Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Friday, December 31, 2010

In the Arena #43- Last ride of the year = best ride of the year!

Couldn't think of a better way to top off 2010! Gorgeous day, magical ride... I'm all smiles.


A quick look back -

Started the year not being able to get off the island for lessons... was kind of afraid of my horse after a confidence destroying trail ride.

Spent a few months doing a lot of groundwork... getting to know my horse better, and truth be told,  avoiding riding him.

In March I finally made it to my trainers for some lessons, after a five month break. We lost our dear Virginia Dare to choke. Val got his new companion Cowboy. Things began to look up.

April and May brought much more riding... more specifically riding with intention. Also there were barn improvements, helpful new tack (Le Trixerant girth) and our first outing the beach in half a year.

June and July... hot, hot, hot.. wet and buggy. Evening rinses are a must. More lessons + Val gets a massage.

August brought more lessons, Val a wind puff and Cowboy a snakebite, (how to learn horse triage in a hurry), more barn improvements and finding the motivation to ride when its insanely hot. Hurricane season is on the way. Oh yeah, and don't forget to count your blessings... I bought my farmette. One day I will get to live with my horse, but for now he has a permanent home.

September was our one year anniversary!! Also the WEGs, which I elected not to attend at the last minute. More lessons, lots of rides and P-R-O-G-R-E-S-S :)

October and November brought the fruits of a regular training schedule - some really nice rides. Me and the horse are beginning to click. Also more lessons, a hurricane + evacuation for Val. A minor health scare which turned out to be sore feet. And the start of the yearly "will there be enough hay for the winter" paranoia.

And December. More good rides, more barn improvements, more beach rides. Since adding Val to the mix, my life has gotten better and better. Looking forward to what 2011 will bring us :)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

In the Arena #42- Putting one foot in front of the other

Yesterday flew by in a flurry of "it's finally decent to be outdoors" weather related activities - primarily the job that pays our bills (landscaping). I did manage to squeeze some barn time in, mostly spent dragging the arena which was much worse for the wear after our freeze-a-thon of the last few weeks. It will need another session of dragging when the sand has dried out a little more. The moist sand filled the treads of my tractor up and it would quickly bog down...

After the tractoring, Val and I had a wonderful groundwork session in the future new arena area aka bermuda triangle of horse eating monsters. He was all business and gave me his full attention. Lots of transitions, circles and lovely trot work where Val kept with my pace perfectly. He was rewarded with some puny grazing + some, several, a ton of treats. As we returned to the paddock, Cowboy ambushed us with a serious buck and fart barrage when we came around the corner (as per usual). Val barely even moved his feet, looking to me for support. I couldn't have been more pleased. What a good boy!!


I did some kind of damage to my knee yesterday afternoon while exercising off  holiday indulgences. There was an audible crack and a weird overstretched rubber band-ish feeling. Insert curse words here. I think I hopped my weight off of it quickly enough - time will tell. I can get around okay but I can't straighten it out with all of my weight on it without feeling like it might buckle. Bummer...

Nothing was going to keep me from riding today, although many things tried to. As I was picking Val's feet someone suddenly appeared from out of the woods... a guy who is working on a new trail next door. He spooked Val who promptly stomped on my foot hard... yes the same one as the bum knee. Luckily I had proper footwear on and was standing in sand, just some nasty bruises to come. It really really hurt, as in I shed some tears while finishing picking feet. My horse was so sweet - nuzzling me, quickly offering his feet before I even touched them. It did seem that he could tell I was hurting. The good side of tb sensitivity :)

Once I figured out I wasn't crippled, I finished grooming and scrambled on. Still working on that elegant bareback mount. :) I was hoping that no stirrups would make my knee feel okay, and that was thankfully the case. Since the whistling workman could show up from anywhere at any moment - I kept the ride brief and to the point.

Transitions, turns on the forehand, keeping the neck straight, contact... our usual routine. I have to constantly remind myself that until we have our arena with safe footing we really can't get into good condition, either of us. Without being in good condition and having safe footing, our sessions must be limited.

It is so easy to get impatient. And patience is not one of my strong suits. I'm hoping that my cautious approach is still moving us forward... solidifying our foundation, so that when we have an ideal workspace, here as well as at my trainers, we will soar.

  • I want to progress, but not at the cost of my horses health, mental or physical. 
  •  I want to progress, but acknowledge that only when my physical (and mental) selves can work with the coordination and subtlety that dressage requires, will this happen on a regular basis. 
  • I want to deserve the willing cooperation, partnership and trust of my awesome horse.
  • I want to earn our accomplishments in due time, when we're both ready, and not before. There are no shortcuts.
After all, dressage is about the journey, not the destination. These are my New Year's resolutions... what are yours?

Val and I wish you all a happy, healthy New Year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

At the barn #28 - Communication - it's a two way street...

Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Still waiting for the snow that's been predicted. So far only rain make that freezing rain and lots of wind. Grey horses do look fantastic against a white background...  I'm still hoping we'll get some photo ops later on this afternoon. 


I'm constantly amazed by how our horses communicate with us, and often wonder how frustrating it is for them that we (sometimes) take so long to figure out what they're trying to tell us. Just another testament to the generosity of spirit our horses share with us.

Before our last ride Val was rubbing his gums along my leg. That seemed strange, so I inspected more closely. I saw a tinge of bleeding, and what looked like some of his evening mash kind of collecting at his upper gum line. After our ride, I gently brushed his teeth with a soft brush. Then I made a saline solution, and used my dose syringe to jet it around where the bleeding was. I've done this every day since. 

As I pondered what might be going on, I eventually remembered noticing that Val had also recently been biting his metal gate, chewing on his tack room door and doing some different, strange looking jaw stretching / tongue action. It suddenly hit me that Val's Nibble Net and the cold weather must be to blame. Because it's so cold, I've been cramming extra hay into the hay net - to the point that it's hard to get closed. The hay he's eating now is pretty coarse and more chopped than long and stringy. For him to pull it out through the small holes of the hay net he is abrading his gums on the webbing.

Besides treating his gums, which he totally cooperates with, I'm dividing his hay into two nets so it's looser and easier to get out. Obviously Val was trying to tell me something.

Lesson: if your horse suddenly starts up with new, different or weird behaviors, it is worth looking into. I feel really bad that he was suffering while just trying to eat, but I'm so glad he's smart enough to let me know. Interestingly, all of this went on at the same time as I've been working out scheduling with a new, natural balance horse dentist. Synchronicity!


As far as Christmas goes, suffice it to say that Val won't run out of treat options any time soon... possibly in this lifetime. He also got a heavy duty increased capacity storage container for his treat riches. (He got his main present a while back - a pair of Cavallo boots.) Actually, I noticed that he was sort of busting out of his back-up blanket as I tried to buckle it this morning, so some rationing will probably be necessary.

Due to Christmas meal preparations, we missed out on a great day for riding yesterday. Next year we're doing a Christmas Eve dinner instead! Luckily we're expecting a number of pretty days in a row with temps in the 50's this coming week - more like the usual conditions here - so Val and I can work off some of our holiday indulgences. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday - we sure did :)

Look what Santa left me under the tree...
Guess what sound the alarm makes!
And who knew such a thing existed?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

We hope all your wishes come true!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why I love thoroughbreds III

First of all, to me, this story is the essence of the meaning of Christmas. Secondly, it shows how the love of horses not only enriches our lives, but makes the world a better place. And finally, it's a ringing endorsement for ottbs, who just need a job and their very own person.

