Monday, February 4, 2019

How To: Stop Your Bolting Winter-Bored Thoroughbred

Imagine it's the middle of winter, and you own a young energetic thoroughbred.
Like this one.
Now, imagine this young thoroughbred has had restricted turnout due to extreme winds and cold. Imagine also his feed is high, as you try to put weight on his slight frame. While most of that feed is fiber based, he is still getting a fair amount of high octane goods. When you mount, his back feels as though it is made of 30,000 spiders hyped up on cocaine.
The insanity is palpable.
Finally imagine that not only is your horse comprised of a pile of coked out spiders, but you have also injured your ankle recently and must ride mostly without stirrups to avoid further damage.
Safety? What is that?
Oh, don't let me forget. Your horse is not the only one who is utterly mad with boredom and cold. Instead, the entire ring seems full of total insanity every time you ride.
Well now this is getting fun.
All this might result in your horse (with a spine made mostly of horrifyingly energetic spiders, don't forget) coming out of his stall a bit ... on edge.
You could call whatever this is "on edge"...
In fact, your hypothetical thoroughbred might tend to be a bit quick. He might tend toward leaping into a bolt. His resistance all requests to bend or stop might leave you a bit exasperated and desperate. But don't fear. There is one thing that might help you stop his reign of terror.
We're listening...
Slap him.
You heard me right. If your young spider-filled thoroughbred is running hell bent around the ring, overwhelmed by his own energy and the antics of his asshole peers, there's only one thing to do. Pull him onto a circle, and when he tries to straighten his head and neck and speed away, lean forward and open hand slap that dumbass right in the face.
Or not. Your experience may differ.
In my real life experience, I ended up giving Bast single open faced palm to the face when he refused to listen to my outside aids. In a perfect world, a dressage whip would have backed up my aids, but I hadn't grabbed one. Luckily, a slap seemed to somehow thwack some sense into Bast. Once he'd cantered reasonably for 20 minutes in both directions, he was much more amenable to relaxing his jaw and bending around my leg. In fact, he's finished all of his rides this week 100% less tense and wired than he's started, which feels like a win. He's even been regularly foaming up at the bit, something he's struggled with due to tension.
Not yet regular lipstick, but he's getting there...
In the meantime, I'm trying to avoid these horrifying tension issues by getting Bast out for more exercise daily. Yesterday we cantered out the crazies, then wandered around the fields on a loose rein while the dogs ran wild. Bast was happy as a clam to just move his feet and explore.
I love that he's starting to enjoy hacks as much as I do.
Fingers crossed my personal bored thoroughbred finds more relaxation and enjoyment in his life, as the temperatures have increased and his turnout should likewise increase. To the rest of you in this position, I wish you the best of luck.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Injured List

Yesterday I sprained my ankle riding my horse. Yes, you read that right. I sprained it riding, not falling off.
Seriously though? How do you almost break your goddamn leg without falling off the horse?!
(All photos from before our move, because I feel like it.)
Honestly the whole thing was a freak accident, though weirdly I find myself cursing for shortening my stirrups and solidifying my position. This is what allowed the whole thing to happen.

Let me back up. This story is getting out of order.

Bast is at that moment in his training where I'm asking him to work within a box daily. Most days he's the sweetest and hardest working of gelding brains, turning himself inside out to figure out how to make his body work the way I ask. However. Every other week, we have THAT RIDE.
You know the type. Everyone has them. The ride where you get on your horse and wonder if aliens took him in the night, whether changling horses are a thing, or if he fell in turnout and suffered a massive TBI complete with memory loss. In short, it's bad.

For Bast, these rides typically result in 20+ minutes of evading the box. Poor dear child, he thinks he's trying new things by shifting his haunches willy nilly in response to pressure, tossing his head, rooting the reins, and falling on first one shoulder, then the other. Little does he know, his brother was 500x worse. It's a rough life as a kid with a mama who has survived all this crap before.
This is not a piaffe. This is a child's tantrum.
My response is typical and effective. I shorten my stirrups, so my leg is very secure. I then I put my legs on and my hands as still and forward. We ride many changes of direction in a forward gait until he aquieses to my request to keep his haunches under his body and to flex throughout his ribcage. Like I said, he typically gives in within 20 minutes or so.
Ahh, much better, though still behind the leg and hand...
Yesterday, however, he was ready to die on this hill. I assume his lack of turnout the day before in frigid temperatures contributed to the attitude. My choice to address his balking at the arena door where we must stop to open it didn't help. He was jumpy to start, and already defensive. Still, moments of relaxation glimmered. Just before the incident, he had stepped into the most glorious uphill right lead canter of his life.

