Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Funky Steps

I mentioned in my most recent ride journal that Guinness has been feeling a little off recently. Being an older horse, his joints are really starting to feel the years of hard work. Knowing that, I try not to panic when inconsistencies pop up.

"I am 17 going on 18, I'll take care, of you..."
So it's obviously the old fetlock arthritis that is tormenting us? Right?

Well, no. At this point, I think Pig's front fetlocks are basically fused. They haven't truly bothered him beyond some slight stiffness for a long while (Quick!! Everyone knock on all the wood!) Instead, what I think we're dealing with is a variation on the stifle issues from last spring.

If you'll remember, I noticed something funny with Guinness' movement behind after his recovery from our trailer accident. The vet diagnosed the issue as stifles, not hocks. We injected the right side, and went on our merry way.

To update on that, Pig felt pretty great after the injections. I felt some weirdness in July, though it felt more like weakness than an actual issue. I was reluctant to do injections again so close to the last injection date. Knowing he needed a little help though; I accepted a friend's help and tried Estrone. That seemed to help enough to get us through reconditioning. I only did one shot, and never noticed an uneven weakness.

Until this month, that is. And now, the weakness is more of a severe problem like this spring. Unlike before, the issue seems to be manifesting in both the left and the right hinds. It's very funny to feel and hard to capture on video. Here's a clip of Guinness doing his weird stifle dance with the right hind this spring...
"Watch me do the dance of my people. My old and chronically weak stifled people."
It looks uncomfortable, no?

So what's the plan? Immediately, I stopped pushing things. We backed off collection work, only asking for a 1st/2nd level frame. (Goodbye 3rd level, pushing 4th. You were fun for a little while.) The bareback rides have gone a long way toward helping sort out the stiffness before it gets to be a bigger problem. And, I did another round of Estrone injections last week.

One week out, Pig is no longer dramatically catching or swapping a hind. He's still feeling weak in an unbalanced way, but it's obvious that the Estrone is helping a lot. I'm trying to decide if I want to go ahead and try a more regular treatment with the Estrone, or make a vet appointment and get injections done. It's possible the Estrone might get us through the winter, and Pig's lighter work schedule. Once spring hits, we could do both injections and Estrone and really hit the ground feeling great for show season. I'm still undecided.

For this week, the Estrone seems to be working enough to start asking for a little more engagement, think a 2nd/3rd level frame. I'm getting a little resistance from Pig when I first ask, but he's happy enough once he compresses into the collection and feels just fine working there. He tires quickly in that frame, though. I'm trying to be aware of when he's starting to tire, so he doesn't accidentally weight his stifles funny just due to exhaustion.

What do you think? More Estrone? Call the vet and and tell my husband my old man horse stomped all over his Christmas presents? Anyone have a lead on knee replacements for horses?

Argh. Getting old is a PITA.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ride Journal: Dec 7-Dec 13

Joan of Arc is a badass. I shall try to be more like her...
Meridian Hill Park, Washington D.C.

Historical Fact of the Day: The only equestrian statue of a woman in D.C., and a gift to the women of the USA from the women of France. 
True to my hedgehog-addled promise last week, I rode a lot more this week. I wouldn't go so far as to say we were conquering things like Joan of Arc up there, however. We had a lot of ups and downs, and my rides were not very ambitious. 

Dec 7:
Neck wide at base = winning.
I hopped on for the first ride back in a week, hoping that Pig would feel ready to get back to work. Unfortunately, he felt more like he was 1000 years old and unable to do more than an unbalanced old-man toddle. 

In fact, he felt very, very off. I hoped off after 20 minutes (mostly at the walk) didn't loosen him up. I crossed my fingers that his funkiness was due to time off and fluctuating weather patterns, and hoped he'd be a little more supple with our next ride.

