Saturday, July 31, 2010

15 Minutes

Spider got two days off, rather than the planned one. The hot, muggy weather returned, and it was supposed to storm, so I didn't ride Thursday. Of course, it didn't end up raining at all, but it was still hot. Friday was beautiful, however. So I spent the day weeding the garden. The weeds kicked my butt. I filled up my dump cart twice and there's still weeds out there. It's been a good year for weeds.

By the time evening rolled around I was pooped, but I still needed to do something with the horse. And since it hadn't rained, the arena footing was dry as a bone. When it gets too dry, it tends to be too loose. I didn't have the time or the energy to drag out the hose and water it. I decided to ride on it anyway, but keep it short and light. I'd work for 15 minutes, then call it a day.

15 minutes isn't much time, and I suppose it could be argued that it isn't even worth it. I don't agree with that mentality, though. Sometimes it's refreshing to have a short day. The horse gets to work, but not be worn out at the end. Which is nice for establishing that work isn't always hard in the horse's mind. If every time you get a horse out you work him into the ground, pretty soon he won't want to see you anymore. And if you only have 15 minutes, there's more incentive to make the work good. You don't have time to try again, it's got to be right the first time. For show horses that's actually pretty important. There are no "do-overs" in your test.

So, after a quick warm up on a loose rein, I asked Spider for a turn on the forehand in each direction. Then we did some walk serpentines. I started out with 20 meters, then gradually shortened the distance between changes of rein until we were doing them every 10 meters. From there I took him up the quarter line and did shoulder in in both directions. Then we did one 20 meter square in each direction, but rather than stopping him in the corner and asking for turn on the haunches, I asked for 1/4 of a walk pirouette at the corners. Throughout the walk work I concentrated on riding every step, keeping him balanced and marching forward with purpose.

I still had five minutes left, so I decided to work a bit on walk/trot transitions. I wanted him to make the upward transition smoothly and immediately and make the downward transition without slamming on the brakes and coming above the bit. To the right, the transitions were good, to the left....not so much. He's still pretty inconsistent with taking the right rein (an ongoing problem). We worked on it until it was acceptable (not good, but acceptable) and then called it a day. I got so caught up in fixing the transitions that I ended up riding for 20 minutes instead of 15. I tend to get carried away sometimes. Spider didn't mind, he's always a good sport. And he doesn't know how to tell time.

We're adding more rubber to the arena today, which should help keep the footing from getting loose when it's dry like this. Rubber is a magical footing additive. It provides support, shock absorbency, keeps dust down, helps prevent freezing in the winter and moisture loss in the heat and just generally makes any footing better. I love the stuff.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I took a picture of Spider last night. He's very out of shape, as you can see. I wanted to preserve a record of his progress as I get him back into shape. I figure I'll take another picture in a month to compare. Hopefully he'll be in better shape.

I was going to take a picture of him trotting around, but it turns out I'm not coordinated enough to lunge the horse and take a picture at the same time.

So on Monday I thought that he felt like a green horse and I felt like a green rider. That's a balance problem. A balance problem is (usually) a fitness problem. OK, I can't fix that in one ride. But, I can make sure that the work I am doing is as correct as possible. No noodling around! Everything has to be precise and balanced.

I decided to start out with some turns on the forehand. Some riders and trainers I know don't like to do turns on the forehand, as they are not "really" a dressage movement and not called for in tests, but I like them. When done properly, they encourage the horse to step underneath himself with the inside hind and take the outside rein contact. When not done properly, you just end up pulling the horse around in a circle. Which might be why some people don't like them.

Anyway, since I was working on being precise I wanted to concentrate on every step. The goal here wasn't to have a pretty circle, but to make sure that every step was correct. If he stepped forward or bent his head to the outside, it wasn't a big deal. We just tried again, one step at a time. I concentrated on feeling his inside hind leg step underneath and feeling his neck stretch into the outside rein. I gave the inside rein frequently, to make sure I wasn't pulling him around. If he bent to the outside when I gave the inside rein, I applied my inside leg a little harder, feeling for his inside hind to reach further under and his neck to stretch back into the outside rein. If the steps got quick or he stepped forward, I half-halted. The circles weren't pretty, or even circular, but in the end he felt looser and more uphill. So we moved on to 20 meter squares.

Again, we were going for precision, riding every step. Still at the walk, I picked a point straight in front of me and marched him toward it. When we hit our mark, I had him stop and do a 1/4 turn on the haunches. Again, riding every step. If he got quick or unbalanced I half-halted and concentrated on making the next step better. Then we marched off again to the next point in our square. When I was happy with our squares I asked him to trot.

