Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Friday, April 29, 2011

In the Arena #72 - No horses were harmed in the making of this post...

When I got down to the barn this afternoon, Val came over to say hi, then immediately ambled off to lie down for a big ol' nap. Hel-lo - it's time to work. You get twenty three hours free per day, I'm just asking for one... dude - wake up!

Can't. work. must. snoozzzzzzzzz....

This would be why I have gotten the occasional worried call....

"Um, something might be wrong with Val!"

"You mean he's playing dead horse again?
Just offer him a cookie - he should come back to life."

I may have to rethink this advice, as today I waved cookies - smelling salt style - under his nose, and got only nostril twitches and a half-hearted lip reach for a reaction. I messed around in the tack room for a bit, and when the heat and flies got to be too much for him, he joined me in his stall. We groomed and tacked up with the lead rope just laying over his back, in case he needed to reach his water, which he did. What a good boy :)

We had a very, very nice ride. Worked more on contact and forwardness, with focus on being balanced through the turns and transitions. (inside leg / outside rein). We weren't 100% consistent, but had some really good moments. There were a few sticky turns which resolved as long as we kept moving forward.

After our sweaty trot fest, it was time for a cool refreshing bath, with a liniment rinse and drinks from the hose, followed by grazing. The grass has exploded in the last few days, and must be so tempting when you're stuck in a mostly dry lot all day looking at it.

I deserve this

As Val munched on the grass, I got to thinking about how contrary riding can be. You want to address issues, but not to get hung up on them. Don't obsess about your location in the arena, but your school figures must be accurate. You need to get answers to your aids, but also must know exactly when to stop asking. I guess it really is all about balance. (More balance please!)

Love my horse!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

In the Arena #71 - Discretion being the better part of valor...

I must confess, I left a little something out of my last post. My ride on Saturday was actually a lesson from a different trainer. My boarder's trainer who was visiting from PA for the week. I had to take advantage of getting instruction with my horse in my arena. But somehow it felt a little bit like cheating on my trainer, and I wanted to mention it to her, before writing about it in my blog. She was cool with it...whew!

So - as I already related in my last post, the lesson went really well, but wasn't without it's intricacies. I was pretty nervous. Really nervous. There's something to be said for the trust you develop with someone you've ridden with for many years. I trust my trainer. I know that she has my best interests, and the best interests of my horse uppermost in her mind. Then there were the inevitable differences in theory and position. I feel like I succeeded at separating the valuable bits from the parts that contradicted, with out flipping out, or offending the visiting trainer. The best part of the experience was working in my own arena, and having someone push me way past my comfort zone. We broke new ground for sure.

Thrilled to report Saturday's magic carried over to today's ride. Forward. Tons of trot... no stickiness. Smooth changes of rein, rode into and through the corners, figure eights and weaving the cones. I can really see the difference when I support Val with the inside leg to outside rein. He feels better balanced already. No surprise, when he doesn't have to compensate for my interference so much. We're navigating contact too. While he's not reaching the reins from me just yet, he does seem to be appreciating my efforts to be consistent.

We worked in two point as well. After reading Grey Horse Matters' post on two point (with the very helpful diagram) I realize I have sooo far to go with this exercise. My balance is nowhere near what it needs to be... oh well, no pain, no gain. We finished up with halt trot transitions. Val treated me to several very square halts.

Afterwords some grazing, in the Bermuda Triangle, where for once, something scary actually did come crashing out of the woods behind us. A deer? Val leaped right into me, but caught himself and just brushed my shoulder with his shoulder. It was a very agile move, thank goodness. While I wish that he didn't feel so spooky out of our arena sometimes, he does seem to be a little more thoughtful about scary stimulus, and much more aware of me, in relation to his escape route. I'll take that as progress, and a sign that little by little he is trusting me to be the leader, and of course keep us safe from the myriad dangers lurking around every corner... don't worry Val, I won't let anything happen to you, I promise!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

In the Arena #70 - Something's gotta give...

