Friday, April 26, 2013

Rolex Inspiration

Guys. You've been watching Rolex, right? Listening to Sally O'Connor kindly rip apart every competitor and really break down each dressage movement? You've been singing Mary King's praises and really crossing your fingers that the new girl with the great dressage can hold it together on cross country? And, if you're me, you've been salivating like crazy for more video time of William Fox-Pitt and the STUNNING Chilli Morning.

If you haven't been doing those things, I suggest you do ... immediately.

No, this isn't because Rolex is just about the coolest event ever. Not because every horse person should support the sport's coverage on USEFnetwork.com. No. It's for the FREE DRESSAGE LESSONS. Seriously.

I watch a lot of competitions, especially of dressage. Grand Prix, local schooling shows, recognized shows, whatever I can find. I have to say that Rolex is one of the finest opportunities to learn from other riders that's out there. The combination of everyone riding the same test, that test being a mix of hard/advanced elements (collection, extended trot, half pass, flying changes) and somewhat basic elements (shoulder in, counter canter, extended walk/medium walk) and the riders varying from "Oh my god!" to "brave" make this unique. Nowhere else can you see the obvious ways that different riding effects the horse. Sure, some of these horses are too hot to trot (literally, in several cases), but most are more than capable - if less flashy than in the Grand Prix ring. In watching, you'll see how that rider had his weight on the wrong seatbone, so the horse couldn't move over in the half pass. Or, this rider wasn't allowing and direct enough with her hips at the counter canter, and her horse swapped leads.

Picture from 2011. Credit
Give it a try. Head over and watch Mary King. I bet you never wonder what your hips should be doing to ask for an extension again.

I'm inspired! (Now, bring on the cross country...)

Maintenance, the Story of the Week

Guinness has officially been back in work since last Wednesday, and back to trotting and cantering since Monday. I'm glad to say that everything with the leg has held up, and he's working just fantastically on it!
Yarr! Now introducing Pirate Guinness! He's apparently recruited a starling as his personal groom. (look at the right shoulder) 
The story of my life for the two weeks has really been "maintenance". Maintaining an older horse in full training often feels like it takes a bucket of know-how, a pool of luck and a bank full of cash. Here are just a few things we've been dealing with:


  • Living outside in all the wet weather we've been battling (holy serious flooding on the Wabash, guys) has created some soft feet that are a little sensitive to rocks. Luckily Pig is still sound as can be on soft ground, but he might have a slight stone bruise on the front right. I'm thankful for the soundness I have, though; and I'm pulling out all my sore foot tricks to keep him motoring along happily. It's always something with this horse.
  • Having Tuesday and Wednesday off, Pig should have been perky and ready to go for our ride last night. Of course, he stayed up late partying in the newly opened grass part of his pasture instead of resting up for work. He was one tired pony, napping in the crossties and a little sticky off my leg in the ring.


  • Trying to bring back Pig slowly after an injury is always hard, due to his incredible base of fitness. Two weeks off and he'd only lost a touch of topline. I'm so lucky with that, but it makes rationalizing a slow and steady return to work hard. To try to combat that, I've been starting our rides with a walk up the road and up and down a hill there. During this walk, I've been working on taking contact, letting him stretch back down into a free walk, and filling up my outside reins by leg yielding from one side of the road to the other. Taking that work into the ring has meant that I have a forward and comfortable horse who's ready to work almost as soon as we get in. Very effective.


  • We have also been working through some some arthritis stiffness. The bipolar weather and stall rest caused a touch more inflammation than I'm comfortable with. If I had it in the budget, he'd be getting injections right now. Unfortunately his copious injuries have depleted the vet budget. Sorry, buddy. It's just long, long warm-ups, Sore-no-More and the occasional bute when absolutely necessary. 

Maintenance also means maintaining my supplies. (Can't let the birds do all the hard work!) Grooming supplies seem to last forever, but last week I did have to replace one of my favorites - the grooming mit. Check out this side by side comparison shot:
Can you tell I use this alllll the time?
This thing is an absolute lifesaver when dealing with my sensitive-skinned thoroughbred. He's often so ticklish on his belly and legs that this is just about the only thing that can be used to massage off the mud and shedding hair. I do have to recommend it for putting a shine on the coat, though. A good once over with this after a hard curry really brings the oils to the surface. For under $3, it's worth it.