Reprinted from TB Friends with permission of Joe Shelton, who makes life better for so many horses, (ottbs mostly!), and people. Please visit his blog. I have followed Joe for years, and wish I had posted about him sooner... If you're looking for a horse related way to donate money this holiday season, his tb rescue farm is a fantastic choice :)


Wednesday, December 22nd...

She came to us in the spring of 2008, with major race track injuries. Her name is Top It Off, so we called her Topper. A small chestnut filly with a big white face. Topper could barely walk. A broken ankle, torn tendons, pastern problems, and a sore back.

The perfect patient. Legs wraps, ankle bandages, gulping her medicine, cold water hosing on her tendons, and daily walks. Topper especially loved those daily walks. As we neared the end of her rehab, the lead rope should have been around my neck. She was leading me. Topper was moving like Bristol on that dancing show.

Topper spent several months on green grass at a foster home. This past year she has been living in our north field. Her best friend is the dark gelding Bandit. Topper also enjoys smooching with Champ.

A 16 year old girl near the town of Yuba City. She came to us one year ago, asking for help in finding the right horse. I introduced her to a riding instructor, and every Saturday morning the girl has a lesson. To help pay for her lesson the girl cleaned stalls, and groomed horses. Once a week she feeds the barn, so the regular person could have a day off.

The key ingredient to all of this is supportive parents. You take away supportive parents, and the process usually comes to a quick halt.

There is no dad, but the girl has a very supportive mom. One year ago mom told her daughter, you want a horse, you figure out a way to pay the expenses. And you need to become a better rider. Which is when the girl began riding lessons. And started helping at the barn.

Earlier this month mom phoned and said it is time. Mom has been saving money for the initial cost of the horse. The girl has made boarding arrangements with her riding instructor.

Mom said this past year, her daughter is different. Her grades are better. She comes home from school and goes right to the barn. Before it would be right to the mall, hanging out with friends, getting in trouble. The girl returns from the barn and does her homework. She talks about horses constantly. The girl hopes to one day work at a rescue ranch.

And by now you have figured out, her new horse is Topper. The girl had several options, but with Topper it was love at first sight. She jumped on Topper without a saddle, leaned forward, and began kissing her soaking wet neck. It was raining. The girl began crying. Mom was crying. Riding instructor was crying. No one has been on Topper in almost 3 years. Yet Topper stood quietly.

The girl phoned last night. She and Topper went on their first little trail ride. Not far, only a few blocks. Topper was perfect. Back at the barn, Topper sniffed the big red bow on her stall door. There was a Christmas card taped to the bow. The girl opened the card, which said: Merry Christmas. I am so proud of you. Love, Mom.

She has a brand new silver blanket. A sack of peppermint candies all to herself. Topper also has her very own person. What a Christmas for Topper.

Enjoy your is the rain ever going to quit Wednesday, and be sure to hug your horses. Fifth Dimension on the oldies station...


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In the Arena #41 - Looking a gift horse in the mouth

It been busy around here with holiday preparations / obligations so this post will attempt to catch up on the news. I had a real lesson in barn ownership over the weekend. Turned on the hose Saturday night and no water came out. Bummer! It wasn't frozen, we're thoroughly winterized, so likely there was a problem with the well pump. It was dark and pouring freezing rain, so I had to wait until Sunday to discover that the pump was indeed history - seized up. Can't think of anything I'd rather do than handle cold metal pipes and cold metal tools out in the cold - fun! The morning was spent replacing the pump (and freezing) with my Dad, who luckily is such a handy man. Mechanics, carpentry electric and plumbing - he can do it all. Problem solved, and no toting water... yea! Dad - you're the best :)

It was more complicated than it looks

Today was the bright spot in the weather forecast for the week... time to saddle up, or not saddle up and ride bareback as the case may be :)

As I was preparing to mount, Val wiped his muzzle up and down my leg, with his mouth open. It seemed strange, so I inspected further. He had some blood on his front upper gum line - just a tinge. I'm planning on some warm salt water rinses for a few days. I have recently contacted a new dentist, and am in the process of scheduling an appointment. He's not due until April but my gut feeling is the sooner the better. I'm still not convinced that some of our turning difficulty hasn't got to do with dental / tmj issues. Thanks to Kate at A Year With Horses for setting me on the path to finding a more enlightened horse dentist.


Do I get extra cookies for courage?!
It was just a little distracting down at the barn today. Let's see... the neighbor was working in his yard (power tools of course) which always seems to include yelling (a lot at the top of his lungs) at his dogs. Yelling at his dogs who came crashing through the woods and spooked Val. Apparently it's easier to ride out a spook bareback because I swear, I didn't even realize it had happened until it was over. I continue to be impressed with the benefits of bareback riding.

Next came the yowling feral cat bursting out from the woods. A minor prelude to the little button buck bouncing around just outside of the arena. Why was he out in the open, so bravely, so uncharacteristically you ask? Well maybe, because my boarder's mom decided to chum him and his deer buddies up with piles of corn. I figured this out while the boarder family were at my place over the weekend for a holiday open house. (As they arrived they managed to let my Jack Russell terror run out the front door - it took half an hour to catch her!)

Over holiday punch I happened to mention that Val had been extremely distracted for a few days. Distracted to the point of dropping hot mash out of his mouth and tearing off to the far end of his paddock where he stood and stared for hours. Distracted to the point that one morning when I arrived at the barn no water and barely any hay had been touched overnight. "Oh, he's probably seeing the deer. I've been feeding them. I want to touch that little one!" Needless to say, no more corn at the barn. Special prize was awarded for self control...

But I digress... despite all of the commotion, we still managed to focus and get some nice work done. Most of the work was getting Val to pay attention to me and move forward. We did some pretty turns on the forehand, and the contact again seemed improved - another no glove ride. Afterwords we did some work in the backup arena - located smack in the middle of the bermuda triangle of horse eating monsters. I could tell Val wanted to get excited, but I firmly kept his mind on me. As I began some in hand trot work he popped up a little bit and scooted around, but all it took was a firm voice to get him back on track. Val did beautifully! I was so proud of my horse today. His reward was some grazing on the tiny patch of grass I still have, a pocketful of gingersnap and all my love. What a good boy!

Happy Holidays!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

At the barn #27 - Common sense and horse sense

100th post! 

We've survived our first deep freeze of the season. My winterizing efforts worked, so we had a functioning well point and therefore running water at the barn. I had to resort to supplemental heat at home though, as no amount of winterizing overcomes the total lack of insulation in the cute little antique house I rent. And apparently the snap is over because the temperature rose thirty degrees over the course of today, so no need for a fire tonight :)

Thankfully my boarder Cowboy's people have purchased him a new waterproof sheet / light blanket. Unfortunately we've still got some work to do in the "your horse needs clean not partly frozen water, available at all times" department. At all times means even if you'll be late for work / school. Get up earlier.

