Sunday, December 23, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Let's talk about clipping ...

The weather in Indiana has started it's decent into it's annual rollercoaster of unpredictable. For example, the last 3 days have been in the high 70's with lows in the upper 50's at night. Tomorrow? The temperatures are scheduled to drop significantly, making the highs only mid 50's and lows in the mid 30's. This isn't super cold, but the range is rather spectacular. Thanks Indiana. You've officially made me into a amateur weather forecaster.

Needless to say, the changing temperatures, Guinness' ever-fluffy winter coat, and his constant workload have created a storm of disgustingly sweaty evenings for the two of us. That's right, it's late October clipping time. Lets all let out a collective sigh of dismay.After all, who really loves spending a whole night damp, covered in hair and clipper oil, and narrowly avoiding being beaten to death by hind hooves?

Oh? Is that just my horse? The Neurotic Nancy? The horse who's impressive range of motion in his hocks allows him to nearly kick the clippers right out of my hand?

As such, I give you [drum roll, please] the video of last night's happenings. Please ... enjoy.

So here's what happened: GP is very (VERY!) ticklish and thin skinned on his belly, especially near his stifle and girth areas. He's always been this way, but has gotten used to my way of grooming, and I forget about it. He does not forget ... and felt the need to remind me how much he dislikes clippers.

Needless to say, he managed to catch me. He's very agile and just hooked his hind leg up on my upper thigh, throwing me directly backwards onto my shoulder blades. It was all very quick, and he was very apologetic. In fact, he proceeded to stand with all four legs far apart and planted for me to finish his belly. Sorry Thoroughbred was very sorry.

Today's aftermath? A huge, growing black bruise on my thigh, sore shoulders and a headache. Not too bad. And the clip is done! Hurray!

Now for your viewing pleasure, the clip job. Some artistic license was taken with the traditional trace clip outline:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Riding All Types

In an effort to improve my own riding, keep in shape, and practice without wearing out Guinness, I've been riding lots of my barn's horses in training. So, I thought it would be fun to give you a little "day in the riding life" glimpse.

Each horse I've been working with is completely different. This has really been challenging my fitness and my riding style, but in a good way.

Meet Tori:
Hi! I'm Tori! I'm super fuzzy right now!
Tori is an off the track thoroughbred with some fear issues. She has no real training off the track, and that training appears to have been questionable at best. Her fear is pretty pronounced, causing her to freak out when tied - even to the point of flipping over (note: Kids, don't go home with your brand spankin' just off the track thoroughbred and expect it to cross tie, it won't. It will probably be rather freaked out.), holding her breath whenever she is groomed, exploding under saddle when her rider is off balance or moves too much, attempting to climb out of the arena when other horses are present (thankfully, this one has subsided!), and holding her breath when being ridden.
Right now, Tori and I are working on R-E-L-A-X. I'm just letting her get used to walk, trot and canter in arenas and to moving calmly forward. She's handling it pretty well, and typically settles down about 15-20 minutes into a ride. Her fear causes me to pay close attention to the way I am balanced on her, and really think about how I'm touching her. In addition, I'm not using any real contact on her. Instead, I just hold her up when she needs to be balanced, and let her find her own way the rest of the time. I've found this works really well to teach most young thoroughbreds to balance and respond to your body without flipping out.

Then, meet Myster E: 
Is that my face? I had no idea.
Myster is a bit of a silly personality. He's a Hanoverian Thoroughbred cross and a definite throwback to the heavier style of Hanoverian  He's a big sweetheart on the ground, but rather willful and slightly belligerent under saddle. Myster has had some considerable training at one point, and knows just about as much as Guinness; however, he's recently decided that he'd like to never take up contact again. This is what I'm working with him on. It's a good lesson for me, as he insists your hands never move -- something I need practice with for sure! Myster and I typically ride around with constant rein length, me asking him to simply move forward into my hands. Myster thinks this is torture. Once I get a few steps off good stretching movement, I'll typically either end for the day or take a break.
This horse is unique to me. His huge size (16.3hh or close) and big body are amazingly agile. He's very active laterally and often uses haunches-in to evade my requests for forward. Often, he feels like we're just scooting around everywhere. Sort of fun!

Finally, Guinness of course:
What's that you say Mom? Work? Oh no! 
I've been saving Guinness for my last ride. It's a nice feeling to settle into the saddle of my favorite horse, pick up the reins and just know what animal I have under me. He's not predictable, but we're a team. That's something I really treasure after spending time working out some problems.
Funny how time with other horses can remind you how much yours is just right.
I don't ride three horses every day (with a full time job and a barn 30 minutes away, how could I?!), but I try to get these other two ridden at least once a week. I can already feel a difference in the way I relate to Guinness' problems and I've been able to think outside the box a little better where my training is concerned. It's just a nice change.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hard Work is Hard to Talk About

[caution: photo heavy post]

The last few months have been really busy. Spectacularly busy. Let's put it that way. Guinness and I have ridden and fought and learned and traveled and shown, won and been solidly beaten. It's been a learning curve, and a tough one. We've put ourselves out where we certainly didn't belong, and it stung. But, we're not really ones to let that bring us down. So, we're working. We're working really, really hard.

Right now, the main focus is on me. My riding style, my strength and my effective aids are all questionable as we push forward for more work. This has to change. I won't be the one holding us back. I've been hatching plans to help me move forward. They all basically involve me living and breathing horses and nothing else for every moment I'm not at work. If that's what it takes, I'm game. This little (okay, not so much) horse deserves a rider who's willing to work just as hard as him.

The plan here? Lessons. Lots of them. As of now, I have the opportunity to ride with Nancy Kleiner a couple of times next month. I rode with her once in September, and loved her. She's really helping me find my balance and take proper contact - ride effectively.

