Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just a Bit of Lungeing

In and Out

I went to the chiropractor today, so, as I rule, it was not  riding day. It was cooler than yesterday, but dry and a bit breezy.

I did my walking in the mall, timing it at 10 minutes from one anchor store to the other, and that doesn't include the wandering around I did as I browsed the clothing. I started off at JC Penney, where I found the pale blue cardigan I wanted for my Easter outfit. I also found an lovely kelly green blouse and a pair of bright blue skinny jeans in a nice stretch poplin--none of which I needed. But, I had a gift card from Christmas, so in the end, all I doled out was a dollar.

Then, walking briskly, I headed to the other end to Macy's, where I found a really pretty blue flowered tee top that was perfect with the cardigan.  It will depend upon the weather for Easter Sunday as to what top I do wear under the cardigan, but now I'm set for just about any temperature. That top was just under $10, so I felt pretty good about indulging myself--again knowing I really didn't NEED it.

The brisk walk back to the Penney end of the mall gave me my knee walk exercise for the day, so I actually accomplished something besides just shopping.

Home again, it seemed as if the wind had picked up and it was a little chilly despite the moderate temperatures. I decided to leave the Boys's sheets on until I went out later to do the barn work.  I regret that because when I did take Tucker's sheet off to lunge him, he was well sweated under it. Then again, Toby and Chance were not particularly sweaty, so it's possible Tucker was running around on his own.

At any rate, I lunged him, and he was a good boy.  For fun, I set up a one stride in and out jump at about 2 feet or so.  He got a little silly, but negotiated both jumps in both directions with no problem, so to finish up, I set the second fence at about 3 feet. just for a challenge.

Tuck's silliness immediately stopped with no corrections on my part. He slowed his canter into the first little fence, took a nice balanced stride in between, and lifted himself athletically over the second, higher jump with ease.  I sent him through a few more times, and each time he set the perfect pace and impulsion on his own without rushing or worry and jumped the combination perfectly.

Done with Tucker, I took Chance out next.  He too lunged beautifully on the flat and then took the two small jumps with some nice relaxed efforts. This time, he cantered to the fences on his own without much urging from me, but, when he met the fence a little out of stride, he dropped to a trot for the first effort while still putting in the canter stride between for the second fence.  At then end, I raised the second jump for him to perhaps 2'6" and he jumped on through with no fuss. He doesn't just naturally use himself as well as Tucker, but he's catching on. If I were really training him to be a jumper, I'd quickly add some gymnastic puzzles for him to figure out.  I have a feeling that would sharpen his interest a little and encourage him to use himself better.

Carrots went into everyone's feed bucket and I left their sheets off until late feed. We are supposed to get some rain/snow/sleet stuff sometime before daybreak.  All of it should change over to rain by afternoon and then, on Thursday, it may warm up to 60F.

Crazy extremes again. Guess I will be feeding bran mashes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Into the Woods and Out Again

And All For My Knees

I started a bit of a walking program for my knees, and decided that since I don't have a dog to walk with me in the woods, why not a horse?  Tucker has not been out on a trail in months, so I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to handwalk him out on one in preparation for an eventual ride. And, it had the other benefit of my walking for my knees.

So, out we went. I put Tuck's bridle on him and then threaded the lunge line through the two rings of the bit under his chin, just in case. I figured if anything happened and he broke away from me, I'd have some fifteen feet of lunge line to hold him from running off. Turns out, I didn't need it.

I did have to repeat the halt and have him step back two paces exercise numerous times, reminding him not to walk too fast ahead of me. He was never out of control, but just wanted to move out a little more than my leg speed.  That was nice in the sense the he was very positive and forward about the adventure. It only took the slightest correction to keep him where I wanted him to be.

I got my knees exercised, some exercise to take off some weight, and Tucker had a nice little trail "ride" with no stress.

After we got back, I changed from my walking shoes to my paddock boots and saddled Chance. Although there was a little wind today, it was sunny and warm, so the two of us headed out for our own hack through the woods. I took the same trail that Tucker and I walked, mostly because I'd cleared a number of branches out of the way and knew it was pretty clear. There are two huge fallen trees across the main woods roads, but both of them have pretty clear ways around. I haven't been on any of the other paths through the woods recently to see if they are blocked, so this trail was a good choice.

When I got back to the arena, I trotted a rather reluctant Chance around, working on my own posting trot which is equivalent to doing modified deep knee bends against the wall. Posting trot is much more fun and instead of the 40 or so I might do in the house, I counted 100 in each direction before I called it a day.

Add all that to pushing the wheelbarrow and riding the stationary bike for 15 minutes and I had a good day for the knees.

