Monday, February 14, 2011

The enemy of the good

Yesterday's ride got me thinking about how awful this all is. Actually, I don't mean how awful Dixie behaves sometimes - I mean how awful it is to try to learn to do endurance, on a suitability-challenged horse, and to try to do it perfectly.

I am not a traditional perfectionist. I don't really care if I get a 100 or a 90. An A- would be fine thanks. I've bought in to "to finish is to win" and as long as I finish I'll be happy. I just want to be somewhere above reproach. Somewhere where I can say, in that aw-shucks tone, well I could've done better here and here. But not somewhere where other people can say, reproachfully, well if you'd done a better job preparing for X you could've been ok. I've gotten better over the years, thanks mainly to my husband, but I'm still pretty high-strung on the inside.

Endurance is driving me slightly insane. There's so much in this sport that you cannot adequately understand ahead of time, no matter how much you read about it, how much you talk to your infinitely patient mentors, how much you analyze your horse and the terrain and the previous years' numbers. The first time is still a really scary leap of faith. (Especially, I think, with a TWH - there's fewer stats to analyze, more contentious debate about what gait is best, and that feeling that you're asking something extraordinary from what might really be an ordinary horse.)

A dog blog (with occasional other critters) that I really enjoy did the Stylish Blogger thing. If you like dogs and pretty pictures, you'll like her blog. Here's her post. The relevant bit to this post is #3: "I am an RP – a Recovering Perfectionist. After years and years of having to do something perfectly or not do it at all, I now subscribe to the philosophy of “Good Enough”.... A counselor I was seeing said to me, “Jean, you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be Good Enough”. They were life-changing words."

I've been mulling that over for a couple of days. At first I thought "hahah, me too," but I think I've put Good Enough on its own pedestal. If you make Being Good Enough its own 100%-or-bust goal, it's exactly the same as Doing It Perfectly. So I hereby declare that I am just trying. No capital letters. We're going to sign up for the 50 at Rides of March, and as long as I don't break my horse trying, it will be ok. I will not die of shame if it all goes awry.

I have exactly five weekends before Rides of March. There's some easy stuff to accomplish:
  • I'm going to start doing trot-outs again. I should have plenty of time to get her going 6 mph in a straight line beside me for 50 feet. Dr. McCartney has seen Dixie trot out and pace out and doesn't mark her down for pacing, so it doesn't even have to be a trot - just something faster than a walk, without the vet scribe waving her arms behind us.
  • I am goo-ing her heel bulbs and we'll see if her heels open up. Too soon to say yet.
  • I have some syringes. Now I need to buy some applesauce and start catching her and squirting applesauce in her mouth. Maybe she'll stop flinging her head and doing her giraffe impersonation.
  • We'll see how much hair falls out in the next couple of weeks, but I'm probably going to end up clipping her. (Me! The anti-interventionist! I'm going to clip my horse! It feels like clipping is one slippery-slope step from just-in-case egg-bar shoes and polo wraps.)

And then there's some stuff that I really don't know the answers to, that I might have to just guess about. I welcome any input from yall. As always I'll just make up my own mind at the last possible minute, but talking about it definitely helps with that last minute gut-check decision.
  • Should I find my kimberwicke (or maybe buy a new bit) and bit her up? I instinctively think it won't help, because that horse has greater powers of ignoring than any creature I've ever met. If I get a curb and crank her head in she's just going to charge forward even though she can't see very well. If I get something that's "not smooth" to "get her attention" - dude, I can tell you right now, she used to completely ignore a twisted wire curb. All it does is piss her off. The only surefire attention getter I have is hauling her head around in a one-rein stop, and that doesn't guarantee she'll focus on me. Just that she'll stop moving for a second.
  • Oh god, how do I pace my horse? We can do an easy sustained 5-6 mph average by trotting at 6.5 or 7 and taking walk breaks. This kinda sucks though because her 6.5 mph gear is always a trot. If I let her zip along at 10-11 mph she just rolls between trot, pace, rack, and canter, and it seems effortless, but of course that's Too Fast for a Newbie Horse so I haven't done many training miles at that speed. What if I tried to get a 6 mph average out of the 11 mph gears with walk breaks? Is that still too fast?
  • Why can't I make her drink!! You can kill your horse by a) not electrolyting or b) electrolyting when they won't drink. The info on the internet always falls into two categories: scholarly articles about mg/dl sodium concentrations and blood serum levels, and anecdotal reports which boil down to "know your horse." How do you come to know your horse without killing it?

I really don't want to be a campfire story told in ridecamps across the west about How Not To Do It. But I've got to try, at some point, and Rides of March is pretty easy and it's familiar to us.


