Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In the Arena # 78 - All's well that ends well...

So, last winter I posted about emergency repairs to the well pump that brings water to my barn. Dead well pump. Not fun - again...

There's the inconvenience of having to take things apart, purchase new parts and put them together... I know I shouldn't complain too much as my handyman (who also happens to be my father - love you Dad!) does the real work. All I really have to do is fetch tools and run back and forth turning spigots on and off. Then there's the worry about what we would do if suddenly we don't have the well. Dad does the fixing - I do the worrying.

I was right to worry. For the last month or so, the well not been reliable. Uneven, surging water flow that will sometimes peter out after being used for more that filling up a bucket - horse rinsing, or watering the garden. We checked out possible mechanical causes, but there may be another factor. The water table is as low as I have seen it since living here. Lack of rain in general, and lack of tropical systems that really dump in particular. I woke up this morning scheming about transporting water in the back of my truck, and siphoning verses carrying buckets, trailering Val to my house for bath time...

Good news is that handyman extraordinaire got the mechanics taken care of so we can bring what water there is to the surface - let's pray for rain!


Progress... Dad and I laid out the boundaries of the new arena over the weekend, as well as shot levels to get an idea of how to move around the material we have, and how much sand I'll have to bring in for the project. It looks like rearranging what sand I have already will make the cost more manageable. Next step - planning. I have to take all the info we collected and transpose it onto a large copy of the site drawing. Ugh - math. I had to pull out the pythagorean theorem to make sure the layout was square. Within inches as it turned out, although a calculator was necessary to accomplish the ciphering ;) Getting closer all the time. Once we have our proper arena with proper footing there will be no excuses Val!


Val and I had a "play date" yesterday. I hooked up with the only other dressage rider in the area - D,  a summer visitor. She borrowed a horse and brought him over for some schooling as I have the only "arena" around. Val was happy to have horse company - Cowboy pulled his patented scary jump out from behind the run in when they go by move. Twice. Thankfully Charlie, a pretty little refined chestnut quarter horse, was unfazed. 

We had a nice first session, although Val took advantage of my lack of focus. It was the first really hot day and he didn't feel like moving at all, so it took a lot of effort - mental and physical - to get beyond a walk. To be fair, the arena sand is very deep right now, making it all the harder to work. I can barely push the manure cart through it at the moment. Our trot transitions were labored and took way too long, with even some popping up in the front end as protest. (Yes - I was blocking with my hands at the time) ;) We finally got some round 15 meter circles at the trot, very good work on the buckle before it was over, and we ended on a high note.

It will be a good challenge for us to focus on working with other horses and distractions around. D's arrival is very timely. We have plans for more rides, with photos and video to come.


A final note - with the sudden temperature rise come the snakes. This little pretty appeared between me and my destination - Val's stall window as I left last night. She may have been laying eggs under the wash rack concrete pad when I disturbed her. She hissed, coiled, struck and rattled her tail at me. An impressive display, but bluffing none the less. Hopefully this will be as serious as our snake interactions get this summer :)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

At the Barn #44

Stopped at the post office on my way home from the barn and what did I find in my box? New horse p*rn. I absolutely love Fuego XII! So cool of Dover to put him on the cover. Wish there was a centerfold ;)


Edited to add: If you didn't get the chance to see Fuego XII's freestyle from last years World Equestrian Games, please enjoy now :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In the Arena #77 - Thigh-ku

Forgot saddle pad...
How to post bareback? Val says -
Say what!? (thighs sore now)

Any suggestions for posting bareback? Am I supposed to post from my thighs so as not to pinch with my knees? Is that even possible? How far off of the saddle is far enough?

Four rides this week so - off to a tub with bubbles and epsom salts. :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In the Arena #76 -
Three rides = wet saddle pads + :)

Recently I made an addition to the description of our blog - "and the occasional tale about creating my one-woman farmette". Well, the one woman farmette has kept me super busy lately, hence the infrequent posts. I spent much of last week building new garden beds and filling them with our lovely composted manure. Then came the planting the baby vegetables and herbs. Yay! Then came the deer.