At the trot we did a few figure eights. I concentrated on keeping him off his forehand and passing him smoothly to the new outside rein in the center of the figure eight. But, since we had done a lot of trot work the previous day, I didn't want to spend too much time trotting. I like to concentrate on different things from day to day. Too much of one exercise is boring and doesn't build muscle efficiently.

I brought him back to walk, did a few shoulder ins and leg yields in both directions, still focusing on riding every step, then turned him on a 20 meter circle and asked for the canter (through the trot, not directly from walk). And this is where all my previous balancing work came in handy. Because I had been concentrating on keeping him balanced and riding every step throughout the ride, it was now easier for me to maintain that feeling, even though we were at a quicker and more difficult gait. As we went around I concentrated on feeling his back and haunches under me. If he became too quick, I half halted. If he fell to the inside, I shifted my weight back to the center and put my inside leg on. If I felt him slow down or try to break to trot, I put my legs on. I didn't care how good the circles were or how pretty he looked, I just rode every stride. If one stride was bad, I fixed it on the next stride. I shut everything out and just focused on balancing him.

We changed direction through the trot a few times. Each time I took him back to trot he felt better and better. When I finally got a smooth downward transition and nice, floaty trot I took him off the twenty meter circle and trotted on the rail, allowing him to stretch down and out, chewing the reins out of my hands. And we called it a day.

I didn't work him very long, only 20 minutes excluding the warm-up and cool down, but at the end of the work he was sweating and breathing hard. On Monday he was still pretty fresh after our ride, no sweat at all even though we worked longer and did more trot work. The difference was in the intensity of the work. On Monday I was just sort of noodling around, letting him (and myself) be wiggly and not really asking for the work to be correct. Lesson learned.

I'll probably give him today off, mostly because I'm tired and sore. I'm sure he is too.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


The thunderstorms rolled in Sunday evening, bringing an end to this evil heat wave. My arena weathered the torrential downpour quite nicely (Yay!). There was only one puddle after the storms had passed, and it dried up within a half hour. I'm a little surprised, my do-it-yourself projects don't usually end up this well.

I finally managed to get out to ride yeterday evening. By then, the footing was just about perfect: not too dry, not too wet. It's a little thin in spots, a little deep in others and it could stand to have more rubber, but overall it's pretty darn good. The rubber needs to be mixed in a little better, too. But that will come with time. It's still a work in progress.

Since there was no heat or humidity and good footing , I had no excuses to not actually do some work. And work we did! As I sit here typing this, I am acutely aware of several muscles that I have not used in some time. I am pleased to say that I have no soreness in the insides of my thighs, though. That means I wasn't gripping with them. I was concentrating very hard on not gripping with my thighs the entire time I was riding, it's nice to know that it paid off.

We only worked for about 30 minutes. That's not counting warm-up and cool down, so it was thirty minutes of hard work. We did lots of transitions and serpentines at the walk and trot. Baby steps to get us thinking forward and off the forehand. Then we did some shoulder in before I asked for canter. I like to do a shoulder in before cantering because Spider tends to bring his hind quarters in at the canter, shoulder in helps prevent that. It also gets him to put more weight in his hind end to smooth the upward transition. His right lead canter was good, we did a full loop of the arena in that. His left lead canter was very unbalanced. I ended up turning him onto a twenty meter circle to try to correct it a bit. We'll be working on that.

My overall impression of the ride was that it felt like a green rider on a green horse. Wiggly and out of balance. Not what it should have felt like, but I suppose it's to be expected. We haven't done any work in about two months and before that he wasn't under saddle, just doing ground work. Now I have to fix it. Which means starting over at the beginning, as though he were a young horse. Trying to put him back together too quickly will just make him sour or lame. Or me sour or lame. It's frustrating, but it should go quickly since the training is there, just not the fitness.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Almost Done!

The footing is down.... Hoorah! It still needs some cosmetic work, and I need to get the letters put up, but it is a fully serviceable riding arena. And it's about 3 billion degrees here. Bummer. I'm dying to try it out, but this heat is ridiculous. I may take Spider out just for a bit of walk work this evening, if the heat gets less oppressive. It's supposed to cool down Monday, so there is some hope!

So here's the view from A, or maybe C... I haven't decided yet:

We've also put in a Gazebo and patio at B (or E) for viewing and a play area to keep the kids busy.

It just looks so inviting.... I can't stand it. I just love a freshly drug arena.......

