Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rethinking the Secondary Cue

Dawn had her usual Thursday off.  Since it was raining hard this afternoon, and Halloween to boot, there was almost no one at the barn this afternoon - which meant my boys and I had the indoor to ourselves.

Red and I had a good work session, with lots of trot and canter.  I got a nice "big walk" (without a secondary cue for forward, just using my energy) before asking for trot, and had a very nice first trot transition.  But then he was pretty sluggish at the trot initially, and was resenting my use of a tap with the dressage whip as a secondary cue - he did move forward, but I was having to nag him, and he was not happy about the whole thing - this means the secondary cue isn't working as it should but is becoming a brace of its own.  Red's got a strong sense of fairness, and it's clear he didn't think what I was doing was fair - he didn't do anything bad but he was clearly annoyed.  I got ride of the whip once he was moving forward nicely and he maintained it well.  So I'm rethinking what to do - I'm not going to nag him with my leg to get forward - he'd resent this just as much and he's a master of the brace-against-brace thing, and it wouldn't be soft.  I'm not sure what I'll do - some experimenting to come.  Next ride we'll try no whip, and I may let him warm up a bit more slowly at first rather than asking for so much forward right away.  If I need a secondary cue, I may try something a bit different, like slapping my hand on my leg - we'll see.

Pie and I did a lot of cantering work - work on his departures - his walk/canter departure tracking left is almost there; the right lead still needs work - and work on continuous cantering with softness.  He did very well and his forward at the trot was pretty good, even though I (deliberately) wasn't carrying my dressage whip to give him secondary cues for forward - he's not resentful of this as Red is, but I wanted to see how we'd do without it.

It's supposed to be colder and windy, but sunny, tomorrow, so horses should feel good - particularly with all that fresh mud to roll in!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Music Day, Hematoma, and My Shoulder, Elbow and Hand

Not too much riding today.  Wednesdays are usually my main music day - I have to drive about an hour, have my lesson, and then play with a group for another hour and a half, and then drive home.  So the boys get a day off on those days - just a quick check over and hoof picking.  But Dawn gets her usual early morning ride on Wednesdays, and then gets Thursday off.

When checking Dawn over yesterday evening, I discovered she had a fairly sizable hematoma between her front legs but more to the right, and no other sign of injury - no cuts or other swellings on her chest or shoulder.  She's been wearing her rain sheet the past few days, and she may have gotten kicked with the sheet preventing her from having a more obvious wound.  The hematoma wasn't hot and not at all sore, so I gave her a gram of bute and left it at that.  She's been completely sound, and we rode this morning and she was still just fine and had no problem working, so we worked.

My post yesterday about opening the door talked more about what I do with my lower body - hip and leg, and what I don't do.  This morning as I was riding Dawn, we were thinking together about what I do with my upper body.  Of course, in corners and when bending for circles, etc., I have to keep my eyes and upper body open and be looking where I want us to go.  But what about that inside arm - what's it up to?

All my horses have always had more difficulty bending to the right, which translates into less softness and poorer quality of gaits when tracking right.  This is entirely due to me and how I ride - there's nothing wrong with the horses.  Yesterday I talked about slightly opening my inside hip - this is harder for me when it's my right hip, but it's becoming more automatic now that I'm thinking about it.  And my horses tell me if I'm not doing it - the quality of the right bend goes away if I slip up.

But my upper body has also always been problematic when tracking right, and it's mostly a problem with my arm.  I tend to drop my right shoulder, rotate my elbow out from my body and move my right hand to the outside, sometimes to the point of placing it behind the withers.  This effectively blocks my horses from having a proper right bend, and if they manage it anyway it's not due to me.

Here's what I need to do instead - Dawn's teaching me the correct way.  I need to keep my right shoulder up and open it slightly to the inside - just like my hip - keep my elbow close to my side and a straight line between my hand, elbow and the bit - if I raise my hands slightly this helps.  If I do this - voila! problem fixed - lovely right bend, with the inside hind stepping under.

Dawn says I'm always a work in process, but at least I try, so she's willing to keep me on as a student  . . .

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Opening the Door

When I was taking riding lessons - in college (I had no lessons before that) and then in my 40s when I came back to riding, I heard a lot of things like this:  "push the horse with your leg into your hand", "have the horse in front of your leg", "half halt", "inside leg to outside rein", "bend the horse around your leg".  And that's how I rode, and the results can be pretty good.  I now think most of that way of thinking about riding isn't good enough, at least for me, and here's why.

