Saturday, August 31, 2013

Our Oaf

Jack continues to be a pleasure to work with and have on the farm.  He is a sweet, kind little fellow and full of try.  Unfortunately, he is also one of the clumsiest horses I have ever known.  We've actually taken to calling him "The Oaf".

He has the best "Derp" face.

I think (hope) that it is mostly his age, size and general lack of maturity that makes him such a klutz.  The poor little fellow has legs all over the place and not a clue where to put them.  I've seen him fall down in the pasture after taking a corner too tight.  I've also seen him randomly run into the door jam of the stall while trying to walk out of it. (No wonder he lost every race he was entered in).

He also has no clue about social graces, which results in him getting smack-downs from the other horses when he invades their personal space.  It also results in me getting stepped on and head-butted regularly.  At this point, he may actually believe his name is "DammitJackGetOffaMe".

He spent the last couple weeks lame after getting tangled in the fence and breaking it.  How does such a thing happen?  Well, I didn't see it happen... but after owning horses for many years, I've gotten pretty good at forensics.  It seems he was rolling in a mud puddle and got too close to the fence.  He took out two lines before getting himself untangled.  I didn't discover the accident until I found Matilda in the lawn, she had escaped through the broken fence lines.  Spider was cluelessly grazing in the pasture, and Vinny was eyeballing the remaining line to size up whether or not he could shimmy under it.  Jack was hiding in the barn.  He didn't have any cuts, luckily, but he definitely strained something in his left shoulder and was off.  Poor guy.

But, he seemed to be doing all right yesterday, and ready to work again.  So, I took him out to put him on the lunge line.  I wanted to assess his soundness.  He's perfectly sound, as he proved to me by running all over my property and the neighbor's property.  (Sorry, Neighbors!)

Now, I definitely did a few stupid things here.  I'll be the first to admit that it's been a long time since I took on a 3 yr old, and I've gotten to be a bit of a slacker.  I was not really following best practices.  I put a 3 yr old on a lunge line in an area of the property that wasn't fenced.  And, that 3 yr old is 3 months off the track, 17h and hadn't been worked in two weeks.  I was asking for trouble, and I got it!

He was doing pretty well, just going around like an old campaigner, when suddenly he spooked at something and ripped the line out of my hands.  Now, I've come off Jack a couple times under saddle and he always stops, but that's because when I come off the reins go slack.  That's a "stop" sign for race horses.  I had been lunging him in side reins, when I lost the line the side reins didn't let up.  He leaned right into them and did his best racehorse impression.  Plus, he now had the lunge line "chasing" him.  It added up to about 10 minutes of pandemonium, until he figured out the line wasn't going to eat him and settled down enough to let me catch him.  Once he was caught, we went back to work like nothing ever happened. But, we did go back to work in one the fenced areas... just in case.

In a few minutes I'll have to get myself out from in front of this computer to put him back on the lunge line.  And you can be sure he'll be in a fenced area, and I'll be on his behavior like white on rice. And I bet he's not going to do damned thing, because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Monday, August 26, 2013


This year, when Spider shed his winter coat, I noticed he has a lot of grey hairs.  He's 18, but still acts like a colt.  I'm not ready for him to be old yet.  We still have things to do together.  

I had a lesson with my trainer last week.  At the end of the lesson, my trainer said "I wish that he were 12". I wish he were 12, too.  I wish that he was 2, I wish that he could live forever.  But, that's not the way of life.  He's 18 and he will always give me everything he has to give, but I know our time together is finite.

I wanted to get him to Prix St. Georges this year, but I've had a bad health year and I don't think it's in the cards.  I can't even manage to get out of 50% in 3rd Level.  I'm actually not sure I'll ever get out of 3rd Level.

I found out this year that my auto-immune disease (IBD) is causing my spine to fuse, and it's fusing crooked.  My crooked spine is twisting my pelvis, so I sit crooked in the saddle.  My left leg is numb from the hip down, my right leg is numb from the knee down.  It's a side effect from my spine fusing, as the bones of my vertebrae close and fuse together they pinch off the nerves going to my legs.  My IBD has also been unusually active this year.  Auto-immune diseases go in cycles: "active" states and "remission".  I've only been in remission for a few weeks this year.  It's been very frustrating.  It's really hard to do changes and half-passes when you're crooked as hell and can't feel your legs, especially since I wasn't always this way.

That being said, this isn't a "Woe Is MEEE" post.  I'm not that type of person.

At one point in my lesson, as I was struggling with my aids and Spider was getting strung out, my trainer said to me, "You have to go back to Kindergarten", and that's what we did.  I brought Spider to a walk, and we walked until he could follow my aids.  Then we moved to trot and canter, and once again established my aids.  One thing I love about my trainer is that he doesn't care how you get things done, as long as the horse is going correctly you're free to improvise.

"You have to go back to Kindergarten" has stuck with me.  I'm never going to be able to ride like the Guenters and Ullas and Steffans of the dressage world.  I'm never even going to be able to ride as well as most amateurs.  But, what I can do is train my horse to follow my aids.  That's what "going back to Kindergarten" is for me, it's teaching my horse to follow my aids so that I can enjoy riding him.

We may never get to Prix St. Georges.  We may never get out of 3rd Level.  And that's OK.  We're going back to Kindergarten, and we are going to have fun learning how to color in the lines again.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Google+ and Steak

We had really nice steaks for dinner, accompanied by a very nice Malbec red wine.  It was so nice, that I had another glass for dessert.

Then I wandered upstairs to catch up on bloggy stuff and blindly followed the Google prompts to integrate Google+ into my blog.  What can I say, I make bad decisions after steak and Malbec.

