To move or not to move...

I went up to the barn yesterday for a quick ride. Walk, trot, canter, a bit of leg yielding, and a super slow walk around the property because it's pretty icy up there.
    The drive to the barn is really getting to me lately. On a good day it takes me an hour, as long as there is absolutely no traffic. By the time I get to the barn, I'm in a rush to get back home to my daughter. My husband works odd hours (usually 8am-8pm), and I work mornings, so there is no riding before/after work. Maybe in the summer when it stays lighter out longer I'll be more motivated to ride after hubby gets out of work, but I'm usually exhausted by then! I don't have my daughter in daycare (she comes to work with me), so I either have to have a family member watch her or wait for my husband to be around to watch her so I can go to the barn. After spending over two hours in the car each time I want to visit my horse when I'm at the barn I never have time to just relax with him and enjoy him. It is just all work, and then goodbye. I feel like I can't spend the time grooming him that I want to, and forming a better bond with him off his back.
    The problem is, other than the distance, his barn is a dream come true. There's something like 400 acres of trails right off the property, the barn is always spotless, my horse is treated like a king, he gets lots and lots of hay, the indoor is huge, there is no barn drama, and my horse is just so HAPPY. He is turned out all day with his gelding buddies, then comes in at night to a super clean stall and a mound of hay. I know that he is always cared for. I never have to worry. Every other barn he's been at I've had to worry.
     But having my horse in an entirely different state than myself is tough. I can't just pop up there and say hi to him. If I moved him closer to home I would be looking at about $400 more a month than I'm paying now for board. Lessons/training rides would be nearly double what I'm paying now. Although me and hubby are good about saving money, we do enjoy going out to eat, and the occasional Starbucks. Moving Finn closer to home would mean absolutely no extras, and a lot of sacrifices. But, I just don't know how much longer I can stand being in my car for over two hours a day. I forgot to leave my check for board at the barn yesterday, so after work this morning me and my daughter drove up to the barn to drop it off. There was a lot of traffic, a few detours, and it took us nearly two hours to get up to the barn...TO DROP A CHECK OFF!! Ugh...
    Here's a few pictures from yesterday.



Winter Blues

It is about this time of year every year that I start looking for jobs for the hubby in Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, or South Carolina. I start dreaming about lush grass, miles of groomed trails, riding in an outdoor under the sun in short sleeves, and giving my filthy horse a bath. Then I realize there's no way we could make the sort of money we do in Massachusetts anywhere else. I absolutely can't stand the winter and it is about this time of year that it really gets to me. Throw out any sort of consistency I've had about getting up to the barn and riding on a regular basis. I haven't seen my horse since my lesson on Monday. It's been about 10 degrees here, with the windchill below zero. I just can't dress comfortably for this weather and ride too. I wear wool socks, winter riding boots, under armour base layers top and bottom, winter riding pants, two sweaters, vest, heavy jacket, two pairs of gloves, hat, and I just CAN'T GET WARM. Throw any sort of motivation to ride right out the window with that consistency.
       All I want to do is go out for a hack with my horse and canter through a field. I can handle 30 degrees, even 20, but this 10 and below crap with tons of wind and ice I can't take. I really need to get up to see him and get some of his energy out before his training ride this Saturday. The horses have been in the past two days due to the windchill and ice, and the barn manager said they'd most likely be in tomorrow too. Even if I don't ride, maybe I'll set up a jump chute and play around with him in the indoor. Better than nothing!
      I also have been checking out the calendars to see what our first show should be. I'm thinking of asking my trainer if she'll take us to a 2-phase May 5th put on by the Old North Bridge Pony Club (http://www.onbpc.org/our-shows/enter-foss-2-phase).
Maybe having an actual goal to work towards won't make me resent winter so much!!