All of those things involve braces.  Even using your leg as a cue for forward or something else is often a brace.  The good news is horses learn to deal with this.  But if there's a way I can communicate with the horse that doesn't involve a brace, then the horse will be more free to move without my action interfering - better responsiveness and better quality of movement, more softness.

Mark's message to me in my lesson this summer was to do less - of everything.  Part of this, for me, is understanding what my responsibilities are and what the horse's are, in turn.  My first job is to know what I want - exactly what I want - and to communicate that clearly to the horse, using my thought, focus and energy, and physical aids, as softly as possible, when needed.  The horse's job is to give me a response to my ask - that's the horse's try (assuming the horse hasn't had the try taken out of him/her).  My job is to consistently expect forward, and it's the horse's responsibility to offer forward consistently.  I don't nag or push or increase my aids - if I don't get the forward I want, I use secondary aids to make myself clear.  All my horses completely get this, and I all have to do is signal forward with my energy level and rhythm with my thought, and we've got it. My job is to offer connection, and the horse's job is to take up that connection - it's a two-way street and I can't do the connecting all by myself.  My job is to offer leadership and direction, and not to leave any gaps.  My job is to keep my posture and body in a position to help and not hinder the horse. My job is to offer softness and the horse's job is to respond with softness.

It's in the doing less, and offering softness, that the metaphor of opening/closing doors applies, I think - it's a way I'm working on using to communicate with my horses that goes a long way towards eliminating the braces that come with pulling with hands, pushing with seat, leg or by leaning.  It eliminates a lot of the "noise" that we inflict on our horses by doing too much, and it leaves room for energy, thought, focus and breathing to be "heard" by the horse.

As usual when I'm working on something like this, I do it with all three horses, but again as usual, Dawn's my primary teacher in working it through.  I'll give two small examples of what I mean.

Take traveling down the long side in posting trot - nothing simpler that that, right?  Not quite - I'm continuing to make some significant changes to my position - keeping posture upright and open and eyes and head up - no leaning forward or to one side or the other.  And breathing in a relaxed manner in rhythm with the trot . . .  And staying "tight" to the horse but with my hips slightly open - no clamping with either my upper or lower leg or forcing my heel down - since my horse is giving me forward without my having to do anything, my leg can be relaxed and draped . . . And posting using my core, not my legs . . .

If I can do this, Dawn travels beautifully on her hind end, in engaged trot, straight, with only enough tension on the reins to maintain a soft contact - like holding a baby bird with your hands.  This is because I'm opening a door for her to move into - forward and upwards.  The feeling is pretty amazing.

Now another example - turns.  Going around corners, making circles, and changing direction.  The only changes Dawn is having me make from my straight-ahead position and "opening" as we turn, is to keep my focus going up and around the turn and also to adjust what I'm doing with my pelvis, just the very tiniest amount. I open my inside hip just a tiny bit more - it's almost more of a thought - to create an opening for her to bend and step under with the inside hind leg.  And I get lovely bend without pushing with my inside leg, changing how I use my seat or holding with the outside rein, just movement forward, up and around.  And my outside hip stays where it is, slightly open but not quite as open as the inside hip, to close the door on that side and provide a boundary for her to use as guidance.

If overdone, any of these things could become a brace too, but Dawn's got me on the hunt for the least I can do, and the boys say she's doing a good job - they can see how I'm improving.

This stuff is very exciting and fun, and it's really delightful to see how the horses respond.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Expertly Me, and Three Excellent Rides

I really appreciate all the supportive comments on the last post - I suppose that it's fair to say that, when I write these posts, I'm "expertly me", with all my flaws and imperfections as a rider.  Since I don't presume to be an expert, or to tell anyone how to ride, my blog is about what I do with my horses, every day, as honestly as I can tell it.  And if my position's not that great in certain photos or videos, that's OK - in fact my posture and position have been a focus in my work for the past year or so, and I've made some improvements, and I actually think I ride a lot better now than I did when those sidebar posts were done.  Anyhow . . .

I have a terrible cold - and today is day 4.  Even with decongestants, I still feel pretty awful.  Nevertheless, I rode all three horses, and in fact felt a lot better while I was riding.  I've been working on the same thing with all three horses - keeping my focus up and out, posture open, and allowing with my body - particularly opening with my inside hip and shoulder to indicate bend and allow the horse to move without constraint.  I'm also working on keeping my leg off and hand very soft and having the horse move up and through me from the hindquarters.  I can tell if I'm doing this if the horses deliver forward with softness and tracking left and right feel about the same - if they don't feel the same I'm probably blocking the motion somewhere with my body.