The other focus is on Guinness' strength and comfort. We had a huge training breakdown in September that I tracked down to my horse being in pain. The rapid onslaught of cold and rainy weather brought out warm puffy ankles again, something that hasn't been an issue all spring or summer. Besides the familiar stride hitch and stiffness, Guinness was refusing to take any contact to the right rein. In order to keep him from throwing a huge fit (coincidentally, we'd been dealing with lots of rearing ...), I had to ride very crooked. He'd only tolerate rein pressure at a downward angle. Imagine that, if you will. One hand normal, the other dropped 12 or more inches. It's silly, and it's not effective. My immediate thought was teeth.
Unfortunately, the equine dentist was very difficult to schedule. Guinness started balking at even being bridled (very unusual). Once the dentist came out and took a look, the word was clear. A nasty hook with ulceration of the inside of the mouth. Poor guy. I feel awful that it took so long to get his teeth looked at, but he's a much happier horse, and as of last night, gladly opening his mouth and plunging his head into the bridle again. Good boy! Bad mom ...
Guinness gets his teeth filed down and his employee moral reinstated :) 
The plan for Guinness is lots of happy flatwork sessions during the week (when it's already dark by the time I get to the barn), and long hacks on the weekends. Hunting season has closed off the woods, but the roads are open, and I plan to use them as much as possible to keep in shape, and mentally sane. I'm also saving up for another round of injections. Hopefully I can get those done in mid November.
Behold! The ugliest jewelry ever! Guinness' puffy, poulticed ankles. Yes, I poultice like a racetracker. No wrapping.
In other news, we've left Training level behind and have moved (however awkwardly) to First. I was a bit embarrassed by our showing at the last horse show, the Indiana Dressage Society's fall show and championship. However, we tried hard with what we had, and next year will be an improvement. Maybe we'll even look like we belong there! (Side note: IDS is great, and if you live in Indiana you should check out their schooling shows!)
My hair is dirty, my husband is hungover, my horse is unhappy and  ...  you get the picture. At least my braids are nice.
I have to also give a shout out to Riva the Diva's amazing family, especially Kelly. They really came through and were a big help at the show. Kelly even stepped up and read my tests to me, and I can't thank her enough. Check out her blog, her mare is gorgeous. I managed to stick around long enough to see her Intro C ride, and it was a picture of harmony. Seriously, watch out for these guys!

As for everything else? My menagerie is doing well, Guinness looks fat (very fat ...) and happy and fairly sound. My dogs are happy and healthy. Work is stressful, but should slow down next month. I wrecked my car (three days before the show), and now have a new one (that I love). All in all, August and September were rough, but we're pulling through and pulling up.
Happy dogs. Especially that black one.
I think that's enough of an update. Keep your fingers crossed that I can coerce someone to ride with me to my lessons next month so I can have video or photos to share!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Super Nervous Horse: A Hardworking Partner

A quote by Sally O'Connor from her excellent book Common Sense Dressage:
"With the nervous horse, you need time and the utmost patience. Retraining begins in the stable with the everyday care of the animal. Take the time to reassure the horse each time you approach it; have a ready supply of goodies to win its trust ... The super nervous horse is certainly not for everyone but if you have time and patience, it can become an honest, hardworking partner."
I love my nervous horse. He has taught me more about how to be patient and thorough than anything else in my life. There's something to be said for that ...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Show Analysis

My horse is a saint!
My last post was more about the scores and the show experience than what I learned. So here's a post about what I've taken away from my last schooling show experience:

1: Always check your test times and which test comes first. I'm going to tape a copy of my show times and tests to the top of my trunk. This seems like the best way to make sure I'm ready. This will probably help me manage my time better. 

2. I need more warm-up for my first test. I worry about over working Guinness and getting him a little sour before the test, but he really needs a solid 20 minutes of work - so I need to be on him 30 min before my tests. No excuses. See point 1 for "time management" issues.

3. Mint flavored water is delicious! I added some mint leaves to a water container that smelled like old plastic. It refreshed the water, and when frozen into the water, was especially refreshing on a day in the 90s!

4. I'm pretty good at braiding! For my first braid job since I was about 10 years old, I think I did a fantastic job. The braids stayed in all day, and looked just as good at 6:00 as they did at 2:00!

5. If your horse will only eat the hay from in front of his stall, don't fight it. Sure, it makes a huge mess, but at least he's happy and eating!

Now, for the things to work on:

1. Position, position, position. Wow. I've been working on trying to keep my heels down and toes in, but that really seemed to fail at this show. Moments were good, other moments were quite bad. After reviewing the videos and photos I think I can see what the problem is: lack of stability in my core when driving forward or asking for a transition. I seem to have no problem sitting up straight as you like when just motoring along, but ask for a transition or for GP to give a little more gas - BOOM - collapse. It's bad, see .... 

Fairly Straight Back
So roached. Do I have scoliosis or something? Wow.
A spectacularly bad example of riding ... I'm embarrassed now.
The solution? Off the horse, I'll be doing my morning runs while holding my abs tight. Focusing on shoving my knees down and keeping my upper body straight. Sometimes at 5:30 am, I tend to slouch through my runs. That's a habit that will transfer! On the horse, I'll be riding without stirrups at both the walk and trot. I'll also be schooling transitions. I have to make sure to set myself up to stay upright through the transition, and learn to absorb his movement through my hips and lower back, not my whole spine. This is elementary, I feel like an idiot.
Once I stop collapsing and get my upper body straight, my heels magically seem to fall into place and my leg gets much longer. It's a process, but at least I have a plan!

2. Transitions, transitions, transitions! I lost points in every test on transitions because GP's head would come up. This is partly due to my position (see #1), but it's also a habit of GP's. I don't know if he's anticipating getting whacked in the mouth or if it's a strength issue, but we'll be tackling both. 

Solutions? Position work in #1 has us schooling transitions with me thinking about position. This should help us break any habit or expectancy of GP's. Part 2 of my solution has us doing even more strength work than we do. More walk-canter transitions and more transitions up hills. You can expect to see us out on the trails more in the next few weeks trying to build topline strength!

3. I'm thinking even more about pushing through for First Level 1. We have a lot of things to iron out for training level, but they aren't impossible. Once I get my position fixed, I think we'll be ready to push (properly, not with the middle of my back!) for slight extensions and more bend. 

What do you guys think? 

So proud of this guy!

Leaving Behind Intro: A horse show recap

Last Sunday was the Indiana Dressage Society's June schooling show, and Guinness and I gathered our entourage (including a hunter-world friend, my excellent friend Jen from CobJockey, and her captivating cob Connor) and made the long trek over to the Hoosier Horse Park. We had a fantastic time.

