a fantastic time running around like a very substantial Arab. Tail flagged, snorting, alternating between a fantastic floaty extended trot and a bouncy little canter. After she got the snorties out of her system, she came back over to me and we went back to tack up.

She was good for me to mount, pretty good starting off, ended up listening pretty well. Whenever she tried to drop her nose to the ground to yank the reins out of my hands, I gave her a little more leg to make her speed up and pick her head up - that worked pretty well. But I kept my hands extra super soft and light, and she wasn't as "worried" about the reins.

Then some other people came in. I am horrible with names (and faces! lucky me!) so I have no clue what their names are and I don't have to make up acronyms. It's a mother who rides or used to ride, and a maybe 10-12 yo daughter who rides better than me, with a pretty hunter horse. He is spazzy. Dixie is also spazzy. They've ridden together before, but then I did something stupid.

Dixie was so very soft and relaxed and I thought maybe I'd try HOLDING the dressage whip. After a lot of patience on my part, she's gotten used to whips on the ground, but she's still freaky about whips under saddle. So I got off, went and got the whip, got back on - she was fine. We started walking again, and my hand wobbled and the tip of the whip touched her flank and she came unglued. We bolted twice around the arena - and as soon as we started, the other horse spooked and bolted too, so it was a positive feedback loop for them. I did my usual "I am going to die" fetal monkey position. Then I had a moment of clarity where I realized a) I was about to fall off and b) I did not want to fall off. So I sat back, which was amazingly hard, and steered her into her favorite corner.

I should really do something about teaching her a one-rein stop or something, now that she's in a snaffle and it's doable.

Anyway, I figure either she'll stop to keep from running into the wall, or she'll hit the wall FIRST and serves her right silly bat of a horse. I really thought we were going to eat wall today but she slammed on the brakes and slid like a reiner to a halt an inch from the wall.

I got off. I was all shaky and tingly and I'm sure she was too. I apologized profusely to the mom and daughter, who seemed cool about it but I wouldn't be surprised if they're mad, but whatever. Snorty big-eyed mustang mare and I walked around and picked up the whip, which I'd deliberately dropped on our first lap, and my hat, which had come flying off (spooking the other horse even more) on our second lap, and stood quietly for a bit.

I decided I should get back on. I got back on. She stood quietly while I got settled (see?! She does learn stuff! She is getting better!). As soon as I touched her with my leg, she tried to bolt off again. I hauled her head around back to the corner we'd just come out of, she stopped with about 3" to spare, and I got back off for the day.

We stopped in the not-so-scary-anymore wash stall, then I groomed her really well again. Halt Near X pointed out that shedding stones are pretty good manure stain removers, too, and you know what? She's right.

So the obvious answer to my conundrum is "Don't even think about riding with a whip for another 6 months." She needs more time. Sometimes she still thinks I turn into a monster when I'm on her back, and her brain just shuts down when she gets scared. That's what scares me - I can deal with her temper tantrums, but I worry that when she gets really scared she loses her sense of self-preservation and really might kill us both.

But here's the rub. (Groan.) My calves are rubbing the hair off her ribs. She's still got plenty of winter coat, so it's just broken hairs, not an open sore. What am I doing wrong? Are my calves moving around that much, or is it the cordura fenders on my saddle, or WHAT? I think it's not my legs ~flopping~ as much as my leg action asking her to walk, turn, etc. But I'm not sure.

I suppose my options are: Try harder to improve my legs. Take the stirrups off and replace them with English leathers or maybe leather western stirrups. Buy a (cheap) English saddle, assuming that the flaps will protect her coat. What should I do?


  1. I can't have a whip on Raven, and I wouldn't try. What's your reason for wanting one? I guess it's good for the horse to get used to it, but it sounds like she needs MUCH more time.

    I also can't remember names and faces. I have to use a person's name to their face about 3 times in the first conversation if I am going to have a hope in hell of remembering it. Sometimes I meet good friends on the street and I can't remember *their* names because I get so stressed out about my deficiency.

    Did you say that your hat fell off? Like your hat and not your helmet? Bad Funder!

  2. Oh, I wanted to pick the whip back up for general and specific reasons. Generally, it's nice to have an extra appendage to tap/whack the horse with - "I really seriously mean move your hindquarters, please," you know. And specifically - I've worked so very hard on getting her to relax under saddle that she's ... too relaxed. It takes a good ten seconds of squeezing, clucking, kissing, and thumping with my heels to get her to pick up a rack. I do not want to just haul off and KICK her to get her to listen to my requests to go forward, but asking fifteen times in a row is getting old. Better than the explosive alternative, I suppose.

    And yeah I was wearing a hat! It was COLD! It snowed on us yesterday. In April. Snow. I can't believe this. I really should wear a helmet with my beloved psycho, I suppose. Hmph.

  3. Hi Funder. I come and visit from time to time (from FFF). Thought I'd add a few thoughts.

    First: My thoughts are with you for your loss. I lost my old Arab gelding in December, but it was expected (he was 29 and had both seizure disorder and Cushings). How much more traumatic to lose one with so little warning! But you did right by Champ, and he's running in greener pastures now.

    Second: I agree with dp--wear your helmet, especially if little Miss Dixie has those psycho moments! A brain is a terrible thing to smush.

