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.


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