Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In the Arena # 115 - Forward is forward, and no such thing as too many treats!

The unseasonably warm weather has pushed my landscaping  / farmette schedule forward by several weeks. Everywhere you turn there are chores to do!
My electrician is scheduled to come this weekend (!), and I've got more garden to put in, so opportunities to ride may be limited. So far the sugar snap peas, radishes, carrots and leek seeds are planted. I discovered six pepper plants that overwintered hiding under the wretched mat of weeds I had to remove from last years beds. I must confess that after the hurricane, I was disgusted with gardening and neglected the beds all winter. My prize for the arduous weeding sessions was finding these established peppers.

We've snuck in two rides this last week. Responsibility to work or to riding - seems like an easy choice - but it's not.

Ride one. After a nice warm-up on the buckle, I focused on getting an immediate response from the smallest aid possible. I hope I'm not imagining that this phase of the ride is becoming briefer and easier. But still necessary. Forward into contact just won't happen without my addressing how Val responds to my aids at the beginning of the ride.

Next we worked the big walk, timing of that aid, and got some nice baby leg yields as well, which makes walk work less boring. I was reminded (once again) that when I give the leg and rein aids that I wish Val to move away from, I must also give him space with the opposing leg and rein - space to move into. The space is slight, and I find each ride I can make it slighter. Maybe one day it will just be the idea of space.

I also chose to focus on the quality of my contact - steady and following, which equals reliable, to Val. We proceeded on to trot transitions. Things were going smoothly when invader cat chose to have some sort of loud attack in the woods beside the arena. Val spooked slightly. I asked him to go back to work, and tried not to pay attention to the cat noises. Val requested that we work in such a way that he could keep an eye on things. He asked politely, and I thought it a fair request, so I arranged the figures to accommodate him. He thanked me by getting right back on track. Teamwork.

Ummm, you best be getting the treats my lady!

After the ride I marched Val right out the front gate and took a trail walk down the beach trail. Not super far - due to clouds of mosquitoes, but without hesitance on Val's part. He was with me 100% despite the fact that Cowboy was screaming his head off and running himself into an absolute lather. Val's response was minimal. I turned him out into the property next door, which I care for and which has some decent grazing. He did a few maneuvers, left some impressive divots in the paddock, but again he came right back when I asked for his attention. What a goooood boy!

Our other ride was an another impromptu, virtually tack free, spur of the moment (not entirely safety conscious) ride. As we made our way around the arena, Cowboy threw a hissy fit behind us - which has become a regular occurrence when I ride bareback anymore. My knees felt a little shaky, but it was mostly a non issue. My several months of only bareback rides has given me a much more secure seat  - I'm thankful to say.

When we weren't riding, Val and I had a number of massages, some deep grooming, and fun! We worked more on clicker training. Val thinks this is THE BEST THING EVER since it involves numerous treats. He caught on very quickly, and offered to target other things besides the cones - such as the jolly ball and mounting block. I haven't thought about "constructive" uses for our clicker work yet, but I can tell that Val enjoys the interaction.

There are subtle changes in our relationship these days. Val often runs to the gate to see me when I get home after work. He follows me around while I muck the paddock, tugging at my hoody and offering grooming. We can groom and tack up without even a halter sometimes, and ground tied most times. We're moving along slowly, but we are moving along. :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"There is an excellent chance that there will be fallout" + clearing the air

Sorry for the long break - I've started this post several times, but needed to wait for inspiration to find the right words.... words that weren't angry.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned a situation with our farrier and another local client. Mostly in the interest of keeping the story brief, I relayed it in a way that could be misinterpreted - if you happened to know any of the parties involved, and if you are the only local person I have shared my blog info with.

Frankly, I had absolutely no idea that my blog was being read locally. How would I? In over two years, there has been not one comment on the blog, or conversation person to person, to that effect.

The folks who regularly read, who seem genuinely interested in Val's and my story, let me know with comments and by following - by sharing their stories with me... by interacting. When I venture to talk about dressage around here, about what I'm trying to do with my horse, eyes glaze over pretty quickly, and the subject gets changed. That's the main reason I began blogging in the first place. And that is why I have refrained from sharing my blog info locally.

I had several upsetting conversations regarding what I chose to post about the farrier visit. The main issues stemmed from semantics, and ignorance about what blogging actually encompasses. What really bugged me out was that anyone thinks they have the right to censor my words, on my personal blog. The best I can do is present things as I see them. I don't spend my time and energy gossiping, running people down, or talking behind their backs in my non virtual life, and that's not my style on the blog either.