Growing Up

The Wednesday after our lesson last week I decided it was a good idea to take a 1 hour yoga class in a 100 degree room after not taking a class in a few years, and then ride that afternoon. I felt okay after yoga, actually my body felt great, but I didn't realize just how bad my muscles were affected until I tried to get on my horse that afternoon. I could barely lift my leg over the saddle. Forget about a trot and canter, my legs were shaking at the walk... Finn had Thursday and Friday off (mostly due to my own recovery), and then a trainer ride Saturday, and off on Sunday. I guess I need to remember not to push myself so hard when I go to yoga again. I was up at the barn on Friday to get Finn clipped and took a few pictures (see below).
    Finn's trainer ride went pretty good. My trainer is working on his canter and she told me that his canter is probably the worst she's ever ridden. Yikes! He is basically legs everywhere, unbalanced, nose in the air. She got a couple of really good canter strides, didn't want to push him, and worked more on his trot.
     Today was a completely different story with the canter during our lesson. 4 new horses moved into the barn today, and my horse gets seriously stressed out with change. When I went to pull him in from the paddock he nearly ran me over, did a couple of sideways leaps, and a couple of half rears. On the crossties he was dancing around, whinnying, wild-eyed, and completely crazy. I haven't gotten nervous around him in a while, but I was pretty nervous. There was also a lot of commotion in the barn. Today was a holiday, which I completely forgot about. Usually I get to the barn around 1 and it is empty. Before Finn's bad behavior could escalate even further we tacked up super quick, and I hopped on. I thought about lunging him, but there were a few people riding, and another boarder lunging her horse that was bucking, rearing and tearing around the ring in a frenzy... There is nothing I can't stand more than lunging to get bad behavior out, especially when there are other people riding.
     We warmed up at the walk and trot, and although Finn had his head in the clouds, and continued to call out to his buddies, the silliness stopped for the most part. When our trainer arrived we cantered a few 20m circles to warm up and I couldn't believe the loose, forward horse I had under me. For the first time Finn's canter felt almost normal. He was reaching for the contact and felt so much more balanced. We worked more on the canter throughout the lesson and I felt glimmers of hope for his normally choppy, horrible canter. We also worked on some raised cavaletti, and lots of leg yields.
      I'm so proud of my horse. I really thought I was going to have a horrible ride given his behavior in the paddock, and all of the excitement in the barn, but he was able to settle down and get to work. It makes me excited for show season. He really seems to excel when there's an audience watching! My trainer took a short video of us in the beginning of our ride before he settled down. His little head tossing used to turn into full out rears, luckily he seems to have grown out of that!
   I also put him in a Happy Mouth loose ring snaffle and he seems to go a lot better in it. I feel like in the Myler Comfort Snaffle he would just lean and pull the entire time I was riding him. In the Happy Mouth I feel like he's not so heavy, but not shying away from the contact either. I need to remember to be lighter with my hands though. I feel like the Myler taught me to be way too harsh because no matter what I did I couldn't get him forward into the contact. In the Happy Mouth I feel like it's much easier, with much less effort!  We're getting a cold front/snow the next few days. I hope to ride on Wednesday but with 10 degrees as the high Finn might get a few days off! Here's some pictures from last Friday. 
Conformation shot after almost a year together. I think he looks good, especially that nice, shiny, coat!

Enough with the pictures, Mom!


You want him to believe that he can do everything fabulously.

Today I had a great lesson. My lessons are usually half an hour, but after feeling like I can't really get my groove in half an hour I asked me trainer if we could do an hour. We started really working on Finn's canter today. His trot is becoming much more balanced, but his canter is very unbalanced, and I have a tough time staying with him, and trying to help him. I tend to hold his head, which is a bad habit I've been trying to break. My trainer told me to just let go of his head and let him find his own sense of balance for now. I essentially had to act like the passenger, not the driver. For the first time ever, I sat back, relaxed, opened my hips, and Finn dropped his head, became round, and started really using his hind end. It felt amazing. I have the tendency to lean forward, push Finn into the canter, hold my upper body like a board, and not have a following hand. I think today was the first time I ever relaxed at the canter with him.
    My trainer commented that Finn is a very forgiving horse and that he instantly tells you if what you're doing is correct. I feel like our moments of correctness are becoming more and more.
    After working on the canter for a bit we started doing some crossrails. I haven't jumped in a while, so I was really psyching myself out about it. The first jump we came up to at the trot didn't feel right to me. He wasn't paying attention, and I hauled him to a stop DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF THE JUMP. I can't even believe I did this...I never ever have before. I was completely horrified. I immediately realized that that cannot happen, and before he could think about it to much, we circled, trotted up to the jump and sailed over it. My horse really is forgiving of all my faults!!!
    We then worked on cantering cross rails. Finn is such a smooth jumper (at times) that cantering jumps with him just feels like another canter stride and not a jump. He was such a good boy and dripping in sweat by the end of our lesson.
    At the end of our lesson we worked on a little more flat work. He was so loose, forward, and off the forehand, I felt like I had a different horse under me and it was amazing. I currently have Finn in a Myler Comfort Snaffle, but my trainer suggested I try a double jointed loose ring snaffle. I think I'll pick one up tomorrow and see how he goes in it.
    I feel like with all the riding lately Finn's level of fitness has greatly increased and my fear of his inabilities has greatly decreased. I think that with all the injuries Finn has had in the past year has made me think he is chronically lame, and that I needed to baby him (like ride only twice a week at the walk and trot...).
     I recently started reading Jane Savoie's Dressage 101. I've watched Jane's training videos in the past and absolutely love how she teaches in such a clear, "makes sense" approach. One quote really stuck out to me:

