Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

The snow situation is improving, it's only around a foot high now. I was able to get the gate open, too. No more climbing over with a bucket full of wet beet pulp. Tomorrow's forecast calls for rain, which should melt away most of the icy stuff. I suppose most people would be upset about rain and gloom on Christmas Day, but I care more about not wading through a snowy mess. The only downside is that everything will probably turn into a soaking wet mess. Oh well, I guess that's the price I'll have to pay.

The high today was around 40 F, so I took the boys blankets off for a bit. They took the opportunity to soak up some sun. Hopefully Vinny isn't too wet, I'll have to towel him off before I put his blanket on this evening.

All the horses got carrots in their beet pulp this morning. They'll get the same for dinner and breakfast tomorrow. I might even add in a few of the pears I have for tomorrow. It is Christmas, after all. The humans are having a special meal, it's only fair that they get a little something, too.

Oh, I keep forgetting. SprinklerBandit asked if I took the picture of Spider in one of my last posts. I did, thank you. I take all the pictures for my blog, unless of course it's a picture of me on a horse. Obviously it would be hard to take a picture of myself on the horse while on the horse. My husband takes the pictures of me on the horse. I have little talent as a photographer, but I do have a very nice camera and access to digital editing software, which makes up for my lack of talent. I learned long ago that the secret to photographing animals and children is to take as many pictures as possible and then edit them to death.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas from Me, Spider, Vinny, Matilda and The Chickens!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Still Snowed In

But it seems Matilda has made a new friend. Yes, that is a chicken in her food bowl. Apparently chickens like beet pulp. There is a picture of a chicken on the bag, as well as a llama, a pig, a cow, a horse and a ferret. Apparently every animal likes beet pulp. Who knew?

Spider, being Spider, has decided he does not like to eat in his stall. He takes his meals outside in the snow. " Al Fresco", as they say. This means that in order to feed him I have to trudge through the snow and climb over the gate, which doesn't open because of the giant snow drift behind it. He is a very good human trainer, I hardly even mind the extra work. I am fully aware that it's all about Spider.

Vinny doesn't mind eating in the stall. Vinny doesn't really care where he eats, so long as he eats. Typical Warmblood!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Well, It Isn't Raining!

We've gotten around two feet of snow since Friday night. I'm not sure exactly how much it was, but it was enough to completely bury the round muck tubs I use as the horses water tubs. The weatherman is saying this is one of the heaviest snows in 100 years. The snow is up to the horses knees, and up past Matilda's belly. I suppose I won't be lunging her for a while.

Saturday was actually the worst, it snowed hard all day. The chickens left the coop in the morning when there was only around 6 inches of snow. By the time dusk rolled around we had well over a foot of snow on the ground and they couldn't get back to the coop. I spent an hour wading through snow finding and rescuing them.

The boys are faring well, they're both tall so the snow doesn't bother them too much. They seem to like eating it, no worries about dehydration here. I wonder if they've been warned about the yellow snow......

Needless to say, we did not get around to pony-proofing the fence this weekend. So Matilda is still living in the chicken coop. I thought she would have trouble getting around, but she's managed to wear down little paths through the snow. Clever pony.

It's supposed to rain on Friday, hopefully that will melt all this wretched snow. Until then, I'm not getting much done besides trudging along.

Happy Solstice!

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's All About Spider

Spider is probably one of the strangest horses I've ever worked with. He's a good horse to work with: kind, great work ethic, sensitive and athletic, but some of his personality quirks are just plain odd. People who know him have classified him as needy, co-dependant and histrionic, as well as several other less flattering descriptions. For the most part his odd behavior doesn't bother me much. He works hard for me, so I can overlook the weirdness. Unfortunately, when I need to work with a horse other than Spider, his "quirks" start to get old quick.

You see, Spider is sort of a one person horse. He hates people he doesn't know well, won't let them near him. I have to personally "introduce" him to people so that he'll accept them. I guess I never have to worry about him being stolen. He also takes on the personality of whoever is handling or riding him. It's great for lessons, he's sort of like a tattle-tale. If the person on him is calm and confident, Spider is calm and confident. If the person on him is tense, Spider is tense. If they get scared, Spider gets scared. However, he never really gets comfortable in lessons or sessions with a trainer. He would much rather have someone he knows on him or handling him. It makes him more comfortable to have "his" person with him.

For now, the person he's decided is "his" is me. Which is a great thing when I'm working with Spider. Spider would do anything for me, all I have to do is ask. Loose in the pasture, he follows me like a puppy. I can direct him around with nothing more than gestures. Great, right? He will also beat the crap out of any other horse that comes near me if I let him. I don't pretend to know what his motivation is. Perhaps he sees the two of us as his "herd" and feels the need to protect the herd, or maybe he doesn't want to share attention with the other horses. At any rate, in order to do anything with the other horses I have to chase him away, and watch him, as he will sneak back up if given the opportunity. Since the other horses usually only get groomed once a day, I've never really seen the need to get to the root of the problem. I just make him stand back and ignore him.

Now that I've started working with Matilda regularly, Spider is really letting his freak flag fly. He really could care less that Matilda no longer lives in the pasture with him, but when it comes to me taking her out to groom and lunge he throws an absolute fit. We're talking about running the fence, banging the gate, screaming, crying toddler-worthy fits. He behaves this way when the farrier visits, also. Not when he sees the farrier, he's quite happy and content to be away from the others when it's his turn. But when Vinny gets taken out, the fits start. It's sort of embarrassing. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it from a horse. I've seen herd sour horses behave this way, but since he doesn't care where Matilda is when she isn't with me I don't know that I'd call it herd sour. Unless he thinks I'm his herd, but then he doesn't care if I go in the house, only if I'm paying attention to the other horses and not him.

I hate to anthropomorphize, but if we were talking about a human I would call his behavior jealousy. Behavior really boils down to a few simple motivations: fear, aggression and reproduction. But since humans love to over-complicate things, we've come up with a thousand shades of grey to describe our "emotions". Horses do not over-complicate things, so Spider's motivation is fear, aggression, reproduction or some combination of those. Right now I'm working off the hypothesis that's it's herd sourness centered on the wrong herd (me). So I'm treating it like I would any other case of herd sourness: keep doing what I'm doing and ignore the offender. The only problem is that, after 15 minutes or so, a screaming, crying, banging horse starts to get really annoying. Did I mention that the gate faces the ring? It's actually right next to the ring, so Spider can cry and have his fit right next to me, up close and personal. I find it takes all my willpower not to throw the whip at him.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Is That Pony In The Chicken Coop?

Well, the mud finally dried, but now the ground is frozen again. I'm sorely regretting not building my arena last fall. I don't think I'll be getting much done with Spider for a while. Luckily, I've found a new, training prospect: Matilda the pony! I call her a pony because it's easier to say (and spell), but at 29 inches high at the wither she's technically a miniature horse. She's much too small for me to ride, but she lunges just fine, so we've been working on that. The person I bought her from said she rode and drove, I saw her ridden before I bought her, but did not get a chance to see her pull a cart. It wasn't a huge priority, anyway, seeing as I don't have a cart. However, I'm thinking that since she drives, she probably long-lines. I just need to get a surcingle that fits her. I tried the horse sized surcingle on her and it almost fit (Matilda is a little plump). I figure a pony sized one should do.

And now to answer the titular question: Why is there a pony in the chicken coop? Well, yesterday morning when I went out to feed Matilda was waiting patiently at the gate to be fed. The outside of the gate. As in: she was not inside the fence, where horses belong. The fence in question is three strand electric rope, with 18 inches between each strand. At 29 inches high, Matilda should not be able to squeeze underneath it. However, I have seen foals get pushed under or through fences by rowdy adults, or get under after rolling too close to the fence. Since there were no breaks in the fence and the charger was working properly, I assumed this was what happened. I checked her for injuries and, upon finding nothing amiss, fed her breakfast. I checked on her a few times throughout the morning, she spent most of the morning napping in the sun. I felt bad for her, who knows how long the poor dear had been trapped outside the fence.

Around noon I saw her pacing the fence. I was immediately concerned, there are many things for a nosy pony to get into in the yard. Could she be colicking? She had nibbled on the bok choy and collard greens in the garden, could those be harmful? Had she gotten into the compost pile? Suddenly there was a crash in the sun room and I had to stop watching Matilda to go find out if the crash had been caused by the dog, cat or child. It turned out to be a combination of cat and child. When I got back to the window, Matilda was nowhere to be seen. I went to the front, no Matilda. Then to the back, no Matilda. Where was that pony?

