A few updates from our "blog pause" . . .
Our weather has been extremely cold and often very windy - this is by far the coldest winter since I moved to the Chicago area in 1994. In fact, temperatures in February were at least 10 degrees below normal, continuing the pattern we've experienced all winter. I've lost count of the mornings where temperatures were at or below zero F, with wind chills much colder than that. We've also had a lot of snow - it seems like almost every other day - but I don't usually mind the snow too much with my truck in 4-wheel drive (it would be better, though, if there were no other drivers on the road), and the snow improves the footing for the horses.
I've also lost count of the days the horses have been stuck in their stalls all day, or for part of the day, due to the extreme cold and wind and sometimes icy footing. As a result of all this, my riding has been more intermittent than I would have liked, although we have been riding when and as we can. I generally won't ride if it's below 10F outside (the indoor is not heated and is only marginally warmer) or if the horses haven't been turned out - I'm not a big fan of lungeing, as I believe it's hard on joints.
All horses have been exceptionally fine in our rides, except for one little incident with Dawn on February 15. She was apparently coming into the first spring heat, which can be a strong one - she'd been a bit more distracted and "rushy" for a few days. On the 15th, she was hyper alert and very distracted, leading to several big spooks and one bolt, which almost unseated me - I lost my stirrups but managed to stay with her which was pure luck. Although I rarely lunge, this was one occasion when I did - she needed to release tension - so I let her do some cantering (with huge bucks) and then some trotting - at her discretion, I wasn't making her move - until she was able to do walk/trot/walk transitions off my voice. She actually offered me a muzzle wrap when I took her halter off to rebridle her (I don't lunge in the bridle, only a halter), which I took as an apology. Then I got back on and rode briefly at the walk and trot. For our next several rides, I did ask her if she needed to move on the lunge before I rode - the first day, yes, a fair amount, but then the next day hardly at all, and we had good rides both times. Then the cold set in again with a vengeance and we haven't had a ride since - I usually ride Dawn in the early morning and it's just been too darn cold.
Dawn used to be very hard to even handle - grooming and feet picking - when she was in heat. I was kicked in the jaw in 2009 when she was in heat and I made a very bad decision about how/where to pick her feet. The raspberry leaves she's on now (MareBerry or MareMagic) help a lot, but her first spring heat can still be a doozy, and I need to pay attention to this and what she needs to be able to concentrate.
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And some great news - Red and Pie and I will be participating in the Mark Rashid clinic April 12 through 14th in Cedarburg, Wisconsin at Black Star Farm (there's another clinic April 15 through 17th although we won't be there for that one) - hope to see some of you there. Mark is very welcoming to auditors - who can ask questions - and auditing is relatively inexpensive. Pie and Red will have a private hour session each of the three days. I've got a fair idea of what we'll be working on.
With Red, when things get more energetic - particularly when we start to do more canter work - we loose our softness - he no longer braces, but he gets a bit "jangly" and "sharp" - very, very responsive, but keyed up and light rather than soft. We've started working on this ourselves, but could use some expert help. We could also use some help with our trailer loading, if there's time, and that first walk/trot transition still isn't perfect, although it's coming along as I ignore what I don't want and don't counter brace - he now takes the trot with his body straight, but the head and neck are still flailing around for a moment. That may be solved by the time of the clinic, but if it isn't we'll see.
With Pie, we still struggle not to brace against each other while keeping things forward and soft, particularly after canter work, and I end up doing too much with both my leg and hand, which annoys Pie and doesn't get us where we need to be. I expect Mark will help us get it sorted out.
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I've just bought Pie a new bit to try. Bits don't fix anything, but the wrong bit can get in the way and a better bit for the horse can help. It's a 5 1/2 inch ported Mylar snaffle - I didn't buy it from this site but it was the best picture I could find. Pie has a combination of a wide mouth, very large tongue and low palate. I've been riding him in a 5 1/2 inch KK three-piece bit with a lozenge, and have ridden him previously with success in the Rockin' S raised snaffle (it's the one at the bottom, the others are the regular Rockin' S snaffles which can also be very helpful with certain horses), but that one doesn't come in a 5 1/2 inch as far as I know. If I use the top hooks to hang the bit it should sit back somewhat like the Rockin' S does. I won't use the bottom hooks for the reins since I'm not looking for any curb action. We'll see what Pie thinks . . .
And on the subject of mouths, our equine dentist is coming in early April. Dawn, with her broken and missing teeth, will undoubtedly need some work, Pie likely needs some too and Red may need a touch up.
Our first visit for spring shots is next week - I break my shots up into groups rather than using 5-way or 7-way shots, in part because all three horses have had EPM and Pie has had Lyme (his last retest came back nicely negative even on chronic Lyme) as well, so they can be sensitive to vaccinations. We'll be doing Eastern/Western encephalitis and tetanus at our first visit, as well as having Coggins blood draws and sheath cleanings for the boys - Pie gets very dirty in just six months and isn't particularly welcoming about being cleaned, so I leave that to the vet . . .
I got some tags engraved with each horse's name and my phone number for halters, bridles and saddles. And in a gesture of hope after this endless winter, I've bought my public trail riding pass, and my trailer will be going in for some maintenance this month.
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One good thing about all our down time from riding due to the weather is that we've been spending more time grooming and just hanging out together. I've always loved grooming and the close connection the horses and I build through grooming. Lately, we've been exploring massage - I've been doing a lot of learning my horses' bodies and where they appreciate having muscles and pressure points massaged. I've also been starting to explore this a bit with horses not my own.
I've been following the feel . . . into massage . . . and I've discovered some very interesting things . . .