Anyone out there with an older campaigner? How do you keep them going? Anyone out there have favorite grooming supplies that you just can't live without?


Thursday, April 18, 2013

A March Lesson, the write up

In the aftermath of Nancy's visit last weekend and the high probability of Guinness coming back into the work this week, I thought it was high time to review my March lesson!

As always, Nancy gave me so much information that I'm still working on it. I'll try to break down what we worked on here, and then do another post detailing how working on the information on my own brings up different responses and understanding.

The first part of the session started with the trot. Nancy had us run through some shoulder in, and discovered that Guinness wasn't really on my right outside rein. Instead of moving his shoulder, I've actually been doing a haunches out. Whoops! Since the shoulder in off the left outside rein is actually pretty solid, and I have a lot of problems with hollowness to the right, we decided to put Guinness in boot camp. Right side boot camp.

Standing 6 feet from the rail, Nancy asked me to make a small circle in front of her at the walk. She had me focus on turning the shoulders with the outside rein, maintaining suppleness and bend with the inside rein, and asking for the inside hind to stay active with the inside leg. Unfortunately, Guinness threw all sorts of "pig fits" at injustice of being forced to use his right side properly. Nancy asked me to shift my right seatbone so that I was "sitting on that shoulder", and that seemed to be the key. We probably did 20 tiny circles just like that. By the end we were completing circles nearly completely off the outside rein.

Then we trotted the same exercise in an 8 meter circle. That's when it all fell apart. It was back to the beginning with fits from Pig and me having to "sit on his shoulder". This was super hard, and I actually was pretty frustrated with the whole process. Why couldn't he just GET it? It's so easy the other way.

I think Nancy could tell I was frustrated, and she mentioned that "this is hard for him, and that's okay.' She reminded me that it's okay for something to be hard for him, and for him to tell me it's hard. It's not okay to get mad or frustrated with him just because something is difficult. At the same time, I have to stay tough and make him do it. So, little Pig-fits need to be met with something more like a laugh, a "that's okay" and a re-affirming aid. We did eventually get the circle, and the rest of the lesson I could feel how this exercise had really loosened his whole right side. He traveled much straighter for the rest of the day. I'll be throwing these in during every ride for a while.

Finally, we moved on to the counter canter. I'm sure you guys remember how much we've been struggling with this movement and how stressed out Pig gets when I don't let him change. Armed with the "it's okay for it it be hard" attitude, I felt a little more ready to tackle this without getting too overwhelmed.

Nancy watched us attempt the counter canter squiggle from 1st 3, and fail pretty miserably. She immediately picked up on some things, and we went right back to working on picking up the canter correctly off the seat. I've been working on this, but felt like something wasn't quite right - apparently that was true. She worked on making sure that my seat bone was actually light on the inside, which was key to moving on to the counter canter. When our canter transitions were marginally better, we moved on.

When working on the counter canter, I'd been doing all sorts of contortions to try to convince Pig to stick to the correct lead. Nancy immediately nixed that, having me sit up straight and look right at the path between Pig's ears. Then, she reminded me that the canter should be ridden light on the inside seat bone (think about scooping up the canter) and that the outside seatbone keeps that outside leg on the ground. At the counter canter, the inside seatbone becomes the movement leader. It becomes the "pointer". So, I "point" with the inside seatbone, and turn with the outside shoulder. The outside seatbone keeps the lead. I have to stay upright and not collapse my abs or shoulders or I'll lose it.

Got all that?

It was a lot of instruction, but we actually started to get it. When we had a couple of good squiggles, we ended for the day.

Take aways?
- Ensure sure the outside rein is actually controlling the outside shoulder. If not, take the time to reestablish before trying to continue.
- Remember to "point" with the inside seatbone at the canter, and sit with the outside. Don't tip or fall down with the upper body.
- Practice being light on the inside seat bone to pick up the canter.
- Make sure that one side of my body isn't giving aids that are much stronger than the other. For example, my right leg tends to clamp on all the time. Try taking it all the way off if it seems nothing is working.

Guinness watches the lesson after ours at Irus.
Now, for some other learning links!

Thoroughbred training expert and Chronicle of the Horse blogger Paige Cade reminds us all to check your emotional baggage at the ... um ... mounting block. This is something I struggle with. I know that when I can clear my mind before getting on, my rides are much better.

