Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Meet Wesley

Memorial Day Weekend was great in all respects. Boyfriend got to go trout fishing Saturday, we then went to visit a friend at her new apartment which was a blast. Sunday was spent entirely outside with Boyfriend's Dad's tractor brought out to help burn down more of the brush pile - there was a constant billow of smoke in the air all day long. Monday I had lots of things planned so I left Boyfriend at home to keep working the property with the tractor, and I headed out at 8:30. I arrived at Sarah's about an hour later, with Melissa there sporting her new tattoo (she was actually there to ride Sarah's new pony, Karma), Sarah (with a kitten stuffed in her bra), and one of her students ready for her lesson. After a chat, we all bucked up the energy to get to work. Cleaning was uneventful, except for the exceptional talents of one grey horse who managed, with perfection, to urinate in his feeder.

Chores done, I begged for some water from Sarah, and ate the apple I brought. I decided that with no Milo around, Wesley would be a suitable receiver of the apple core. Especially since I was to ride him today. After a breather for a little while (Sarah works her cleaners hard! Two hours non-stop), we then took Wesley into the cross ties and saddled him up. On a downward slope, I remembered how big the horse is, fumbling just a moment with the saddle mustering the effort to swing it onto his back. Sarah is a good couple inches taller than me, so her large horses suit her stature. I'm sure her saddle-swinging abilities are far superior than mine, especially considering she lifts them multiple times a day as opposed to my once on my 15.3 hand horse.

Saddle and bridle on, Sarah wanted to longe Mr Wesley, who had Sunday off. She says this is the type of horse who should be worked twice a day daily, and I believe it. He's not bad, just very active and with a busy mind, she says A.D.D., but somehow to me that seems derogatory so I'll just say he has an active mind. The goofies worked out, she handed the reins to me and I mounted, with the mounting block for assistance.

The lesson was great, but instead of the minute-by-minute details, I'll instead describe the ideas that were further solidified for me, because they can always be translated to Milo. We worked on the lope serpentine exercise that I sheepishly admit I have not worked on in months with Milo. It was a great lesson to be reminded of its importance on Wesley. Wesley is a lead changing machine, who I had to stay diligent in keeping in on the lead I asked for throughout the serpentine. Finally, I managed to keep it and get straight work, including his hip which likes to float out to protect his hocks. Another good reminder to ride from the rear and always know where every part of the horse's body is at.

Another sharp reminder was the importance of where my hips are, and to maintain a soft or neutral position, never letting myself lock into one position. This happened once, maybe twice, and it was always evident that Wesley locked up too, so Sarah would direct me to go back onto a circle and torso twist until his back and mine freed up again. He is so sensitive to body placement, being as that is how Sarah always rides him, that he is a great reminder of my own body and how important it is to be in control of my own.

This lead into the importance of engaging a strong core, so Wesley can do likewise. We loped a while in my lesson and I had to maintain a stabilized core throughout - it sure is a workout! But a good reminder that because of it's difficulty, I havent been consistent with it in my riding of Milo. Had I been, it shouldnt have been so noticeable when on Wesley. And as an added bonus, when my core was stabilized, Sarah said my lower back was beautiful, soft and not tight. So making sure I'm working my core is even more important to maintaining softness through my lower back, a place I hold a lot of tension.

Finally, Wesley is similar to Milo in that he would rather not stay on the right rein for outside support, and instead likes to challenge me to ride off of the left rein, a terrible habit of mine anyways. But when I do that it is shockingly evident that he is not on the correct aid, and I get absolutely no bend in his body. Another good reminder to ride the outside rein, and only correct with the inside rein, not ride off that one.

Wesley was a tired boy by the end of the lesson, with foamy sweat and all. But I diligently groomed until he was dry and clean again, and back into the stall, and fresh water, he went. And since I think it's only right you all can meet "the other horse" I got a couple of crappy photos from my phone.

Where are my treats??
More on the rest of my Monday later.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Your Opinions Please

So I battled three blankets this season that didnt fit Milo very well. The heavy weight rubbed out his mane above his wither and left shoulder and chest rubs. The mid weight and light weight left shoulder and chest rubs as well. I hate the fit of all of them. I just spent a healthy $100 to get all three washed, repaired, and waterproofed. The plan was to sell the three of them to purchase one mid or heavy weight Hug Blanket, a blanket I know should fit well and I have seen many horses at the barn with them. However, the blanket (mid) and a hood (I want to keep my options open for body clipping again), for a discounted price, would be $119. Granted, if I sold the three blankets I would make $135 (at asking price) so that pretty much keeps me in the clear for a new blanket? Just out the cleaning and repair fees.

Or, I could keep the three old and rubbing blankets, and just invest in a lycra shoulder guard and/or full body sheet. And I would only spend about $35 for either. I still will have an issue of a well fitting hood (I hate the one I have now, which technically doesnt fit onto any of the blankets), and would need to buy one and risk it attaching to the blankets correctly.

This past winter with Milo's clip he remained in the heavy weight most of the winter, so it would only seem right to get a hood to attach to that blanket. The heavy blanket sits too far up on his wither and rubbed out his mane. I would be afraid that a hood might rub out even more. But I do want to keep my clipping options open as I was even considering a full body clip next year, and most likely invest in liner as I layered with the lightweight this past winter on exceptionally cold days.

So, say getting a mid weight HUG blanket might not even be enough warmth for him considering he spent most of the winter in the heavy weight and an occasional additional layer. Maybe getting a HUG heavyweight is a better option? About $40 more in price. So, sell the old heavy weight and light weight (I hate the lightweight too much to keep, and I rarely used it this season) and invest in one heavy Hug?

