Friday, January 27, 2012

Seriously Attached

Wednesday I was working late, which meant I would be arriving at the barn around three o'clock. No real problem, but I guessed that Torik's owner might have the horses out in which case Milo might be a bit agitated. As I drove down the last road to the barn I found her with both Torik and her other Fjord, Angel, on a walk. I slowly drove by and glanced in my rear view mirror. For whatever reason, I saw Angel position herself with her back end to Torik, and the two horses started getting a little tangled together. I slowed down and kept watching, then saw Angle double barrel kick Torik in the side twice. I parked the truck as I saw Torik start trotting down the road back to the barn, Angel, fortunately, still attached to her owner. Prepared to jump out of the truck, another vehicle, who had pulled over for my truck to fit down the one car road, stopped and grabbed Torik. Phew. Crisis averted, but I did prepare myself for Milo's most likely agitation for the Fjords being gone.

I approached the barn and saw Cabo and his owner in the arena. Oh boy, this meant that almost all the horses were out of the barn. At least the horse's that Milo knows, so he must be upset being "alone" in the barn. My concerns were correct and I saw him trotting up and down his paddock, turning and agitated. As I entered the barn he hear me and trotted right up to the door. I wasnt sure if I wanted to take him out of the stall in this mood. I watched him as he circled and paced in his stall, going in and out to the paddock and frantically back to me. I crept open the stall door slightly, his big body trying to sneak through the small space. I spoke calmly and quietly to him and he sighed just slightly allowing me to halter him. I led him out of the stall and let him look out the barn up the drive to the arena. Maybe seeing Cabo in there would ease him a little bit.

I put him in the cross ties and watched him scoot back and forth in the aisle way, ears still erect out of the barn. I went into the tack room, still speaking soothingly to him and letting him know I was still around. I got the saddle out and on a rack in the aisle, and went back into the tack room to retrieve the bridle and brushes. I reached for the snaffle bridle, deciding on the drive over I wanted to come back to the snaffle for a ride or two and get him back onto the outside rein. I barely reached for the bridle from the hook and I heard scrambling in the aisle way. Then it got worse and I heard the scrap of shoes on the concrete flooring and a bang from his bum hitting the stall door. I rushed out of the tack room, expecting to see a flailing horse pulling back in the cross ties. No sooner did I come around the corner, however, and Milo caught sight of me and stood still. I didnt see anything wrong, but did smell the tinge in the air from shoes sparking concrete and saw a large scrap along the floor. I wasnt sure if he pulled back, slipped, or what, but decided I needed to get him out of the barn and ease him a little bit. I skipped grooming and quickly threw the saddle on. I wasnt sure if I would longe him or not with the other horse in the arena, but put the bridle on and led him up the drive to the arena. He was a little excited, but seemed more at ease to be moving and out of the barn.

It was rather nice outside this day, with the sun shining nicely, but a wind in the air. I entered the arena and said hello to Cabo's owner, a young lady I recognized from 4H shows. I didnt think she recognized me, though, which was ok. She had some difficulty with Cabo, but I tried not to judge. I was a little uneasy at first sharing the close quartered arena with someone who was having a hard time keeping Cabo at a trot or canter, but luckily, Milo seemed to calm right down as soon as I climbed aboard.

I warmed him up one handed, mostly from the short mecate reins that were on the snaffle bridle. I hadnt used the bridle since I let someone borrow it at the old barn, letting her use the old mecate reins I used back from out drill team days. I didnt realize how short the loop was, noting how different my horse is from the one I rode back on the drill team. His neck is stretched low and reaching for the bit now, not high and evasive with a sore back. It was a good thing to notice, but the length of the short loop required me to use just barely two fingers on the rein with my arm reached forward. I tried to just allow my arm to go forward instead of my whole body tipping forward. I was surprised by how well our ride went. Milo was responsive to my seat and cues, hardly needing me to touch the rein at all. We got compliments from the other rider as well. Our lope work was nice too, with nice departures and  a steady pace. He felt cadenced but still motorcycling at the corners, so a reminder for a slight arc was needed, both for Milo and for myself.