I knew we were headed for problems. I had disconnected and drained my hose in anticipation of the freeze. I called the boarders and warned them about the water / hose situation. I even disconnected and drained their hose. I guess my warnings didn't sink in because the second morning Cowboy's water bucket was frozen, what little water was in it. I emptied it and refilled with warmer well water. This happened two days in row. So I cut a piece of hose just long enough to reach Cowboy's bucket that would drain on it's own.

That evening we were at the barn at the same time. I gave them the hose section and mentioned the water situation. They told me "their hose was BROKEN" I suggested it was full of water and frozen. "No, it's BROKEN. It needs a new gasket. Water keeps shooting out the top." Now that it's sixty degrees out, guess what - the hose is not broken any longer. MA-GIC!!


I think my horse has special senses in his feet. Val has always been a digger. Typically at first he will be reluctant to work in a particular area, and want to avoid it. Then he will begin digging it up, sometimes making quite a trench in the process. Soon after I will discover some debris he has uncovered. Lots of concrete chunks, and the occasional large tree branches, which he often tries to pull out with his teeth if he can't dig them out. There was a lot of dumping on the property before I got it.

Right now he's working on a new spot - his biggest excavation yet. I can't wait to see what he unearths...

taking the scan

hoof x-ray results

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In the Arena #40 - What a difference a day makes...

A joyful morning with my horse - warm and sunny! Although many holiday related chores beckoned and thunderstorms threatened, we persevered. It seems like this time of year, if you have the opportunity to ride, you had better take it.

Val was in an extra playful mood as I cleaned up and fed. Every time I turned around his nose was right there, and eventually he grabbed my headphone cord and pulled my little radio out of my pocket. Who needs NPR when you have a horse?!

I think Val remembered our discussion about authority from yesterday. We breezed right through our warm-up. I played with how much energy we could develop at the walk before we transitioned into the trot.  Sometimes Val needs to get over the hump - energetically speaking - once or twice, and then we're good to go. I was reminded of something my trainer says... that you should always complement your horse's energy level. On a scale of one to ten, if your horse's energy is a two, you need to be an eight. If your horse is a nine, you must be a one. We're generally in the former category :)

Val enjoyed working today... lots of blowing and snorting, especially during our trot work. He reached and stretched for contact. Since we're limited for the time being, to trotting on the long side that still has good footing... (Dear Santa - Some truckloads of sand would really come in handy about now!!)  I focused on trot / halt, halt / trot transitions, mainly from my seat. We finished up with a bit of cone work and some lovely correct turns on the forehand. Still struggling with keeping the neck straight and consistent turning aids, but it seems that bareback work may be helping with my uneven hip situation. Ideally we will be able to get a ride in tomorrow as well, to hopefully cement this progress we've been making as another cold spell with big winds is on the way.

It occurred to me that the winter weather didn't seem so bothersome last year. (I should check my archives and see how much complaining I did) Then it also occurred to me that I was probably (secretly) glad to have an excuse to avoid riding. It was about a year ago when we had our disastrous train wreck trail ride. Hard as it is to believe, I was afraid of my horse for a while... questioning the wisdom of getting a horse at all. What the heck was I thinking!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In the Arena #39 - You're not the boss of me...

We're having a brief window of warmer weather - from mid 20's to the 40's - so Friday was the time to ride, because it's not expected to last. A coastal storm is on the way. Apologies to those folks who live in the frozen north... I know you all have it much worse.

I stopped in at the barn yesterday for a mid morning ride. It was one of those days when Val challenged my leadership under saddle from the get-go. I caught myself (early) getting frustrated, losing refinement in my aids and generally making things worse. I took a deep breath and focused on correctly aiding, making sure to escalate the aid until I got an answer. Val reacts to stronger aids (dressage whip) by making an audibly shocked gasp - which I interpret as "holy cow - she really means it!". This always makes me laugh, which probably helps as much as anything else.

Once we re-established leadership, the rest of the ride went really well. We got some nice halts off of my seat. Maintaining steady / consistent contact with the outside rein is getting easier, and Val moved out well off of my leg with good energy. I rode without gloves and again the contact felt great. I guess I need to find some different gloves that don't interfere with sensitivity in my fingers... any suggestions would be welcome. We finished the ride with the best on the buckle work we've ever done - steering well in both directions and even some turns on the forehand.

When Val and I have started a ride with this kind of disagreement in the past, I have often let my emotions get the best of me, and struggled just to salvage the ride. I'm really pleased with Val, and myself, that we moved forward and even broke some new ground. Yea team!


Today (Saturday) is our village Christmas parade. Val and I are not riding - the weather won't be fit, I'm sacred of noisy fire engines + kids on tiny motorcycles, and he still needs to break in his Simple boots. Next year Val!

For most of the last seven years my parade mount was Ginger (Virginia Dare), the coolest ever Banker mare, who reintroduced me to riding. She is the reason I'm here blogging, that I'm learning dressage and that I found Val as well as my little farmette. I can't imagine how my life would be if I hadn't met her.

Sadly Ginger passed away this spring as a result of a choking incident, at 34 years old. She participated in every Christmas parade we've had - 15 or so. No matter where she started out in the lineup, Ginger would make her way to the front of the herd before the end of the parade route, passing horses way bigger and way younger. She understood parades, and knew where her rightful place was. We will be missing her terribly today.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

At the barn #26 - You get the horse you need...

Kate over at A Year With Horses did an interesting post yesterday about horse and human personalities. Is your horse like you... are you like your horse? Who chose who? Do you want to be more like your horse? She invited her readers to respond. Sounded like a good idea. I haven't had my behind in the saddle since the cold snap so no rides to post about.

Val is my first horse. (Unless you count the thousand year old pony stallion named Comet who my grandma wouldn't let me in the pen with because he might "jump" on me.) Val was the very first horse I looked at once I decided I was in the market. Well, in person that is. I had been indulging in horse porn for a couple of years. I guess that's the first sign.

Anyhow, my trainer introduced me to Val, who was called Gus then. He was one of her student's horses. (Besides his handsomeness,) I liked how calm he was. We did a mini trail ride the day I tried him out. A vulture suddenly flew out of some brush about five feet away from us, and all he did was stamp all four feet in place. Not spooky - check! Frankly, with my lack of horse / horse buying experience, how much could I really expect to know about Val's personality, beyond what others told me. There is definitely an element of chance when you purchase a horse.

And - I think people change horses, and horses change people. For instance, I changed Val by giving him "Amplify" for a few weeks. I should have known that amplifying wasn't desirable or necessary. My calm horse (temporarily) disappeared - with scary consequences...

Val has made me a much more confident rider. Since I only see my trainer every month or six weeks, I have been forced to take more responsibility for our training. I ride with intention now. I'm a more competent rider too. Val gives me exactly what my aids ask him for, even though often, it might not be what I thought I asked for. He gives great feedback.

I hope I am changing him for the better. I believe dressage is improving his gaits and his strength. He is using his core and his back more now. The switch to barefoot is also an improvement. He seems happy with his life - his appetite is certainly good and he gets plenty of rest ;)

Are we alike? Val has a way better sense of humor than I do - he constantly reminds me to keep it light. Stress doesn't bring out the best qualities in either of us. We get frustrated when we are misunderstood. We both have decent work ethics, and sometimes are too smart for our own good. We both get bored easily - no need to repeat things over and over. Val is much prettier :)

While we have certainly had our challenges in the past year, I can't imagine life with any other equine partner. I truly believe, (although sometimes it may take a while to acknowledge / realize it), we get the horse we need. Think of it as equine alchemy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not my favorite way to spend an afternoon...