A clarification about the day in question. There was no one to hold G's horse as she was out of town. (he needed two shoes plus trimming) She had offered to find someone several weeks earlier, but this brought up a recurring issue. Our farrier doesn't give exact appointment times. He never has that I know of. Too many variables with all of the travel he does to get here etc. G has requested an appointment time previously, so I presume she is well aware of the situation. What usually works for me is a heads up call that gives me time to get to the barn, if I'm not there. Sometimes W brings an assistant, but not always, and not this time. Hence, I offered to hold the horse, in the interest of making the farrier's life a little easier. Now - how boring (and unnecessary) was that paragraph?

Hence forth, I will write whatever I please - so read at your own risk. I will resort to the artifice of initials when referring to parties in question. I will tell the frenemy story as well. It will likely be a password protected post, so there will be no need to worry about judging, questioning or correcting my version of events. I've been meaning to tell this story since I began blogging. It was seminal in my decision to dive into horse ownership, and it changed my life.

Thank goodness that is off of my chest. Lots of positive horse business from the last very busy week. Tomorrow. :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In the Arena # 114 - First ride after the trim, first bath of the year, more proof that me and videos are incompatible, + one happy accident. (or how do I love thee, let me count the ways...)

Another good ride with the new tack, and another breathtakingly beautiful day. Sunny, perfect temperature, Carolina jasmine blooming up a storm and the Osprey couple that returned last weekend were wheeling around loudly calling out suggestions to each other about this year's nest site.

Val seemed a tad mincy from the trim yesterday, so I planned on keeping it to a walk. We did a lot of on the buckle work. Took up contact, and once again, keeping my thumbs on top of the reins and pointed toward the bit resulted in good arm form + immediate reaching into contact.

We flowed around working on our big walk - with Val stepping up under himself - using cones for the patterns. It really helps my steering, and my addled mind, to have a visual target, so the cones are great. I focused on the timing of my leg in asking for the inside hind to come under. I aimed for just before it left the ground.

At this point Val seemed okay so I asked for some trot. He was slightly short strided at first, but this improved within a few minutes. I spent some more time focusing on staying super balanced through the turns and corners, and got more improvement in lugging and stalling. I must remember to sit tall and straight, ie no leaning into the circle or in the corners. We are making slow, but sure progress. :)

After riding, we finally washed off the accumulated winter filth, and for one brief, shining moment. my horse was clean. Sparkling clean. He was so l-o-v-i-n-g it, even asking for his head to be soaped up and rinsed. I scrubbed him within an inch of his life.

We air dried while grazing, which made poor Cowboy so jealous, he nearly exploded in fits of frustrated lip flipping. I thought I videoed that cuteness, just like I thought I videoed some of our ride. Nope, when (due to a combo of polarized sunnies can't see display screen + stubborn videographer not acknowledging the need for actual glasses) the camera was on, it was actually off. When I turned it off, it was actually on. (imagine lots of cussing) I did manage to catch the first thing Val did when I turned him back out...

I also (sort of) videoed was Val's new found love for the Kubota. Now, whenever I drag the ring, he deposits himself in my way, refusing to move, and nosing around on the tractor, located mere inches away from his feet. I believe he reckons it's a super large version of the clippers. The little clippers feel gooood on my muzzle, maybe the giant orange machine will feel really good. [ Note the mad skillz - who can be bothered to remember that the camera must stay horizontal. Not the first video fail for me...]


 Wherein my horse tells me what's up the best way he knows how...

So - yesterday evening as I did barn chores, I noticed Val reaching his head around to his left hind, which he was holding up in the air. I have seen him do this a few times recently, and because of his hip injury it's hard. Usually I figure it's a bug bite and offer to scratch.

A few minutes later, he was holding the lh up really high under his belly, stretching it forward and looking distinctly uncomfortable. Like it was stuck. Oh heck - has he done something to his stifle? Is that why he felt stiff under saddle this morning? I flew into a panic... time for an inspection!!

 I started massaging the front of his stifle. The look of pleasure from Val was immediate and unmistakable. He closed his eyes, stretched out his neck and both his lips began trembling uncontrollably. As I looked more closely, with my head stuck up in his area, I found three ticks attached to his inner stifle, one of which was terribly swollen. I picked off the ticks. Then I scratched some more for him. He looked like he was going to pass out. His nose hit the electric fence twice. Pure pleasure lol. I applied some Veterycin (holy water) to the bites and we were good to go.

Oh - still working on the cliffhanger post...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

In the Arena # 113 - A ride, a trim, some drama...

Yesterday was farrier day. Will, (my sweet farrier who makes a seven hour round trip to see our horses), showed up early, just when I was mounting up for a quick ride. He took a break in the shade and watched us work for a bit.

