Thursday, September 29, 2016

Giving up

This is a sad post.  I have spent the last 15 months devoted to Poptart, to helping him become a safe, confident endurance horse.  I have somewhat achieved the endurance horse part of the equation.  He is an entirely different, much more confident and more able horse than the one I picked up from Days End Farm and Horse Rescue last year.  I generally only post publicly about our achievements or superficial challenges, I don't typically share more personal feelings except with close friends and family.  However, since day one I have struggled to feel safe with Poptart. He is a very emotional and reactive horse, he can have some impressive reactions that look something like a cross between a jack rabbit and kangaroo.  We have achieved a 200% improvement in his reactions and my safety.  In the last 2 months his progress has been excellent, he is more obedient, lighter to the aids, and we have had some fantastic liberty play. However, what has been made even more evident by the significant improvements in communication/training is that regardless of his knowledge and desire to please he is still a reactive and emotional horse.  He is a horse that, for your personal safety, you have to ride 100% of the time (per Jaime's recent blog, Poptart does not 'fill-in' for the rider).  It should have been a big red flag when I needed to buy an expensive safety vest just to ride him at home (not that safety equipment isn't a good idea regardless).  But I am very persistent and strongly believed that with a enough time, patience, and effort I could build his confidence to the point that I would be comfortable riding him.

I reached the point (actually reached it a long time ago, but I can be quite stubborn) where riding is not fun; I have anxiety in the pit of my stomach every time I think about riding Poptart.  I even considered giving up horses entirely because they are so much work, money, and effort and if it is not fun then what is the point?  Then I rode Rogan (my steady-eddy QH/warmblood cross), and while he is like F350 compared to a Ferrari, it was amazing! I walked, trotted, cantered without fear! I thought his little rambunctious canter protest crowhops were fun. He was stiff in his shoulders and it was fun to practice stretching him through lateral work. I then walked the trail around my house without anxiety for the first time in many  months. Riding is actually fun!

This was a very hard moment, involving lots of tears. I came to the realization that I do not enjoy riding Poptart, it is scary and work instead of fun.  I do not think more time and practice or persistance will change his innate spirit and playful personality.  I love him and think he is an absolutely amazing endurance horse, but not with me. He needs a different rider with more confidence, a rider that can trust Poptart so he can then trust his rider.

As I adopted him from DEFHR I am contacting them about returning him so he can be adopted to a more suitable rider.  If any of you are looking for spirited endurance horse he will be amazing and I am happy to answer any and all questions.  He is a 2010 Polish Arabian gelding by Equifor (bred by Canterbury Farms in Maryland), 14.2 H,  800 lbs, excellent solid bone/legs, and pulses down faster than you can untack him at vet checks.  He loves to roll in sand and would prefer to live outside with large herd.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Daily life

Front leg hobbles

Hind leg hobbles

Last night Graham and I went to see a band and returned home at the wee hours of the morning.  So being a bit tired this morning, I decided to take it easy and play with Poptart on the ground (while I read).  I think it has been almost a year since I first introduced hobbles and thought it was high-time for another refresher. Poptart grazed peacefully with Rogan while wearing the hobbles for 5 minutes on the front legs, and then 5 minutes on the rear legs. No problem, it was just like we had practiced yesterday rather than last year! (Rogan got to wear the hobbles then too!)

Learning that the world does not end if a saddle slips.

I also have the goal of helping Poptart become comfortable, and to not panic, if the saddle should ever slip to the side or under his belly.  In his first saddling sessions, at the rescue, this did happen and it has left a definite fear memory for Poptart.  We are going slow, but when he saw me coming with the pad in the backyard he obviously knew we were going to play with this again, as we did the other day, and he adroitly stepped to the other side of Rogan several times.  This is very unusual for Poptart who generally loves attention. It was very specific to the exact situation of me carrying the bareback pad by itself in the backyard while grazing, as he is perfectly content to be saddled with the bareback pad prior to riding and also when I approached him several times earlier for the hobbling practice. Very interesting!  We proceeded and I saddled him with the bareback pad sideways (with a very loose girth) and then let him graze. I then switched it to the other side  while he continued to graze.  I then repeated that and asked him to laterally disengage both directions.  I then placed it on him normally, so he didn't end the session worrying about it sideways, let him graze and then brought both horses in.  I will continue to practice this slowly so he gradually becomes very confident with each stage until he no longer fears the pad migrating to unusual locations. On a side note Poptart does not do well with overcoming fear with the total immersion or flooding approach to phobias.  We maintain a much better bond and he stays calm and confident with a gradual approach to confidence building.