With Red and Pie, I've also been working on getting consistent forward - not just speed but engagement - at all three gaits - plus softness.  Both boys would just dink around given the choice.  With Dawn, on the other hand, forward is almost never an issue - with her combining forward and relaxation is the challenge.

So allowing, and forward.  All three horses were really excellent today - I had the advantage of riding in an empty ring for most of my three rides, which helps my concentration.  I got some real relaxation and softness from Dawn, some excellent engagement and forward with softness from Red, and excellent energy, forward and softness from Pie.  Who could ask for anything more?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Not an Expert

I'm just a horseperson - the best I can be (on my good days).  I'm no trainer, or expert, although I try to learn from those who know more than I do whenever I can.  Blogging under these circumstances can be troubling.  I know more than some and less than a lot - does that mean I should blog about my horse experiences, or not?  I got one of those comments today - they're always "anonymous", not even a name - on one of my softness sidebar posts.  The comment was to the effect that the idea was nice, but my hands were too low and my posture leaning forward.  Yeah, guilty as charged - those are both riding faults I've struggled with for years - and some days I actually look better than that but a lot of days I don't.

I'm troubled by the whole blogging thing - I've got lots of followers and presumably some of them even read my posts.  But should I be posting about this stuff?  I'm no expert, don't presume to advise anyone else (particularly if I've never seen their horse and often not then), and think I have a long way to go in my horsemanship journey.

But somehow, I continue to think that the journey itself is valuable, and the small things I learn are valuable - at least to me and my horses although they may be obvious to others.  I certainly don't think I have answers, although I continue to learn things from my horses.  And I do strongly believe that there are certain ways of approaching and dealing with horses that are better than others - fairer, more effective and which take account of the horse and how the horse feels about things.  I think better learning and connection come out from this foundation.

Perhaps I should take down some of the softness posts - they're certainly not always great examples of horsemanship.  Perhaps this blog should just slim down to a riding log of what my horses and I experience each day.  I'm a bit inclined that way right now.

Let me know what you think.

Day of Rest

We had a proper day of rest today - a little light grooming and that was all.  And I finally got my music practice started again - for me, somehow, routines are connected to physical locations.  This new place will be great for music - lots of hardwood floors and high ceilings.

More riding tomorrow . . .

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Getting a Routine Back, and the Boys Go Missing

Now that the boxes have been unboxed and most of the errands completed, and the new place is starting to feel like home, I'm starting to get my routine back.  My usual routine, if appointments and other interruptions (like lameness or too much to do in other areas) don't get in the way, is to ride Dawn five mornings a week - every day but Sunday and Thursday - I'm doing other things on those mornings.  I try to ride the boys five afternoons a week, and they almost always get Wednesday afternoons off (music lessons) and one other afternoon off, usually Sunday.  So other than most Sundays, that means I ride every day at least once and three times on some days.  This means riding takes up a really big chunk of my day, but that's how I like it and I configure my life to make it possible.  For example, I live about a five minute drive from the barn - this makes going there twice in one day possible.

I actually managed three rides both yesterday and today. Dawn and I had a fantastic ride this morning.  She was much more relaxed from the start than she's been in our previous two rides, although it was cold and windy and the arena roof was whistling and the doors were banging.  We had a freshly dragged arena, which was delightful - the guys get done early on Saturdays so the arena is dragged before I ride.  I worked on keeping my posture open and body allowing so she could move up and through me without blocks.  She responded very well and delivered excellent softness with forward in all three gaits.

Red was stiff again and took quite a while to be able to use himself properly - I can tell he's stiff because his trot gets very flat and somewhat short-strided.  I think the cold is making his hock arthritis act up a bit.  But the regular exercise plus the aspirin are probably the best thing for him.  When he's stiff, his forward also isn't really there as it should be.  Sometimes, like today, we do some canter work early in our ride to help him stretch out what's tight.  By the end, he was working nicely, but we kept it fairly short.  We'll see how he is after his day off tomorrow.

Pie and I had a good ride, although he was a bit "clunky", and even tripped once in front at the canter, which is very rare for him.  I think both he and Red are a bit tired as they're getting back into full work after their break during my move.  But Pie did some very nice trot and canter work, and we had some fun with some cones another rider put out.