I really have to give IDS some credit. Both of their schooling shows this season have been really fun, run smoothly and everyone has been very pleasant. I've enjoyed meeting lots of new friends (hi!), and just relaxing by the barns. I won't mention the sangria at the competitor's get together ;)

Our plan was to warm up with Intro C, then do Training level tests 2 & 3. Unfortunately the way the times worked out, Training 3 was first at 2:30, Training 2 at 4:30 and Intro C was set to ride at 5:39. Add to those times temperatures in the mid 90's and Jen's rides starting at 8:30a and you have a recipe for a very, very long day.

I followed much the same routine as the last IDS show in May, getting to the park the day before and just letting Guinness settle in. He doesn't need a ride in the rings, we've worked on that relationship enough. He really looks to me, and is often better in new situations and locations than at home. I was happy with how easily he traveled and how quickly he settled in, drinking water like a champ and eating all of his travel hay.

Sunday was hot, but we stayed fairly cool until time for the first test. I got on and warmed up completely ready to go in and rock out Training 2. As I'm sitting at the in-gate, I notice the rider ahead of me has turned left instead of right after her centerline ... um ... uh oh! This isn't Training 2, it's Training 3 (the much harder test)! I quickly rounded up a copy of the test from the excellent ring stewards, read through it as a refresher and handed it off to my friend to read. I tried to relax and think bend, something we hadn't really warmed up too much. Oh well.

Honestly, I was happy with the test. Guinness was fairly cooperative, and moving into my hand. The bend was there, just not where it was supposed to be. Our main problems were transitions. Coming down to the medium walk I gave too much aid and Guinness came all the way down to a halt. It's just a step, but that cost us points and we scored a 4 here. Another 4 moment came during the transition from the first canter to the trot. In Training 3, this happens at X on a diagonal. If I'd had my brain installed for this test, I would have started preparing Guinness for this back at C (before we even turned onto the diagonal). Instead, I just rode him forward and he gamely offered a flying change. I could feel it coming and tried to resist, but that lovely interaction got us the comment "Tense flying change" on our score sheet. Oops.
Final Result: 62% for 6th place out of 7

Training 2 was much improved. The test was simpler, so that was nice. I had it memorized and headed into the ring. I felt like the first half of the test was going well, but towards the end, I started to really fall apart. The heat was getting to me, and I was letting the reins slip out of my hands instead of containing Guinness. Our bend could still have been better, and my accuracy more so. Our halts were pretty decent, and the judge seemed to agree, giving me an 8 on the final halt.
Final Result: 67% for 2nd place out of ?

I was planning on scratching from Intro C, but with my ride time only 20 minutes away from my last test and my horse still having plenty of "go" still in him, I decided to just go for it. Since I had planned on scratching, I hadn't really looked at the test. I headed to warm up, while my friend wandered over to the ring to get ready to read. Guinness felt a little flat, and bored. So, I took a little calculated risk. I pushed him into a very forward canter and asked for a few changes. He immediately perked up. The changes weren't pretty, but they seemed to work. When he was listening and we had one good change on the aids, I headed right into the ring. The test was very steady, and while Pig still popped up a little in our transitions, it was our best test of the day. The changes really helped me get a little extra "oomf" out of his gaits.
After our final halt, I leaned down and gave Pig a huge pat. He'd really been there 100% all day, and that was such a good feeling. On our way out, the judge stopped us and gave me a really wonderful compliment saying she could see just how much my horse really liked what I was doing on him. She heaped praise on him and told me a story about a little hot horse she used to have. We compared notes for a little bit, chatting for maybe 5 min. That was really nice, and I appreciated her comments so much. I thought about them the whole time I washed Pig off and helped everyone pack the trailer. I was the last ride of the day, so everyone was ready to leave. My Mom went off in search of my last scores and came back bearing gifts:
Final Result: 75.75% for 1st place out of at least 9 rides. On hearing the score, I joked "I guess I was really okay skipping all of Intro ..."

While this test was Intro, and not as challenging as the other two, I'm really happy I did it. Getting comments from the judge that were so positive, and affirming (especially since this was the judge I'd failed under during Training 3), was a real boost.

I'm so proud of my little red machine!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Art of Self-Discipline

I've talked before about the difficulties of training yourself and your horse in dressage. Any discipline can be difficult to learn on your own, but one that fully revolves around training concepts seems especially so.

Recently, I've been struggling with self-discipline, in all areas of my life. It's been hard to make myself exercise (something that has never really been difficult before), to stop eating sugar, to stick to a schedule and to just sit down and FOCUS. If there's one thing I've always prided myself on, it has been my ability to make myself do anything. As you can understand, this change has been difficult to accept.

In the last few months, I've been trying to change for the better. I am a believer in the idea that self-discipline is like a muscle, you must use it to make it stronger. And, in the same way as using a muscle, sometimes getting back into the routine of using self-discipline can make you sore. It can be hard. It will really, really suck for awhile. But then, you adapt. You get stronger, and it's easier to make yourself man-up and do those hard things. It's easier to say "Self, you better focus harder. If you finish this up, we can go play later:"

In the last few weeks, I've been working through some mental soreness. I've been pushing myself for more. Getting up at 5:30 a.m. every day to run while it's cool. Striving to set goals and be more productive at work. Getting out to ride my horse AT LEAST 4 days a week. And, sticking to a schedule.

It's been really hard.

Last Thursday, I ate two bags of strawberry liquorice and drank a bottle of wine. That was not a pretty day, but every single day after has been getting easier. And, that's a good thing.

Okay, Lady. What does this have to do with horses, you ask? A whole hell of a lot.

Everything with horses is hard. We hit road blocks. Our horses revolt and refuse to listen or work. They hurt themselves, or us. We fall and don't want to get back up.

Not having self-discipline makes the horse world harder. You need it to achieve your goals, to push your horse, and to stay in good enough shape to do what you need to do.

I'm not the only person with a full time job, a couple of dogs, a house, a garden, a horse, goals, and a long commute. I want to say to those people, it's okay. I'm totally there with you. This sucks. There is not enough time in the day, and not enough hours in the night to get this all done. We are all tired, and our friends think we're crazy. I know.

So, I challenge you all. What's hard for you? Do you find it impossible to get up on time? Is it too easy to get settled on the couch to get up and make a decently healthy dinner? Is exercising just something you can't seem to make yourself do?

