Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

(To all hunters) -  I am NOT a deer!!
But I DO like the color orange... mmm, carrots :)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

In the Arena #32 - In synch

Best. Ride. Ever. I know I've said this recently, and I'll be happy to say it on a regular basis from now on!

As we warmed up this morning, Val was somewhat sluggish and ignoring my leg. (Not unusual.) I brought my whip into play - still no response - tap, tap, tap, tap, TAP! Apparently the timing and intensity were just right because I swear I heard a little gasp like... holy cr@p - she's serious!

And suddenly we were doing little circles, big circles, in and out of the scary corner, working in the deep sand on the rail, serpentines (!) and reaching. And I didn't need to raise the intensity of my aiding again. I believe we had a breakthrough. It felt so rewarding to have my horse's complete attention and focus. All of this while a tree chipper is going to town right next door.

After our ride we did some awesome liberty work, then went for a graze... a bit of ground work in the new arena, finishing up with carrot gingersnap stretches. What a good boy!!!

So the take away is that due to inherent laziness (bless his heart), Val generally tests my resolve at the start of each session. As he would be perfectly happy to stand still or amble aimlessly - possibly why his racing career didn't last long ;) - it's up to me to get his attention, and impress him with my intention. What I don't need to do is get frustrated or intimidated, just patiently convey that I have all the time in the world.

Today we put it all together. Which makes me really happy. Next week Val and I are heading off for a five day clinic with my trainer. I'm riding Val in the mornings and doing longe lessons on school horses in the afternoons. I'm thinking we'll be ready to move forward :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In the Arena #31 - The only thing we have to fear...

I rode Val in the "new" arena on Sunday. A milestone. The not fenced arena surrounded by woods at the back of the property. The scary, scary woods. The arena that so far we're only ever grazed (sometimes nervously) in.

We worked in our "real" ring for about an hour... focusing on leg yields, circles and energy. Also breathing. In fact I did a bit of singing for Val. If his swiveling ears were any indication, he enjoyed my Sunday songs. I enjoyed how singing regulated my breath.  It was a very productive ride, and my seat felt great.

I had asked my friend to come to the barn and stand by for me when I made the switch to the other arena... thinking I'd be more confident with someone else there, but at the last minute she called to say she couldn't make it. I said f*#@ it and off we went. My plan was to mount and just stand, which would have been enough for me. However Val was falling asleep with his lip hanging down - no nervous blow up in the works - so we spent 10 or 15 minutes walking around in both directions. Success!


When I brought Val home last fall, he was the mellowest, calmest horse. Very steady. Our first week together we rode through the woods and straight out to the beach. It was blowing 25 mph, he'd never seen the ocean before, yet he behaved beautifully.

Fast forward a few months. Due to my bad judgment, Val and I had a disastrous trail ride. I shouldn't have ridden that day at all... there were people hunting all around us in the woods and my companions were not supportive of or patient with us. Plus Val was high as a kite due to indiscriminate supplement use.

There was bolting - the others cantered off leaving us behind while we were fertilizing - then an emergency dismount - so not popular with Val. Things went further downhill, culminating in a sky high buck and me hitting the dirt. Hard. My insides felt disconnected. And I didn't have a helmet on. In the matter of a few minutes I had done serious damage to our relationship...

Ever since then,  I've been struggling with fear and confidence issues. And trying to earn Val's trust back. The difficult thing about fear is that it can create the thing you are afraid of. Kind of a which came first, the chicken or the egg situation. Also, you can't really pretend you aren't afraid.

My goal is to gradually spend more time in the new arena, until we're working there exclusively. I also have plans to make our way off the property and down the road to the trail, incrementally, until we're back trail riding again. When I got Val, I wanted to spend as much time trail riding as riding in the arena, and eventually to trail ride solo to the beach. Our setbacks have been disappointing, but character building as well. That's the thing about horsemanship. If you stick with it, you must face up to your shortcomings. If you want to become a better horseman, you have to become a better human.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

At the barn #24 - Hay Fever

So - a month ago, I bought thirty five bales of hay to get me through the winter. Pennsylvania orchard grass. Great big bales - still fairly green. Very very heavy bales. Loading and stacking this hay (by myself) completely wore me out. And it wasn't cheap.

I should have known something was up. When Val, the equine vacuum cleaner, did his taste test he was ambivalent about it. At the time I thought it could be flavor shock as he had been eating a tasty rye mix for a while.

This week we were nearly finished with the sugar hay - decision time... I got cold feet. I asked around and did some research, but was still confounded.

The facts:
The PA hay let out a poof, had an objectionable smell, was really heavy, and my horse wasn't super excited about it. When I originally went to pick the hay up, the bales were stored still strapped into even larger bales, not conducive to air circulation. I didn't see any active mold, but the poof was suspicious. Smoky, light, floating dust... and I hated the smell (chemical-ish). I wondered if it could be the hay drying agent (propionic acid / sodium diacetate). An article in claims that hay preservatives are safe.

