Saturday, April 30, 2011

It's All About the Horse

SQUEEE!!! My saddle arrived yesterday afternoon!! I had been tracking it on UPS online since Monday when it shipped, and eagerly awaited for the UPS truck to arrive at the office. I had strategically planned to have it shipped to the office so that I wouldnt have either a) someone steal it off of my front porch or b) wait another day to put it on Milo. The beautifully big box arrived, and this was a far more exciting delivery then any old office supplies.

I loaded it into my truck and at day's end we headed out to the barn.

I frantically used by keys to open the box, having forgot my pocket knife at home. In my haste, I was able to get the thick packing tape ripped open.

My first glimpses of the saddle!
Milo looked on, asking "Whats going on over there, Mom?"
"Oh something very, very special Milo. Just you wait and see."

Its even balanced on a truck sideboard!
I grinned from ear to ear, devouring its sheer elegance, and believe me, saddles can be elegant. I stared at it for a little while, called the Boyfriend saying I had it (through my squeals of joy I'm surprised he even understood the conversation). But being Friday, there were pastures to clean before I could really start with my saddle. I ran through those chores like no one's business, then drove the saddle up the barn, deposited it on my tack truck, then headed back down to the pasture to retrieve my horse.

I collected Milo and when I arrived in the barn aisle-way I had an audience, waiting for me to put the saddle they all have witnessed me wait for for the long grueling months. So I did, gladly.

Now to refresh your memory, lets go through all of the specifications on the saddle, shall we? The saddle is built on a #2 bar About the Horse tree, in Reiner design. It is built in genuine Herman Oak Leather, promising durability and longevity. It is a 15.5" seat, measured from thigh width. It has a custom ordered "show line" skirt on it, providing not only the larger skirt size, but the butterfly cut out for closer contact.

White stitching throughout
Rawhide Rope Roll with silver lacing. Rosettes adorn the rear, with d rings and trail strings for more accent. Chocolate edging throughout, giving an even greater finished and detailed look, drawing in the chocolate from the seat.  

Attention to detail, even in the knife holder on the flank cinch. 

More detail still, in the stamped pre-turned bell stirrups. Stamped logo on stirrup hobbles for more accent. 
More attention to detail in stamped About the Horse Logo on hand made mohair cinch. 
But heres where the really great qualities of the saddle come to play:

The diamond plated rigging system, unique to About the Horse, Inc saddles. You fellow westerners will notice the angle difference in this rigging for sure. It is great for horses like Milo, who are wide at the shoulder, narrow behind the wither, then wide through the belly. Though this rigging is compatible with most any horse, it is a perfect "close contact" feel for Milo. 
This diamond rigging allows for complete shoulder freedom!! Milo should be super excited and feel confident in lifting up into this saddle. 
Right Milo? Super excited? Mom here is elated! You could show a little bit of enthusiasm. Do you know how much money was spent on this, and how long I have waited for it?
"Feels like a saddle to me, Mom. Saddles mean work."
Alright grumpy-pants. But you look so darned cute in it!!
And then, the magic moment, where at long last my hinney graced the folds of my own fitting western saddle again. Sheer joy I tell ya. 

But the best thing about Dave's About the Horse saddles are not their beauty (though that is a strong contender). Its that the saddles fit the horse correctly, and they put their rider where they are supposed to be. With the help of Sarah, I can maintain this correct position. 

I'll let you all absorb this marvel, with more on the first ride to come!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Milo Goes for a Wild Ride

It was dentist-day at the barn yesterday. A very skilled dentist from Eastern Washington makes the long trip out here bi-yearly to float horses in our area. Since Milo only needs yearly maintenance, we skipped Fall's visit, but scheduled for Spring's.

The unsuspecting victim coming to greet Mom at the gate:

I lead Milo into the abysmal black hole of a stall at the end of rows in the main barn. Milo was feeling uneasy the closer and closer we got, seeing the hanging tortures of death, and tools scattered all around. Putting nerves aside, he walked into the stall and within a few moments not only got the slimy green grass that was left in his mouth now deposited on his brilliant white face (thank you, Dr. Dentist that was much appreciated, while you stand there and snigger now), but was succumbed to the sleepiness of the sedation within moments.