Naturally, in my frugal state (which was current even before the unemployment) I want to opt for the cheaper route. But would this really be cheaper in the long run? Especially if I consider the rubbing that might still take place? However, I have been wanting to replace my mid-weight blanket anyways for some time - I've been using and repairing the same one for going on six years, used when I had Koalt. I can't see buying a new blanket if it absolutely isnt necessary, or if I dont counter-act the cost by selling the others. I like having options for heavy, mid, or light and would be a bit nervous on just having one blanket.

Not to mention, now is a great time to stock up on winter supplies when everything is on closeout. I need to make a decision soon. I had planned all winter to clean and sell them all and invest in one nice Hug blanket, but now that that time has come, I'm putting on the brakes. I have someone interested in all three blankets, but I'm nervous to seal the deal, and end up regretting that decision later.

What would you do??

*Noting due to confusion in the comments the blanket brands are Saxon, Schneiders V-Fit, and Macpro-Tex. None of them fit correctly and by that I mean no rubbing on shoulders, chest, or mane.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

One Good Ride

The type of ride we all hope for.

My friend has been very nice in my unemployment and once a week she carpools me with her to the barn so I can save on some fuel costs. She works for the county in the summer as a flagger and her "home base" is only a few miles from my house making it easy for her to swing by and get me after work. A tired and hungry girl she was, we stopped at McDonald's on the way (I only had a small chocolate shake thank-you-very-much) and she passed out in her car as I cleaned pastures. Her tired and hungry little self just needed some fuel and bam! She was out like a light. Apparently Milo and I didnt know that as I opened the car door and began talking to her. Suddenly she jolted and looked around confused. Silly Clara.

It was five o'clock at the barn last night, and I knew that the lessons should be winding down. That and the fact that it off and on rained during my pasture clean, we decided to ride in the indoor arena. One lesson left after we arrived, with the other soon to follow shortly after. My friend, who is rehabbing her horse, upped his workload to ten minutes of walking and five minutes of trotting. I knew I would be in the arena longer than her, but we shared some riding time together anyways. And her funny and bottled up horse wanted to do everything but walk calmly; stare outside at the corners, check. Flip my nose away from the snaffle, check. Root the snaffle, check. Strike out, check. It was rather funny, in fact, because he wasnt being aggressively bad, just naughty. But could you blame him? Stall rest and minimal work. I'd be looking for something fun too.

Milo, on the other hand, did very, very well. A loose warm up a few laps, I drove him into the bridle working off the right outside rein. Arcing and bending here and there, pushing his hip out laterally underneath himself, all things he took in stride beautifully. I have also been concentrating more on my position when in the saddle, and I think I'm getting better. Knowing I have things to work on helps at least keep my mind proactive on them. He worked well off minimal rein cues - mostly just the balance from the outside rein, and I mostly was able to keep a quiet leg on him. He held his lifted and engaged frame on his own without my reminder from the spur every few strides. He also maintained the desired speed, no increase or decrease at his will. I could feel, however, his increase in drive as I torso twisted down the long sides a few times, but I totally allowed that remembering Sarah tell me that his "speed up" is his drive from the rear. He felt great. And with his consistency and maintaining his own balance, I was able to focus more on my position, making sure I was staying on my rear in upward and downward transitions, keeping a soft back (torso twists helps so much), soft elbows but solid secure hands, sternum to the sky, and leg back just a bit. Things came together nicely.

The arena cleared of the final lesson, but at this point I wasnt too concerned for our lope work. Milo was very in tune with me and I had no concerns about distractions, or drifting. Even when Heather brought Milo's girlfriend Missy into the arena to ride, he barely pricked an ear her direction, then came right back to me and finished our work without ever looking at her again. That is huge.

I loaded his outside hock and switched my hips for the lope departure. I wasnt in the wall reins, but remembered to maintain my outside contact and a little bend to the inside as needed. The first departure, I discovered my reins were too long. I gathered them up, and things were better for the second try, but I had rocked forward slightly. Finally I tried again and Milo stayed soft through the bridle and lifted his wither. Beautiful! Good Boy! We loped around the arena a bit and Milo felt fantastic. I softened my lower back and said Woah and Milo slid. Milo hasnt truely put the brakes on in a while. I believe due mostly to the fact that he hasnt been lifting his back up into that saddle as he was last night and by holding his own shoulders he was staying balanced and square in our loping, setting up up perfectly for a correct stop. What a good boy! I looked to Clara, who is always asking to see me stop Milo. I dont really stop him very much, and rarely in the indoor arena as he doesnt like the footing very much for a slide - too sticky and compact. But, naturally she didnt see it. Thats OK, I dont need someone's visual confirmation on the great stop that I felt from Milo.

A short walk break for Milo, then I gathered up the reins again and began trotting in the new direction. While I typically much enjoy riding where I constantly change directions all the time, in the indoor with other people riding I have to pretty much get everything done on the one side first before changing direction, as everyone has to be going the same way. But with only Clara and Heather riding with me now, we all changed. I set Milo up for the lope departure in our hard direction. He felt good, but I knew I needed to pick up the reins a bit more, and we needed to establish a better bend in his inside. I worked on that for a moment and got a nice bend. This direction is harder for him to truely bend and I knew if I didnt establish it before the lope, he would drop his shoulder throughout and it would be hard to get him balanced and over his rear again. I would prefer to step into it correctly then to work for it throughout the lope itself.

Ready this time, I loaded the outside hock, and Milo got anticipatory for the cue, popping his head up and dropping his back. So back to the trot we went, establishing a balanced leg yield. Good boy. I set him up again and he loped off nicely. No wither lift and I needed too much correction with my rein. After a lap or so I  slowed him to the walk and got ready to ask him again. And this time, my rein stayed steady, I had a slight amount of bend on the inside keeping his face supple, and I sat back, shifted my weight, and he rocked back onto his haunches, and loped off, wither lifted and all. Whatta good Milo!! I said and we loped a few circles maintaining a fairly even lope, needing some correction on the inside shoulder. But it was great for the hard direction.