Wow. Such a busy week, I haven't had a moment to post unless I wanted to cut into sleeping time. Not. Spring is in overdrive and suddenly there aren't enough hours in the day. Lots to catch up on.

Let's see... I spent two afternoons pulling Val's mane. I had tried to simulate the proper look with my trimmer a few weeks back, but ended up with a raggedy mess and several hair chunks missing from his neck. Time to bite the bullet. Val calmly munched on hay while I went to town. It's still not as short as I know my trainer would like, but I think it's a good compromise - no more yes I cut this mane with scissors / three stooges blunt cut anyway. Still working on it when I took these pictures....

Oops, forgot my barn shoes...

halfway through...

Apparently Val and I have exactly the same color hair - mane and head... (the dentist pointed this out after her session with Val when I was giving him a ton of kisses that he couldn't resist due to sedation) ;)


We got a decent ride in on Friday. Started off struggling with basics. Once again, the next door neighbors were an issue... plenty of hollering (cursing), dogs crashing through the woods, and super loud radio blaring yards away from the arena. This required some remedial desensitizing, but we got it done. We ended up with some good trot work, and Val's attention back on me for the most part. Finished on a good note and celebrated with a cookie fest in the most scariest spot where the dogs invaded from. Cookies make everything better!

Did someone say cookies?!


Saturday - we finally got our breakthrough! We were forward, we had nice bend and we were riding through, not cutting, our corners. We achieved flow. No bogging down in the changes of rein or the corners. Beautiful figure eights. One really nice square halt. What a blast! Val was on the bit.  He totally enjoyed himself, was salivating to beat the band, and carried himself for a good part of the ride.

What I figured out (re-learned, forgot, need to remind myself of....)

  • My stirrups were still too long...
  • I have the weirdest bad habit of swinging my right leg back too far behind the girth. This has certainly worsened my turning issues, if not outright created them. Thinking it might have to do with my wonky hip...
  • It is prudent to skip a lengthy warm-up if we start off in sticky-land (where many arguments begin). Move on trot work asap. Trot, trot, trot! Forward solves most problems. Go back to slower work, straightness and transitions after getting forward.
  • Don't forget the resting part of posting... like a tiny half halt. Use leg on the up phase...
    • Val has been bored. Seriously. And not worked hard enough in a long while... A bored horse looks for ways to relieve his boredom, and getting over on me is one of those ways. I have been aware of this for a while. No more arguing. Now I have the tools, mostly the confidence, to address this boredom / resistance. 
    • Leg - leg - leg!!! If he ain't reachin', you ain't drivin'!!!
    • After using my legs to drive, I MUST give Val somewhere to reach to... soft, even, continuous, elastic contact. 
    • Outside rein, outside rein, outside rein! 

      My game plan for the next month or six weeks is simple. Major trot work. Wet saddle pads. I will change rein and school figures often, and keep us moving forward. I will focus on my leg, position and use of for driving, as well as providing reliable, trustworthy contact for Val. We will both build endurance and stamina, as well as more muscles. :) If yesterday is any indication, I should probably stock up on epsom salts. Very sore today - in a good way.

      My boarders' mom kindly took some photos for me. Pardon the fuzziness that not even photoshop could cure - a fingerprint got on the lens at some point - but there were a couple that aren't too bad. (I was losing my stirrup in the shot where my heel is so not down)  ;)

      Val got to finish off the day with a lovely scrubby bath, including his "area' which was disgustingly filthy and full of beans. I realized, thankfully at the end of the bath, that the well pump was on the fritz. Several hours later Dad and I had it fixed up. It was such a beautiful day, and my ride was so rewarding, that I didn't even care.


      Day off for both of us today. I did remove last years stall fan and put a new one up. If anyone out there uses Lasko box fans, there has been a recall!! Val was very helpful, inspecting the ladder and snuffling on my legs while I was up on the ladder. He loves his fan! Happy Easter everyone!


      I'll catch you... if I'm not alseep

      Saturday, April 16, 2011

      At the barn #40 - Wherein Val and I share a cold one...