On the riding front (all bareback with the pad at home) Poptart has significantly improved with our arena exercises. He readily understands the shoulder-in and counter shoulder-in on the circle at the walk and trot, and is now readily offering a more relaxed head/neck position during those exercises.  We still have a little brace when starting the trot but he is softening pretty quickly.  He also will walk/trot around the arena with his head and neck lowered and extended and I am starting to feel his back lift more and more.  The canter has improved in the last few sessions and we are now getting a full lap prior to having abrupt stops or protests hops over continued cantering. The upward transitions are more willing and the downward are immediate (at least in the arena, LOL!)

I am playing with approach and retreat with riding him around the house/neighborhood and am ensuring that if he becomes tense or worried I immediately ask his head to lower and start small circles of shoulder-in or counter shoulder-in.  I am trying to only go to his threshold with this and not too far beyond it, as I think too much stimulation and fear is counterproductive. I learned, belatedly, from my neighbors that a young bear may have moved-in to the woods of our neighborhood trail behind the houses.  That would explain why Poptart became so worried on several occasions in the woods we ride through routinely, he must have smelled the nearby bear. 

We went back out on first conditioning ride for a while using our Freeform saddle and skito pad. We took it easy and had to address 'worried horse' a few times but overall it went really well. When we finished the 11 mile ride Poptart did have a minor rub from the girth (same as from Old Dominion). I am going to have to keep working on saddle fit :(  I would like to ride in the 25 mile limited distance endurance ride at Fort Valley at the end of October. 

The most recent frustration is seeming unpredictability.  I am not sure how to resolve this... For example, we have a teeter-totter bridge that Poptart has been ridden and led over every session for the past 6 weeks.  This past week he stepped on it, the bridge teeted down (as always!) and he jumped 4 foot sideways like he had never seen this happen before.  He gave every indication of being genuinely afraid so I calmly approached and retreated as if it were a new obstacle.  I am not sure why he would develop a new fear and I can't help thinking that maybe he is playing games with me and is not truly afraid (maybe bored? or worked up from something else?)...but either way we keep persisting!  Now time for an afternoon ride :)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Incremental Relaxation and Obedience

Hit Air Vest and Ultimate Bitless Bridle
*and notice Poptart is standing on a mattress!!!!*

Poptart and I have been practicing in the past 2 weeks since our clinic.  I do feel we are making incremental progress.  We are now easily achieving consistent steps of shoulder-in at the walk on the circle and also easily performing neck-rein aka reverse bend volte circles at the walk as well.  At the trot we are having very nice steps of relaxed yielding reverse arc circles still intermixed with "No, I am going straight, not turning that direction at all". The nice steps are definitely out numbering the "no's". Shoulder-in on the circle is also more consistent at the trot as well, I can really feel the inside hind leg stepping under.  We are playing with serpentine's around all the obstacles in my arena maintaining the same bend regardless of left or right rein circle at both the walk and trot. We are, of course, practicing both left and right bend so both sides are exercised and stretched.  The serpentine's around the obstacles help keep the exercises fun and fresh and prevent repetitive drilling. We also are now cantering bareback on a loose rein in the arena. I practice my lateral disengagement (1-rein stop) from the canter to help instill a great emergency situation brake, which will hopefully never be necessary! His canter is more willing and is improving, but at times he still gets a little more up and down, rather than forward, but he does readily listen to his lateral disengagement-- nothing like real life practice!