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sand: Take Two

I think I now know more about the properties, price and procurement of sand than anyone ever should. I'll spare you the boring details (and, boy, are they ever boring). Suffice to say, the sand was delivered today. After talking to every landscaping and construction company between here and North Jersey I finally tracked down the company that most of the retail companies buy their sand from. Turns out it's about 8 miles down the road from me...who knew? Anyway, I talked to them and found out I could get 50 tons from them for less than what I paid for the 27 tons I bought from the landscaper. Score! Of course, since it's a wholesale operation, I had to order 50 tons (two truckloads), but I'm sure I'll be able to find something to do with the leftover sand. The horses have worn down a few low spots in front of the barn and at the gates that could get filled. That's the nice thing about a farm, there's always a project that needs to get done.

So it came in two truckloads. After the first truck dumped it's load, which was 27 tons, one thing became very clear: what I got on Saturday was not 27 tons. Hmmm. I'll go ahead and blame the weather, inaccurate scales and the general folly of selling a landscaping product by weight not volume. At any rate, what we have now should be more than sufficient.

For the record, this is what 27 tons of sand looks like:

And that is one happy two year old!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Situation Normal......

That's the beginning of a military anagram that is highly appropriate today. Actually, it's highly appropriate for many situations involving horses. But particularly for today's misadventure.

I ordered the sand for my ring yesterday. I calculated how much I would need precisely. I want the footing to be 2-3 inches deep. Since I don't know how much rubber I really have, I figured I would order enough sand to cover the arena to a depth of one inch, add the rubber, then order more sand as needed.

My carefully calculated sand was delivered today. It isn't even close to how much I need. Fail.

So what happened? I have no idea. I rechecked my calculations several times and keep coming up with the same answer: 27 tons. The only thing I can figure is that the rainstorms made the sand heavier. Since tons are a measure of weight and wet sand weighs more than dry sand, I would have less sand. You would think companies would sell their products in cubic yards, to prevent these sorts of errors. But such is not the case. Or at least not the case with any of the companies I called, they all sold sand by the ton.

It's not the end of the world, I can order more. And it is easier to add footing than it is to remove footing. But it's still disappointing. I was hoping to have this done this weekend. Since the sand is sold by weight and not volume, I don't really know how much I need. I guess I'll just have to keep hauling in truckloads until it's the depth I want. What a pain. I suppose this is why people have professionals build their arenas. *L*

I guess it's all irrelevant anyway, since it's far too hot to ride.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where I'm At

I figure now is a good time to make a "situation report". I figure I should probably do this sort of thing regularly, to keep track of what I'm doing. I tend towards being scatterbrained and slightly forgetful, so writing things down is always helpful.

So...where am I at?

I'm managing to exercise twice a day most days and at least once a day every day. It's not the three times a day I set out to do, but I like to set the bar higher than what's realistic. That way, even if I only achieve half of what I set out to do, I'm still doing pretty well. My routine right now is either a Yoga Sun Salutation or a Standing Poses sequence, then I sit on the exercise ball for a bit. Sometimes I just sit on it, balancing. Sometimes I do a light upper body routine(rowing and curls), or bounce the baby in my lap (he's about nine pounds...a perfect little dumbbell). Sometimes I shift my pelvis back and forth, as though shifting my weight in a saddle. I like to switch it up to avoid overworking any particular muscle group. Then I do another Yoga sequence.

As far as training the horse goes...well that's tricky. It's been horribly hot and muggy. If we were both in good shape I'd ride him in it. But we're both out of shape and that's not really fair. So I'm not doing much. I have ridden twice in the last week or so, mostly walking and mostly working on my position. I've started really reading Susanne Von Dietze's book Balance In Movement. She's a physical therapist as well as a riding instructor and gives some really great in the saddle exercises for improving position. So I've been playing around with those at the walk. Eventually I'll start trying them at the trot and canter. This is when I sort of wish I was still at one of those big training facilities. These sorts of exercises are much easier on the lunge line, but I haven't got anybody to lunge me around. Luckily Spider is fairly quiet (as far as Thoroughbreds go). Once I'm feeling a little more stable I'll probably stop riding with stirrups for a little while. I've always found that to be a good way to improve position, as long as you're careful not to begin gripping with the thighs to compensate. I may even go bareback once I'm feeling stronger. Bareback might be nice for Spider, as his saddle isn't fitting quite right. I have a custom made saddle, it was custom made for a fit, muscular Spider's back. It isn't sitting so well on a flabby, scrawny Spider's back.

Complicating the issue is my lack of a suitable riding surface. My arena is still just the hard packed base, with no footing on it. It can be ridden on, but it's hard as a rock, which is not good for the horse's legs and hooves. I can ride in my pastures, but they're pretty hard, too. And uneven. Unfortunately, the lawn is off limits since I can only ride when my husband is home to watch the baby. He really doesn't like it when I ride on the lawn, even though I always replace my divots. So, even if it weren't hot I would only be getting light work done for lack of a place to do heavy work. I'm pricing sand this week and hopefully will be able to get the arena finished by next week.