I haven't posted before today about my other animal companions. I only recently added some pictures in the sidebar... feeling guilty that Val gets the lions share of time, attention and resources now.

After stacking firewood in the backyard this afternoon I thought to check if there was any progress in my winter garden; several raised beds that surround my back deck. I looked up from my inspection and was startled by the sight of Max, my handsome, formerly feral, grey garage cat. It was so odd. He was laying out on his side, exactly how you would find him on a warmer day, sunning in his favorite spot. Only he was way too still. Stiff in fact. And it was barely above freezing.

I checked him over thoroughly and found no signs of distress or injury. He appeared to be completely relaxed, eyes open and clear, but dead as a doornail. I wrapped him in an old pet blanket and buried him under a little cluster of oaks in a sunny part of the backyard.

I found Max almost exactly nine years ago, huddled under some shrubs that I was pruning. Before I thought about it hard, I had snatched him up. A tiny feral stripey grey kitten. I tried to store him in the truck but my dog Sweetpea thought he looked delicious, so he spent the rest of the day in my sweatshirt.

He grew up to be a skilled hunter, often snagging his prey in mid-air. Unfortunately his prey was often songbirds. He was especially fond of cardinals - he caught over a dozen during a hot streak one autumn. (sorry cardinals!) I never put out bird feeders again since I had him... it hardly seemed fair. Most of the time all that remained was a pile feathers and the occasional birdy foot.

Max was never completely domesticated, although he would let me grab him up and love on him. Whenever I spent time in the yard or worked in the garden he was my little shadow, especially when I hung sheets up on the line. One summer I couldn't find him in advance of a rapidly worsening hurricane. As soon as I could after the storm I went searching for him, fearing the worst. Local cats are often drowned in rising tidal waters as they take shelter under buildings. I found him way up in a cedar tree, higher than I could climb to retrieve him. He climbed down and jumped into my arms when I called out to him.. I believe he was never so glad to see. I installed a cat door into the garage the very next day :)

Apparently he didn't suffer... at least I know what happened to him... and the ground wasn't frozen. For those things I am thankful. Bless your heart Maxie  - we'll miss you.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

At the barn #25 - More blanketing issues / How about using some common sense...

I noticed about ten days ago that the boarders were starting to blanket Cowboy overnight. At that time, the temperatures were lows in the mid to upper forties at night. If that. Some days they were pretty late showing up in the mornings, so it was way too warm for a blanket by the time it was removed.

I watched without saying anything for a week. VERY HARD FOR ME TO DO. My horse / barn management knowledge, at least the valuable parts of it, came from a woman whose two horses I exercised regularly, and cared for during her frequent travels. Her standards of care were super high. She had fifty years of experience with horses. I was her barn backup for a number of years and the experience was invaluable. Unfortunately all good things come to an end. (It's a very sad, but interesting story - I'm working on it for a future post... How to survive a "barn breakup")

So I held my tongue for a week. The blanket didn't fit well, was much too heavy for the temps, and the waterproofing in doubt. A few days ago the topic came up. I took jumped at the opportunity to have a blanket chat. Here is a sampling of the conversation:

"Does Cowboy have a rain sheet? [No]
The great thing about a rain sheet is he'll stay dry without overheating. [Blank stare]
Getting cold and wet is mostly what we need to worry about around here. [His blanket is waterproof]
You can always layer a rain sheet over another blanket if it actually gets cold enough..."[Another blank stare]

As per usual, sharing helpful information elicited defensiveness. They said that (weird quilty) blanket is waterproof!!!! I asked how old is it? Has it been washed much? If that blanket is still waterproof I'll eat my hat I was thinking...

Right on cue, last night it rained / snowed and was actually cold. When I arrived at the barn this morning Cowboy's owner was removing his blanket. She hung it on the hitching post as they were leaving. Just before I took off, I felt the inside. Couldn't help myself. It was absolutely soaked. That poor horse had worn that cold, wet, heavy blanket all night long.

This afternoon we were at the barn together again. I mentioned the wet blanket. "Oh yeah - we know. We ordered another blanket. We're going to shut him in the run in until it comes. That way he'll stay warm and dry."

I nixed the "shutting Cowboy in" idea, as the run in is about 9 x 9... too small for a sixteen plus hand horse to lay down in safely... not to mention that their plan for locking him in was hanging a 2 x 4 across the opening. Not to mention that was a ridiculous idea...

Don't get me wrong - my boarders are really nice people... really nice people who have never taken care of their own horse until the last 8 months, as my boarders. I have refined my technique of "sharing" horse care info (which frankly is getting tiresome). I have led by example, mostly to no avail.
I have watched Cowboy go without water, be under and over fed, be very difficult with vet and farrier, get run off his feet with almost no warm-up...

Because I care about Cowboy I will continue to try to help improve his conditions as necessary. I will pick my battles. I will also try to perfect my delivery of advice. Casual hinting? And I guess I will have to just chalk the experience up to character building aka sucking it up.

Edited to add: I hope this post doesn't sound too snarky. My tolerance for foolishness goes way down when I'm hormonally challenged:)

Friday, December 3, 2010

In the Arena #38 - More bareback therapy + my little cookie monster

Is it just me, or does time really speed up over the holiday season? Don't blink or it will be over. That's how I feel these days. I stole a few hours yesterday for another bareback ride. When I got to the barn, this is what I found (see lower lip) :) It took a bit of doing to motivate him but eventually Val got moving. He happily munched on hay while I groomed and tacked him up.

My plan for the ride was to concentrate on position, especially the legs. I spent most of our ride like this: Okay, is your heel down? Where's your leg... at the girth? Behind the girth - why? Not gripping with your thighs are you? Calf on... is your foot parallel to the horse? Not leaning forward are you? (I was ) And repeat. Add "rig up mirror at the barn" to the to-do list :)

I'm struggling with how to hold my lower leg when bareback that allows me to aid well while not creating tension. My seat and thighs feel great, very relaxed... lower leg needs work. And it is my sincerest wish that in the future I develop a more graceful style when mounting bareback. :) At present it feels pretty sack of potatoes-ish. (poor Val)

Besides focusing on position we worked on circles, straightness and contact. The contact felt super good yesterday - subtle and sensitive. And Val agreed... lots of mouthing the bit plus some reaching... moving out at the walk more that usual. I noticed towards the end of the ride that I had forgotten to put on my riding gloves, so had ridden barehanded. I wonder if that's why my contact seemed easier to maintain and much improved? Easier to feel really.  Maybe the gloves are getting in the way somehow... decreasing my sense of touch, or dexterity. I'll have to see if it's a matter of causation or correlation - but whatever it was I liked it. Overall a very productive ride.

Ummm, isn't it cookie time?

Pretty sure it's cookie time...

 Isn't this where you keep the cookies?!
I K-N-O-W there are cookies in here!!!