      No new rides to report on, but we've still spent plenty of quality time together. There's been some amount of de-hairing going on daily. I don't know if it's a just thoroughbred thing, but Val doesn't shed out in clump or patches, and he's not visibly extra hairy. None the less, hair fills the air and covers me and the floor when we're done.

      Yesterday my friend D and I did our several miles of speedy walking in the campground, then headed up to the barn for some fun and refreshment. TGIF. After barn chores were done, and Val's hay + warm mash bucket were set up, we took him out for a bit of grazing. I've been increasing his time on grass by five or ten minutes every outing - though he'd prefer to eat til his sides split. He's been hinting each evening by shunning his fresh hay and instead stretching his lips waaaaaay under the electric fence to pathetically grasp the few pitiful strands of green he can reach, punctuated by well timed looks, in case I didn't get the point. GRASS, GRASS, GRASS, GRASS, GREEN GREEN NOT DRY TASTY GRASS P-L-E-A-S-E!!!!!!!!!!!

      When we came to the fork in the road - left to the Bermuda Triangle, right to the small arena grass patch - I asked Val which way he wanted to go, and let him choose. Bermuda Triangle it is! D and I sipped some delightfully cold adult beverages while he ate his fill. Cowboy threw his usual OH MY GOD I CAN'T SEE MY FRIEND fits - commonplace and therefore totally ignorable.

      After making our rounds, we headed over to the small arena. Val got a tad pushy, so we did some in hand work... halt with me, walk with me, please focus on me and not the grass Mr. Man... He did beautifully. It was fun to show off his lovely movement to my friend. A few more mouthsful as a reward, then back to the barn.

      Val got a thorough grooming and tucked into his dinner, while D and I pulled out some chairs and had another beverage. After demolishing his mash, Val walked over to our little ice bucket and helped himself to one of our beers. I was afraid he might try to open it, so I shared mine with him. My guy enjoys him a cold one! He sipped it out of my cupped hands. I'm kicking myself that I wasn't quick enough with the camera - well - my hands were kind of full... and wet lol. I did find some evidence that Val isn't alone in his beverage preferences however...

      Pretty sure I could teach Val to do this...

      Then we could ride to the nearest watering hole...

      Zenyatta sips her Guiness from a tupperware bowl :)

      Besides a new-found enjoyment of beer, Val really dug my friend. He followed her around like a puppy, and loved on her. Not in the potential treat source way, but real affection. So far, she'd the only person he's been that way with besides my Dad, whom he adores.

      We hung out until dark, and plan to make it a monthly date. Val surely enjoyed our company - he was super calm and content. I must create more time to hang out with him - no demands, plans or schedule - just companionship and company. It's so good for both of us!

      Wednesday, April 13, 2011

      In the Arena #69 - Stuck in the middle with you...

      Our dentist recommended that in the first ride after her visit, we just work long and low. She also said that it would probably take three rides for Val to get accustomed to how his mouth feels now.

      Happy to report that steering was great in ride one. Hard to say for sure why. I was super secure in my seat today, staying down evenly in both of my legs, at least partially because I cleaned and conditioned my tack the other night, and I felt extra grippy. Another good reason to keep your tack clean. ;)

      The grippy-ness was very helpful just a short time later as we started our trot work. Val put his head down, and surged forward with a buck, crow hop and several strong canter strides. Surprise!! I haven't come anywhere close to tapping this horse's power. Can't wait until I'm brave enough.

      Stayed put on my horse through his shenanigans, thank goodness. Then I hopped off with my knees feeling totally like jelly, adjusted the saddle and continued the ride. I took a deep breath and asked for the trot again. No problem... more trotting, turns on the forehand, transitions and cone work. Val was anticipating my requests, which made me laugh, and also plan some different activities for our next session. Other than his saddle discomfort protest - we had a very productive ride.

      Saddle feels better now...

      Afterwords we grazed in the Bermuda Triangle of horse eating monsters. Val was the calmest he's been in that area, only looking up from his grass a few times at some loud birds. He ignored Cowboy's calling when we were out of sight, and led back to the paddock keeping perfect pace with me.

