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!