Everything was great, however, and I was very pleased with the ride. My only concern now is how attached he has obviously gotten to the other horses. I'm not quite sure how to approach the issue, since I cant simply take him away from the horses, he only seems to have an issue with them leaving. Fortunately though, he doesnt remain hot in our workout, but handling him on the ground in the cross ties is difficult when he is so upset about their absence. Thoughts on this?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Four Weeks with Shoes...Difference?

My last videos of Milo longing were exactly four weeks of having hind shoes on - to the day. Initially I didn't think much about the landmark, but after coming home and watching the videos, it occurred to me that my horse was stepping underneath himself more than when he first had them put on. So for comparison's sake, I thought we would watch the videos taken from my original post when the first were first put on, to my last post with the shoes on for four weeks.

Left: Milo walking first day with shoes. Right: Milo four weeks after shoes.

I noticed (mostly in person but I think you can see it in the video) that Milo not only has reduced toe dragging from the hind end, but also appears to be stepping more fully in the tracks of his front hoofprints. It seems that he is using his hind end more efficiently then before. One could also note that he was excited that day because of Torik leaving him, but when watching him move at the walk in both videos, he looks about the same (calm-wise). Thoughts?

Let's compare two videos of the trot as well. 

Left: At the trot first day with shoes. Right: At the trot four weeks after shoes. 

Again, I'm noticing the same changes in these videos: less toe drag and more reach. Yes, we can consider that Milo's energy was higher, but I would actually think that would make him move less forward from the hind and more pulling from the front due to excitedness and less interest in work. Considering that, I still think that he is moving differently then just four weeks ago. It would seem that the shoes are really helping him fine tune his balance. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Finally Getting It ... Until the Rains Come Again?

Monday I was so pleased with our ride. Last week I hardly was able to ride, only a light hack on exploring roads and trails, a short longe session, and a quiet (and short) bareback ride. Monday I was planning on trying to get us back onto our consistent work schedule.

It was beautiful out. I had spent the morning cleaning stalls at Sarah's with some ice packed snow still littering ditches and pastures. The sun was out, but the temperatures were still cold. I was pleased though - no rain or snow! Unfortunately, I was scheduled for a closing cart shift at work that evening, so I knew it was going to be a long day. I halfways debated on even working Milo too hard. I only had two hours before needing to be on the clock at work, but I was eager to ride.

Another boarder just left the arena, and Milo's stall neighbor was just taken from his stall for a walk down the road. Milo was not pleased about him leaving.

Milo's neighbor, Torik. A Fjord. 
I knew we needed some longing before work. From the quiet week we had before, and Torik (Milo's stall neighbor) leaving, Milo was high as a kite. He barely stood still long enough in the cross ties for me to saddle him, even threatening to pull back once. Once in the arena, I just snapped the longe line to the halter and pointed him out onto the circle - he shot off like a rocket throwing in a kick out for good measure. He loped, and loped, and loped, and loped. Very unusual for Milo, who I have to practically beg to lope two circles on the longe line, smooching all the while.

He finally settled down a notch and trotted, trotted, trotted, and trotted.

Eventually, he came down from his high and puffed a bit as I let him walk.

Now it was time to get on. And he was fantastic. My bareback ride from late last week was probably the first time Milo felt cadenced and balanced when working in this new arena. He repeated that ride in yesterday's and I was so pleased with him. It seemed even with the excitement of Torik leaving he hunkered down and focused on work. It gave me an opportunity to focus on my body too. I made a few observations:

I need to focus more on my entire body's position (particularly when turning or arcing) instead of concentrating so much on my seat bones. Allowing my hips to turn into direction and my upper body and shoulders really allows Milo to follow suit. It, in turn, concentrates more weight on the inside seat bone anyways. I discovered that simply putting weight down onto the seatbone not only did not cut it, but actually created a lean in my body, where I push my inside shoulder forward into the turn (I envision the barrel racers when he lean into the barrel with their shoulder). Realizing this really helped me to ride more balanced and centered over my horse then before.

It was a fantastic ride, and come Tuesday I was really eager to repeat it. But today was wind and rain, not a forecast I care too much about having an indoor arena, but Milo was having none of it. Hot right out of his stall again, he again got a longe, although considerably quieter than the previous days'. The wind and rain, and the subsequent noise of it hitting the roof and sides of the arena, sent Milo into a whirl. He became so hyper sensitive to everything: natural nosies, cars driving by, dogs barking, everything sent Milo into a spook, splayed legs, or tension. I lost count the amount of times that he flinched, ducked, or spooked into a spin around. Of course, today I had decided to ride bareback too. I tried to just keep the ride quiet and calm, only working at the walk and finishing with some showmanship work.

