Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Did I really?

I am loving this weather. Finally, the cold seems to have abated, at least for now, and we're consistently in above freezing temperatures. It got up to 60 this week! 60! I can't even believe it. I'm probably jinxing myself, and it's going to be back to cold again next week, but I'm okay with that. The end is in sight!

With the warm weather comes more time spent at the barn and fun surprises to be had. More on those later. The great news is that with the weather warming up, I'm getting out to ride a heck of a lot more than I was when the world was covered in snow and ice. 3-5 days a week, which is awesome. 5 is my goal, at her age and level of training. I don't think she's quite ready for a full 6 days of work a week. The work has been showing too. Her canter is coming along so very nice (although I have a feeling that the right lead is going to give us some difficulties) and she's starting to get the idea of the basic lateral work I've been introducing. She's starting to get softer in her jaw and, through the literally thousands of transitions we've been doing, she's finally starting to engage her topline. Just a little bit, and only for small moments in time, but it's starting to happen. She's accepting contact more readily every day. Well, except for a few days ago.

I came out to ride and she was in an awesome mood, if not a little on the lazy side. I carried my whip with me for the first time, deciding that she was finally starting to get focused enough that she wouldn't catch sight of it out of the corner of her eye and flip. I mostly wanted it for the canter transition, since we're having trouble finding the right lead. I figured if I carry the whip and tap that outside hind in the transition, it would get it to engage and strike off correctly. Which worked, but the promptness of the canter transitions was overshadowed by my concern that throughout the entire ride she was completely ignoring my right rein. I could turn her, but she wouldn't soften, she just felt like there was a brick attached that rein and I had no subtlety to it. I was starting to get worried, as stiff to a rein has never been an issue with her, if anything, she's TOO sensitive. I worked at it for a while to no avail. Finishing my ride frustrated at this new development.

As I walked around her head to put my stirrup on the off side up, I glanced at her bridle and just about fell over laughing at myself. Also kind of wanted to kick myself, because I can't believe how stupid I was.

My cavesson noseband was fastened around the outside of the cheekpiece on the right side.No wonder she wasn't responding to my subtler rein cues, the snug noseband had the ring of her bit strapped to the side of her face, no subtlety possible! I thought back to the countless tack checks I did for pony club events over the years and couldn't believe that I really had forgotten to check that. I made a point of double-checking all of my equipment before I mounted up today, and the stiffness issue was magically resolved. Funny what a difference having your tack on correctly will do!

Today was also the first "bath" day of the season, as well as some good quality time spent on the tie post. Which she didn't particularly appreciate, but got over. You can see the pit she started digging herself though. She will likely be spending more and more time out there as the weather improves. And I can see if I can find a new home for that pallet board. Hmmm.

Anyway, the one time I tried to hose her off last fall, after going for a ride with another girl from the barn on a very warm day, was a nightmare. The hose was a vicious snake monster spewing venom as far as she was concerned, so I decided to start slow and see where we were at. I was totally prepared to bathe her once a week all summer if that's what it took to get her used to the process, even though I know that would be murder on her skin.

We just did a partial bath today, since it's still a little on the chilly side and the wind is kind of nasty. And I didn't want to spend the time to scrub out her white spots only to watch her go roll in the muck in her pasture. That might have made me sad. So I washed her tail, (attempted to) clean her udder, and washed all four stockings. I know her legs will be just as muddy tomorrow, but it makes me feel better that I know that they CAN be kind of clean. Sort of. And her tail made me feel a lot better. This is what it actually looks like, btw.

I can't decide if it's black and white or tri-colored. More thorough washings will have to see. But it felt good to brush it out and put some conditioner in it.

As for the promised surprise...

It might be possible that that isn't just "winter weight" on your mare!
Baby filly was born yesterday afternoon. She's healthy and nursing and standing and very friendly towards people. Mama is a touch suspicious about the whole thing, but seems to be taking to her job well enough. I believe her name is Liv, but I'm not 100% on that. I don't think the new owners have quite decided yet, they're still a little floored by the whole thing. But isn't she PRECIOUS??