So, now I'm wandering through the Googlesphere trying to figure things out.  If my blog goes all wonky, it's because I kind of suck at the interwebs......

Friday, August 9, 2013

How A Tree Falling On Your Fence Can Be Fun

Usually Not Fun

I was reading an article the other day, or maybe it was a book... I can't remember now.  Really, the format doesn't matter. It was talking about training upper level horses and it said the most important thing was to not forget to constantly go back to the basics because, without focusing on the basics, you'll just end up with automated "tricks".  So true.... but, so boring.  Flying changes and half passes are exciting, much more so than rhythm and relaxation and all.  But, rhythm and relaxation are essential for every ride, and especially essential when you ride a TB.  They are not renowned for their rhythm and relaxation skills!

I find I spend most of my ride getting Spider loose and swinging with seemingly endless transitions, leg yields and circles.  This does not make for exciting blog posts, but it is what the upper levels are made of.

Here's my words of wisdom for all of you out there aspiring to 4th Level and beyond: It's just like what you're doing now, but sometimes you get to do a few flying lead changes at the end.  Unless you somehow screwed up, then you have to go back to circles, transitions and leg yields.

I should totally be a motivational speaker, right?

It hasn't been all boring stuff over here, though.  Spider and I have added a fun new component to our exercise routine in the form of hill work.

Southern New Jersey has a serious hill deficit, but I do have one rather small hill in my front pasture.  This time of year, I usually have the horses in the front pasture, but last week nature conspired against me to bring down a rather large limb right into the pasture. (See above picture)  It's a Cherry, which can make horses sick, so I had to lock them out until we get it cut up.  And, since it's a Cherry, it has ridiculously hard wood that has dulled the chainsaw three times.  We still don't have the thing out of there.

Since we're not using that pasture for grazing right now, I've taken Spider out there a few times to work on the hill.

Usually I use raised cavaletti once a week or so to get Spider's butt under him and encourage him to shorten his strides and lift his legs.  It works well, but it really isn't as good as a nice hill.  Especially for the canter.  My hill is pretty big, so I can take up a 20m circle on one side and go both uphill and downhill on one circle. It's amazing how much his collection increases just from a few laps up and down that hill.

From the 20m circle on the hill, I can then go straight out onto the flat part of the field to play with flying changes and half passes.  Spider loves this, as it's a big open space, much bigger than the arena, and he feels like he can get really forward.  I just have to make sure he doesn't get too forward, since he tends to get strung out.  I also have to keep the flying changes in check.  Now that we're working on them again, he likes to throw them out all willy-nilly.  A nice little volte when I feel him getting amped up usually keeps this in check.   Although, I will freely admit that today I let him throw out changes as we cantered around the field and did not correct him.  Unless giggling like an idiot counts as a correction.

It was not good dressage training.  But it was pretty damn fun, and sometimes you just need to have fun.  I'll fix it tomorrow.

Friday, August 2, 2013

New Things

Several years ago I noticed that every time I have a birthday, I get a year older.  So, I decided to stop having them.  Problem solved.

But, my husband refuses to acknowledge my lack of birthdays because he wants me to be old, and he insisted that I go buy things for the birthday that I didn't have last week.  That's very sneaky of him, because it's not like I'm going to say, "No, I don't want to go buy things."

First on the list was new breeches.  I haven't bought a new pair of breeches in so long, the company who made the last pair I bought is no longer in business.  Which is a shame, because they were nice breeches.  

Since it's been so long, I don't know much about the new brands and styles.  But, a little while ago I had stumbled upon a blog post reviewing the Smartpak Piper breeches. The review was positive, and the breeches aren'y too expensive, so I decided to give them a try.  And they're pretty great!  But, because it was forever ago in blog time, I can't remember who the blogger was that reviewed them.  If it was you, leave a comment so I can thank you properly and link your post!

I got two pairs of the Smartpak Piper breeches, one in "wheat" and one in "blue jean".  The "blue jean" is really just navy blue, but it's still a nice color.  I was a little hesitant about getting low rise breeches, but they're not really low rise on me.  They fit right on my waist, as opposed to the old style breeches that came all the way up to my ribs.  My favorite feature is the material on the calves.  It's a lightweight spandex type material, with none of that obnoxious velcro tab nonsense.  It fits smoothly under my boots without bunching or rubbing.  Very nice!

Next on my list was some new books.  I've been wanting to get Carl Hester's "Real Life Dressage" forever, but it's always on backorder.  As it happens, it wasn't on backorder last week and I was able to get it!  And it's great!  It's not a "manual", like the old Master's tomes.  It's the story of how he brought along five different horses of varying age, temperament and conformation.  He talks about the different approaches he used based on each horse's natural tendencies and he doesn't shy away from the sometimes "ugly" side of training.  So many of these training books give the impression of "This is what I did and then the horse was super awesome and we won everything".  Not this one! Carl makes it clear that this is a process and, even with the best training, sometimes horses are still assholes.

And, because you should always get more than one book so they don't get lonely during shipping, I also got Susan von Dietze's "Rider and Horse Back To Back".  But, I haven't read it yet... I was too engrossed by Hester's book. I did thumb through it a bit, and it looks good.  I have her other book, "Balance In Movement" and it's quite good, so expect this one to be the same.

And finally, I got a new dump cart.  That wasn't a planned thing, or even something I wanted.  The old dump cart was fine, until it suddenly wasn't.

"Well, there's your problem" -Jamie Hyneman

This catastrophic failure occurred on the day after my theoretical birthday, which prompted my husband to exclaim, "I know what to get you, I'll get you a really nice dump cart!"

And he did.

It even matches the lawn mower.  Sort of.  Actually, I should paint the rims yellow. 


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