Monday, August 31, 2015

Nothing Better

Nothing better on a warm late summer day that four lovely rides on four excellent horses.  We're going to have some hot weather for the next few days, with little riding likely, so I wanted to get in some rides today.  I couldn't have asked for a better day.

All the things I've struggled with my horses require me to dissolve the braces in me, and then things get good - it's never about the horse doing anything wrong, but about what I bring to and offer to the horse - if it's right on my end the horses deliver.

Dawn was lively - very forward and responsive and wanting to move out.  She has taught me a lot about having a soft, following contact and doing as little as possible - in fact nothing - to get what I want.  With her, thought is enough - if the barest idea of canter crosses my mind, she's cantering - I have to be careful what I think and keep a clear mind when I'm with her.

Missy and I worked some more on her left bend at the trot, and on her maintaining forward with good softness and engagement - very nice.  She's very consistent in her softness now and is just lovely.

Red and I have had two outstanding rides in a row.  He's been energetic and responsive, and my offering softness to him - for him to take up - at every step, even when he wants to brace - has made a huge difference.  Instead of bracing against (my) brace, he just melts into the softness, and we go about our business.

Pie has been a peach (peachy Pie, anyone?).  Lovely, soft, engaged trot work and some excellent relaxed, forward cantering.  Right bend is no longer an issue - he's reliably soft on both reins now that I'm not getting in his way.

My horses teach me every day.  Some of the thing they teach - consistency on my part pays huge dividends.  Their manners on the ground are impeccable, they stand like statues for mounting, and they know exactly what to expect from me.  Things just happen like I'd want them to, if I give the horses the consistency they deserve and have come to expect.

Dawn and Pie teach me quietness - on my part - no excess movements, melting into the horse, and using breathing and thought to get what I want.  Softness results.

Red continues to teach me that if I can continue to offer softness when he braces, the brace dissolves - it isn't about him being soft, it's about me offering softness to him and him joining me there, consistently.

Missy teaches me that forward comes from the inside of me, connected to the inside of her - it isn't a matter of aids on the outside of the horse.  Our communication and connection continues to grow.

A very fine day, indeed.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Asking a Question

The mare pasture is visible from the indoor arena, so I sometimes get to see interesting mare interactions.  One of the things I like most about spending time with horses is getting to see their interactions with each other in the herd - our pastures are big and the herds have at least 15 horses in them.

I was standing in the indoor the other day, talking with another boarder.  I noticed Dawn grazing in the mare pasture.  A buckskin mare approached her, stopped about 20 feet from her, and stood there with her ears pricked, intently looking at Dawn.  I said to the other boarder:  "That mare is asking Dawn a question."

Sure enough, within a few seconds, they were grooming.  I've seen that behavior before in herds - the subordinate mare will ask if it's OK to groom, and the more dominant horse has to accept the offer.

It's good to see Dawn grooming with another horse in her herd.  Since she's moved to the barn - in 2012 - she really hasn't had a special mare friend, and this was the first time I've observed her grooming at this barn.

Dawn will occasionally call to Missy, both when she's in the pasture and I have Missy inside, or will nicker when Missy comes back to her stall - their stalls are next to one another - but I've never seen them grooming.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Photo Shoot

I was at the barn early today, so had a rare opportunity to go out in the pastures with my camera.

Loved how Dawn shone in the sun:

Curious Missy:

Dawn grazing:

Missy grazing:

Missy comes up to say hi:

And then decides the grass is more interesting:

Shiny Dawn:


Pie wonders what I'm up to - that's Red on the right:

Backlit Red walking:

Shiny Pie:

Red butt:

Boys together - Pie on the left, Red on the right:

Pie turns:

Red in the sunlight:

Pie left, Red right:

Pie's distinctive, and I think handsome, head:

Two butts - Pie closest with Red behind:

The boys together - gives a good idea of their relative size, build and color - Red on the left, Pie on the right:

Pie's one sock, with the striped hoof and ermine spot:

Red's leg that had splint bone surgery is looking good, but has a permanent scar:

It's always fun to spend time in the pastures.

Thanks for visiting our world!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Now That Was Fun! - Two Bareback Rides

I had a low energy day today.  The barn was quiet - almost no one around - and I didn't feel like riding hard or hoisting saddles, so bareback rides were on.

