Thursday, January 27, 2011


Just when the snow finally melts off my arena, we get another snow storm.  Winter is toying with me. 

It's only six inches or so, not too bad.  But, still, it's annoying.  I'm ready to be done with snow and ice.

At least the horses don't seem to mind.  I am always amazed at how well they weather these storms.   They go about their day as though nothing happened, content with their lives while I grump and whine about the inconvenience of the weather.  They accept life for what it is. They are secure in the knowledge that they have everything they need and they can be happy with that.

I suppose I should take a lesson from them.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

Back To The Grindstone

I've been feeling oddly motivated the last few days.  It's cold, I have a cold, but still I've been compelled to go out and do something with my horse.  Must be a side effect of the cold medicine.  Or, perhaps just the fact that the snow has mostly melted and I can get outside to do things.  I was going a little stir-crazy being cooped up inside.  I'm not really an "inside" type of person.

Last Thursday was the first day the snow had really melted enough for me to use the arena.  I took Spider out for a short ride, only 30 minutes.  It was really just a warm up, no real work and nothing new.  We walked, trotted and cantered with contact, did lots of transitions and then were done. 

Friday was cold and windy, and I felt crummy from my cold, so I lunged Spider in side reins.  I wanted to work on lengthenings and medium trot, but just didn't have the energy to keep up with him in the saddle.  Not that keeping up with him on the ground is easier, I just have less to think about.

Saturday was a real treat.  I trailered over to a barn with an indoor for a lesson on long-lining.  I had introduced the concept to Spider earlier, but lacked the finesse (and knowledge) to really get him working over his back on the lines.  It's something I wanted to learn, as I can see many good applications for Spider's training with them.  Spider is a clean slate as far as the upper level movements go, it can be easier for some horses to learn the more difficult movements without the weight of the rider interefering (particularly when said rider has never trained a horse to perform that movement before and is using her horse as a guinea pig).  Also, it is impossible to see the movement while you are sitting on the horse, and thus can be difficult to tell what is going wrong (and it will go wrong, trust me!).  I want to get good enough with the long lines to school the movements both in the saddle and on the ground.  So, I asked for a lesson in it.

My trainer was able to get him working well with little effort.  I am very proud of that.  I had thought that my work with Spider and ground driving was just playing, not really accomplishing anything.  I couldn't get him round on them, so we weren't really working.  But, he knew what they were and knew what to do, so when asked for roundness (and collection!) he was ready and able to comply.  Which just goes to show even "play" has its purpose.  In this case, our play desensitized him to the feel of the lines and got him ready for more serious work.

Sunday I was curious to see how he felt after being worked on the long lines, so I hopped on him for 15 minutes or so, despite it being absolutely frigid outside.  He felt great. Sore, but still great.  Light in the contact, full of forward energy.... really lovely. 

Today is freezing again, but tomorrow promises to bring a "warm spell".  I want to ride again tomorrow (just too cold today!), then try the long lines again by myself later in the week.  I got some good pointers on how to use them, I want to revisit it while it's still fresh in our brains. 

Friday, January 21, 2011


I just love when these awards make the rounds.  I get to find all sorts of new blogs to read. 

I really love reading blogs.  It's what I do while I drink my morning pot of coffee.

This prestigious award has been bestowed on me by:
 Just A Girl And Her Horse
 Calm, Forward, Straight
Adventures In Colt (Filly) Starting

So, now I have four duties to perform:

Duty #1:  Thank and link back to the person who awarded you.  Links done, and a hearty "Thank You!" to all who nominated me.  I'm glad my silly ramblings have touched someone.  I hope my mistakes keep others from making the same mistakes.