Usually having someone watch me ride makes me (ridiculously) nervous. I guess I feel like my riding will be judged - or maybe I become too critical about myself - in either case I often become stiff zombie girl in the saddle - but I know and trust Will, so I was able to summon up some calmness.

We warmed up on the buckle, took up some contact and moved into trot work. I focused on staying even in the saddle - equal weight in the stirrups - to address our tendency to lug in the corners, and on parts of our circles. I'm pretty sure I tend to weight my inside stirrup more on the right rein, which pushes him out. And - if my outside rein contact isn't there as well - our figures fall apart. We achieved some reasonable transitions, circles and figure eights. I felt good about my posting, my changes of rein and whip transfers weren't too dorky, so we called it a day. It was sunny and humid - both Val and I were hot messes. ;)

It was a happy accident that Will arrived in time to observe Val's movement while we worked. Val lands heel first, which I was happy to hear. Will pointed out that while Val toes in with his right front, it appears this is compensation for his leg conformation - twisting to the outside slightly. His foot has a bit more more sole on the outside half, and tends to flare on the outside as well - all related to how he loads his foot, also compensation. Despite these conformational issues, he doesn't paddle.

It's amazing how our horses feet / legs will deal with their issues pretty well, if we don't interfere with constrictive shoeing. I know everyone can't make the barefoot transition, but it has been so good for us. Val's feet look amazing right now.

While working on our horses, Will mentioned that one of the clients was expecting him to shoe her horse with nowhere to tie, and no one to hold him. I offered to help, because the horse lives right around the corner, I love learning more about trimming, and I want Will to continue to be our farrier, despite the sometimes rude treatment he gets from some of his clients.

This horse belongs to my longtime frenemy G. (cue dreadful music) There is an excellent chance that there will be fallout from me daring to enter G's barn and touch her sainted horse, should word get around to her. (it will) I suppose this means it's time to tell the story about how we went from friends to frenemies. I'm off to ride, because this is all the drama I can handle for one day.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

In the Arena # 111 - We have tested our new rig, and we pronounce it - good...

Finally, we tack up with the new saddle + Thinline saddle fitter pad.

First, about the pad. It is quilted on top, and lined + edged with fleece. The channel sits up from the underneath of the pad, and has no fleece. There are four very well made velcro-ed pockets that hold nice flat shims, which stay put. The pad came with two sets of shims, different thicknesses. I figured that gives me three options: either one of the shims alone, or both together, which is what I tried today.

Our preparation for riding gave me pause. Val was acting super squirrely. Wouldn't stay still, tried numerous times to walk off, head tossing, acted like a far away troupe of crows was certainly death dealing. Then right on cue, my noisy neighbor cranked up the volume and rode various vehicles up and down the property while his dogs barked maniacally. Luckily - his week on of work starts tomorrow. The week will be peaceful. I had a moment of thinking well maybe today isn't the best day to ride... then I thought - screw that. ;)

We warmed up on a loose rein, and from the beginning I was getting halts off my seat. It felt like all I had to do was tip my pelvis back ever so slightly and "fill the sail". (draw my front line forward) Once we picked up some contact, we worked on serpentines and getting a big walk. I did on half of one serpentine and Val was onto me, eagerly anticipating our exercise, which made me laugh out loud.

My ask for the trot was answered immediately, every time, off my leg only. There was much less lugging in the corners,  and I barely touched my whip the whole time. We worked on transitions, figure eights and fifteen meter circles. Smooth like buttah. Cooled off working without reins - stopping and going was simple, but turning needs some practice.

It was a great ride.

I'm satisfied that the saddle change was a good decision, and the pad will tide us over until Val is more muscley. We're back on track - no excuses now!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

At the Barn #56 - (She's giving me) good vibrations...

The new saddle fitter pad has arrived from Thinline, but I haven't put it to the test yet. It came contained in a super cool reusable shopping bag. (Note to equine products companies - sending your expensive products with a free gift is smart marketing.)

Frustratingly, Thursday, Friday and Saturday were not fit to ride - rain and then major winds. The coming stretch of weather looks fabulous though - I should get plenty of saddle time in this week.

Yesterday I spent overhauling Val's stall, and doing spa treatments instead - deep grooming + clipping. All this was done while ground tied btw. In howling 30 mph winds. Lets just say my guy is pretty fond of the clippers - especially on his muzzle.  I wasn't planning on clipping anything but his bridal path. I think Val's whiskers are cute, not to mention beneficial. He was like - "Hey! Forget about up there and bring that thing hummy thing back down this way pleeeeeazzzzzz!"