I hadn't really planned on riding Red, but after all four horses were groomed, he came to his door and wanted to come out, so off we went.  We've been having some trouble with renewed bracing at the beginning of our rides - by the end things are always OK but it takes a while to get softness.  I'd decided that I wasn't offering him enough of the feel of what I wanted - I'd been getting the job done but I wasn't giving him the soft feel I wanted back from him.  Yesterday we did some work in the Rockin S raised snaffle to mix things up, and today we were back in his Mylar comfort snaffle.

I grew up riding bareback - from the time I was 6 or so until I was in my late teens I almost never rode in a saddle - never had a lesson until I was in college.  It's delightful riding bareback - you're very close to the horse and your center of gravity is lower than when riding in a saddle.

Red and I did fairly well today.  There were some moments of bracing, but I tried to continue to offer softness, and things got soft pretty quickly.  His halts and backing got soft faster than they've been getting, and the trot work was nice as well.  With Red, I have to ride him frequently, and with a very high degree of consistency on my part - I have to never stop riding and be very conscious of the feel I'm offering.  If there's any brace in me, he gives me a big brace right back.  When I ride correctly, he's a dream, but he's not going to give it away for free.

Missy and I had a lovely bareback ride.  I haven't ridden her bareback in quite a while, and the difference was dramatic.  She's at about 90% of the softness I want, and her consistency is very high - Red goes from 50% soft to 100% and sometimes back again.  Her trot work is really outstanding now - lots of spring and engagement behind and the beginnings of very good shortening/lengthening work.  The left bend was better today with me bareback, probably because of my lower center of gravity and also my (necessarily) more consistent posture.

Two lovely rides, and we've got a week of cooler, more pleasant weather coming up . . .

Friday, August 21, 2015

Drinking Styles

Each of my four horses has his or her own drinking style.  In some respects, these drinking styles reflect their underlying personalities, I think.

Dawn is a lip flapper.  She lowers her face to the water without hesitation, flaps her lower lip a few times at the surface and then drinks deeply.  A mare that tests the waters and then fully commits.

Pie approaches the surface of the water several times with his muzzle before drinking.  Then he drinks deeply - sometimes with sucking noises.  He will always suck his tongue thoughtfully, with the tip protruding from his mouth, for several moments after a first drink.  He usually takes a second, shorter drink, and doesn't suck his tongue then.  He is cautious, checks things out but is also fond of ritual and contemplation.

Red is a plunger.  He directly approaches the water and forcefully drops his muzzle and immediately drinks.  There's no hesitation.  If he's eating hay at the time, he doesn't finish chewing but drops it in the water, although he's not a dunker - he doesn't eat the hay that gets wet.  He's deliberate but also a touch impulsive and very direct about what he wants and how to get it.

Missy drinks a lot and is quite straightforward - she just drinks.  She's also my only horse who doesn't have a favorite between the two buckets in her stall - she drinks equally from both.  (Red is a right bucket drinker and Pie and Dawn prefer the left - although Pie will also reluctantly drink from the right if his "special" bucket is moved from its usual spot on the left to the right.)  She's a plain-spoken, no fuss sort of mare.

Do your horses have drinking styles, and do these reflect their personalities?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Four Browns

All four horses are what a non-horse person would call "brown" - well, Miss is brown and white and Dawn has a black mane and tail and black points, but other than that, they're brown.

One of the things I love about spending time around horses - not just my own - is how individual each of them is, including their color and markings.  Every horse is unique - color, appearance, behavior, personality, you name it - each of them is him or herself, only.

My four are all brown, but what a richness and complexity is concealed within that word.

Dawn is a bright red bay - in the winter she gets much darker:

There's a tinge of black in the brown, even in the summer.

Pie is a bright chestnut with yellow highlights:

I see him and Red together frequently, and Pie is lighter in color.

Red is a deep rich brown, well red actually - he looks like burnished metal:

Missy's brown is very dark - like chocolate - a lovely color - darker than even Dawn's winter coat but without the black highlights:

I'm full of wonder at the beauty of each individual horse, every day - do you ever feel the same way?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Outside, Hoof Trims, Saddle Fit, Trot Work, Sunblock, Ride Log

The bugs - mosquitos, black flies, gnats, flies and more flies - stable flies, face flies, green-headed flies and now the dreaded B-52s - have been really terrible this year.  We've had a lot of rain, with intervals of heat - perfect conditions for all sorts of flying tormentors.