And two simply lovely trips through the woods.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

More of a Weather Report

Rain and Wind

Seems we are getting some of the same weather other areas of the world have been getting lately--at least for a day or so.

Yesterday, it rained on and off all day. As evening crept in, the winds began to pick up, and today it is very windy.  Things are supposed to calm down by this afternoon, but right now it's a "rush" out there.

When the weather changes like this, I like to give the Boys bran mashes, so last night at late feed, I set up their buckets with bran and feed and brought them in the house. This morning, I added enough hot water to really soak the feed, a cut up carrot for each horse, and took the buckets out to the barn.

There is something delightful about both watching my horses dive into a nice soggy mash and listening to them kind of "slurp chew" it all up. I don't think any one of them pulled his nose out of the feed tub for a second once I'd put the mash in. I won't need to clean out those tubs.  They are licked clean!

I was out with some other horsewomen the other night and the discussion came around to "where do you keep your horses."  Two of us had ours in the back yard and when we were asked how we liked that, the duet of "Love it! Wouldn't have it any other way!" was loud and clear. We both admitted to being somewhat tied down--I, of course, have a marvelous horse sitter to call on now--but the ability to care for our horses exactly as we want to and simply be with them almost any time we wanted to was just too overwhelming.

I have boarded my horses at perhaps ten different barns in the forty years I've owned my own horse. I tended to stay at the good places for many, many years, and to be honest there were at least two places I still might be if the owners had not decided to sell their properties and move out of state.  When the care was good and truly "caring" I had great peace of mind.

Still, there were always the disadvantages. In both cases, the farms were about 15 miles from my house, so travel time was always a worry when something was wrong with one of my Boys. More than once, I'd have to get up super early before work, go to the barn to tend to something, and then go back again after work.  It was not that I didn't trust the barn owners to care for my horse properly, but as well all know, sometimes there are just things you have to tend to yourself, especially if your horse is ill or injured.

And then, there is the extra expense of boarding out. I never begrudge boarding stables the fees they charge, as long as they do everything they have promised as part of the agreement. But, it certainly is less costly to keep a horse at home once you have all the buildings and fencing built. I might have been able to continue to keep two horses boarded out, but Chance and Tucker never would have been part of my life if I didn't have the barn here at home. I simply could not have afforded three at one time.

You do have to have a "solitude" kind of mind, though. If you don't have other people to ride with or socialize with at your own farm, it can be lonely. And, at times, without the motivation of other riders around you, it can be hard to keep up the momentum of working your horse. But always having the arena to yourself or know that you're the only one who could possibly have lost that brush or lead rope certainly does afford a strange sort of peace of mind.

And just being able to look out the window to see the horses playing or simply drinking from the just filled water tub can be moments to treasure.

I really don't want it any other way.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sorta Windy, Sorta Not

Sunny and Fickle

It was nice and warm today, except when the wind kicked up, which was now and then.

I decided to lunge instead of ride, just because the weather just couldn't make up its mind about what kind of day it actually was. Of course, while I was working the horses, there was just a nice gentle breeze...ah, well.

This time, I just worked Tucker and Chance, once again with the goal of fitness rather than any real training.

I did set up the little jump at about two feet, which Tucker took with grace and style. Too bad I am not much of a jumper rider anymore as it looks to me as if he'd be a really good one. He just naturally knows how to take a fence and stays calm about it. I haven't challenged him to any height, but I suspect he'd manage just fine over 3'6".

Chance, on the other hand, refused the jump at 2 feet, not because he couldn't get over it, but because he really didn't seem to know how. I lowered it for him and he popped it twice before finding both stride and style to jump it nicely. Maybe he just needs a little more practice to figure it all out, while Tucker just has a natural talent for it.

Doesn't matter much since my jumping days are over. But I do think its good physical and mental exercise for horses to jump now and then. And it definitely adds interest to the lungeing sessions.

Besides, once they get the hang of it, it really looks as if they are having fun!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Another Day, Another Horse

Things Settle Down

Today was sunny, warm and calm--quite a change from yesterday.

I went out around 2 PM, and with my pocket full of treats, immediately attracted the attention of the little herd. All three horses came in from the pasture and, a bit to my surprise, Toby led the way right up to me, even though I had a halter and lead rope in my hand. I gave him a few treats, slipped the halter over his head and took him into the barn.

I gave him a nice grooming, brushing off quite a bit of shedding hair. It seems early to me, but all three Boys are shedding their winter coats. I thought shedding was triggered more by the length of daylight rather than temperature, but I'm beginning to think it might be a combination of both.

