December 22, 2014

Meet Gem's Evil Twin Sister

Sunday was kinda icky out. Still damp from the previous days rain, grey and chilly with a brisk wind. I wanted to get Gem out and about, but had no motivation to trailer anywhere knowing how mucky the trails would be. Luckily, we have the tracks at the barn and while they are not technical at all, they have perfect footing and are great for speed work. I figured an hour at the barn at speed would be fairly equal to 2 hours at a slow pace picking through the mud.

I sneaked out while Wyatt was finishing up his nap and found Gem with her head buried in a delicious pile of hay. She wasn't too thrilled to see me, but came along without complaint and stood like a lady to be groomed and tacked.

Once I got on her I was pleasantly surprised with the horse I had underneath me. She was forward and willing and power walked to the tracks. I was cautiously optimistic that perhaps my tactic last week at the Pace was paying off. She picked up a lovely sweeping trot and none of her silly antics showed up. She went past log piles, a fallen branch, the geldings and along the woods where I could here the scurry of furry creatures all without a single sideways glance or step. When we came up to a sharp curve or a spot that looked slick, she easily came back to me and collected to go over the obstacle safely. I was in heaven.

The first 15 minutes went by in a blaze as we clocked a solid 10 mph pace that ate up the ground. I was thrilled and grinning from ear to ear and praised the crap out of her.

Wyatt and Dusty showed up at this point and I let Gem have a break to tow Wyatt around a little. We walked, trotted and even cantered up a hill with Dusty sprinted alongside and Wyatt's laughter ringing in the trees. All was right with the world.

When we got back to the trailer, we had been out for a total of 32 minutes and I had planned on an hour, so I let Dusty grab a screaming Wyatt from me and turned Gemmie back out to go some more. I don't know who was more unhappy: Wyatt that his ride was over or Gem that hers was not.

She changed from a happy, forward and moldable mare to a demon in the blink of an eye. She refused to go back out and started spinning and turning trying to rush back to her field.  Eventually I got her turned around and off we went along the road to tackle the long track around the gelding pasture.
Barn layout. Not perfect, but the bright green shows the available tracks around the two pastures. Up in the right is the location of the mounds. I usually start by going all the way around the entire perimeter then make figure 8s between the two tracks and vary it up.

As we rounded the bend to hit the longest straight stretch of grass (about 1/3rd of a mile, maybe a bit longer) she became tense and tried to tune me out. It was very reminiscent of the start of Barefoot. I asked for a collected trot and she responded with a tense attempt to bolt. I kept her in check, but I knew she was a ticking time bomb. But I needed this win. I don't often fight her, but now that this behavior had reared its ugly head (quite literally in a few moments) twice I wanted to put a stop to it here and now.

We fought each other the entire long stretch and I should have just turned her around and forced her to walk. As we neared the end I could see the writing on the wall. At the back corner are two mounds in the earth. They are perfect speed bumps and on a good day they are great to canter over. On a bad day, they just stink.

As we crested the first one (and by crested I mean take the one or two strides up it, they are very small mounds) she used the momentum to fling her butt in the air. Not a true buck, but also not nice either. Again, it reminded me of how she dumped me at Barefoot in October and I was very unhappy with her attempt to ditch me yet again. I stayed put, but couldn't get my seat right in the 3 strides it took to reach the second mound. Over she went and she popped me forward out of the saddle. Just as I was sitting back down, she flung her head up and cracked me in the mouth.

I was livid.

I very, very, very rarely lose my temper with her. But I did on Sunday.

I whacked her on the neck which was silly since it did no good except to let my frustration out. I know it didn't hurt her, but at least it reminded her I was still there. As she tried to bolt away I turned her in a super sharp circle with my heel dug into her side and her nose as close to her butt as possible. We went around and around until she settled and then I asked her to walk. She tried to bolt. So we circled some more. Once she stood still I turned her back to the long side and made that mare walk slowly all the way back to the road. Once there we turned back around and I made her trot nicely, collected and listening down the long stretch. She tried to break to a canter once and it got her an emergency stop, backed up and taken to the spot of her last trot steps and started over. Once we reached the mounds I made her walk over them.

Along the backside I worked on transitions. 5 steps trot, 5 steps walk. I didn't let her canter again until we finished the geldings and worked over to the mares. There is a steep hill on the mare side and I made her gallop up that thing and worked her butt hard.

After an hour was up I let her walk it out and she was breathing hard, but was fine otherwise. I patted her and let her know it was ok, but that I wouldn't take that crap. She was a tad sweaty, but nothing major even with the pace we kept. With the break for Wyatt and the schooling along the long side, we still kept an overall 10 mph pace and I just know at times we were flying. I don't mind letting her stretch her legs and believe that speed work is vital, but only when it is safe and she comes back down when requested.

Fortunately, she didn't hit my nose at all so no bleeding or broken cartilage there. My lip didn't even get split, but did get a small cut which is looking like it may ulcerate. The left upper lip is big and swollen and when I woke up this morning the underside is a brilliant shade of purple, red and blue. Oddly enough it really doesn't hurt much.

I know the main problem here is her lack of work. It is pitch dark before I can even leave for the barn weeknights and there aren't any lights, so riding Mon-Fri is out. I can only devote one weekend day to riding, so that's what she gets until March when daylight savings time comes back and my evenings get longer.

Anyway....first half of the ride was spectacular and then her evil twin showed up and left me bruised.


  1. Silly horses. Nice that you rode it out and didn't lose any teeth.

    And you stayed focused on your goal and didn't beat the hell out of her (which I would have been sorely tempted to do - pain takes me that way - even though it would be very counterproductive). Very nice job redirecting and still doing what you expected her to do.

    You know, no one is going to believe it was your horse . . . just saying. Be prepared. My mom once pulled a belt off of the shower curtain and the buckle hit her just below her eye. Gave her a huge black eye and everyone treated my step-father like an ogre until the black went away. Even I questioned her closely when I first saw it.

    1. Trust me, I was very tempted to beat her, but it doesn't do any good and just hurts her feelings. Gem holds a grudge like no other. When I first got her 5 years ago this was all she did. I left the barn in tears more often than not and really had to rethink how to be an active rider and not just a passenger. I tend to go easy on her and let her get away with little things, but eventually they pile up into a big thing. I'm just glad neither of us got seriously hurt.

      If the past predicts the future, when I go to ride her next she should be pretty darn close to saintly. She always knows when she pushes me past my limit and then takes a step back. Mares.

  2. I adore the image that comes with you and Wyatt giggling and Dusty running alongside!!

    And Oh Dear God. I'm like Karen, pain sends me into a fury like that. I know it's super counterproductive though, and Q holds a grudge like Gem, too. I've been making a huge effort with myself since Fort Valley to not be mad at the animals if they cause me pain when there is no malicious intent. Around home with the cats and dog I've grown a LOT better. I still have to make a lot of noise and stumble/stomp around for a moment or two, but redirecting my old instinctual response has been going well. The looks from the animals as I redirect are totally worth it, too! They're SO CONFUSED lol.

    Thank you for sharing the Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde experience and how you handled it. Gem's behaviors make me think of Q a lot, so I really enjoy reading how you two get along and work through things. It's a source of inspiration/motivation for me with my mare.

    Also...received the book yesterday! I'm excited to find time to settle in and read it through these winter months. =)