We are spending a lot of time riding the trails right around my neighborhood and house.  I think that riding these 'home' trails is much harder than hauling out to the national forest.  There are lots of obstacles at home:

1. Leaving pasture mates
2. Rogan (pasture mates) screaming for him to return
3. Pasture mates galloping around field, screaming...
4. Normal subdivision activity including mowers, deer in bushes, dogs, bicycles, cars, etc
5. Trail without much room for lateral disengagement, such as when riding the pasture fence line.
6. Poptart is in a hurry to return home where he feels comfortable and safe

So, my main challenge is for Poptart to feel comfortable and safe with me, regardless of location or other horse activity.  At home is a good place to practice this challenge due to the above listed real-life situations.  We are making progress!!  The challenge is to walk calmly on a loose rein with the head and neck in a relaxed neutral posture, halt when asked, and to stand quietly on a loose rein when requested in all situations and trails.  Once this is easy we will start adding in trot and then, eventually, canter.

Today we had noticeable improvement.  About 25% of the time Poptart would halt and stand without needing to laterally disengage, another 25% he only needed about a 1/2 of a circle before he seemed to say, "oh this sucks I would rather stand and be told how wonderful I am" (huge progress!!).  The other 50% of the time required significantly less circles, shoulder yields, etc before he would stand quietly and he was much quicker to lower his head and blow-out, lick/chew, and relax.  He also was much more interested in taking steps to eat nearby grass rather than trying to hurry home every chance.

I have my new Hit-Air safety vest which hopefully will never be necessary, but if it prevents 1 ER visit it will be well worth the cost.  And as Poptart can be quicker than a jackrabbit and I am riding bareaback... I thought it might be worthwhile insurance...

Poptart is modeling his new Ultimate Bitless Bridle which I like so far. He is very responsive to the pressure, and the bridle does readily release pressure and does not pressure the poll, unlike other cross-under bridles on the market. It should be easy to use on endurance rides as he can eat/drink from it, it provides excellent communication (and hopefully control!), does not rub, and is machine washable!!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Clinic with Theresa

On Thursday morning Poptart and I loaded up and headed to a 3 day private clinic with Theresa McManus. Theresa came strongly recommended from many people and has quite the impressive resume, but you will have to ask her all about that..  The best recommendation was horses that train with Theresa don't have the continued, chronic body issues commonly seen in the horse industry.  I wasn't sure what to expect, I am pretty skeptical of new trainers and clinicians and generally prefer to watch a few sessions or familiarize myself through books, websites, videos, etc prior to committing to a clinic. However, I was thoroughly impressed and can't wait to continue learning. I am so very lucky to have Theresa within driving distance so I can follow up with her for continued and progressive learning. (which is difficult with all of the wonderful, yet out-of-state clinicians!)

What we practiced (and, of course, these are my interpretations and thoughts on what I learned!):

On the ground

Stretch and lift the back: Raise the head by lifting up at the halter nose buckles pointing towards the ears. The horse should raise his head and shift his weight to the hindquarters. Follow this by next bringing the head and neck down and forward.  Repeat by raising the head then take 3 deliberate steps to the side (with the head up) and then ask the horse to lower his head while bent to the side. Repeat each direction. Eventually this is done while riding when the back is stronger.

Laterally disengage - (similar to a '1-rein stop, but actually bio-mechanically correct) - Lift the inside rein/lead with the fingernails up to heaven and point at the hip. The horse should bring his inside hind leg in front of the outside hind leg.

Follow the lateral disengagement with a reverse bend shoulder arc. Lift the inside rein/lead (with the fingernails up) and step into the shoulder. The horse should softly cross his front legs and move over softly.  Reward/praise and repeat on the other side. Continue until horse is relaxed and warmed up.

Continue my other groundwork exercises/stretches as they are great too.


Riding follows the groundwork. You can perform the same "stretch and lift the back" exercise, but I am not to do that with Poptart as his back is not strong enough (yet).  My "Go-To" exercise is the lateral disengagement (or bio-mechanically correct 1-rein stop).  This exercise, when performed correctly has the horse lift his loin and then step under with the inside hind leg crossing in front of the outside hind.  My steps are: 1. Lift the reins up 2. Slide my inside hand down the rein 3. Bring my inside hand with my FINGERNAILS UP  to my sternum and wait for the disengage 4. Next (if needed) continue to lift my hand up my chest (fingernails up!) as if I am gutting myself  5. Next (if needed) take my opposite hand and point at the hip that needs to move.