  1. A friend of mine gets her horses to drink by putting flavored e-lytes in their water on a regular basis right after a work out. They love the taste and start seeking the water. That way you can get her in the habit and set up e-lyte buckets at the ride. She'll get e-lytes if she drinks and won't get them if she doesn't. After a while, she'll just start drinking when you present her with a bucket and you can do it like a normal horse ;)

    Also, this post makes me feel vastly under prepared for the upcoming season.

    I struggle with 'Good Enough', but because I'm super competitive, not because I'm a perfectionist.

  2. "good enough" --- isn't that why we have something called "top 10"? *lol*

    did you see the bit i had on baasha in 2003 in my recent post? i think i lost blog followers over that photo. *cringe* there was very little stoppage on my horse in endurance/orienteering.

    he would see a horse in front of him on the horizon, and he'd freak out trying to catch it. once, i got off and slapped him in the muzzle. he was so demoralized, we finished that 50 at a crawl. ok then. i learned a lot and i know what not to do now, although it's not helping me at the moment.

    i think you have a real advantage in having a mare. they say female cats are better mousers. maybe they're preparing for childbirth/teaching the hunt. i think mares are thinking about their survival and inately prioritizing it better. i've experienced this instinct in mares personally and i'm amazed.

    be encouraged,


  3. This is a good post! Good for you for learning to 'go easy' on yourself!
    Boomer never used to drink. It would take about 30 miles before he would drink. It stressed me out. I never did 'teach' him to drink. But he learned on the second day of two back-to-back 50 milers. The first day was the same as usual, didn't drink until about 30 miles. The second day, boy he tanked up at the first water stop at 5 miles and didn't miss a chance to drink all day- or ever since! He had to learn that lesson on his own.
    Know your horse well enough to know that she WILL take care of herself.

  4. Recently I read an article in the AHA magazine about one barn and their success with endurance horses. As I read your post about Dixie ignoring the bit I immediately think of what I would do with such a horse and when I did, that article came to my mind. The reason for that was this barn taught their endurance horses dressage. The article went through how teaching their horses to bend and move off of the riders legs and seat translated over to beind successful in endurance, and believe me this barn is very successful in endurance as well as dressage.

    Not that I'm suggesting you teach Dixie to BE a dressage horse but I think some of the dressage tools can teach her to listen and not brace against the bit. The one rein stop is actually a starting point for getting to that. There are steps to build on from there that should make it so Dixie decideds it's easier to be good than to have to do the dressage moves.

  5. Dom - I think ROM is one of the earliest rides. You've probably got at least a month extra from me. :) I might try the elyte water, but she's got a 100 gallon stock tank that she likes just fine and she's willing to stand tied by a 5 gallon bucket for quite a while, waiting to get turned back out. :-/

    lytha - I did see that bit!

    True story: About a mile into my first LD last year I made a solemn vow to myself to never even think superior thoughts about anyone else's endurance headgear. Your sweet "I can ride him in a nylon halter" horse just disappears and there's a maniac in his place! I shall never cast stones again.

    I worry a little about the flip side of the mare thing - the people who say they have better self preservation also say they'll give you their all so you have to ride them more carefully. I haven't ridden enough horses to tell subtle differences between the sexes, so I just assume Dixie's always in heat and always cranky. :)

    Heather - I am so counting on that. People keep telling me it'll happen when she finally gets thirsty.

    MiKael - It's difficult to take lessons without a trailer, and any money toward dressage lessons is money away from the trailer. Maybe things will be different this summer, but for now... can't do it. :(

  6. I never have money for lessons either. I was thinking more about exercises that are dressage based that you could use on Dixie. It might take you a little bit to get the feel for them but it would probably be worth the time. I use them for warm ups and if one of my horses ever gets upset about something, I can usually go right back to those and get my horse back to thinking about me and being soft.

    For example, I try to always start out my ride by just pulling on one rein or the other getting my horse to come around to my leg, like you do with a one rein stop. I switch sides quite a lot and just work towards getting my horse to respond to a lighter and lighter touch from me.

    Once I have my horse pretty light, I work on getting my horse to move off my inside leg to the outside. To do this I bring the head in enough so I can see the eye but not farther and push my inside leg against the horse. If I don't get a response I throw my weight (usually using my hips) away from the inside leg. That should cause your horse to step away the direction you want her to go because you have thrown her off balance. The instant you feel her "falling" out, straighten up and release praising her so she knows that sideways step is what you wanted. Just like the first exercise you repeat this working towards getting a softer and softer horse. Give her the opportunity to do it with less and go to more if you need to until she gets the picture.