Dec 10:
Pictured: Pig looking less derpy than a gorgeous PSG trained warmblood. Marvel, for this is not a regularity.
I would be lying if I said Pig's off-ness didn't put me in a funk about riding. Couple that with oppressive darkness, and I had a hard time getting motivated to ride. When I finally make it back out to the barn, I decided to just ride sans saddle. I hoped that would let me feel Pig's imbalance a little better, and make a judgement call.

I am so glad I made that choice. Pig started out stiff and in a bad mood, grinding his teeth a minute I bridled him, However, being bareback allowed me to feel the places in his back where he was resistant and work on them immediately. I think this helped him feel a little better, as I was working on fixing him up rather than pushing him through a stiff spot. By the end of the ride, we had some lovely work under our belt. Pig was straighter in his lateral work, and starting to push more evenly with both hinds. His canter departs were much more uphill after fixing the push from behind, and he even stopped grinding his teeth. 

Of course, riding bareback in the pitch black darkness of the 1/4 mile from my turnout to the indoor arena is maybe not the most confidence inspiring activity. Despite a rather dramatic spook at a newly installed feeder by both Pig and I, we did make it to and from our little turnout barn fairly unscathed. 

Dec 12:
“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? 
It is the east, and Juliet Pig is the sun."
Thursday's positive bareback ride and the sunny 70 degree weather of Saturday had me excited to get out and ride. I still didn't want to push Pig very hard, so we headed out to a nearby field to let the dogs get some time outside and continue to work on balancing at all gaits.

Pig started off incredibly stiff, but I tried to approach the situation with a lot of patience. I was persistent in asking him to work in a walking shoulder-in both directions until he loosened through the neck and back. Finally, I put him on the bit completely and asked for a trot. He was lovely. We maybe only worked for 20 minutes total, but he was absolutely with me for every second. We even did two relaxed changes on my aids both directions. This was huge, as my aids for a change often get completely ignored when riding outside of the arena. 

I think we all just enjoyed being outside.

Dec 13:
"Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, 
Who is already sick and pale with grief"
Sunday, I didn't ride until I returned from helping a friend ride in a clinic. That meant riding in the dark again. Once more, I chose to hop on bareback and see what a little more feel could do.

Pig was slightly more resistant to coming through, but I think much of that was me. I was stiff, and not weighting my right seatbone as much as I needed to. Once I figured that out (towards the end of the ride, of course), he was much more willing to step up and evenly into the bridle. This makes a whole month of me promising my horse I would do more yoga, and not following through. I'm feeling pretty bad about that. Time to step up.

The earlier work had been so resistant, we didn't even canter after a brief warm up. I wanted to instead focus on just getting both of us working well in changes of direction and bend. Sometimes you have to focus on the little stuff to better put together the bigger picture.

Dressage training, it's like working a puzzle.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Progress Check: Half Pass and Flying Changes

It's been almost a exactly a year since I first started working on the half pass. It's been almost exactly 8 months since I started working towards flying changes.

I think it's time for a little look back at our progress, don't you think?

May 2015
This was our collected canter back in May. You can see that it's starting to get where it needs to be behind, but that Pig is still blocked up front and too tight through the withers and back to actually release and go. My half halts, at the start of the clip, are blocked in the neck and back. While the back legs come further under, Pig's back doesn't lift and his engagement is rather false. It's a start. I remember being thrilled he stayed in the contact, instead of just going light and abandoning the exercise.
Nov 2015
This is a moment from a canter exercise Thanksgiving weekend. You can clearly see my half halt go through (hint, watch for the tail). Instead of getting tighter, the half halt actually gets Pig to let go with his neck and lift his withers. In that moment his canter goes up instead of faster. Breakthrough! This video isn't even one of our good moments. It still needs to be confirmed, but the good moments are really good. Now, I just need to stop throwing around my upper body so much. Goodness...