Legs are still a bit on the wobbly side. She has a great time cantering circles around mama when they're outside or in the arena though. Her owner is a little disappointed as she was hoping to get the mare ready to run barrels this summer, but I think she's warming up to the delay. It's hard not to be happy with something that adorable.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I think the reason that I love dressage (besides a possible tendency towards masochism and a perfect outlet for my type-A tendencies) is the fact that, really, if you're not learning something new all of the time, you're failing. I feel like if your job was to put 60 days on a colt, and you had horses coming and going constantly in that, yeah, you'd have the odd memorable one. But mostly, they'd blurr together. You'd have your system that you follow and you'd put the horses through it. But that so doesn't work for dressage. I mean, it kind of does, there's the training pyramid, but there are so many OTHER things that go into it. It's mind boggling. Maybe part of it is being the little low-level underling that I am, and I quite literally have EVERYTHING to learn. But I don't think that's it. You hear the "masters" saying all of the time how they're still learning. The horse is the greatest teacher, and every horse teaches you something new.

So I try to look for something I can learn out of every ride or every work out. I try to get inside of my horse's head (easier in some creatures than others). Whether it's an actual desire to learn something new or just to figure out why they're doing what they're doing at that moment, I like to get to the root of things in their little walnut-sized brains.

So today, I noticed something interesting as I was lunging Indigo. For one, she was a hellion. She did NOT want to stand tied while getting ready any let me know this by rearing repeatedly. This has been a recurring problem, and she will likely have a date with the Post of Knowledge once the weather gets reliably nice and the ground thaws. Anyway, headed out into the ring to lunge.This normally takes maybe 10 minutes. I don't want to wear her out, just work on lunging skills. It's something I want her to know how to do. Anyway, I send her out on the line and she breaks into a frantic trot, then bucks into the canter. So I send her on for a few circles, then ask her to transition back down the trot. We spend a few minutes working on the trot-canter-trot transitions and she's getting pretty good at them, and her balance is definitely improving. But I noticed something interesting.

She always strikes off on the left lead. Every single time. She seems to prefer to canter on the right lead, and when we're going right she swaps over to the right after the first stride. If we're going left, then she strikes off left, and only swaps to right if she decides she wants to run away (which happened frequently today). Her changes are still lovely and clean, which again, gives me hope for someday teaching her to do them on command from her back. I'm a little worried about counter canter, but that'll come with time. I'm just really curious about this. It's not like she just picked her favorite lead because she was on a straight line, she was on a circle, going right, and struck off on the left lead every single time, then would swap back to the right. Like clockwork.

I'm not quite sure what this means yet. It will definitely take some pondering.

We're also starting work on basic lateral work with leg yields and leg yields down the wall. She's picking it up rather well, faster in some areas than I expected, but focus was a major issue today. Didn't help when The Horse Whisperer came into the ring to do "groundwork" with his mare. I have nothing against any of the natural horsemanship practitioners. I understand that selling DVDs and clinics and such is how you make your living, so I get why you try to get the "my way or the highway" attitude going. But seriously, this kid needs another DVD set. Of someone, anyone else. His theories aren't wrong, but he's not getting them. He's just trying to emulate what he sees. Which is alright, but frustrating when I'm trying to ride at the same time and he's spewing a TON of white noise to get her to listen to him. Not productive for him, and spooking my mare when he cracks the whip. She was also finding the open doors quite distracting. I was thrilled by them because it meant that it was finally warm enough to not need the heater going in the barn to keep the water from freezing. 48 degrees baby!

Unfortunately, won't be riding the next two days. I'm working the later shift and until I find a shower that I can borrow in town, I can't ride before work. People tend to get upset when you come to make their food and you smell like barn. I can't figure out why. After that we're back on schedule though! I'm loving the beginnings of spring!