Then I saw her, she was not in the pasture at all. She was in the yard, grazing on the lawn. Suddenly it became apparent just why she was pacing the fence....she was working up the nerve to go through. Here I had been feeling sorry for her, thinking that the boys had pushed her through the fence and she had gone through herself the whole time! It's a pretty impressive feat, I've been zapped by the fence a few times and it's not pleasant. I've also seen the fence send the boys running several times. I'm guessing Matilda's yak-like coat gives her some protection, either that or she has nerves of steel.

At any rate, I had a real problem on my hands: how do you keep a horse in the fence who seems to be immune to getting shocked? You don't. So I put her in the chicken coop. Actually it's more of a chicken yard. The coop itself is a large garden shed with roosts built into the sides, and the run is more than large enough to accommodate a naughty pony. Best of all, there is absolutely no way for her to escape. *knock wood*.

This weekend we'll be running additional strands of rope between the bottom strands, which will hopefully be enough to keep Matilda in. It's supposed to snow this weekend...Oh the joys of owning a pony!.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Fat Lot Of Nothing

The title refers to what I've managed to accomplish this week. The weather can't decide whether to be freezing or flooding, neither of which is conducive to horse training. Oh well, it's supposed to stay nice (in the 40s F) for the rest of the week, so if the mud dries I'll be able to get something done.

In general news, Vinny managed to cut his eyelid up. I'm pretty sure Spider kicked him, but since I wasn't there I can't prove anything. If Spider did kick him, he deserved it. Last week we had a really hard rain, then freezing cold weather. All the mud froze hard and poor Spider, who's still getting used to being unshod, was having a hard time of it. His feet were pretty tender and he was gimping around and trying to stay in his stall. Knowing that Spider wouldn't defend himself because his feet hurt, Vinny took every possible opportunity to pick on him. When the ground finally thawed, Vinny mysteriously showed up with a cut over his eye. It's not much more than a scrape, not worth a visit from the vet. But I bet Vinny will think twice about picking on Spider next time.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I'm Going to Have A Lot More Time For The Horses

Recently I wrote a post about my difficulties in trying to juggle my career, my family and my riding. It's a subject that's been eating at me for some time. I simply can't be a good employee, a good mother and a good rider all at the same time. But I've found it impossible to choose what needs to be cut from my life. Obviously my family is here to stay, and they come first. So, by default, I either need to cut out riding or my career. But which one?

I've worked hard and sacrificed a lot for both. I've spent most of my life learning horsemanship, and nearly fifteen years studying dressage. I've poured my mind, my body and my soul into my riding. I've broken my back, my ribs, my fingers and feet learning to handle horses. I've sacrificed so much of my time to the pursuit of perfection that it seems ridiculous to turn away now. But I've also spent years on my education in pursuit of my career, and I have the student loans to prove it. I've fought tooth and nail to earn the respect of my colleagues in what is undeniably a male dominated field. I can now stand toe to toe with the men and be taken seriously. It's no mean feat in the sciences, especially in academia. How can I just walk away from that?

Fortunately, fate intervened to help me make my decision. I am pregnant again. And with that new development, my decision was easy to make. I know I cannot split my time evenly between two children and still maintain a full time job and a horse in training. When I thought about how to spend my time, one question kept coming up over and over in my mind: When will I have time to teach my children to ride? It was then that I realized what is most important to me: sharing my passion for horses with my children. My career does not need me, someone else will step up to take my place. But no one else can pass on my love of horses or my years of experience with them to my children. It was the easiest decision I've ever made.

So this is my last week as a productive member of the workforce. Next week I begin my new career as a broodmare. And it won't be a complete waste of my education, my concentrations were in physiology, neuroscience and behavior. I can think of no better application for that particular skill set than training horses and raising children.

And yes, I will continue riding with my Obstetrician's blessing. As long as the pregnancy is going well and I am within my comfort zone, my OB feels that it's perfectly safe to ride. With my first I rode until about six months along, when my belly started to get in the way I stopped. I'll be long-lining and lunging after I'm too big to get into the saddle anymore. With winter setting in and no indoor, I don't think I'll be training much soon, anyway. From here on out it will just be maintaining the training I have!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Miserable Weather

I hate winter. I have always hated winter, for as long as I can remember. There is simply no magic for me in a snow covered setting. I always think "That looks cold. And wet. How awful" It doesn't help that I grew up in Louisiana. We never had snow and it rarely dropped below freezing. My body is simply not accustomed to the cold, even after ten years in the frigid wasteland that is New Jersey.

So, based on my afore-mentioned hatred of winter, I have gotten nothing done with my horse. We had freezing rain all day Saturday, then Sunday it was bitterly cold. By "bitterly cold" I mean that it was below 50 degrees. Like I said, I'm not very cold tolerant. I suppose I could have done something, maybe a bit of long lining around the puddles, but I didn't want to. It seems Spider will have another week to get used to being barefoot before he starts back into work.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Suprise Visit From the Farrier

My farrier called Sunday to say he was coming out to do the horses. He likes to keep me on my toes with these things. Actually, he comes from North Jersey/PA, so I'm lucky that he even comes to Bumble, South Jersey to do my horses. He often doesn't know when he's going to get out my way much in advance, so I put up with the suprises. It's funny what we'll go through for a good they say, "No hoof, no horse!

In typical Thoroughbred fashion, Spider has rotten feet. Mile long toes and no heels. When I bought him his feet looked like a donkey's, a poorly shod donkey. My farrier has done wonders for the shape of his feet, but kept telling me that what Spider really needed was to go barefoot for a little while. But I just didn't have the nerve. All I could imagine is broken up hooves and an unsound horse. Plus, who ever heard of an unshod competitive dressage horse? I'd be laughed out of the ring. But last winter I finally let Chris talk me into removing just the hind shoes. I was still too chicken to take off the fronts.

Wonder of wonders, Spider's hind feet began to get better. He started to grow heels, the toe wore down and his hooves started to change shape. It was beautiful. He's now been unshod behind for a year, completely sound and has gorgeous feet. So I said to my farrier "I want Spider's front feet to look like his back feet." And my farrier said, "Well, then we have to take off the shoes." I had concerns: would he stay sound, what if his feet wore down too much? Spider doesn't grow hoof very fast, in the summer he can easily go eight weeks without a trim, in winter he can go twelve. Chris assured me that he would be fine, and if it wasn't we could always put the shoes back on. So I made the decision.....we pulled his front shoes. I now have a completely barefoot dressage horse.

I'm giving him this week off, to give his hooves time to toughen up. I think it's going to rain all week anyway. He's on 24/7 turnout, so he moves around a lot. A week should be plenty of time for him to get used to being unshod. So far he doesn't seem sore, we'll see how he goes under saddle at the end of the week. He moved a bit tenderly at first after I pulled the hind shoes, so I expect him to do the same with the fronts off. It might even make him more willing to collect, he'll want to get the weight off his forehand!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Is Over, Thankfully.

It's rough to be a horse owner on holidays. Family and friends expect you to drop everything and rush over for their tedious holiday functions, but unfortunately the horses have no clue that it's a holiday. They still expect to be fed and taken care of. And don't bother trying to rush the job, those wily horses will find a way to foil your plans. Fortunately, I have my priorities straight. So my relatives get to wait while I take care of my horses. Even so, I don't get much time for riding over the holidays. Actually, that should read "I don't get any time for riding over the holidays."!

My husband and I wisely live over 100 miles from our any of our relatives, which makes for a great buffer during the year, but a lot of traveling for holidays. Nothing eats up a day like a car trip with a toddler, it's worse than trailering horses. Horses just poop in the trailer and munch on their hay. Toddlers have to be fed, changed and entertained. I'd rather bring the horses to visit the relatives.

Hopefully the sun will stay out and the wind will stay down today and I'll get a ride in. Once I get the poo picked, that is. Oh, and the water tubs scrubbed, and dig the horses' blankets out of the basement and finish cleaning up the mess in the kitchen from the side-dishes I made for Thanksgiving............

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Good, The Bad And The Chickens

Saturday was a day for farm chores. My husband finally bought me a big dump cart to haul behind the tractor, it holds a full pasture's full of poo in one trip! No more pushing the wheel barrow around the pastures for me! So I picked all the pastures, then got a ton and a half of stone dust to put in front of the stalls. Over time the horses hooves have dug out ruts in front of their stalls, and the ruts fill with water when we get a heavy rain. No good. So we filled the ruts in. We'll need another ton of stone dust to finish the job, but that can be a project for another day. After all my chores, I really did not feel up to a ride on Saturday.

Sunday I did get a ride in, though. I decided to work on an exercise I read in Dressage Today. Hilda Gurney has a column in Dressage Today and suggested transitions within gaits, making the walk, trot and canter cover more or less ground without changing the tempo, as a way to improve impulsion. He was a little resistant at first, but that's to be expected since we haven't really done anything in forever. We were working through it nicely when the chickens attacked.