I fastened the lunge line on Toby's halter and took him out to the arena for a short lungeing session. Since he hasn't had an real work for quite some time, I kept it short. But, as always, I was delighted to see him move out with nice loose strides, and good sound gaits. He's 22 years old and doesn't show any sign of soundness issues. He does deserve to be retired, but I suppose I will work him a little now and then. But I do have to be fair and not ask for too much. If he's not really fit, I have to be careful.

Another day proved the right one for Tucker. He was quiet and calm.

I appreciated Muriel's suggestion about lungeing first, but as a rule, I don't. Particularly with a Thoroughbred, and Tucker especially, lungeing does not necessarily work the horse down. It might be a way of assessing the horse's attitude that day, but again, with Tucker, it's not much of a measure. He may play up on the lunge line and be just fine under saddle, or vice versa. Chance is another story, but lungeing him would just take any edge off and tire him out. He's pretty consistent when I ride, so I don't worry too much about him.

My horses are turned out all day and all night if they so choose, so it's not quite the same as taking a horse out of a stall and needing to take the edge off before riding them.

Anyhow, Tucker didn't need any special handling today at all. We warmed up for a while at the walk, then moved into a nice trot. It took a few times around before he started offering to go forward without too much urging on my part. I just asked him to stretch into the bit, tending to be round without too much serious "on the bit," beyond that. We did some nice suppling exercises--serpentines, shoulder-in, half pass, transitions--and then I did some canter on each lead. I decided mostly to focus on my seat, rather than worry about what Tucker was doing.

I still can't quite figure out what I'm doing when I fall over to the right, but I did find that by dropping my left knee and concentrating on where that leg was, my seat stayed more even. I think what I may be doing is shortening my left leg as my right leg slips back a little. (I think Muriel may have said something like that.) At any rate, as long as I thought about it, I stayed straight. Now I just have to get back to not having to think about it so I can ride the horse instead of focusing on myself.

I finished up riding Chance. I used the full cheek single link snaffle again and he seemed fine in it. For now, it's the bit of choice. He is a little uneven on the left rein, when his right hind is on the outside and I have to work to get his gait even.  Some of it is due to his being a little stiffer in that direction. He drops his shoulder to the inside and the outside hind leg shortens the stride. This may be because he's a bit uncomfortable on that leg, but if I ride to correct it, I can.

What he does need it to be more fit and that will come with regular work. Curiously, his canter is quite nice on both leads, so that's a plus as in the past he had trouble taking the right lead.

I finished with walk/trot transitions on both reins, simply asking him to stretch into the bit and stay there going from walk to trot. Three nice transitions on each rein proved a worthy goal and it didn't take long to get them.  Once again, he was a good boy.

I left the herd naked for the time being as it was really quite warm when I finished up. But we are supposed to have rain showers tonight, so I guess the sheets will have to go back on.

The last thing I want are cold, wet horses after such a nice day of effort from all three.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Long Lines of Irony

Listen to the Horse 

I was going to ride. I had a doctor's appointment in the morning and I went grocery shopping afterwards. (Got some Greek yogurt to try....yummy.) When I got back home it was sunny, warm and around 51F.  Lovely day.

Went in the house to have some lunch and do a few computer thingies, figuring I'd go back out around 3 PM or so to ride the horses.

Well. Talk about finicky weather. The sun ducked behind some clouds--or the clouds ducked in front of the sun and from nowhere, a brisk, chill breeze picked up.

OK, it wasn't really cold, but it sure wasn't 50 anymore.  I headed out, still intent on riding.  I brought Tucker in, saddled him up and headed out to the arena.  He spooked at something windblown in the woods.  But then he settled again, sort of.  I lead him over to the mounting platform and he balked, simply refusing to walk up beside it.

Now, it would have been a small matter to insist that he move up since he will respond very quickly when I insist, but something twirled around in my brain. I honestly think he was telling me, "Don't try to ride. I'm all riled up and I'm not sure I can behave.  Don't ride me. Not today."

I decided to listen to my inner voice. I took him back inside the barn and switched the saddle for the lungeing surcingle and the long lines.

Good move. Tucker was perfectly capable of working well and just as capable of simply exploding into random bucks and bolts in between the good work.  He never really tried to pull away or leap out of control. I had him well in hand, but there was no doubt he could not contain his leaps and bounds.

I am sure a ride would not have been pretty.

It is ironic because I just posted a comment on Caroline's blog that I have been just trying to treat Tucker like a "regular horse," which means, just kind of get on and ride--no questions asked.

Today, I asked questions, and I'm glad I did.  I think the weather change had just been too abrupt. As a matter of fact, by the tine we were done and I came into the house to put some hot water in nice bran mashes for the Boys--something I like to do when the weather turns suddenly--the wind had died back down and the sun was hinting of a return. It was a bit into early evening by then, so it never did warm up again, but it did calm down.