Monday, March 28, 2011


We had our first canter today :)

I'd like to say it was lovely and she impressed me beyond my imagination and I've changed my mind about her ability to be my next Grand Prix horse, but that would be a lie.

The transition was rushed and running, she was on her forehand and the wrong lead, and overall incredibly unbalanced. We made it about halfway around the arena.

BUT. She didn't buck. She got the transition, even if it was crappy. And we're getting somewhere. My God, we're actually getting somewhere.

We need to start doing some work on suppleness in her shoulders. She tends to get really locked through there which results in falling in on circles or corners.

But we cantered today, and that's really all that matters to me at the moment. Tomorrow maybe we'll do it to the left as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Good rides cure any day

Okay, so it wasn't a terrible day. Just an frustrating one at times. I got to decorate at work today, which is fun, but I always feel massively unproductive since I'm still learning. In that span that it takes me to do a single cake from one of our novelty cake kits, the other decorators can get about 4 cakes done or any sort (except like, wedding cakes, but that's a whole different category.). I just feel so slow and useless, but the experience is good and I'm getting faster.
The frustrating parts were just a few screwed up orders that I had to fix and a joke that's been going around the staff for about a week now that I'm getting really tired of it. I didn't think it was funny at first, and the fact that it's still going now is kind of ticking me off. I'm trying to figure out a way to ask people to quit it without sounding oversensitive and dumb, it's just a topic that I particularly don't want to joke about for reasons that I don't want to explain.

After work I went to Barnes and Nobles to pick up a new Piano book, because mine apparently got eaten by the moving goblins (sad face...) and I've decided I'm going to start trying to learn again. I always stop by the horse section (all two feet of it) to see if they've got any new and interesting titles in, though I can't really afford to buy any at the moment even if they did. One caught my eye, "How Good Riders get Good". I picked it up and scanned the back cover, reading something about how life circumstances might not be as bad as they seem. "Ha" I thought "You have no idea" but I opened it and started thumbing through it regardless.

Bottom line, it ended up making me kind of mad and depressed. The basic message of the first chapter was to stop blaming the fact that you're unsuccessful in the horse world on your lack of trust fund. While that helps, there are choices you could have made that would have set you up for success. Which, in general, I agree with. But the examples that was used for a person who "chose not to be successful" in the horse world was a kid that sounded a lot like me, a "barn rat" who eventually made the choice to turn down a working student job in order to stay closer to her boyfriend. My frustration with this, was that I didn't make that choice. I made the working student decision and... it didn't work out. We'll just leave it at that. The experience was actually so scarring them I spent a few months just sitting in my parents house nursing my physical and emotional wounds. Moving in with my then-boyfriend was, in a way, just a way to escape a continuous loop of bad experiences being employed in the horse world. I just have bad luck, I guess.

So I left the store feeling depressed and mad at my situation again. I was already dressed to ride, but considered going home instead. If I have a really bad day and I'm upset when I leave, I tend not to go to the barn because I haven't been having particularly good rides lately, Indigo has just been in a "Sassy" mood and doesn't really have much interest in my whole schooling idea.

But I did go to the barn. And I had a great conversation with the Barn Owners' son about the principles of dressage and their similarities to what he does in the natural horsemanship world, and how we're not all interested in the crank 'n spank attitude. He ended up watching my ride while I explained the concepts of rhythm, impulsion, contact, etc. He's totally western and has no real interest in dressage, but is interested to learn. We might do some trades in training. He'll teach me some basics of roping, I'll show him the ropes of basic dressage. Awesome.

And my horse? She was awesome. I only lunged her for maybe 5 minutes because she was so responsive and attentive and relaxed. I got on her and it was the same thing. She's starting to stretch over her topline and relax into the bit and I can get her to start stepping into the bridle just a tad. We worked on starting to supple the shoulders a bit, and she's starting to think about engaging her back. Today probably would have been the perfect day to introduce canter work (no, still haven't gotten to that under saddle yet. It's getting better on the lunge, but I've been having such crappy rides lately, I don't want to add another skill while we're already fighting.) but I decided to just end on the good note of suppling through the shoulders.