This is also the time of year when there are drastic temperature fluctuations. Wednesday it was in the seventies... Thursday morning in the low forties. It's been flip-flopping this way for a few weeks. This kind of weather can disrupt eating and drinking habits. Colic weather. Val hasn't been finishing his hay, which I chalked up to how warm it was. Also not drinking nearly as much water. This had me worried, but thankfully this morning it was back to normal. I'm wondering if I should be adding salt to his feed? He does have free access to salt and mineral blocks, but I've know some people supplement salt. Any advice about salt and quantities would be appreciated! (Do I need to go to micro-managers anonymous?)

Also, the blanketing issue is here again. Thankfully, I'm more clear on this subject. I'm not going to blanket until it's below thirty night and day - a light blanket. And anything below fifty five with rain, he'll get the rain sheet, added layers as needed. That's my plan and I'm sticking to it :)

Oh - I can't forget our spa session the other day! I pulled out the clippers and clipped for the first time on my own. Val was a champ after a mild overreaction. I clipped his muzzle and bridle path with him loose in his stall and me balancing on a turned over bucket. Living dangerously lol. What a good boy and soooo handsome :)

Monday, November 29, 2010

In the arena #37 - A girl can dream can't she?!

I realized that I have been mentioning / complaining about / obsessing over my arena situation non-stop lately, so I thought I'd post about what Val and I are dealing with, and how I'm going to make it better.

Val is living in our current workspace - our "arena". A modest electric fenced paddock with an irregular shape and increasing amounts of ever deepening sand. He has lived there for over a year. His day to day movements have churned the sand to a depth of maybe eight inches in some places - especially in his wallow holes. He generally has three of these going at any given time.

Now I know I shouldn't complain about having to deal with sand because the pros
  • The ground really never freezes hard. It's a yielding surface for Val's shelly feet even in the dead of winter.
  •  Digging holes and scooping poop is sinfully easy.
  • And no mud. Yep - I said no mud. Probably the best aspect of sand. My grey horse who loves to sleep totally laid out stays exceptionally clean.
mostly outweigh the cons...
  • Feeding over mats (heavy) from hay bags (not eating with head down to clear passages).
  • Sand clear is expensive.
  • Here's the kicker - when it doesn't rain enough no amount of dragging will restore a firm, safe footing. 
Until we have sufficient space with consistent safe footing, or it rains more regularly, we'll be sticking to walking with limited trotting down the long sides. No sharp turning or cantering. We'll have to save all that for when we're at my trainer's farm.

A while back I created a small temporary "arena" for my boarder to work in - hunter / jumper style. She can set up a jump or two in there, but it's not level and she tends to rut it up endlessly circling. I mostly use it to desensitize Val to the extra scary back of the property, where my "real arena" will reside.

I have room for a 160 x 80 dressage arena. This project will require five tandems of sand (give or take) to make the whole back of the property level and create the actual arena with proper drainage + a number to be determined of crush and run gravel loads, many hours of grading and rolling, and some sort of fencing. I hope to accomplish the project over the winter / asap. Check back for updates :)


Sunday, November 28, 2010

In the Arena #36 - Halt. Angle. Flow.

The firing order for exercises aimed at improving lateral leg responsiveness (turns on the forehand, leg-yielding, shoulder-in, half-pass) is: Halt. Angle. Flow. Take note, these are consecutive, not concurrent. Only when the horse listens to the half-halt (halt) and is therefore better balanced, will he respond more easily to the lateral leg aid (angle), after which we must go with the horse freely in the direction of the chosen lateral movement (flow). Avoid using the lateral leg aid at the same time as the half-halt.  Erik Herbermann A Horseman's Notes

Slipped a ride in on the day before Thanksgiving with my new bareback pad, which I absolutely l-o-v-e. When I purchased it I had no idea it would be so helpful with dressage. I figured riding bareback would be good for my seat and balance, and thought it would be a fun, comfortable alternative to the saddle, but so far, it has also totally confirmed that my recurring turning issues are due to the unevenness in my hips--> legs--> stirrups. We had no sticky turning whatsoever bareback - everything was the same in both directions. I haven't worked up the guts to trot yet, but I felt really secure throughout the session.

I want my with saddle riding to feel like my without saddle riding... deep seat, open hips, even legs, relaxed and draping around my horse. I think Sally Swift compared that feeling to a melting ice cream cone dripping down the horse's sides.

Today's ride (saddled) was mainly about keeping the connection on the outside rein, while not totally dropping the contact on the inside rein, and a little bit of lateral work. After warming up, we worked with the cones, doing shallow serpentines. This exercise was super helpful as besides being aware of the contact through the turns, the outside and inside reins changed every few strides, with a couple of neutral strides in between. Don't forget about the leg! I also focused on making my aids as subtle as I could, and still be effective. In the midst of all of this coordinating, I was struck by something my trainer had said to me (long ago)... steering horses is more like riding a bike and less like driving a car. It has taken quite a while for that little nugget to sink in :)

Val cracked me up again with his trying to guess / decide what we would do next. I really can't repeat any exercise too many times without him anticipating. Cones are always for serpentines says Val. I reckon we won't be practicing entire dressage tests when we get ready to show either.

We finished up with some trot work - halt trot / trot halt transitions. I get a better response to my trot request from the halt than the walk for some reason... Val offered to canter a couple of times as well - those pesky crooked hips again. He has a really nice canter. I can't wait until we get the canter depart down, but that will have to wait for now.

As time wears on, our arena gets more areas of churned up, deep sand, which Val DOES NOT want to work in faster than a walk. I have no desire to risk injury, so we will be waiting for our next trip to my trainer's, or some substantial rains to firm things up before cantering on purpose. This is actually a good thing - it will give me more incentive to get the finances together for our planned "real arena". If can envision it, I can make it happen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Giving thanks

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. 

We all have so much to be thankful for (besides the major meal coming later in the week)  :)

Here's some of my list. Please feel free to share what you're grateful for...
  • My occupation, landscaper. I am so fortunate to work outside all day, stay fit and my have my father as my business partner. My sideline - jewelry artist - helps fill the gaps, and justifies my college education :)
  • The island where I live is one of the loveliest places anywhere, (and equally challenging)
  • My trainer, who generously shares her knowledge of classical dressage, horsemanship, and her home with Val and I
  • In a little over a year, several of my dreams have come true... finding my fabulous equine partner and purchasing the land where I boarded him... my future home and farmette
 Lastly, I need to acknowledge the online community I've found since starting my blog. Kind, generous, helpful and uplifting - these are just some of the qualities that you all share. You guys keep me inspired and motivated - consistently moving forward. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Oh, and one more thing. To Val - thank you for using your manure pile as a pillow last night. Love you man :)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Out of the arena - Good Morning Mr. Sunshine

Gorgeous beach ride. Loose rein. Calm focused horse. Stunning weather. Lovely companions. I couldn't have asked for more.

Val was still a bit of a handful to bridle, but much improved over our last beach trip. I had to use the fender on the trailer for an impromptu mounting block as the sand piles on the side of the road weren't tall enough to mount from. My horse is tall - I forgot how tall... we towered over Captain Sue and Honey Bee lol :) We were the picture of relaxation as we headed out over the ramp to the beach. I believe Val would have gone on for hours - he tried to continue going south as we neared the ramp to get back off of the beach.

I'm so pleased that we have made our way back to out of arena riding. Equally as much as I want to make progress in our dressage study, I want a happy, willing trail horse.

