Monday, November 29, 2010

Still Cantering

Spider was really sore last week. I can tell because he was being a little balky and squirmy under saddle. He's never blatantly defiant, he just tries to evade me. That's not a bad thing, the soreness, it means he's building muscle. He got two days off because of the holiday and seems to be feeling much better.

In one of my last posts, Jean of Horses of Follywoods suggested counter-canter as a great muscle building and balancing exercise. It is a great exercise, and it's usually one of my favorite exercises. Just not with Spider.

Spider was a jumper before I got him, and as such was taught an automatic flying change. Automatic as in "I will change my canter lead irrespective of my rider's input". It took nearly two years of work to get him to stop doing it. And, when he's unfit, he still does it. The second he comes unbalanced in counter canter, he swaps leads. And it isn't a clean, powerful leap into the new lead, like a dressage flying change should be. It's more of a shoulder-dropping fall into the new lead. Very frustrating.

When I encounter a problem, I like to go back to the beginning. To break Spider of his automatic change the first time I first improved the quality of his canter. I practiced lengthening the stride, then shortening it in circles and straight. I flexed him in and out of circles, paying special attention to not flex him out for too many strides at a time because he'll change leads. From there, I began to use the First Level shallow canter serpentine. First Level Test Four calls for a shallow serpentine from the rail to X and then back to the rail again. At first, I sort of cheated on this exercise. I would canter to X, then leg yield back to the rail. I did this to avoid changing direction, so that Spider could figure out that I didn't want him to change leads. As he began to get the point, I began to ever so slightly point him in the new direction. As his balance and confidence grew and he began to "get" it, I asked for more. Then, one day out of the blue he had it. We were able to do the exercise flawlessly, and then do an entire figure eight with no change of lead. Then we tried the Second Level Test One three loop serpentine. No problem. It took awhile, but in the end it was almost effortless. Slow and steady wins the race, I suppose.

So, I'm doing the same thing again. Right now we're up to flexing in and out of the circle. When I feel like he's balanced enough, we'll go to the shallow serpentine. Hopefully I won't have to use the leg yields this time. I think it's just a fitness issue, I can't imagine he could have forgotten how to counter canter. Well, maybe. "Automatic" training can be very hard to break.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Moonlit Rides and a Conundrum

Spider had Thursday and Friday off since we had to do family things for the holiday. And then Saturday went by too fast. Suddenly it was 4:30 and getting dark and I hadn't ridden yet. I mulled my options. Option one: Suck it up and ride in the dark. Option two: Wimp out and look like a backyard yahoo at the clinic Dec 10th. I hate looking like a backyard yahoo. Plus, I was inspired by Carol at Dressage Training Journal. She wrote about a moonlit ride recently that sounded just heavenly. I must admit that there is something magical about working a horse in the dark. We humans are such visual creatures, we tend to throw all our other senses away and just rely on our eyesight. But in the dark there are no distractions, it's just you and the horse.

We just worked a bit on suppling, bending into and out of the circle. We walked, trotted, cantered and then called it an evening. It felt good.

The conundrum: What do I do about a blanket for Vinny? He still lifts his hind legs up too high and he got one leg caught in the belly straps of the blanket. Luckily, he didn't hurt himself, but he did rip the belly straps off the blanket. I tried using the blanket without the belly straps. I found it in a heap in the middle of the pasture this morning. I probably should have known that would happen. I'm going to try sewing one strap back on nearer the front of the blanket, where a girth would go. If that doesn't work, I'm all out of ideas. Maybe I could just wrap him up in insulation and vet wrap for the winter? *L*

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Horses enrich our lives. They teach us humility, forgiveness, unconditional love and patience. Horses give us power and grace that our bodies do not have.

Horses have also left an indelible mark on our history. They plowed our fields, pulled our wagons and carried us into battle for thousands of years. Our society was built on the backs of horses.

Thank you, Horse. We couldn't be here without you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Feeling Better and Canter Work

My shoulder is back to normal, thankfully. I started riding again last Friday. I'm trying to stick with a 2-3 days on, one day off schedule for Spider. I have to get him fit and suitable for public presentation by December 10th. Why Dec 10th? I signed up for a clinic. Spider hasn't been off the property in over a year, I figured he could probably use the experience. Plus, there's a nice little dressage community building up in my neck of the woods, and I figured I should start participating. The clinic isn't really anything special, it's with my regular trainer, but it is a chance to get out, be seen and introduce myself and Spider to the community. Which means I need to get my butt in gear so that I don't look like a yokel.