But man, if I had rides like this every day, I don't think I'd have as much issue with the cold.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Step back

A long time ago, I used to jump.

Okay, maybe not that long ago. Only a few years. I "quit" when I was about in my second year of college, I believe. My ankles couldn't handle the stress of hanging out in a half-seat for an entire hour-long ride which was the standard idea taught at my school on our geriatric old hunters. I'm sure the horses appreciated never having anyone on their backs, but my joints just couldn't keep up. But that's irrelevant.

When I was in high school, I was pretty serious about the whole jumping thing. Or rather the eventing thing, because I still really liked dressage but I also liked running around on a cross country course and jumping over things. It also helped that most of the girls that I rode with wanted to do nothing but run around a cross country course and jump over things.

One thing I do remember from back in the time of trying to cut down my times in my stadium rounds, is that trying to rush through things didn't help you. At all. Usually if I tried to push our speed too much at best our turns would be too wide and we'd hit awkward spots at each fence and pull some rails. At worst, we'd spin out on said turn and fall. The best way to actually cut your time down? Slow down.

Seriously, it boggled my mind at the time. Why would you slow down to make up time? The key wasn't necessarily to ride slower, but to ride smarter. If you had a longer stretch, let your horse out to a controlled hand gallop for a few strides, but the important part was controlled. Because you wanted to be able to then sit back, collect him back to a balanced canter, and bring your turn in tighter to get to shorter path to the next fence. And, consequently, a better spot. Rushing ahead without thinking just gets you where you don't want to be.

The metaphor works for pretty much everything else related to horses. So often we encounter a problem and we get frustrated trying to push through it. We end up spending a lot of useless time trying to address something that we haven't really even thought about. If you stop for a minute, analyze what the problem is, and then address the root of the issue directly, you'll save a lot of time and your horse will appreciate the direction of the activity. Most horses, especially when they're also frustrated, are just going to get more and more wound up the more you push an issue.

When I got out to the barn yesterday to ride, Indigo was, once again, feeling fresh. I'm wondering if this is going to be the new standard now that the weather is getting nice? I'd be okay if it is, because once we have our head in the right place, her movement is much more animated. I decided not to lunge her today, because really, it doesn't do any good for the problem I'd been having. I don't believe in lunging them until they're worn out in order to control them, and lunging seemed to just rile her up more in the past. So I thought I'd try a different tactic and just do some ground work before getting on.

So we did some simple ground work, she seemed to be starting to focus, so I headed over to the mounting block. She started dancing away from it. "Okay" I thought, we'll just work on some one-rein stops that way once I get on her, I won't get ejected. This went on for... maybe a half hour. No progress. At all. Okay, time to re-evaluate.

My problem wasn't that my horse was too fresh. My problem, at the moment, was also not that my  horse was bucking (although I had a pretty good idea from the hump in her back that the buck wasn't too far away). My problem at the moment was my horse not standing at the mounting block. Okay, back to basics then. Time to re-teach mounting.

So I set the mounting block up next to the wall to create a chute of sorts so that the wiggling would be minimized. We started out just walking straight through, to make sure the chute didn't bother her (some horses get very claustrophobic in that sort of set up). No issues. Then we walked through and halted by the block. She started flipping her head around and getting impatient. I waited until she was still, scratched her on the neck, then walked out. We did this a few times until she figured out that being still got her out of the block faster than fussing. At this point, progress happened faster. I gathered the reins, scratched her neck, walked her out. Walked back in, gathered the reins, stepped on the mounting block, scratched her neck, got back down, walked her out. Walked in, gathered the reins, stepped on the mounting block, patted the saddle a few times, got down, walked her out. Walked in, gathered the reins, stepped on the mounting block, leaned over the saddle, got back down, walked her out. By this point, she was starting to really pay attention. I'm not sure if she was confused as to why we were going through this whole circus, but she was listening, being patient, and standing quietly at the block. Finally, I managed to actually mount.