Friday, November 19, 2010

In the Arena #35 - A chip off the old block

Val and I had another productive session. Chilly and windy, but nice enough down at the barn. Our warm-up went very smoothly, although I wondered if Val was sore from the farrier's visit. His strides were a bit short and mincing when we first started. Should he be sore three days after his trim?

Besides the obligatory time spent trying to pay attention and coordinate my reluctant body parts, we worked with the cones - set into a line, about eight strides apart. Weaving through the line - as well as circling the cones and accurately targeting each cone. At one point a very loud and strange sounding bird began crashing around in the trees next to the arena. It definitely got Val's attention.. he stiffened up, snorted some and generally got tense. I attempted to redirect him, and his reaction was, no, I only want to face this way and stare towards the monster in the woods. My response was to pay no attention to the distraction, ask for a step and then a halt, then two steps, then a halt... then a few more, and so on. My trainer has been stressing to me to be aware when we're in challenging situations, and Val has given me something - stopping there, and especially praising and rewarding. My tendency in the past has been to say, well I got that so lets go for more right now - wrong...

We were back on track shortly. Towards the end of our ride, I worked without reins for a while, and then dropped the stirrups as well... practicing halts and turns. I had several interesting epiphanies. One - while my feet were out of the stirrups, I got the quickest, smoothest most willing turns ever. Especially going left. I believe that without my foot being in the stirrup, the uneven torquing issues with my right leg and hip disappeared. Obviously my stiffness has been blocking Val. I was aware I had been blocking, but thought it was through the rein aids. His sometimes reluctance to go left is a direct response to this blocking - I'm quite sure of it now.

The upshot is:
1. I need to address my physical issues
2. There is a lot more work without stirrups in our future.. that bareback pad is going to come in handy :)

Two - for the first time I can remember since I started riding Val, I actually forgot which direction we were riding. Things were equally smooth going both ways - I didn't need to be aware of it. Progress!

We have spent some time after each of our recent rides getting familiar the new arena... grazing nearby and doing some work in hand. Val is becoming very relaxed back there now. I plan to carry that relaxation further by taking Val out to the beach sometime this weekend - it has been a while.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In the Arena #34 - The art of riding is the art of not interfering with the horse

Yesterday was simply beautiful, once again. We've had a string of gorgeous warm days... time to take advantage. I slipped up to the barn around lunchtime, groomed and tacked Val up. We built on Sunday's work, culminating in trot / halt, halt /trot transitions. More improvement in forwardness and accurate school figures + lots of trotting. Val was blowing and snorting, seeming very engaged during our trot work. A lovely, relaxed ride.

As a result of sorting through photos from the clinic on the previous evening, and noticing my many posture infractions... leaning forward, weight off to the left, twisting my upper body, elbows flapping like chicken wings... I spent this ride focusing on keeping my body centered and even in the saddle. Oh, easier said than done.

I've been reading Franz Mairinger's Horses Are Made To Be Horses, and these thoughts resonated with me:

"The better the body control is, the more consistent the aids will be. Then the horse will learn quickly and the rider and horse will understand each other. The control must be such that the rider knows what every part of his body is doing and every movement must be independent of every part of the body. We do not normally think about what we do with our body, but to be a good rider we must do so. The rider does not have trouble with the horse; the horse has trouble with the rider."

A lofty goal... will I ever get there?


My farrier made it to the island for our appointment today after all. He complimented Val's fitness and great attitude during his trim. (last visit we had that cowboy come to Jesus meeting) Smile... I love my horse. We have made great progress in the last few months. It's gratifying when others notice too.


What is less than gratifying are some aspects of being the barn owner. At the last minute the farrier changed our appointments, making them about four hours earlier. The appointments were originally set for after school, so that Lorraine, Cowboy's owner, could hold her horse for Will. As we were expecting heavy rain later and in consideration of Will's schedule, I caught and held my boarders' horse for the trim, rather than making Will wait while I hopefully got in touch with her mother, who isn't the most experienced horse handler. She (the mother) gave me some flack when I called to tell her the situation. I suggested she might want to thank me, and that first consideration goes to the farrier who drives seven hours round trip to see us, and who has no replacement. Rock and a hard place...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In the Arena #33 - The unbearable lightness of being...

Today we had our first ride since returning from the clinic. I gave Val a couple of days off after we got home. He was a little foot sore and unfortunately took a pretty big chunk out of his right front as he exited the trailer. More on that later...

Sunny, warm, and most especially no bugs. Perfect weather to ride. Breakfast, grooming, tack and we were off. I'd be lying if I said that I was a 100% confident about how the ride would go, but much of what I worked on at my trainer's was organizing our sessions, not getting bogged down, and keeping the momentum going. Happily there was no need to worry :)

We warmed up with some work on the loose rein, then proceeded to transitions, turns and 20m circles.  Billie from camera obscura has a wonderful post today exploring the concepts of "on the bit" and "on the aids", where she discusses thinking the transition, thinking your aids, before you act - the result being you can employ the lightest aids possible.

Val and I worked on this idea at our clinic, and again this morning. I "thought" about my turns, allowing only my eyes to go where I wanted us to follow. And voila, a smooth turn with a straight neck and the lightest of aids. Conveniently, this concept also addresses one of my most persistent issues - getting ahead of my horse with my upper body - as well as the ever popular "inside rein-itis", which I am well on the way to conquering.

We moved on the trot. Did I mention that this is the first time I have asked for the trot (at home) in many, many weeks? My last request was met with crow hopping, shoulder lowering and head shaking which I'm certain was mild in the big scheme of things, but still intimidated me. Today's success reinforced that my problems (and they are my problems, not Val's) were due to lack of confidence, persistence and resolve. My request for the trot this morning was met with a lovely transition and a horse who was reaching. Also, I was pleased with the state of my seat... it felt deep and even.

To finish up we did some squares with turns on the forehand at each corner. A funny thing about my horse - I really can't get away with just drilling exercises predictably. For instance, he anticipates our rein changes the moment I switch the whip to the other side. That Val - he keeps me on my toes lol. Extra carrot cookie stretches for you mister. :)


While at the clinic I had time for some reading. I highly recommend the book "Dressage Unscrambled" by Bill Woods. It's a collection of short essays that tackle the sometimes way too serious world of dressage riding with an entertaining yet informative point of view. It had me laughing out loud and marking pages for future reference. After that I moved on to Franz Mairinger's "Horses Are Made To Be Horses" which I am still in the midst of. This book is included on Grey Horse Matters' excellent book list, found here. Also a high recommendation. Happy reading :)


Now, back to the missing hoof chunk...

Wednesday was my day to check in with the farrier. Next week makes six weeks, so we're due to see him. Our farrier travels three hours and stays over night to do our horses. I am the organizer of the visits - setting up the appointments and reminding the owners, keeping track etc. It takes a little legwork, and some notice to get everyone on the same page.

When I called I caught him working a horse, so he told me he'd get back to me. Tried him again Friday and still haven't heard back. The following week being Thanksgiving, we'll be on to eight weeks between trims by the time the holiday is over. If I had heard from him while in Virginia, i.e. in a timely manner, I had options for other farriers, which I do not have here at home. Of course this happens when Val has the worst looking feet he's ever had. I'm trying not to be super irritated about the situation.