Dr. Dentist got right to work.

Smoke billowed out of the noisy, spinning tools and although Milo was under the sleepy doped up powers of drugs, he was still rather active, considering. I dont blame him: the shrill noises of the intstruments at the human dentist get my nerves going, and these are ten time louder! He stayed relatively stationary, however, and let the Doc do what he does best.

After some work on the incisors, Milo was still feeling a little ... out of it.

How ya doin there, buddy?

By the expression in your eyes, you must be a little confused about what just happened, eh?

The good doc also removed three relatively small beans from Milo's sensitive area. Considering I just cleaned it not too long ago makes me feel weak in my abilities, but I also wasnt putting my hand so far up with fears of never getting it back. So I guess it works out.

Once he was stable enough to walk, I led him a few yards away to the round pen where he could wake up before making the long walk to the pasture, and the too ample food cunsumptions down there.

Walking is still kinda hard for me, Mom. Ill just take it nice and slow...

Hmm, stare off over here?
And then he caught the glimpse of a smaller someone..

Woah, woah, woah. What is this?
I can only imagine what Milo's doped up brain was making of this new discovery, I can only imagine it is something we might see on a comedy about doped up teenagers getting into shenanegans. Or maybe I'm just making up weird stories? 

Are you seeing this, Mom??
Hey wait...come back...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Inch by Inch...

Yesterday's ride yielded a few strong reminders:
  1. Always ride the horse (and mind frame) that you have in front of you that day. Dont set expectations for perfection - things take time.
    1. Don't forget that your horse is always mirroring your own riding. Having a problem with getting on that right rein? Look at your own body's alignment - are you sitting squarely in neutral postur? Or are you allowing your left hip to lock forward and create a twist in your body, one you cant possibly expect your horse to compensate for, therefore he has a twist in his body.
  2. Set things up properly for ultimate success.
    1. We are in a large arena, give ample room for the maneuvers being addressed
    2. Don't expect a lead change on a tight turn, heed the above suggestion.
    3. Nose in, hip out for the spin exercise. Reviewing video, we had nose out hip out, no wonder he couldnt balance on the inside leg.
  3. Finally, appreciate the great effort your horse is giving you, even if the maneuvers are looked upon as perfect. This is all new for the horse as yourself, remember:
Inch by inch, its a cinch. Yard by yard, it's really hard.

If you didnt get my drift, I taped myself riding yesterday and our issues were shockingly translated on tape.

I do love my Milo. Not my terrible roots though! GAH!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Reinforcer From Before

I received my long awaited book Connect with your Horse from the Ground Up by Peggy Cummings on Saturday. I didnt dive right into it, waiting for myself to be a little more receptive to the knowledge inside. But I did finally start reading last night. There are some great concepts and terminology addressed in the beginning of the book, but the few that really stood out to me where equal and opposing pressure, and the concept of meet and melt. Both of these ideas and concepts coincide with what my Farrier was interpreting to me on Friday, an idea I represented in yesterday's post.

I wont go into great detail so you can find it for yourself in the book, but this is a fantastic theory about how we manage our own bodies and how the horses respond. Truely fasinating. I look forward to progressing throughout the book.

Heres a sweet photo of Milo from Friday though, to get you through the day:

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Seven Week Photo Challenge

Milo had his second visit from the new farrier on Friday. I thought I would share his pre-trim feet in comparison to those done prior to the new farrier, at the same length of time: 7 weeks.

Fronts before New Farrier:

Fronts after New Farrier:

Even though I still see slight inbalances, some that the farrier noted as well, his front hooves do look like they are made for each other now, whereas in the before photo, the two look completely different. While the after photo still shows feet which need trimmed, they dont look near as terrible as the before ones. That speaks volumes to how effective the new trimming has been!

Hinds before New Farrier:

Hinds after New Farrier:

I still see some similarities between the two, but nothing really all that bad. Probably the most notable difference however is how much longer they are in the before photo, versus that of the after (again each photo was taken 7 weeks post trim). Also, they too look like they "belong" together, versus the before photo, which still looks like two different hooves. Overall, I think the proof is in the pudding and after sevens weeks trim, Milo still seems to be on better track then he was before. Plus his ribs have stayed in place, and he has been moving fabulously!