Back at the ranch... I heard that someone else returned some of this hay for mold. One of the bales I broke open was warm in the middle, so I called a horse friend (not as picky as me) to weigh in. She thought the hay was fine although it smelled funny. She bought it from me for a thirty percent discount. Am I crazy?

Most of today was spent driving (six hours round trip) to a different hay man's farm. He had a beautiful just baled orchard mix for a decent price. Now there's enough hay to last through mid February. Trying not to dwell on the lost money, time etc. Nothing's to good for my guy ;)


Friday made four rides in seven days. Each ride improving on the last. We're going to try working in the newer (non-fenced) arena tomorrow.

He's a goofball, but he's my goofball :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In the Arena #30 - Being here now...

Over the weekend, I groomed up Val within an inch of his life and attempted to take conformation photos.

I suspected it would not be a one person job, and that is a fact. So my father was enlisted as assistant. The mosquitoes continue to be epic... it was challenging for Val to stay still - especially since I didn't apply any bug spray not wanting to diminish his sparkly-ness. Every photo has an in motion tail and most show Val slowly walking towards his handler (Dad), searching for treats. And his reverse side pictures mostly had his feet cut off.

What I didn't expect from the experience was the effect of the horse handling 101 lecture I gave my Dad. When you have to break something down for someone else, you get a different, (really beneficial) perspective on it. I believe Einstein once said something like - "if you can't explain a concept to a 10 year old, you don't really understand it yourself." Not comparing my father to a 10 year old, but he has zero horse handling experience, so the analogy kind of works. Also, my whole demeanor changed, more authoritative. Very positive experience.


I believe some of that leadership spilled over to our ride today, which was the best ride we've had to date outside of lessons at my trainers farm. Our turning issues have all but disappeared, we had some super turns on the forehand and we were making decent circles - both directions - by the end of the session.

Val has recently decided that the back right corner of the paddock is scary (spooky neighbors with guns related) and the area where the sand has gotten dry and fairly deep is hard to work in. He began the ride trying to avoid both areas. I kept my legs on and gently created walls wherever he tried to evade. Breathing, patience and tons of praise. Basically, I was able to stay in the moment today. My seat felt so good. And both of our attitudes were excellent. I may be on the way to conquering my confidence issues...

A great ride to build on. Can't wait until we do it again :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why I love thoroughbreds...

It will probably be a while before I see the new movie about Secretariat. One reason is that our movie theater is closed for the season. The next nearest movie house is a three hour round trip, so I'd have to make a whole day of it...

Boy do I feel sorry for people who weren't around yet to witness Secretariat's other-worldly performance that day in 1973. I have no recollection of watching horse racing before that summer when I turned nine years old. Apparently, by the time the Belmont rolled around with the possibility of the first Triple Crown winner in twenty five years, the entire nation was watching.

My whole family were gathered in the very Brady Bunch style family room around the television, as we had been for the Derby and Preakness. As Secretariat flew past Sham opening his lead up to THIRTY ONE lengths, running each quarter faster that the last, moving like "a tremendous machine" - all of us were jumping up and down, screaming at the top of our lungs and simultaneously sobbing uncontrollably. All of us. It was that special. Even as a child, I knew the import of that event. That I was seeing something that would likely never happen again. We were sharing a shining moment of perfection.

And I knew that I was in love, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up - a jockey - and I knew I wanted riding lessons more that anything. I had already read every horse book in my local library, and was on the way to memorizing much of the pony club handbook. I had a modest collection of Breyer models which I brought to school for the recess horse shows... where she who had the newest Breyer horse was the q-u-e-e-n of the playground. I was horse crazy. The Belmont sealed the deal for me - I didn't stop begging until I was on the back of my first lesson horse - Pork Chop Sam - a big chestnut with white socks just like you-know-who.

It will probably be a while before I see the Secretariat movie... maybe when it comes out on dvd, so I won't be embarrassed when I get very emotional. I haven't successfully watched the video of the '73 Belmont without choking up yet. I doubt I ever will :)

Thanks Big Red...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don't count your chickens...

Since I spend most of my time outdoors in the middle of nowhere, I come across my fair share of wildlife. Occasionally the critters need some help. So far this year there's been the tiny opposum at the barn (sent to rehab), the paralyzed seagull floating upside down in the creek (just stunned, got his bearings and flew away), and who could forget the stomped up water moccasin (too late for him)...

Yesterday I spied a cormorant waddling around, totally wrapped in fishing net, wings pinned to his sides, dragging more net behind with several sticks and small branches woven in. A feral cat had also spied him. I grabbed the extra shirt I had in the truck and ran the cat off.