I cooled him out, and worked a bit on our turnarounds, which he did well at. Dismounting, I did some shoulder delineations for Milo, who was not at all tight in the shoulder after the ride - progress!

And because everyone cant stand to not love Milo, a young boarder chatted with me as I groomed him, rubbing her hand on his face as Milo zened out, and running her hands along his back admiring how sleek, soft, and shiney he was. Her mother even asked what supplements I give to him because he always looks so great. It made a Mama proud.

Friday, May 27, 2011

New Stuff!

I love it when horse products arrive! As we know, Milo has been on a thirty day detoxifying cleanse with Dynamite Excel and Dyna-Pro, with a pyrantel paste halfway for our bi-yearly worming schedule. The last day is this coming Monday, and then he will start on the Dynamite supplements, as well as the Histacordabyne recommended by Sarah for horses in show season to help boost their immune systems. He was started on that this last week.

So, I preparation of the end of the thirty day cycle, I ordered the Dynamite supplements, which arrived unscathed. That same evening (the same day Milo tragically lost his favorite toy), Boyfriend brought home a very nice new load of horse cookies. He had been at Cenex picking up seeds for our garden in progress (post for another day) and so thoughtfully bought the oats and carrot flavored treats for him. It was naturally an exciting day for this equine-shopaholic. 

And on topic of the tragedy of the purple ball, I did find what I hope to be a suitable replacement. A local friend offered one of her herds' two small balls, and I picked one up from her on my way to the barn on Wednesday. At the very least it could tie Milo over until I could find another large one, or at best, he would love it and it would be a free and easy solution to his toy-deprived situation.

Well, it could have been that it was purple, reminding him of his lost friend, or that it was small and somewhat deflated making it less attractive to play with, or that it donned images of the Disney Princesses on it, but in any manner, Milo didnt approve of Mom's cheap solution. I hucked it over the fence as I went to retrieve his halter. Milo barely lifted his head. I walked into the pasture and soon Milo came to meet up with me, totally bypassing the new toy in his path. I kicked it, trying to instigate play, and he didnt even look. I haltered him and led him to it, which he looked at, then returned his gaze towards me. Clearly this solution wasnt going to work. Is it too soon for Milo?

I determined I needed to find a more suitable replacement and began searching online. With no brand listed on the limp, dead purple toy, I wasnt sure where to start. I searched "Large Jolly Balls" which came up with nothing but 10" sized ones, clearly not the size of his old friend. I found the special jumbo jolly balls, but they had no handle. A handle was a necessity for Milo, I knew this. I saw the very overly-priced "training activity" ball by Stacy Westfall, which not only held too large a price tag, but also didnt have a handle. Some suggested buying a human exercise ball, but the dilemma was still no handle. Somehow I came across what I could only believe to be the same item Milo previously enjoyed.

Ball Bounce & Sport Fun Hopper
Behold, a Hippity-Hop. A child's toy, yes. But it looked very similar to the style Milo had before, and must be strong; capable of holding a child's bouncing weight on it. But being my cheap and unemployed self, the $12.99 price tag still seemed too much after shipping. So I went with the generic version, a "Ball Bounce & Sport Fun Hopper". Well, as uncreative as that name is, I dont think Milo will care much and with two dollars cheaper, I ordered it in blue.

Standard shipping was applied (again, cheap and unemployed) so it may take a while for it to arrive and poor Milo will either have to buck up and play with the girl's toy, or be patient. We shall see what unfolds.

In the meantime, he has carrot flavored treats to tie him over, and I'm thinking I might snatch the already-chewed-on-and-sad-looking traffic cone from the adjacent outdoor arena. Shhh! Don't tell the barn owner!! ;)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Milo Meets Brooks and Dunn

My barn received two adorable little farm animals today to accompany the mini horse, Annie, in summer horse camps. Milo and I had yet to meet the little nuggets, and since they live next to the round pen I decided to introduce Milo to them. All was well as we made our way over to the freshly painted round-pen, until only mere feet away from it's entrance Milo heard a most terrifying sound. Slowly he crept ever closer to the demented noises, until finally we were in the round pen and he was seeing the tiny critters who were making the terrible noise. I let his halter off and he bolted to the other side of the round pen, goggling at them.

I crept closer to the little darlings and Milo stared at me in amazement.

What was causing all the fear? Two adorable little goats, named Brooks and Dunn. Just look at how sweet they are.

I believe it is Dunn and Brooks pictured here, but Im just going off of the fact that one is dun. 
They were so sweet, and super soft! I reached my hand through to pet and scratch them, which they much enjoyed. Milo, on the other hand, decided it was best to stay next to Annie, who, while small, served some protection from the strange midget creatures.

But with Mom so adept to the creepy sounding critters, he decided he could investigate, although carefully

You know you can't resist how cute they are Milo, admit it. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In Memory of a Fabulous Toy

Milo shared a lot of good times with a big purple rubber ball. It's finding was accidental. A facility I used to board at had it in their hay loft. The barn owner said that someone had left it after taking their horse. We all knew Milo to be a very playful horse, so we through it out into his pasture one day. He took to it like white on rice. He spent a lot of time playing with it, and giving us viewers lots of laughs and entertainment. He got so talented with it, throwing elaborate swings and even tossing it over his own back. You could instigate play with Milo by simply giving it a swift kick and he would run after it joyfully, returning it back to you to play some more.

After moving to our current facility, the ball came with us. Milo was then in a stall and run, but the ball was brought into it. Daily, if not more, he would throw it over his paddock's fence and into one of his neighbor's paddocks. The other horses would either stare at it in astonishment, or ignore it's existence completely. Everyone in the barn soon learned of Milo's talents and would eagerly retrieve his ball for him to watch him play some more.