I have a good time chatting with this farrier; he is very knowledgeable and has a lot to say if you get him going. One of the many topics we discussed and what I found very applicable to Milo particularly, was the purpose of flaring in hooves. I asked my farrier if this is something to be concerned about, and true to character he answered in a kind of round-about way. His analogy was a loosely filled water balloon - you know the type that you can still step on and it wont pop. Well, place that balloon on the ground and step directly in the center, the water and balloon will puff out all directions, looking like a donut. But if you step on it just slight of center, it will force most of the water out one direction.

A flare occurs (basically) by the weight of the body being placed off center to that balloon, thereby causing the hoof wall (water) to bulge out to one side. The flare doesnt call for too much of a concern soundness wise, my farrier said. Flares are caused by conformation flaws, but in Milo's case he suggested, nothing to get concered about, just something to mildly treat in our trims. Interesting.

He also said he finds Milo as a much more content horse. Last time, Milo was fidgety, mouthy, and borderline rude to the farrier. He even said to me he was slightly nervous on how Milo might escalate that on our visit Friday, but was happy to find Milo did not.

As I went out in the pasture to gather Milo, the little s.hit turned tail and walked the other direction of me straight towards the farrier. (More groundwork in the pasture, Milo? You little poop??) He trotted, non confrontationally straight into the farrier's face as if to say "Who are you in my pasture?" My farrier didnt move a muscle as Milo came towards him, but didnt radiate tenseness or fear. It was cool to watch even though I was lengths behind Milo. Farrier's demeanor basically told Milo he was no "threat" to his pasture, but also not someone to run right over in lack of respect.

Once Milo was haltered and Farrier began working, there was a moment where Milo tensed up the front leg he was working on, and held the tenseness, seeing what the farrier would do. Farrier just moved with him - didnt try and hold his leg or get tense himself, didnt wack him on the belly with the rasp. Milo sighed and licked his lips, relaxing his leg. He also was really calm about his hind legs, which is a game/test he likes to play with the farriers as well. Again, Farrier didnt react really in any way, and Milo was fine again.

This sparked some conversation between the two of us afterwards, and he explained that he has found that tensing up as well not only nine times out of ten makes the horse pull back even more, but also ends up hurting himself. So Farrier has learned to just move with their movements, and the horses relax just fine. This was a cool concept with Milo, a horse who likes to test his limits and almost "pick fights".

I am really pleased with this farrier all around.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hips to Hips

I serpentined and torso twisted, finding my bearings in the saddle again. Milo was feeling a little on the lazy side as we warmed up, and once up to the trot, Sarah handed me The Motivator. The Motivator is basically a cross between a dressage whip and a training stick. Its as long as a dressage whip, but firmer, although still allowing some flexibility. The Motivator is designed by Peggy Cummings, and I have used Sarah's twice before for ground work exercises to make him reach laterally in his hind, as well as when I rode Wesley, and used as it's name suggests: a motivator or reminder to use their hind end.

Motivator in hand, I tapped Milo's croup as needed when he was dull to my leg aid. Milo doesnt walk fast to begin with, but there is a difference between walking slow with engagement, and just walking slow. A tap from The Motivator reminds Milo what his booty is there for. I had voiced to Sarah something I had been noticing in our lessons, and that is that Milo seems extremely dull to my leg aid. Bareback, it requires very small amount of leg aid, but under-saddle I'm constantly bumping him along and I hate when I end up deferring to the spur as the spur is not intended for forward. She remarked that under saddle he reverts back to his "old days" when he was not motivated at all to work due to poor fit and he was generally uncomfortable in many ways. The Motivator, or something of similar qualities, would be a great item for me to use for under saddle when he is lacking forward, and on the ground for exercises.

Fighting my outside (right) rein again, Sarah gave a great suggestion and that is when he feels like hes not reaching for that outside rein, bring my shoulder back slightly. Wouldnt you know when I just barely rotated my shoulder back, there came Milo on the outside rein. Its as if all along he's been saying "just put your shoulder back and I can get on the outside rein, sheesh Mom".