    Once I get my horse moving off my leg at the walk easily, then I move up to the trot and then the canter. Once it's good at this exercise I add another. By using this as a regular warm up I teach my horse to soften easily and then I can use that when I get a horse bracing against the bit like Dixie does. It's so much easier for the horse to just go forward and be soft than it is to go forward and have to do that lateral movement. They learn to look for the easy way. I'm sure with Dixie it would take consistency and time to get her to quit bracing but she would get there.

    If you want to try it and have questions, just shoot me an email.

  7. If I come back on the horse and without any major fights, we had a successful ride. That's what I've come to. :)

    As for bitting up, I know she's been there and done that with the twisted wire, but I just have to say that a previous owner tried that with Gene. The result was that he flipped over on her and broke her neck. When we bought him, the owner told us that we had to ride with a slow twist or he would be uncontrollable. That was quickly thrown out when the trainer first caught a glimpse of the bit as she doesn't believe in them. We ended up going to gentler and gentler bits until he's bitless, and instead are keeping control with the seat and just a better understanding of what makes him tick and how his body works. Introducing pain for control can be very counter-productive and doesn't address real issues, imho.

    As for clipping... I'll just be over here. :D

  8. I want to cheer you on...but since I swim in the same murky waters I'm going to give you the advice that was given to me by more experienced riders. Continue in LD's until you have the problems sorted out. That is what LD is for. I've toyed with the idea of trying a 50, and we probably could have last fall since we finally met the criteria of back to back LD's. But I am a perfectionist. I don't care if I "win", but I do want to do it right for the welfare of Phebes who is often bent on killing herself. I'm resigned to taking the full time all season if I have to even though some have said we could try for a 50.

    On the other hand, you may be completely right :( If you decide to forge on to a higher distance spend the next few weeks really working on some basics with her. Can you fashion up a round pen? Can you fake an arena by marking it off with coffee cans or electrobraid rope or something? I would do the complete opposite of a more severe bit. I'd put her into a training snaffle, work those one rein stops until I puked! I'd work her out in that little faked up arena at the trot, at the trot, at the trot with a good headset. You can rig up a running martingale with rings and soft rope. It doesn't have to be pretty to do the job. I don't think you'd have to have a trainer to work at that. You could also focus her on bending softly with a lighter bit.

    On a side note, when I started Puddin' I had her in a curb and she'd bolt. She hated the pressure of that thing. I switched to an eggbutt snaffle and she was better but very "mouthy" with the bit. I said screw it and put her in a handmade braided hackamore bridle that was so soft I could wad it up in my hands....and all the tension just melted out of her. (We practiced a lot of one rein stops first).

    No judgements! So please don't take anything I say that way. We all have to make our own decisions in our own little horse drawn worlds.

    Wishing you and Dixie well always no matter what you do or how far you go.


  9. RR - I'll email you tonight. I do some suppling stuff but I'd love to talk about other things to try!

    Sara - I worry that putting her back in a curb would piss her off so badly she'd melt down, and that's why I probably won't, unless I get a lot of compelling arguments to try one. And of course it wouldn't be wire! One of those myler dealies with the slightly moving sides at the most.

    And the thing that you really just can't understand til you try endurance is how amazingly hyped a really fit horse can get when 50 other horses take off down the trail. Maybe that's a good reason to not do endurance - it blows their minds, and you have to use too much force to keep them under control - but Dixie does really seem to enjoy motoring down the trail with her buddies.

    EG - I actually have a free to the public full-size sand arena 2 miles from my house. It's one of the reasons I wanted to buy in this neighborhood. :) I've never ridden in a martingale, and she doesn't sling her head up so I probably won't. But getting in the arena and doing a lot of dressagey work is a good idea, thank you!

    We ended up with the bit I use because it's the only thing she didn't fight against or gnash her teeth on. She did not like the expensive bits or the cheap bits or the bitless rigs. Just the $20 D-ring single joint snaffle. I decided if she likes it, I love it.

  10. Funder if I had access to that I'd be there EVERY DAY I COULD. An hour of the posting trot can do amazing things to their little pea brains, and the head eventually goes lower....lower....and you feel the neck start to stretch and a gentle pull on the reins, then you know you've got it! Only trouble is you have to do it about 200 miles to get it set in their head. Even then I had rating issues at a ride, but not at the magnitude I had previous. We can maintain a trot and do not break to canter any more unless I ask for it (rarely). You guys are doing fine, just take a deep breath and repeat after me "Endurance -is-not-EASY. ~E.G.