"You need to build the horse's self esteem. You want him to believe that he can do absolutely everything fabulously. This attitude goes for riders as well... Build your self esteem and your confidence in your abilities. The way to do this is to practice being positive about yourself. Create a mental image of yourself as a patient, capable, brave rider". - Jane Savoie

    This quote sums up everything I struggle with, and everything I need to work on. I know how Finn reacts when my confidence is there. He would jump the moon for me. I need to believe in that, and I need to believe in myself to get him there. I have big goals for both of us, and I know that we are both capable of getting there.
    I can remember only TWO good rides of 2012. One, a jumping lesson around June of last year, and two, our dressage clinic last September. To only be able to remember two really great rides in nearly an entire year of ownership is not good, or fun. Luckily, this year is off to a much better start.
     I have off from work tomorrow and plan on heading up to the barn in the afternoon. I'm thinking of doing some no stirrup work, riding for a while in two point (my legs were killing me after our lesson today!), work on the canter some more, and do lots of trot and transition work. I'm hoping to convince my husband to come up to the barn with me to get some pictures and videos of us.


Rider Fitness

Today Finn gets the day off. But that doesn't mean I do. I've been thinking lately about my own fitness and how much it effects my riding ability. During our 40 minute lesson yesterday we didn't get a single walk break and at the end of the 40 minutes both me and Finn were sweating and breathing heavy. Ever since having my daughter, who will be two this year, my stamina has gone way down. I used to be able to hop on, ride for hours, and still have lots of energy. Now, my muscles are sore, my core is not tight, and my flexibility is horrible. I know that when I do an hour of yoga or pilates it really effects my ability to ride. For a few months I was either walking every day with my daughter in the jogging stroller, or doing yoga/strength training after she went to bed at night. But ever since winter has arrived I have not been motivated at all and I've been weak and flopping around in the saddle. This week I started doing yoga again and my muscles are really feeling it. I know that if I want to meet my 2013 goals I really need to keep it up on a regular basis!


Lesson and 2013 Goals

Today I had a lesson after two weeks off from riding due to a terrible cold. The lesson went surprisingly better than any lesson has in the past. I've been thinking a lot lately about what I've been doing wrong in my riding. It seems that ever since I brought Finn home my riding ability has decreased. Because I've mostly ridden horses that are more finished than Finn is, I've picked up a lot of bad habits that he makes very obvious. Our biggest issue is connection. I just cannot seem to connect his hind end to his front end, and he ends up plodding around with his nose in the air, heavy on the forehand. I let my left rein go loopy, keep a good connection with my right hand, and pull his head to the right all the time. Today, for one of the very first times, I was able to keep consistent contact in both reins, and for a few fleeting moments push him forward into the contact into a beautiful frame. I could feel him coming through his back and not hollowing. My trainer was shocked at the change in my riding in just a few short weeks, and how persistent I was being with him. I told her that I was sick of babying him and feeling like he wasn't capable of much of anything. I was sick of not accomplishing ANYTHING in a year. I also just got a new saddle last month that has made a big difference in my riding and feeling centered and balanced. I've realized that if we're going to do anything this year I need to start pushing him, believing in him, and trusting my instincts. We're at a great barn now where the majority of the barn goes to shows, and I really want to accompany them with my horse.
     In 2013 our major goal is to complete our first event together. The calendars for my area aren't up yet, but I know that Pipestave usually offers a very inviting event around July. http://www.wnrdc.com/index.cfm. This is definitely a possibility for us as I know a few girls from the barn school xc here and go to this event. I'd also like to go to a hunter pace, do a couple of schooling shows with him, and have my trainer ride him in a couple of shows. I really want to get off property and expose him to as much as possible. To the best of my knowledge he's never been to a show so it will be a real learning experience for him. The great thing about him though is that he's such a good boy and takes just about everything in stride. I love my horse, and it feels so good to say that.