We can do it. It's going to suck for awhile, but you'll be stronger. If there's one thing all horse people can stand to have more of, it's self-discipline. It makes your world go 'round. :)

This face makes it all easier to deal with!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Shaping Up

Guinness is officially back under saddle!

Per the vet's advice, we have been tackwalking only mostly for an hour at a time. While exceptionally boring for both of us, all this walking has been a good way for me to focus on my riding position (heels down! legs wrapped! toes in! eyes up!) and for us to practice working in contact.

Recently, we changed bits to the JP Korsteel Cooper loose ring with a copper lozange (that's a mouthful ... ba-dum-cha ...). I was hoping that this bit would encourage GP to hold his own bit, and I was hoping the loose feeling would encourage him to play with it instead of tilting his head and jiggling. So far, this seems to be working for him. Additionally, I've noticed that going back to the walk has helped to encourage him to lean into the contact (read: really take it, not just bounce off the pressure). It's also helped me to work on strengthening my reactions to his inattention.

In short, going back to basics is working well for us. Now, trotting tonight!

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Pretty Picture

Not much to update today.

Guinness went back out in the field on Saturday, and seems to be doing fine. His leg is cold, the swelling has set into a bump. He's sound in straight lines, but a little off on a circle to the left.

Tackwalking starts today, barring any other set backs (of course ...).

Too keep the masses (mainly myself!) appeased. Here's a gratuitous show of us looking like we belong in the dressage ring. Enjoy!

Guinness and I at the May 2012 Indiana Dressage Society Schooling Show.

Friday, June 8, 2012

X-Rays of the Cannon Bone. More expensive than buying a real cannon ...

 My horse is still lame, but I'm on cloud nine. Why you ask? Because we had good news from the vet (an extremely rare occurrence!).

Wednesday my husband and I stuffed our pockets full of treats and loaded Guinness up in the trailer to take him 30 minutes down the road to the vet clinic. Our new clinic hasn't disappointed me yet (wow, that sounds negative ...), and I was very happy with how they handled our visit.

We rolled in exactly on time (impressive for my extra-slow driving whilst hauling), and GP jumped right out of the trailer. I was really impressed with my horse, again. He was "up" but very calm and just stuck by my side like glue. I try to be very confident in new situations, since he tends to take his example from my behavior. That really paid off here.

The vets met us almost immediately and had me lead Guinness into the examination room/barn. The vet we met was new to me, but I liked him immediately. After hearing our whole lameness saga he did a physical exam on both front feet with hoof testers and very carefully and thoroughly palpated the front left all the way from the knee down. Guinness was curious and wide-eyed, but stood stock still and 100% square. Good boy!

After the exam, our vet commended GP for having very sound feet (Oh. My. God.), saying he tested very well. He said he couldn't find any tenderness, and if there was an abscess it was reabsorbed. We agreed what we'd been dealing with originally was probably a bruise from overreaching.

Then the vet recommended x-rays to see what we were looking at in the front left cannon bone area. This was exactly what I expected, and wanted. We talked about the best (read: cheapest) way to do this, and decided doing an oblique shot of the cannon bone and splint would be the best way to evaluate any damage with a minimum cost. He also advised me not to worry about having revaluations done on GP's ankles until I notice a "noticeable" change in the way he goes. Since he's been so sound after injections, this sounds like a good plan. Plus, I'm not exactly rolling in the dough.

The good news? The x-rays look fantastic. Also, I now have an awesome look at my horse's super solid bone structure. It's really hard to imagine how the cannon bone can even break after looking at how solid it is on an x-ray. Crazy, and awesome.

The diagnosis is a bruise, most likely a bone bruise due to the severity of lameness. I've had plenty of bone bruises in my active life, so I can feel for Guinness. Those suckers HURT. I'm elated we aren't looking at a broken bone or too much inflammation. The vet's recommendation was to continue bute for the next couple of days, and keep GP in on stall rest (he's been in since Sunday night) and wrapped in front. He said to start weaning him off the bute and see how he does, then to go ahead and do some conservative turn out. Riding shouldn't be a problem after the lameness goes away (probably early next week, GP's been looking much better each day). I'm supposed to watch for any abscessing (could be a sign of bone trauma/infection that wouldn't show up on the x-ray yet) or swelling and heat from the suspensory tendon. The vet thinks these two injuries are unlikely, but possible and worth keeping an eye on.

Last night I took the wraps off, and his leg wasn't fat at all. There is a hard swelling right where he had a small cut from the kick to the outside of his cannon bone, and a little heat. We continued with the bute, which we'll probably wean him off of tonight. He was still slightly lame, but much better. We've been handwalking and grazing a little each night.

Hopefully I'll be up on the big guy again soon. We're still on track to make it to the IDS (Indiana Dressage Society) June schooling show. I told Jen from CobJockey that I plan on going even if I haven't cantered again yet :)

Wish us luck!

As long as Mom keeps me in cookies, we should keep healing appropriately!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to Keep Busy When You Have to Miss a Show

Brief Update: We missed the show last weekend. Guinness is still lame, but not on the foot. Other options are being explored. Update to come. Now, for the fun!

How to Keep Busy When You're Lame Horse Forces You to Miss a Show:

1. Buy a new horse trailer an entire state away. Make sure to stay up for 24 hours straight in order to drive it home.

2. Spend a whole day driving around town to get collect the gear to install a double wall and mats in your new trailer's back door. Make sure to not eat or drink a lot so you can almost pass out in Rural King from heat exhaustion. That makes it more fun. When you get home, install your rockin' new mats.

3. Pimp out said horse trailer with lots of reflective gear. Wash and wax trailer too, just for kicks.

4. Use new trailer to take injured Mr. Limpy to the vet for x-rays. In the meantime, teach said Mr. Limpy to load and unload peaceably into a step up trailer.
No problem Mom! I got this!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Recognizing the Signs of Pigpression

My husband (a medical student) has diagnosed me with early onset "pigpression". He told me that all the signs of depression due to a lame GuinnessPig were there, and if I wasn't careful, this could become a clinical case. He told me to continue drinking red wine. Apparently that's the only thing that can help cure it. Oh, and stop reading about dressage shows ... that should help too.