I have a group of 5 young roosters that are just reaching maturity. They like to spar and crow and act big and tough, as young males do. Unfortunately, one of them decided to leap up onto the fence post in a flurry of flapping wings and crow quite loudly right next to the ring as Spider and I were going by. Poor Spider was scared half to death.

I don't know how Spider came by the name Spider, but I like to fancy that it came from his spook. When Spider spooks, he scrambles madly forward and legs go absolutely everywhere. It's like something from a cartoon. You can actually see his legs paddling madly from the saddle and, from that vantage point, if I didn't know better, I would swear he had eight legs. Just like a spider.

After our fowl encounter, Spider was quite upset and tense. So we shifted gears to something not quite as subtle, but still challenging enough to keep his mind off the scary chickens and on me. I asked for canter and did changes through the trot on a figure eight. Right lead canter to left lead was lovely, left lead to right was a bit of a disaster. Left is always Spider's bad direction, I believe it's most horses' bad direction. It all goes back to Spider not reaching up with his left hind, which then means I don't have good contact with my outside rein. Then Spider falls onto his left shoulder, which pulls me off to the left side. We're both completely unbalanced and nothing gets accomplished. Our combined lack of fitness does not help the matter.

After a few ugly attempts, I decided to regroup. I let him walk on a loose rein, fixed my position and we both had a breather. Then I picked the reins back up, got a nice, steady canter left and said "Now listen Spider, If we do this right, we're done. So lets just suck it up and get this done." And that's just what we did.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Back To Basics

Due to a lack of cooperation on the part of Fall in the Northeast, I have not gotten much work done with my horse. I did manage to get one ride in on Wednesday, as I had the day off. Since we really haven't done anything in longer than I care to remember, I decided that this would be a good opportunity to get back to the basics. I suppose everyone has a different idea of what "the basics" are, but to me they are Obedience and Forward(!). I like to put an exclamation point behind forward(!), I think it gives it the emphasis it needs. Feel free to add a "Jazz Hands" type gesture, as well. Then you'll really get the emphasis I'm looking for.

Forward! *Jazz Hands*

Obediance and forward(!) go hand in hand, as you can't have a truly forward horse unless you have an obediant one. I see lots of people being drug around rings by horses that are flying through their aids who say "But at least he's forward". I usually hear this after they've nearly run someone over because their horse is plowing around on his forehand and they can't steer him. Newsflash: If you can't control it, it isn't forward(!). But lets move on, lest this turn into a rant.

So I decided to work on the basics on Wednesday. Spider is usually very obediant and forward(!), but I think it's always good to have a bit of a refresher, especially if the horse (and the rider) have been sitting for awhile. After all, I frequently run through the beginner exercises for rider postition, shouldn't my horse be running through the beginner exercises periodically, too?

So we began at the beginning. I expect all horses to move off of my seat and leg and stay there until I say otherwise. A reminder or two is acceptable, especially when they're green, but I do not want to develop a need to "nag" my horse with my aids. So I asked Spider to walk, then put my aids in neutral, so to speak. I relaxed my pelvis, allowed my legs to hang quietly at his sides and followed his head with my hands. As soon as he began to slow, I gave him a bit of a bump with my leg to say "Hey, I didn't ask you to slow down.". If he didn't respond as electrically as I like, he got a more vigorous bump to say "Listen!". By a "bump", I mean that I tap my lower leg against the horses belly quickly. I use one or both legs, depending on what I'm trying to accomplish. If I want the horse on the bit, I bump the inside leg, if I want him to wake up and move forward, I use both legs. If a horse is really blowing me off, I'll use several rapid-fire bumps to wake him up and say "Hey, I'm serious about this!" I find that horses often learn to ignore constant, nagging pressure from the leg, just as they learn to ignore the pressure of the girth and saddle. A bump gets their attention much better. Of course, if you constantly bump, the horse will soon learn to ignore that, too. So you must be ready and able to back your bump up.

I use the "ask, tell, make" philosophy when riding. First I "ask" with my seat (and other aids when applicable). If that does not get the desired response, then I "tell" with a bump from my leg. If I still don't get the right response, then I make it very uncomfortable for the horse to not comply. In other words, I "make". "Making" can be tricky, and must be done with a great deal of sensitivity. There is a fine line between making a horse uncomfortable and abuse. Before I get to the "make" stage, I always check and re-check my aids and position to be certain that it is an obediance issue and nothing is being lost in translation. I use enough "make" to get the reaction I want, then immediately stop when the horse complies. I rarely need to get to the "make" stage, though. Most horses get it at "tell".

I've gone off on a tangent again, back to Wednesday's ride. It only took a few reminders for Spider to stay forward(!) at the walk. So then we progressed to trot. Same story: ask for trot with my seat, put the aids in neutral and bump if he lags. Again, a few reminders and he had it down. Then we moved to canter and repeated the lesson. And finally we could move on to fun stuff, because that's really the point of forward(!) and obediant. If you constantly need to use your aids to drive your horse forward(!), how can you apply your aids to do lateral work or begin collection? You can't, they're already being used to keep the horse going. So now that I had Spider moving freely forward, I threw in some leg yields. The concept remained the same, though. If he lags, he gets a bump. And Spider loves to lag in leg yields. He often finds it difficult to step underneath himself with the inside hind leg, so he tries to pop his outside shoulder out and cheat. Easily fixed with half halt and a few bumps. We did leg yields at walk and trot in both directions, and even one zig-zag across the ring. Once I was satified with them I brought him back down to walk to play around. Since he was going so nicely, I decided to do some walk pirouettes.

I discovered Spider's walk pirouette quite by accident one day. I was riding with a friend, she was on a third level horse attempting to school walk pirouettes and having trouble. At the time, Spider was doing first level, but I knew I could collect his walk (just none of the other gaits). I was feeling a bit cheeky, so I said to her "I don't know why you're having so much trouble, I bet even Spider could do a walk pirouette". I was only teasing, but I tried one on the spot anyway. He did it! I only asked for a half of one, and then burst out laughing. My friend was not amused. Ever since then, I play around with them when Spider's having an especially good day and we get done early. He seems to enjoy them, I think mostly because he can tell that I get a kick out of doing them. They're fun for us, although now that we're doing more of the third level work it's not as impressive. Still fun though.....kind of like Forward! *Jazz Hands*

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Beautiful Day For Long Lining

Sunday turned out beautiful: sunny and warm. Everything was still a little wet, but I figured it would still be a good time to work on long lining. Since I was only going to walk to start, I figured it wasn't too wet for that. I got my long lines last Wedneday, but with all the rain we've been having I hadn't had a chance to use them.

I must admit, I wasn't sure how this was going to go over with Spider. He's not fond of change. Surprisingly, he took it all in stride though. I was quite proud of him. I started out standing to one side of him with the outside line over his back to get him used to the idea. He was a little confused at first, mostly because I was finding handling the lines and the whip awkward, but we soon hit a good stride. We worked on "walk" and "whoa". I would say "walk", then tap him with the whip at the girth to get him moving. "Whoa" was easy, just pull back on both lines. Once he seemed to understand what I wanted him to do, I slowly dropped farther back until I was behind him. Then we worked on "whoa" and "walk" from there. Then we reached the end of the arena and needed to quickly figure out "turn". Luckily, the tree line helped us out. Since he couldn't go forward without crashing into the bushes, he figured out fairly quickly that pressure on the right rein meant I wanted him to go right. We worked on walking, halting and turning for a few more minutes, then called it a day. Overall, I don't think he worked more than 20 minutes.....a very light workout for him!

After his lesson I made a big deal over him, telling him what a genius he was for figuring it out so quickly. I'm actually very impressed by his work, it seemed to come quite naturally to him. Maybe he's trying to tell me he wants to be a carriage horse?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

There's No Fool Like An Old Fool.....Again!

Thursday morning I had a loose horse. Luckily, it wasn't as dramatic as it sounds. Let me set the scene for you........

It was a rainy, cold, windy and generally miserable morning. The kind of weather that isn't usually conducive to mischief. I fed the horses, dropped them some hay, then went to clean the stalls. As I was picking, I heard a clank from behind me, coming from the general area of the pasture gate. I didn't really think much of it, as I knew the gate had swung shut behind me. It was probably just the wind swinging the gate, causing it to clang. As I moved to the next stall, I saw something odd out of the corner of my eye. It was Vinny, standing in my back yard, gleefully devouring my lawn! The gate must not have latched properly when I closed it. Horrified, I quickly glanced around for the other two horses. Spider was licking the last remnants of his breakfast out of his bowl and Matilda was happily munching on her hay, both of them were completely oblivious to the fact that there had been an escape. I quickly grabbed a handful of hay and a halter and went out the gate, hoping to catch him before the others noticed anything was amiss.