  11. Can't give you any advice on endurance, but a good friend from years ago (she sold me my Corky horse) did her dressage-y work ON the trail: bending, leg yields, shoulder in, etc. Whatever it took to give her horse something to think about. (In fact, for a hoot one time, she entered a little local dressage show with her big A-rab and beat the pants off of all the "experienced" dressage riders!)
    One trick with the water: flavor her tank at home, then "away" water won't smell/taste so different. You could use the E-lytes, that would be ideal since that's what you want to get into her anyway, but apple cider vinegar or molasses both work too.
    On any bit change: don't wait 'til too close to RoM--you want to give the Princess plenty of time to adjust--and give yourself plenty of time to switch back if you need to.
    Also, you'd be surprised how much she might shed out with regular work. But if you do decide to clip, do it at least a week or so in advance of the ride, so it can grow back in a little and not be all itchy and stiff.

  12. Ok I'm not an endurance rider so can't comment anything on that, but I am a dressage rider and trail rider. I'm currently riding my 17 hh Percheron mare for both!

    Dressage is all about softness and bending. I don't crank a head down (can't on a 2000 lb horse !) I use forward momentum using my seat and core. My hands are soft, but I am liberal with the one rein stop as it's extremely important (again see 2000 lb horse) but I do it to both sides.

    I also use lots of obstacles in my arena. Barrels, weave poles, ground poles, cones to keep it interesting along with lots of lateral work.

    Good luck with everything!

  13. I can't offer much of help or advice--look I'm really trying to get out of the arena this year, I swear--but the only thing is: have you tried a bit with more 'bite' that Dixie Also might like? Clyde loves a waterford, (more then anything I've ever tried) but that bit has a lot of power to it. There are others--a low port for tongue relief, the 'training bits' that only have the twisted part in the center so they only come into play when you have to really pull, fat, thin, plastic, whatever. I know a tom thumb has got a lot of power, and that's the first thing we mistakenly put clyde in, and he powered through it and ran me into the back of an shed/thing--but he stops with a snaffle.

    I guess the point of all that jabber is that maybe Dixie runs through because that's her response to the particular pain those bits cause (on the bars, on the tongue, roof of the mouth whichever). If you find the one she likes BUT it's still got some power... you might find what you need. (maybe even a hackamore, but those get pricey!) I know my waterford only cost 22 bucks. Wouldn't trade it for anything!

    I remember when you couldn't take Dixie anywhere at all--I think you're doing way, way better then just 'good enough'. :)

  14. EG - we both hate the arena. I get so frustrated because we're not going anywhere and our circles look more like comet ellipticals. I need to spend more time there building up some good memories for both of us. It takes about 3 miles of high-headed spooking down the trail before she drops her head and relaxes and moves out properly - but it used to take even longer.

    ES & Jeni - my trimmer swears by ACV in the water. I guess I worry that ACV + 100 gallons of water = even grosser water faster. You know how horses rinse their mouths and you get the little fermenting bits of hay floating in there... yuck.

    I have a couple of dressage-y tricks that we do on the trail, but I need to learn more. I have decided that it actually is impossible to teach your horse shoulder-in when you don't really know what it feels like and your horse is named Dixie. We do need some lessons :(

    DiJ - you make me miss boarding at a stable. :( I'd love to try a bunch of different bits on Dixie, but I don't want to buy a bunch of bits. That's how we settled on the D-ring, actually - I borrowed every kind of bit I could get my hands on and tried them all on her, and the narrow single joint snaffle made her happiest.

    Please don't tell me that your horse ran you into a wall. It has been a core belief of mine that horses won't run into walls! You remember when my only method of braking Dixie was pointing her at a wall! Ack!

  15. No walls! He ran into the opening, but it was not tall enough for horse + rider. Funny story. lol

    Do any of your tack shops do the trial bits? If not, I don't have a huge collection but if she's a standard mouth size, you're free to borrow from me. (this is what the internet is for!) I have a copper medium port curb, a tom thumb, slow twist snaffle, the waterford, a myler low port snaffle (love the bit but it can be expensive), french link....I think I have a mullen mouth curb too. They're all sitting around too, so I'm not using them.

    This is the kind of thing Flat rate USPS boxes were MADE for. ;)

  16. I've never been aflicted with Perfectionism. ; )
    I guess I take endurance for granted since I've been doing it for about 10 years, though I never stop learning. I've been lucky that I rode (and still do) a lot of horses for a lot of different people.
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  17. DiJ - I'll email you.

    Merri - I think it would be a lot easier to ride other people's ready horses than to try and figure out if your horse is ready :(

  18. I don't like arena work either. I get bored in about 15 minutes unless there is an instructor directing the show, then suddenly it is fun and challenging and the time goes really fast. But on my own it is HARD. Phebes likes the "place" of an arena as it is enclosed, and in our world things are pretty static (low traffic road, etc). On trail she is Dixie's evil twin taking 3-6 miles to relax and get that head DOWN, but I don't use a bit so don't know if she'd be softer that way.


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