Then he was moved down to the lower pasture, and again the ball came in tow. Now he had an entire pasture to play with it in. I worried slightly to the effects it might cause if he were to throw it over his fence-line and onto the busy highway. Fortunately, that never happened. I would be amused near daily as I would see the ball's new location in the pasture, indicating Milo had played with it. It was heavy enough that no breeze could have been moving it's position.

Even with Milo far away from the hustle and bustle of daily life in the main barn, I would be approached quite regularly from people giving first hand accounts on the playfulness of Milo. Many said they would stop their cars on the driveway and watch him for long periods of time, thoroughly enjoying his favorite toy.

So imagine my shock as I drove up the driveway, conducting my usual scan of the pasture: Milo, check. Jake, check. Purple ball, uh oh.

Yes, the giant buoyant ball which provided so many hours of entertainment for Milo and his observers, finally deflated. The culprit is that tiny hole present on one of the ripples. I can only imagine Milo's disappointment as it deflated within his grasp. The poor baby. I left it in the pasture anyways - Milo is still an inquisitive fellow and might find some fun out of it's limp body anyways. I won't be holding my breath though. 

Let's just remember the good-ole days.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Working With the Wall Reins

I took a sigh of relief as I filled the last water bucket. Standing now, I allowed my heart rate after an hour and a half cleaning workout to return to normal. As I waited for the bucket to fill, Sarah was riding her jumping horse, Rhett Butler. I enjoyed watching her ride him. It's not everyday I get to watch my own trainer riding her horses. I picked up on a few things I would later try and translate over to Milo. She held her spur behind the rear cinch. To those of you who havent seen the About the Horse saddles up close and tacked on, the rear cinch is only an inch or so away from the front, so don't envision her leg being way out behind her - rather it was directly underneath her hip and shoulder, as it should be. But I noticed this slight leg placement as something that could be highly beneficial to me and my ability to get my spurs caught in the rear cinch all too frequently. Secondly, Sarah didnt seem to have any sort of set "plan" as to where she was directing her horse. She just worked him this way and that as needed. It was good to see because I know sometimes I can get in the thinking of "Ok, lets start with a few minutes of serpentines, then move onto figure eights, some lope, spin work, then done". I find myself riding with a sort of routine. Riding just to ride and go where we please I believe would be highly beneficial to Milo and I.

I mulled this over a bit as I drove from her facility to where Milo is boarded. Having kept my tack in the trailer after the lesson for cleaning, I dropped it off at the barn first, then turned the truck down the driveway towards Milo's pasture. A final gulp of my Pink Lemonade, and I went out to catch him. He lead quietly, albeit somewhat slowly. I groomed him and forgot to tell you all that I had trimmed his straggling mane. It is now more even and a few inches shorter. I figured it helped even it up a bit and should allow for more even growth now. Oh, notice the clean bridle path too? I had been letting that go a little long as well.

And a better close-up:

I tacked up Mr Milo, and noticed that he wasnt near as sensitive to his back as he had been only a few rides prior. He also didnt walk forward into the cross-ties with an elevated neck and dropped back as I threw on the saddle. Progress? Staying consistent with the Cashel pad I think could be helping, along with a step back from the body work I was doing with him on the ground, which could have only been causing further soring.

I outfitted Milo and headed down to the arena. In my last post about the lesson I discussed the wall reins that Sarah had me use to help Milo elevate his wither and push from the rear into the lope departure. Later on Saturday Boyfriend and I made our way to Home Depot for starters for our garden, so we went to the rope section as well and that evening I fashioned my own wall reins. Cheap and inexpensive, I constructed 16 feet of climbing rope with four snaps (two with larger rings for easy rein passage), and electrical tape.

Looks like a lot going on here, but you will see that the wall reins attach to the cinch rings outside of the shoulder, emphasizing a "wall" for Milo to help own his shoulders. They do not attach underneath his legs in a more draw rein like fashion, creating more downward tension. Again, the purpose is for Milo to lift at his shoulder and hold his shoulders straight.

As I started the ride, the wall reins where inactive, with the clips attaching to the bit affixed to the d-rings on the front of the saddle. Keeping the wall reins handy if needed, but out of the way. All started well, with a nice warm up at the trot, bending through the body, and remembering to not "set a course" of riding. Milo was engaging from well from the rear and lifting up into the saddle. He seemed a touch speedy, but was engaged so I let him go. With consistency on both outside reins, good walk to trot transitions, and bend through his body, I wanted to try the lope departures first without the wall reins on his "good side". I loaded his outside hock, held my outside rein, remembered to sit on my butt with shoulders back, rotated my hips and into the lope we went. Not beautiful, with a lowered head, but no wither lift and some bracing on the bit. Back to the walk and we tried again. By the third or fourth attempt, Milo loped off nicely with a minimal wither lift but no tension through the bit. I walked him a circle or so and changed directions.

I figured we would certainly need the wall reins for this side, but initially Milo surprised me with a good level of softness on the outside rein and holding the outside shoulder on his own. The first transition I tipped forward, which resulted in a not so well transition. I set him up again, and he was very brace-y on the bit, so I decided to put the wall reins on for this direction. I dont so much like how much the wall reins bring his head in, but it does help with the transition and we need to help Milo build the appropriate muscle and muscle memory to depart correctly.

Theres one terrible transition in there, but we can see it is caused by my rocking forward onto my pelvic bone. Establishing what I thought to be a good transition with the wall reins, I removed them to try again without them. Looking at the video now, it appears he is leaping into the transition more than lifting into it. Still better than without the wall reins on, but good to see that that isnt exactly the feel that I am looking for.

Naturally throughout the ride Milo got periods of rest especially after some time in the wall reins to allow him to stretch out a bit. In this clip Im just letting in trot out and find that engagement in his rear again as well as a nice fluid, lifted back.