In my daring youth, I would have ridden anyhow. Not so anymore. There is no reason to take a chance when I just have a feeling it's not the right thing to do.

It was a good longlining session and a good lesson to remember.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Little Lungeing

Another Nice Day

It was a little chilly today, enough for my knees to feel it, so I didn't go out to the barn until late afternoon.

I decided I'd lunge Tucker and Chance, just to get them moving with a little controlled exercise. I lunge them in a halter for basic exercise. If I intend to really work them, I'll put on the long lines and use them to lunge. I'm not keen on side reins, mostly because they are fixed and I cannot change the contact while I am working the horse. If I am just going to use lungeing for exercise, I'd rather the horse have his head without being restricted by rein contact.

Besides, it's easier that way.  I've pretty much taught all my horses to be responsive and reliable--barring a few exciting explosions now and then--in the halter and part of the fun is getting them to change gait with just a simple verbal command instead of all kinds of pulling or pushing.

I lunged Tucker first. He started off a bit lazy, but warmed up quickly and soon offered a relaxed, forward trot with his head stretching way down to the ground.  I guess it must feel good for him to stretch like that, because he does seem to like it.  His first canter depart was prompt on one simple command to "canter," but it took a few chirps along with one or two commands to "trot" when I wanted the downward. Not exactly disobedient, but it's almost as if once he starts cantering he kind of "gets into a zone," and just keeps going.  We practiced a few transitions and in short order, he was responding with a change of gait from one simple command.  Fun stuff, and it was the same on both reins.

I set up a small jump--about 2 feet--along the rail and set him towards it. He kept a pretty steady pace into in the first few times and jumped nicely. Then he got a little silly, rushed the approach, took off from a very long spot and hit the rail with his hind leg, sending the Blox atilt.  Fortunately, he didn't try to run off after that, so I brought him back down to a quiet walk, reset the jump and from then on, his approaches and jumps were far more careful and controlled.--He controlled, them, not me.

When we finished, I lavished praise on him for a job well done and did some in hand leading work. Basically, his job is to stop when I stop, back a step and halt. Then when I move off again, he's to walk quietly with me at whatever pace I choose. He also has to back up and move over in response to either a verbal command or just a hand signal.  Once again, he was "practically perfect in every way" with those exercises.

I did all the same exercises with Chance. He did look just a little "short" on his right hind leg when we started off, but as he warmed up  his stride was pretty even.  I think it's just a matter of getting him fit if something is bothering him in his stifle.

Chance is also pretty responsive on the lunge as well. Not quite as sharp to respond as Tucker, but just fine.  The jumping, though, is quite interesting.  He just doesn't pick up any impulsion on the approach, so that, unless I really get after him to move out, he sort of lunges over the fence, lands at a near standstill on the other side and then kind of trots off.  It's not a lack of talent, just a too laid back effort and what seems to be a complete misunderstanding of just what it takes to really "jump."  But, to his credit, by the fifth time over, with my chasing him into a forward canter, he made some nice efforts and we called it a day.

I did some in hand work with him, realizing that I really haven't taught him a whole lot about the "leading rules."  So I did the halt/back exercise a few times, and then had him circle around me, moving away from my hand.  We finished with the back in hand as well and he was really good about it. Again, his responses are not as sharp as Tucker's but he does try hard and seems to like the attention.

I did not do anything with Toby. He is retired, after all, but I am hoping that as he watches the other Boys work that he may actually want to do something too.  I told him that if I hold up the halter and walks his head into it, I'll know it's time.  He just has to let me know.

I truly enjoy working my horses in hand. Much of what I do on the ground carries over into my riding, and the basic handling skills are so important.

Reminds me...I need to work Chance on trailer loading when I get the opportunity. Trouble is, to be safe, I need to hook up to the truck. He loads all right with food, but my horses really need to be "point and load" without any kind of reward at the end. Sometimes you just don't have a bribe at hand.

We'll get to it. And I'm sure he'll be just fine. He's a good boy.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Erratic Winter Riding

But Riding, Nonetheless

So, one day it's cold, the next it's sunny and warm. Winter is fickle here, but really mild compared to most years.

When it's sunny and warm, that's when I ride. It's a little easier on my knees at the moment, but in general they feel pretty good. They are still a bit sore--mostly behind the knee on the left--and can get a little stiff, depending on just how much swelling there is. If I sit too long in one position, they can hurt when I first move, but that is no worse than it was before the replacements, and actually better.