All this to say. I should have called it a day. But I wanted to prove a point (Ugh, why self? Does this EVER work?), and so we pushed forward for one more suppling trot set.

It started beautifully. Bast flowed into an uphill trot, moving into a shoulder fore to the left, a movement we struggle with daily. I sank into my right ankle, supporting his outside hind and reminding it to flex and push. That's when he decided he had one more evasion in him.
This shoulder in is so hard for him.
He spied the window in the arena side door. A window already passed 100x already, with zero change in view or light. And he, very uncharacteristically, spooked hard to the left. My right ankle, flexed and turned slightly out, took all my weight for a moment while I balanced.

That's all it took for a subtle pop to start causing me immediate and severe pain. I pulled up Bast, then collapsed over his neck cursing and panting. At first I worried the ankle had broken, but as I gingerly moved it, decided the outside stabilizing tendon had just peaced out instead.

After walking a good bit, I was able to finish out my ride and get off. (Ouch. Hai ground.) My Petries seemed to be supporting the ankle, and I was loath to take them off. However, I had to change them out to something more mud and ice worthy to get Bast back to turnout (which he clearly needed). The boot change took my breath for a moment, but was acomplished. The horse was turned out, and I headed home to a night of ice and ibuprofen.
I love these boots so much, but they do allow my ankle a lot of movement within the boot.
This morning the ankle is definitely still tender. I have hopes the whole injury is minor. I am able to walk mostly unhindered (going down steps is a nope, which sucks as I live in a basement apartment). The swelling is minimal, and my range of motion seems to be increasing already. Fingers crossed this is a short setback.

I have to be honest. A few things went into this injury, beyond Bast's spook and my shortened stirrups. I've been neglecting stretching and working out for far too long, allowing my calf muscle to overbalance my weaker ankles. Plus the right stabilizer was already angry from a couple of weeks of hiking in deep snow and ice. One sharp movement at the wrong angle was all it needed to snap into an acute injury.

Let this be a lesson to us all. We cannot neglect our own conditioning, for that leads to injury just as often as neglecting our horse's. Thankfully I do think riding is possible, but I will likely give the snarky little Bast tonight off.
I still love you horse, and I know you didn't mean it. Though I did want to kill you.
I feel like my worst injuries have actually come from not falling off my horses, now that I think about it. I've had my nose broken a couple times, when the back of my horse's head met my face. I've had damage to my teeth from similar things. Not to mention the kicks and head injuries from dealing with easily startled horses on the ground. Probably falling off is safer for me at this point. Anyone else feel that way?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