Common symptoms of pigpression are increased consumption of red wine, sad downcast eyes and  an unfortunate grimace. Please proceed with caution, as a person afflicted with pigpression may act irresponsibly, and insist on making plans she has no ability to follow through on. Lessons? Yeah! Cross Country Schooling? Yeah! My horse is lame? No, can't be ... 

Stone Bruise or Abscess? Either way, our fingers are crossed!

Sunday Guinness and I had a fantastic ride. Monday, I showed up to replicate the feeling. Instead, I pulled a horse out of the field who looked as if he had broken one of his legs. He was hobbling, bobbing and very obviously hurting. Great.

After a close examination of the offending leg (the front right), I found no wounds, swelling or heat. Finally, I uncovered an extremely tender spot on the heel bulb. My mind immediately sounded off "abscess!". I poked and prodded, not finding any obvious spot where it was about to burst. Sighing heavily, I set about trying to "cure" this thing.

What's the best way to start drawing out an abscess? Soaking in hot water and epsom salts, of course!

Apparently, soaking is something Guinness DOES NOT DO. Upon feeling water in the bucket at his foot, he took off backwards, spilling water all over me and him. He then stood in the corner obviously offended highly. Fantastic.

So, our next plan of attack was to poultice the foot, wrap in vet wrap, cover in duct tape and turn out the offended creature for a day of romping around on his ouchiness. Hopefully the warmth and dampness of the wrap and poultice would help the thing burst.

Not so much.

For the last few days, I've been driving up to the barn, unwrapping GP's foot and checking for signs of improvement. He's still been very lame, but the "abscess" is just not progressing the way I would expect it to. First of all, no obvious spots of swelling. There was plenty of heat on Tuesday, but that dissipated quickly and left a spot of tenderness. Yesterday, the spot was very centralized and slightly raised, but cold. I was very excited that maybe it would burst and we would have the anti-lameness going on (is that soundness? I don't even know anymore ... ). I tried poking the area with a sharp (disinfected!) knife, but I didn't want to go around breaking the skin for no reason. So, no results. The Pig was a little less lame, though. In fact, his demeanor was quite perky and interested. Bright eyed. That was cheering.

The confusing part is knowing how to continue to treat this thing. Is it a real abscess? Or, is it just a nasty bruise from over-tracking? There is an obvious bruise on the opposite hind hoof (on the front, like he stepped on himself), maybe there was an incident and he kicked himself? Or someone kicked him? Either way, the poultice should help ...

I meet with the farrier this morning, hopefully we can get this thing figured out.

Did I mention the best part? We have a show Saturday. Our rides start at 9:45 a.m. I'm pretty sure my horse just crapped on my show fees. Fantastic.

Anyone have experience with a nasty heel bruise or stubborn abscess? I'm about at my last straw with this!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Schooling Ride: 5/27/2012

Sunday I had a great ride on Guinness. Since moving to his new field he's been 100% of his normal self (if slightly tired). Unfortunately, the rough attitude of his field mates might be too much for him. He seems to be getting really beat up ... more on that in another post. 

Here's our ride!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lets all be friends ... (Clinic Update)

Early last Sunday morning, I dragged myself out of bed. The sun was shining reservedly, hiding the hints of the blisteringly hot day it would later become. My drive to the barn was quiet and contemplative, as I wondered what the morning's lesson would bring.
Guinness greeted me as the first horse at the gate. His eagerness was heartening, especially after our recent arguments under saddle. As I curried a deep shine into his shoulders, I gave thanks that he was still spotless from the night before's bath. He stood quietly, not dancing as before. I fitted his saddle and bridle to him and we headed out into the arena for our dressage lesson.

It was excellent. The whole lesson we focused on tactics to get Guinness to stretch down into the bridle, relax his head and neck and lift his shoulders. We were very effective, and the ride felt incredibly productive, if also incredibly hard.

My instructor pushed me hard, and after the last two weeks, I really needed it. She challenged me to stay soft and seeking in my hands and to work hard on stretching my legs down and around, instead of letting them creep up and driving my heels into my horse. Since I have moved to spurs, this is more important than ever. My riding flaws must get better before I can advance this horse.

Guinness will never be a packer pony, he makes me work for every bit of relaxation and impulsion. I have to thank him for that, as I tend to work harder and care more when riding a horse that really makes me work for everything.

We have a schooling show on Saturday, and I'm nervous. It's a first for so many things. Let's hope I don't forget anything, let my brain stop working or do something incredibly stupid. I think we'll be okay though. Just stay relaxed and let that back swing through. That's all, right?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Saddle Fitting Sucks (but other things are awesome!)

After observing some ever worsening changes in the way my dressage saddle is fitting Guinness,I had the saddle fitter out to look at my old, old, OLD County saddle (I'd like to tell you how old it is, but the County rep couldn't actually find the year stamp on it anywhere. It's a mystery, even to the makers ...).

The rep was nice, and pointed out how my saddle has a slight rock and that the weight bearing is much more focused in it (due to the age and style) than a newer one would be. Um ... okay. She told me she could maybe work on it some, but that it wouldn't change it much. Okay ... Then she asked if we could ride in it, and then try some other saddles to see if they made a difference in me or the horse. That sounded reasonable ....

Guinness was a complete terror the whole time. He refused to stand still, screaming repeatedly for the mares in his pasture. Every touch to his sides or legs resulted in kicking, as did every fly that flew near him. His dancing and constant pooping only stopped long enough for him to pee in the crossties (something he'd only done twice prior to this!). I was mortified. My normally dependable, mannered gelding was acting like a boss mare in heat. His behavior has been on a downward spiral since being turned out in this group of mares, but this was intolerable. The bad behavior continued under saddle where he called repeatedly and bucked HARD for the first 15 min. I don't think I could have held things together if there weren't other people there.

One and half hours later (in 90 degree heat!) Guinness and I were dripping in sweat. We had tried five saddles, and I hadn't felt a difference in any of them but one, and that difference hadn't been terribly noticeable. The seats were certainly more comfortable for me (but so is sitting on a slab of concrete!). Guinness had finally worked through his issues and was traveling nicely, and focused on me again. I wasn't feeling like murdering him so much, but also wasn't enjoying being sold to by the rep.