Now we tried those departures again without the wall reins. Theres a level of tension and anticipation for the departure, so I brought him back down and emphasized a strong inside bend, then a good outside load of the hock, maintaining some bend on his head to the inside (a leg yield pretty much). Unfortunately, the really nice departure was not caught on film, but the subsequent lope afterwards briefly is. I tried this new camera angle, but clearly it doesnt show as much as my other attempt. Next time I'll put it on the short side of the arena to try and get more on film. If you look close you can see how the wall reins were attached to the d-rings on the front of the saddle when not in use, if you are interested at all. Watching these videos helps emphasize to me what Sarah said at my lesson; "Just ride, dont overthink it" and I believe I was doing that. Thinking bend, then load outside hock, then lope. I need to just set him up but not get so attached to those beginning steps, as I have found it tends to lock down my body.

With that final good departure without the wall reins, I let him walk out and brought him up to the barn where I found that nasty streaming dirty sweat from the rear of the saddle pad. Clearly its hard work for Milo. He got a warm rinse off to clean him off and let his muscles cool down slowly. In the cross-ties, I tried another one of Peggy's exercises, Spine Roll. Basically you "push" the spine from side to side allowing some release of tension. Her book says its a great exercise for horses with tension in their shoulders and wither, so this seems an appropriate exercise for what we are working on.

Milo put away with sun-block and a mostly dry coat, I headed to the college for a much needed study session - final is on Wednesday!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is it Ever NOT Going to Stem from Me?

Milo was alert as he stepped off the trailer and onto Sarah's property. His head swung around and I tied him up to the trailer. Sarah was outside and had been expecting us, this was the lesson I had earned by working on Monday for her. Boyfriend had been a sport and hauled me to her property early Saturday morning. I groomed Milo and tacked him up, then led him into the arena so Sarah could check him over, and assess the saddle's fit. I hadnt mentioned before, but a photo taken of Milo and I made me realize that my rear cinch was not being snug down as much as it should be. But the rear cinch was as tight as it would go - the problem is just that the cinch itself is too long. I had brought my other one (the one it didnt come with and there fore does not match - oh no!) so Sarah could determine if it would be better to use. Which she did, and we snugged it down to where it should be. I sent an e-mail to Dave at About the Horse, Inc, hoping I could get an exchange for the cinch he sent, but havent heard back yet.

Milo still looking around, Sarah handed me a Motivator stick and I did some groundwork with him. He was in his nylon halter and lead rope attached to the side, which would suffice for minimal groundwork exercises. The idea was to get Milo focused on me and utilizing his body. Within a few minutes, he was more present with me, still with pricked ears, but meeting the contact in the lead rope, engaging his rear for a few steps and bending his body while I asked him to reach up and out with his inside hind. He wasnt phenomenal in his attempts, but baby steps are accepted steps right now - just building strength in those hocks. Sarah commented how different he looks in comparison to when she first met him, exampling that he no longer looks like "two guys in a horse suit" and instead is beginning to look like a very nicely put together horse, whose posture has changed, saying what a pretty boy Milo-Triton was (Triton being another horse she had worked with who exhibited a mouthy demeanor much like Milo). The other direction, to the right,  I must admit, I am less coordinated, and after a few walking circles I asked Milo to trot which he refused. Continuing to motivate with the stick on the top of his rump, he finally let a huge buck out and went into the trot. Bad little Milo! But a few minutes of trot work yielded some nice engagement and lateral stepping, and my horse was feeling more present still, so I led him over to Sarah. We decided to put him back into the lifter bit (I had brought both it and the snaffle). I had felt that in my last ride he was really understanding to work off of the outside rein again, but I knew I was going to need the lift and support of the lifter bit for our canter work.

Not sure what Sarah was going to have me work on this lesson, I began walking him around her outdoor arena, torso twisting and letting him take in his surrounding, and the many new horse eyes watching in. Soon Sarah directed me to pick up my reins more, which I did, allowing Milo some support. She commented how well he was tracking up at the walk, and soon asked me to trot. He finally got over the other horses and hunkered down to some work; we did some basics, circling arcing, leg yielding, changing direction, and most importantly, regaining that shoulder control again. All was going well and soon Sarah said to put him into the lope, reminding me to load him onto the outside hock, rotate my hips and off into the lope. I did and the usual happened - Milo's head popped up into the transition and it took a few strides for him to re-balance. Sarah instructed me to do it again, this time taking up more rein, and directing me to not allow him to pop his head up, to really set him up to transition correctly. Again, we got a popped and bracing head, and Sarah said she wanted to put him in "wall reins" today. I thought about that as she went to retrieve them - I had never heard of wall reins before.

Sarah came out with a polyester rope with four snaps attached and she attached them to his girth rings on the outside of his shoulders, through the end of the bit and back over - they were looking more like draw reins. I think Sarah saw some concern on my face - everyone has heard the terrible things about those dreaded draw reins. Sarah explained that these were wall reins, meaning with the rein through the outside it creates a stronger block on the outside - more like increasing the outside wall pressure so he cant pop his head up and instead needs to rotate onto his hind end and lift his wither into the transition. She further explained this is not for a headset as draw reins are commonly used for, and not a use for everyday as they can create a dependency on them. They are to show Milo that he needs to stop looking for a evasion to the bit and needs to depart from the rear.

I tied my leather reins to my saddle horn, and walked around the arena a bit, letting Milo get used to the wall reins. He was figuring them out pretty well and Sarah asked me to gather them up and go up into a trot. I discovered how different they felt (naturally) but also how much more outside support they were giving to Milo who now was much more aware of his shoulders. Soon, Sarah instructed me to set him up for the lope departure again and this was to the right. We were departing from a walk, to really emphasize lifting his rear and departing correctly, not just falling into it as can be done at the trot. The first few attempts werent very good with Milo she said, looking for every attempt to not have to depart on his hind end.