Funny story from today - as I parked my truck, I notice a plume of dust in the gelding pasture.  It turns out that after all the horses had been brought in, Red and Pie were nowhere to be found.  One of the guys had to hike way back in the pasture to find them - of course then they galloped to the gate - that's the dust I saw.  Bad boys!

Friday, October 25, 2013

More Errands and More Riding

I had a few more errands to do in connection with the move, but that didn't keep me from riding - and I even managed to make some really nice vegetable soup in the crock pot - dried beans, broth and some sautéed onions, garlic, celery and carrots, with the addition of some oregano, thyme and pepper (salt to be added at the table so the beans don't get tough).  It's nice after a long day to come home and find dinner hot and waiting.

Dawn was very fine this morning - it was quite cold again, barely 30 in the indoor.  She was feeling pretty good after another day off yesterday, but her behavior was exemplary - she used her energy to deliver some really excellent forward and engagement.

Red was fairly stiff behind when we started out, but improved as we went although he didn't get to the point where he was really using himself like he did in our last ride.  He was willing though, and we did some decent work, including some canter on both leads - sometimes when he's stiff the right lead can be hard for him but today it was pretty good.

Pie was outstanding.  We did a lot of trot work, then did some excellent canter work.  We worked on both a loose rein and also with some contact to encourage softness at the canter - this is still a work in progress but he was able to sustain a soft, engaged canter on both leads longer than he's ever done before.  And it was really soft - no leaning on my hands which he's tended to want to do sometimes in the past.

Pretty fine, if we say so ourselves!  Hoping for more of the same tomorrow . . .

Thursday, October 24, 2013

One More Non-Riding Day . . .

One more day sacrificed to the necessities of moving - since I got a good riding fix yesterday I managed to substitute household/moving chores/errands for the (preferable) pleasure of riding.  But of course all horses were visited, hoof picked and minimally groomed, and Red got his daily aspirin.

And I hope to get my music practice restarted shortly as well - then all will be right with the world.

And tomorrow we ride . . .

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From Famine to Feast

While I was moving, the horses had four days off from riding - it seemed like an eternity to me.  But, finally, today, the last boxes were emptied and I rode all three horses.  I even sacrificed my music lessons - cancelled - to ride - horse trumps music when I haven't ridden in so long.

The weather has turned sharply colder - it really feels like late fall now.  The highs are in the mid 40s, and there has been frost overnight.  This morning when I rode Dawn, it was only 30 in the indoor arena.

I was delighted with all three of them - even though it was cold, and they hadn't been ridden in days, they were all three just about perfect.  No lungeing, just get on and go - everyone stood perfectly for mounting. Dawn was brimming with energy, but held it all together.  My objective with her was to get some relaxation by the end of our ride, and we got there - some nice trot work on a fairly loose rein.  Red was, I think, delighted to be doing something with me again - he tends to sulk when not in work - and didn't put a foot wrong.  By the end of our ride, he'd warmed up out of being stiff and gave me some really nice trot work with excellent engagement.  Pie was perfect, and did some really outstanding loose rein canter work.  He also easily comes to a halt just off my intent, even from a canter.  And his idea of a good time, even when it's cold and he's been off work for four days, is to stand in the center of the ring and just chill, and we did some of that together.

Happy, happy indeed.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

More of the Same

Boxes, boxes, and more boxes - but at least now they're being unpacked and things are starting to get somewhat organized.  Nothing much with the horses today - minimal grooming and hoof picking - they all seemed happy enough - hoping for a ride or two tomorrow but we'll have to see.

Monday, October 21, 2013

One Step Up - a Bit of Grooming

Today was an almost dirty day - no riding again as I am surrounded by boxes that demand to be unpacked - it's sort of fun arranging things in a new place, but it sure is tiring.  Movers were on time and did a great job, and it didn't rain - you can't ask for much more than that.

Anyhow, on to the horses.  Today I just knocked off the worst of the mud and grime, picked feet, told everyone how good they are, and called it a day.  I'm hoping for a ride or two tomorrow if the boxes can be tamed . . .

