Saturday, November 30, 2013

5-Day Challenge

Lauren at She Moved to Texas is having a 5-Day Challenge and it looks fun, so here we go.

1. Most Influential Person on Your Riding

Overall, probably my friend/former employer, Dorrie. She's a tremendous amateur rider with a whole bunch of beautiful horses and I was lucky enough to ride tons of them growing up. Right now, it's definitely Chris Hickey, jumper trainer extraordinaire.

2. Piece of Tack You'd Love to Splurge On

I wouldn't turn down an Antares saddle, of course.

But realistically speaking, I'd love some Cambridge Jumping Boots from Dream Horse Studios.

3. Top 5 Riding Playlist

Eh, I don't really listen to music while I ride. I can't take my mind off what I'm doing for one second most of the time. It's a good thing I don't do musical freestyle, I guess!

4. Most Important Aspect of Your Barn

My horse is there! It's safe, too, which is key.

5. Three Winter Riding Goals

- Get Lex started over jumps for real.
- Solidify her transitions between all three gaits.
- Ride as many good horses as possible.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Lex is Thankful for Cameras

This mare loves to pose, I'm telling you.

I am grateful that my super-cool girlfriend snuck out to the barn to take pictures of my horse for my birthday, which was also Thanksgiving day.

Serving Arabian realness.

Someone out there has a carrot.

Classy, eh?
Our lesson on Wednesday was canceled due to weather. We might try for tomorrow, we'll see. Today I rode her in a standing martingale for the first time, because she occasionally threatens to break my nose. I lunged her in it first and she handled that well. She bumped her nose against it a couple times - it was adjusted long to avoid scaring her - and then got over it. She didn't try anything silly under saddle. I've learned not to extrapolate too much from one ride, so we'll see how she is tomorrow. At the end of the ride, she was super relaxed and snuggly. That's typical for her, and one of the things I appreciate about her the most. We are always able to end the ride on a good note (TIMING) and that's super important for a horse like her. I think it's paying off.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rocket Catch-Up Again: Seven Months

Sorrrryyyyy I am so slow to post the Rocket updates lately! The big girl is doing well and growing like a weed - both up and out. And apparently her winter coat is truly something to behold.

And these two pictures are from yesterday, when the farrier came to see her. Her feet are already full horse size, the same as my mom's old TB gelding.

The farrier is not a tall lady, but she's not sitting down, either. My big girl has grown A LOT since I saw her a month ago. My mom hasn't seen her all week (she works constantly) and said she's definitely going through a growth spurt because she's noticeably taller now than she was. I love these last two pictures of her. She looks so sweet. She's always good for the farrier, which is really nice. I know some weanlings who would kill you as soon as they'd let a farrier touch their hooves.

I'll get to see Rocket next month at Christmas, and I can't wait. Someday I'll be able to have her and Lex in the same place.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Growing Pains

Oh, green horses. It's always the bitter with the sweet, right?

Lex has mostly been a good girl, but now that we've had several weeks of riding under our belts and things have been going relatively smoothly lately, it's time to go from riding for survival to riding for education. We've gotta get to work or before I know it she'll be 27 and I'll barely have started her over crossrails, heh.

To that end, I think I'm going to take a lesson on her with Chris on Wednesday. This will be the second lesson I've had on her with him, ever - I've just been riding other peoples' horses. I'll be interested to see what he thinks. My thoughts are that she's really quite stiff in her back - as short-coupled horses like her often are - and that she'd rather fall on her face than bend. I've been working on all the things you do to get a horse like her to carry herself and bend, and it's tough because she can take quite a bit of offense. She's not loving contact and sometimes gets pissy when I put my leg on. That said, she does move off my leg laterally when I ask her to. And she's getting better about not dropping behind the contact. I'd much rather have her toss her head in the air than curl up. Lately, since I've been insisting on having more contact and not just letting her trot around on the buckle, she's been flinging her head all over the place to figure out how to deal, but she's getting better and better about it, and about listening to me when I insist on a rhythm. She's a thoroughbred, and I believe in never rushing a thoroughbred, so I want the trot to stay slow and even at the moment. There's too much to do with working on getting her to bend and accept contact to also be trotting around at Mach 3.

