Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 117 On riding

Last week when we were out for a walk, Becky asked me when I was going to start riding Little Love again.  I told her I didn't know.  Which is true.  At the moment the other possible answer would be "never", but I guess I'm not ready to say that out loud - yet.  But her question made me think.  When was I going to ride Little Love again?  Was I going to ride her? 

I don't know.   I guess that depends on her, more than anything else. 

I have been working her in hand in the arena  a few times a week.  We work on alignment (straightness would be another word) stretching down, collection, lateral movements and transitions.  I am not a certain "method" to achieve all this, but rather a system the two of us have worked out over time.  We only do about 10 minutes at a time, sometimes 15 min if Little Love is highly motivated (and sometimes 1 minute if she isn't :-)  Why do I do this?  The main reason would be to keep her body correctly aligned and to build up muscle, so she can be healthier and live a longer life.  Also, it is interesting, for both her and for me.  And it is a change in the routine.  I figure we will do it as long as she seems to enjoy it.  But, in addition, it builds her up for riding - if I were to ever ride. 

Out of curiosity, I put the bitless bridle on today and walked to the arena with Little Love.  Then, I climbed onto her bare back and rode her for a whole 4 minutes at the walk and a bit at the trot.  I have not ridden her for weeks (or has it been months?) and I have not ridden her at all in the arena since I bought her.  Riding her on the trails is one thing, but the arena... she does not have good memories of that place, I am sure (indoor arena's are even worse, and if I never take her to one for the rest of her life, so be it).  It felt strange to sit on her.   

The first thing I noticed was that once I was on her back, Little Love started to look around and listen to every little noise.  She even spooked a few times, yielding away from a little crackle in the bushes.  This is her way of mentally and emotionally escaping an unpleasant situation (the rider) by focusing her attention to something else.  Sort of like when you are trying to talk to someone and they turn the volume up on the radio and yell "I don't hear you!".  Another word for this is dissociation.  In any case, it was enough for me to want to get off.  So I did.  We continued working in hand and Little Love changed back to her focused self, showing me some brilliant canter departures from the walk. 

I think we won't be riding in the arena again.  And what comes to riding altogether?  Only time will tell.


  1. Just a thought here - but I wonder if Lilo was perhaps uncomfortable with you on her back BECAUSE you were in the arena -- and not necissarily because you were riding.

    Since you haven't ridden her since she has become your horse maybe she was wondering if things were going to go back to the way they used to be (when you AND her previous owner were riding her there were uncomfortable expectations). ....could her anxiety have stemmed from her thoughts about previous experiences...and not really the outcome of you being on board????

    I would be curious to know if her calmness would return if you began riding for short durations on the trail where she is comfortable.

    I say this only because of the change I have noted in Griffin since riding bitless. While he showed improvement upon our first rides together -- he is far more relaxed and happy now then he ever was in those early days (or EVER when he was in a bit). We are now up to 8 months of bitless riding -- the longest time ever for us. I think it took time for him to realize I wasn't going to go back to using the bit on him (as I had done at other times when "attempting" bitless).

    I am amazed now every time I ride at just what a different horse Grif is now then he used to be. The rise in his confidence is truly jaw dropping. During previous "attempts" at bitless, I just hadn't been giving him a long enough time to gain this sort of confidence.

    I truly respect your decision if you would never want to ride again (and personally, I think Becky should too). ...but I do wonder.... if you could explore a whole level of connection -- and an increase in confidence for Lilo -- if she were to realize that a short ride can be relaxing -- and enjoyable -- and that the only expectations are to have a nice ride together.

    For me- I know I am not ready to give up riding...but I am constantly looking for new ways to explore my friendship with my horse while riding. I try to view it as an activity in itself in which we both have a say in what we do. Admittedly, I am also on a bit of a silent quest to show others (by example) that you don't need bits, spurs, and gadgets to cultivate a willing horse (praise & encouragement go along way)..

    If I had a dollar for everyone that stopped when Grif and I were walking down the road to ask why I wasn't riding -- I think I could have bought my horse trailer by now (laughs).

    I never ride out alone along the road for safety reasons -- not because I don't trust Grif -- but because I don't trust a lot of the people speeding by us in cars. I explain this to people and I still get strange expressions from them. It amazes me to think that so many people think that the ONLY reason a person should have a horse is so that they can ride them. Mind boggling.

  2. You know Carol, I thought about the "arena factor", too. In fact, I am sure it was the arena, at least partly. Riding her on the trails for short periods would undoubtedly give me a whole other reaction. The problem is that to ride her outside, I need to put the saddle on (can't stay on in her big movement) and she hates the saddle. She never liked it before, but now that she has been able to express her opinions 100%, it is pretty obvious what she thinks of the saddle (I have tacked her up twice, just to see). Of course, the saddle I have for her at the moment is a loan from a friend and it doesn't fit her very well (treeless, but hard on her very high withers). It's better than her old saddle, that one gave her grief for years. In fact, the osteo thinks she is still dealing with the aftermath (although she is better now, having had so much time to recover). So, you can also see why she hates the saddle! If I had been forced for years to use shoes that didn't fit, I would be fairly suspicious of any shoes.

    It is obvious that if I ever get her a saddle, it better be a perfect fit. Now anyone who has ever looked for the perfect saddle knows how "easy" it is to find one... I won't even go there until we have moved to my home country in July. Of course, before that I need to decide if I even need a saddle! :-)

    And what you said about people not understanding the non-riding part... this seems to be a universal phenomenon. I can't tell you how many times complete strangers have stopped me to ask why I wasn't riding my horse. Mainly they think there is something wrong with her. And when they hear she is alright and I'm doing this because I WANT to walk beside her, they give me a strange look. In people's minds, horses have been put on this earth so we can ride them. I'm happy I'm not boarding at some enormous facility where I would have to explain myself to 30 different people over and over again. I don't think BEcky understands my choices, but she rarely comments, which is why I really like her.

  3. Loved this post, and both comments... Sam and I have people asking this very thing... "but when will we get to ride?" or..." why don't you ride?". Isn't this the question? People say they want a better connection with their horse, and I say what better way to develop that connection than to just spend time together? As equals. Find that learned connection and then ask for a nice short trail ride. The horse just might say yes.

  4. Hi, Carol! You're one of my riding inspirations (I miss your blog!), and it was good to read your comment above.

    In the last almost-year, I have ridden maybe three times. I have definitely not given up on riding - matter of fact, it is one of the dearest wishes of my heart to be up on a horse again, riding out into the world. But .... like K says, I need to have a saddle that fits perfectly, I have to take the horse's feelings into consideration, etc. etc. . It seems like a big step - especially on my "unbroke" (where did that dreadful expression come from? We never used that term in Britain - I forget what we did call it) three year old.

    Anyway, Little Love may just have been very sensitized to the bad associations of riding, and maybe given time, a better saddle, different expectations, etc., she might have a whole different view. The last horse I rode regularly (not my horse) I used to mostly just let graze in the arena with me sitting on him, and I think it helped. He didn't mind going out on the trail.

    Yesterday my husband asked if I'd been riding lately. Used to, the necessity of giving a negative response to that question would make me feel a little guilty. Now, because I spend so much time with the horses, having a good time with them, I feel it's only of minor importance whether I've been riding or not. But I reallyreally want to!