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dirty Day

I was very short of time today, so the horses had what we call a "dirty day" - hoof picking and very little else other than checking everyone over for any nicks or cuts - none, thankfully.  Dawn got some minimal grooming so she can be in her insulated rain sheet tomorrow - it's supposed to only get up into the mid 40s with some fierce wind, and she appreciates a little extra protection in weather like this.  The boys will be fine, and got to keep their various muddy patches.  A good, but brief, day with horses.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Loose Rein Cantering, Revisited

The mashed toes are feeling a bit better, and happiest out of shoes.  The big toe is very red - it looks a bit like a boiled lobster. Perhaps this was the universe telling me to take some time off from riding in order to focus on other things - like packing for the household move on Monday . . .  So all horses had a day off today - I just dropped by the barn in the afternoon to say hello and pick feet.  Pack . . . pack . . . pack . . .

But life is about more than packing - it's about horses, so here's a follow up to my post talking about the loose rein cantering work I've been doing.  Several readers had comments:

You suggested that you can canter on a loose rein with "a horse that knows how to canter under saddle". I've lately been thinking that the best way to have a horse LEARN to canter under saddle, find his balance, develop the strength to later go in a more collected frame is to start cantering without contact so that the horse can use his head and neck to keep his balance - especially a horse who has learned a lot of apprehension about the bit (which seems to be almost every "dressage" horse I see!). Could you comment?
Then Jean had the following comment:
One of the "old masters" of riding advocated riding the young horse on a loose rein at all three gaits until he/she learned how to carry both him/herself and the rider. Ironically, many horses today are trained from square one in side reins and in a frame, so they never really do learn how to balance without the support. 
These were very perceptive comments, and others said the same - as I told Chris in my response, I had thought about including some of my thoughts on when/how to use loose rein cantering in order to clarify, but had elected not to.  But now I will attempt to clarify my thinking a bit.  Part of it is when to help, and when to let the horse figure things out.  I've always had a tendency to "help" my horses too much - Mark Rashid worked with me on this - he calls striking the right balance "professional neglect".

But that doesn't mean you don't get in there and help if help is needed - it's a balance between giving the horse time and space to figure things out on their own, and failing to help if the horse needs direction.  This is something I'll be working on for a long time.  In my case, I need to tilt the balance towards doing less rather than more - just like I need to feel I'm leaning slightly backwards when riding in order to just sit up straight.  As both become more natural, I expect I'll have to not overcompensate towards doing less.

One thing to get out of the way first - I don't use gadgets - bitting rigs, draw reins, side reins, martingales, tie downs, etc. - to "help" the horse.  These things don't help - they force the horse's body into a particular posture, whether or not the horse's musculature, balance, and stage of learning make that posture appropriate or not.  And none of those devices have any "feel" at all - and it's the interaction of my feel with the horse's feel where the learning occurs.  As Jean and Chris point out, many horses "trained" with these devices either learn to brace on your hands, or alternatively suck back from any contact with the bit.  And the horse needs to have choices, so that the horse can find and choose the most comfortable way of going.  Once the horse learns to find and maintain itself in the soft place, that locks in pretty quickly.

So, when to use loose rein work, particularly at the canter.  The answer, as it often is, is "it depends".  With a green horse that's just learning to canter under saddle, lots of unimpeded straight line cantering, on a fairly loose rein, will really help the horse figure things out.  Green horses often have trouble with tight turns, since they need to practice balancing with a rider.  At this stage, I don't worry much at all about what lead the horse is on - just canter along on a loose rein and help the horse balance by staying out of the way and quiet as much as possible.

But to back up a step, I'm a big believer in having the walk and the trot, and the halt and the back, working well before cantering is even part of the program.  And with a horse that isn't just green, but which has some bad habits that are trained in - traveling braced or inverted, for example - this work at the walk and trot, and halt and back, is critical to introduce softness and correct use of muscles, particularly the core.  Cantering a horse that has these issues which haven't been worked through is a waste and may even further embed the bad postures and muscle use the horse has been taught.  If it isn't working at the walk - and halt and back - it won't work at the trot and most certainly not at the canter.  And it takes whatever time it takes - these things can't be rushed.

And the horse also needs to understand forward, and relaxation, at the same time - if the horse is rushed, or nervous, there's no softness and the canter work will not be productive.  I guess what I'm saying is that a baby who's never been messed up can learn to canter under saddle pretty well on a loose rein, but a horse who's been "trained" to have bracing or to be nervous and rushed won't necessarily benefit immediately from loose rein cantering - in fact no cantering at all may be the best idea.

So, take my three horses as examples.  Dawn came to me pretty braced, with a tendency to rush and pull and she was quite downhill - on the forehand and not using her hind end or core properly.  This took a lot of preliminary work to get her to relax and carry herself softly at walk and trot before canter would be useful.  Now her canter is able to be soft and relaxed, and loose rein cantering is very helpful.

