Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

At the Barn #62 - Tomorrow never knows...

The day began by letting Val go naked - for first time in several days - giving his blanket and underoos (shoulder guard) time to air out.

A shoulder massage and major grooming session followed this afternoon. He who has been Mr. Antsy Pants since the weather changed, rested in the cross ties, periodically yawning and snorting contentedly. A full tail comb-out, mane + forelock brush (sighs for this) and a tidy up of the bridle path (mmmmm, clippers) finished out the afternoon's pampering.

After getting dressed again, a small friend stopped by to share carrots. This is the first time that little G (three year old son of my photographer friend A) has been brave enough to feed the beast. We'll get him hooked on horses yet!

G kept a steady stream of carrots coming, giggling delightedly. I kept the piranha mouth busy between bites with pieces of soft peppermint stick. The small friend didn't lose any of his digits, though I worried about Val grabbing the tiny mitten along with a carrot - after what I went through with him the previous evening...

(Cue dreadful music)

Last night while layering Val up with his blankies, out of the corner of my eye, I could see him flipping the mitten he snitched from my pocket while I fumbled around with the icy buckles. Did I mention it was dark, and sleeting? I went to put my mittens back on, but could only find one in my pocket, and nothing on the ground. (!)

Let's just say I jammed my forearm into his mouth, frightened he had already swallowed. Frantic visions of hooking up the trailer, and driving through sleet and snow to an after hours vet emergency filled my head. What a relief to find a soggy mitten plastered to the roof of Val's mouth, though I was prepared to send the search party further if necessary.

Despite your best efforts, we made it through another year. Happy Birthday my sweet Valentino - 11 years young today. Love you buddy!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In the Arena #138 - Whole. 'notha. level.

Ride #1 -

Any thoughts that I'd gone overboard lately in the photo documentation department vanished after Wednesday's ride.

Look at enough pictures of chicken elbows, super long reins broken at the wrist and a horse politely (and not so politely) tolerating inconsistent contact while mincing about, and you're bound to generate a breakthrough. Not to mention double check that your leathers are even, and do your level best to sit in the middle in the saddle... and stay there. Progress through humiliation.

After warming up and taking up contact, I used every ounce of concentration I had to keep my reins shorter and maintain the feel of Val's mouth. And magically everything was easier. Transitions, turning, straightness. Another factor was moving straight to the whip if my leg wasn't answered immediately.

We rode for longer and did more trot work then we have in almost a year. Val was soaked, and so was I. We must improve our fitness as we (both) were sucking wind. Even though Val was tired, he stayed forward, and answered my leg. I posted with a smile glued to my face, and Val breathed deep happy rhythmic snorts.

Ride #2 -

As per usual, a ride full of progress is followed by... not so much. I invited A. over (my horse loving photographer friend) with tentative plans to get some video of the day's ride. The kiss of death.

Our warmup was difficult. I still haven't resolved the problem of Val gravitating to A. (or any visitor) other than persisting in asking him to go forward.

And then there was the end of the arena that Val wouldn't enter, no way no how. To the point of backing and even popping up a bit. I tried not to become irritated while pursuing other strategies. What eventually succeeded was inching our way down the arena with moving circles. Why, before we knew it, we had (safely) entered and exited the zone of death.

A few trot transitions to test the go button further, and we called it a day. Nothing video worthy to share - too bad for you guys! ;D

While cooling Val out I remembered that two nights before, howling winds had sent a large black garbage bag careening through the paddock. It fetched up on the electric fence - guess where - and was the cause of quite a scene the next morning when I came to feed. Mystery solved.

Ride #3 -

Another brief bout of stickiness in the warmup, with Val over-bending to the outside being nosy about some nonsense in the woods. Making sure not to give up my inside rein solved that issue. And again I kept the shorter reins and more contact. The feel of the contact is so much more, heavier, than I ever thought it should be. Val 's response told me what an improvement it was.

There were some cones set up on the perimeter of the arena like dressage letters. As we went round we circled or volte'd at every cone. Lots of transitions and changes of direction. The trot work was the best it's ever been.

If you look back through my blog I've said this same thing countless times. It has always been true, but this ride we sustained the work - the duration, the flow, as well as the energy. We did a fun school figure that was basically a three circle figure eight which took up the entire arena. Val was bending beautifully so the circles were actually circles. Round, while changing rein where the circles touched. Once again I smiled my face off and Val snorted happily all the way round the arena. Sublime.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

WW - Q

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In the Arena #137 - Tack, tackless, and what's in a name....

Saturday arrived, chilly and windy, but still pretty enough. I traded (a steaming bowl of homemade tomato soup + grilled cheese sandwiches with avocado) for another set of pictures of Val and I working.

Val was much better about not locking on to the photographer magnet this time. Again, I let him tell me when he was warmed up. We worked on contact and some baby lateral work.

For the lateral work I aimed for zigzags down the long side - four strides lateral, two strides straight, four strides the other direction. I aimed to  influence Val's shoulders with my arms / the reins, and his haunches with my legs. I focused on making space - with the rein and my leg - on the side we were moving into, equal to if not more that asking him to move off the rein and leg we moving away from. Val was relaxed, seemed to enjoy doing something different and felt like he stepped over (or under) more than in the past. We finished off with some 15m circles, and trot transitions.

While there was improvement in the consistency of the contact, many pictures indicate no straight line from mouth to elbow - broken at wrist, as well as the ever present too long reins. And there are many shots which show me off to one side (left) in the saddle, but overall it was a very positive ride, and Val had some foamy lipstick when he received his post ride cookies.

