Monday, April 26, 2010

It's All In Your Head

The rain arrived yesterday. It's not really all that bad, just sort of misting. But I don't want to go out in it to do anything. So I've just been sitting in the sun room watching the rain fall and pondering. I was reflecting on some of the more memorable advice on riding I've received over the years. One of my favorite bits of advice came from a German instructor I rode in a few clinics with many years ago. She told me "Look where you are going. Why are you looking at your horse? He's still there. You will know if he goes missing." Through the years, I have often repeated that pearl of wisdom to myself and others. It's one of my favorites.

We are all guilty of looking down when we ride at some point or another. And we've all been told not to do it because it pulls our shoulders down and shifts our weight forward, throwing the horse on his forehand. Plus, if you're looking down you're not watching where you're going. But is there more to it than that? As I was contemplating the advice, the sentence "You will know if he goes missing" suddenly struck me in a new way.

As humans, we rely on our eyesight much more than our other senses. So much so that the areas of our brain involved with touch, hearing, and smell are atrophied in comparison to other animals. But the brain is a very plastic organ, it can change and rewire itself if necessary. Studies in blind humans have shown that when visual information is no longer coming in, the brain re-wires itself so that the other senses become more acute. A blind person has a much more sensitive sense of touch, smell and hearing than a sighted person. This re-wiring of the brain will occur at any age. Studies in sighted adults who were blindfolded for a period of time showed that the re-wiring begins within a few weeks of the loss of sight. Blindfolded individuals showed a significant increase in sense of hearing, touch and smell and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) showed an increase in activity in areas of the brain corresponding to those senses. Even more interestingly, when the blindfolds were removed at the end of the trial the brain returned to its previous sighted configuration. All increases in acuity of the other senses were lost as soon as vision was restored.

So, where am I going with all that? When you look down at your horse, what are you looking at? Are you checking to see if he's round, if he's bent properly around your leg, if he's popping his shoulder out or falling in? Those are the things I'm usually checking for when I look down. But in dressage, we're always seeking that elusive concept of "feel". Shouldn't I be feeling whether those things are right? As we all know, a horse can look correct, but not actually be correct. But if he feels correct, you know he's correct. By looking at my horse, am I losing my feel? Am I relying too much on visual information and deadening my other senses? It's an interesting question.

Of course, there are times when it's advantageous to use your eyes to check things. If you're riding an unfamiliar horse, trying a new exercise or just starting out in dressage you may need to look down or look in the mirror to check yourself or your horse, but those glances should be fleeting and should augment the feeling, not replace it. In dressage "feel" must be learned, and constantly looking down will hamper that learning process.

So stop looking at your horse and you'll know if he goes missing.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Love Affair Has Ended

This is my dump cart. When I first got my dump cart, I loved it. With it, I could pick up an entire pasture's worth of poo in a single trip. And it had a handy dump mechanism, so I could dump the poo quickly and easily. It was love at first dump. But, like any love affair, time and familiarity have cooled my passion. I have started to notice the flaws in my dump cart. Mainly, the dump mechanism doesn't always catch properly. I have to be very careful to make sure the bed is latched properly or the cart will spontaneously dump while I'm driving it around. It's tedious and sometimes annoying, but still functional.

Since today was a beautiful spring day, but tomorrow and the rest of the week are supposed to be rainy, I figured a good pasture picking was in order. I hooked up my cart, grabbed the pitch fork and headed for the pastures to make the most of the good weather.

So there I was, happily picking up poo piles, when suddenly I heard a crash behind me. I looked back. To my horror, half a cart full of freshly picked poo was now spread back over the pasture, trailing behind the upended cart. The blankety-blank mechanism had tripped and dumped my load! But, I figured I just hadn't checked the latch. So I put the bed back down, made sure the latch was secure and re-loaded the poo. Satisfied that the mechanism was indeed secure, I continued on my merry way.

I managed to get two pastures fully picked. The cart was piled high with manure and I only had a few more piles to go. Then I hit a bump. Then I heard a crash. Then I was unhappy. My full load was now spread back out in the pasture and an hour or so of work was wasted. So, I did the only sensible thing one can do in such a situation. I got off the mower and started kicking the dump cart while calling it every nasty name I could think of. Then I went to get the tractor to use the front end loader to scoop up my errant poo, since there was no way I was going to pick it all up by hand again. Unfortunately, the front end loader is smaller than the dump cart, so it took three trips to get it cleaned up. And the loader doesn't have much finesse, so I ended up having to rake up and load a lot of the poo by hand, but I got the job done......eventually.

I'm going to have to figure out a way to rig the cart so that if the mechanism trips the bed can't dump. In true rural fashion, I'm sure my "fix" will involve baling twine. Perhaps if I tied the bed down to the frame?

Why is it that everything is always broken on a farm?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


We finally broke ground on the new arena! We haven't gotten too much done yet, but it's a start. Since we only have 5 acres, we only have a small tractor. It's fine for day to day things on our little hobby farm, but it takes a little longer to do big jobs.

My original prediction about our soil was correct, we won't need to truck in stone to build the base. So, once we've got the site scraped and leveled, we'll just need sand to add to our steal of a deal rubber and we'll be all set. I can't wait! Particularly since I can't lunge Spider back there now, there's too many stones and the ground is really hard. He's still barefoot, and will probably remain barefoot until after I have the baby. His front feet have a few cracks and he had a chip in his right hind hoof, but other than that he seems to be doing well.