Half Pass:
Nov 2014
This clip is from very early in our work with half passes. Being picky, Pig isn't through (head waggling) and his haunches are leading for most of the movement. He could use more true bend through his ribcage, most of it is coming in the neck and haunch instead. Still, I was (and still am) very happy with this initial work.
Nov 2015
This half pass left has been the bane of our existence for awhile. Pig seems to be weaker this way, and has a hard time staying loose enough to move sideways and forward. We're finally getting there, but you can see where I straighten him halfway through to keep him relaxed and forward. That's been key to getting a better movement. Still, he's much more through and relaxed than in the clip from a year ago. His bend is better, too. (Though the angle makes it hard to see, and it could be more consistent.)

These have been all over the place. Typically they come in three varieties: the late behind, the auto, and the disunited dolphin.
May 2015, late behind
Here is a prime example of the late behind change. It's on my aid, but the hind just takes a stride or two to complete the movement (trotting behind a step, gross). We scored a deserving 4 on this. Pig's relative calm attitude about the slip up was unusual for this time in our training. Most of the time he'd throw a fit about being late, and try to bolt into the hind change. I can't blame him. That late trot step fumble thing looks really uncomfortable.
May 2015, auto change, yes this is the same test
Early in our training the auto-change returned with a vengeance. While these were usually relatively clean, they could happen anywhere and with great dramatics. So fun. Stopping an auto change was usually grounds for a complete emotional breakdown from Pig. Not a good idea.
Later in May 2015, the disunited dolphin
Here we have what starts to look like it'll be a really nice change, only to leave our hind legs for a quarter of the arena. This is the opposite of fun to ride. The rest of the day was a nightmare while Pig over-dramatized his life choices. My seat kinda sucks here, and my cue is terrible. We'll just go right ahead and say we both needed work.
Nov 2015, late behind
Fast-forward to today. Pig is much calmer about changes, and has figured out to listen for my aid (most of the time). He's also (mostly) cut out bolting after a biffed change. This particular moment is late behind, but must less so that previously. I'll take it. Other pluses? He stayed through and balanced in the whole movement. Getting there! Downside? I seem to throw my body at him in the cue. It's hard to see, so maybe I'm not as bad as I think?

What do you think? Am I crazy? Is there improvement here? I wish I had more half pass video, as that is really our best movement and one Pig truly enjoys the hell out of doing!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ride Journal: Nov 30-Dec 6 (As told by hedgehog memes)

So, um. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I only rode once last week.
Nope, it wasn't because of the weather.
It was gorgeous.
Or that my horse was broken.
Or that I couldn't decide what to do.
Or that I didn't have the energy.
Or maybe...
Yeah, nope. Not that either...
Just that I started a new job, and didn't have a dog-walker lined up.
So... Uh. I don't even remember what we did last Monday. I think there were some circles involved. I also believe we were both kinda sore and tired.
Boom. Recap = done.
I apologize for the distinct lack of content. Next week will be better, I promise.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tuesday Video Break and Bloopers

In yesterday's ride recap, I mentioned our quick and gallopy Friday morning warm up. In a fun twist, my husband joined me for day at the barn and was able to grab some quick video shots!

First up, a quick gallop with my trusty (mostly) husky sidekicks...

(I apologize, my husband tends to get distracted by the dogs when videoing...)

Go ahead and laugh at my "gallop" in dressage length stirrups, complete with swan neck spurs and a dressage whip. That takes skill, kids. And core strength. So much core strength. I do not recommend. If I was going any faster than a big canter, I'd have been so unstable.

We did a couple of passes in the field before calling it a day. (And aren't those fields amazing? And the footing?!) On one pass, my husband captured this amazingly hilarious blooper...

(No dogs were harmed ... much ... in the making of this video.)

Poor Sonka! He was a little stiff for a minute or two, but quickly worked out of it. So, it's okay to laugh away. Silly dog had grass and mud stuck in his collar for most of the day!

Did you guys get to celebrate the holiday in an equestrian way? Anyone get to go galloping?