I did recently order a good hoof rasp. Any advice about how to tide Val's feet over would be greatly appreciated. I am familiar with how to use the tool, just not sure what my goal should be :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Clinic Notes: Day five and six

Wednesday afternoon. My trainer got called in to work yesterday. Since it gets dark so early in the evenings now, I elected to ride along with one of her other students rather than miss out. An excellent decision. Both of us had really good rides. Effective warm-up, achieving a smooth flowing walk and then more solid trot work. I focused on my posture... not leaning forward or leading with my upper body, keeping my hips even, keeping even weight in my stirrups, driving with my legs... receiving with my hands. Circles, serpentines and great transitions. This ride encompassed everything that I want to happen when Val and I work on our own. Uplifting!

Thursday morning - one last ride + a tack review. I woke up early to get the truck and trailer mostly packed, with the intention of getting another ride in before heading home. My fellow student arrived and we proceeded to groom and tack the boys up. I decided to try out the Thinline bareback pad I found when tack shopping on Monday. Val was starting to get sore (barefoot on the hard ground) so since I wasn't planning to work him too hard it seemed like a good time to test the pad out.

The pad is very well made, with a material on the underside that is anti-microbial and grippy. The girth, a cinch type, is made of the same material, and is stretchy. My complaint with other bareback pads I have ridden in is that they slip. This one totally stayed put. It didn't even budge when I scrambled on. It fit Val's back beautifully. The top is non-slip as well, at least in combination with my full seat breaches. I felt completely secure. The best part - Val was licking, chewing and reaching for the bit - soft - from the very beginning of the ride. He was using his back and reaching under himself. My legs and seat felt like they were getting a good stretch as well. Thinline bareback pad - expensive but well worth it. I can't wait to ride in it again. I believe Val agrees - two thumbs up!

Final thoughts. Eight rides in six days... six with Val and two longing sessions. (Val gets tomorrow off!) The clinic surpassed my expectations.

Here's the goal list I made for this past week:
  • A more secure seat / more confident rider.
  • We've got "calm" down - now I want to focus on "forward". This will stem from the secure seat. When I ask for more energy it won't be half-hearted or timid.
  • Solid transitions up and down in the walk and trot, with Val reaching, stretching and using his back.
  • Leg yielding and baby lateral work.
  • Ideally we'll attempt some canter work as well. 
  • Some new photos and possibly video
Not too shabby. While I wasn't ready for lateral work yet - I'm hoping to be on track at my next lessons. And although I had intended to get longed more often, it's probably good that I didn't as in the evenings after longing sessions I was pretty stiff. Due to scheduling I missed out on a lesson, but instead I reached within myself, faced some fears, and took responsibility for training my horse and myself. High hopes!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Clinic Notes: Day three and four

Monday afternoon. One of my goals for this clinic was to figure out how to accomplish the warm-up in a timely and efficient fashion, without relying on input from my trainer. We only work with her every few months, so we need to do this confidently on our own. Without spiraling down into a battle of wills or stalled out in one of the corners. Done. Addressing conquering our steering stickiness / leadership issues has made a world of difference.

We moved on to some gorgeous trot work, initially full arena on the rail, moving on to the quarterline and then school figures thrown in. Both directions (!) Everything felt smooth, workmanlike... best of all easy and FUN. We also worked in two point for a while to adjust my ankles and their lack of springiness. Let's just say it's been thirt- (cough, cough) years since I rode in two point. Oh - did I mention that this was done with another horse in the arena with us. A year ago I would have had a total (internal) melt down at the thought of having a lesson with another horse in the arena. A superlative ride. We have come a long way, and I just love my horse :)

Tuesday. I groomed / tacked up a horse for my trainer, then watched her ride for a while. Afterwords we switched off for a longing session. I rode Star, a very well built and powerful thoroughbred mare, with big gaits. Most of this session focused on my position, and how to use my driving aid / legs to encourage Star to carry herself. Another issue we worked on is my (bad) tendency to lead with my chest and get ahead of my horse. Acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step as they say... We also did a bit of sitting trot work. It is very challenging to process all of the information that I get in my lessons, and when we do position work - changing so many elements at once throws me for a loop. It would be interesting to see how my afternoon ride on Val would be affected...

Later that afternoon. Another great warm-up, getting right to work, and again with company in the arena. My seat felt fantastic. Apparently I was able to incorporate some of the input I got during the longing session. Val really enjoyed the extra room he had to breathe since I was not pinching with my knees. It showed in his gaits.

At this point my trainer suggested I try some cantering. We decided it would be best to ask for the transition from two point, coming into a corner, and after a couple of aborted attempts we did canter. I was totally disorganized and frankly - extremely sore from the longing earlier. I elected not to try again, not wanting to open a can of worms with this new step we were taking, that would have to be resolved. I felt a bit like I was being a chicken, but honestly I wasn't sure I could count on my body to do what I wanted - we were getting on three hours of riding for the day. Also - it was dinner time and the other horses who weren't still at work were doing mad dashes, bucking up and down the fence lines. Val was focused and attentive considering the distractions. Instead we worked on transitions and turns on the forehand, ending on a good note. Another great ride :)


Monday, November 8, 2010

Clinic notes: Day one and two

Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the horse through his glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their having taken form so far below ourselves. And therin we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. 

In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not bretheren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth. 
Henry Beston

We arrived safely on Friday afternoon. Got Val settled in, unpacked and it was time for dinner and a movie. Dinner was delish and the movie - Secretariat - not so much. I won't go into all the things that weren't satisfying - it's very much a Disney movie - enough said.

Saturday morning. Val and I are up first for our lesson. It was seriously cold and windy, blanketing overnight weather and a shock to the system.  We've been spoiled down at the beach - but no matter.
 Our warm-up was excellent and to the point. I handled the entire warm-up myself with little input from my trainer, validating the hard work we've been putting in for the last month or so.

After fifteen minutes of loose rein work and some simple figures we moved on to the trot. Val is slowly but surely reaching and using his back. I focused on allowing hands and driving with my legs - if he ain't reachin', you ain't drivin'! - plus re-balancing with some half halts. My trainer commented positively on the changes in my seat since our last visit (!) We only had a little stickiness, that she pointed out happened when the next student was bringing her horse into the arena. Chalk that up to distraction. I didn't make the connection at the time but she is right. All in all I couldn't have asked for a better start to our clinic.

Sunday morning. Colder and windier. Val didn't notice or care. He really seems to enjoy working, getting playful and sweet as we tacked up. I had more of a struggle with allowing hands, and even weight in my stirrups - sticky hips - in this session. Val responded in his usual way by challenging my leadership. Although I don't enjoy when this issue comes up, I got a lot of good ideas about how to keep it from happening (the goal) and dealing with it appropriately when it does while I'm on my own.

The answer is to break everything down to it's simplest components. If I'm having trouble with the turn on the forehand, make sure I'm getting a halt. If he's blowing through my aids (he was) then really get the halt, not the halt plus one step. I decided my course of action was do as many walk / halt transitions as necessary, gradually increasing the number of strides between the transitions, to get him focused back and listening to me and my aids. I am really happy to say that I worked this out myself, without constant feedback from my trainer.