Vinny eyeballed me suspiciously as I approached. I held out my handful of hay. He looked at it for a moment, then trotted away and continued grazing. It was going to take more than a meager handful of hay to lure him back inside the fence. So back to the barn I trudged to get a bucket and some grain. Vinny is quite fat and thus doesn't get any grain, so I knew that would be a treat he would consider being caught for. Halter and bucket full of grain in hand and muttering every curse I could think of, I went to go capture the old fool.

Unfortunately, the old man is a wily beast. While he was perfectly willing to come eat the grain out of my bucket, he was not letting me get anywhere near him with the halter. We played cat and mouse for a few minutes, with me trying to slip the halter on and him nimbly eluding me every time. I realized this was not going to work, Vinny was far to smart to allow himself to be caught so easily. The other two horses were still not paying any attention to what was going on outside the fence, so I made a bold decision.

I took my bucket back to the pasture and went inside, leaving the gate open in my wake, hoping Vinny would follow me through. He followed me up to the gate, then stopped at the threshold. He knew what I was up to. I could see the wheels turning in his head. Should he go through? On one side was freedom and an acre of juicy lawn. On the other side, a coveted treat of grain. I shook the bucket one final time and his decision was made. He trotted through the gate and over to his feed tub. I heaved a sigh of relief and slammed the gate behind me, double checking to be sure it latched properly.

As I dumped the grain in his bucket he gave me a final look of contempt, just to let me know that he was doing me a favor by coming back in. We both knew he didn't have to.

Needless to say, I check to be sure the gate is latched frequently now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Bit Of A Lunge, And Some Improvement

Is it longe, or lunge? I've seen it spelled both ways, and they both look wrong to me. But I digress. On Saturday I decided to do a bit of lungeing with Spider to get him ready for the long lines. Spider is by nature a nervous horse and any deviation from his usual routine will start him worrying. Putting him on a lunge line is no exception. As soon as I put the line on and tied up his reins he started to get nervous.

To help calm his fears, we started out doing a little pseudo in hand work. Without side reins it was pretty awkward, as I could only really control the inside, but all I really wanted to accomplish was getting him used to the idea of me being somewhere other than at his head leading him. I want him to be used to the idea of me driving him forward from the ground. By staying by his side I was able to reach up and pat him to reassure him that everything was alright and the world would not end just because we were doing something different. Once he got used to the idea he calmed right down and went to work. We only walked and worked on halting, then moving forward agin. Once he was doing well with that I pushed him out onto a 20 meter cirlce and had him trot and canter. At this point I realized exactly how co-dependant my horse is! He does not like to be more than an arms length away from me and frequently tried to stop and come in to me. We presevered, though, and eventually I had him trotting and cantering in a nice, loose, forward frame. At that point I switched directions and started over again with in hand walk first, then pushing him out to trot and canter on the lunge. Even without side reins he maintained a pretty nice frame. When I lunge a horse I run the line up through the inside ring of the bit, over the poll and clip the line to the outside ring of the bit so that I can apply pressure to the horses poll and maintain fairly even pressure on the rings of the bit. It helps maintain a bit more control and keeps the horses frame more consistent.

Spider was visibly relieved when I unhooked the lunge line and brought him over to the mounting block. And I was pleasantly surprised when I got on. I usually spend the first 20 minutes or so of my ride warming up, getting Spider supple and moving freely forward. But I had already accomplished that with the lunging, so when I got on Spider he felt soft and relaxed already. It was quite sublime. I was able to pick up the reins and begin collecting his gaits almost immediately. We worked mainly on transitions between and within the gaits, with some lateral work thrown in between to keep things interesting. I played around quite a bit with figure eights, doing transitions through the middle. I like figure eights because the horse really needs to be off his forehand in order to get the shape right. A horse travelling on his forehand will tend to fall in when asked to change direction and the result will be a sort of oval, rather than two perfect overlapping circles.

Overall I was pleased with the work, but rather annoyed with myself for not doing more ground work with Spider before. Any good trainer will tell you how important lunging, long lining and in hand work is to the proper training of the dressage horse, but in my laziness I've been neglecting that aspect. It seems my laziness has actually been creating more work for me all these years!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Short Ride

I left work a little early yesterday, so that I could get home before dark to ride. I'm glad I did, it's re-motivated me a bit. I didn't do much with Spider, as he hadn't been ridden in quite some time. We just ran through the basics: changes of direcion and leg yields. I didn't even bother to change into riding clothes, just my jeans and barn clogs. Spider didn't seem to mind, or even notice for that matter. He was just happy to be out working.

I'm going to start working with him on the lunge line this week. The long lines I ordered will be coming on the 11th, and I want to refresh Spider's memory on groundwork etiquette before we dive into a completely new exercise. Not that Spider's groundwork is bad, just rusty. I want to brush him up on a few of the basic concepts before I add in a second line to keep track of.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why I Hate Daylight Savings

It now gets dark at 5:30. I get home from work at 5:30. We do have lights outside, but it's still hard to see. And, as every horse knows, the bogeyman is lurking just outside of the lighted area waiting to pounce on them. It's also getting colder now, and the dark makes it seem just that much colder. I realize that those are just excuses, and I should be getting my butt out there and riding anyway, but I have no motivation right now. At least the rain has cleared up. Maybe I'll sneak out of work a little early so that I can ride before dark. It's important to have your priorities straight: horses first, then work.

In other (completely unrelated) news: my daughter was a pony for Halloween, of course. She had a great time running around yelling "horse!". So now I'm going to post a gratuitous picture of her.

Hopefully at some point I'll actually have something related to horse training to post, once I manage to drag myself out of my Daylight Savings Funk.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Monday's Ride

I haven't gotten out to ride much this week (deja vu, anyone?). The weather's been miserable. I've also discovered a significant drawback to my turf footing, it doesn't drain as quickly as a regular ring, and wet grass is slippery and prone to divots. I don't know why I didn't realize that was going to happen. It's one of those "D'oh!" moments. My husband has promised to build me a proper ring next spring, though. Lucky me to have married a man who thinks farm work is fun.

I did manage to ride on Monday. I changed Spider's bit from the bradoon he had been going in to the Herm Sprenger Aurigan french link snaffle I paid an obscene amount of money for and never use, just to see if it would change anything. I didn't really notice too much of a difference. I've always kind of suspected those things were a racket, anyway. As my grandfather would say, "They catch more fisherman than fish."

Spider did fairly well, it was just a short ride so we didn't really get to any complicated stuff. His trot was a bit of a mess, but his walk and canter were lovely. Spider never seems to have all three gaits going well at once. Either his trot is good and his canter is a disaster or his canter is good and his trot is a disaster. At least his walk is consistant.

Since his trot was rather choppy and braced, I decided to start off working on the walk and canter. After some lateral work at the walk I developed a nice collected walk and did some walk-canter departs, I didn't really have time to work on canter-walk properly, so I just did the downward transitions through trot. I had him lenghten and collect the canter on a circle, then back to walk- lengthen, collect, then canter. After a half hour or so of that his trot had improved enough to do some shoulder in and haunches in at trot, although he did tend to brace a bit in the beginning when I asked for the haunches in. I let him stretch down in the trot, changing directions a few times to keep him off his forehand, then brought him down to a free walk for his cool down. I decided to play around a bit while cooling him down, so I dropped the reins and began steering him with just my seat. It's a fun thing I do every so often to test myself. Everyone knows that we're supposed to be steering from the seat, but how many of us can actually drop the reins and do it accurately? Spider's pretty good at it, we were able to do pretty intricate patterns without running into anything. I used this same exercise to teach him to neck rein after I bought him (a useful thing for any horse to know, in my opinion).

Hopefully my ring will be in good enough shape to ride on tonight. If not, then I guess I'll be a weekend warrior. Although, I think I saw rain in the forecast for this weekend.....

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Attractive Nuisance

I've always rather liked the term "attractive nuisance". It's used to describe things on a person's property that may attract trespassers, such as trampolines, swimming pools and horses. I think it's one of the most fitting descriptions ever devised for a horse. There have been many occasions when I should have been getting something important done, but I was distracted by my attractive nuisances and ended up wasting the day playing with them instead. Like this Sunday, for instance.

Saturday it rained, but Sunday was nice. I had loads of chores that needed to get done and only one day to do them. So, instead of doing my chores, I saddled up my attractive nuisance. Spider seems to be feeling much better. A little too much better, in fact. He was very nicely forward, but wanting to blast through my half halts. I made him do small circles and lots of lateral work to slow down the tempo and make him think about what I was asking from him. He did the canter transitions without hesitation, from trot and from walk. I was quite pleased with that. Overall, we didn't really work on anything new or difficult as I hadn't ridden him since Tuesday and I'm still feeling a little funky from the sinus infection.