I need to practice the lateral disengagement as part of our warm up for several reasons.
  1. It stretches and warms up his muscles 
  2. It relaxes him and promotes obedience 
  3. It builds his topline every time he steps under while lifting his back 
  4. It will be in both Poptart's and my muscle memory should we need an emergency brake/1-rein stop. 
    • This is important because if your lateral bend is not always associated with the inside hind leg then you can flip your horse if you have to use the 'emergency brake' at high speeds, such as during a spook or bolt. If your horse associates the stepping under of the inside hind leg he is much more likely to balance himself and yield during that situation.
Next, we move into the same reverse bend shoulder arc practiced in the ground work. This is accomplished by simply lifting the inside rein up at a walk or trot  (fingernails up, but do not bring the rein to your body) and opening the outside rein as needed. It was like magic! With a very light lift of the rein Poptart would float over, easily crossing his front legs.  We even played 'pole-bending' at the walk using the reverse bend steering, so much fun!

We also practiced upward and downward transitions and steering 101.  To have basic steering you take your hand softly holding the rein and point out to the side and up toward the sky, like you are pointing towards a bird. I think of it as having airplane wings or when a small child pretends to fly she sticks her arms up and out to the side.  I practiced this steering and called it airplane steering.  I also use this when Poptart is relaxed (finally) and will not move. I ask for 1 step to the left and then 1 step to the right until we became 'unstuck', or if necessary, I ask and then follow with a light touch on the hip with the stick. I think as your horse gets used to this all you will need to do is point and they will follow your hand regardless of reins/bridle until you can easily steer bridleless.

To go forward, I use intent, a smooch, and I lift the reins lightly and move my hands forward (this kind of reminds me of children pretending to be cowboys and pushing their hands forward for 'go'). I do not use any leg and if needed can lightly tap the hip with a stick.  The leg is saved for lateral work and very advanced movements requiring extra impulsion.  The horse should easily perform basic transitions off intent.

For downward transitions, such as halt, I push my heels down ('stop riding'), lift 1 rein and if needed lift the other rein to prevent circling/lateral movement, release when he comes to a complete stop. This worked well, but it will take Poptart a few more sessions to figure out heels down = whoa.

I also learned to ride with my hands much higher than I am accustomed which in turn helped Poptart balance and shift weight off his forehand, it was a very lightening and freeing sensation to me as a rider. I need to keep my elbows bent and basically have my elbow joint at a 90 degree angle.  I need to move my elbows forward and back with the natural rhythm of the horse. I tend to unconsciously brace my shoulders, especially when I am concentrating on something, and this, in turn, causes brace in my horse.

We then practiced these exercises with obstacles such as poles (that had scary cups on them to play 'move the cup' game aka 'rattle the cup and scare Poptart', LOL!),  ground poles,  and cavaletti.  We even jumped our first 'official' jump together-- I will be proud even though it was only a 12" crossrail at at the trot!

And to end the 3 days we went swimming in the lake. This was Poptart's 2nd time in deeper water and he comfortably made it in chest deep and had fun playing. We will build up to full swimming as I want him (and me) to stay confident and keep having fun!

Other fun stuff including watching videos, looking at books, and developing an eye for correct movement versus incorrect  movement (dropped back, overflexed, etc) often seen in modern performance. We played with tack and saddles and practiced standing calmly in the barn aisles with kittens and chickens darting between legs. It was great!!


  1. Do not pass go until Poptart is calm, relaxed, and will lower his head. Do not take one more step until relaxation is present!
  2. Walk calmly on a loose rein with the head/neck at about horizontal or lower. Progress to this at a trot and then canter. Be able to easily laterally disengage at all 3 gaits if Poptart speeds up or becomes less relaxed or nervous. 
  3. Accomplish reverse arc circles (about 6m) and shoulder-in on the circle at the walk and then the trot. Be able to do this at a trot prior to starting any canter.
  4. Accomplish a calm walk, trot, canter on a loose rein while out and about in the world, ie on the trail, with other horses, etc. 
  5. Oh, and all this is bareback.
  6.  When all this is accomplished schedule my next session!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Taking a step back (and notes from June 2016 Liz Graves Clinic)