My horses and I got in some nice rides in the outdoor arena - which is mostly grass, which means more bugs than a sand arena would have - in the spring, but have barely been outside to ride since.  The horses are outside almost all day in the bug-infested pastures, so I expect they haven't minded too much being inside in the shady, somewhat less buggy indoor.  Some days the bugs have gotten so bad that the horses had to come in early from turnout.

Finally this week we've gotten some cooler weather with a good breeze, and we finally managed some nice rides outside.  Tuesday in the afternoon I rode both Red and Pie outside, and Wednesday morning Dawn and Missy and I enjoyed some nice weather in the outdoor.  There was a great breeze, and so long as we weren't walking, the bugs weren't too bad.  It's heating up again, so we'll be inside for a while, or not riding at all because it's just too darn hot.  The horses deal better with the heat than I do - I just get exhausted and red in the face - but all of us don't care much for riding when it's in the 90s.

* * * * * *

We had hoof trims today, and all four horses were excellent - Red's been perfect for his trims two times in a row.  He used to be a beast for the farrier, but has steadily improved.  My new strategy with him, which I've used with success two times in a row, is to completely ignore him while he's having his trim and just go about my barn chores.  If I'm out of sight for a bit, I come back into his line of sight from time to time to let him know I'm still around - he pays close attention to where I am, but doesn't fidget or give the trimmer any trouble.

Everyone's feet were chipped up, even though we're on a 5-week trimming cycle.  But everyone stayed perfectly sound - all the chipping was cosmetic.  Missy's feet are rapidly improving, and she's very sound.  The central sulcus cracks in her fronts are completely gone, her heels are coming down and strengthening, her feet are shortening and her frogs are stronger.  When she was walking to me yesterday at bring-in, I was pleased to see that she's now got a nice heel-first landing.

* * * * * *

Yesterday I switched the saddle I rode Red in.  I've been riding him in the Black Rhino western saddle I got for him a while ago.  Lately, he's been somewhat sticky about forward, and I was suspicious that the Black Rhino wasn't fitting him as well in the shoulders as it had been.  So I rode him in my Kieffer dressage saddle - this saddle was actually reflocked for Red several years ago, but I had been riding him in the western saddle for the extra security - he's got some fast moves and can be spooky at times.

The Kieffer seemed to fit pretty well - good shoulder clearance and nice and level.  So we rode in it, and Red seemed much happier and more forward in his gaits.  The saddle also felt good to me, particularly at the canter.  Oddly enough, this is the same saddle I ride Dawn in - she's shaped a lot like Red, but is narrower through the shoulder and withers, and also a bit downhill whereas Red is uphill, so I use shims at the front with Dawn which make the saddle fit her well.

* * * * * *

I've been thinking about how important I find our trot work to be.  I'm a big believer in good work at the walk (as well as good backing), before much trot work, and good work at the trot before doing much canter work.  If you don't have what you want at the walk, you won't get it at the trot, and if you don't have it at the trot it's guaranteed you won't have it at the canter.  Everyone has their own definition of what "good" work is, but for me it's about consistent softness through the entire body - not just head and neck - and the horse using itself from the core and hind end with a relaxed top line.

Straightness/bend are also important - they're really two sides of the same coin - and again I want them to come from behind, not the head/neck/shoulder although they get into the act too.

Good quality, forward, soft, engaged trot work is also really great for developing the correct musculature of the horse, over time with gradually increasing amounts of work.  It's good for developing the human core muscles, too!

* * * * * *

I ordered some My Pony sunblock for Missy - her nose is mostly white, so she could use some sunblock and most of the commercial ones I've found are nasty and greasy and get her nose very dirty.  Someone recommended it to me, and the reviews also seem good, so we'll try it out and see how it does.

* * * * * *

The ride log page is back up and running.  I find it's a handy way for me to keep track of what we've done and how far we've come, and also of horse health maintenance and issues.  I've eliminated the ride number counter, though - too obsessive . . .

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sorry about the Comments Setting . . .

Sorry, everyone, I forgot to enable comments again - comments are once again possible - I had disabled comments when the blog was on vacation to prevent spam.

