Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Leasing Can Be a Good Thing!

There are a lot of horror stories in the world about leasing out a horse. People don't pay, or they ride your horse with twisted wire bits and draw reins without permission, or they teach your horse bad habits you get to spend months trying to undo.

I did not expect to put Halo out on lease, though I was open to the thought knowing I would be off for a month from my surgery. I didn't advertise her. The thought of weeding through the masses until I found someone with appropriate experience and goals seemed like a ridiculous task to undertake. As a young horse, she needs someone who is confident and experienced enough to handle her baby moments. Sometimes just keeping her in a straight line is like trying to herd squirrels through an open field. None of that is surprising when you consider that she's only 4, and I've only been riding her 2-3 times a week for about a year.

Also, while Halo is a pretty color, she's also hony-sized with no discipline-specific training. If I were going to lease her, I needed a rider with achievable goals, like working toward a lower-level dressage test or starting her over crossrails. I also needed someone who didn't mind that they weren't going to be riding a big fancy horse.

Boy did I get lucky!

Through a friend, I met Allegra, who happened to fit the bill perfectly. Her background is in eventing, but she also has natural horsemanship experience. Her approach is a good balance between the two, and she has been working to get Halo more comfortable with contact and more consistent in her gaits. She's also great about communicating with me regularly about any issues Halo has and how she is progressing.

While I've been out of commission I've given Allegra free rein to ride as much as she would like without any additional cost, so she has been going out every other day. I finally got to go out and see their progress last weekend, and I was very happy. Halo is starting to muscle up nicely with the regular work, and her consistency has dramatically improved at both the walk and the trot. She's more comfortable with contact and not sucking back behind the bit anywhere near as much as she used to. I took a video last weekend that hopefully Allegra will post at some point.

I get lots of fun picture updates like these:

Round pen at sunset:

Post-ride snack:


Allegra has been doing a few things differently from me. She always rides with a dressage whip and is also using some very gentle spurs. Both have been a big help in keeping Halo between the aids and moving forward. After all, Halo's favorite evasions are popping her shoulder the wrong direction, stopping suddenly, or refusing to go forward. The extra aids are insurance that if Halo does not respond to the initial cues, Allegra can escalate the request to an order.

From what I understand (and she can correct me if I'm wrong), Allegra approaches Halo's issues by firstly working on forwardness, and then using mini-half-halts to encourage her to stretch down into the bridle. Halo's improvement has been tremendous, and I'm excited to get back on and work to continue applying what Allegra has taught her.

Overall, I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised by the experience of having Halo out on lease, and I hope Allegra continues to work with her for some time to come. They are a great team, and I think the work is good for Halo. It's also a great learning experience for me - both the opportunity to watch someone else ride my horse, and also the ability to discuss how best to further her training.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Visitors and Progress

Well, the foot surgery went well, and I'm back on my feet. Kind of. I still have a pretty significant limp and quite a bit of swelling. I'm definitely not ready to ride, at least not more than just bareback poking around. I was already having horse withdrawals by the end of my first week at home, but luckily I was provided with a convenient excuse to go to the barn. A friend came to visit!

I hadn't met Abigail before, but she is a member of a horse forum I've been on for a long time. We hit it off well, and she got to meet a lot of my friends over the course of her 24-hour stay in Austin. We spent the morning of July 9 at the barn visiting Miss Halo, and got some fun pictures.

It is always fun to see other people ride your horse. Halo is definitely a tester. She makes sure every new rider is going to MAKE her do something. If she thinks she can get away with not listening, she'll try it. She and Abigail had an initial discussion about going forward, but once they got that out of the way (with a rein smack and a couple of little butt hops), Halo was a good girl.

These are a couple of my favorite riding pictures of them from that day:

Abigail also found Halo's special itchy spot:

I was able to ride, but only for a few minutes just walking and a little trotting. Halo figured out very quickly that my right foot didn't really work, so I didn't have much leverage if she wanted to bulge to the right and run through my leg. It still felt great to be on her, though - it was the first time all week that I was able to move faster than a slow hobble.

It was a fun visit, and we had a great time! I have more to post soon about the work that Halo's leaser has been doing with her. They are making tons of progress, and I'm hoping I can get out to watch them work in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Out of the Saddle

My ride this past Wednesday was bittersweet.

It will be my last ride for at least two or three weeks, but probably longer than that. I had surgery yesterday to correct a hereditary bunion exacerbated by a riding injury I got when I was fourteen. My right foot has always caused me some pain, especially in the winter, due to the bunion along with the four fractures and dislocated bone on the top of my foot. I know that surgery is not going to be a cure-all since many of the issues in my foot will still be there, but I think it is a step in the right direction. The bunion has been my main source of pain over the past few years. Additionally, a bunionectomy is a very standard surgery, unlike what my podiatrist called the "hero surgery" that it would take to fix the dislocation and other issues.

So here I am, parked out on the couch with an ice pack on my ankle, thinking back to the ride I had on Wednesday night. Halo has been doing her best to teach me lately. I've been riding bareback some, and occasionally without stirrups. She's been reminding me that if I lean forward or don't drop the correct hip when I ask for the canter, she'll take the wrong lead. She's been teaching me that her ADD is mostly my ADD - if I quit focusing on her, she'll fall apart. She needs me to be there as a steady partner, with consistent cues. I have to keep breathing, keep moving with her.

On Wednesday I braided her mane and tail just for fun, and because I needed the relaxation before my surgery. I'd been getting more and more nervous throughout the day.

I may not be the braider I was ten years ago, but I don't think it's bad for someone as rusty as I am. It felt good to use my hands to create something pretty.

I took a few pictures just for the heck of it, and as a reminder of where we are right now. Maybe it is just me, but I feel like Halo has grown up a lot in the past few months. She's become stockier, and is slowly filling out. It's no wonder we ended up with an XXW saddle.

Mostly though, she's becoming more and more the horse I need her to be. When I got on Wednesday, I just threw on the bareback pad and sidepull. There wasn't much time left to ride. The sun sat low on the horizon, making her seem even more golden in the dying light. We went up to the big arena and walked around to warm up, eventually trotting some and then moving on to canter. Along one side of the arena I wove my hands through her mane and asked her for a hand gallop. She flew down the fenceline, and I could feel the wind stinging my eyes. But the best part about it was how easily she came down from it into a steady lope, and eventually into a smooth trot and then a walk. This is a horse who doesn't make me worry. I don't feel scared on her - I feel free.

Halo helps me remember that what matters is loving to ride. It isn't about blue ribbons or reaching a high level of competition. Of course I still plan to work toward doing more little open shows, and getting her over some small jumps. I'd love to do some more cow work now that she was lightly exposed to it at the SHOT clinic we did in April. All those things will make her a better horse in the long run. Despite all the different things we've worked on since I started her, what I'm most amazed by is that this is a horse I can get on bareback, with headgear that is basically no more than a halter, and gallop around with no trace of fear. Just joy. How lucky am I?

Although I can't ride for a few weeks, I still feel good. I am fortunate enough that someone was introduced to me in late May who is going to be leasing and riding Halo. I've given her free rein to work with Halo in July since I can't ride anyway. She is a thoughtful, conscientious rider who puts the horse first. I can tell from talking to her and watching her work with Halo that she truly cares about Halo's progress and is committed to making her a better horse. Sometimes I can hardly say that about myself, since I'm happy galloping around the arena bareback! Either way, Halo and I are fortunate to have her, and I'm excited to see how Halo improves over the next month while I'm completely out of commission.