Feels goooood... maybe tastes good too?!

Today was gorgeous, but I wore myself slam out shoveling ten tons of composted manure into the new garden bed. It took about four hours, and afterwords I didn't have the energy to ride. The borrowed Kubota went back home long ago, so a shovel and wheelbarrow were my coworkers. Oh Kubota - I hardly knew ye...

Lots of good things are on the horizon. I'm looking forward to planning and planting the gardens. Doing everything from seed this year, because I'm tired of bringing pathogens into my garden from nurseries. Overall - my experience has been when (purchased) plants reseed - the new generation seems to be hardier than it's nursery stock parents anyhow. And who knows what critters ride along in the little pots of dirt...

Also, I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll be working in my studio by next week. My electrician friend who offered so long ago to come wire my studio up may make an appearance this weekend. This is good, because while waiting for my friend to follow through, as a plan b, I attempted to get quotes from two local contractors. One quote took over two months, and when I finally got it, it was super gigantic, despite the fact that I had offered to dig the trench. The other electrician came by twice in the last year to look at the job, but could not be bothered to call me back with a price. Tiresome...

Finally - we just hit 100 followers! Thank you x 1,000,000 to everyone who reads and comments. I so appreciate the feedback, and the virtual company. :) Hoping to have a ride to write about tomorrow!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Congratulations Zenyatta - ♡ It's a boy!! ♡

Photo by Ann Moss

Zenyatta delivered a healthy colt at 10:10 pm last night. Mom and foal are doing great. :)

photo by Ann Moss

From Zenyatta's blog...

"My adorable foal weighed in at 130 pounds, has a white star on his forehead, and some white on his feet. As Ann commented when she saw him, 'he has polka dots on his feet, Zennie, just like YOU.'"

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In the Arena # 110 - Afternoon Delight...

The weekend's weather was more traditional for this time of year. Very windy, very rainy and cold. I had to put off messing with the new saddle until today. I had to be patient. (wahhhhhh)

After grooming, I tacked Val up with a flat pad, and my *extra special* shim arrangement. That would be folded up towel squares. I played with placement, but especially with the girth. The rear billet is a sliding / swing billet. When I tighten the girth, there is more play in the front billet if I adjust them both to the same hole. I'm assuming that the rear billet tightness would be more critical to get right. Tightening the front billet another notch pulls the pommel down. Not good. Val has a big heart girth so his shape is probably playing into it as well. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated. :)

With the saddle level and secure, I hopped on for a quick ride. It was so nice. Turns weren't even an issue, Val reached into the bridle immediately and was halting off of a whisper from my seat. We're both comfortable finally. Val is much more responsive and willing now. My position feels natural and easy to keep correct - on my triangle in the deepest part of the saddle with a happy hip angle.

Until riding in this saddle, I didn't even realize how much we had been struggling. Val was very uncomfortable from the points poking into his shoulders when we turned and when I posted. I had trouble relaxing down into my seat and letting my leg hang. I guess I got used to it. Don't think Val did though. Bless his heart.

My saddle fitter pad arrives tomorrow. After today, I'm confident that some slight shimming will do the trick.

All through this process, deep down, I knew something had to be wrong. My limited experience (plus some erroneous feedback) led me to believe that rider error was the main problem. The occasional decent rides I had, where I apparently had found a way to contort myself just right + Val's good nature, confused the issue even more. 

I've learned a lot in the past few months. About saddle fit for horse and rider, saddle brands and saddle shopping. And most importantly, about trusting your gut.

I'm lickin' and I'm likin' ...

... now where's my COOKIE!!!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

In the Arena # 109 - New Neidersuss = ♡+ !!! x 1000

Yesterday was full of ups and downs.

Fedex says my Neidersuss is on truck for delivery!

Fedex man has to deliver the saddle to my Dad's house because my address doesn't exist in Fedex-land.

Heck. Someone has to be there to sign for the saddle. Dad needs to run out for a bit. I rush to take my recycling to the dump so I can cover the gap...

As I leave the dump, and turn on to the main highway in front of the school, I spy Fedex man! I run Fedex man down... (not literally)

Fedex man puts the box in the back of my truck... a box not even remotely saddle shaped. (unless you squash it!) As I head for home, obeying the speed limit of course, I ponder what condition the saddle will be in.

Wouldn't have shipped it quite like this, but saddle appears to be intact. Of course I document the package opening ceremony - just in case.

The saddle looks as advertised, excepting more wear than I thought on the billets. Worst case scenario I get them repaired after a while.