With the extra high mounting platform, getting into the saddle is pretty easy, although I have a little trouble picking up my right stirrup without using my hand. I don't think the new knee has quite the same lateral flexibility as my real knee did--but that may also change with time as the last of the residual swelling goes away.

Once in the saddle, I am comfortable, but not quite as sure of myself as I used to be. It's more mental than physical, and during the course of the ride, it usually goes away--except when Tucker decides to be a bit
"edgy."  He was jigging at the walk today and got a little "I might buck" action a couple times. I corrected him, of course, but as we all know, he will continue to test the limits anyhow. It doesn't seem particularly crabby, but rather that he's a little too full of himself.

A consequence of erratic.

My biggest annoyance right now it that on both Tucker and Chance, I seem to be sitting off to the right. This is a problem I thought I had conquered, but, like every bad habit, it has once again reared its ugly head. Now, it could be that both horses carry me that way, but even if that were true (Hey, I have trained them so if they are crooked, whose fault is it anyhow???) it's my job to sit evenly.

What I have to do, then is figure out just what part of my anatomy is causing the starboard list. If I recall before, I was riding with my right leg a little too far back, causing my hip to rotate to the right. I am having a few back issues and my pelvis does have to be adjusted, but whether the rotation is due to riding crookedly or riding crookedly is a consequence of the rotation, it's still up to me to fix it. I'll get there. I did before.

Which brings me to bits.  I tried Chance in the Myler comfort snaffle, and I don't think it's the bit for him. But I need to ride him in the regular snaffle again to further assess. When I am on the left rein, his trot gets "hoppy" and he keeps trying to break to canter. When I really focused on making him stretch into the contact, the hops largely went away. That makes me suspect it's more of a bridle/bit lameness--reaction to the bit contact--more than physical. (But I can't rule out physical 100% because he has had some issues with the right hind before.)  I did not see any sign of it when I long lined him in his full cheek single jointed snaffle, but that's the bit he put his tongue over. I do have a straight bar bit to use on him and if I ride him in the snaffle and find that tongue issue happening again, I may go back to that.

I tried Tucker in the Myler as well as someone had suggested it was a really good bit to get horses on the bit. OK, that may be so, but first, the horse has to seek the contact. Tucker does not in the Myler. I swapped back to his lozenge bit and soon he was happily dragging me around the arena rather as if I was water skiing.

Which is both good and bad.

It's good in that his trot is very forward, but it's also potentially on the brink of "runaway," mostly because he's not exactly really balanced. What I should do is just kind of "go for it," when I get that trot, but he can be a little intimidating to me when he gets too strong. Fact is, I just don't trust him.

Too much baggage between us.

But, forward on Tucker is actually a plus and I need to gain the confidence to capitalize on it. And here's where the "erratic" comes back into play. Since I am only riding sporadically--erratically--I haven't quite gotten in sync with what I should be doing, and I'm certainly neither fit enough nor strong seated enough to ride as effectively as I need to.

So, I must be patient with both myself and the Boys. Once I figure out the right bit for Chance, we'll be fine. We went out on the trail yesterday--the same trail where I fell off--and had a nice ride with a bit of arena work afterwards. Tucker? Always a riddle. I am sure we will reach some sort of compromise with me in higher authority.

It's just going to take a little more time, a little more work, a little more fitness, and a little less erratic.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Such a Bully

Middle Child Syndrome

Tucker is such a bully with Chance. I'm not sure Chance really cares too much as he is an independent sort, but he certainly does have to submit to the "Bullybay."

Last night, when I went in Tucker's stall to feed him, Chance was outside, somewhere near the outside door. Tucker squealed and made an aggressive move towards that door. The trouble was, I was in the stall too. I gave him a shout and he instantly behaved, but the mere fact that he would do that when I was there really made me angry. ( I did not have to make any physical correction as my verbal reprimand was just fine.)

I've been watching some of the herd interaction out there and Tucker really does insist on bossing Chance around, even when there is no reason.

For his part, Chance doesn't really run away, but just kind of moves aside far enough to be out of reach and safe from Tucker's attitude.  Tucker makes sure that Chance is reminded of his status when I go out to feed by herding him away from the barn. And Tucker makes Chance wait at the water trough until he has had his fill.

Often, when it rains, if Tucker and Toby are standing under the run in shed, Chance is left with part of his body standing outside, getting wet because Tucker will not let him in.  This is not all the time, though. This week everyone was under cover, so there must be some sort of logic to it all. (Horse logic? Another oxymoron?)

And it's not that Tucker and Chance are enemies. They often play together and seem to be having quite the good time. And, when Tucker's blankets get ripped, I am more than certain Chance is the one who does it. (Toby is just not a "ripper.")