That's right, showmanship work. I dont know why but yesterday I had an incling to try some showmanship when we were done with the ride. I was pleasantly surprised when Milo seemed as sharp on it as the days when we were in 4H and showed performance. Hmm...I had a thought. Why not try showmanship at the next schooling show. I was already considering going into a few more classes (it's a secret until then though!). So today I worked on some of the elements again, and again my horse was focused on me and working well. It was a good end to the spooky ride. But I cant help but notice how incredibly spooky Milo has been in this new arena. Its hard to think about knowing just the last week before we moved I felt we were having a breakthrough with our work. Now I feel like we are slipping back again, at least until yesterday's ride. Maybe we can work through this spooky new arena and get back to where we were?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snow in Washington

This has been a very horse-less week, unfortunately. We had a snow storm here in Western Washington, with an accumulation at my house of roughly seven inches. You must understand that when it snows on this side of the mountains, everything stops. Are cities are always ill prepared and under equipped, leaving many, many unplowed streets and no sand on roads. Then when it freezes overnight (our temps were in the twenties) the roads turn to ice, making the drive the second day even worse.

As I had posted earlier this week, on Monday I simply hacked a short trail ride. Tuesday I only longed Milo, and then the snow hit. I did make it out to Milo on Friday, letting him get some needed turnout in the empty, snowy pasture. My good friend and her dog Remi (who you might remember from Milo's play time with her) came along as well, and again Milo had some fun with the excited dog. Oh right, and it was raining (thats the beauty (curse?) of snow in WA - it rains just days later and turns all of the snow to SLUSH).

Milo dug through the snow and into the mud. Crazy. 

The other pretty Paint is Milo's buddy and neighbor, Cabo. 

Oh Geez, all wet. 
As you might notice in the photos, Milo's neck cover is hanging all wonky. Somehow in the two and a half days I was gone, he managed to rip a large hole in it and take with it a D ring from the blanket. Which too has about a 2x2 ripped section on the hip. Now Milo is doubled up in a midweight and lightweight blanket while I sent the two pieces off to get repaired. Ahh Milo...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Simply Horse Crazy (Mare and Mare) bestowed upon Milo and I the Leibster Blog award.

Leibster in German means "Dearest". Thanks Mare and Mare for thinking of us as a dearest blog! :)

The rules of the award are as follows:
1. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
2. Link back to the blogger who gave you the award
3. Pick your five favorite blogs with less than 200 followers, and leave a comment on their blog to let them know they have received the award.
4. Hope that the five blogs chosen will keep spreading the love and pass it on to five more blogs!

Only five is hard to decide upon, and I will only add those who I know have not received the award, so that leaves Simply Horse Crazy, and R Lil Bit of Cash out. But you know I love you two ladies! And your cute mares!

1. Cedar View Paint Horses - great posts on their pretty paints and the activities at their farm. 
2. Diary of the Overanxious Horse Owner - stories of sillypony (hehe) Junior and their journey in the showpen and horsemanship. 
3. All Gear No Skill - pretty Dee and her flowing mane. :P Story and Dee ride in reining, but are working toward greater horsemanship goals. 
4. An Image of Grace - a personal friend in real life, I love following their rides via blogs. Melissa and Grace are thriving for horsemanship through realization of looking into oneself. 
5. Horse Genes - posts on a pretty Paint named Semper and their reining and cowhorse activities. 

There you have it! Some of the Dearest. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Something Cool from the Horsehow

Just as we were hauling out of the showgrounds, Boyfriend asked if I had looked in the trailer selling stuff. No, I hadnt! So we had to stop and run inside. We found this awesome accessory for Milo:

So fetching in Camouflage!!!

Cute with the orange halter too :)
Camouflage, camouflage, ain't nothing that doesnt go with camouflage.

Camouflage, camouflage, oh you're my favorite color camouflage. :)


See!! Camouflage!

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Guess I Should Try This Again...