For the last few rides I've worked on canter with Spider. His trot work is just about perfect. The trot/walk transitions are smooth and he can volte, lengthen, leg yield, shoulder-in, travers and renver in trot pretty consistently. I haven't worked on half-pass yet, we were only just starting that last year. No need to get ahead of ourselves. But, I'm happy with the trot. So, now it's time to move to canter. He wants to be crooked and unbalanced in the canter. It's a fitness issue, and the only way to fix it is to get out there and do it.

I'm applying the same plan to the canter that I used to get his trot work up to snuff. Transitions, transitions, more transitions, and suppling work. Right now, I make the upward transition to canter, flex him into the circle, flex him out of the circle, then back to trot. Lather, rinse, repeat. For variety, I send him down the long side and ask for a lengthening or a leg yield. We've done a few 10 meter canter circles here and there, but he tends to come unbalanced and fall on his forehand in them.

We'll get there. I have time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Outside Pets

In the wee hours of the morning I was awakened by a storm. The wind was howling and rain pelted the house. It was quite a racket. I got up and turned on the floodlights to check the horses, to be sure no limbs were down on the fence and the horses were snug in the barn. No trees were down, but the horses were not snug in the barn. They were standing out in the cold, driving rain, butts to the wind, happily munching on grass. They have the choice of going into the barn or staying out. I've found that 90% of the time, they choose out. Funny, I've always been told that show horses are delicate, sensitive creatures that cannot possibly live outside. I guess mine didn't get the memo.

They should know that they shouldn't go out in the rain. They might melt.

And they certainly can't go out in the snow. It's much too cold, they wouldn't like that.

Hmmm.... well, I am still glad that I provide them with stalls. Horses need a soft, secure place to sleep in.

Or around.

That's not to say that they never go in their stalls. I occasionally find them in there. Although, they seem to be confused as to how to properly use them.

One horse per stall, boys. You fit better that way.

And, while we're on the subject of "what horses can't do", here's a picture for all the people who think that dressage is unnatural and forced and that horses at liberty don't move like that:

I'd also like to give a shout out to all the Dressage Queens who think that only purebred, papered Warmbloods from Europe can be competetive dressage horses.

I'm feeling cheeky today, must be the wind ;)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Me, not Spider. Thank goodness!

I'm a pretty rough and tumble sort of person. And I don't always think things through. This often leads to me doing dumb things. Like trying to throw hay bales directly from the slick pickup bed into the hay room, or clean the water tubs while reaching through the electric fence. Just last week I was standing on top of the tractor using a hack saw to cut down a tree limb. I did briefly think to myself "Maybe this isn't one of my better ideas". But, I couldn't think of any better way to do it, so I carried on. I've also been known to use hay bales as makeshift ladders. Heck, I've even used the horse as a ladder, mostly to remove small branches that hang over the arena. I sit on his back, reach up with the hand nippers and cut off the low-hanging branches that hit me when I ride. I figure that's the height they need to be trimmed to, anyway. Why not? He only dances around a little bit, he's mostly gotten used to it.

So, how did I hurt myself? Pulling on a sweatshirt. How ignoble. It's not even a good story. I was a little chilly, so I decided to put on a sweatshirt. While pulling it over my head I managed to pull a muscle. The big muscle that runs from your neck down to the bottom of your shoulder blade, the trapezius. Right now it's the ouchius maximus. For the last two days I haven't been able to turn my head without getting blinding pain down my neck and back. It does seem a bit better today. It's mostly just sore now, not stabbing pain.

Needless to say, I haven't been riding. I thought about it. But then I thought that would be a pretty dumb thing to do. I'll try a little gentle stretching today, see how that goes. It's raining anyway.

And now for some good news.... Vinny's trotting again! You may recall that Vinny, my old retiree, contracted Australian Stringhalt over the summer. For a while there he couldn't trot, because of the way his hind legs were moving. He cantered everywhere. Well, last night he trotted up for dinner! His movement has been less exaggerated lately, but this is the first time I've seen him trot since he first showed symptoms. I'm quite pleased that he's making progress. I was really worried about how he would manage if we got a lot of snow this winter. He can stay in the stall, but Stringhalt horses aren't really supposed to be confined. Movement helps them, confinement makes them worse. Plus, I worry about him falling and getting cast in the stall. He seems to be doing just fine though. I shouldn't have had any doubts. Nothing ever gets that cheeky old bugger down!