Friday, August 7, 2015

I Miss the Blog . . . Back Early

I miss the horse people I've come to know and enjoy through their blogs, and even those who comment but don't have blogs.  I can't really tell, or know, if anyone misses me and my blogging, but I guess that doesn't really matter.  So I didn't make it until the end of September for an update.

Anyhow, I've been reading, and sometimes commenting, on others' blogs, and missing blogging.  There's something about writing it down that is meaningful, somehow.

I won't be updating the ride log - that's too compulsively specific, without really capturing what is going on in our day to day riding life.  I try to do my riding now from day to day, without worrying about numbers of rides or numbers of days.  If I don't feel like riding, I don't, if I do, and I often do, I ride.

My blog break didn't make it to the end of September, but here are some highlights from the past month or so:

Horse updates

Pie had a bad reaction to mosquito/black fly bites again and developed face crud again - I caught it much earlier this year and we started on our regime of antihistamines, SMZs plus washing his face and Quadritop antibiotic ointment - he's fine now and without the scarring he got last year.

Red had a bad reaction to fly spray - got hives all over and was biting his chest and rubbing himself on the stall walls - I immediately washed him off and gave him a dose of antihistamines.  He was OK for a while - I switched to using Eqyss Marigold spray, but then he got "chest crud" - the same as Pie's face crud, so we're doing the washing/antibiotic regime.  Don't know yet if he'll need SMZs.  He won't even tolerate the Eqyss spray on his chest.

Dawn had a minor left front ankle injury - a little swelling on the inside, probably a low suspensory strain.  She's not off or unsound, but Dawn's legs are normally very clean, with all structures well-defined and clear, so I pay attention to these things - if she's got filling, something's going on.  She's had some days off and I'll wait till next week to see how she's doing on the lunge and under saddle - today the ankle was looking much better.

Norman down at Paradigm Farms got his PPID medication adjusted.

Lily gets a body clip at Paradigm - she's being treated for PPID and is doing well but still tends to grow too much coat.

Some Links

Melissa at Paradigm did another in her excellent series on PPID: Cushings/PPID Primer, part III.  I've also put it on the sidebar for future reference.

Manolo Mendez did a wonderful piece on on straightness and bending, with great compassion for the horse.

Mark Rashid had a link to another post which debunks many of the supposed behavioral theories that underly "natural horsemanship".  In summary, too much projection by humans of their dominant/aggressive tendencies onto horses.

Riding updates

I'm delighted to say that all four horses are working and riding very well. Everyone is calm and happy, and soft and responsive.  All four horses pretty much ride exactly like I'd want, no matter how many days off they have. Many things that used to be issues no longer are - things just go the way they should.  They all lead and handle on the ground well.  They all stand completely still on a loose rein for mounting, every time - it's just assumed and so it is.  Softness is a given - with Red I have to be sure to ask for it early - lots of figures and circles and transitions, including halt and backing - but if I do it's there throughout our ride.  With the other three, it's never missing.

We've mostly been riding in the indoor - the bugs have been ferocious outside due to our weather.

Missy almost never braces or roots anymore - she's just soft, all the time.  We've started some canter work, and she struggles with the left lead - her natural bend is to the right, so this is hard for her.  We've only been doing a little bit of right lead canter work - her better direction - and are continuing to develop her left bend and suppleness at the trot, working to activate the inside hind and help her step under with it in the turns.

All of a sudden, Pie's work has really come together.  He and I no longer struggle with right bend - it's just there and he's as soft and responsive in that direction as to the left.  His canter work is also really progressing - my "revised" canter/walk position after the clinic gets me out of his way, and his canter is becoming quite lovely.

My work the past month had emphasized for me how important straightness is to bend, and bend to straightness.  It's also emphasized that you can't force bend - and the dangers of excessive lateral flexion of the head and neck.  Bend, and straightness, come from the hindquarters, not the head and neck.  And a horse that isn't soft - one that is braced - will have much more difficulty with bend and straightness.

I've had the chance to see some lovely things this month - including one day when Pie and Red were flowing in with the gelding herd from the far pasture at a relaxed canter.  This makes clear to me how much more important for our horses their horse herds and horse companions are - this is their world.  They may enjoy our company, and work together with us when we ride, but their horse companions are by far more important.

I hope you all have an excellent rest of the summer!