Pie was green, but tended to travel inverted - his head and neck in the air and core not engaged, and the result was his gaits were choppy and short without any true forward or engagement.  It took a lot of work at walk and trot to build the correct muscles so he could carry himself softly, using his core.  Now loose rein cantering is very helpful to him, and I also do some work with contact to remind him to soften and not invert - he still needs a bit of help on this from time to time.

Red came to me with a huge mental and physical brace - partly due to having been ridden in a tight tie down - he looks to brace against the expected pressure from the (phantom) tie down.  We've done a lot of softening work at walk and trot in preparation for canter.  Fortunately, he's physically constructed so he tends naturally to carry himself well, engaging his core, so long as he can relax mentally.  He can canter very nicely on a loose rein, but needs some direction to avoid distractions.

With all my horses, my objective is to allow them to move freely at the canter, with minimal interference from me, but with direction when needed - striking that balance isn't easy.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Frisky Friday and Mashed Toes

Today it was colder and windy, but no rain.  Dawn and I rode at our usual time in the morning - she was very, very forward and had some trouble relaxing, but we got (mostly) there in the end and called it good.  There are new barn kitties in the viewing room - a momma kitty and three kittens - and several of the kittens were up on the window ledge while I was riding.

Red, as I was turning him after bridling to lead out into the arena, took a big step to the side and managed to badly mash the toes on my left foot against the concrete barn aisle - it's always my left foot that seems to get in the way.  It hurt like the dickens for a few minutes, but I could move all the toes so nothing is broken.  I got on and rode - fortunate that I don't use my toes much when I ride, and we had a pretty nice ride after getting through the balk that he offered on our first couple of walk/trot transitions.  I expect it was a combination of my foot hurting and his being a bit sore and stiff from the cold.  He worked out of it well, which means it's probably his hock arthritis acting up a bit.

Pie and I also had a nice ride with lots of cantering - we had the ring to ourselves.  His trot work at the beginning was very good - lots of nice, deep corners with good relaxation and softness.  After canter, he had some trouble getting back to that soft place, but we got there - again, I think the throbbing in my foot was making things harder.

After I got home, I took off my sock to look at the damage - several toes are bright red, and the nail on the big toe - which was already compromised by other "assaults" - was very sensitive.  I tried putting ice on but the big toe won't take the pressure.

Ah, horses - even ones that aren't that big, like Red - are heavy, and when they squish, and then turn, on top of your toes, it hurts . . .

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Dawn had the morning off - she usually does on Thursdays.  It was a cold, rainy, windy, somewhat miserable day today - my horses were out in their rain sheets but it was raining hard enough that the shoulders got soaked, but they were OK.

There is one very old horse - he's in his early 30s - who wasn't doing so well with the weather.  He has a decent coat, and is in pretty good weight for a horse his age, but he wasn't blanketed and got pretty badly chilled.  He was shaking, and the barn owner grabbed him - he's a pasture horse, out 24/7 - and stuck him in a stall so he could recover.  He was upset, and calling and calling for his pasture friends.  Red was concerned about this, and nickering.  When I got him out, I let him sniff noses with the old horse through the bars - with Red and a new horse, this usually provokes screaming and striking, but Red just sniffed him and let it be at that.  While I was grooming Red (or partly grooming - he was pretty muddy and some of the mud was wet) outside the stall the old horse was in, I asked Red if he and I could send some relaxing/sleepy thoughts to the old horse.  Red's eyes got heavy and the old horse stopped calling, so I guess we had some effect.

I rode Red bareback since I couldn't get all of him clean.  We did some walk and trot work - he was very balky on the first couple of walk/trot transitions and then fine and perfectly sound - this balking behavior has been showing up again but I just laugh at him and keep on with things.  He's more distractible and is guarding Pie more - Red's other neighbor was brought out on cross ties later and Red objected to him being anywhere near Pie - he was charging his stall door.  I've swapped out Red's chaste tree berry for raspberry leaves, and it may be that the chaste tree is needed to dampen down his more aggressive/disractable/resistent tendencies.

After that Pie and I had a very nice walk/trot/canter ride in a very crowded ring.  Pie's canter work was really good, although he's/we're still struggling a bit with our walk/canter transition when tracking right - but then tracking right is always my harder direction.