      Doesn't it look scary to you?!

      Lord knows what's lurking here!!

      We had a rinse off, some carrot stretches, and then did a little trailer loading practice. Twice with no delays. Per-fect!! When a boy is that good he should definitely reap the rewards. :)

      We love it in the trailer - there's gingersnaps in here! :)

      Monday, April 11, 2011

      At the barn #39 - Just say ahhhhhh...

      Last week's busy-ness carried over the weekend, and this week looks much the same. Work is really picking up as spring has definitely arrived. Plants to plant, beds to weed and lawns to mow. Add to that several deadlines related to my jewelry business, out of town visitors throwing delightful dinner parties - great meal lingering over the table for some fine company and conversation that kept me up well past bedtime - and then where the heck do you squeeze in horse chores? I don't know how exactly, but I did it.

      Friday was hay run day. My friend, the owner of our dearly departed Ginger and her daughter Honey Bee aka the brat, and I took my flat bed trailer and headed up the road to a new hay source. This one didn't disappoint. Gorgeous 65 lb bales of orchard grass, that despite being the same age as all of the substandard hay I've dealt with since last October, was still green, not dried or faded or musty or dusty and without any noxious weeds. Hell-o all you hay brokers out there - apparently you can successfully store quality hay through the winter so it's still worth paying through the nose for - just sayin'...

      The only snag was a too many cooks in the kitchen moment while I was negotiating a drastically tight squeeze backing my trailer, which by the way I actually do daily for a living. The farm owner and his wife were both giving me (contradictory) directions as well as S. who had to put her 17¢ in. Let's just say that it took everything I had to block out the two unnecessary voices and hear the one that counted + not blow up and use my lower brow vocabulary. Serious self control. I'm so not kidding :)

      Dropping off  Honey Bee's share...

       "mine all mine!!"  ;)


      Today was horse dentist day. I love my new dentist, a practitioner natural balance dentistry. I found her in a round about way due to Kate from A Year With Horses. Thank you so much Kate!!

      Briefly, as I understand it, the idea is that rather than just flattening out hooks and waves on the molars, attention is paid to the incisors, facilitating the smooth side to side motion of the jaw, as well as how the upper and lower jaw meet in the front of the mouth. This should affect, besides grinding hay, the ability and willingness of the horse to flex at the poll and laterally, as well as give to the bit, accept contact and round.

      K. was professional, had a lovely way around Val - giving him frequent breaks from the speculum. She explained what she was doing at every stage, and used the minimum amount of sedation necessary. She mentioned immediately that she found unevenness in Val's incisors which was likely impacting his flexibility to the left. I'll reserve final judgment for after we have a few rides under our belt, but we have had recurring struggles with bending and turning to the left since I brought Val home, which I had hoped wasn't completely due to me, as my best efforts have not totally resolved that issue.

      My one regret is that I had intended to take pictures, but got so wrapped up in the process that it was too late when I remembered. Val got the afternoon off. I'm looking forward to a ride and status report in the next day or so.

      Thursday, April 7, 2011

      In the Arena #68 - Ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more...

      Today actually felt like spring. Finally! Bright enough to need sunglasses. Causing the first baby sunburn. Hang your clothes out on the line - shorts and flip flop weather. A superb day!

      We groomed, tacked up and rode while waiting for Will, our farrier. Challenging would describe much of the ride - "don't want to go over there" and "why must we turn left" about sums it up. I know that I struggle with physical issues which affect the quality of my aiding... I'm looking forward to our visit next week with the natural balance dentist to confirm that Val doesn't as well - re mouth and bitting.

      I got our (my) act together about halfway through the ride, and we ended on a very good note - willing trotting with good transitions and lovely free work on the buckle. Done just in time for a quick refreshing rinse before Will arrived.

      I have to say I am a little frustrated that we seem to be covering the same ground lately. I'm ready for a breakthrough. Hopefully getting my trainer's input (maybe next weekend?!) will steer us out of this rut we find ourselves in. And I'm planning to apply some creativity to our next sessions -  I fear I may be boring the tar out of Val.


