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!