Friday, February 28, 2014

Me, Me, Me, Me . . .

Blogging, when you come right down to it, is essentially talking about yourself - what you do, how and why you do it.  It's fundamentally pretty darn narcissistic.  And to prove the point, here I am talking about myself - how I feel about blogging.  Can't be avoided, I guess.  And I think this is true whether you're talking about your horses, or cooking, or your garden or your house renovations.

And blogging is about trying to be interesting, and noticed, and approved of - looking for those comments and page views.  It's a form of showing off.

Just like any other form of writing, but with the immediacy of the internet added in.

But despite this, and my discomfort with the egoism of blogging, I'm going to kept on doing it, at least for now.  But I'm going to try to change the tone a bit and see if that makes a difference to how I feel about it.

For me, this blog is the narrative of a journey I'm taking together with my horses.  I'm not a trainer and have no pretensions to be one. I can't say that anything my horses and I are doing is special, or different, in the grand scheme of things - it's just what we're doing and what works for us, and it feels very special and important to us.  My horses and I feel some moments of real power and magic, and we'd like to share that with you.  We don't know if any of you will think it's interesting, and we certainly don't think that what we're doing necessarily applies to you and your horses, although it might - this is something you have to figure out for yourselves.

Dawn and Red and Pie and I will do our best to be honest with you about our successes and failures and our moments of deep connection and loss of that connection.  These are wondrous times we're sharing together, in all their small moments, and we hope you'll continue to share our journey.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

All is Well, and Blog Sabbatical

Today things were much better with all three horses, mainly due to my riding better - keeping my eyes up, posture erect and focussed on where I wanted to go really made a difference.

My day started early in the morning with Dawn.  We'd had about 6 inches of snow overnight, and when I went to get her she'd just rolled and her face was all covered with snow.  The right side of her neck is still a bit sore, but today when I was massaging it she didn't try to bite at me but instead would just back up if I was putting too much pressure on.  There was no head-shaking during our ride, and she was forward but soft and very responsive.

In the afternoon the boys and I had great rides.  Red and I went out with the intention to have a relaxing, soft ride, and we had our focus and straightness back - we did lots of walk and trot to the spot.  His transitions were pretty much all OK, and we even did a bit of canter work without him getting worked up afterwards - his canter is much more smooth and relaxed after all the trot work we've done.  My ride on Pie was also very good - lots of very nice trot and canter work, with good softness and engagement.

Tomorrow we're back in the deep freeze again - highs in the single digits and wind chills well below zero all day.  The boys will probably be fine with that, but Dawn is staying in for the day and I'll hand walk her a couple of times.  The next week looks like lows near or below zero most days and highs only in the teens - that we can live with since we can probably ride.

* * * * * *
The blog is going to take a break for about a month.  I won't be posting or reading or commenting on others' posts.  I love the horse blogging community, but I need to take some time to do some other things, including thinking and writing about horses in a way that is less related to the daily needs of the blog.  We'll see what comes of that . . .   Wishing you all well, and hope to see you in March!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

(Mostly) Not as Good, But Just Fine

Today was another three-horse-ride day - which was a lovely thing for me.  But my rides on Dawn and Red weren't as good as those yesterday, but that's perfectly fine and to be expected.  Sometimes things don't come together quite as I'd like, because of one factor or another, but usually because of me.

In Dawn's case, she was more forward than needed, even a bit "rushy", although she behaved very well and we ended up having a nice ride.  She also seems to have a bit of cramping on the right side of her neck, which made it hard for her to carry herself softly - there were some big head shakes during our ride.  I worked on the cramps a bit after I rode her - she would bend her head around and bite in my direction - she wasn't trying to bite me, just show me that it hurt - and did some more later in the day, which seemed to help a bit.  We'll see how she is tomorrow.

My ride on Red involved some bracing - I didn't use "trot to the spot" well today and spent too much time looking at his head, with predictable results.  The other result of this was that he lost some of his back to front connection, which meant that he got "wiggly" - the head was disconnected from the rest of his body (he was a victim of excessive lateral flexion work, I believe, and sometimes it shows up), which meant we lost some of our straightness and impulsion, which made the transitions more difficult.  But again, we worked through it very well, and things improved as we went.  But at this point with Red, how I ride makes a very big difference and I just wasn't as focussed or effective in directing him as yesterday.

Pie is less affected by my connection or lack thereof, and more affected by my body position.  By the time I rode him, I was trying hard to think about my position and staying open and upright with focus up and out, and it worked.  We had a very nice ride - his trot work was excellent, soft and relaxed and the anticipation from sitting trot was gone.  Some of his canter work was also very good, including some circles (not eggs!) on a fairly loose rein.

We'll see what tomorrow brings (in addition to more snow) . . .


Monday, February 3, 2014

We Need a New Category

Today was a delightful three-horse-ride day.  We'd all had a day off yesterday, so we were ready to rock and roll.

I rode Dawn as I usually do, in the early morning.  It was below zero F when I got to the barn, but sunny and with little wind.  I hiked up the hill to retrieve Dawn - she was huddled, sulking because of the cold, although she was warm under her blanket.

We had a nice grooming session with a good amount of muzzle wrapping - she seemed happy to be with me.  Since it was barely 10F in the indoor, we suited up - Dawn in her rump rug and me in my balaclava.  We had a fabulous ride - Dawn rode just as she would have if it were 80 degrees - forward, soft and relaxed.  I couldn't have been more delighted, and she seemed pretty pleased with herself, too.

In the afternoon - it was almost 20F outside and a bit warmer in the indoor - Pie and Red both got rides.  Things were a bit out of order, since there were two horses getting reshod in the aisle just outside Red's door, which meant that (gasp!) Pie got ridden before Red, and (gasp again!) there was a horse between Red and Pie when I took Pie away to ride him.  This made Red very unhappy, and he did a lot of calling and pawing while I was riding Pie.  Red cares a lot about order, and things happening in the correct sequence, and about making sure he can protect Pie.  But he coped.

