Wednesday, June 24, 2020

2020 Updates

Hello everyone! Long time no post. I've been suffering burnout from work since sometime late last year, and it hasn't let up this year. I've had zero desire to get on here and write anything after spending my day frustrated and staring at a computer. Put that on top of it being a bit of a dark time mentally for me, then pile on COVID-19 madness, and you don't have a good recipe for blog writing. Plus like... it was mostly low content times.

I hope you and yours are safe and well in this pandemic, and your life hasn't been turned upside down to an unmanageable point. I'm one of the lucky ones- my husband and I are both working at home 100% since mid March (expected through at least September, if not the end of the year) and it's BAU for us. I fall into a few of the health risk categories, so I'm extremely grateful to be able to work from home.

Our barn didn't close, but we did excessive cleaning with social distancing rules. Social distancing is getting easier as the weather warms up. I still feel safe going out there because of all the precautions I take personally and the precautions the staff takes. I wipe down my trunk, locker, and stall front when I arrive and before I leave. I keep a halter and lead rope for my personal use and leave Eli's regular halter and lead for staff to use. I tack up in my stall using a personal set of cross ties so that I don't have to share community cross ties. I wash my hands when I get there, at least once while I'm there, and before I leave. I use paper towels to open doors. Most of the other boarders do something similar.

This set up actually did a fabulous job of teaching him he's ok alone in the barn. I found he was a lot less worried about things when he was in his "safe space." It also taught him to stay in his freaking stall instead of running out!

As a barn, we've been using the TeamUp app to note when each of us will be at the barn so we can spread out throughout the day. There were some minor tweaks I had to make to my barn schedule, but I'm still getting out there 4 to 5 days a week.

I'm also on staff at the barn, so I participate in cleaning high traffic surfaces as well as the gator, pitch forks, wheelbarrows, brooms, and dust pans. The barn lounge was closed almost immediately to discourage loitering, and was staff only up until recently. Knock on wood, staff and boarders have all been healthy so far and we're going out of our way to protect ourselves and everyone else.

Eli and I have been trucking along, taking everything slowly because I'm mentally struggling (but getting better now). Instead of seeing the good in each ride, I was only seeing what I hadn't done or wasn't doing because of fear. It made horses not fun, and I didn't want to go to the barn or ride. I wanted to sell everything and be done with horses, but I didn't know what I'd do instead.

I took GP trainer's advice back in March and got in contact with the sports psychologist she used several years ago. The program I was using got me in the saddle and going with Eli, but wasn't enough. I'm still in the early phases of the new program, it's hard but it's working.

It took an obscene number of pictures to get one with his ears semi-forward. He was gorging himself on grass and looked unhappy about it. 🤣

I got to have a great virtual lesson with Megan at the end of March! She really helped me to start bringing Eli's hind legs closer together so he engages better, but we also went over the cues for shoulder fore, and teaching a young horse how to respond properly. Breaking it down into attainable steps really helped in other aspects of riding too.

I also figured out back in April that a lot of my trouble with Eli taking over and pulling me out of the saddle came from him physically pulling the bit forward in his mouth and then leaning hard on it. He's gotten his tongue over the bit a bunch of times doing that trick. I wasn't trusting myself to keep my own balance so I was using his mouth for balance (I know, bad!), so this trick was really effective at destabilizing me.

When I ordered his bridle after he came home, I got a plain cavesson and a drop noseband. I swapped out that plain noseband for the drop. What a difference! He fussed with the bit, trying to take it from me, had a slam on the brakes tantrum when he couldn't pull the bit forward, and then settled into really steady work. Steady in tempo and the contact.

I've been able to pick the fights, and win them quickly, over not leaning, giraffing, or rooting. When Eli can't pull the bit forward, he doesn't get his balance lurching around, which means I have core to spare, so I can shake him off my hand and put my leg on and use a seat based half halt to put him back in contact seeking mode.