So a few more days to round up materials and fence the beds. The materials were on order, but Bambi found the garden with one day to spare, and tasted a number of plants. It looks like everything will recover nicely, if just a bit misshapen. I wasn't able to find something to recycle for this purpose, but I did come across an inexpensive, flexible plastic fencing that should last, will be reusable and was relatively easy to install. Then I scrounged up some old fish net to drape over the beds when the birds come around to peck up my ripe tomatoes. They always know the peak of ripeness, as do the racoons.


We've gotten three rides in this week. Doing loads of trot work, and our stamina is increasing. Our balance through the corners is better. I'm getting some honest reaching for contact - usually right after the trot transition - although it's not sustained yet. I've become obsessed with both of us getting fitter, and specifically with Val's haunches filling out. I know that getting Val to work over his back, use his hind end and carry himself properly is the key to our dressage and fitness goals. I haven't pinpointed what I'm doing / not doing, but hope that when I can get us up to my trainer's farm for some lessons again she'll set me straight. I'm so looking forward to riding in a proper arena with good footing. Time to complain about my arena again... it's very deep sand at the moment due to lack of rain. I've been thinking that I want to start working on the canter, (which I can't believe I'm saying) but until the footing is more solid I don't want to try it at home.

Overall, things are going really well for us now. While our improvement isn't swift, it is happening consistently. What I am most pleased with is my partnership with Val. And we're becoming more adventurous - two jr. trail rides this week, after schooling in the unfenced arena. Six months ago I couldn't steer my way out of a paper bag. The thought of a dressage test was literally nauseating. Heck - the though of working outside the arena stressed me out. Now I can finally envision not only successfully completing a dressage test, but possibly showing. Horse shows are pretty impractical when you live in the middle of nowhere like we do, but with enough planning it could be done on the rare occasion. Something to look forward to :)

View from the other arena

Cookie please - bring one for my friend here too....

That's right - it's bath time...

I love shiny things

Just desserts

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

At the barn #43 - Duh, winning!! (yes to carrots)

No tiger blood here, but apparently we're lucky!!

Eagle, over at Thoroughly Yours was kind enough to pick Val's name out of a hat a couple of weeks ago for a "Yes to Carrots" contest sponsored by his blog. Eagle is a handsome, energetic and well spoken elder statesman of the thoroughbred world. I don't know how he has the time, but when he isn't galavanting around with his girl Jessica or keeping up with a strenuous west coast social calendar, he writes a very entertaining and clever blog. (There are fun little surprises here and there - try passing your cursor over the pictures) Well worth visiting :)

I picked up "our" package from the post office this afternoon on my way to the barn. It arrived beautifully gift wrapped...

I think at some point Val heard me say that the prize was carrot related (blah, blah, blah, C-A-R-R-O-T, blah blah)... Of course he assumed it was his. A horse prize. For horses. I had to gently break it to him that although carrot-related, it was not technically carrots. Or even edible. Mine Val. All mine. I'll make it up to you buddy ;)

Botanical body care products + carrots = awesomeness. I can't wait to try these out. Thanks Eagle and Jessica!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

In the Arena #75 - Reading is "fun"damental...

When I very first started studying dressage, a friend kindly recommended some books... My Horses, My Teachers - Alois Podhajsky, Centered Riding - Sally Swift, Riding Logic - W. Museler and 101 Dressage Exercises For Horse and Rider - Jec Aristole Ballou.

I devoured My Horses, My Teachers and Centered Riding immediately. I need to give Riding Logic another try - it was way over my head at the time. Today Val and I cracked open 101 Exercises.

A hundred and one?!!!!!

We dove right in. Before I knew it we had ridden for well over an hour. Why the heck didn't I do this sooner? This book gave me the structure and focus that I had been struggling to find working without my trainer, and relying on my imagination.

We tried three exercises. Large oval with big and little trot, go and whoa, and turns and forward movement. Basically focusing on getting on the aids. Coincidentally, our contact was excellent today. I found it much easier to concentrate on accuracy, my aids and Val's movement, when I didn't also have to plan / decide on our school figure at the same time. The book is designed to be brought to the arena, with large print and simple, well explained diagrams. A fun session - and a great tool for riders who often have to work on their own like we do.


Over the weekend we also did quite a bit of groundwork. Ground tying is something I've been wanting to accomplish with Val since I got him. We had two extended grooming sessions where he was ground tied the entire time. Initially he tried to walk off. Each time I stopped grooming, (patiently) moved him back, and then continued working.