DC Dogs in the Snow

Pure unadulterated happiness.
Yesterday I shared some epic photos of Bast and I galloping through the recent deep snow. Today I want to shamelessly spam you again, this time with photos of my happy huskies enjoying their favorite weather.
Seriously. This is the happiest little husky.
Not only did these dogs enjoy a long play session alongside Bast in the afternoon, they also spent plenty of time exploring the snowy streets of DC on Sunday and Monday.
"Lyra, is this your most favorite weather?"
There's something so magical about a heavy snow in the city. The entire place becomes quiet, and neighborhoods more isolated than ever. With the streets barely cleared and cars still buried in the snow, the entire place becomes a playground. Children and dogs alike frolic wildly through streets and intersections otherwise too dangerous.
28th street is usually not safe to stand in during morning rush hour...
I joke the city becomes a dog park. Off leash pups can be found frolicking everywhere. They tumble and play in the local parks, the side streets, and even alongside their cross country skiing owners. The nation's capital comes to a screeching stop, goes out in the cold, and enjoys the bliss of winter to the fullest.
Asterid would probably be a terrifying in a snowball fight.
There's nothing I love more than the cheer and camaraderie of snow loving city dwellers coming together to enjoy the rare and fleeting snow storms this region throws at us. When passing each other, layers protecting us from the cold unable to hide our gleeful smiles, we call out pleasant exchanges to each other. The aloof code of city people is forgotten in the wonder of a recent snowfall.
Though nothing can stop these city bitches from being aloof.
As you can imagine, this sort of atmosphere is absolutely impossible to resist. I found myself grabbing my camera and heading out early on Monday morning. The city was shut down, the light was beautifully perfect, and the dogs and I were vibrating with the excitement of everything.
So worth the cold fingers and damp feet.
The fun we had in our morning photo shoot made me antsy to get out to the farm. Not only did I crave galloping with my horse, but I wanted to let the dogs enjoy the snow to the fullest.
Lyra always loves snow.
Even with the city shut down, there's only so much room for the dogs to run around. I knew my wild wolfy girls would want to run in the snow until they no longer could. The farm is the only place I know where they could do this. It takes a lot of space and work to wear out a husky in the snow, you know.
I honestly don't know how I would keep these girls exercised as needed without the horse to help me keep up,.
The moment their leashes came off at the farm, they exploded with happiness.
Yeah, I doubt she has a spine sometimes too...
Both girls ran like silly things, which made me giggle over and over again. But not only did they run, they also played and leapt around.
One leap.
Honestly, it was so ridiculous.
Two leaps.
Asterid especially was ridiculous.
Three leaps, more...
Lyra is always much more interested in running, exploring, and hunting for imaginary snow lemmings. She's too regal to play hard too long. But even Lyra managed to join in on the silly play for a short time.
I love this gorgeous girl.
Honestly, I have these gorgeous animals in my life because I enjoy how crazy and full they make my life. Making time for them on a rare snow day is just one more way they cause me to enjoy life to the fullest.
Dogs, you're the best.
I know most of the US ended up coated in snow this week. Who else took their pets out to play?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Epic Snow Gallops

This. Is. Joy.
I've written repeatedly about my love of galloping my horses, but maybe I haven't mentioned how much more I love galloping my horses in the snow. After moving to DC from Indiana, I realized snow gallops would go from being something I enjoyed regularly to an extremely rare treat. The Mid-Atlantic simply does not maintain cold enough temperatures or receive enough snowfall to safely enjoy cavorting in the snow on horseback.
The warm snowless winters of this region dismay both myself and my beloved huskies.
But then Sunday happened.
This farm is so beautiful, especially when covered in snow.
Saturday, the repeatedly changing forecast called for 4-6 inches of snow at my house in the city, and 2-4 inches out at Bast's farm. Substantial snow by this area's standards. But by Sunday evening, that forecast was looking laughably inadequate.
This is way more than 2-4 inches of snow.
By Monday morning, downtown DC had received over 10 inches of snow. The farm was coated with almost 12 inches. The sustained cold overnight temperatures meant the white stuff was perfect, fluffy and light. Underneath the muddy ground was still frozen and stable. That meant only one thing...
"Hell. Yes." -- All three of us.
It was snow gallop time.
This baby horse wasn't sure about things at first.
I joke that part of the reason I keep my horses barefoot is to enjoy snow frolics at the drop of a hat. With their unadorned feet, my horses have never struggled with balled up snow or traction. We've always simply enjoyed a good romp, the deeper the snow the better.
Is it cheating to use deep snow to encourage higher steps in collection?
Bast wasn't sure about moving off in the snow at first. He took a long walk to find his confidence in the footing. He clacked his bit nervously, and moved slow behind for awhile. However, once he realized I would happily support him, he was ready to dig in.
Let's go!
We got off to a bang of a start when Lyra flushed a deer and Asterid set off after it. Despite my calling, Asterid continued to make her way across the large field toward the retreating deer. I knew I'd have to go after her. Thankfully, Bast has proven himself to be a handy cow-pony. This summer we frequently had to run down his cantankerous older brother, who loves to break his halter and go running back to his pasture. I figured he'd be up for running down the dog.
Obviously a struggle for him. Haha.
He leapt to the challenge with joy. And we made some beautiful galloping tracks over the virgin snow.
Asterid came back once we got close enough, and never strayed again. In fact, both huskies had so much fun bolting around in the foot of snow, I worried they'd be too tired to walk back to the barn.
Asterid, you're a good dog. Even if you have selective hearing at a distance.
I let Bast stretch out a few times, which challenged the dogs to try to keep up. They can't, of course. But it's fun to watch huskies flat out run just for the joy of it. To enjoy for yourself, check out my video highlights.
Deep snow makes the girls struggle even more to keep up with my thoroughbred.
The ride wasn't long. I didn't want to stress Bast's legs too much in the deep footing. However, we did work on some dressage training while we had the added resistance of snow. I enjoyed how much more it made Bast use his back and lift his legs. We did some compression/lengthening work at the trot.
I'd happily take this lengthened trot.
We also did plenty of work at the canter, reminding Bast to keep his balance. He loves to pull me forward and lean onto his forehand, and the snow made him want to do this more and more. However, with some work his canter really became an uphill and beautiful gait.
Dressage pony in the making.
I wish we regularly had snow like this to practice. In the meantime, I'll be carrying the memory of our work in the perfect powder.
Always this trot.
I'll also be carrying forth the memory of our joyful galloping and partnership. These sorts of snow days are so valuable for both the break they provide in the monotony of winter training, but also the building of enjoyable memories between horse and rider. I value them so much.
Love this horse.
Anyone else love galloping in the snow? Do you use it for training, or just a fun mental break? Or are you just here for the epic photos? I know I am...