What with all the construction, I haven't gotten much done with Spider. He has been getting better about "allowing" the other horses to be taken out and groomed, we've been working on that. Well, I don't know if I'd call it "working", I take the others out and ignore his temper tantrums. The tantrums are getting milder, though, so it's having a positive effect. He's figured out that the place where I tie the horses is right outside one of the stall windows, so he shoves his nose up to the bars and blows and snorts at me while I have the others out. I'll have to remember to take a picture of him doing it, it's quite comical.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Spider Moment

I've mentioned Spider's abnormal jealous behavior before. It doesn't really affect his dressage training so much, so I usually just brush it off. Every horse has a quirk or two. But this evening he really made a nuisance of himself.

Spider's hock was still a bit tender, so I gave him the day off. He still got groomed, like he does every morning during breakfast along with the others. When I do their daily grooming, I only take out the little soft curry and give them a once over. It gives me a chance to check for bug-bites and boo-boos and I think it makes them feel special, too. During this morning's grooming session, I noticed Matilda could use a little extra attention to get her winter coat off. So, this evening when I had some time, I went to get her out to give her a good shedding. And then all Hell broke loose.

As soon as Spider saw me headed for the pasture gate with Matilda, he charged. Not at me, but at poor little Matilda. I told him to get back, and he did....but as soon as I had Matilda out the gate he started banging on the gate. Then he started neighing frantically. Then the running started. He ran all around the pasture, screaming his head off. It was such a commotion that my husband came running out of the house, convinced that something terrible had happened. All because I had taken Matilda out and not Spider. It was really quite embarrassing. But, I ignored him (which was very difficult) and he eventually calmed down, after a half hour or so. I waited until he had stopped throwing a fit before I put Matilda back. I also ignored him when I went into the pasture to turn Matilda back out. No need to reward his Drama Queen antics.

Matilda, much to her credit, was completely unaffected by the histrionics. She enjoyed her grooming session immensely. I think I pulled enough hair off of her to coat another pony, it must feel good to be rid of that.

This odd little quirk of Spider's continues to puzzle me. It's not herd sourness, he could care less if he's out without the others. He only acts this way when I take one of the other horses out. It seems to be jealousy, but it's not as though he doesn't get more than his fair share of attention. Maybe that's the problem, he gets too much attention. I do tend to indulge him.

I think it's safe to say that his hock probably isn't bothering him that much, considering all the running he did this evening. He'll be back to work tomorrow. I'll be taking Matilda out to groom again, too. I might even take Vinny out, if I have time, just to annoy Spider.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a normal horse. But then what would I have to blog about? *LOL*

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cavaletti And Boo-Boos

Monday I decided to work Spider over cavaletti a bit. It's always interesting when we do something new, Spider takes to change like fish take to air. Not that cavaletti are new to him, I've ridden him over them many times, but lunging over cavaletti is new. We started slowly, just walking over them. Then we progressed to trotting. Then for some reason he decided to canter. I let him, figuring he would probably break into trot before he got to the poles. He didn't. He tried to jump them instead. Which might have worked if they weren't spaced way too close together for jumping over. He leaped the first one with ease, then realized the second one was too close, tried to stop short and nearly fell on his face. Of course, he could have stepped over it, since they're only about two inches tall. But I guess that didn't occur to him. I wonder about him sometimes.

Tuesday it rained, so he had off. Since the weather was cooler, the horses were all running and playing. At some point Spider managed to scrape up his hock, I have no clue how he did that. I found it when I went to groom him this morning. I started to curry what I thought was just a layer of mud off of his right hock and he reacted like I'd taken a baseball bat to his leg (he tends to be melodramatic). Turns out the mud was covering up a big scrape on the outside of his hock, right over the joint. Since there was no heat or swelling, I decided to try lunging him anyway. As soon as we started I could tell it was bothering him, though. So I just free lunged him for 15 minutes. We worked on walk/halt transitions and changing direction, not too physically strenuous but it got his brain working. Then we called it a day. I'll see how he feels tomorrow.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I Love Craigslist

See that? That is the rubber footing for my arena. I parked the truck next to the pile as a reference for how big it is. We guess-timated it at about 9 tons of footing, based on the carrying capacity of the pickup and the number of trips it took to get it all here. And guess what? We got it off Craigslist for $300. That's right.....three hundred dollars. I'm still in shock. I'm not just going to have a proper arena, I'm going to have a super-duper arena! Now that we've saved so much on the rubber, we can spend a little more on prepping the site, maybe even get a professional quality surface. Spider's going to be one spoiled horse. I hope it doesn't go to his head.

As far as training goes, I haven't been getting a lot done. This business of manufacturing a human being (aka being pregnant) is really wearing me out. I do get out every day to groom everyone,since their winter coats are shedding and itchy. It's also a good chance to practice a bit of handling exercises with them. I've put them into a sort of "Ground Manners Boot Camp". While I'm out of commission having a baby, my non-horsey husband will be taking care of them. They need a refresher so they can be on their best behavior for him. They aren't what I would call naughty, but they could easily overwhelm an inexperienced handler. Vinny in particular can get pushy at feeding time. He understands and respects that I'm not to be pushed around, but I know he will try to get one over on my husband. When it gets closer to my due date, I'll start having my husband feed them while I supervise, so they can get used to him and he can get used to their shenanigans.

I did manage to get a short long-lining session in with Spider on Saturday and a good lunging session today, so we are doing something training-wise. I think tomorrow I'll introduce some cavaletti to the routine. I'd like to get him a little more collected and working through his back before we return to the long-lines. I have a pretty good idea of what I want from him and what I need to accomplish it, it's just a matter of doing it.


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