The cormorant sped away and made it under a nearby house. He still had plenty of get up and go - a good candidate for assistance. I waited a while but he didn't come out from under the house, so I took a look. The net he was wrapped in had caught on a ladder. He was stuck. This was actually a good thing. Despite his situation he could still outmaneuver me.

I shimmied under the house tossing the shirt over his face. It took several tries before I apprehended him. Got the net pried off of the ladder, and backwards shimmied one handed out from under. Don't know if anyone was around to see me trespassing and crawling around in the dirt or not. I could have used a hand...

Considerably calmer now, the cormorant waited on my trailer while I wrested the tiny scissors out from my multi-blade tool / leatherman. Note to manufacturer: if you need a tool to be able to use your tool... Once the tiny scissors were finally freed, I went to work on the net. It was very tightly wrapped around the bird's neck, legs and both wings and seemed to have been there for a while, as the damage to his wing joints was healed over.

At this point I consulted our local bird rehabber. He thought the cormorant may have lost the use of his wings. He therefore, was not legally able to release him. Nothing stopping me though. Cormorants are crafty, well adapted birds, who feed by diving and swimming. This guy had lived quite a while without use of his wings already, so I elected to release him.

We rode to a secluded spot and I carefully began unwrapping him. Now, this is where this post has anything at all to do with the topic of my blog. The whole time I had been handling and helping this bird, he was completely calm. I congratulated myself, thinking, wow, he really knows that I'm helping him. Isn't it amazing when two different species can communicate and coexist peacefully. Look at me, the wildlife whisperer...

 After all, isn't that really why we do dressage. Because, those rare moments when you and your horse are one, however fleeting, are so sublime...

I continued to indulge in my cross species reverie, carefully removing the last part of the shirt from the cormorants head. The instant he was loose, he jumped straight at my face, stretching his neck as far as he could, and missed pecking out my eye by millimeters. In the same movement he was gone, diving into the creek... I followed the trail of bubbles. He surfaced and dove again several more times. Free at last...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In the Arena #29 - Bugging out - again

Let me paint a picture...

Sunny and hot, no wind, and about 50 mosquitoes per square inch. Not kidding. Bug spray, even the very expensive very toxic kind, barely makes a dent. Poor Val's face is covered and I had just sprayed and wiped him. They're biting me through my riding pants and shirt... flying into my ears, and mouth if I leave it open long enough. Hellish mosquitos. No one here can remember anything like this.

None the less Val and I persevered and had a great ride. We built on our last session, concentrating on transitions - the accuracy of my aids and the sharpness of Val's response. Smooth and flowing. Another nice aspect was that maintaining my legs and seat seemed to require less attention today. I can only hope that correct position may s-l-o-w-l-y be sinking in (please, please, please).

Since Val had several large hives where the saddle hits, plus tenderness on either side of his poll, we stopped after half an hour as all in all it was pretty unbearable, but I'm really glad we rode. He enjoyed his pre-ride grooming but kind of protested when I curried his poll. I am guessing that snapping his head around at mosquitoes for the last several days may account for the neck issue... I hope so. Scheduling a massage for our next trip to the trainer.

It's really hard to take your own picture...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

At the barn #20 - The early bird...

On the way to the barn 10|12|10

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In the Arena #28 - The week in review...

Val and Will have a "come to Jesus meeting"...
Tuesday was farrier day. Coincidentally, it was also next door neighbors having target practice day. (again) Both of the horses were just a little jumpy.

Well, Val was a lot jumpy. He had ants in his pants, was swinging his head around... generally there wasn't a chance he was going to stand still. Will (my farrier) asked if he could have a moment with Val. Although I would never be as strong with my horse, Will's cowboy style release the feet / yield the hindquarters session a la Clinton Anderson - (isn't he the cute little Australian horse whisperer?) - was successful. Val's trim was speedy and calm.

While it's doubtful I'll ever become a Clinton Anderson acolyte, I did realize something really important, and it happened because I had the opportunity to observe someone else working with my horse. Even though I could get my horse to back up, halt and yield his hindquarters, with no halter or lead rope (or fancy stick), he wasn't always responding to me immediately. I believe there were doubts about my leadership...

With Will he responded right now. He was paying attention - his eyes were on Will at all times. For me there has often been just a bit of a delay, which I believe Val interpreted to mean that everything was his idea. More importantly - I have allowed these lapses to accumulate, and then when the pressure is on, we get wiggly, head swinging, hard to trim horse.

The next day I took Val out to graze for a while, and did a gentler version of the previous days lessons. Gentler, but with sharp timing. He responded beautifully. Once again I was reminded that the release is the reward. And as my trainer likes to say... you have to have a mind like a steel trap.

That is a tall order.