September 2012-January 2013
        On September 1st I signed me and Finn up for a dressage clinic at our new barn with a well known local dressage instructor, Sue Winslade. For the first time since I had owned Finn I had someone telling me how much she liked Finn and how nice of a horse he was. I know it shouldn't have mattered that much what someone thinks, but after a very trying year with my first horse it meant the world to me. Finn was wonderful for the clinic and gave his all. I started realizing that when he had an audience watching him he liked to put on a good show!

     I continued riding and taking lessons throughout the Fall. I went on a bunch of trail rides with my farrier's girlfriend and we became good friends. Finn proved to be a great trail horse, and rarely spooked at much of anything. We had another setback at the beginning of December when Finn sustained a paddock injury that resulted in a swollen rear left hock, as well as a big cut on the upper part of his rear left leg. I honestly thought that he was going to be lame forever. But after two weeks of stall rest and a week of bute the swelling was completely gone and the cut was all healed up. 
December 2012
     I recently had my farrier's girlfriend, Amanda, start riding Finn to keep him in shape when I can't get up there every day. I also started having my trainer ride him. I am hoping that this is the year where we can really make something of ourselves. I'd like to go to a few shows, go cross country schooling, and participate in our first event by the end of the summer. Let's hope we don't encounter as many setbacks as we did last year!


April 2012-August 2012
            The month of April was HELL. Finn was at a barn with two mareish mares, and an older gelding. He was turned out in a very small paddock. I had him on rough board, and between having a baby, a job, the commute to the barn, and all the work that comes with rough board, I was not riding him as much as I should have. ...And he developed a rearing problem. Every time he was led out into his tiny paddock he would dance around on the lead and as soon as the barn manager went to remove his halter up he would go. Every. Single. Day. I was only up there once in the morning to turn him out myself to witness it. And I was completely terrified. Rather than calling a trainer, I almost thought about returning him to the MSPCA. I don't know why I didn't call a trainer. I was so burnt out from just about everything that I couldn't even think straight. Whenever I did have time to ride, the weather wouldn't cooperate. The barn manager said I HAD to do something about THIS HORSE because she couldn't handle him. "This horse" that I swear I had made a mistake on. He was a wild, unruly, complicated, Thoroughbred. I had a baby and husband at home that depended on me. What was I doing with a horse?! If I could have done it different I would have gotten a trainer as soon as I got him. I would have worked more on groundwork with him. But instead, I decided to move him.
April 2012
     I moved Finn to a full board barn close to home in May. The barn was a bit rundown, there was only a fenced in grass ring, but the stalls were spacious, the turnout was huge, and I really liked the barn manager. Finn settled in quickly, and on all day group turnout his rearing habit completely went away. 
       I had my old barn manager's farrier up for a trim and new shoes and it was a terrible experience. This farrier was not one to put up with any crap, and insisted on a chain around his nose and an hour+ of lunging him in the rain to settle him down. Of course this didn't settle him down, it only made him more agitated. After a 3hr farrier job I was left with my poor, trembling horse. Rather than trust my own instincts I immediately thought my horse needed more groundwork, someone better than me to work with him. 
         In June I started riding more consistently...of course...when the weather was the hottest and the bugs were at their worst. I was having fun getting to know Finn and we started jumping some baby crossrails and working with a hunter jumper trainer.
June 2012
      In July a new horse moved to the barn and Finn started getting beat up in turnout. I would pull him in from the paddock only to discover another new cut on his sides, neck, or back. I decided to move him to individual turnout. I also decided to try out a new farrier who took a much more gentle approach with Finn, who, in turn behaved like a perfect gentleman.
     At some point in July Finn injured himself in turnout. I don't know whether he tripped, rolled on a rock, or what, but he was very back sore. Our new farrier came to put on a loose shoe and when I told him I was thinking about moving Finn to a new barn with safer turnout and better amenities he suggested I check out the barn that his girlfriend boarded her horse at. A big negative to the barn though was that it was an hour commute. My husband and I decided to check it out anyway mid-July.
   Upon pulling up the long dirt driveway there were horses in large turnouts to our right, a big blueberry patch to our left, and the big wooden barn in front of us. With 30+ stalls, a washstall, bright aisles, an outdoor with a full jump course, a huge indoor, and miles of endless trails right from the property we were sold. On August 1st Finn moved to his new home and was almost immediately turned out with his new herd of five other geldings. He galloped a few circles around the paddock and settled in as if he had been there forever. I knew that we were home. 
     During the month of August I had two chiropractors up, a vet test for Lyme, and a massage therapist out to tell me that my horse had done something to his back. I also had a saddle fitter out to adjust my saddle. After a week of stall rest and a week of bute, one of the many things that I had done to try and help him seemed to work. We started taking lessons with the barn manager, and Finn got his first bath in the wash stall. 