Duty #2:  Share seven things about yourself.  Ha!  Here goes:

7 interesting things about me:

1. I'm not all that interesting. 

2. I'm a Stay at Home mom to a two year old and a seven month old.  But, before that, I worked with laboratory animals.  Many people are surprised to learn that.   They think it is at odds with my love for animals.  Quite the contrary.  Animals are necessary for research.  Modern medicine, both human and veterinary, would be nothing without them.  These research animals make the ultimate sacrifice for us, they give their lives to make ours better.  It was my job to ensure that those animals had the very best life and I loved doing that.  My work with lab animals has also affected my ideas on horsemanship and husbandry.  Every effort is made to ensure that lab animals are happy and stress free.  Their psychological health is as important their physical health.  That's an area of husbandry that is mostly overlooked in barn management and even pet care.  Working with lab animals opened up an entirely new world of husbandry for me, and I am thankful for that.  And, next time you're at the barn patting your happy, healthy, vaccinated horse, be sure to thank a rat!

3.  Five years ago I broke my back in a riding accident.  I still have some numbness in my left leg from nerve damage and I have an awkward gait, but I'm otherwise OK.  I thank Pilates and Yoga for that!  If I didn't stay fit, I know I wouldn't be doing as well right now.

4. Every room in my house is a different color.  None of those colors are white.  I love color, and I love surrounding myself with color.

5.  I love gardening.  It's my favorite hobby.

6.  I don't consider riding a hobby.  It is an all consuming passion.  You don't break your back for a hobby!

7.  I am really bad with computers and the internet.  In fact, I just figured out that it's possible to compose posts in Blogger without using HTML.  All you have to do is click on the tab that says "Compose".... How embarrassing.  While the internet and computers were blowing up big time, I was trying to be a horse trainer.  Sadly, I was left behind. 

And now for the really hard part.  You're supposed to award 15 other recently discovered blogs.  Just 15?  I can't do that.  Besides, I'm really late to this party, so just about all the blogs I've recently discovered have been awarded already.

All except one.

Pop's Compost.

"Pop" is Annette's husband (from News From Aspen Meadows).  He brings a riotously funny male perspective to this "dressage" thing.   He only blogs sporadically, but...... perhaps with a little encouragement, he would write a little more often!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

1 AM

It's raining, Hooray!  Hopefully all this snow will melt.  We're supposed to reach a balmy 38 F today.  I may have to put short sleeves on!

Last night it was freezing rain.  At around 1 am the baby woke up, which woke me up.  His room is on the south side of the house, facing the pastures.  From his window I could see Vinny standing out in the pasture by himself.  That in itself wasn't unusual.  My horses aren't really that attached to each other, they're more room mates than herd mates.  But still, something didn't seem quite right.  As my eyes adjusted, I realized his blanket was twisted up around his neck and he was trapped.  Poor Vinny!

I've been having all kinds of trouble keeping a blanket on Vinny this year.  Because of his stringhalt, he gets his hind legs stuck in the blanket frequently.  I can't use the regular straps that come on the blanket, as they don't break easily and he becomes stuck.  I finally ended up replacing all the regular straps on his blanket with baling twine.  That way, when he inevitably gets his legs stuck, the twine breaks and he can get free.  He ends up removing the blanket a lot, but at least he doesn't hurt himself. 

Last night, he somehow broke all the twine and then got the blanket wrapped around his neck (probably rolling).  Then he managed to step on the trailing end of the blanket, quite effectively trapping himself.  Being a sensible old man, he stayed right where he was and waited for someone to come rescue him.  His pasture mates had abandoned him and headed back to the barn (nice to know who your friends are!), leaving poor Vinny to stand in the freezing rain alone.  It was a lucky thing I woke up when I did.

I put on my coveralls and headed out to rescue him.  It was a simple matter, I just needed to unbuckle the chest strap and the blanket came off easily.  Silly, I should have thought to put twine on the front buckles so they would break away, too.  I took the blanket back to the barn to survey the damage. Not too bad, the twine did its job.... it broke before the blanket did.  There's yet another small tear in the lining and the tail flap was half torn off, but the blanket is still serviceable.  The lining wasn't too wet, either.  It was dry enough to put back on, better a slightly damp blanket than none at all in the freezing rain.  I loaded up my pockets with more baling twine and grabbed a towel to dry off Vinny, then headed out to tie his blanket back on.  That done, I threw them some more hay and headed back to bed. 