Now to the moment of truth... At this point I've got serious butterflies. Buying this saddle was a total crap shoot. What if Val hates it? What if I hate it? I've only just come to grips with the fact that I hated my last saddle.

I grabbed Val, led him up to the tack room, and slipped it on. It very politely sank into the sweet spot. No bridging. Lots of gullet clearance - high and wide. Naturally sits away from his shoulders.

Edited to add this picture without the pad...

I put my sheepskin half pad on and girth it up. So far so good. Off we go to the mounting block. No helmet, no proper footwear, no dressage whip... breaking all the rules. I got on and Val seemed happy with everything, so we did a little test drive.

Does this saddle make my butt look big?

Oh - it felt sooooo good to be in the right part of the saddle without fighting my tack. My dad checked for me. My heels were below my hips, my hips were below my shoulders. I asked for a left handed turn on the forehand, perfect, first ask. I asked for the trot, we moved right on out. Immediately - no hesitating or head tossing. Success.

Every silver lining has a cloud... it is a tad wide. It tips forward slightly on his back, and I felt a bit tipped forward onto my crotch while we rode. Definite difference from the chair seat I was thrown into with the Natura, but I did expect this.

My thinking was, without consulting a saddle fitter, I'm super unlikely to get a custom fit on Val. He's just not the easiest to fit. He's got pretty good withers, big ol' shoulders, wide overall, but lacking topline. Going a little on the wide side seemed the best choice. A - because he can't handle pinchy feelings or crowding his shoulders, and B, because with more and more work, he should fill in with muscle. In the meantime, I've got a thinline saddle fitter pad with shims coming to prop up the front.

What makes me a little sad, is how long Val had to put up with discomfort, and how long he tried to tell me about it. And... how long I kept thinking that the problem was that I sucked at riding. I doubted I be able to "do anything" with my horse, dressage-wise, when the simplest things seemed so freaking hard sometimes.

I'm letting it go, but hoping to absorb the lessons I'm supposed to learn from this saddle adventure - mainly - always listen to your horse, and try not to be so hardheaded.

I'm looking forward to our future rides. (and we're not quitting bareback!)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In the Arena # 108 - Oh happy day....

The weather was too beautiful not to ride today. Sunny, 75, a nice breeze. Lest some of you think it unfair that we're having such a warm (wonderful) winter - never fear. The conversation in the post office and around the grocery store aisles these days goes something like,

"Yeah, it's been pretty - but you know March is the worst month. It'll blow non-stop."

"Well, we're gonna pay for it - always do. Remember that mini hurricane we had in May a couple of years ago?"

Sad that everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Anyway - we might be paying for it already. I've used fly spray on Val's legs most every ride this winter. And I'm trying not to scratch numerous mosquito bites as I type this.


Today was likely our last saddle-less session for a while. (delivery scheduled for tomorrow afternoon!) I couldn't have asked for a better ride.

My focus today was hands - position and how they affect contact. We began with a relaxing on the buckle warm-up. The transition to contact was smooth, and there were minimal steering issues. (!) I set out a cone course to help me visualize and keep the ride interesting.

Also, I used a suggestion from SchoolingYourHorse and thought about pointing my firmly on top of the rein thumbs - down towards the bit. As far as I can tell, this helped me to keep the line from the bit to my elbow straight, but here's the thing. It keeps the line straight on both planes, related to my wrist. Perpendicular to the ground - wrist not broken up or down viewed from the side - and parallel to the ground - not broken towards or away from the withers.

It worked. Val appreciated the quality of contact, steadier than usual. He rewarded me by working over his back for much of the ride. I celebrated by sitting the trot. He seemed to prefer my sitting today. I find that I can migrate forward on his back with my fledgling bareback posting technique, which results in head tossing.

The most exciting part of the ride was when Cowboy came barreling down the fence line behind us out of nowhere, squealing. Val lunged forward giving me a few strides of unsolicited, twisty bareback canter. Being the mostly sensible fellow he is, his reaction was short lived. I happily stuck right with him! We capped off the ride with some following the bit down stretchy trot... :)

After our ride, Val got a minty fresh liniment rinse. Then we did some trailer loading practice. I love my horse. He self loads beautifully now. I attribute this to two things. He thought "Oh hai - maybe we are going to do something interesting finally!" and gingersnaps. My attempt to video this was a giant fail though. Because most times I'm too spastic to manage a video camera, and because Val discovered the stash of cookies I set aside in the trailer and hoovered them up instantly.

Back to the paddock for a buck and fart race with Cowboy. A-nother video fail. But I did get this picture. Can I say, uphill + suspension?! Hey Val, let's do that together!!

Yum - sexy neck! ♡
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