Monday, January 14, 2019

Shaving the Thelwell

Who's the cutest naked pony?
Guys. Bast grows an absurd winter coat. Seriously. His winter fluff could give a pony a run for its money. Until the end of December, it was cold enough in Maryland to ride him in the other barn's outdoor without making him too wet.

Unfortunately, we're now in that weird part of Mid-Atlantic winter where nights hover around freezing, but days can average in the 50s. This meant rides in the evenings were too warm for the ridiculous insulated parka Bast felt it necessary to sprout this year. The move to the new barn has meant access to the amazing indoor arena, where the temperatures are much warmer. This made for a very sweaty pony, and late nights waiting for him to dry enough to put away.
Seriously. No one wants to wait for this soaking fur blanket to dry.
I knew I'd need to clip him soon. So, I scheduled a hot Saturday date with my boy and his hairy pony body. Unfortunately when I got there, I realized my clippers were still in a box at the other barn. Ugh. Plus, when I peeked at my horse he was coated on both sides with thick dried mud. Insert bath time.
He was so muddy the water ran red with mud for at least 30 minutes.
While he dried I ran to get my clippers. Anyone else feel like owning horses is a constant stream of driving from place to place to assemble all the things you need to do a task? Cause I do...

Now equipped with a set of new clipper blades and my clippers, I set to work.
Behold the svelte beneath the fluff.
From the first swipe, I knew I was in for a real hair-fest. This thick thelwell-style coat almost compares to the ridiculous coat Jen's welsh cob Connor grows. I think his fur even made my huskies jealous!
Dude. You're a TB, not a Thelwell.
I have no idea why my thoroughbred grows such a ridiculous coat, but I was so happy to see it go away. Not as happy as Bast's excellent clipping manners made me, however. After years of having to drug and twitch Pig to clip him, having a horse who stands with his head buried in the hay cart while I clip absolutely makes my day.
The best boy!
I very nearly shaved Bast's legs, but decided to leave them for now. The silly hair shelf formed by his thick furred hind legs makes me giggle, but I might end up shaving it off come March. It looks rather silly, and the shedding will make me crazy.
All done!
After clipping off that insane hair blanket, it became much easier to evaluate Bast's condition. I'm a bit disappointed with how he looks right now. Stress made him break out in mild fungus on both sides of his shoulders/neck. Plus he lost some weight with the move, on top of being a bit thin before we left. He definitely needs more weight and muscle, which we are already addressing with the feeding and riding programming at the new barn.

Fingers crossed this boy looks more filled out and glossy in a couple of months! For now, I can't say I'm too disappointed in him. He's still awfully handsome under all that hair.
I mean. I'd buy him again. Wouldn't you?