So to get her to bend through her back and relax, I've been asking her to square off turns (yield her hindquarters), do some leg yields on circles, and slowly trot smallish figure-8s with a real focus on bending left, straightening, and then bending right. She'd like to fall in and rush instead of step under with her inside hind and lighten a little in the shoulder, but if I can get the trot slowed down and ask consistently, she does what I want, even if I have to put up with some fussing at first.

We're back in a grouchy phase, because now I'm asking her to work harder. I think this will be her pattern: she gets pissed off when I introduce something new because she doesn't understand it or it's a bit challenging for her physically; she gets stronger and/or a clearer understanding of what I want and starts to relax; she looks forward to doing that activity. You should see her when I encourage her to stretch at the walk or trot. The nose goes to the ground, the ears go forward, and the gait improves. The long and low work means she's getting more comfortable and is using her body correctly. It makes a great reward when she's behaving herself.

We have quite a lot of homework to do this winter!
1. Accept contact as a normal part of life.
2. Stop worrying and love my leg aids.
3. Stay real cute.
4. Stand still at the mounting block.

1. Be a touch quicker to soften when she gives me what I want. I think, for instance, that I'm good at releasing in the second step of her accepting the bit, but I need to release in the first step.
2. Sit the trot better. I already have a better-than-average sitting trot, but there are moments when I think I could be more effective with my leg when things are going wrong.
3. Improve my sense of clarity of where she should be at any given moment, on both the micro and macro levels.
4. Be a little tougher on Lex sometimes. Just because she's my sweetie doesn't mean she can get away with crap. Training green horses isn't all cosmic and great. Sometimes I have to be better about being an authority figure when I'm in the saddle, starting with getting her to stand still at the f&#$!ng mounting block
5. Start getting over the fact that I hate lunging and doing more of that. I just do not enjoy it.
6. Get her out of the ring sometimes. She has the basic brakes and steering. I've never been the top trail rider of all time, but I think she'd enjoy it. She's not a spooky horse, really.
7. Keep honing those grooming skillz.

Lex's third task and my seventh overlap!
I have another equine project to tell you about, but I want photo evidence first. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Reindeer Realness

Lex was SO much fun today. She was quiet and chill, and seemed to enjoy trotting over poles on the ground. She pricked her ears and went right to them, trotting over the middle, and then trotted straight away. I was proud of her. I think I'm going to hold off on cantering - her balance isn't so good yet, and I don't want to freak her out. The one problem we're having is that she wants to stretch her nose to the ground all the time, and not just when I tell her it's okay, so she's leaning on the bit a lot. We'll fix that, though.

After the ride, we played dress-up with my gloves after watching another horse get a sweatshirt draped over his head and not care. I wanted to see what she'd let me do. I was pretty much collapsing in giggles so it's amazing I got any pictures at all. I love this horse.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rocket Catch-Up: Six Months

Even though Rocket will be seven months old in a couple of days, I think it's important to post her six-month pictures. She's a cutie pie.

Helping the vet

She's gonna be good for the dentist!

Posing with Mom.

My six month old ties and loads better than most grownup horses!

This last picture was taken BY ME!!! I went up to Virginia for my sister's wedding (pics will show up on here eventually, when we get them back) and so I drove up to my parents' place to see her ladyship myself. I got to snuggle her and hang out with her for a couple of hours. It was great. She's sweet and friendly and she looks great. I mean, no six month old looks perfect, but she looks strong and healthy to me. It was good to see her and I wish I had her around all the time.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Turning Corners

I think Lex just wanted to tell me to get to bloggin' again and she'd start behaving. That's my best theory.