Poptart and I are taking a step back. After Old Dominion (he was fantastic!) I already had an osteopathic recheck and foundation training clinics scheduled in July.   At Poptart's osteopathic recheck we realized he just was not building his topline and hindquarter muscle as expected and desired for a horse with his mileage and conditioning schedule.  We were missing a piece of the puzzle.  I decided that building his foundation, posture, and efficient biomechanics, were more important than getting more competitions under our belt.  The competitions can always come later (and will!).   With work and life balance, I can only focus strongly on 1 goal with Poptart, so for know it will be training.  This simply means slightly more arena work and slightly less trail riding, but I still consider trail riding very important to maintain both mental and physical fitness. My goal is 2 arena training rides and 1 trail ride per week rather than 2 trail/conditioning rides and 1 arena ride per week.

We had our 2nd clinic with Elizabeth Graves, hosted by Joe London Training, in Culpeper Virginia two weekends ago.  It was, of course, fantastic!  Liz is a very knowledgeable,experienced, an exceptionally positive trainer with almost a 6th sense or intuition with horses.  The clinic was based on the 6 essentials of horsemanship (aka essential foundation training for every horse!)

The 6 essentials (well worth repeating again):
  • Connection (relationship)
  • Straightness (defined as the horse being perpendicular to the ground)
  • Engagement of the hindquarter
  • Lifting of the base of neck
  • Forward motion in weight bearing posture (aka 'collection')
  • Bend through the rib cage
Other than connection/relationship which always comes first, the other essentials can come in any order depending on what the horse needs.  We re-visited the groundwork exercises that I learned in April's clinic.  This time Poptart was much quicker to relax and enjoy his 'massage' instead of worrying about the arena and other horses; and, of course, he rolled first thing in the lovely arena sand. 

The clinic re-enforced what I learned in April (remember to BREATHE, LOL!).  Some additional things I picked up include:
  • Use 4 fingers on the reins, not the common 'english' style of 3  and your pinky on the other side. The 3 finger method is traditionally for riding with a double bridle and double reins on a trained horse.  4 fingers on the reins creates a much smoother and softer opening/closing of the fingers which translates as a smoother signal to the horse.
  • Ask for releases (lateral poll release) by feel, by the time you see the give or release you have missed your best timing and caused an unnecessarily exaggerated movement.
  • A vertical poll release is necessary for a proper back.
  • Backing aids under saddle  are mainly your core and your INTENT.  If the horse is being re-trained or does not understand then you can use your leg to gently nudge the front leg that needs to move back next.
It was neat to have objective measures of progress between the two clinics. In April I was nervous about cantering at all in the arena and Poptart was hesitant to comply. This time we were able to (with just a little nerves) canter the arena fully in both directions on the first day.  This seems ridiculous because we canter all the time on the trail, but somehow cantering on the trail is much easier because we have an obvious place to go.  In the arena Poptart does not see anywhere to go or any point to cantering  in circles so I have to give him the reason and direction through my intent. He still offers the protest bucks and head shakes which keeps me a bit unerved and having to really focus on intent and breathing.   He also readily rounded his back and telescoped his neck to the 'bit' (we ride bitless in a bosal during arena work) at the walk and trot.  Poptart did want to bite and generally strongly interact with the other horses in the arena when we passed them, as well as chase a dog.  This is where I should have used more intent and direction so he did not focus on the horses or dog, instead I also focused on the horses and dogs which resulted in unwanted behavior-- Lesson learned!