Thanks for the suggestions last week. By popular vote, I've decided to get myself a set of long lines. They'll arrive along with Spider's Smartpak for next month. I would have had them delivered sooner, but I can't pass up the flat rate shipping. I'm kind of a cheapskate like that. I haven't worked with long lines in a very long time, so this should be interesting.... to say the least. Hopefully it's like riding a bike, which I also haven't done in a very long time.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm Thinking Of Taking Up Lunging....And A Related Story

I've only ridden once this week, Monday was still too wet, Tuesday I rode, Wednesday I came down with a sinus infection. I'm feeling more energetic today, perhaps I'll get out to ride this afternoon.

Tuesday's ride was OK, something's still a little stiff in Spider's left hock. That's troubling me a bit. He worked out of it, but was a bit hesitant to take the left lead canter and 10m circle's tracking left were difficult for him. It seems I'm going to have to formulate a Plan Of Attack for this. I'm thinking lots of strength building exercises for the stifles and hocks. I'm also thinking I need to find a hill to work on. Too bad Southern NJ doesn't have hills. I'm also going to start lunging him more.

I very rarely lunge. Mostly because I'm lazy. By my reckoning, by the time I get the horse all kitted up to lunge, I could have just saddled him and rode. I also get dizzy easily, which means that I have to run around with the horse while he's on the lunge or I just end up getting disoriented and confused. And thirdly, I don't have a set of side reins.

I know, I know....what self-respecting dressage rider doesn't have a set of side reins? Well, since you ask, that's actually a funny story............

As covered in my last post, when I first bought Spider he was a little *ahem* high strung. He was also quite unfit, so I put him on a strict regimen of work. I lunged him frequently in side reins to help him build up the muscles in his back without the weight of the rider interfering. One particularly windy day we were lunging out back of the barn near the shavings pile. The shavings were covered by a tarp. You see where this is going, right?

Sure enough, a particularly violent gust snapped the tarp and Spider spooked. His nose went out and hit the end of the side reins. The inside rein snapped at the buckle on the surcingle. These particular side reins had an elastic insert, wich acted just like a rubber band, snapping the rein back into Spider's face and wrapping around his head. Spider did what any reasonable horse would do when being assaulted with a large peice of leather and elastic- he reared (breaking the outside side rein in the process). And then, in slow motion, he fell. It was the most gentle fall I've ever seen, almost as though he did it on purpose. He rocked back onto his haunches, then slid onto his side. But then he didn't get up. Every other horse I've seen fall like that jumps right back up, but not Spider. He just laid there, motionless. I rushed over to him, convinced that he was dead. Panicked thoughts rushed through my head.....I had just convinced my husband to buy me this horse, I'd owned him less than a month, we'd re-financed our house to buy him...and I'd just killed him. I stood over him, tugging on the line, "C'mon Spider, get up. It's OK, get up." He stared up at me, eyes as big as saucers, clearly not dead. But not getting up. I petted him, pulled on the line a bit more and tried to coax him into standing up. He wouldn't budge. Now I was really starting to panic. Had he broken a leg? His back? Wouldn't he be showing some signs of pain if he were injured and couldn't get up? What was wrong with this horse?

After what seemed like hours, but was probably only minutes, he heaved a huge sigh, stood up and shook himself off. I trotted him out, no signs of lameness. The next day there was no swelling, no heat anywhere, he was fine. The only thing I can figure is that he must have scared himself so bad that he froze.

A few weeks later one of the grooms called me in a panic. She was bringing Spider in from turnout and the gate had slammed into the fence while he was going through it. He spooked, reared up, fell down and laid there for a few minutes, completely motionless. Then he got up and acted as though nothing happened. The poor girl was beside herself. I told her not to worry, he's part fainting goat.

I never did get around to replacing my side reins. Any recommendations?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Story

It's rainy, cold and generally miserable here. I have zero motivation to ride. I grew up in the hot humid swamps of Louisiana and, although I've lived in NJ for over 10 years now, my blood is still quite thin. I have no problem riding in 90 degree heat and humidity, but the first hint of real cold or , *shudder*, snow sends me into hibernation.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the progress Spider and I have made over the years. Spider was a bit of an impulse purchase, and several of my friends questioned my judgement. There was nothing really special about him, no standout features to wow a potential buyer. As one friend put it, "He's just kind of 'there'". So why on earth did I buy him? I guess I'll take some time on a rainy, crummy day to tell a bit of his story.......

In the spring of 2006 I was working out of a training facility in Central NJ. The head trainer used to let us barn rats work the consignment horses. In exchange, we got a percent of the price of the horse when (or if) it sold. Spider showed up that spring, from a broker in North NJ. They'd been trying to sell him up there, but no one was biting. We weren't really told anything about him, just that he had done Open Jumpers and was either ring sour or wild over jumps (we never quite got the full story, as often happens with brokers). The owner wanted him gone, and he was at our barn to be sold as a dressage prospect.

I'm not going to sugar coat it, there was nothing spectacular, or even particularly interesting, about Spider. That's his sale picture at the top of the post. He's over at the knee, hocks are a bit too straight, ewe necked, kind of scrawny...not exactly what most are looking for in a dressage prospect. His movement wasn't much better, he went in that stereotypical "peg-legged" TB gait with his nose up in the air and a flat back. And he was a complete spaz; a cribbing, head bobbing, spook at everything, whites-of-the-eyes-always-showing spaz. But there was something about him. He was never mean or rude, just neurotic. I began to find it charming.

Pretty soon I was the only one riding him. In a barn full of fancy imported Warmbloods, nobody else really wanted to ride the spastic Thoroughbred. I liked him, though, and within a month I had decided to buy him. In the midst of all his mediocrity, he had one quality that none of the fancy moving Warmbloods had: he loved to work. I have never met a horse more excited to get tacked up and do his job. And that quality made all the difference. Gaits can be improved, muscles can be developed and movements can be trained, but none of that is possible without a willing attitude. Conversely, a horse with beautiful gaits, perfect conformation and natural talent will never accomplish anything with a poor work ethic.

Three years later, I have a horse that would put any Warmblood to shame. A horse that I know I can do anything with because he wants to work for me. The cribbing and head bobbing are things of the past and he doesn't even spook much anymore. He's still pretty neurotic, but that's easy to manage. It adds to his charm.

What's the point of that little story? Horses are what we make of them, good or bad. It doesn't really matter what their bloodlines are or where they're from, if they want to work for you the sky is the limit. So next time you see a crazy little horse bobbing and weaving in the back of his stall, stop and take a closer look. You just might end up with this:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Conspiracy Theory

Someone is out to get me. I think it may be the chickens. Don't be fooled by their innocent look, chickens are fiendishly clever. They've hatched a plot to do me in while I'm riding, then Spider will take the blame and they'll be in the clear. They've even managed to enlist the help of the other horses and the U.S. Military. It's a full-scale mutiny!

It began with the Peanut Gallery (AKA, Vinny and Matilda) deciding to gallop around like colts during my warm-up. Very distracting. Then, as I was working on transitions, a cadre of very large, very loud and very low-flying military helicoptors flew over my property. Spider handled it all like a champ, though. Until my rooster and the neighbor's rooster decided to get in a fight in one of the pastures. I'm not sure who won, all I know is that there were hens running everywhere, including my arena. Spider is not really fully accustomed to the country life yet. Running horses and low-flying helicoptors are one thing, but 20 or so cackling, flapping chickens are a little more than he can take. We called it a day after the feathers settled.

But enough with the conspiracy theories, on to the work. After Sunday's issues, I made sure I did a very long, very thorough warm-up. Lots of free walk, lots of lateral work at walk and forward, forward, forward! After the warm-up we played a little game I like to do with young horses, I call it "How Many Transitions Can I Do On One 20m Circle". The rues are simple, I pick a spot on a 20m circle, then see how many transitions I can do before I get back to the same spot. It can be any sort of transition; up, down, within the same gait. It just has to be a good transition, poor transitions don't count. I haven't done it with Spider in years, not since I first bought him and started re-training him. It's a great exercise, though. It really helps with getting the horse on the aids and puts some jump in the transtions. Especially when you get up to five or so transtions. There's only a few strides to nail the transition, so you really have to have the horse forward and responsive. I concentrated mainly on trot to canter and canter to trot transitions because of Spider's issue from Sunday. He had no trouble taking the right lead canter from trot, but the first few times I asked for left lead canter he was resistant. He got better as we worked, though, so I'm going to chalk up his resistance to a bit of muscle soreness and being a bit behind my leg at first.