The little mare has been F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. this week. Happy, forward, relaxed. If she has a moment of tension here or there, it melts as soon as I ask her to do something (transition, turn, circle, change direction, go over a pole on the ground). She's very smart and therefore gets bored easily, so I've got to stay on my toes, but man has she been a pleasure to ride lately. My vet came out and said she looks amazing and totally sound, so all systems are go for confident training. I'm not just riding her to see what kind of weird behavior she's going to throw at me now. I'm riding her to get something accomplished. Right now that thing is rhythm.

What changed? I really don't know, to be honest. Maybe I just had to ride her through all that stuff. Maybe she's in heat now and it's diestrus that pisses her off, the opposite of other horses. I think, though, that L. Williams was right, and this is a training issue - which means that, against all odds, I trained her through something effectively. Huh.

I'm hoping to get her re-started over jumps sometime in the next 30 days. She's fit enough, no doubt about that. She's a thoroughbred, she's got tons of air capacity, and she was carrying impressive muscle while on stall rest. I don't, in fact, want to get her much fitter at all before we start jumping, because I need to be in better shape than she's in. Between now and jumping time, I want her to have a better understanding of contact and I want us to be cantering consistently. We cantered so the vet could see the other day - the first time I've cantered her since our first lesson with Chris wayyyyy back when - and she was great. She seemed to enjoy herself. We had no steering, but, eh, details. It was a delight. I could not stop grinning.

It's gonna happen. We will get into the jumper ring eventually. Later today, though, we're just gonna work on relaxing in the trot.

Horses, man. Whether I'm having a good day or a bad day almost entirely depends on Lex. I know y'all know what that feels like.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sunshine Award

Thanks again to L. Williams for the Sunshine Award tag!

  1. Mares or Geldings?: Mares, my current issues with Lex aside. I don't think it's related to her being a mare. I've ridden enough geldings to know that they're not always happy sunshine and rainbows either. I can't really tell you why I have this slight mare preference, but there 'tis. At the end of the day, though, I like a horse who leaves the rails up the best.
  2. English or Western?: English, always. Sorry not sorry.
  3. Do you prefer younger or older horses?: Both! I love young horses because I love green horses, and I really enjoy the training process. I hope to always have a young horse to work with. I also love old horses because they're often over the young-horse drama, they can be more predictable, and they can be great for teaching on. Mileage varies, of course. I LOVE LOVE LOVE really old horses, the retirees. It's satisfying to give a generous horse a great retirement, like my mom is doing for my old guy, Ink, who is almost THIRTY THREE. 
  4. Have you trained a horse from ground zero?: Yup! And will be doing so again with Ms. Rocket. But my real love is retraining OTTBs.
  5. Do you prefer riding or groundwork?: Depends. Good groundwork often makes for a better ride. There is nothing in the world I love more than jumping, even on days when things aren't going well. But seeing a horse's ground manners and handleability improve is incredibly rewarding, especially in a boarding situation where other people also have to deal with the horse. No one wants the naughty horse in the barn that everyone hates dealing with, right?
  6. Do you board your horse or keep it at home?: I've done both, but right now I'm boarding. Lex lives at a cute little boarding barn, it's low-key and safe. Rocket and Ink live with my mom, but since I don't live there I don't keep them home, I guess. Duchess lives at the riding school, which is definitely not at home but isn't really boarding either. 
  7. Do you use all natural products or commercial?: Whatever works, but "natural" products rarely do and often cost a lot more money. I don't use a lot of products anyway, to be honest. A curry comb and a good diet is the best way to keep a horse looking sparkly. Fly spray is about it, and I don't even use as much of that as a lot of people do for whatever reason.
  8. All tacked up or bareback?: Tacked up. I like goofing off sometimes, but mostly I'm down to business when I ride. I don't have any horses I can ride bareback right now anyway.
  9. Equestrian model?: I'm assuming this means role model! I really look up to my trainer, Chris. My friend Dorrie is this remarkable adult amateur who could ride circles around me and always has nice, happy horses. I used to work with an eventing trainer named Mary Schwenkter, who I love and admire deeply as a horsewoman. As far as famous people: Vladimir Littauer, Bill Steinkrauss, Frank Chapot, Bert de Nemethy. You know, the old school blokes. Sinead Halpin seems like a classy lady.
  10. What's your one main goal while being in the horse world?:  I don't have one main goal. "Being the best rider I can possibly be while centralizing the welfare of my horses" comes close enough, I guess, but isn't that what pretty much everyone says? I want to be a very good jumper rider, if I'll never achieve greatness, and I'd love to do that with thoroughbreds, who are my favorites.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Horses are Hard