The other day, Chance and Toby were lying on piles of hay in the sunshine in the paddock, napping. Along came Tucker who "commanded" Chance to get up. Perhaps it was the "changing if the guard," and Chance's time to stand sentinel, but it looked more like just another bullying tactic.

Toby is herd boss, no doubt about it, and nobody fools with him when he says so. Middle child Tucker is ever the social climber. I guess Chance's mild manner makes him the perfect "whipping boy," for the schoolyard bully.

Not much  can do about it, despite all my teacher skills from the classroom.

Think I need a graduate course in "Horse Bullies 101?"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thawing Back Out

It's Getting Nice Again

Warmish again today. I took the Boys' winter blankets off so they would enjoy the sunshine and about an hour later the sun disappeared behind the clouds. I'll be putting their sheets back on when I go out to feed shortly.  It is in the upper 40's F now and will only go down to about freezing tonight, so they should be fine.

I went to the chiropractor this morning so no riding today. I am walking for exercise, though. So far around my property with two fairly decent hills in the pasture. I walk briskly and even tried a little jog, but I am not ready for much of that yet.

I'm not sure what the horses think. I gave them some hay in the paddock while I walked, but they were on the alert to keep track of me. I did have a laugh a little when I got back, though. Peppercorn, the barnkitty, was stretched out in the sand, not too far from Toby, just kind of hanging out with the herd while they ate.

 But, as usual, the camera was in the house. It would have made a cute picture.

I did have my camera when the sun was shining on the lake (sandpit) across the road, though. I only have a lakefront view during the winter when there are no leaves on the trees, though. The lake is huge--perhaps 200 acres and it looks turquoise in the sunlight.  Later, when the sun changed position in the sky, it looked like a mirror.

I hesitate to post this, but one of the homeowner's insurance companies may have refused to cover my property because they figured it was in a "flood hazard area," due to the lake. The lake is below the water table and my property is probably 50 feet higher or more than the surface and I am probably 300 or more feet away. I figure we'd need a awful lot of rain for any of that water to reach me.

It looks like I have a smudge on my camera lens.

It shall be corrected. *G*

Oooops, I nearly forgot...

Happy Valentine's Day to All! 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sugar Coating

But More Is On the Way

I woke up yesterday to snow. Just a coating. Pretty, actually, especially since it didn't need to be shoveled and it was going to be warm enough to melt nearly all of it by day's end.  We are supposed to get more snow tonight--perhaps several inches--but again when it warms up next week, that too will melt.

Here's what we had last year:
Chance is pictured here and he is about 15.3 h.

This year? Almost the same day?  Here's Toby:

I'll be honest. After last year, we've earned a break. But winter is not yet over and some of the worst storms I remember were in March, so I am not counting on anything at this point.  Instead, I'll just enjoy the beauty of nature when she is not being too cruel to us.

I longlined both Tucker and Chance the day before the snow.  Tucker did some very silly aerial maneuvers, but gave me a lot of nice work in between.   Chance was going absolutely beautifully until he got his tongue over the bit. This was his proper bit too. I don't know if I had it adjusted too low after fixing the bridle, or if he was having a problem with tongue pressure. I raised it up a hole or two for now, but I may try out the Myler bit I bought for Tucker some time ago and never tried.

First, though, I have to look the bit up on the Myler site to see what it says about tongue pressure. If it's the right one to relieve that, it's worth a shot. If not I still supposed it's worth the experiment.

I hope to ride a little today as it's nice out and the snow is not scheduled to arrive until evening. But time's a wasting and I still have to eat lunch--just heard my casserole timer ding.

And here's the "Can You Spot The Ball?" quiz from the other day.
When I left the ball the night before, it was resting at the edge of the mud puddle. Sharp eyes will see it, I'm sure.

Here is the "reveal."
Well, it hadn't rolled down the hill in the pasture yet, but given time.....

Wonder exactly how it got there?

It wasn't very windy that night.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Two Rides, Two Horses

And the Return of the "Magic" Ball

I played with Tucker and the ball the other day. He really understands about pushing it with his nose and is getting better and better at it. The only flaw it that he is also very focused on getting a treat afterwards, and tends to crowd me to make sure I give him one. We'll have to work on that.

Chance doesn't seem to get the concept of pushing the ball yet, but I haven't worked with him alone in the arena as Tucker has also been in there, kind of hogging the attention. I will do some individual work next time I go out to see if Chance can get the idea. He doesn't actually pay much attention to the ball when I push it at him and just sees it as "something in the way."  Nice that he's not spooky, but curious that he doesn't interact.