I was also thinking that now that he's home I've ridden him much more and more consistently than he's been ridden in months. I'm going to up his joint supplement to the loading dose for a week or so, and give him a bit of Robaxin tonight with his dinner. Hopefully he'll work out of this, otherwise I'll be calling the vet.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Weekend

I have been remiss in my duties as a farm owner. Or should I say "doo-dies". *lol* I am talking about poop picking, of course. Usually I'm pretty good about it, I do each pasture once a week. I don't even really mind it that much: it's good exercise, I get to be outside and it all goes into the compost heap for next years veggies. What's not to love? Unfortunately, I hadn't made time for the all important poop scooping for the last two weeks (maybe even three, I can't remember). Do you have any idea how much three horses poop in that amount of time? Of course you do. We all know those animals are the most inefficient digestors on the planet. As you may have guessed, my weekend was spent moving mountains, one pile at a time!

Saturday I over-did it a little and my sciatica started acting up. I did some yoga to try to loosen it up, but to no avail. So I gave Spider the day off. Sunday I felt better and wisely decided to ride first, then pick.

I wasn't super pleased with the ride. He was very resistant, not wanting to really track up from behind. I'm not sure what that's all about, hopefully it will resolve itself. If it continues I'll have to start over-analyzing and dissecting every little aspect of my riding, tack and arena footing until I'm so thoroughly confused that I give up all hope. In the end I worked him out of it and we did some good work, mostly more of the spiraling in and canter-walk transitions. To break up the monotony of the exercise (and keep Spider on his toes) I added some counter-canter into the mix. Rather than asking him to spiral in I would ask for a 20m figure eight pattern with no change of lead. Counter-canter helps with balance and collection as well, so it can only help in the long run. We also did some shoulder-fore and leg yields at the canter. At the trot I just asked for transitions from collected trot to medium or working trot and rode some serpentines at 20 and 10 meters.
Ah! I almost forgot to write about the most perplexing problem of all: Spider did not want to make trot to canter transitions. He would do walk to canter, but when asked for the transtion from trot he just trotted faster. I had to really exaggerate the aids and do major half-halts before asking for the transition. I'm not sure if this is a side effect from schooling walk-canter too much or a symptom of a soundness/pain issue. We shall see.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Spider and I did a lot of spiraling in and canter-walk transitions yesterday, so it was no suprise that he was a little stiff and resistant today. While I don't necessarily like it when my horse is sore, it does make me feel like I've accomplished something. As anyone who's ever embarked on a new exercise routine knows: No Pain, No Gain!

I decided to leave the simple changes alone for today. I like to mix up routines, much like body-builders do. The idea is to alternate exercises to give the muscles time to recover. With body-building, the upper body is worked one day, lower body the next, abs the day after that, and so forth. I try to adapt the same idea, but work on different types of exercises. So we do transtions one day, lateral work the next, etc.....

Today we started with working the stiffness out. He was pretty resistant at first, wanting to brace against my hands instead of coming up from his hind end. I did some counter-flexion on a 20m circle at trot, followed by shoulder in on a 20m circle until he felt more relaxed. Then we did some lateral work at walk and trot. I like to do shoulder in down the long side, turn, then haunches in down the short side. Since Spider's left hind is weaker, we did more work tracking left. We did minimal work at the canter, since those muscles were still fatigued from yesterday. I almost tried a few leg yields at the canter, but then decided since the rest of the work was good to just leave it at that. I like to always end on a good note. I don't know that it actually does anything for the horse, but it makes me feel a lot better.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Change In Tactics

I finally managed to get out to ride today. It was a beautiful day for it. Not too hot, not too cold.....just a beautiful fall day. We went for a little hack first, I wanted to enjoy the scenery a bit before settling down to the real work. Sometimes it's nice to warm up outside the ring, just to change things up a bit.

After our nice brisk hack we went back to the ring to get to work. Spider was less than enthusiastic, if he had his way we would have stayed on the trails. Some of the trails are quite wide and flat, I may go out and clear the stray sticks and debris so that we can actually do some real work out there. But that's a project for another day......

I've set a goal for myself. I've decided I want to be able to do consistently good simple changes by the time winter sets in. There's usually about two months here where riding is just not possible, and I want the simple changes to be set by then. I don't feel like having to mess around with them in the spring. We'll see how this goes!

In light of my new goal, I've also decided to try a new tactic. In order to get a good simple change, you need a good canter-walk-canter transition. In order to have a good canter-walk-canter transition, you need a good collected canter. In order to get a good collected canter, you need a fit horse! So Step One of my new plan is to ride more. Step Two is more complicated. In order to get the canter more and more collected while still maintaining the impulsion I need, I started spiraling in onto smaller and smaller circles. The trick is to keep him from breaking to trot until the last minute, when we're on the smallest possible circle he can maintain and I can feel that he's about to break, then I ask for the walk transition. So far, it's actually working pretty well. Because he's on such a small circle (less than 10m) I can't ask for a simple change, but right now I'm just concentrating on getting the canter-walk transition right. Eventually, as this exercise becomes easier and easier for Spider, I'll start asking for the canter-walk transition when the circle is larger. Then we'll graduate to simple changes.

That's the plan, anyway.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

There's No Fool Like An Old Fool!

Life's been getting in the way of riding for the last two days. I keep telling Life to go away and let me ride my horse, but it's a pesky critter.

Spider is settling in nicely. He's loving the fact that he gets attention from me every single day, morning and night. He's always been a bit of a Mama's boy. My old Schoolmaster, Vinny, seems to have gotten a bit of the jealous bug, though. Before Spider came he was the King, but now he has to share the spotlight. I make sure they both get an equal share of the lovin', but that's not quite good enough for Vinny.

Feeding time is especially contentious. Spider gets seperated from the other two, since he gets a lot more grain than they do and eats slower. Really, the other two only get grain so they don't feel left out. They're both very easy keepers.

The usual routine goes like this: Vinny and Matilda get their handful of grain, then I grab Spider and take him to another paddock to eat his grain while Vinny and Matilda are distracted. The paddocks are three strand electric rope, the top wire is 5 ft from the ground. The paddock gate is just an extension of the ropes. Each strand has a handle on it that attaches to a post, allowing for all three strands to be taken down or put up at will. The downside to this, as I learned today, is that it takes a few minutes to get all three strands back up. Which allows for much mischief.

Vinny finished his breakfast in record time this morning and decided to cruise over to steal Spider's. I had only managed to get the top strand connected back, but since Vinny is 16.2 hands (5.5 ft), I figured that would hold him back. As I turned back to the gate, second strand in hand, I was greeted by the sight of my 23 year old, 16.2 hand, extremely fat and out of shape Schoolmaster crouched down like a leopard crawling under the 5 ft tall strand of electric fence! Before I could regain my composure, he was off like a shot for Spider's food dish. Poor Spider! He really had no idea how to react to the sight of a big grey tub of lard barreling down on him to steal his breakfast. Being the polite gentleman that he is, he stepped out of the way and let the Old Man have his food. Fortunately for Spider, I was in hot pursuit and caught Vinny up before Spider lost much of his breakfast. I returned the old fart to the other paddock and gave him a flake of hay to keep him occupied while Spider finished.

Moral of the story: Never underestimate the athleticism of a 23 year old retired FEI horse. Especially if there's food involved!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Change of Venue

Saturday morning I finally brought Spider home. Up to this point he's been living at my trainer's barn down the street. Lucky for me her facility is less than a mile away. But with winter fast approaching I made the decision to bring him home. We just bought this place in May and it was not horse ready. We spent the summer putting up fence and building the barn. I tested the set-up with my retired schoolmaster and the pony. They survived, so I decided it was OK for my show horse. *lol*

So Spider arrived Saturday afternoon. I turned him out in the small paddock to run around a bit, then saddled him up for a ride. This is sort of a tradition with Spider and I. In the first year I owned him we bounced around to several barns before we found one we liked. I learned early on that Spider does best if he knows that his routine is the same, even though he's in a new place. So every time he moves I get on him and ride him that day. That way he knows that he still has his job and I haven't abandoned him. After I rode him I introduced him to his new herd. I got the camera ready, expecting some fireworks. I had two superb athletes who, I was sure, were going to run around and act like colts getting to know each other. Alas, all they did was follow me around like puppies while I tried to get a picture. Very un-spectacular.

I mapped out a little ring behind the barn. It's only the size of the small dressage ring (20m x 40m) and it's turf right now. There was a big turf ring at the training facility I used to work at, I always loved riding on it. The horses seemed so much more forward on it. Of course, it was much bigger than my little turf ring. We'll see how mine holds up, if it gets too torn up I'll convert it to a sand ring. So far I've ridden back there twice and it's holding up well. I'm trying to be concious of not riding on the same track all the time, so as not to tear up one spot more than others. It's been challenging, but that's always a good thing. I think many times dressage riders get stuck in 20m circles, sometimes it's good to remember that there's a lot more ring to ride in!