We worked on hip out and nose in on the figure eights, really making Milo reach laterally with his hind legs. And we could see where he has more strength in one hock versus the other. On the left side, he has what feels like a flat tire. He kind of scuffles along and wants to side step out instead of reaching laterally with his outside leg (outside leg - right, inside leg - left, even though the left is what is reaching outward). He doesnt want to reach laterally with his right (inside) leg and instead trying to compensate with the stronger left leg but just reaching that one out. So when he should be crossing his inside over the outside and reaching out with both, he is only reaching out with the outside, not with the inside as well.

We started to get a few correct steps, and moved onto the half pass across the figure eight diagonal. Much harder for him still to half pass to the left, where his right leg is required to reach up and over. I learned a valuable tip from Sarah and that is to not set a goal or length for the half pass. Instead, half pass a few steps, go straight, half pass a few more, go straight again. And the outdoor arena is great for this exercise because its  sides are so long I can work a lot into one line. Sarah mentioned this will be a great exercise for Milo because it isnt drilling the maneuver but gives him subtle breaks in between each one. And it was amazing how much faster and better he was getting with the half passes just a few minutes into the half pass to straight exercise. He was doing well so we upped him to the lope.

I pushed Milo out and loaded his weight onto his outside leg, then swapped my hip and just barely cued with my leg and he popped right into the lope. It was engaged, it was straight, and it was slow being as he lifted his withers and shoulders for the lead. Sarah even commented it was probably the best lope departure he had done (but the one to follow felt even better!). In the right lead lope, I easily found my outside rein and per Sarah torso twisted out and in, to neutral, back out, and counter balancing for Milo on the turns. And this here is an interesting concept but its necessary for Milo and I. In a turn, you generally look in the direction of the turn, correct? Well going to the right is where my body naturally holds my left hip forward and when my left hip is forward, it pushes Milo's shoulder out that direction as well. Unless I am in neutral or centered pelvis, he will drift that shoulder out. So, on a turn, I need to look in the opposite direction of the turn so he can balance and keep his shoulder up through it (there were a few examples in that video post I did). Im not sure if this will be needed always and forever, but in the meantime with both of our learned habits and ways of going, this helps to get me off of my left forward hip, and allows Milo to lope straight.

Sarah told me to do a half pass on the canter, and at first I thought Oh God, Milo can't do that. But much to my surprise, I rotated my hips slightly and put my leg back, and in went his hips. His shoulder drifted so I had to hold with the outside rein and block the shoulder to help him reach with that one as well. And wouldnt you know, Milo half passed a few steps at the canter. We went straight and did it a few more times. The we went onto a circle and soon a counter canter. With reminder to keep Milo's nose to the inside of the counter canter circle (but away from his lead direction - so a counter bend counter canter), Milo was moving really well. We were on the right lead and Sarah told me to ask for the lead change. What?? We're doing flying changes today? I had to circle a few more times, then I swapped my hips as had been done on Wesley, and I felt a big change in the back and suddenly we were cross firing. But Sarah had her hands in the air and a huge smile on her face. Why is she so happy? We are cross firing. She said that he changed on the rear, but I hadnt bumped his nose slightly to get his front on the new bend so he didnt pick up the lead on the front. But most importantly, he had changed on the back, the most important element to a flying lead change.

This got me excited, that my horse was so in tune with my hips and the way I was on his back, that when my hips changed, so did his. What a good Milo. We walked for a little while, letting him catch his breath.

Soon we were back on the trot circles to get his hip out and an arc. Into a left lope now, with the most fantastic and elevated lope departure I have ever had on Milo, and we half passed a little at the lope, although this direction is harder just as it was at the trot. Milo was feeling good and we went onto the counter canter, counter bending as needed. Sarah said we can counter canter as long as it takes for Milo to feel balanced and absolutely begging for me to switch my hips. Which I did, and bumped a little on the right rein for the front and OMG! Milo was now loping on the right lead!! We loped a few more strides and I sat down in the saddle with a woahh. Milo in the dirt, I looked to Sarah who was going more crazy than me.