      Expensive side note - in the space of two weeks we will have...

      1. Had the vet out for spring vaccinations
      2. Seen the farrier for a trim
      3. Gone on (an all day) hay run
      4. Gotten our yearly dentistry

      Whatever possesses me to lust after an Ansur saddle?!


      Helper watches, Will trims, Val reaches

      The soul of patience or
      "Does this picture make my head look big?"

      Will is nice



      Sunday, April 3, 2011

      In the Arena #67 - I'll be your mirror...

      I'm really appreciating these longer evenings. More time for chores and riding. Second to riding, I loves me a freshly dragged arena!

      I repeated the ujjayi breathing warm-up from the other day. And again, our ride was positively impacted. This exercise is a keeper. The only drawback - I haven't exactly figured out how to incorporate "good boys" into the breathing exercise.

      We did lots of trot work. Our transitions were prompt and crisp. Val reached, and started to pick his back up... we even produced some sittable trot. There were still a few sticky left turns. After looking at the photos my boarder took for me, I wasn't surprised. I was sitting way, way off to the left. I don't seem to catch myself in this position issue until it shows up in Val's movement, or lack thereof. I hope I can overcome my hip situation.

      Overall - a wonderful ride. We are progressing. It would probably, definitely help to get a lesson more often than every six months. Eyes on the ground and all...

      This uncertain economy, especially fuel prices, has forced me to reassess a number of my goals / priorities this winter. I've had only one lesson since December... there is no new arena (yet)... and I've had to give up my spot in the spring Herbermann clinic. Hopefully things will start looking up soon. We're heading up to my trainer's farm weekend after next, I've set aside the funds for about half the sand needed for the arena, and have made arrangements for another clinic spot in late October. Meanwhile, we'll just continue moving forward, slowly, but surely.

      Saturday, April 2, 2011

      At the barn #38 - Hair raising experience...

      Riding slipped to the end of the to-do list this week. Which was fine because the weather certainly didn't cooperate. (I won't go into it as I gave up complaining for Lent - only two weeks left!) Also, I'm in the final stages of opening up my etsy shop as well as preparing samples of my jewelry for potential galleries. Stay tuned for news on the grand opening...

      No worries though - Val and I have spent plenty of quality time together despite the constraints. Much of it in hair removal mode. He has finally started letting go of his winter coat. I experimented with Sweetpea and Q's Furminator, since the only other tool I have to use at the moment is an ancient hand me down shedding blade that has seen better days. I'm guessing the teeth in those things wear out at some point. It wasn't hitting on much.

      Unlike the Furminator, which is very efficient but apparently also very tickly. Val's skin twitched violently with each pass. I refined my technique - short lifting strokes followed by my other hand quickly laying the hair back down. Success. I highly recommend the Furminator - it's best quality being that unlike the curry / brush combo, the released hair stays put - it doesn't go up your nose, in your mouth or plaster iteslf to your clothing. And it makes little fur caterpillars instead of waffles.

      Besides obsessing on hair care, we've also done some ground work. I've been focusing on my body language - using it more subtly. Today as I worked on Val in his stall, he walked off. Instead of getting his halter and lead rope, I played boss mare. I followed him to where he had stepped out of the stall, continuing the grooming. When he tried to walk off again, I calmly blocked him... waited a moment and resumed grooming. Every time he tried to leave I blocked him. When he disagreed with me, I asked him to disengage his hindquarters, with just a hand gesture. Lots of praise the instant he stepped over with his hind legs. He did several nice turns on the forehand. Then I finished up the grooming with him standing perfectly for me out in the paddock. It was some of the nicest work we've done - super relaxed.

      I also managed to clean and rearrange the tack room, all the while dreaming of the day when I don't have to store hay in there as it covers everything with a layer of filthy dust. I'm not the most dedicated duster to begin with. Add hay storage building to my "improvements to make at the farmette" list... behind shed row roof on the run-in and dressage arena. Better get back to the studio!

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