I asked the rep again what we could do for my saddle. She told me that the saddle as currently configured and padded isn't doing any harm to my horse. "He moves more freely with the other ones, but this one isn't causing any pain or rubs. It does rock slightly, but that is the style of the saddle, and you have it padded securely." That was enough for me. Thanks!

The price of the saddle she wanted me to buy? $4,500.00.

As the rep packed up, I patted Guinness on the neck.

"That saddle costs more than you did, dear."

He was too tired to respond.

Saddle, shimmed up with a different shim. That one was much too large. Guinness, staring at his field full of ladies ... 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Field, Saddle Fit, Equipment and More!

A friend sent me this photo she captioned "Pig Heaven?" I can't think of anything better!
A few updates, I'll go into greater detail on most of these later.

1. The "Big Pig's" move into his larger field has not come without drawbacks. Mainly, his new inability to have respect for people. This includes not wanting to be caught at feeding time, walking intolerably slow on the lead line, and an absolute inability to stand still in the cross ties or keep attention while being ridden. This is more than annoying, it's beginning to be dangerous.
So far, I've been combating his behavior by instigating "Mama is Boss Mare" rules. This has even included schooling him on the ground in his field with his mares. That worked okay, but I think this is just going to take some time and consistency (something I, unfortunately, don't have a lot of!). 
On the plus side, all of this testosterone has resulted in some pretty spectacular movement (when he can channel it).One the further down side, it has also resulted in some spectacular rider/horse arguments. One of these included Guinness bucking and spooking all the way around one side of the arena with me kicking and shoving him forward while tears streamed down my face and I screamed "I've already had a completely crappy day, DON'T. YOU. DO. THIS. TO. ME. YOU. IDIOT!" 
It was not one of my finest moments ... 

2. With the introduction of lush late spring grass, lots of suppling work and long conditioning rides, Guinness has been changing shape radically. He doesn't have any pain in his back, but I have noticed a disturbing trend in his sweat and saddle marks (see below). The saddle appears to be rubbing in weird places. I've been experimenting with padding and hope to have the saddle fitter out.

The woes of saddle fitting. Just look at that huge gap under the withers! Ugh!
3. Schooling show. We're going. May 12 at the Hoosier Horse Park. Wish us luck. Kay bai!

4. Finally, I've been trying some new equipment to try to improve our safety and riding ability. First, these Eskadron knock-offs by Centaur. They are pretty awesome. I'm sure the quality is much better on the Eskadron brand, but at only $16 (instead of $60), these were a no brainer. They do keep Guinness' legs cooler and drier, and they allow me to wrap tighter, thus helping keep swelling in his ankles down even more. Hooray!
Second, we've been experimenting with a loose ring snaffle with a lozenge. Apparently one of these with a thin mouthpiece in the $30 range is the holy grail of horse bits. Seriously hard to find. I finally tracked down this one at State Line Tack (wow, haven't ordered from them in years!). So far it's working well, and Guinness seems to chew on the bit more than just flip it. Hooray!

Climate Control polos. Probably not as good as Eskadron brand, but pretty darn awesome for only $16! Let's not laugh at my sad attempt to wrap with these ... it has gotten better, I promise!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Conditioning is Fun (for dressage horses too!)

I'm a huge proponent of equine fitness (human fitness too, but that's another post). Coming from a background in eventing, I've always had it drilled into my head that you can't expect your horse to perform at the top of his game unless he's been conditioned to do so. As a human athlete I feel it would be unfair of someone to ask me to perform outside of my capacity, so why would I ask my horse to push himself past what I have prepared him for? Basically, conditioning is common sense.
But Mom, the outside world is calling to me!
Monday's are conditioning days for Team Guinea Pig. Lots of the dressage riders I know consider going for a "trail ride" unnecessary, and they condition their horses with lots of ring work. That is possible, and not wrong, but it's not the way I approach my horse's training. Here's why:

1. As a thoroughbred, Guinness responds well to being outside. His behavior brightens and he really has a lot of fun hacking through woods and hills and roads. I like to have fun too, chock this point up to simply enjoying time with my horse.

2. When riding out, I am able to take a more firm connection with Guinness' mouth. He doesn't fuss and toss his head, and I seem to be able to be more consistent and following with my contact. It's good practice, and seems to carry over into the ring.

3. Nothing can help my horse and I get the feeling of collection like trotting or walking up and down hills with a firm connection (see above for the miracle of good connection). I also like hill work for the immense cardiovascular and muscular development it creates with very little drilling. I could trot and canter endless circles in the ring boring my horse and I to death or annoying him with my nitpicking, or I could go trot some hills to put muscle on him. I'll take the hills.

4. Developing a true relationship with your horse comes from spending time with them, better still if that's quality time. Guinness and I spend a lot of time working through "what was that?!" moments on the trail, discussions over rating our speed while galloping and convincing ourselves that you can do dressage movements in the great outdoors, not just in a level ring. It's a lot harder to get his attention (and keep it!) when riding out, but I know that when I have gotten it that I worked for it. It's rare for me to end a long ride across country without exclaiming. "God, I LOVE this horse!" There's something to be said for that.

As an example, I give you last night's long ride:
At nearly 6 miles, it wasn't the longest ride in the world, but we aren't trying to be endurance horses. There's lots of hills, some flat galloping stretches, plenty of trotting in a nice extension, and even some trotting through a creekbed (resistance training, anyone?). It was lots of fun, and also a good way to help us achieve our goals. What do you think?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Guinness Goes for a Run

As promised, here's a video of me releasing Guinness into the pasture. It's hard to see, but his pasture goes about a mile up the road (way over the green hill you can see back there). It's a HUGE pasture and the largest on the property. We just moved him into this pasture a few weeks ago, and it will be his permanent home on the property.

I think his enjoyment of his new home is pretty evident here: 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Rides, Bad Rides and Everything In the Middle

Oh the joys of training yourself and your horse for a show season ... I mean, oh the non-existent joys.


The past couple of weeks have been rough. We've been sticking to the schedule (for the most part), and at least riding 4 days a week. I've also been lengthening the time of our rides to try to increase cardio and strength for Guinness. Me too, it turns out.