Post Every Day

I'm going to try to go back to the discipline of posting every day.  Even if it's only "I rode Dawn/Red/Pie and she/he was good" - this is how my non-horsey husband summarizes what I tell him - or I went to the barn, the horses were dirty and I picked feet.  Somehow the dailyness, the splendor of the ordinariness of my life with horses is otherwise missing.  We'll see how I do - this little post doesn't count . . .

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Loose Rein Cantering

I'm a big fan of loose rein cantering - with a horse that knows how to canter under saddle, and has some relaxation plus forward built in through foundational softening work at the walk and trot, it can be a great way to help the horse develop balance and self-carriage.

Red had a day off today - a friend and I went out to lunch with another friend, who is 95 (has a little trouble getting around but is otherwise sharp as a tack) and living in a retirement community nearby - so I was short of time.  Red and I did some "just standing around" work in the arena - he and I both find this very relaxing and useful - for a horse who used to fidget and couldn't stand still or notice I was there, he's come a very long way.  We just stand there together, breathing together, and it is very fine.

This morning, Dawn and I did some very nice loose rein canter work, and Pie and I did some more in the afternoon.  It's a great test - will the horse maintain a balanced, relaxed, forward - energy but no rushing - rhythmic canter without your interference?  Will the horse track into the corners, or cut them?  Will the horse maintain/sustain the canter or break to trot before you ask?  All of these things will reflect the quality and consistency of the foundational work and how you are sitting and riding.  And you can't rely on your hands to fix things - they have to be right in and of themselves.

Both Dawn and Pie did exceptionally well.  Pie and I have also just started on walk/canter transitions, and he's already very close to having them - but it depends on me mentally preparing for canter - thinking the rhythm - to the point that all I have to do for him to strike off is exhale.  He's getting the idea, and I think it'll come together pretty quickly.

Good horses all around - I am very blessed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Better Than Wonderful

Pie's been absolutely fine since his colic attack last weekend - it was probably the weather.  I in fact dewormed all my horses on Tuesday, using Equimax.  I like to wait for the first frost to do this, but the first frost is getting later every year - the average first frost date for our part of the world used to be October 4, but we're way past that for the past several years, and there's no frost in sight for now.  I love it that all my horses are perfect for deworming and meds by mouth - Red tosses his head up and down a little bit but that's all - the other two don't even move.  Dawn used to be "hold on to my halter and I'll throw you around the stall" but my daughter taught her to stand still using approach/release a number of years ago when she had to have antibiotics by mouth every day for over a month due to a tooth abscess.

I've been taking care of my friend's (who had the fall and the broken scapula) horse.  He is fairly ouchy in the hindquarters, particularly the right hind, and somewhat snatchy with his hind feet when I'm picking them, and a little stand-offish.  When I tried some massage on his right hind, he tried to kick and was clearly very unhappy.  But lately, he's been coming around.  Yesterday for the first time he nickered at me and allowed me to do some massage on his back and right hind - he seemed to appreciate it.

This morning, Dawn had the morning off - our rides over the past days have been just wonderful, including some very nice almost-collected trot work and some very good sustained canter work.  I rode both Red and Pie this afternoon - gorgeous weather in the 60s with sun - around the pastures and then in the outdoor arena.  Red is very sound again and moving well.  He was wonderfully forward and soft at the same time, and he offered some very nice trot and left lead canter work - his left hind was the leg that was injured so we're not doing right lead canter work yet.  We're not working long - only about a half hour - and he was tired by the time we were done.  He needs to rebuild his fitness after two weeks of only walk work, but was very willing and an absolute delight to ride.

Pie and I also had an outstanding ride outside.  His trot is reliably engaged and soft, and his canter work just gets better and better.  He canters around and around in the outdoor arena - the track goes a bit up and downhill as well - with a lovely cadence and balance, and when I ask for more softness and engagement, it's right there.  Then we did a tour of both pastures, and Pie actually asked if he could herd a group of geese - I left him to it and we had some fun.

Better than wonderful!

Monday, October 7, 2013

So Far, So Good

Pie seems to be completely back to normal.  I visited him in the pasture this morning after riding Dawn, and he was chowing down on the grass and was perfectly comfortable.  His stall wasn't torn up, which meant he'd been quiet in the night, he'd finished all his night hay and eaten his breakfast, and there was plenty of manure.  While I was checking on him in the pasture, he considerately passed a nice pile of completely normal manure.  And this afternoon, we had a lovely ride in the pasture - it had been very cold and windy this morning but the sun was out and it was a beautiful afternoon.