I got some good insight into Val's coping behaviors during this session. First he tries to walk off. Then he tries what I like to call "hammer-heading". (His head met my elbow several times) Next comes lippy grooming which can turn into nippy clothes grabbing. More elbow. Finally there is extreme head tossing. I had seen this behavior when I met him at his old barn. Once he ran the gamut, which took about fifteen minutes or so, he finally stood calmly, eyes closed and bottom lip dangling. The second session he just stayed put from the get go... what a good boy!

We also did more trailer loading practice. Val self-loaded numerous times, so I think that's confirmed now. I couldn't be happier. I should elaborate - I'm sure that Val self-loaded before I bought him. I haven't taught him anything. A few bad loading experiences when we first got together unfortunately set us back. So really, I'm the one that needed the trailer loading work. I think I've got it down now ;)

Finally, we had an amateur massage session. I worked on Val's poll and neck. He has some very tight places on either side of his poll, and further down his neck as well. I guess it was okay because Val stayed put, and did a lot of stretching and yawning. We have booked a real massage session with someone who practices the Masterson Method. She is located on the other side of the state from us, but happens to be vacationing here in early October. Lucky Val!

Friday, May 13, 2011

At the barn #42 - Why I didn't ride today (Part 2) or I made the boxes and Val made the dirt :)

Rewind to yesterday evening when blogger was on some kind of fritz, and I didn't get to post this...

48  4x4's cut
4 raised beds
An entire box of deck screws
3 drill batteries - 2 that wouldn't hold a charge + 1 that ran out
2 borrowed drills
5 or 6 new blisters / calluses
3 ticks (pulled off)
2 splinters (pulled out)
+ / - 40 wheelbarrows FULL of composted manure
1 aching back

After losing most of Wednesday afternoon due to equipment malfunction, the garden boxes are finally finished - building, filling and planting.

Some thoughts...
How full can you fill a wheelbarrow and not tip over pushing it up a hill? Is it advantageous to shovel ambidextrously?  (Yes - more even soreness.) Don't get a lady drill (12 volts) - it's just can't hold up to real work. A lady hammer is another story however. Projects always take half again  twice as long as you planned for :)

I'm well past the age when birthdays are a big deal, but yesterday was the best one I can remember. (Of course my memory is not what it used to be...) After a thoroughly pleasant day at work, I headed up to the farmette to finish preparing the beds for planting. Since I got done well ahead of schedule, there was even time for a quick ride before my dinner plans. Dinner was spectacular, and best of all, the chef, a friend of mine, gave me a tour of their new kitchen garden. We made plans for him to come help himself to more of the manure I have stockpiled, and I may have a future customer for produce from the farmette.

Our ride started on a grand note, with me pulling off my first graceful bareback mount - one smooth motion. I spent the ride focusing on the timing of my leg aids. When I gave the aid just as Val was about to pick up his hind feet, we got a really nice reaching big walk. Made some headway with contact, and we had good energy. It had been a week since our last ride. I think we both were glad to get back to work. Well, I've been working my fingers to the bone... Val has been "working" on his subliminal messages about grazing, grass, things to eat that are green...

Monday, May 9, 2011

At the barn #41 - Why I didn't ride today (Part 1)...

Instead of riding, I got intimate with my power tools. And my discarded recycled lumber pile.

This summer is my trial run for putting in a large enough garden that I can sell my surplus at the local farmer's market, which btw had no local produce last year. It will also give me somewhere for the manure to go, feed me and my Dad, hopefully offset the mortgage payment and justify the term "farmette". That's the plan - good thing the days are longer ;)

Some people mocked me (love you Daddy-o) when I asked to carry a trailer load of oddly sized 4 x 4's (full of nails) up to the farmette instead of to the dump. Little did they know the next day I would covet an entire fence full of 2 x 2's, nails still attached. Also headed for the dump. These were a little trickier to handle, i.e nobody wanted to help, but as you can see, they also made it to the woodpile.

It's a good thing too, because when I hit the lumber store Saturday to pick up a few extra 4 x 4's that I had figured I'd need, guess what - NO LUMBER. Not a stick. Apparently, the clients are paying the building contractors late, so the contractors owe the lumber store for their lumber, and the lumber store can't pay their bill to the lumber yard... trickle up economics?! Nearest other lumber store - three hour round trip...