I also found a trainer in my area to take lessons from. She's been around for ages and finished her gold medal last year. We've been lessoning every other week since the end of March. Lessons revolve around self carriage with suppleness for Eli and correct position for me. GP Trainer P is forward into the contact and not pulling the horse into it, and she's been very understanding about my fear issues and Eli being a new partnership. (the video above was from our 3rd lesson, the two below are from our... 5th? on 6/5/2020)

I made a few other tack adjustments in the last 2 months:

Changed the bit from a HS RS Dynamic Loose Ring Lozenge to a Nathe. Eli has never been great about bridling (tall horse becomes a giraffe). In fact, I have to be careful he's still tied to something because sometimes he'll turn and leave as soon as he knows the bridle is coming! Penn was never difficult to bridle, but he gobbled up the Nathe like candy. When I put him in a double to take pictures before he went to his new home, he refused to take the bit the next day until he realized it was the Nathe again. I was at a loss of what to do bit wise for Eli. He had a hard, dead mouth, wasn't thrilled about meeting the contact, and evaded being bridled. I tried a cookie after taking the bit to encourage him to go along with it, which helped at least keep him in place, if not head down. He didn't seem... happy. I was afraid I wouldn't have breaks with the Nathe, but I got so fed up one day I just popped it on and thought, "I can always dismount if he's not listening."

Uh, for the first time ever, I had real direct rein steering. I didn't realize it was missing. He wasn't afraid of the contact, in fact he went right to it. We kept it and haven't looked back! He's been much, much happier in the contact. The amount of BTV curling has also been reduced. Sure it still happens sometimes when I get too heavy handed because I've lost my balance (sorry Eli), but he lives on the vertical for the most part.

First or second ride with a new-to-us saddle!

Put Penn's Hastilow Concept Elevation on consignment with the saddle fitter and found a used Black Country Bellissima. GP Trainer mentioned she first saw Eli that she didn't think the saddle was a good long term fit for Eli, but I didn't get a new one at that time because I figured he'd be changing shape and Penn's fit well enough for now. Fast forward to the end of April. Penn's saddle had been reflocked twice, and I'd widened it once already. Suddenly, the panels weren't sitting right and it was both pinching the very top of the whithers causing pressure bumps while being too wide at the bottom points (meaning it was too wide). Making the tree narrower only made the bumps worse (so it's also the wrong shape). When I stuck my hand into the gullet, I found the left panel under the twist was sitting on Eli's spine ever so slightly. I put Penn's old Stubben 1894 on, which is several CM too small, and Eli preferred to have his back squeezed than whatever was going on with the Hastilow. I suspected that he also disliked the flex-tree in it- he seems to enjoy steady, non-chatterbox tack.

After what seemed an age, (ok not really, 3 weeks and one homemade saddle pad later that relieved the spine interference for the most part), my previously scheduled appointment with the saddle fitter came and we settled on the Black Country Eloquence. I test rode a padded up WXW to see if Eli liked the tree (he loved it) and if I liked the feel (I did not). The main hang up was the saddle I was trying was a half size too small, which made everything feel off. Saddle Fitter did not have an Eloquence in stock in an 18.5 that I could try, and Black Country was still closed from the virus. We talked about having something custom made because I didn't like how the seat felt and we thought I'd enjoy a slightly forward flap dressage saddle (thank you Mary Wanless), but I also wasn't prepared to spend $4500+ on a new saddle. Instead, we did some internet scouring during my fitting and found a few 18.5 MW candidates that allowed trials, and I reached out to them. I took the WXW on trial so I'd have something to ride him in and to make sure he kept liking the tree. I actually found the saddle winner the next morning- a very well used Bellissima. The Bellissima is the same tree and saddle as the Eloquence, but is the luxury model.