I expect it was the weather change that triggered his discomfort, making him gassy.  Fortunately, he's a big drinker and I never have to worry about him getting dehydrated and having an impaction.  Maisie was prone to that, as she was a poor drinker in the winter, even with a heated bucket.

So far, so good, but I'll be keeping a close eye on him to be sure all is well.

Minor (I Hope) Colic Attack

Pie wasn't feeling quite right last night.  He was pretty normal when I groomed him and picked his feet at around 5 p.m., and was eating normally.  At about 7 p.m. I got a call from the barn - the (knowledgeable) boarder who was in the aisle noticed that he was pawing.  She checked his gut sounds, which were normal, and there was manure in the stall. Then he laid down - she said he seemed uncomfortable.

I put down what I was doing (finishing dinner), jumped in the car and went to the barn - at times like this it's nice that it's 5 minutes away.  Pie was up when I got there, but one side was completely covered in shavings - he'd clearly been lying flat, although not rolling.  When he had his repeating colics back in the fall of 2011, he would lie flat to ease the pain.  We now think those colics were attributable to swollen lymph nodes in his abdomen due to Lyme and/or EPM.

He didn't look terrible - he was alert and responsive, his belly wasn't tucked up and his gums were a nice pink with good capillary refill - but he was clearly somewhat uncomfortable - he reacted with pinned ears when I ran my hands over the left side of his belly.

So I put his halter on, gave him a 1,000-lb. dose of oral Banamine and took him into the indoor arena.  We walked around for a bit, then I let him loose.  He didn't paw or roll, just walked around a bit and sniffed things, or just stood there looking at me.  I did some massage on his tail and hindquarters, and then his sides, to see if that would release some gas.  He stood there and seemed to appreciate it, and there was no ear-pinning.

After a bit, he said he was done with that and headed off to the door to his barn aisle, which was closed, and stood there - he seemed to feel better already, although the oral Banamine wouldn't have taken effect yet.  I opened the door for him and he headed off to his stall.  When he got in there, he started eating bits of hay - a very good sign.  I said goodnight and headed home.

I called the barn owner and she said she would check on him later.  She texted me at about 9:30 p.m. that he seemed fine, and there was fresh manure in his stall.

If he has another colic attack, I'll have him retested for Lyme and EPM, although he was tested fairly recently and doesn't show any symptoms of either disease.  Our weather changed very abruptly yesterday - the high was in the 80s the day before yesterday, 60s yesterday and the temperatures were heading to the 40s overnight.  I think his colic may have just been due to the weather change and the big changes in barometric pressure.  I hope so - keeping fingers crossed that all is well with my Pie-Pie.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

In the Company of Fine Horses

I had a delightful day with my three horses today.  You know fine dining?  Good food, good company, a wonderful experience.  Well, today I had fine riding - a wonderful experience in its own right - good horses, all.

My day started early with Dawn - I usually ride her 5 mornings a week early before anyone else gets to the barn - she objects strongly (this word doesn't do it justice) to being ridden in the arena with another horse.  She's a middle-aged lady now - she's 16 - and I honor her preferences.  Lately, every ride, she's been offering more and more softness even when I don't do anything particular to ask for it.  Her trot is amazing, soft, relaxed and swinging and we do almost-collected trot and lateral work just on a thought. What a splendid mare she is - I hope she knows it - and I immensely enjoy her nose rests while we're grooming.

Red is just more and more willing and solid.  He's now, as of yesterday, completely sound again at the trot - the swelling in his left hind is almost gone - just a small hard lump - and he no longer is asking for massages of his left hindquarters, which means he feels pretty good.  He's very alert and interested in everything, and just as willing as he can be.  Yesterday we dealt with string trimmers - the lawn service was working along the edge of the aluminum arena with a string trimmer - making a horrible noise - he was pretty alarmed by this so I got off and stood with him while they worked - eyes like saucers, but he stayed with me.  Afterwards we did 10 trot lengths of the arena - bareback - he seems to really like this - and today we did 15 lengths while it was pouring rain and very noisy in the arena - what a fine horse he is.

And Pie and I have been having wonderful rides - more geese herding Friday and then today, during the rain storm, some excellent soft trot and canter work.  His canter has come such a long way and just gets better and better - last winter he had great trouble even cantering around the corners in our small arena.  Now he just canters around and around on a loose rein, with a relaxed, even cadence - I think he actually enjoys it, although being Pie, he especially enjoys just standing still on a loose rein in the middle.

There's nothing better in this world than three fine horses!