"Flying lead changes: Check" said Sarah.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Unfortunate and The Incredible

Wednesday night produced a real jackpot when I reached the mailbox. I had been expecting three packages, and two arrived (still waiting on my Peggy Cummings book though...)! Along with the new packages shoved into our overly large mailbox, was the May edition of Horse & Rider, my favorite magazine, and some show information I had been long waiting for.

In the smaller box were four snow white polo wraps I had stolen for a mere $10 including shipping. These would come in handy for the upcoming show! I already have two white polos, but now I had a full set, plus two more to rotate when dirty. I was happy about the polo wraps, but my real excitement was in the second, larger postage box. It was like Christmas with all these new found presents scattered around me! Except I know what is inside of them.

The second box was labeled from State Line Tack, and was holding the leather lunging cavesson I had ordered last week. Indeed, I had broken down on my search to find a used one via craigslist, eBay, or online forums. But I had sold a mylar bit that covered the cost of this new cavesson, so I didnt feel too guilty. I tore open the package and enjoyed the sweet new leather smell, and was surprised that the leather felt much stronger and of quality than I anticipated with only a $34.95 price tag. I left the cavesson in my truck though, so I could try it out on Milo the next day, and tore into my new magazine.

Thursday I eagerly brought Milo down to the outdoor arena, camera in hand for photos of the shiny new tack item! I opened up the adjustable pieces and slipped the item over his ears. The front of the nosepiece was hanging awkwardly, and off to the side. I wasnt too concerned, as I still needed to make all of the adjsutments for it. I snugged up the noseband as tight as it would go, but the cavesson still was not snug around his nose. For a moment, I ignored it figuring that with time it would mold to fit better, and I moved onto the strap under his cheek. Wow, this strap barely reached the first hole! Hmm. I moved around to the other side to see if something was tangled - in my haste, I hadnt slipped the cavesson over both ears. Woops. After this fix, it sat nicer on his nose and the cheek strap fit, but the side of the cavesson was now mushed up into Milo's right eye. Hmpf, I thought and pushed it the other way, which to my mismay, only lead to the sidepiece coming up into Milo's other eye.

Fine, I wont use the browband on it, I thought, and removed that piece from the headpiece. Still, the cavesson was far too close to his eyes even when sitting centered, and I knew with any slight movement to the noseband, it would flip the opposite side into his eye. I sighed, and agreed to myself that it does not fit and I would have to ship it back. Rats! I had spent a week or more scowering online stores trying to find something that wouldnt cause this eye problem, was sturdy leather with padding, had the right rings, and the cheek strap in the right place (slightly forward, not back like a throatlatch). I was disappointed to say the least.

But I moved into lunging Milo in just the nylon halter anyways, and got some good steps with him reaching his rear up and out. Heather had brought Missy down, which caused a little distraction but not much. Once I got on, Milo was working very nicely, my back was soft and my hips were moving. The best part about the ride though was not only my right outside rein coming into better play (Im slowly getting better about riding off that rein when needed), but I found center in my hips on the right lead. Thats right, the direction my hip wants to lock into (left hip forward), I was able to combat for about two full laps around the arena. I had pushed my horse into the lope straight and on the outside rein, and for two whole laps my hips were centered, I was riding straight, and my horse, my lovely horse, was relaxed, reaching for the bit, and so balanced in his cadenced lope. It truely was an amazing moment, I was so proud of this accomplishment for the both of us. Now I can just build on it from here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Patience Really is a Virtue

I was finally getting the rhythm down with my body, my horse, and most importantly; my outside rein.

When I rode on Monday I realized that Milo was having a lot of difficulty when switching from one outside rein to the other, particularly switching from the left (my dominant) to right. This most certainly was stemming somewhere from my body, as well as what muscle memory has emphasized for both of us.

So yesterday I spent a long while serpentining back and forth, switching my body and my outside rein with every turn. It seemed to be really helping - I was really able to feel my body twist out of it's locked and "natural" position with my hip to the left, my dominant direction. I was actually feeling what sitting centered was, and balancing off of my right rein. Milo was getting it too and we fell into a steady rhythm: left to right, right to left. We repeated at the trot and things were coming together nicely.