We've had a few breakthroughs, mainly with my position. After spending a day in my jumping saddle, I realized that I have been very weak in the upper thigh. I've been practicing closing my hip angle and really controlling every movement in my body as well as keeping my lower leg OFF unless I'm giving a command. This seems to be really helping Guinness. He responds much faster to my requests for bend, and to forward aids. Now, if only I could manage to ingrain this quickly! After a week of strictly working on this, I seem to be sore, but still having to think about it every step. Come on muscle memory ...

The Week in Recap:

Monday:  We went for a long harrowing trail ride (Okay, truth? It was only 4 miles, but it felt like FOREVER!). Guinness was a mess in the cross ties. He couldn't stop dancing and calling and crying and prancing and ... just being a pain. I thought a long conditioning ride/trot would help calm him down and we could have a relaxing long walk.
The first indication that this ride wasn't going to be "relaxing" was the gigantic leap across the small worm-sized stream of water at the outset of the trails. After dragging myself back into the saddle, I managed to pilot us through the narrow tree-filled trail. It was a close call, and I promised to take more care. Good thing too. During the duration of the trip Guinness spooked at cows, ran from a pony, couldn't manage to walk in a straight line, never looked forward for more than 3 seconds, was completely unable to take a long rein without losing his brain and jiggling his head up and down to rattle the bit (racehorses ...), leapt a creekbed from edge to edge, three times and sweat so hard it took two baths to get him clean.
It was a long evening ...

Tuesday: I planned to do a conservative ride, considering the previous day's antics above ground. I was pleasantly surprised that Guinness wasn't lame at the outset. Not even stiff. The larger field, grass and more exercise seems to be helping keep his stiffness under control. Also, warm weather. That helps too.
We mostly worked at the walk, practicing my hip angle thing and taking contact without changing rhythm. This has always been difficult, and we've been neglecting our walk work. I got a few angry backups and head tosses when confronted with contact, but after I remembered to keep my hands up and close my fingers we did much better. Constant contact. It's not just an email program I use at work ... ;)

Wednesday: Guinness' day off! I took the dogs running and put things away instead ... it was fun. Turns out I miss being at home sometimes.

Thursday: Canter work and bend. We started off just the same as Tuesday, practicing taking contact and keeping it constant. Then we moved into the trot and the canter and worked on bend. Lots of bend. I really got to practice keeping my hip angle closed and my legs OFF except when I wanted to use them to say something.
Going to the right I had a LOT of resistance to bend. Guinness was popping his shoulder to the inside and just bracing against me. We did some work (at the canter) that we practiced in our clinic in February. Basically, the thought is to loosen him up to the bending aids by pushing him over hard in the leg yield. We're trying to make him exaggerate his cross over and sideways bend. I don't care if his shoulders lead, I just care that his whole body bends. It's a little extreme, but it works when he's really locked up.
Needless to say, a couple of these extreme leg yields and he was much more receptive to bed.
He felt pretty good, so we ended that and went for a short ride down the road with a friend. It's always good to end on a good motoring walk note.

After our ride, I had Hannah help me take some updated conformation shots. They aren't glamour shots by any means, but they get the job done!
You can see all Guinness social-climbing battle wounds. He's out in a new field with a bunch of new horses (15 or so?). He's been slowly climbing his way to the top, which is funny because he's usually the most laid back horse in the field. Now, he's on top and seems happy to be there. I'll have to post the video of him bolting to see everyone from the other day ...

He's starting to get some ab muscle, and his butt muscles are getting more defined. I can really see how swaybacked he starting to look. It seems that his withers are SO MUCH higher than they used to be. Of course, his neck is starting to develop more and more along the top, so that helps. I'll write about saddle fit soon, since that has a lot to do with the topline in this photo.

Guinness has the next two days off. I'll get back on him on Sunday and see how he feels

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

Well, I've decided to bite the bullet and show USDF this year. We're tentatively planning to do three of the USDF shows in Indiana from June - September. In May, we're planning to hit a schooling show or two just to get a feel for showing again.

I really think the increased judge feedback and heavier competition are important for me to get out of showing what I put in. I believe in really training my horse. Unfortunately, the feedback at the local level just isn't as useful to me. Now, I'm busy trying to wade through all the applications for the USEF, USDF and the show bills. (Could they make this any harder to do in my limited time? I even took these on vacation with me last week. Still aren't done ... )

I've also been finessing Guinness' workout plan. He's a little out of shape, and we have some basics we need to get in order before I feel comfortable showing. In fact, the idea of showing is giving me butterflies. We've been doing our own thing for so long, it will be different to have rides organized for exacting purposes again!

Right now, I'm looking at a 4-5 ride a week schedule. I'm leaning towards four. GP is a thoroughbred, and keeps a lot of natural fitness. His arthritis makes me want to ride him less, to avoid stressing his joints. We aren't going to be working on anything completely new for a long time, so drilling isn't really something I see us needing to do. When we conquer more complicated things, I'll look at upping our rides.

Now, our ride schedule looks something like this:
  • Monday: Arena Schooling
  • Thursday: Poles / Strength Work
  • Saturday: Arena Schooling
  • Sunday: Long Hack / Fitness Work
Of course, the fact that my work schedule can change in a heartbeat (I work in marketing for a local university arts & athletics complex. Talk about lots of events!) means that the days of the week I head out to the barn may change. As Guinness builds up strength, these may need adjusting too. 

This week, weather affected our training the most. I came back from a beautiful ski trip (Yay! Honeymoon!) to find that the temperature in Indiana had shot up to a balmy (?) 80 some degrees. Holy Sh--! I'm not one for heat (thus I own Siberian Huskies and honeymoon in the snowy, snowy mountains!). My poor horse is trying his best to shed his winter coat, but workouts are short while he adjusts. The first day I rode him in the heat, he was just a horrid mess. We had NO impulsion and he ended up tired after about 20 min of trot work. Needless to say, we'll be starting off slow.

But anyway ... here's to a good show season! Hope to see some of you out there!

Gratuitous cute pony cell phone pictures, you're welcome!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Qualifying? What is this "Qualifying" business.

Part of my resolve for competing this year is to enjoy the time I have with my horse to the fullest, to really experience a lot and get miles out of our relationship. That brings me directly to the issue at hand.

How hard should we compete? And how seriously?