I wanted clearer understanding and help with our lateral work so Liz introduced me to her thoughts on lateral work (which I love!) on the first day as well.
  • Shoulder-fore: is just a lateral poll release at the walk, trot, or canter. There is not any bend in the rib cage. The rider's body is straight and not rotated. (You only need to have a lateral release so you can see the corner of the horse's eye, the head is not bent around)
    • This really simplified it for me and it was way easy -- at least at the walk and trot!
  • Shoulder-in: shoulder-fore + bend in the ribcage (or lateral poll release + bend in the rib cage) The rider is rotated to the direction of bend in the rib cage (see Connected Riding for rider rotation). 
  • Lift the inside rein up (not back, which is my habit) for lateral poll release.
  • Leg yield to half pass. Master half-pass at a walk before going to leg-yield at a trot (Whoops! We have been leg-yielding from one side of the trail to the other at a trot for a while now)
    1. Leg yield with bend opposite to the direction of travel
    2. Leg yield straight with no bend
    3. Leg yield (or now Half Pass) with bend in the direction of travel
Day 2 was actually  a separate clinic, so the same groundwork, etc was repeated for the new participants.  Liz then grouped the the participants that had previously attended her clinics for the riding sessions so we could all work on what would help us the most.  For our session she started out by drawing a figure-8 of two 20' (or about 6 m) diameter circles in flour in the middle of the arena.  Poptart immediately thought she was spreading toxic poison dust, not flour.  I used strong intent so we could safely continue in our warm-up around the outer arena.  This was a challenge for us as Poptart only wanted to stare and spook at the flour circle-making and I was determined we were going to calmly walk and trot around the rail.  I succeeded, then we moved closer and closer to the toxic poison circles until he worked up to sniffing it and realizing it was actually edible.   When we started our session with the circles Poptart could sniff the flour and walk next to it, but the moment he inadvertently stepped on it he leaped backwards like it was electric flour.  Unfortunately, the goal was to walk the circle precisely on the flour line, let's just say that took a few laps.  Liz then moved us up to progressively walking then trotting the circle in shoulder-fore and shoulder-in.  Then, from an audience question about rider twisting, she brought out very effective shoulder cup tattle-tells.  They were firm pieces of a c-shaped mold attached to a string and close-pin.  Each shoulder cup rested on your shoulder and attached to your shirt via the string and close-pin for easy retrieval.  They stayed on okay at a walk, but then Liz asked me to continue my trotting on the circle. They didn't even make it through the transition, oh boy!  We were able to eventually get about 4 trot strides before they fell off-- I sure do know what I need to practice!  I apparently tend to drop my elbows during transitions and when steering; the shoulder cups were very effective in developing my awareness.  Now I have to figure out how to make my own set!

Then Liz, very laissez faire, said to pick up a canter on the 6 m circle.  Now, I have never ever cantered a 6 m circle, but being a good student I did as Liz instructed. I think Poptart was surprised and he did some protesting, but then we had a few absolutely amazing strides where I felt his inside hind leg come under and his back lift a million miles into the sky (not bucking, just engagement, LOL) and we stopped and I told him how awesome he was! Wow -- we cantered a 6 m circle, so alright maybe it was an egg or an un-definable shape, but we did it!! And it felt amazing, and now we have more homework!

Now I have been practicing this but that will be another post... Next is more practice and a 3 day clinic with Theresa McManus, a semi-local trainer (Liz lives in Minnesota, Theresa is in Virginia). Theresa has been strongly recommended by several professionals and friends to help me learn to help Poptart use his body well. Theresa has some impressive credentials but is now focusing on helping riders. She was great to talk with on the phone, I can't wait to learn from her!  We may also set up some lessons with Joe London in Culpeper as it clicked with me that he is also an excellent local trainer to help both Poptart and myself.

Friday, July 1, 2016

47 miles, drinking from a pipe and now a rest

Poptart is drinking from a mountain spring pipe on Judge Rye Rd

Poptart and I rode 47 miles this past week, WOW!  That was a a little unintended as I try for 20-30 miles per week, but I put in this weekend's riding a little early so Poptart can rest over the 4th of July holiday weekend while I visit family.  He did seem a little less forward at the end of today's ride, I think that may be due to 2 main things 1. he was tired 2. I may have trimmed his feet a touch too short.  Either way rest will do the trick.  Today we rode by ourselves and Poptart behaved very well, maybe riding a lot helps, LOL!  He felt more balanced, relaxed and engaged, easily trotting up the mountain on soft rein.  And best of all he drank out of the mountain spring pipe! That pipe and falling water jumped out to eat him this winter and caused a baby bolt down the mountain.  Today he was just thirsty and greatly appreciated the steady flow of fresh water.  Tomorrow he gets an osteopathic recheck to see if we are making progress on physical therapy to keep his pelvis from tilting forward and 'sticking'.  His pelvis needs to have normal motion so he can raise his lumbar span and 'coil his loin' so he can really use his hindquarter engine to push up those hills.  The saddle is working still and I feel like I am achieving a better 'connected riding' position.  I haven't fixed my girth problem, but he has not been sore on any of our training rides.  He is wearing the crupper in the field for a few hours at at time and I will try a new girth and different rigging when my new freeform saddle base arrives. We are planning on the 50 mile at Ride Between the Rivers, but have to work on hoof protection as my regular farrier (not trimmer) will be out of town all summer.  I will either have to use self-applied glue-on's or find a another farrier...  Have a Happy 4th of July!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A crupper and Poptart the Catapult