Pie and I had a lovely ride in an empty ring - pure bliss to have it to ourselves.  He did some nice, relaxed canter work, and we also worked on him not getting all excited and anticipating canter when I sit the trot.  This is my fault (as most things are), since I rarely sit Pie's trot except when we're about to canter, so he logically expects that sitting trot will lead to canter.  Pie has a big, not very comfortable trot, so I've avoided doing much sitting trot work.  Today we did a lot of sitting/rising/sitting work so he could relax and stop worrying about canter.

Then Red finally got his turn - he was relieved, I think, to know that he wasn't being overlooked.  He was fairly keyed up as I led him in and mounted and we started our loose rein walk work, but he quickly settled and went right to work.  I've discovered he's a bit of a show off, and if there's another horse in the ring, his gaits tend to be more animated.

The brace on the walk/trot transitions is pretty much completely gone, as I suspected it would be.  We did a fair amount of transition work, walk/trot/walk/trot, etc., just off feel with zero pressure on the reins, although I did maintain contact.  Carrying the energy forward into walk makes for a much better trot/walk transition.

We did some one slow step at a time backing, on a completely loose rein - I could lift the buckle with a finger and he would back the exact number of steps I was thinking.

Then we did some shortening/lengthening trot work just off my thought/feel, and he was right on it.  So, I thought, why not?  let's see if he can take the feel of passage (I disagree with the "braced" way the site recommends doing passage, and note the the horse in the video is braced and tail wringing, but it does show the movement) and do something with it - and he did.  I introduced a small hesitation into the "trot I was feeling", and he made a good try at it - very slow and cadenced trot with a lot of elevation of the front end and the slightest hesitation - just a very soft rein contact.  We didn't do too much, only a few steps at a time, since it's very strenuous.

I have to be careful with Red that, when I'm excited and delighted with how he's doing, my energy level rises and he tends to get a bit "sharp" - he turns or moves off with a thought and can be overly reactive - he's entering into the game but I need to be sure to calm things down in my own mind even if I'm excited and delighted.

It was more fun than a barrel (or two) of monkeys!  I told Red that he was a superstar, and he modestly accepted my praise.

My rides, in my ride log, are rated good, very good, excellent and outstanding.  I guess I need a new category - stupendous, magnificent, overwhelming, I don't know . . .


Patron Saints of Horses

No riding Sunday, so something else instead . . .

I was doing some research on Russian icons, and stumbled across this icon (wikimedia commons) of the patron saints of horses, Sts. Florus and Laurus (or Sts. Frol and Lavr from Russian sources) - this icon is from the late 15th century:


I love the mare with the bell and the foals portrayed as miniature adult horses.

This second icon (from skete.com) is pretty clearly based on the first one - it's from the 17th century:


I think the first icon is more powerful in depicting the "spirit" of horses, although the cavorting foal in the second one is lovely.

The legend of Sts. Florus and Laurus isn't particularly edifying and has little to do with horses, but I liked the icons and thought you might as well.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Trot to the Spot

It's been a marvelous few days.  Today was the second day in a row that I've ridden Dawn and the third in a row that I've ridden Red and Pie - that's 8 rides, which is a big improvement over recent days.  All three horses have been absolutely splendid.

I rode Dawn early this morning - it was snowing hard when I got to the barn and I was the only one there, which is just how I like it in the morning.  We had what was probably one of our best rides ever, in the 4+ years we've been together.  She was delightfully forward, and responsive and soft as can be.  We concluded with some shortening/lengthening work at trot - my only change was to slightly engage my core for shortening and put the feel of my shortening "my" trot into my own mind and body - and Dawn just lifted up under me and rounded and engaged, and it was just marvelous.  I had a whisper of contact on the reins, but there was no pressure, and I used no leg or seat aids. (Anybody, dressage "master" or not, who says that you have to push/drive the horse into a resisting contact in order to get self carriage is just talking hooie, in my book - horses in the pasture are capable of self carriage with no rider at all, and all you do when you push/resist is create braces from both ends).

Red and I have been working on something I call "trot to the spot".  It's really about changing what I do, so that he doesn't feel the need to brace and can make excellent transitions.  Variations of this exercise can be used for all sorts of purposes.

The basics are this.  I pick out a point in the arena - a dirt spot on the wall, a barrel, a cone, a door, the mounting block, it doesn't matter.  Then I "trot to the spot".  This means that I keep my focus up and out - on the spot we're heading towards - this means I have intent, and don't drive the energy down by looking down or at his head.  And here's the key - it's a bit hard to describe but it works amazingly well (again, for all sorts of purposes) - don't say "trot" verbally or in your mind (horses don't speak human), just, in your own mind, take yourself from walk to trot - feel it in your body and mind - but without doing anything physical at all.  Horses are incredibly sensitive and can connect with this feel - that's what connection and feel are.

When I do this with Red, his transitions are flawless - the bracing is pretty much entirely gone, since he can join in my feel and do what needs to be done so we can "trot to the spot".  We also did a lot of trot/walk a few steps/trot transitions, including a bunch on the long sides (which have been a problem for him), as well as some shortening/lengthening at the trot, again just off my putting the feel into myself and asking him to join in.  And then, when we were halted on a loose rein, all I had to do to get backing was to barely put my hand on the reins - there was no contact at all, just the slightest lift of the loose rein, and he would softly back.

Pie's trot work today was wonderful, too - but again, I had to ride properly, with good posture and focus, and offer him the feel I wanted.

Just marvelous . . . there's nothing that can beat a day like this.  Tomorrow we have a day of rest.