Hey, y'all. I'm sorry I'm the worst at this. Thanks to L. Williams for nominating me for the Sunshine Award, though, which is great because it prompted me to come back here and get to writing! I'll answer the questions in the next post, I promise.

I think one of the reasons I took a blogging hiatus, besides being incredibly busy with trying to finish my doctorate, is because things with Lex are super tough right now. I'm enjoying reading everyone else's stories about how they get to ride their horses and teach them new things and learn and go to horse shows and jump, but it's also making me kind of sad. Life with this little lady is an uphill battle and I haven't figured out how to level that hill.

The good news is, I'm back in the tack!

The bad news is, she's back to her dragon lady ways. She isn't lame - not that I can see, or that my trainer or anyone else whose opinions I respect can find. And it isn't a mare heat cycle thing, because she's a dragon all the time, and not just when she's in heat. I'll try to get someone to take a video of the ride, but basically what happens is, I lunge her and she's fine both directions at the walk and trot. No problems, sound and happy horse. Then I get on and we walk, and she's fine. Then we start trotting, and she pins her ears and throws her head up in the air and makes a fuss for awhile. After ten or fifteen minutes of that off and on, she calms down, stretches, relaxes, and is happy.

She isn't hot. She's actually kind of lazy. She'll break back down to the walk (I usually let her take a few walk steps - bad trainer, but I'm trying to feel for a physical problem) and she never offers to canter. I certainly haven't asked for a canter, either. If I can't crack the trot, cantering isn't happening. I think, in my heart of hearts, that this is a training issue. But I also feel a responsibility to make sure she isn't uncomfortable or in pain. Soooo the vet is coming back out tomorrow. A very knowledgeable friend thinks that maybe she has ovarian cysts or something, so I think we'll end up palpating her and maybe doing an ultrasound. But if it's ovarian cysts, why would she work out of the cranky attitude? Also, she really is not spooky at all. I rode her two days ago and the ring was full of scary things, like a lunge line blowing around on a jump standard and a jump that blew over right when we were trotting by. She didn't care a-tall. I love that about her.

Lex is also still fun to be around in the barn, and she looks FANTASTIC. She really does. My trainer can't shut up about how great she looks. I could pull her out of her stall and take her to HITS and she'd fit right in. I'm proud of how great she looks, because it means I'm doing a good job grooming her and keeping up with her nutrition. She loves to be groomed, too. Anything that feels like admiration to her, she'll take, especially in carrot form.

I snagged someone and had them take a couple pictures of her the other day because she's looking so good. Of course, there's no winter coat to be found. Even in Florida, it gets chilly enough at night that they need a sheet of some kind if they don't get fuzzy.

I love this.

Her Shinyness.

And a couple from the outtake reel. 
Gimme that nose!

Pay no attention to the shadow of our lovely helper.

Being around Lex is actually really fun if you're not riding her.
So that's the Lex news. Hopefully there will be something that looks like an answer after the vet sees her tomorrow.

I haven't been riding Zephyr. He got kicked in the chest and that needs to heal. There are other reasons, too, having to do with my relationship with his owner, but I'm not going to get into that. I am looking forward to climbing back on the monster soon. I think he misses having a job. He's harassing the poor girls who work there whenever they go out to catch a different horse. He could probably stand to be lunged a little, at least.

Aaaaaand I gotta hit publish so I can go to work. I will continue with updates and Sunshine Award loveliness tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and I will try to be a better blog human!