Yesterday lucky Val got an extensive massage. He really leaned into the shoulder work, stretching his neck out, yawning, chewing and licking. I followed his long back muscles down to his favorite region, the haunches, which he presents to me almost daily for rubs and scratches, then down the backs of his legs. I needed a massage to recover from his massage (those are some big muscles!) but hopped on for an impromptu ride instead. I attached the clip on reins to the chin loop on his rope halter. This arrangement was less than ideal judging from the head tossing, so I put the reins on his neck, and worked from my seat. So - much - FUN!


I have been meaning to post the story of Val's name. Today Kate at A Year with Horses and Annette from News from Aspen Meadows both posted about horse names and nicknames, so I'll gladly jump on that bandwagon.

Val's registered name is Sinister Wind. While I hate the sound of that name, it is very appropriate for where we live. Hurricanes... nor'easters, etc. I remember thinking it was a bit of a cosmic sign when deciding whether to purchase him. 

His former owner recently mentioned that his barn name when they met him as a three year old was Marty. (thumbs down) His next name was Augustus, Gus for short. Changing Val's name felt wrong to me, but the only Gus I knew at the time was a big 'ol drunk who hangs out down at the docks muttering incoherently (when he isn't already passed out). A no go. 

A deposit held Val for me over the summer after I tried him out - to let his girl ride him until she left for college, and to let me finish the preparations for first time horse ownership. I pondered the name change - uninspired - until a late night cable rerun...

Three words. Tombstone, Doc Holliday, Val Kilmer. 

Val Kilmer from twenty years ago. Hot Val Kilmer. Just sayin'. 

Upon reflection, I was thoroughly embarrassed about naming my horse after an actor crush. After a drug addicted, gambling addicted, tubercular gunslinger. Draw your own conclusions, but I'm guessing I'm attracted to the bad boys. ;D

It took me about two weeks to hit upon the (clever) idea of naming him Valentino, which would then allow me to call him ♡♡♡ VAL ♡♡♡ to my heart's content, and think secretly "I'm your huckleberry..." *sigh*

Turns out it was the perfect name...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

In the Arena #136 - ...but if you try sometime, you just might find...

Between Christmas and New Years (my Dad and) I built and hung doors on my old boarder's run in shed, turning it into a second and much needed hay / tool storage building. Top capacity is now 120 bales on site - 150 being our yearly consumption. My inner hay hoarder is (almost) satisfied.

looks like Dad did all the work, but I wielded power tools too

Completing that project allowed me to clean out the other half of my studio, and bring everything to the farm from the storage unit I had rented since moving into the Shimmy Shack. Big savings, much more convenient, and I'm simply overjoyed to have yet another reason to justify kicking out the boarders. (I also feel better not storing hay in the same building I use a torch and kiln in... hel-lo!) 

Val and I ended 2012 with a bareback ride. Prompt response to the aids and smooth steering were our goals, which we achieved in an enjoyable and easygoing ride. My neighbor stopped by and shot a few pictures for us.

putting squeezers on him

We began 2013 with a morning ride. My plan to groom Val while ground tied proved challenging, with him being super wiggly, and ultimately taking advantage of my turned back to flee to the far corner of the arena, giving me his best "I'm naughty but also very cute" face. I brought him back, smiling, doing circles, halts and backing as we returned. Val relaxed and relented, staying put for the remainder of tacking up. I was proud of him. It was windy and hunting season is in full swing.

The rest of the session was like a (very good) dream. While I focused on yogic breathing - deep, regular and audible - we worked on the buckle. We stayed that way much longer than usual. I let Val tell me when he was warmed up. He did this by snorting and deeply breathing as he stretched down and gave me a swinging walk.

I focused on keeping my seat bones even and over Val's long back muscles, which basically prevents me from collapsing my right side and shortening my right leg. My other task was to press the saddle gently forward into Val's withers, which is to say keep my weight on my triangle, seat bones and pubic bone equally. I think it has to do with the tilt of the pelvis... counteracting a chair seat.

As we worked on a few school figures, the thought floated through my head that it might be a good day for trot work. Val immediately picked up a trot. I was shocked, promptly ruining the moment by posting on the wrong diagonal, but the feeling was still awesome. I finished up by working on trot transitions in the non-telepathic way, and we called it a day.

The remainder of the first day of the year was similarly fruitful. After shucking the last of the holiday oyster bushel in preparation for making oyster stew, I loaded the last twenty four bales of hay waiting in my trailer into the new storage space. Next, a thorough cleaning of the trailer, collecting all the loose hay for evening feeding. I organized Val's blankets and blanket bins, and returned them to the spic and span trailer, which is an excellent place to store, hang and air out blankets between wearings. As the light faded and a cold rain began to fall, I delivered a bucket of steaming mash studded with apple slices out to the barn. What a good boy.

one for the stew, one for my belly...

the best oysters have delicious crabs in them

I avoided doing a blow by blow ode to 2012 post on New Year's eve. Mostly because there were so many really disappointing aspects to the year... very tight finances, putting my dearest Sweetpea to sleep, yet another hurricane disrupting everyone's lives and destroying our road for the second time in a year, ugly, public confrontations with my boarders + a family member that made me physically ill. Worst of all, the nagging feeling that desire and passion are not enough to progress in dressage when you are on your own...

finally got the road "back" on 12.21 - to be continued... I tacked up my horse and rode anyway. I've heard that how you spend the first day of the year reflects the way your year will develop. I hope this is true, as I had one of the best, most productive days I can ever remember. Happy New Year indeed.

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