After that, we had a pretty good ride. Some focus issues, but then again, she's 5 and hasn't had a whole lot of work done with. Overall, I think it was a successful day and reminded me of a very important lesson, to ride the horse that you have in the arena that day, not the one that you're expecting or want. If I come in and she's acting like a 2-year-old who's never seen the mounting block before, there's no point in trying to push past it. We'll get there a lot faster if I slow down and address the problem.

Friday, February 25, 2011

That perfect temperature

While I was in school in North Carolina I can remember a lot of the other riders and instructors getting a little nervous whenever we would have a cold snap. The reasons for this were usually two-fold.

1) The majority of the horses on the property were geriatric and had health issues to begin with. Weather change tended to send their gastro-intestinal systems into revolt and we would have a massive colic epidemic. I have yet to find any science that supports WHY all of our horses would colic whenever it got cold outside, but apparently no one told their guts that.
2) All of the horses would be fresh and sprightly.

I don't remember every worrying about this growing up, but I figured it was because the weather in Oregon varies so dramatically all of the time that our horses were just used to it and didn't really notice anymore. This was also my reasoning for why they didn't colic every two weeks when the weather changed AGAIN.

Now I'm thinking that it may have had more to do with the fact that the average temperature there was a more reasonable number than in North Carolina, where most of the year the heat and humidity made acts of physical exertion sound like a very cruel joke. Our horses' return to youthful vigor had less to do with the fact that it was cold, and more to do with the fact that the temperature was more comfortable. The horses at school seemed to think the perfect temperature was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so, depending on the individual horse.

In North Dakota, I'm finding the opposite to be true. Because it is so unbelievably and unreasonably cold here, when it warms up to a temperature that is within the realm of possible-to-survive, they go crazy. This temperature, for my horse, is apparently about 27 degrees.

One thing about my little mare. She is a great little horse and a lot of fun to work with and train because she figures things out very quickly, but she is inherently lazy. Very very sensitive, but would rather be standing still than working, which is the opposite of the thoroughbreds that I've been used to working with. Normally, I ride her with a dressage whip to reinforce my leg aids and encourage prompt responses, as well as to start encouraging her to think Forward in her movements. I want to develop a little more reach through her hind end. I rarely need to use the whip, and when I do it's only light tickles to get her hind end in gear, and that's all that she ever needs. Still, nine times out of ten, she'd rather choose a slower gait.

Not this week. The weather "warmed up" to a "balmy" 27 on Tuesday as I headed out to ride after work. I should have known something was up when I led her in from the pasture and she started spinning circles around me. She stood surprisingly well while I was tacking her up, but pretty much exploded on the lunge line once we got in the arena. I have never had to give more than the slightest downward cue to bring her back to the walk (her favorite gait) but our transitions were a bit more rapid-fire than they normally were. Canter transitions were considerably more prompt than they have been, but they were punctuated by several bucks each time.

After a while, I decided that I really couldn't lunge her forever, but was a little nervous about getting on. Despite what she thought, it was still cold outside and the ground was still frozen and very hard. I didn't really feel like getting thrown. So we did a lot of in-hand work (including a review of one-rein stops) before I finally got on her and did some supplying and straightening work at the walk. She still felt like a bundle of energy underneath me, so I decided not to press my luck and work at the trot or canter, keeping the not-falling goal in mind. I've become such a wuss when it comes to that, it's kind of embarrassing.

The best part? She had the most beautiful flying changes. Unfortunately, they were on the end of the lunge line in between bucking fits while trying to run away from me... but they were lovely and clean! I'm hoping that means that when it comes time to actually teach them to her under saddle in a few years, it should be a piece of cake, right?