I started moving from serpentines into a three piece figure eight - so three circles all interjoined, giving me more chances to chance outside rein and body. Again, Milo and I were moving together and I was really understanding the feel behind the outside rein.

Although Milo was repsonding beautifully to my aids for arcing and counter arcing, I moved him onto the simple figure eight pattern we have been working on, mostly because I was striving for the leg yield which we hadnt worked on yet since my last lesson with Sarah.

Initially, I was having a hard time actually cueing for a leg yield, I kept cueing for a half pass. But I established a good working circle again, then tipped his nose away from the direction of travel, pointing my hips inward for his hips to travel that direction as well. When his shoulder would lag, I would reduce the amount of twist in my body, but I would loose the hips again. We should get it in time though, as the half pass and leg yield require a bit more effort from both parties.

Feeling good, I pushed Milo over into the lope. In the post with the video, Sarah commented that there were a few times when I would cue for the lope crookedly. I pushed his hip to the inside, a "trick" I had developed from watching BN(reining)Ts online. But this only sets the horse up crookedly - its an easy way to just ensure your lead, but doesnt allow the horse ot depart into the lope straight.

So with the voice of Sarah in my head agian, I pushed him away from our intended lope direction, hips that direction as well. Then, with a subtle half halt and a hip direction change, we loped off straight into the lead. It felt great. I lost Milo's head in the air for the actual departure, indicating to me that I didnt give him enough outside rein to balance on.

In the left lead lope, I was trying to find my outside rein again. Initially, I seemed to have it, but I ended up losing it somewhere in our first circle. Finding it again, my horse moved straight on on the outside aid for a few strides, and when I felt his shoulder drift out, I twisted that direction briefly, then back to center or the inside. We are always adjusting ourselves for our horse when needed. He felt pretty good, so I pushed him into the counter canter. The first few steps in it, I realized I hadnt set him up properly, and he was hollow and crooked. But I found the outside rein again, and pushed his hip to the outside, counter arcing (on the circle) but arcing on the counter canter. I gathered ourselves back into rhythm on the canter circle, then really emphasized a hip in before the counter canter. This time he counter cantered the circle nicely, so after coming back to our first circle, I gave him a break.

I had noticed though that my tilting forward body was coming back, but I felt that I was getting a better grasp of my outside rein again, and wasnt locking into a fixed position. Progress!

Well then I loped him on the right lead. This should seem like cake because its the direction my body wants to travel, and the outside rein is my dominant one. But I found I have a greater problem on this side. Firstly, finding the outside rein is no problem, but riding off of it correctly is. Because my body is inclined to ride with this hip forward, so basically always with a twist to the right, I essentially just get locked in this position. I can change it momemntarily to the outside for when Milo's shoulder drifts, but I can't seem to find straight in this lead/direction. Because my body was "locking down" Milo's started too and I began to ride too much off of my hand. Then I tried to move into the counter canter which was a trainwreck. Bless Milo's heart he kept the counter canter, but it was all sorts of unbalanced and crooked, my fault naturally.

Getting frustrated, I put him into the trotting figure eights again, trying to get back in tune with myself and my horse. We switched from outside rein to outside rein, I arced him and counter arced him. I felt I was doing a bit better, and loped him off again. Initially, the first few strides were straight and nice off the left rein. Then my body got locked again with that left hip just slightly forward. Tired rider and tired horse, I called the last few decent strides good, and cooled him down on some turnarounds and walking fencing.

I felt a little defeated as I led him to the barn, but looking back I dont think I really should. I had discovered how to ride off of my right rein, and was making progress in unlocking my body at the lope, at least on the left lead. I had a few strides of straightness on the right lead as well, before my body fell back into it's muscle memory. I shouldnt be so down on myself, or my horse, really. We are progressing, I just need patience.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mondays are Made for Sleeping

Mondays are for sleeping, if you are Jake or Milo.  

The boys were basking in a patch of sunlight as I drove up the driveway on my extended lunch hour.

Can Old Man Jakers be any more cute as he sleeps?
Mom, you're lunch hour is my naptime. Hello?

Sorry buddy, but you gotta get up.

Milo's groggy face

Feel better, Milo?

Jake didnt get up until we were halfway up the driveway.