Anywho - after rounding up a few scraps over the weekend, today I went to town. Once I solved the wood puzzle, it looked like I was still two 4 x 4's short. I went to the trim pile - the ends off of everything I had cut so far - and pieced together the remaining two boards I needed. And the leftover pieces fit exactly - this kind of thing gets me so excited - instant lumber karma. :)

Tomorrow I'll screw it all together, and then comes the fun part - me and the wheelbarrow have a date with the compost pile...

I've already seen snakes lurking... gloves mandatory!

144 square feet

Can you see where it's pieced together?

Friday, May 6, 2011

In the Arena #74 - Maybe I'm amazed...

Overheard at the barn a few weeks ago:

"Val - I know I've let you down a few times... for instance the hurtful hay full of foxtail barley. Remember how I lost my cool when you flipped out on the lunge tearing the line out of my hand? And who could forget how I loaded you on the wrong side of the trailer when I came to pick you up from your previous owners... can you say Mr. Toad's Wild Ride?!"

"Okay, I'll make you a deal. I promise you can trust me. I promise - I'll take care of you - and you promise you'll take care of me. Kay? Love ya!"


So yesterday, I fell off. Sort of. In the best possible way. 

When I got to the barn, my neighbor was weed eating, hedge trimming and chain sawing. In the woods right next to my arena. I decided it was high time for Val to get over being scared. I drove all the way to the barn, and I wanted to ride today.

After grooming and tacking up, I took a high-headed lookylou Val over to the mounting block. The weed eater got closer and closer. In the breaks between the whining engine noise, there was crashing around in the woods that you could hear but not see. It took a few minutes, but Val eventually calmed down. I reassured him, and sang him silly songs. (Kacy at All Horse Stuff calls this trail opera - I'd say arena opera.)

We proceeded to have another great ride. We worked on forwardness - keeping my leg on... contact - consistency... half halts - timing... balance - riding both sides of my horse... transitions - getting immediate response to my aides and riding into our corners. Nothing new there. And there probably won't be anything new for a while. It's going to take time for Val and I to incorporate all of these elements into our rides. Especially working almost exclusively on our own as we are. Will keep you posted on progress - hope we're not tedious, tiresome or monotonous in our quest to achieve correct, elegant, cooperative movement.

As we rounded the corner closest to all of the commotion, I was concentrating on not leaning in on my turn, and Val was concentrating on freaking out. He shied pretty violently to the inside. I was unseated, but not enough to come off. I had the presence of mind to grab my saddle rather than Val's mouth. He had the presence of mind to stop freaking out. As I got back over my horse, the girth slipped and I sort of rode the stirrup down to the ground - it felt much like an escalator. I fixed the saddle, mounted back up, and we continued the ride. I was so proud of him. A few months ago both of us would have been too unsettled from the noise and distractions to even consider riding, much less recovering from an incident. I believe that his trust in me is growing every ride. And I look forward to each new ride, where at one point I dreaded them. I'm so grateful.


After grooming and carrot stretches, I thought "why not do a little trailer loading practice?". It seems to go smoothly when we're on the same page after a good ride. This time was no exception. He followed me into the trailer twice with no delay. So I thought "what a good time to push the envelope!" and baited up the trailer by leaving a gingersnap on the chest bar. Val self loaded three times in a row. Walked right in with the lead rope laying over his back. Yet another multitasking fail prevents me from sharing my joy in video format. Maybe next time :)



Sunday, May 1, 2011

In the Arena #73 - You are the sunshine of my life...

Best. ride. ever.

Hands down. Happy snorting pony. Zero steering issues. Contact, softening, leg yields, serpentines... etc. Fun! It wasn't even what we did, but how we did it. I rode with something approaching subtlety and tact, and my horse so appreciated it, rewarding me with his willing cooperation. Balance and self carriage are in our grasp. (add a thousand smiley faces here)

Once again I am reminded - if I can get / keep my act together... focus + concentration, tempered by relaxation - Val will gladly give me 100%. (And lots of nibbly grooming while we un-tacked!) I love you Valentino!!

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