So that's where I'm at right now. I'll have to remember to do another situation report in a few weeks, to see if I've moved forwards, backwards or not at all.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Oh, My Sciatica!

A sedentary lifestyle is not my friend. Although it seems counter-intuitive, my back feels better the more I exercise and right now I'm not getting much exercise. I can make lots of excuses for it: I'm tired, the heat is oppressive, I don't have enough time, etc... but in the end those are just excuses. I need to get my butt in gear. I'm still not ready for my pre-baby exercise routine, which consisted of daily Yoga, Pilates several times a week and all the farm work, but I could be doing more. Right now I'm doing good if I get one very light yoga workout done a day and the stalls cleaned every other day. I wouldn't call cleaning the stalls a real "workout", anyway. The horses aren't spending much time in them, they prefer to stand under the big shady tree in the front pasture, so "cleaning" consists of picking out one or two poo piles and fluffing up the bedding. Not exactly strenuous.

As a result of my inactivity, my back is rebelling. As my muscles deteriorate into flab, my joints get out of alignment, which in turn causes strain on my ligaments and puts pressure on my sciatic nerve. And, as anyone with sciatica knows, pressure on the sciatic nerve causes horrible, paralyzing pain to shoot down my leg and usually results in me getting stuck in whatever position I was in when it started. Which then causes me to not really want to do anything. It's a vicious cycle, and it's not fun. Something needs to be done.

So, I am hereby announcing my intention to up the ante. I'm not going to increase the intensity of my workouts, I'm not ready for that yet, but I am going to increase the frequency. My initial goal is going to be three times a day. It sounds like a lot, but I'm only doing very light stretching and stabilizing exercises. The whole sequence only takes about 10 minutes. If I can stick to it, I should get to feeling better quickly. "If I can stick to it" is the tricky part.

Luckily, I have an army of monster zucchinis to do the chores for me until my sciatica feels better:

Related posts:
Four Years And Counting
Oh, My Aching Back!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What Are Heat Waves Good For?

Not training horses, that's for sure. My otherwise excellent training plan has been foiled by the weather, yet again. It's 100 F here, that's about 38 C for my sensible metric-using readers. I suppose it could be worse, at least it isn't humid. Of course, that's a small consolation considering that my pastures are turning to dust in this dry heat. And the forecast is calling for humidity later in the week.

Well, at least I'm not in danger of doing too much and hurting myself.

So what are heat waves good for? Apparently, they're good for growing zucchini. I'm taking in a record harvest this year. They only started setting fruit two weeks ago, we're already eating zucchini every day and I still have a counter full of the things.

Some of them are absolute monsters, too. I try to pick them every day so they don't get too big, but sometimes they get away from me.

Even the horses are frightened. *L*

If you know any good zucchini recipes, let me know.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Getting Back Into The Swing Of Things

The weather has been beautiful and I'm starting to think about getting back to work. Spider and I have both had a lot of time off, so we need to progress slowly. I don't like to push horses after they've been out of work, it's not fair to them physically or mentally. So we're easing back into training. I've started lunging Spider for 30 minutes every other day. It's not too physically strenuous, but it's getting him used to the idea of working again.

A horse's mind is like a child's, they don't cope well with drastic changes to their routine. For the last several weeks Spider has been living the life of a retiree: turnout 24-7 and no work. Even though he enjoys work, to try to just throw him back into our previous training schedule would sour him quickly. So, we are going very, very slowly. Which is fine by me. With a toddler and a new baby, I'm doing everything slowly these days.

For now, we're mostly working on obedience. When I first put Spider back on the lunge after his time off, he wanted to be a little defiant. Although, in his defense, it was feeding time and his pasture mates were throwing a fit that I was paying attention to him and not bringing them their dinner. I guess Spider decided to jump on the bandwagon: every time he passed the barn he tried to stop, as if to remind me that it was chow time. In this type of scenario, when a horse is trying to think for himself, the solution is nearly always transitions. Asking for transitions forces the horse to focus on me and (hopefully) forget about whatever it was that he wanted to do. I find this works particularly well with Spider, he's not much of a multi-tasker.

As Spider gets back into the mindset of training and my fitness improves we'll begin incorporating more things: cavaletti, long lines, riding. Boredom can sour a horse just as quickly as too much work can. It's a fine line to walk. The work has to be interesting and engaging, consistent, but not too strenuous. For both of us.....


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