Anyone who get's to go to the Thoroughbreds For All event in Lexington next week is super lucky, and I'm probably viciously jealous of them. You should all go. Seriously. Check it out here.

A couple of months ago, Practical Horseman ran an article titled "Retraining Thoroughbreds for Dressage". While geared mostly for OTTBs, the article has some great advice for any horse and rider combo. It's absolutely worth a study. Find it here!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Vet Vist, or how Purdue is the only place I ever want to take my horse ... ever

This post is ΓΌber photo heavy and sort of a novel. I apologize for nothing ... 
Two weeks ago Thursday, I pulled Guinness out of the field only to find a hot leg and a little swelling under his right knee. Not a lot of lameness was apparent, but I still wasn't taking any chances. With all the heavy mud we've been dealing with recently, a lot of the horses at the barn have had unexplained swellings and lameness. I immediately worried about a possible tendon strain or big injury.

Can you see it? Yeah, me neither.
 I signed up Guinness for stall rest, just to be safe. I didn't do anything to his leg, just let him sit in the stall all night and decided to check on him Friday after work to see if there was improvement. Unfortunately, there wasn't any improvement. The heat was still apparent, and the swelling hadn't subsided. Guinness still wasn't lame, but I know that doesn't rule out a serious injury to the flexor tendons or check ligament. I immediately called the vet to schedule an exam and ultrasound of the area.

Of course, being in the middle of nowhereland country means that the closest vet capable of diagnosing possible tendon injuries and operating a leg ultrasound is Purdue University's College of Veterinary Services. That's a two hour trailer ride from my barn. I made the call and set up an appointment, immediately beginning to second guess myself, worrying outrageously, and generally being a giant ball of stress. Meanwhile, I still had Guinness on strict stall rest (only turnout in the indoor while his stall was being cleaned), and I kept the area wrapped, and poulticed. I cold-hosed the area daily to bring the heat out, and did handwalk some on the roads to help with sanity and any stocking up.

Finally the day of the appointment dawned. Except for a brief moment of not wanting to be caught in the indoor arena (think running, bucking and generally leaping like a fool), and being a little difficult to get on the trailer, we got on the road without a lot of issues. Two hours later found me at Purdue, trying not to hit college students with the truck/trailer and desperately looking for any sign that said "trailer parking".

Once in the clinic, though, everything was easy. Guinness showed off what a good boy he is. From walking on the scary large animal scale (1,172 lbs, whoa. This was way neater than it should have been), nonchalantly watching a horse get electroshock therapy to the shoulder, and only giving a hairy eye to a couple of sheep, Guinness showed off. Everyone at the clinic liked him, and he was so brave they didn't actually have to sedate him for anything.

I was so proud.  
Can you call it a lameness exam when there's no lameness?
The neat thing about Purdue is that they run their vet clinic just like a human doctor's office. There's a receptionist who handles billing and check ins, you get a health history taken by a resident veterinarian, and the vets leave you with an actual write up of the visit and your treatment options. Everything was incredibly thorough, and I loved it. It was easily the best experience with an equine vet I've ever had.

Our exam was pretty straightforward. The vets asked about the history of lameness, and I explained about the foot issues and the ankle arthritis history. They palpated the area, remarked on the swelling (which was huge and hot, due to the trailering and the running around like an idiot), and had us trot up for lameness. The vet corroborated my findings. No lameness in the front right. Actually, he found GP to be off on the front left, instead. This isn't surprising. Stall rest always aggravates the fetlock issues in that leg.

A short conference later, and we decided an ultrasound was a good option to rule out any tendon/ligament damage to the area. Radiographs to check on the bone structure were also offered, but neither the vet nor I felt that was a valid option to explore. So we headed off to get an ultrasound. Step one? Shave the legs. Both legs were shaved as the vet wanted to compare the normal leg with the leg with the swelling to get a read on "normal". Then we proceeded with the ultrasound ...
Naked legs!

Ultrasound time!
The whole process took quite a long time. The vet was very thorough with the ultrasound, pointing out things that may become issues in the future (bone spurs? Ugh ...) and also how the tissues were all very dense and looked just normal as can be. 

Normal? How awesome is that?