August 2012


The 27 year dream

February-March 2012
        For 27 years of my life I dreamed of a horse of my own. While my parents were not animal lovers they did allow me to take riding lessons for the better part of my younger years. I took some years off from riding for college and was bitten by the horse bug intermittently throughout my 20's. After I married my husband, Matt, I leased a few different horses and then became pregnant with my daughter.  
         A few months after having Addison I started leasing again and the idea of horse ownership did not seem like such a distant dream. We had a house, stable jobs, a place to keep a horse, and the funds to care for him. I casually started looking for "the one". The first horse I looked at was a young, too small, quarter horse. I then looked at a fresh-off-the-track 17 hand Thoroughbred who flew around the round pen in wild fury with me on his back... I quickly realized that a Thoroughbred was probably not the horse for me, especially with a young daughter at home that depended on my mobility. Until Shrimp.
         "Shrimp", was a 7 years old 15.3hand Thoroughbred that had been in the MSPCA's care for 2 years. The MSPCA was promoting Shrimp on it's blog with a video of him doing just about everything- crossing rivers, jumping cross rails, trail riding, and dressage. And all with an attitude of a horse that was much wiser beyond his years. I could see me and Shrimp doing anything together, I could see my daughter riding him when she was older.
           In snowy February 2012 my husband, barn manager, and myself, drove down to Shrimp's foster home. We pulled up to the barn, drove past the paddocks, and one skinny, fuzzy little horse-- the only one without a blanket, looked up at us as we passed. I said to my husband-- that's him. He had the kindest eyes I had ever seen. He wasn't the tall, beautiful, majestic horse galloping up to me, but our first meeting was just as special. I loved him from the second I saw him and knew he belonged with me. Shrimp came home with me on February 29th, 2012-- the day before my 27th birthday. Shrimp stepped off the trailer, snorting, taking in his new home.
The day "Shrimp" came home

After 27 years of dreaming I still couldn't take in the reality. Shrimp was mine. The little girl that used to pretend her bike was a horse didn't have to pretend anymore. I had never felt such a deep and instant connection to another animal in my life and I knew from the moment I saw him our relationship would be special. 
        In the next few weeks we took to choosing a new name for him. Shrimp was clearly not regal enough for him. Shrimp's jockey club name is Delaware Bound, which we liked, and decided to keep as his show name, but we still needed a shorter barn name. My husband came up with the name "Finn" which we both thought suited him. 
        Finn and I had a very rough first 7 months which I will detail in following posts. Rough patches that made me question my horse, my abilities as the right owner for him, and horse ownership in general. Only in the past few months have we really turned a corner. I started this blog to detail our growth together and hope everyone enjoys reading about our journey together.

Marissa and Finn- 9/1/2012