Sometimes I miss boarding out.  I'm pretty sure my horses don't, though.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Avoiding Boredom

The snow has still not melted. Stir craziness is setting in. I haven't ridden since January 4th. I haven't done much of anything outside since January 4th. Well, aside from dragging hoses around the yard and moving snow. That doesn't count because it's boring, too.

I've pretty much given up trying to keep Spider occupied. So long as he isn't destroying anything expensive, I'm leaving him to his own devices.

For myself, I've been reading. I don't have any new books to read, so I picked up an old favorite: "My Horses, My Teachers" by Alois Podhajsky. It's a sort of memoir of the various horses that he worked with over his career. My favorite section, of course, is where he talks about his dressage horses. I love that many of his dressage horses, including his Olympic mounts, were not bred specifically for dressage. Most were Thoroughbreds. Podhajsky was a cavalry man, and the cavalry simply bought whatever horses they could get cheaply. It was the cavalry man's job to make the best of his mount.

Podhajsky is best known for being a Master of Classical Dressage and his work at the Spanish Riding School. His book "The Complete Training of Horse and Rider" is generally hailed as the Bible of correct classical training. To be perfectly honest, I've never much cared for "The Complete Training of Horse and Rider". I find it dry, dull and not really pertinent to anything I do. (I know, BLASPHEMY!)

On the other hand, every time I read "My Horses, My Teachers" I find something that pertains to a horse I'm working with. Same author... What's the difference?

"The Complete Training of Horse and Rider" is a manual for training a horse from the ground up and riding a perfectly trained schoolmaster. A great thing to know, for sure. But, I can't afford perfectly trained horses (and I don't think they're very much fun, anyways) and I don't much care for babies. Almost every horse I've ever backed came to me either from another discipline or previously trained but with a host of issues. I guess I just have a thing for "bad boys". *lol*

In "My Horses, My Teachers", Podhajsky talks about his horses on a much more personal level. He talks about how he trained them individually: their problems, their strengths and how he molded his training to fit them. That's much more interesting to me.

It's good to know the theory and the correct way of doing things, but application is much more fun.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Not As Bad As It Could Have Been

We only got around 4-5 inches of icky white stuff, not too bad. Funny, a few years ago 4-5 inches of snow would have sent me into a panic, then hibernation. But after last year's 3 ft of snow, 4-5 inches is just annoying.

My arena has all but disappeared under the snow, the wind is picking up and it's about 22 F out there, so I don't think I'll be doing any work with my horse. Oh well, spring will eventually arrive.

Just think warm thoughts.....

Monday, January 10, 2011

Global Warming My.......

I know, I know... Global Warming is so 90s. It's "Global Climate Change" now.

Not that this is unusual weather for New Jersey in January. It's cold, snowy and windy. Although, while I can remember it being this cold here, and I can remember it being this snowy here, I cannot remember it ever being this cold and snowy here.

More snow is in the forecast for tomorrow. This is why the big trainers (and everyone else with money and sense) go to Florida for the winter. I don't qualify for any of those things (big trainer, money, sense...) So I'm here toughing it out.

Our last snowfall only brought about 3-4 inches, but it's been so cold that it hasn't melted. With this new storm promising 7-10 inches, I have a feeling that I won't be riding much for the next few weeks at least. I'll have to get inventive to keep my stir crazy Thoroughbred busy and sane.

Today I let them back out into the pastures. Everything's frozen, anyway. It really doesn't matter if they're out there or not. Plus, it was an opportunity to take cute pictures. Spider ran around and annoyed Vinny and Matilda. He feels that it is his job to "herd" them. He believes that he is a wild stallion, leading his herd.

Vinny is unimpressed.

Neither is Matilda.