Soon, it was evident that a lot of the forehand "popping" was because of me (as things always are) - I was rocking forward onto my pelvic bone, putting my weight onto my forehand and Milo therefore had to lift himself and me up off of it. Once this was realized, I attempted the next time to sit on my butt, but still support Milo with the reins. This time, Milo departed much better, so we changed directions. This side is much easier for Milo, whose inclination is to bend more easily in this direction. And by this I mean his whole body - while the other side he easily arcs his barrel and hip, he bulges out the shoulder thereby not bending his entire body as he does on this other side. After a few attempts, and I maintained my weight on my seat. and engaged my core, Milo departed beautifully with a lift at the wither similar to that I had felt when I had my lesson on Wesley. I loped Milo off straight for a little while then down to a walk giving him lots of praise and patting. I let out the reins and let him stretch himself out. This was important Sarah said because they can easily get tight in the wall reins, so a lot of transition from wall rein to stretch is imperative.

I gathered the reins up again and we tried it again the harder direction to the right. It took a few attempts again, but finally he departed ok, but although his head had remained down with his back up, and he departed from the rear, his wither didnt lift and he held some bracing on the bit. So we tried again, and he got a minimal wither lift the next attempt. Sarah said she wanted the wall reins off now and to try it with just the regular reins now. So we did, and I was reminded to pick up more rein, as is my usual problem. In my efforts to be "nice" I'm not supporting Milo as he needs it, and therefore making it harder on him to perform correctly. There will be a time where I can cue with a light rein, but now he needs the support of the rein and lifter bit to move correctly. And we have to get Milo out of his evasive pattern of popping his nose to the sky for the lope transition (which in part is due to my position).

So I asked again to the left, holding my outside rein soft but firm, and he departed nicely after the second attempt. Again, a short walk, then reverse and try the harder direction. As I needed to correct with the rein, Sarah noted I was allowing my hands' movement to tip my upper body forward. While I was trying to stay on my rear, my front end was crumpling forward, and even just a shoulder change, Sarah noted, is reflected to the horse. In fact, she said, when we "disappear" like that (no support in our own shoulders) it can scare the horse because we are no longer there for them, but suddenly engaging the bit. I realized after she said that that  was precisely what I was doing. So I tried again and got a better, not wither lifted, but better depart.

As we had arrived late, it now ran into the time slot for her next lesson, so Sarah left me to try it again on my own as she helped with the saddle fit of the next horse. I worked on it, and working on it, and soon discovered in myself that I was overworking it and Milo was getting dull and tired. So I worked on some basic walk to trot, nose in and hip out again to regain hip control (he had began to swing it in in the lope depart in an effort to not have to depart off of it). Finally, after some time I asked again and while it wasnt totally beautiful I felt a minimal effort of lift in his wither so I called that good - I wasnt going to get much better from a tired horse in his hard direction.

The next two riders came into the arena, one lesson going to be on Wesley. I pointed out to Boyfriend the horse that shares his name, and he later said how pretty he thought Wesley was. Maybe he was a little biased? Milo cooled down, I led him to the trailer and tied him up. Boyfriend went to fill his water bucket, and I found Sarah who was going to give me some Histocorbidyne, a recommended "immune-booster" from Dynamite. She recommended all competing horses be on it as it boosts their system during times of stress and exposure to other horses. The 25lb container from Dynamite is $170, something she new my unemployed self would not be able to afford. So she scooped a few helpings into a bucket for me and it would at least provide for Milo in the next week or two while this EHV-1 scare is in place. I thanked her profusely for it, and the lesson, and she thanked Boyfriend for taking me. I would see her again on Monday for work, but would probably receive that week's lesson on Wesley, as I can't expect Boyfriend to haul me every weekend, just hopefully every other weekend.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whats the Difference?

I'm wondering if there is a corrolation between the last two exceptional rides I have had. A few days ago I posted about a fantastic ride I had, suggesting that I had found "it" again (referring to that connection I had felt sliping away). I was in the indoor arena, in the bareback pad, riding in a snaffle bit. When I rode on Tuesday after the trail ride, although the trail ride itself was relaxing and pleasant, the work in the arena had not been. I did not go into details, as it was nothing terrible, but nothing amazing as I had experienced the day before.

Wednesday I had another one of those exceptional rides. Everything came together - Milo was nearly completely acceptant of the outside rein (either side), was extremely aware of his body and what I might consider "present" in himself, and did not feel "off" in any way, may that be in lateral steps (no hinderment), bending his spine, and even in downward transitions. Overall, you could say as I will, that Wednesday's ride was absolutely fabulous. I felt more connected to my horse than I had even on Monday's ride, and everything came together beautifully. As MiKael said in the comments, Milo and I have been dancing as we should be. She also commented that like any dance the fumbles with come but they are easier to overcome if we allow ourselves to accept that it is part of the dance.

So what is the secret? What is so different between yesterday's ride, and the ones before? I'm wondering if it really has to do with all of the exterior stimuluses. Tuesday Milo was in the saddle, in the outdoor arena. Monday and Wednesday (the fabulous rides) Milo was outfitted in the bareback pad and in the indoor arena. While I can certainly credit some balance due to the level footing in the indoor arena, can I really go as far to say that he works better in the indoor? No, I dont think so. I have found in the past that Milo is distracted in the indoor, and tends to seemed "cramped" and "explosive" in the indoor (less straight lines, more people riding). While in the outdoor he overall seems (in general) more relaxed and capable to slow down. Unfortunetly, the outdoor makes him work harder and has uneven terrain, typically making the balance and cadence in our ride feel off as he has to work harder to maintain balance.

Or it could be the difference between the saddle and the bareback pad. I think this is a large factor. One of the reasons I believe it effects our work is that my legs tend to "float" in the stirrups. I have posted in the past how when I get back into a saddle I would  lose my stirrups frequently. I dont seem to have this problem so much anymore, but I have found that I am not holding my weight in my heels. Not heels up, but not weight down. As when bareback, I balance off of my inner thigh, and my leg hangs gently to the sides. I never had stirrups to balance off of (discovered quickly I was balancing in the outside stirrup, so when bareback would nearly keel off the outside). While this was a good thing because it taught me how to ride centered and built muscle, now I'm having an issue when riding in the saddle. This seems to translate to all of my leg cues, muddling up the request.