Related Posts on Vinny's Stringhalt:
StringHalt and Dandelions
Hot and Steamy
Hot and Steamy, With a Chance of Hurricanes

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Catching Up And Breeches

Fall is a busy time. It's actually my least favorite season because there is so much to do, and so few hours of daylight. It's getting dark here at around 5:30 pm now. I can get stuff done after dark, there are lights outside, but I find that my motivation wanes with the sun. I suppose I might have that "seasonal depression" I see on TV drug commercials. Once it gets dark, all I want to do is go inside, snuggle up on the couch and go to sleep. I think I was really meant to be a hibernating animal. *L*

Anyway, since I'm busy all day and hibernating at night, I've fallen woefully behind on blogging. Spider is doing quite well. He's staying consistently round, still a few bobbles when doing transitions, but otherwise very consistent. I can't remember the last time he tripped. I've started sitting the trot more and more. That's nice, I have a lot more control when I'm sitting. I've never been very good at posting the trot. I have to remember to take a picture of Spider, too. He's filling out quite nicely.

I'm also undertaking a little project. Well, I'm contemplating planning a little project, anyway. I need new breeches. Unfortunately, I have a taste for quality, full seat breeches. My favorite brands are Pikeur (expensive) and Miller (no longer manufactured). My two favorite pairs of breeches both have the same problem: after years of use and abuse, the seats have worn out. But, the fabric is still good. They're my favorites because they fit wonderfully, the fabric is a good weight and they're very comfortable. I just can't bear to let them go. So, I had a cunning plan. I will make new seats! I have a sewing machine. I'm not a particularly talented seamstress, but I'm not starting from scratch, either.

After careful examination of the breeches, it seems pretty straightforward. I can pull the stitching and use the old seats as a template. Now it's just a matter of choosing a material. I'd love to do leather seats. I love leather seats on breeches. But, this is my first time doing this, so I should maybe be conservative. Once you've stitched leather, there's no going back to fix a mistake. If you try to remove the stitching, the holes remain and the piece is ruined. So, I'm thinking synthetic.

I've priced everything out, I can get enough leather or synthetic material for about 5-6 seats for the price of one pair of breeches. Even if I ruin a few yards of material, it's still a good deal. But, like I said, I'm still in the "contemplating planning stage".

Anyone out there ever try this sort of thing? Was it an unmitigated disaster? Or, is the high price of full seat breeches just a racket perpetrated by manufacturers who know that horse people will pay through the nose for stuff?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Brown Marmorated Stinkbug

If you are lucky enough to live in a part of the world that has not been inundated with these things, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about or why I'd dedicate an entire post to these things. But, if you live in the Northeast U.S., you probably just said "UGH!"

We are experiencing a stinkbug infestation of Biblical proportions this year. Seriously, they're everywhere. And they stink. When startled or upset they release a sort of chemical smell. It's not the most unpleasant smell, but it is pungent and the little buggers are constantly releasing it because they're always somewhere they shouldn't be. The things have a serious death wish. They climb into clothing, under and into saddle pads and blankets, the cushions of the patio furniture, feed buckets and tubs and anyplace else they shouldn't be. They also have a penchant for just randomly flying into you for no reason, too. Then they get all offended and release their stink. Really annoying.

Aside from being annoying, they don't seem to do much else. I think that's the most annoying thing about them. Flies and mosquitoes bite, but that's how they get food. Grasshoppers eat my veggies, but again, that's just part of their nature. These things are just obnoxious pests that serve no purpose whatsoever. It's like Nature's cruel joke.

Originally, I was fairly indifferent to them, since they seem pretty harmless. But then I had a horrific encounter with one and realized that they were not only suicidal, but they were trying to take me with them.

I was dragging the arena one day, minding my own business, when the assault occurred. I was getting ready to ride, so I was wearing breeches. This particular pair of breeches has a bit of a gap in the back. My hips are much wider than my waist, so any high waisted breeches I own tend to gap at the waist. For some reason, the manufacturers of breeches think all women riders have the physique of a twelve year old boy, I have to get a larger waist size to get them over my hips. But I digress.

As I passed under a tree, a stinkbug fell straight down the gap in my breeches. I very nearly wrecked the tractor.

I can only imagine what it must have looked like to an outside observer as I flailed and screamed and tried to remove the stinkbug, while the tractor careened around the arena. Tractors have very sensitive steering. Wild flailing is not a recommended way of driving them.

I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me to stop the tractor and get off, but to be fair, I was being assaulted. One cannot think clearly under those circumstances.

I eventually managed to get the offender out of my breeches without wrecking the tractor. Thank goodness, I do not want my obituary to read "death by stinkbug". Ever since this unfortunate incident, I have loathed the homicidal little buggers.

Needless to say, given my stinkbug hatred, I was quite pleased with the hard frosts we've experienced here over the last three nights. I gleefully imagined all the horrid little stinkbugs freezing to death as payback for ambushing me on the tractor. Take that, stinkbugs!

This morning, as I was tidying up the feed room, I picked up a fleece cooler I had thrown over the feed bins to dry. Guess what I found, alive and well?

I hate stinkbugs.....


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