Matilda is much more interested in searching my pockets for treats. See the fuzzy lump in the lower right corner? That's Matilda. Vinny, realizing Matilda is on to something, is heading over to get his fair share. The "Wild Stallion" is oblivious.

One last shot of the "Wild Stallion" showing off for the camera.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Magical Horses

Last summer I accidentally caught one of the fence posts with the tractor's chain drag. Of course, it just happened to be the fence post with the latch for the pasture gate on it. It didn't pull the post out, luckily. It just shifted it a little. Not enough to mess up the fence, but just enough so that the gate won't catch the latch anymore. I tried to push the post back, to no avail. So, I've been using baling twine to keep that gate closed. It's really not a big deal, it's an interior gate, so if the horses break the baling twine they just end up in a pasture, not loose.

Since there's really no grass to speak of right now, I've been letting the horses have access to the pastures. They like to roam around. Of course, they poop wherever they roam and it does get annoying having to pick all that up.

So, yesterday afternoon I locked them into the dry lot. I was thinking that would keep the poop confined to one area, and thus easier to clean up.

This morning, when I went out to feed, there were no horses in the dry lot. They were in the pasture. The gate I had shut last night was standing wide open. A quick check confirmed my suspicions: they had pushed on the gate and broken the baling twine. No big deal, but since it was snowing and I hadn't had any coffee, I decided to fix it later.

Later rolled around, and I set forth to re-baling twine the gate. It was shut. I was confused. This is not a gate that swings readily by itself, and it isn't windy. Also, the horses were on the inside of a gate that swings out. For them to have shut it, they would have had to pull the gate towards them. How did the gate get shut? Upon closer inspection, I was even more confused. The gate was shut and latched.

Now, I know that latch didn't work yesterday. I had two mysteries. How had the gate gotten shut and what on earth had shifted that post to make the latch work?

My best explanation is that when they pushed on the gate to open it the post shifted again. Then, coming back through, the open gate must have snagged on one of their blankets and they pulled it closed. Never mind the fact that the ground is completely frozen and pushing on the gate would have actually pushed the post the wrong way. Also, none of their blankets are torn. I didn't say I had a good explanation, I said it was my best one.

My husband had a much better explanation: "They're magical horses."

Well, now that I know that I'm going to be getting their magical butts to fix a lot more stuff!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Garden State

My little farm is tucked away at the very southernmost end of New Jersey. Our area is still mostly agricultural, a tiny pocket of green in the most densely populated state in the Union. My husband's family lives in northern New Jersey. During the holiday season we always end up making the trek north to see them. We usually take the Turnpike to get there.

The Turnpike is a Jersey icon. It's the major artery through the state, cutting straight through the middle. Travelling the Turnpike will give you a pretty accurate slice of what life in the Garden State is really like. Over the eleven years we've been making this annual journey up the Turnpike there have been a lot of changes. At first it was mainly farmland up until you hit the middle of the state. Slowly, inexorably, some of the farms were sold off and housing developments sprang up. But there were still a lot of farms. This year I noticed that construction is under way to widen the Turnpike. I'm not entirely against that, the Turnpike is always congested with traffic. But, I was sad to see that many of the farms I have enjoyed seeing as we drive up are being swallowed by the construction project.

I saw one barn still standing right on the edge of where the new, widened road will run. At one time it must have housed some twenty horses, but now it stands empty. An empty barn is sad thing to me. I couldn't help but imagine the horses it must have housed at one time. Were they race horses? Jumpers? Maybe even dressage horses. It doesn't really matter what they did. They existed, they served us and they enriched our lives. And now their barn, once filled with the warmth of their bodies, their smell, their sounds.... their barn stands empty and cold along side the Turnpike.

It seems like that's happening all over America. The rural lifestyle is disappearing, swallowed up by townhouses and shopping malls. We Americans live in a culture where agriculture is a luxury, not a necessity. Again, that's not necessarily bad thing. We certainly don't have to deal with the problems that our rural ancestors did. Our food is plentiful and easy to obtain. We aren't slaves to the weather and seasons. But, while our lives improve, are we losing touch with our heritage?