It's been years since I've shown, and longer than I'd like to admit since I've done any showing beyond IHSA (that's intercollegiate hunt seat ... for the uninformed). I don't have all the time or money in the world to go jetting around to shows, but luckily dressage does have a large enough following out here for there to be plenty  of opportunities to choose from within 1-3 hours of travel. Plus, the barn I keep Guinness at is into dressage, and often takes students to schooling shows in the area. Hitching a ride is much cheaper than renting the whole rig on my own.
Guinness and I working hard at a Todd Bryan clinic in 2010.

The question is, do I want to focus on the smaller (and much cheaper!) local schooling shows, or do I want to be able to challenge myself with the larger competitions of USDF sponsored shows? And, if I decided to go to these sponsored shows, do I want to join to be able to qualify for awards? I can't even decide if that's something I care about.

Part of my wants to go to a few schooling shows early in the season, and see how capable we are, then decide. My thoughts on the issue are complicated:

  • I feel confident, as my experiences with trailering and riding Guinness has been excellent. He's usually a little more "up" in a new location, but not crazy. He trusts me implicitly, so we typically have very good rides while away from "home".
  • My main drive in thinking about doing recognized shows is wanting to do well. I respond well to criticism, especially in horse training. I love it when people pick apart my riding, or see a sticky moment and point it out for me. It's very helpful, and I find I learn more from doing things a little wrong than always right. I feel the competition at these bigger shows will be better, and the judges better. It might be a crazy thought, but it's still one I'm having.
  • We are schooling a solid Training, and I know that my horse is fully capable of First Level. I don't know if that's something I could do without lots of critique, and that's not really available locally.
  • I'd also like to show at the Horse Park, since it's right down the street from Cob Jockey. Maybe I could bribe her to take photos ;)
What do you think? Any experiences with recognized shows that you would like to share?

Stay tuned for video from GP and I's lesson a couple weeks ago with a visiting trainer. It was nice to get some feedback on my riding and my horse's ability. Highlights to come!

Monday, March 5, 2012

A New Focus

Last Monday, Guinness had another set of fetlock injections. Before the injections he was worse than ever, and I was feeling pretty terrible. I think everyone can understand the helplessness you feel when an animal under your care is in pain, and you can't fix the problem. Luckily, injections seem to ease his pain and keep the heat/swelling down in his ankles. While I know this is only going to be a temporary fix (the next few years are going to get rougher), for now he is happy and mobile.

A happy, mobile horse means a happy owner.

I think I've finally come to terms with my horse's physically disability. It's sad, but DJD just isn't something you recover from. As such, I'm happy to report that we are going to try to go as far as we can in the dressage world. My horse is built for dressage, and we do both enjoy the training. So, while I am still sad, I'm happier to focus on a future that will bring us a partnership for a few more years.

That being said, stay tuned for training (of both me and Pig), tack & gear reviews and show updates as we get ourselves into shape for the upcoming season.

Looking forward again ...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Proof in the Pudding

I'm sorry about the post title, I've been watching a lot of Bones recently.

Anyway, last night my beloved husband came out and took some photos of my ride. While the winter-time low light is difficult to shoot in (especially for someone without a lot of photo experience, so cut him a break!), he managed to get proof of our miraculous stretchy trot I talked about yesterday.
He's so stretchy!
Let's not comment on my position, I'm riding without stirrups for a reason. Damn you lower leg!
And now for some select hightlights from the ride:

After years of fighting this horse to step under himself and work through his back, success feels sweet. 

Look up, look up, LOOK UP!
 I don't have much else to say about Guinness. He was, again, sounder than sound could be, and very happy to be moving around. During the first part of our ride, the high school horse show team was practicing over fences. I guess Guinness decided that he was at a jumper show, and started giving me little bouts of "showjumper canter" whenever pointed in the direction of a fence. You know the canter I'm talking about. The high, nearly rearing with every stride, super exuberant canter showjumpers develop just before a monstrous jumping effort? Yeah, that. It's really hard to say no to a horse who wants to jump that badly ... Come on miracle cure for arthritis!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sounder Days

The end of the holidays brought frigid temperatures. Of course as a horse person in waterlogged Indiana, I might be one of the few people rejoicing! As I walked across the frozen mud of the pasture (at this point, this is as much of a miracle to me as walking on water!) to catch my blanketed beast, I couldn't help hoping that the freezing weather continues.

My recent routine has involved trotting up Guinness to evaluate his lameness before even taking him in the barn to groom. It's just easier to know earlier if my horse is hurting. Yesterday, another miracle, he was sound, sound, sound! Joyfully, I scraped the last of the mud off of him and tacked up. Mud free and sound, what a day!

Unfortunately, the ongoing lameness we've been dealing with has made riding regularly or working on any sort of training plan almost impossible. Every time I get on, I feel as though I am just starting over with conditioning. Just when I get to the point we can work on things, we have to take another break. 

Last night after a long warm up, we focused on staying loose and relaxed. Somehow we managed, not one, but TWO stretchy trot circles. That's almost an unknown, as any amount of stress will drive Guinness directly behind the bit. He tends to hide there, and only strong transitions and driving aids can get him out. I think it's fair to say that I had a huge grin on my face the whole way around!

After our warm up, we started working on having Guinness track up properly. He managed to stay relaxed through all of this, and we showed off a few on-point canter transitions from a working trot and very balanced serpentines. Finally, just to show off, we ran through a couple of leg yields at the canter. I find these a great way to test whether we are actually collecting at the canter, or instead just bouncing. Last night, these were easier than eating cake. It was truly a beautiful ride.

Photo Break: Here's a photo from last night: 
Note my vintage Saint Mary-of-the-Woods sweater. After years (seriously, my mother bought me that when I was 5 years old!) sitting in my closet unworn, I've decided to make it classy barn-wear.

Of course, rides like these make me want to start making plans and aim towards shows. Especially working through Training level. I know this horse can be competitive through at least 2nd level - but his lameness is just starting to wear on me. Luckily, at this point, I can directly relate his lameness to the crazy amount of mud in the pastures. This summer and fall when the mud was extremely limited, we had very few soundness problems. As winter started up and Guinness was dealing with 12 inches of mud on a daily basis, his arthritis started to be unmanageable. I'm not entirely sure how to deal with this. Do I take away his turnout, which I consider integral to the maintenance of the arthritic horse? Or do I deal with his arthritis being out of control during the "mud season"?