The "come to Jesus meeting" bears fruit...
Today I set aside most of the day for riding and barn work. While Val had breakfast I replaced the (crappy) cross tie setup on my wash rack with nice new hardware and lead ropes so we now have the quick release option. Safety first :)

After breakfast and grooming we rode. My game plan for the ride consisted of keeping Val moving his feet at all costs. I chose the number of strides and halted when we got there... gradually increasing the number of strides. At first, I didn't worry about steering, and we worked on the buckle. I also played around with how much leg I was using. Not heel, not active aiding. Leg laying on horse.

I have apparently been far too light with my lower leg. When I got it right today, the quality of Val's walk improved drastically and immediately. And I felt an opening in my hips. And he began to reach. (light bulb turns on here, accompanied by heavenly chorus) I took up some contact and added turning to the mix. Eventually Val seemed to sense when we reached the chosen number of strides and was halting off of my seat only. Despite many distractions I had a relaxed and attentive partner today. What a good boy!

Clean as a whistle...

After our ride we had the last bath of the year - only cold well water available at the barn. I did let a bucket heat up in the sun so we could demo sheath cleaning for my boarder. I must say - for a barely turned teenager - she was unfazed by the process, as was Cowboy. I'm very impressed with both her maturity and her horsemanship. She has plans to become a vet - I'll bet she succeeds.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In the Arena #27 - When it rains...

Long string of bad weather here. One dry day since last Saturday. More on that later...

Might as well eat...
Happily, Val and I rode yesterday morning. We warmed up and worked on transitions, turning, and turns on the forehand, utilizing the cones I have had set up for the last few weeks. Nothing new, but it went smoothly. We had a nice, calm, effective session. The wind was whipping from the north bringing the coolest temperatures here since the spring. Oh, and black powder (hunting) season started on Friday. Val took a few sidesteps but I kept him (myself) focused pretty well.

Might be to soon to predict, but it looks as if the horses are not as worried about the nearby hunting activity as last year. It's not just the surprising gunfire that bothers them - it's the people sneaking around in the woods surrounding the property. Apparently most hunters are not quiet enough to sneak up on horses - the horses always know.

With all of the potential for scariness, I probably would have been hesitant to ride on another day, but it had been a quite a while and who knows what this week will bring.

I was kicking myself that I didn't bring the camera on board for this ride. Frankly, I don't need something dangling and swinging off of the saddle to add to my challenges with coordination and concentration... It would have come in handy though, when, while halted next to one of the cones, Val decided he needed to sniff and taste the cone... pick the cone up... swing the cone to and fro... side to side... throw the cone... punctuated by sidelong glances to make sure I was paying attention. If anyone was in earshot they probably thought I was losing it. Mind you, the cones have been in Val's space for weeks now, and haven't budged. Up to now, he has shown zero interest. Using humor to avoid work - a temporarily successful strategy :)

Back to the weather. We have had, depending on who you talk to, one tropical storm and three sub tropical low pressure systems since last Sunday. The upshot is at least 12 inches of rain, many roads covered with salt water, 20 - 30 mph winds daily and 50 - 60 mph wind gusts, and today several feet of sea tide that no one predicted. I happened to look outside this afternoon and see the road disappearing, so I rushed up to the barn to feed an early dinner while I could, and left my truck on high ground in town. I sloshed back home and took the girls out for a dog walk/wade.

Where's the land?

Friday, October 1, 2010

My favorite ride of the WEGs

Fuego XII and J.M. Munoz Diaz  6/24/08  Could not find photographers name to credit
Holy smoke!

Juan Manuel Muñoz Díaz and his amazing PRE Fuego XII did the most beautiful, electric and correct (to my eyes) musical freestyle at the WEG just a few minutes ago.

High point: A set of (one handed) totally in time to the music one tempes that blew everyone away.  Lets just say I might have scared my dogs off the couch with my cheering!!

The freedom of movement in their piaffes, passages and pirouettes weren't matched by any of the competition, not even the mighty Totilas. No thrashing tail. Front and back halves connected at all times lol. He was always at or slightly behind the verticle but I'm guessing that has more to do with being a baroque type of horse than the way he was ridden. As Diaz saluted at the end of his ride, the crowd reaction was so explosive that Fuego half reared, almost unseating him. Classy, beautiful pair. A pleasure to watch.

He received an 81. something - fifth place score. I suspect that breed discrimination - Fuego not being a GIANT warmblood with a HUGE extended (expensive) trot as many of his competition are -  probably had just a bit to do with it if the commentators were any indication. When his scores were posted, the crowd booed loudly and disruptively... surprising at such an event -  but I wholeheartedly agreed.

Can't wait until the video is available :)

Edited to add photos and quote from Dressage - News:

"The showman Diaz couldn’t contain his excitement at the halt, and nearly parted company with his horse who shot forward as the Spaniard whipped off his hat and thumped the air with his fist in delight.  The crowd went wild, and voiced their disapproval when this partnership were awarded 81.450 per cent, which the crowd thought was not enough."

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