Toby still thinks the ball is a "monster."  *sigh*

I left the ball outside overnight and in the morning, it was gone from the arena! I found it up against the fence in the pasture. Accidentally blown by the wind?  H-m-m-m. One suspects not, but with no proof, it's hard to say. *S*

I rode Tucker and Chance yesterday. It was lovely and warm again.

It took Tucker a few moments to "get into gear" when I started off. As soon as I picked up contact, he balked. But just a little persuasion convinced him to walk off.  He kept wanting to trot, though, so I kept the walk warm up short and then trotted off.  At first I kept the rein long, just letting him stretch out into the bit.  But as we worked, I gradually shortened the contact so we could maneuver better.  We did a little shoulder in, some half pass, serpentines, a modified Intro level test pattern, and then some spiral in and spiral out on a twenty meter circle.  He stalled on the right rein in the spiral in. I'm not sure if he was a little tired at that point--he was getting very forward and we were about 15 minutes into the ride--but it was relatively easy to fix.  I did a canter depart with about one circle of canter on each lead, then trotted up the center line for a really lovely square halt. 20 minutes for an unfit horse and an unfit rider were just fine.

Tucker is really taking a lot of contact. That's good and bad. But for now, as long as I can contain the energy, I'd rather have that than stuck and not going at all. I'll just have to see how much he can actually rock back on his hocks and carry himself more as time goes on. If it makes him sore, we'll just stick to playing dressage instead of actually working at it.

I rode Chance next. I have to give him some slack because I still didn't fix his bridle with the single joint bit. He was very fussy with his head, but I didn't accept it completely.  My goal was to get transitions from walk to trot and back down without his tossing his head or coming up off the bit.  It took a little doing.  He would walk nicely into the rein, but as soon as I asked for the upward transition, up went his head and down went his back. I'm pretty quick at correcting things, so it only took a stride to get him back, but a stride was one too many.  We took it slowly and methodically and eventually, I had at least two moderately good transitions on each rein.  We cantered about a circle on each lead, mostly because Chance much prefers canter to trot, and then finished up with a nice walk to cool out. Once again, it was about 20 minutes of work all told.

It's amazing how time flies when I am in the saddle concentrating on accomplishing one goal or another. I have to watch the clock to make sure I don't overdo for either the horse or me.  I easily could have kept going with Chance on those transitions as I still had a number of options in my "bag of tricks" to improve them, but I'm satisfied with the progress so far.

Next time, though, he will be in his bridle with the bit he prefers.

The right equipment always makes a big difference.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Things I Wish I'd Known

Lessons from My Horses

When I look back on my riding and horse ownership career, I am largely satisfied. I competed very successfully with my hunter/jumper/event all around horse, Russell R. to the tune of over 150 grand and reserve championships with many many first place finishes. My years with PJ's Folly took me to Intermediare I, with mixed success, but I got there, as I did with Toby.  My competitions with Tucker were somewhat spotty with victories here and there, but far more failures, all of which taught me more than any trophy I could have ever won. I've ridden with international trainers from nearly every corner of the world, and benefited from hours of their expertise and critique.

And yet....

Gee, do I wish I knew then what I know now.

First and foremost is the concept of a treeless saddle. My Russell, despite his phenomenal success in the hunter jumper world,  always proved less of a winner in the dressage arena. He did compete through third level and won many an event based on his dressage scores, but the curious thing was, he always went far better when I rode him bareback. Bareback, he would round his back and simply go "on the bit" with no effort on my part. I am totally convinced he would have loved working in my Ansur and could have been a star all the time working treeless.  I got the Ansur many years after he passed away, and did get to ride PJ in it, but I never competed him in that saddle either. I have a feeling his show arena performances would also have been so much better without a tree to interfere with his incredible trot and perhaps even his more difficult canter.

But PJ's performance in competition leads me to the another thing I wish I'd known about--ulcers. PJ was the obvious candidate. He was erratic from day to day in his work and under the stress of a show, more often than not proved a tricky ride.  He had a ton of talent, but it was so hard to bring it out when we needed it before a judge.  PJ was a perfectionist, and a worrier. I to totally convinced a good part of his attitude was due to ulcers.  But, back then, I'm not even sure many horsemen, much less vets I knew, ever even talked about that. It wasn't until I got Tucker and Patrice Edwards, a trainer from Britain, told me he was suffering from ulcers based upon his behavior that I discovered how common they were in performance horses.

I'm pretty well convinced Toby started cribbing as a a symptom of ulcers too, considering the long story behind his vice. I've treated him since, but at this point the habit is so ingrained, there's no stopping him. At least I feel a little confident that he feels OK internally. It would have been nice to have been able to give PJ that gift too.