Secondly, I think Milo still holds a level of fear about lifting into the saddle. He doesnt know that it fits him well, he instead (I believe) is remembering the  years worth of poor fitting saddles, and the tension he held in his shoulders to accomodate for it. Granted, there have been more than a handful of rides (mostly at lessons) where I have felt my horse elevate and round his back underneath me, building trust in the saddle. I have only felt this a few times in the new saddle. What's happened? Well, I have a lesson with Sarah on Saturday, and it will be the first time that she asseses the new saddle on Milo for herself. I'm sure we will find all is well with the fit, but maybe something else is "out" back there - he still is displaying a low level of soreness to his back. Although, now as I think about it, he is rounding beautifully in the bareback pad...

I think what it really comes down to is that I have become very comfortable with riding bareback for the last seven months. I think we have built a relationship with those subtle body cues and shift of weight, that neither one of us feel it well in the saddle. I know that I feel as though I cannot feel my horse from my legs, and that cues in the stirrups are harder for me. I also find myself getting tangled in the rear cinch and a tendancy to "curl" my leg again. I mentioned at my last lesson with Sarah that I felt I had to cue excessively for Milo to respond. Maybe all that leather is just hindering our communication?

Or maybe I just think about things too much, and fail at putting all the thoughts I have had the past few weeks and months into a concise post.

At any rate, I look forward to my lesson on Saturday, and will bask in the happiness of the wonderful ride I shared with Milo on Wednesday, remembering the soft feel we had in the snaffle, the control I had over my own body, and the balanced work my horse gave to me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hitting the Trails with a Good Friend

I think it might be safe to say that Spring is here in the Pacific Northwest. While rainy days will still be upon us, its been pretty consistent to have days above 50 degrees, and some sunshine. I'm taking a word of advice from Boyfriend, and trying to enjoy my "time off" as something like a vacation. It is nice to be home with the sunshine out! As said before, Milo is naked now, at least until the flies get worse, then his fly sheet will go on. I hosed and scrubbed last year's fly mask in preparation for this years' use - he's already getting a little more pink on his nose.

Yesterday my friend from WSU, who is home for the summer now, picked me up from my house and brought me to the barn. She works for the county in the summer, and it's Central Kitsap location is only a few minutes from my house. Bless her for helping me out! But lord knows how many times I drove her to school back in High School! :)

Anyways, we decided with the beautiful weather, and her horse back from Pullman, to hit the trails for a short ride. Her horse is overcoming some sort of ailment, but is not out-right lame. She has been walking him only, and increasing the time spent in the saddle each day. I knew of a good loop we could take on the trail that avoided hills and rocky surfaces. We headed out, and had a fabulous time. Milo, when even in the rear, was not very tense and upset about succumbing the lead position, but walked nicely behind, albeit closely behind. But Major and Milo have what we call a "Bro-mance", so Major didnt mind.

We had a fantastic relaxed ride, and Milo was relaxed through his topline, and I even was able to pick up the outside rein and he met my contact. We arced back and forth on the trail, and I did some torso twisting, reinforcing softness through both our bodies. The trail ride was short, but lovely.

Clara seems a little challenged when finding center in the camera... :P
Clara and Major (Pookie-man)
The best part of the trails, are the trails themselves. Coming to and from those trails is the challenging part. Tense and distracted was Milo as we walked past the last house on the long dirt-road driveways leading to the trail head. He must have feared the God-awful pogo-stick awaiting him for his demise. Theres no other way to describe it as definitely not fun and not relaxed. This same scenario played out as we exited the trails, Milo immedietly went onto red-alert, side-stepping away from the evil house, head in the air and ignoring all aids. We made it past the house though, and Milo let out a sigh. We were upon the large pasture with barking running dogs now, and Milo could care less. The rest of the walk home was relaxed, and forward as his anticipation grew for dinner. I instead directed him to the outdoor arena for a little work for two reasons: a. Milo hadnt been worked more then maybe 40 minutes at the walk, and b. I want to reinforce to him that home from the trails doesnt mean tune out Mom and get ready for dinner. He did alright in the arena, a bit distracted and not wanting to work. But we got a bit of nice, basic work in and called it an evening.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Finding it Again

The last few rides I decided to take a few steps back. Thursday I outfitted Milo in the saddle and Cashel pad, snaffle bridle, and began with some connected groundwork. And by this I mean some basic connection exercises: combing the line, drawing the bow, some shoulder delineation, caterpillars, and drawing the bow and combing the line in motion. I added some bending through Milo's spine as well, asking the hindquarters to reach out and under. With a calm and responsive horse, I climbed aboard. I kept the ride simple; long serpentines at the walk with lots and lots of torso twists. I wanted my horse to "find himself" again and not turtle himself into his shoulders with tension. After some time, I felt some engagement coming from the rear, and I upped the serpentines to the trot. I continued with our long straight lines, and easy large turns, torso twisting in a rhythm. A few times I had to remind myself to breathe slowly and methodically, to bring Milo down from a slightly heightened state. But we found a rhythm again, and my horse was pushing up into the saddle again.

I moved into some figure eight works, just asking for balance on the outside rein, and some arcing as needed. It was about 50/50 for Milo staying on the outside rein. The work wasnt perfect, but we were progressing to what I know we can be again. A few hock strengthening exercises, and I was happy with the ride, dismounting and putting Milo away.

I didnt get to see Milo until Monday - thats three whole days! Don't go calling me an irresponsible Momma, I would have loved to go but gas prices leave me consolidating my driving still. Sarah struck up a deal with me knowing I am in a rough patch but not wanting to spend money on lessons. She needed work on Mondays, and in exchange I can have lessons. So yesterday I made my way to her place and cleaned the stalls and watered the horses as she worked her Wesley and Max. I was able to sneak some peaks at her riding, and it was great to be able to talk to her again.