My new crupper from Distance Depot arrived on Friday.  It is wonderfully made with a shaped smooth leather tail piece, custom snaps for easy removal at vet checks, loads of holes for adjustment, and in matching red beta. It also arrived just 3 days after placing the custom order, WOW!

Poptart has worn a crupper several times this winter when learning to pull the hay net in harness. He kicked up a few times on-line at a trot/canter initially, but he also had full breeching with straps dangling by his legs.  He then always settled down and learned pulling the hay around = cookies.  So I assumed the crupper while riding wouldn't be a big deal either. I also handle his tail a lot and he enjoys having it scratched (as well as the area under the tail too!).

Because I do have some sense, I played on-line with him wearing the new crupper prior to riding. Initially on-line he reacted as expected, when first trotting and cantering he showed how flexible and strong his loin is with explosive straight leg bucks. He can angle his body in a straight line at about a almost perpendicular to the ground and has his back legs extended straight up into the air -- he can rival any bronc, at least in the straight buck! Thankfully he generally doesn't do any dirty twists, etc.  I will have to get Graham to get a video next time (if there is a next time).  He settled down and then we played just a few minutes with some obstacles and then went back to make sure we still had calm, responsive transitions during the circle without any bucking.   He did great and we did several walk/trot/canter transitions each direction. Poptart is even offering very nice movement online and I reward immediately when he offers good posture by having him rest a moment or praising him.

I felt comfortable riding, and we started off in the arena--- boy do I need to spend less time riding and more time weeding the arena!  I wanted to practice more vertical poll releases, making sure we are both relaxed and not bracing at the walk and during walk/trot transitions. He did well, but he does have some brace we need to keep working out.  I suspect the brace is defensive from where the previous not-fitting bosal rubbed and caused pain, and of course improving my hands is always a must.   So after our arena warm up off we went to check out some trails near the house.

He was a little spooky out by himself and it seems it is always harder to ride away from home with scary neighborhood obstacles like lawn mowers, waving flags, dogs, random junk, etc than in the national forest.  We had just started into a nice trot, on a slightly uphill gravel road, when WHAM! I am catapulted through the air and contact the ground skidding forward on my elbows.  I looked up just in time to see another one of those very athletic, almost perpendicular to the ground straight back leg extension bucks. Then he runs up the road (thankfully not down towards home!). I called him, thinking  -- hey now we get real life practice for to prevent being lost in the woods :)  Again I was thankful that he turned around and did trot back to me and stop -- he was thinking about trotting past me and going all the way home but I am very glad he chose me.  He got a big carrot.  I played online right there for a few minutes to make sure he was again okay with the crupper, then removed it and continued on our ride. The ride overall wasn't very fun after being catapulted, he was a little all over the place and spooky, but he did listen and didn't do anything too bad after the crupper was removed. When we got home I rigged up his crupper practice outfit (see picture) that he will get to wear quite often over the next few weeks! On the bright side, I think the fact the crupper scared him suddenly meant that he had really engaged his hindquarters/rounded his back to trot up hill which increased the crupper pressure (yay for hindquarter engagement!) I will try riding with it again once he can wear it without even thinking of offering a buck. No more horse-catapults for me!

And then, while picking out the hind feet prior to turnout, I felt large wet clumps of fresh manure hit my shoulder and arms.  Thank you Poptart, nothing quite like being catapulted and s**t on in one day.