She reminded me that not only must I allow and give with my hands, but I must also allow and give with my heart. This comment hurt a bit, but what she meant was that Val absolutely knows if I am not trusting in him. Horses know what is in your heart. And (as usual) she was right. I was holding back. As soon as I gave him 100%, he gave me 100%. After getting on the same page we did the most beautiful trot work we've ever done, long, low and relaxed. Smooth round circles. She also stressed that when we are struggling with something, I must be aware when to keep asking versus when Val has given me something - even just one step in the right direction - and therefore deserves to be rewarded. You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em! :)

Sunday afternoon. Time for a longing session. My trainer had computer work to catch up on so another of her students and I longed each other on the students' lovely 17 hand thoroughbred Howard. Very satisfying session. As instructive when you were the long-er as the long-ee. When on the ground I really aware of the way I used the longe whip affected Howard's stride length and smoothness. I had him reaching and using his back which I felt good about. When on board Howard, I was reminded of how far Val and I have to go - Howard uses his back. His trot almost threw me out of the saddle for the first few strides. A cadillac. I haven't ridden another horse besides Val for nearly a year. Getting longed is a great reference for whether you balance on the reins or not. I will say that I was better that I'd imagined I would be. Pleasantly surprised. My hips and upper arms are indeed sore this morning.

Unforeseen horse handling opportunities have popped up :) I had to catch a very wound up mare - who was running her legs off in the arena due to a gate left open. Another student was just chasing her around with a lead rope... not effective. I grabbed a bucket of grain and things calmed down immediately.

This morning two horses appeared on the property and had everyone riled up, running the fence lines.  My trainer took the truck to find the owners and the next door neighbor and I - armed with carrots, hay and lead ropes - rounded the strangers up.

Oh, and Val showed another side of himself this weekend - the escape artist. He got out of his makeshift paddock three times, and had a little middle of the night gelding party that got us all out of bed. We've finally got him somewhere that will contain him. All's well that ends well.

I have some pictures but no cable to upload - so I'll post later. Off to a tack shop (!) to look at bareback pads.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Boot camp for my seat... (booty camp?!) :)

It's been super busy around here for the last few days. Preparing to head out to my trainer's place tomorrow morning. Val and I are doing a five day clinic... riding him in the mornings and doing a lunge lesson in the afternoons on the school horses, with my trainer and I trading off lunging each other. I expect that I will be very sore - oh my aching hips - but am looking forward to it. This kind of opportunity doesn't come around very often so I'm taking advantage.

My goals for the clinic are:
  • A more secure seat / more confident rider.
  • We've got "calm" down - now I want to focus on "forward". This will stem from the secure seat. When I ask for more energy it won't be half-hearted or timid.
  • Solid transitions up and down in the walk and trot, with Val reaching, stretching and using his back.
  • Leg yielding and baby lateral work.
  • Ideally we'll attempt some canter work as well. 
  • Some new photos and possibly video
 I've measured out and bagged feed, prepared the trailer and packed Val's belongings - he sure has a lot of stuff :) We're taking an assortment of blankets as the weather is so changeable this time of year. And we just received his new Cavallo simple boots which happily fit him perfectly. These will hopefully protect his tender soles from bruises - he got pretty ow-y on our last visit. Tack, first aid, grooming, buckets and of course treats pretty much fills my trailer's tack compartment.

Then there's cleaning and tuning up the truck - I changed the oil today + checked tires as well as cleaned all of the hay / sand / barn residue and rain-xed the windows. Trailer - check. Truck - check. This doesn't even take into account packing for my dogs visit with my Dad (Bob Daddy's Doggy Day Care) and my own stuff lol!

I'm hoping I'll have computer access while I'm up there. If not, I'll have a full report when I return next week. Back to packing!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why I love thoroughbreds II

The "look of eagles"...
Zenyatta with trainer John Shirreffs and groom Mario Espinoza
There are many questionable elements about the thoroughbred racing industry. Let's please set them aside for a moment, to talk about unquestionably the best horse to come along in many years - maybe ever - Zenyatta.

I've been following this astounding race mare since her career started - at the age of four - because her trainer, John Shireffs, realized she was not ready to race as a three year old (or god forbid at two!). Just the first of many wise decisions made for her by her connections. Zenyatta is undefeated in nineteen races, and should she win on Saturday in the Breeder's Cup Classic (again) she'll be the winning-est tb in history. 

Where to start... she's a huge, gorgeous mare, bursting with dapples and personality. She has become famous for the Spanish walk she does in the post parade and on the way to the gate. She laps Guinness Stout out of tupperware containers like a dog, loves her beauty sleep and is reportedly super kind to handle. Her connections are in awe of her - you can tell.

Zenyatta's racing style is what really sets her apart. She's a closer whose thrilling late in the race, come from behind charges could induce heart failure. She seems to know exactly how much effort she needs to put forth to win. John Shirreffs believes this is the key to her longevity and soundness. Mike Smith, her jockey for all but three of her races, believes he has not gotten to the bottom of her yet. All I know is when she starts to go, the horses she passes look like toys. Her stride is that huge. And she's so relaxed that her ears just flop back and forth as she crosses the finish line and gallops out.

John Shirrefs has been generous enough to post frequent video of her over the course of her career. One of my favorites is this one where you can take a ride with her on one of her morning gallops. Not to be missed.

It was (prematurely) announced that Zenyatta would be retiring after her Breeder's Cup victory last year. Thankfully, her connections decided to race her for one more season. The owners, Jerry and Anne Moss, have more money than God, so I believe them that their decision was in her best interests - plainly she loves what she does - as well as the best interests of horse racing in general, which needs more stories like Zenyatta's.

Greed and disregard for the welfare of the equine athlete have tarnished the reputation of the sport of kings... perhaps on Saturday it will be the sport of queens :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

(To all hunters) -  I am NOT a deer!!
But I DO like the color orange... mmm, carrots :)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

In the Arena #32 - In synch

Best. Ride. Ever. I know I've said this recently, and I'll be happy to say it on a regular basis from now on!

As we warmed up this morning, Val was somewhat sluggish and ignoring my leg. (Not unusual.) I brought my whip into play - still no response - tap, tap, tap, tap, TAP! Apparently the timing and intensity were just right because I swear I heard a little gasp like... holy cr@p - she's serious!

And suddenly we were doing little circles, big circles, in and out of the scary corner, working in the deep sand on the rail, serpentines (!) and reaching. And I didn't need to raise the intensity of my aiding again. I believe we had a breakthrough. It felt so rewarding to have my horse's complete attention and focus. All of this while a tree chipper is going to town right next door.

After our ride we did some awesome liberty work, then went for a graze... a bit of ground work in the new arena, finishing up with carrot gingersnap stretches. What a good boy!!!

So the take away is that due to inherent laziness (bless his heart), Val generally tests my resolve at the start of each session. As he would be perfectly happy to stand still or amble aimlessly - possibly why his racing career didn't last long ;) - it's up to me to get his attention, and impress him with my intention. What I don't need to do is get frustrated or intimidated, just patiently convey that I have all the time in the world.

Today we put it all together. Which makes me really happy. Next week Val and I are heading off for a five day clinic with my trainer. I'm riding Val in the mornings and doing longe lessons on school horses in the afternoons. I'm thinking we'll be ready to move forward :)
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