The other good thing that comes of the weather being slightly warmer is that I was finally able to get outside to snap a few pictures where you can actually see her. She is completely filthy, I know, and a bath will be at the top of the agenda once the weather gets to where I can get her wet without worrying about a call from PETA, but I have a feeling that that's going to be another great adventure. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Heat Wave

I've never really been one to check the weather regularly. I figured that there was nothing I could really do about it, even if it was really hot while I was in Carolina, I still had to go to class and go ride. Same with the rain in Portland. I've developed a sort of morbid fascination with the temperatures since I've moved to North Dakota. I guess there's some little part of me that can't believe it's STILL that cold.

Right now, according to the little application on my toolbar, it's -6 degrees Fahrenheit outside. disagrees and tells me that it's -4 with a "real feel" of -27. The high for today is supposed to -1. The low tonight, -12. Seriously?

I've never minded the cold, which is probably why I'm still capable of functioning right now. But "cold" means something entirely different depending on where you're from. I don't mind it hanging around the 20-40 range for a few months out of the year, and 60-70 is about my perfect temperature range. I can't tolerate high heat and humidity almost at all, and end up guzzling literally gallons of water a day trying to cope with it. What I previously though of as "extreme" cold was only uncomfortable to me, and might result in not being able to feel my toes or fingers for a few hours after I came inside, but wasn't much more than an inconvenience.

But that was before I moved to North Dakota.

I still think I could tolerate these temperatures if they were intermittent, or if they only lasted for a few weeks, or a month or two. But the sheer length of the winter here is ridiculous. I've been starting to think that there is no end in sight. And I still haven't figured out a way to keep my fingers at a functional temperature while riding in 10 below weather.

But last week we saw a glimmer of hope! A three day heat wave hit! For three days, the high hovered between 33 and 36 degrees ABOVE zero! I couldn't believe how good it felt. Even if I'd forgotten to turn the heater in my car up to high the night before so it would warm up before I had to drive, it was almost a pleasant temperature when I got in. I wasn't trying to wrap my scarf around my entire face to keep the icy wind off of it, in fact, I left my scarf off entirely one day.

Seizing the opportunity to be able to work for longer before my body revolted against temperatures that no human should have to endure, I decided to introduce Indigo to side reins.

We've been working a lot on lunging and transitions recently, and I've been thinking that she's about ready for the next step. I attached the side reins to my saddle and put her bridle on over her halter.

I feel I should explain that. Her mouth is one of the softest and most sensitive that I've had the pleasure of working with. I do want her to get used to the pressure of the side reins and to learn to step into the contact, but I don't want to desensitize her by muddied cues through the lunge line. I've been working on getting her trained to voice commands on the lunge line, so I don't need the extra power of the bit. On top of that, she certainly doesn't need the added severity and leverage action that comes from running the line over the poll, and, the loose-ring bit I use will pull through her mouth if I only attach the line to the inside ring. So I leave her halter on and attach the line to the side rings of that, instead of to the bridle.

She warmed up well, responding easily to voice commands like normal, so I went ahead and attached the outside side rein, adjusted very loose and sent her back out on the line. She trotted around, and didn't really react. After a few transitions, I brought her back to the middle, reversed directions, and clipped on the other rein. Both side reins were loose enough that they weren't restricting her movement at all, simply getting her used to their presence. Sending her back out, her only real reaction to them was not particularly appreciating them swinging under her neck while she was trotting, but no major reactions.

After a few circuits, I brought her in and removed the side reins. I didn't want to over-work her on the day I introduced them since I didn't want to form a negative association. We'll work on slowly shortening them so that they're actually effective as intended over the next several weeks. I ended the session with a short ride, focusing on stabilization and responding to my seat.

Unfortunately, the nice weather was short lived. The third day the warm weather was accompanied by 50 mph winds, which made driving home on the icy roads an interesting experience. The next day, we were back down to the single digits.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted, and I'll just keep looking forward to spring. It should only be a few more months away.