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Nice Fall Day

I finally got out to ride yesterday evening. It was a little chilly, but still nice. I actually enjoy riding when there's a little bit of a bite in the air. It makes the horses a bit frisky and much more forward!

I'm still having a bit of trouble getting Spider into the right rein when tracking left, even with fixing my seat. It's better now that I'm concentrating on sitting straight in the saddle, but it's still there. But now I suppose it really just boils down to a fitness issue. I've been trying to concentrate on doing more work tracking left to build up his strength. And we're still doing lots of lateral work, particularly shoulder in and leg-yields, to encourage him engage his left hind. He'll get there, I just have to remind myself that these things take time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some Pictures

I haven't ridden lately, because I'm lazy. Well, actually, it rained Saturday night and was still too wet on Sunday. Then it rained Monday night. Last night I was just being lazy.

Sunday was a beautiful day, aside from being too soggy to ride, so I took the opportunity to take some pictures:

Spider standing in the field. The grass isn't really that high, I squatted down to take the picture. He was standing in a mud puddle and I didn't want that in the shot. I like the effect, though.

Here's another shot of Spider in a different light. I like how he looks like he's a completely different color in this light. I think he's technically a "seal bay". During summer his coat is reddish with black points, but when his winter coat comes in he's nearly black.

Here's a lovely one of Spider's free walk. Now if only he would do that under saddle!

Just ignore the over-turned feed tub, I couldn't figure out how to photoshop it out. I tried photoshopping one of the weeds in the background over it, but that just looked silly.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


No, not lead changes.......Blog Changes! I'm feeling artistically inspired (Thanks to Kate of A Year With Horses). So, for a little while my blog might look like a hot mess. Let me know if it's better or worse. Don't worry about critiquing me, I have very thick skin. I'm actually one of those weirdos who thrives on critisism. After all, my favorite saying is: You'll never learn anything until you screw it up real good!

I just re-read those last three sentences and I realized that thriving on critisism and learning everything through screwing it up pretty much defines the sport of dressage. Psychologists should define a new neurosis based on the minds of dressage riders..... It's half sado-masochism, 1/4 low self esteem, and 1/4 delusions of grandeur!

I Need a Warm-up Rider

Yesterday was beautiful, perfect temperature, no flies....just lovely! My trainer wanted to use Spider in a lesson in the morning, just light work to help someone find their seat, so I planned on popping over after the lesson to ride him when she was done. It was a perfect plan, by the time I got there he was tacked up and warmed up. I felt like a professional! I was able to get on and immediately start working on the things I wanted to work on, without having to be bothered with that pesky warm-up.

Spider is no spring chicken. It takes a good 20-30 minutes to get his joints moving. Unfortunately, I'm not in that great of shape myself. Which means that by the time I get him warmed up I'm far too pooped to actually work on anything. It's a vicious cycle that has resulted in, well...nothing.

But yesterday after the lesson Spider was already mostly warmed up, thanks to the lovely young lady who took a lesson on him (and did a great job on him, also). All I had to do was some lateral work and he was ready to go. We worked on some lengthenings, since lengthenings are usually a disaster because I'm too tired to keep him together. But since I was fresh they came out very nicely. Well, on the first canter lengthening it took me half the arena to get him back, but it was still a good lengthening (and fun!) I tried a few simple changes, but he still doesn't really have the fitness to do them, and I don't have the timing down well enough to try to force it. The lengthenings were enough of a workout for one day, anyway. I'm a little sore this morning from them, I'm sure Spider is, too.

If we get a break in the rain I'll be out again today. I won't have a warm-up rider, though. Bummer.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lateral Work and Slacking

I've been slacking a little this week, I've only ridden 3 times. Right now the biggest roadblock in my pursuit of perfection is my horse's fitness level. I know he is capable of doing most of the 3rd level work, but with him (and me) being out of shape the finesse just isn't there and the work is inconsistent. I really need to work harder on getting out and riding. I know he has issues with his hocks and stifles, and I know the best thing for his issues is consistent exercise. What I need is a 36 hour day. And some sort of IV caffeine delivery system!

I've been doing a ton of lateral work lately. I like lateral work because A) it helps with suppleness, B) it helps with collection and C) I think it's really fun to say "renvers" and "travers". I've also found that with the older fellows (Spider is 14) a simple walk-trot-canter warm-up just doesn't get their creaky joints flowing anymore.

So we've been doing travers, renvers, shoulder in and leg yields pretty consistently. Half pass is still hit or miss. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don't. It all depends on whether or not he's really in front of my leg...... Doesn't everything?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I've been slacking on posting here, but I have been riding.

And I had another epiphany last week....

Spider often has difficulty getting into the outside rein when tracking left, which then causes all kinds of problems with steering and lateral work. The fix for this is to use more inside leg pressure to drive the horse into the outside rein, but for some reason this doesn't always work for Spider. It's pretty much been the bane of my existence as a rider. I mean, I've had Spider for three years and I still haven't managed to fix this. Fail!

But I digress, back to my epiphany. As I was riding an incredibly crappy 20 meter circle left I was becoming more and more frustrated with myself and my horse. He was falling in onto his left shoulder, my outside rein was flapping in the breeze and my circle was becoming an egg. Ordinarily when this happens, I stop what I'm doing and do a few turns on the haunches, then return to the exercise. But this time I was determined to get this straightened out properly. After all, I can't stop and do a turn on the haunches every single time I lose the connection. I'd never get anything done.

So we continued around as I applied my left leg to get him to take the contact (inside leg to outside rein and all that). I put my leg on harder and harder, no result. I tapped him with my leg to wake him up, no result. I used my spur, he went sideways (at least it was a result!) But he was still in and out of the contact. Eventually I did what I always do when I get frustrated and can't figure something out: I stopped what I was doing to re-evaluate the situation.

I, of course, was doing everything right. He just wasn't listening to what I was telling him. Or was he? When I'm having trouble I like to go back to the basics: my position. I ran through all the beginner exercises to put myself back in the proper dressage posture and started again. I put my left leg on and he went sideways....again. And that's when I noticed something very interesting: Every time I put my left leg on, my right seat bone comes completely out of the saddle. All this time I've been trying to get him into the right rein, but I've been leaving a door wide open to allow him to escape the contact! So I tried again, being sure not to let my right seat bone come out of the saddle. Wonder of wonders, it worked! His inside leg came up and my right seat bone was there to catch the movement and squeeze it up through his back and right into the outside rein.

Now why did it take three years to figure that out?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Another Good Ride

And a beatiful day, too. Well, it was overcast....but the temperature was nice. Spider barely even broke a sweat.

He was definitely calmer today. We did a nice long warm-up free walk, then I put him together and warmed up at the trot and canter. He was a bit resistant in the contact today, rooting and coming up above the bit. I may have been a little too hard on his mouth yesterday. Spider tends to get offended easily, so much so that I call him "the little Princess". We worked through it, though. I made sure to keep my hands light and give on the inside when he took the contact and he soon forgave me. That's the nice thing about Spider, he never holds a grudge.

He and I are both woefully out of shape, so we didn't get much accomplished. His canter and walk were good, so I left them alone for now. We did a lot of shoulder in and haunches in and a few leg yields at the trot to loosen him up and get those hind legs moving. In the end I got a really lovely trot out of him, so we called it a day.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I finally got a chance to ride this evening. I think that the most sublime feeling in the world is to be in the saddle.

It wasn't our best work. I haven't ridden in nearly two weeks, so Spider was a bit "rusty". But still, I couldn't help but smile the whole time.

He started out quite fresh. Spider is a very enthusiastic horse, and the combination of time off and cool weather made him full of excess energy. After a few failed attempts to put him together at the walk and trot I decided to just let him canter a bit to blow off some steam. His canter work was suprisingly good. He settled into a good rythm and went nice and round with very little input from me. If only his walk and trot were the same!

I eventually decided to just go with the energy.....I shortened my reins, planted myself in the saddle and pushed him up into the contact. He looked and felt great, so long as we didn't try to do anything tricky like change direction! Unfortunately I've also had two weeks off, so my fitness level was not quite up to directing all that energy. Basically I just sort of sat up there and half-halted to keep him off his forehand while he blew off energy.

In the end I got some good transtitions, a couple good leg yields and had a blast doing it. Tomorrow I'll try to keep the idea of all that forward energy, while directing it where I want it to go.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I haven't gotten much riding done lately. Clarification: I haven't gotten any riding done lately. By the time I'm done with work I'm exhausted, but I still have to go home, cook dinner, play with my daughter a bit, then go to bed because I'm too pooped to do anything else. And the weather's been beautiful, of course.......just to mock me. Needless to say, I am miserable.

On these beautiful days when I'm cooped up in my office, or in my house, I find my mind wandering. It's always the same thought. "What am I doing?"