I did give PJ the gift of acupuncture and chiropractic, however. He was lucky that way as I owned him when equine acupuncture was just starting.  The vet who treated him has since gone on to a well respected career--no names here as there were some issues surrounding alternative medicine at that time. In fact, the small animal vet who owned the farm where I boarded refused to let a chiropractor work on a horse on his property, so the owner and chiropractor went out into an adjacent field for the adjustments.

I've since used both treatments on Toby and Tucker as well and know how much they can change a horse's behavior.  A joint slipped out of place or a sore muscle can be painful, as we all know. Now add the bulk of a horse's body and our expectations for athletic performances and it often ends in training nightmares.  There are plenty of stoic horses out there that just keep on going no matter what, but I feel a lot better knowing mine don't have to.

Russell R. was on the "cutting edge" of the discovery of glucosamine as a joint supplement. I had a perna mussel powder imported from, I think, Australia or New Zealand.  He also was treated with Isoxsuprine for navicular in the first years it was discovered to be of value.  In both cases, I knew then what I know now, so for a "first horse" he did OK.

I am sure as years go on, there will be more and more discoveries to help our horses and us become sounder, happier athletes. Perhaps there will be a cure for laminitis and a guarantee against colic. Someone might discover a fly spray that really works, or a bit that puts a horse into a Grand Prix frame with no pain and total comfort while still allowing him to develop his muscles properly.  Maybe someone will find a way to give riders perfectly balanced seats, educated hands, and instant sensibility to our horse's responses.

Who knows?

I wish I knew then, what I know now, and I rather imagine that ten years from now, I'll be saying the same thing.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Saddle Up Again

What Incredible Weather!

Who can ignore the weather when it's about 60F and sunny!  I took the Boys's sheets off early this afternoon so they could enjoy the sunshine--and, from looking at Toby about a half hour later--the mud.

I lunged Chance, and even had him jump a little one foot high rail just for fun.  He did really well and seemed to enjoy the attention. He's not happiest lungeing, but he works just fine and I think the jump made things a little more interesting for him.

Then I saddled up Tucker.  He was quite willing to have the halter put on and seemed to want me to do something with him, so saddling was not too fussy. Sometimes he gives me a hard time about the bit--he was trained to do it right at Kenny Harlow's but does need remediation now and again--but today he was fine. He had been watching me lunge Chance and I think he decided he deserved some special attention too.

We started off at a walk which I soon asked to be round and stretchy into the bit.  He resisted a few times and then dropped his head and took the contact.  I did a lot of circle left, circle right, changing him from one outside rein to the other, asking him to step forward into the contact at each change of direction.

Then, still insisting on round, I gave the cue for "trot."  I got "balk."  I cued again. "Balk."  Bummer. I'm not sure what it was all about because with minimal persuasion he was soon trotting off, quite forward and quite connected to the bit.  He will take a lot of contact when he's going like that, so I was working as well.

We did some half halt hesitations, some trot/walk/trot transitions and eventually progressed to a  little canter.  He did not resist at all on either canter depart but for a moment on the left canter he was "strongly suggesting" that he was going to buck.  Since that wasn't exactly in my riding plan for the day, I brought him back to trot for about halfway around the arena and cantered again, keeping his head up a little more.  All was well, but I don't think I would have pushed the issue to do too much more to add to the excitement.

On the plus side, he was forward and willing on both reins. I don't know if that means his hocks are feeling fine for good, or if the time off has just eased any soreness he may have had. Regular riding and the expectation of his working more off his hind end as he gets more fit will tell the story. So far, so good, but I am not jumping to any conclusions at this point.

I had to laugh a bit at Peppercorn, the barn kitty, who really thinks he is "big stuff" around the horses. Today, while I was lungeing Chance, he was lying at the side of the arena snoopervising the whole process. He finally decided to gallop across the arena to watch from the woods side for a while until he disappeared on some sort of adventure or other. He is not afraid of the horses and they seem to take care around him, but I do hope he doesn't get careless enough to get stepped on.

He is getting friendlier and friendlier, so it looks like a trip to the vet is in the near future. I should do it before Spring really does arrive as he is prone to wander in search of ladies and for both his and their sakes's he needs to stay closer to home. As it is, I am sure there are probably a few black gened kittens already in the area. I'm not sure how old Pepper is, but it's not all that important since cats can start breeding at pretty young ages.

I plan to do the right thing for him, but it's taken quite a while to gain his trust and I don't want to lose it too quickly.  That's why I am handling him as much as I can and cementing our relationship.

Meantime, I can enjoy his company and the affection of all three Boys who seem to think I'm OK as long as I bring carrots. *G*