From the tack shop's website

I called the tack shop selling it first thing when they opened and it was on its way to me that afternoon! I was super nervous about it not fitting Eli since it looked a little narrow to be a MW, but it fit Eli like it was made for him. It also felt like it was made for my butt! It encourages me to keep my pelvis tilted up, thigh rolled in, core engaged... all those Mary Wanless taught ideas. I still think I'd like more forward flaps, but it will work for now. If/when Eli outgrows this saddle, I'll order a custom Bellissima (because in truth, I love calfskin seats). I just have to save for it!

Eli has felt like he was about to buck for 90% of the rides I'd had on him up to this point. I'd check in with other people riding with me and they'd say, "No, there is no buck in his back." It made me nervous to put leg on or really ask Eli to do things. My friend that rides Eli sometimes didn't register the feeling because her mare feels like that all the time (very high internal pressure mare who does often buck when she feels she's been wronged). That feeling is gone!

Monty Robert's Dually Halter over the bridle with a second set of reins hooked to the rope nose as a sort of emergency brake.

Eli can also walk downhill under saddle. I started trail riding with a Dually Halter safety net and the idea that simply getting into the woods was a victory, even if I got off and led him. The major problem I had was his inability to sit down to go downhill. He'd flail and try to trot off, stumbling and running into the horse in front of us. With the Bellissima, that is gone. I didn't make some miraculous training adjustment overnight... I changed the saddle and he sat like he's supposed to. He likes it better!

Thanks to the change of saddle, I had this first successes on 5/26/2020, when I just "went for it" and cantered outside because Eli felt safe. Sure, I'm super freaking handsy and using him to balance myself, but to get less handsy in the canter I need to practice the canter.

I made the change official on Memorial Day when I drove to the fitter's office to drop off Penn's saddle for consignment, return the trial saddle, and have them vet the Bellissima for soundness. I took a bunch of pictures of it sitting on Eli and of Eli's back without it so they could evaluate balance and his musculature. The saddle needs to be reflocked, but with a shim it'll do until the fitter can get out again.

In other news, the beauty of the internet has also led me to some incredible strangers. Through Instagram, I found someone who managed to get SoloShot to replace her arm tag because she was sent a faulty tag. I tried to get a new tag under warranty back in Oct 2018 and got no where with them after a month of pestering. This lovely individual, who was a stranger to me and we had nothing more in common than a love for horses and broken SoloShot3s, used her connections to get my inquiry to the right people at SoloShot. I got a new tag about a month ago, and my Soloshot3 has worked almost flawlessly since! It has had a couple goof ups in tracking where I'm not sure what happened, but it has worked well enough for 95% of my rides because I keep it on medium view instead of tight... so videos on the blog will end up a bit zoomed out, sorry! But the bright side is... I'll have new media regularly!

6/20/2020 We love a super boring canter these days :)

As for the blog, I'm certainly not closing it. I'm also not going to be updating it as much (heck, I've only managed... 3 times this year?). I'll probably do a bit more updating now that the Soloshot3 is working again!

We started cavaletti Sundays back up this past weekend. We stopped them when Eli started bolting through this same exercise and I had to use the 90 degree turns to trip him up and help him not anticipate. I did a bunch of cavaletti on the long lines to let him figure out cantering trot poles like a wild man was not a safe thing to do. Ever since, knock on wood, he's been good!


  1. I'm so sorry about all of the burnout and mental fatigue from shittery, but am so happy to read that things with Eli have been getting better. You two are really looking good!

    OMG internet strangers for the win. That is so huge!

  2. Sounds like you are getting on the other side of some tough times. I loved reading an update, and wow what a difference in Eli!

  3. so happy to see an update! I totally feel you on just feeling too fatigued to blog, that's where I'm at right now. Eli is looking really great though, and it's good to see you have the bit/bridle situation figured out!

  4. Loving all these vids of you and Eli, so much progress! Glad you found a bit/bridle/saddle setup that he really likes.

  5. Long road, lovely future, and all my support for it. ❤️