I headed out to Milo, and the closer I got to the barn, the harder it began to rain. Looked like I would be riding in the indoor. I haltered my horse who was surprisingly grazing in the rain. He has been without a blanket now for about a week, and typically even with a blanket on is a big baby about the rain, always hiding in the dry shelter. I guess that incoming spring grass was just too tempting.

He lead quietly with me to the barn, where I groomed him and chatted with the barn feeder. Milo didnt seem like a handful, but was mouthy grabbing at the cross ties and sensitive to touching his shoulders (by sensitive I mean mouthy - not biting but a lot of head activity, not sensitive from pain. He can get like that I think its from when his ribs were out, I believe he (like with the saddle) still associates a touch with pain so gives a loud reaction). I thought it would be a good day to start with some groundwork and go from there. So I outfitted him in his pink bareback pad thinking if I was going to get on, I'll give his back a break. It would be a good opportunity to find my seat again, and help Milo trust lifting up underneath.

He seemed a little opinionated at the "lunge" work, not seeking a connection from the line and resisting to walk forward freely. So I stopped him and worked simply on combing the line, and finding some connection. He started to meet me and close his eyes into his dreamy, zone-like state he gets into when we find connection. I then did some shoulder delineation to help his muscles relax, and incorporated some forward motion from that. Milo seeked some connection now and kept his head telescoped. He let out a huge sigh and licked his lips, so I stopped him there.

For those of you who have been trying some of the exercises in Peggy's book, what changes have your found in your horse now after some consistent work? I have found that after finding connection, my horse is relaxed through his shoulders and neck, with a telescoped head and neck. His posture changes and he carries himself more over his hindquarters. When I stop him as suggested from Peggy in the book, he stops easily and square, with a relaxed demeanor and still telescoped head - meaning he is stopping from his rear and not planting on the forehand. I have found this quite interesting to observe the apparent changes in my horse, after only a few weeks with a handful of exercises - I havent even finished the book yet!

So onto the ride, I climbed aboard, and Milo got a little tense and fidgety. His head went up and his back braced as he tried to scoot away a step or two. I stopped him and sat calmly, finding my neutral position. We stood quietly for maybe thirty seconds, Milo reaching his head down and relaxing his back. The lesson student rode by giving me an open change to get onto the rail, so we did. I started with a lot of walking, probably moreso than I typically do. I spent a long time torso twisting and waiting for Milo to start engaging his rear. Once he finally did, we cruised around a while like this, thoroughly enjoying the connection. I pushed him into the snaffle now, taking hold of the outside rein. First was the hard one - the right rein. But Milo surprised me by picking it up quietly and still staying straight. I would change my hips and lightly put my leg back and we would arc. I counter bended as needed, and brought my shoulder back when needed too, Milo was actually seeking contact.

This continued at the trot, my horse was driving from the rear, I could feel his back lifted so much more than I had in recent rides, his head was down and his contact was reaching. He wanted to find that balance in the outside rein, and he was floating around the ring beautifully, even as we changed directions, circled, arced, or half passed. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, in tune with myself and my horse and elated that we were getting some nice work done.

The arena cleared and I started to lope. Milo was snarky in the lope at first to the right - pinning his ears, avoiding contact, and hollowing his back, and trying to drop down to the trot. I would bring him back down to a trot, re-set him up properly and as needed, repeat until we got a nice balanced departure and lope strides that were collected and on the outside rein. It took some attempts, but finally he loped off nicely, began seeking some contact again, and lifting his back. He tried dropping his shoulder through corners, but I didnt correct him too much I was just seeking a cadenced lope - which it was on the straight lines. I remembered to keep my leg on him as I cued for a downward transition, and Milo stepped into the trot not beautifully, but still balanced.

I gave him a breather and got him rebalanced on a circle again, holding his shoulder on his own. Ready to lope off in the left lead now, the next lesson came in so I postponed it for a moment until I figured out where they would be in the arena. They began lunging, so the arena was now cut in half as I wasnt going to lope by a horse on the lunge-line. No matter, I loaded Milo on his outside hock and changed my hips for the lope. Again, he first few were a little rough, but by the third transition or so he stepped into it nicely with elevation. He easily found the outside rein this direction (odd since it is the right one), and loped right off with a lifted back. We loped a few circles, transitioning as needed, where he gave some nice downward transitions. The other horse was done lunging now, so I loped him in some straight lines utilizing 3/4 of the arena while I could. Milo loped beautifully straight, still seeking that outside rein, and balanced. I brought him down to a trot in another nice transition, and let him walk out a bit.

His head was low and his back still up as I let out the reins for a breather for him. I cooled him down in some more of those hock exercises, moving them into partial spins as well. I walked him straight to the rails and by the third one got a nice tucked stop, so I slid off and gave him a solid pat and good boy.

Maybe I just needed a little Sarah influence?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Snoozing into Spring

I assumed that by the time I was finished cleaning the pastures, Milo would have had a long enough sleep - it was about an hour now he had been on the ground. But even after I approached him, he slept for another forty minutes or so. 

 I kept the photos unedited, because the sunshine and light gave god enough color to most of them. I took a lot, but here are the favorites. 

Down again...
Up again...

Still sleepy...

And down again...

The roll only led to more laying down...
And sleeping...
I noticed Milo's heartbeat when he was laying down...it reminded me of when I can feel my own heartbeat in some odd location when I'm sitting funny...I'm strange, I know.

Even the Old Man Jakers got up from his snooze before Milo, who was...

Down again and out for the count. 
And he began to make strange noises as he slept...

And obviously had some good dreams too. 

Aha, finally time to get up.
And shake all over me.