Years ago, I knew exactly what I was doing. I was riding horses. My work and my passion were the same. I was going to be a professional trainer and live my life doing the one thing I loved more than anything. Then I was injured, so I turned to other pursuits. I went back to school for my Master's degree and got a job at the University.

When my daughter was born, I once again had to re-evaluate my life. I had the choice of either staying home with her, or returning to work. I thought long and hard about the mother I wanted to be, the person I wanted to be and what would be best for my daughter. I decided that I wanted to go back to work. Although, I must admit that the decision may have been made in a bit of a panic. I was a first time mother with a colicky newborn, work was actually a welcome break! But, I also wanted something to show for all the hard work I had put into my degrees. Plus, I thought it would be nice to have extra money to spend on my horse.

I have extra money to spend on my horse, but no time to spend on him. I spend eight hours at work, then an hour commute home, chores, dinner, squeeze in a ride if there's time, bed, rinse and repeat. I ride less now than I did when I was dead broke, trying to train myself and begging not to be thrown out of the barn I was at because "I swear I'll have the rest of the money next week!"

So here I sit, in my office, on a beautiful day when the only thing I want in the world is to be riding my horse or playing with my daughter. And I'm thinking again about the kind of mother I want to be, the kind of person I want to be, and what is best for my daughter.

What am I doing?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Waterfront Property

It's come a flood here in beautiful, scenic South Jersey! Needless to say, I'm not getting much riding done today. Vinny and Matilda are surveying their new lake from the security of their cozy stall. They share a stall. They don't need to, I have a stall for each of them, but they prefer to share. I wish I could say it cuts down on cleaning, but unfortunately two horses + one stall = a big mess!

This miserable weather is doing nothing for my training schedule. Luckily, south Jersey is mainly sand, so once the rain subsides the water will drain away. If the rain stops, that is. It's times like these that I get nostalgic for my days at the big training facilities, with their fancy indoors. I often fantasize about having loads of money and building an indoor. Then I remember that I have horses..... and horse people are, by definition, poor!

I heard the lotto is up to $325 million, perhaps if I played I could afford an indoor. But I've always believed suffering builds character. I shall have loads of character!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Slacking Again!

Last week was pretty much a washout, literally. Either it was way too hot for riding, or it was way too wet. And so far, this week isn't going much better! Not that it's hot or wet, the weather this week has been beautiful, but I've just been busy. Next week starts the fall semester at the University I work for and there's always a lot of work to do to get ready.

I did get one ride in on Sunday. It was good, but we really only worked on basic stuff since Spider had off all last week. That seems to a recurring theme this year: "I haven't ridden for a week, so we're back to square one". I really need to get more consistent with his training if we're ever going to get anywhere!

Monday, August 17, 2009


It finally cooled off after sundown last night, so I was able to get out and ride. I don't know what I'd do without arena lights!

Spider felt much better. He was still a little short behind, but we were able to work through it. I'm going to chalk it up to muscle soreness. I've really been concentrating on collected work and transitions lately, so I'm sure his haunches are sore. I know my abs are sore! We did a lot of lateral work in walk, trot and canter to get those hind legs loosened up and moving. It wasn't the best work, but the important thing was to push through and get him moving and we did that.

I suppose we're getting into a delicate point in his training. The work is getting harder and I'm asking more and more of him. There's a fine line between working through some muscle soreness and souring a horse on the work. Luckily we're starting to get into fall, the weather should soon cool and the flies will die down. Then we'll be able to get out of the arena some. A change of scenery will do us both some good!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Four Years and Counting

Today marks four years since I broke my back. It was a riding accident (of course). A horse bolted on me, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. I've fallen off more times than I care to remember, but this was the first time I ever hit the ground and stayed there. A friend of mine who witnessed the whole thing came and got me up. I could walk, but I knew something wasn't right. I knew I was going into shock, and I knew I needed to go to the hospital, so naturally my first concern was getting my boots off. No way was I letting the hospital cut them off!

I had put several compression fractures into my left pelvic bone and had several more in my L5 vertebra (lower back). I had also managed to crush or sever most of the nerves in that part of my back. My left leg was left mostly numb. I could still move my left leg around, but I had no finesse since I couldn't really feel what it was doing.

At the time, I was the barn manager for a dressage training facility. My dream was to make a career for myself with horses. After my injury I couldn't keep up with the demand of the professional pace and had to step down from the position I'd worked so hard for. I was devastated.

I thought that I would never be the same again. My desire to ride was still there, but my broken body wouldn't cooperate. Sometimes the pain would get so bad that I would sit on my horse and cry. There were times when I couldn't even dismount because of my weakness. I questioned myself every day. What was I doing? My position was terrible and the weakness in my back had made my half-halt non-exisitent. I was in pain every time I rode, and even worse after riding.

Unfortunately, I couldn't shake my addiction. And I've always been too stupid to give up, anyway. Fortunately, I managed to find a group of people to help me recover. I began seeing a physical therapist to help me regain the muscles I had lost and I began seeing a chiropracter to keep my joints in place until my muscles recovered enough to keep them there. And from them I learned that, while my ligaments and joints would never be the same, I could learn to use my muscles to pick up the slack. It ended up being a good thing. Because I know that my joints are bad, I pay much more attention to my posture. I began practicing Yoga and Pilates. I still limp, I tend to trip when I'm tired and the left leg is still a bit numb, but I'm in better shape than most of the college-age kids I work with.

I often reflect on that day. I have played the scene over and over again, looking for something I could have done differently that wouldn't have resulted in injury. But every time I realize that it was just a fluke, a silly accident that could have happened to anyone at any time. It could have been much worse. I was lucky. Even though it was a hard road to get here, I ride just as well now as I did before my injury. And now I know just how strong I am. You can throw me down, but you can't keep me there.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Good Day And A Bad Day

The weather finally cleared up here, and I got a chance to ride. In the nick of time, too. I was about to Google "methadone for horse withdrawl!"

Friday was a good day. I worked a lot on getting Spider into the right rein by getting him to reach under with his left hind. We did leg yields, turns on the forehand and shoulder in. He was resistant at first, but soon was going nicely. We finished up with some counter-canter and flying changes. I probably should have worked on simple changes, but it just didn't feel like a good time for them. I'm a big believer in riding the horse I'm on, and Spider just didn't feel up to simple changes that day. All in all, it was a satisfactory ride.

This morning I got on him planning to do more of the same, plus work on simple changes. But he was a bit off. Not visibly lame anywhere, but just off. I really couldn't get a good feel for exactly what was bothering him, but he was short behind and reluctant to cross over. I tried some leg yields and shoulder-ins at the walk, then did some trot in a loose frame hoping to work him out of his stiffness. No luck, he still felt off. I think (or at least I'm hoping) he's just a bit sore from the work yesterday. So we called it a day. I washed him down with some linament and gave him a good massage.

We'll try again tomorrow....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I haven't had a chance to ride, what with this lovely weather we're having. I'm starting to get a little antsy. I always get a little antsy when I can't ride. My husband has even taken to saying "Why don't you go ride your horse or something!" when I get particularly annoying.

I suppose I'll take this oppurtunity to practice my blogging skills a bit and post some pictures from around our farm.

This is my daughter Summer, and my retired gelding Stravinsky (or "Vinny", for short).

He's learned that if he sticks his head through the fence she'll pet him. Makes for cute photos.

This is Vinny and the pony, Matilda. She barely comes up to his belly, we call her his shadow! She runs the herd, though. Typical pony!

Summer is only a year old, so she can't actually ride the pony, yet. In all honesty, I bought the pony for me. She was just too stinking cute to pass up. Don't tell my husband, though......he still thinks it's for our daughter! I suppose I'll let Summer borrow my pony, sometimes.

Hopefully this rain will let up soon and I'll be able to get out and ride. If not, well....... I guess I'll start building a boat.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fun With Dressage?

The weather here in the Garden State has been crummy lately, which has been a true test of my devotion to riding.
When it's 90 degrees and humid, with thunderstorms threatening at every turn, I find it a little hard to stay motivated.

I'll be the first to admit, dressage isn't really "fun" in the traditional sense. It requires intense discipline. Your aids must be crystal clear and perfectly timed. You must be ready to respond to the the horse's every move instantaneously. Your body must contort into positions it just wasn't designed for. I don't know a single dressage rider who doesn't have a bad back, knee, hip or neck. And don't even get me started on the repetitiveness! I could do a perfect 20 meter circle in my sleep.

But then there are those moments when everything just clicks. Suddenly, it isn't a horse and a rider anymore. My horse's body becomes my body, his strength and agility are mine. It's like a drug. The feeling only lasts for a second, but those seconds keep me coming back.

Maybe I need to join a twelve step program.........


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