In fact, the diagnosis is a mild sprain to the area or a possible muscle contusion. Most likely due to an awkward step in the mud or a kick to the site. Either are possible. Both are not a big deal. Both a treatable and not season enders. This is all fabulous news, and I feel so much better about the injury after getting a confirmation it wasn't a horrible thing. 

We went home with a slip of paper detailing everything that the vets found, and telling me to keep up with the stall rest, cold-hosing, poultice and wrapping. So, we have ... 
Define: Coldhosing, verb. A long boring process of spraying ice cold water onto an injury to reduce swelling and heat. See also "catching up on reading novels"

Handwalks are only fun when the sun is shining, and it's not frigid. Hooray spring!
For now, we're still on stall rest until the swelling and heat are resolved. That might take another week. The last few days the area has gone from just fine to slightly hot, so there is definite improvement. I'm thinking I might be back on him in a few days.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Go Auditing!

Saturday afternoon, Nancy made it out to western Indiana to hold a clinic at my barn. While Guinness was out of commission for the day, I made it a point to be at the barn and ready to help everyone else get their learning on. What a day!

The one fun thing about my barn is clinic days. Everyone comes out to watch and audit, there's really no such thing as a "private" lesson. It could be intimidating, but no more so than a horse show with an audience. Plus, with everyone watching, you don't miss a thing. Someone can fill you in on what you missed! Needless to say, the bleachers were an active and fun place to be all day.

This being Nancy's first visit out to see this group, I was interested in how everyone would react to the instruction. I love Nancy's style. She offers an almost constant stream of feedback during your ride, not really giving you time to let things sink in, but instead helping you feel how your horse reacts to your changes in balance or aid.  I find that I usually take a week or two after riding with her to process everything I picked up in a lesson, there's just too much information to get it all at once. Sometimes that isn't right for everyone, but luckily ever lesson went well and we're looking forward to having her back soon!

The clinic was running a little forward from the schedule, so I ended up missing parts to help some of the riders get ready. By the end of the day, I'd groomed four horses. Each one was right in the middle of a heavy shedding phase, and I think I ingested/inhaled enough hair and mud to possibly turn me into a horse. But, everyone was shiny and pretty when they got to the ring!

The one overarching theme of the weekend was establishing the actions of the inside rein and outside rein, and controlling the shoulders. Every horse/rider combo worked on this to some degree, and seeing how Nancy approached each with similar, but personalized, ideas was really interesting. Not all of the ideas transfer to Guinness and I, but some of them were certainly good refreshers!

It's so fun to watch a rider completely change from the beginning of a lesson to the end, and see the horses try to figure out new aids or work harder at a specific movement. Do you guys ever audit clinics in your area? You're welcome to join us for the next one!


Friday, April 12, 2013

An Edifying Equine, Difficult Days and a Confusing Carpal Contusion

(Terribly sorry for the vocabulary lesson of a title ... no, actually, I'm not.)

Since we last met, friends, life with the big red horse has been a rollercoaster. I shall briefly outline, then do some more detailed posts to follow.


  • Our lesson with Nancy in March was fantastic. I mentioned to her when we started that I wanted to get some pointers from her on the counter canter. She did me one better, that's mainly what we worked on. There were breakthroughs, and it was hard. For example, I know that I can't control my left hip, and I'm much too strong/demanding with my right side)
  • We worked on the counter canter through the end of March and the start of April. Progress was made. It is a this point that the trot lengthenings completely went away. If it's not one thing, it's another... 
  • The day after a particularly fantastic ride, Guinness comes in with a strange swelling and heat just behind and slightly below right front "knee." No real lameness is apparent, but any palpation of the area has him swinging his leg around to get away. With other horses at the barn getting big swellings on their legs from fighting the sucking mud, I worry and wrap him up for a night in (his first night in a stall since our last show in September). 
  • The swelling doesn't end. Luckily, I do manage to cure thrushy feet during stall rest. As time drags on, commence worrying a whole lot and drinking a few glasses of wine. 
  • With the swelling in such a tender area, I end up calling Purdue College of Veterinary Science, making an appointment to have an ultrasound performed to rule out a tendon injury.
Yup! It's been nuts here. Our Purdue appointment was yesterday, and I don't want anyone to worry unnecessarily, but the results were good! No tendon damage!

Guinness waits nervously for the vet.