    Third: Both my 4-year-olds, now that I've got them going, have developed horrible cases of the lazies! Because I'm out of shape, and need to build the strength and control of my legs back up after winter, I hesitate to wear spurs, for fear I'll inadvertently goose them. So I keep my 39' dressage whip handy for the occasional "inspiration." It's also good for teaching new cues--they're both starting to work on sidepassing right now, and I can use the whip in very specific ways and places to help with that. However, if it brings on the crazies?!? maybe you need to continue to build Dixie confidence up. Don't RIDE with the whip--do what you've been doing on the ground (stroking, grooming, desensitizing or whatever) but just start doing it from on top, or have someone else do it from the ground while you're up, without any expectations of doing anything else, even so much as a walk, until she's trusting that you are not going to hurt her. Sounds like it was just too big a step for her.

    Lastly: be careful with the one-rein stop. If Dixie is truly scared s**tless, pulling her head around could either run her into the wall she saw and stopped for this time, or pull her so far off balance that you would both go down. Neither is a good option.

    Keep your spirits up, and let the challenges of bringing Dixie along be your positive focus.

  4. My 2cents, for what that might be worth in the modern economy...

    WHIP: carry it everywhere. It is no longer a scary thing, it is part of your normal outfit, like your shoelaces. have it in your pocket at first, if necessary, but have it with you every minute Dixie sees you, especially when you are feeding her, grooming her, and whatever else. If it touches her, it's not any more important than if your scarf touches her, and you pay no more attention to it than that. It can't be a tool until she can accept that it isn't a monster. Don't touch her with it on purpose (at first), just have it there. Later you can touch her with it. While she's still scared of it, just have it, and ignore it.

    HELMET: every time, every ride, gal. Think how sad you are to lose Champ, and think how sad your family would be to lose you. 'Nuff said.

    GRIEF: Dixie can't replace Champ, so hang with her and think about how she is unique. It will help her and you.

    Voice of experience, gettin' wiser every day (if not smarter or better-looking....!)

  5. Not much time, but beware cheap English saddles. If she's anything like Peanut, then she'll be a bear to fit in the shoulders for English. Also, if you aren't very careful with the fit you can do so much harm to their backs... like we did to Gene's before someone pointed it out and we started educating ourselves.

  6. Ok, I have a little more time.

    Careful, or Dixie will get the idea that if she tries to run into the wall that she'll make you dismount. Stay on, move her elsewhere, have her do something you say, then get off.

    As for the whip, my main use for the dressage whip is as a wand when I clicker train. He's happy to see the whip come out. When I ride, and I need a little impulsion with no whip, I'll give him a light (very light) smack on the rump with my hand, or do the good ol' western trick of giving a couple taps with the reins on the withers. You know, grab the reins in one hand, whip the extra back and forth with the other to the withers. Won't win you any dressage competitions, but it's not a whip.

    Ok, saddles. If she's fitting nicely into the gullet of your National Bridle saddle, then she's probably built like Peanut. I'm sure you remember me whining about it, but Peanut takes an English tree wider than most of the extra-wides that you can find. This is one reason why my incoming saddle is treeless - our master saddler moved to Chicago and I don't trust anyone else to fit his beastly shoulders. Of the treed dressage saddles, the only one that he said would probably fit Peanut out of the box is the St Lourdes extra wide. I looked them over, great saddles (fit our extensive checklist of what we look for in english) but not cheap and I'm not getting one without someone to customize it. Get a gullet too small and end up with muscle atrophy like Gene's recovering from, not to mention pain. Who knew that his shark fin thoroughbred withers led into gigantic appaloosa shoulders? It fooled a lot of pros and he paid the price.

  7. On saddles: I am planning to sell my Wintec 2000 AP in brown. I have all the gullets, but it is the regular saddle not the extra-wide edition. If you're interested in such a saddle I can send it out to you to try and we can go from there.


  8. Hi Funder, that sounds like an interesting ride. Maybe long reins would be better, you can flick your horse with the end but no whip isn't involved? And drop the end if that causes a problem. As for the rubbing, natural material on natural is best, such as leather on fur. Man-made materials can be a problem against a horse. Oh, and remember to wear a helmet - I'm not sure whether you will be much safer, however the safety taliban will sleep in peace. I spent eight years taking trail rides out, and the only three people who got concussed were wearing brand new helmets. They rode English, enough said.

  9. Really good advice, yall :)

    Mmm, first, I asked the BO about the rub marks on Dixie's flanks. She's seen me ride, and she says my legs get tense and lock up and that's probably causing the rubs. I'm going to vet wrap the Blevins buckles again - I'll take before and after pics, for those of you who ride English and don't know what I'm talking about. And I'll concentrate on my legs some more!

    I'd really get discouraged, but I have (and Dixie has!) improved so much in the last year. It's neverending - but I'm getting better.

    Helmet: Yes, fine, I probably SHOULD wear the stupid helmet even though we're on soft fluffy sand. AareneX really struck a nerve. >:( I will wear the stupid helmet. If I get ear frostbite I am blaming yall though!

    EvenSong, AaraneX, I think I'm basically going to use your approach. Lots of touching with the whip on the ground, enough to bore her to tears, then mount up and very slowly deliberately touch her all over the same way.

    Sara - about getting off yesterday - I thought about that. That's why I got back on the second time. Whenever she freaks out and bolts, I point her at the wall - but I've never gotten off and not gotten back on to finish the ride before. Hopefully, it won't start a pattern. Yesterday I wasn't "ready" to deal with her, and I probably shouldn't have ridden... Oh well. :)

    I don't know how well the NB saddle fits her, actually. The gullet has enough space, but the back end moves around a bit more than I'd like. I've been planning since I got her to get her fitted for some kind of saddle this year. She has changed so much over the last year - from very tall gangly skinny to very tall and slightly wider.

    dp - gonna email you.

    TH - Ahahaha, when she bolted yesterday I thought "dammit I'm not wearing a helmet I can't fall off!" Not that I would want to fall off just cause I had one on...


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