That empty barn made me very sad, but at the same time thankful. I am glad to have horses in my life. I am glad to be a part of preserving horsemanship for the future. Because that's what we are doing, those of us who choose to have horses in our life. We are preserving an important part of our cultural heritage for future generations.

Through us, the knowledge of horses and horsemanship will pass on to future generations.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No Excuses

It's cold. Really cold. I didn't really want to ride today. So, I wandered out to see if my arena was frozen. It wasn't. No excuse there.

So, I saddled up the horse and off we went. We warmed up. He wanted to be goofy. So, we went straight to canter work. I cantered the goofy out, then we did some more of those shallow serpentines I wrote about last time. From there, I decided to try something a bit harder. I put him on a twenty meter circle in canter. The goal was to do four strides of canter, then transition down and do four strides of trot, then back to four strides of canter, etc. Not sure why I picked four strides, that was pretty arbitrary. But it really wasn't about the number of strides. The point was to get thinking about the transitions and get Spider active.

It wasn't perfect. We totally nailed the four canter strides. Not so much the trot strides. I always forget to ride the downward transition. I know better, I know to ride all the transitions. I just don't always do it. So it ended up being four canter strides and like eight trot strides for the most part. At the end, I actually managed to get four trot strides tracking left. I was pretty proud of that, left is our hard direction.

Bolstered by my transition success, I did some more of the shallow serpentines and then went for broke. Rather than turning back for the rail at X, I kept going straight across. That's right, I was going for the full figure eight - no change of lead. And he did it! Full figure eight, no lead change. The counter canter wasn't the prettiest, but he did it. And tracking left! So, then we did right lead. No problems. I told him he was the finest piece of horse flesh on the planet and we called it a day.

The best part: When I got off he was all foamed up around the bit. It was truly the icing on the cake!

Monday, January 3, 2011

More Cantering

The snow has melted and my arena is in great shape. That means it's time to get back to business. Spider couldn't be happier, he loves the attention.

Unfortunately, he still has a lot of pent up energy. So, we cantered again. It wasn't quite as bad as last time, he wasn't spooking at everything. We managed some decent walk-trot-walk transitions in the beginning. But it was obvious that his head wasn't in it. So, we cantered.

Just like last time, I made him round, kept him in front of me and kept him steady. And we just went. I did mix it up a bit, though. For the last five minutes or so of the ride I incorporated the First Level shallow canter serpentines. Every long side, I rode to X and then back to the rail. We did that both directions. Spider complied beautifully.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

I don't make 'em. Not because I think they're silly, just because I don't generally think that far ahead. I tend to live in the present. Perhaps that's why I have more of an affinity for horses than my fellow humans. For a horse, the past is over, the future is uncertain and neither is really worth dwelling on.

That's not to say that I don't have goals or make plans. I do, I just don't have them set out for the rest of the year. I prefer to plan more immediate things, like my next ride. Even then, there's a level of uncertainty. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've set out with a goal for a ride and then ended up doing something completely different because my plan just was not working. That's the thing about working with animals, they have minds of their own and aren't necessarily going to fall in line with your plan.

I've actually been thinking a lot lately about what exactly it is I'm doing with this dressage thing. I'm not really all that goal oriented. I hate showing and I really couldn't care less about winning. So, why do I do this?

I work hard at training my horse, but that's because it is something I am passionate about. I also believe that I have an obligation to my horse to not half-ass his training. Anything less than my best is bad training, and bad training is unfair to him.

For me it's about the journey, not the result. Sure, I'd like to train Spider to Grand Prix. PSG is more realistic, given his age. But still, that's not really a goal, it's just a natural progression of the training. It's a result of the journey, but not a destination.

I enjoy riding and I enjoy dressage. And, for me, that's enough.


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