I couldnt help but feel touched by the comments I read from my last post. I have a lot of people that really care about mine and Milo's best interests. It was hard to decide to post the video because I felt really embarrassed by the performance, but I'm happy I did. I went back and watched it again today, with difficulty, and found it wasnt as terrible as I once judged it to be now that I watched it with a less critical eye.

Melissa is right - it was a schooling show with the purpose being to school, and that I was able to do and glad I had. Even from the immediate bobble by over spinning in the beginning, the last two spins did allow me to practice them a little more :) but moreover, as I watched the spins the first two turnarounds we did to the left were quite nice as compared to what we were doing this time last year. Although they werent the same that I know we have been schooling at home, they are improving.

I have to admit that although the circles didn't feel like nice round circles, Milo really stayed quite steady with me throughout them, even with the shoulder bulges and ducks. For the most part, they were cadenced and well, considering that I wasnt truly riding my horse with my seat. Again, the lope has also come far since this time last year and I must give Milo props for trying to lope without me really being there for him.

I'm going to skip over the lead changes because I already stated what I felt happened, but I should add that Sarah pointed out to me that I was throwing my shoulder into the lead change which made my seat come off of Milo, really emphasizing to him that I disappeared. Not to mention that the forward balance of my shoulder just puts Milo more on the front end then the hind where he needs to be for a good change. Heres one thing though: at least we are trying lead changes, we werent this time last year!

Although the rundowns and stops werent what I knew we could do, even in the video it is noticable that he is more over his hind end then he was before. I have been getting great stops at home, but the lack of my riding my horse really showed in those stops.

Sarah said to me today as she helped me clean stalls that she believes the universe has us in situations that we need to be in. She believes that we are at this new facility with it's smaller arena for a purpose. Anyone can ride in a large arena, but it takes skill to ride, correctly, in a small one. Maybe this smaller arena is going to really make me learn how to time my cues and gain the real shoulder control that I need, as well as loosing the anticipation (anxiety) in my body of "OMG the next corner is coming up!". She is probably right, Sarah is always right. Just another hurdle I need to overcome to better my horsemanship. Riding is so hard.

But on the plus side, with the weather being so freaking cold here, and being so tired after cleaning stalls in the morning, when I made it to see Milo is afternoon instead of heading to the arena, I only grabbed my headstall and climbed aboard my completely bare horse's back with the aid of the bumper on my truck. I had no plan of what I was going to do, but I knew completely bare would keep me warmer, and and I really just wanted to enjoy my horse on that cold afternoon. We walked to the end of the driveway, then down along the quiet back country road to each end, then mosied out onto some of the foreign trail. We even found a nice water view:

It really helped me enjoy my horse and clear my mind, then go back to the upset of the weekend and try and read between the frustration. It was a good thing I think.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Not What I was Hoping For

I was so excited that Sarah was able to add reining to the class list for the Horseplay Winter Schooling Series she and her students attends at the Tacoma Unit every winter (same location all of my reining shows were at last winter). With the series I had attended the winter before no longer offering reining, this was my only chance of practicing if the show manager would allow the addition. She did, and Sarah told me to pick the pattern for the class. Melissa decided to fill the class for me as well, and it so happened one other person entered as well. 

Boyfriend, a friend, and I hauled Milo to the showgrounds bright and early Saturday morning. Reining was added after the halter and showmanship classes, and I ended up warming up too soon and throwing him in Sarah's cross ties for what turned into an hour. I felt bad for Milo standing there bored with the saddle still on. I hadnt anticipated the classes taking so long. The announcer said there would be a half hour break and then reining. Only a few classes before this break did they now announce that reining would be before the break. Melissa and I hurried back onto our horses and into the warm up pen. 

Being a typical Washington horse show day, it was raining and windy, and naturally everyone gathered into the small covered warm up arena, leaving the large open, wet one empty. Initially we warmed up in the covered pen, but it got too crowded with longers and riders, and when an entire gang of amped up pleasure type horses entered the arena and spun, snorted, spooked, and came within inches of running smack into my horse, I decided to bring the warm up outside in the rain. 

In my first warm up, Sarah watched Melissa and I, and her main advice for me was to sit further back and I was creeping forward about two degrees, as well as driving with my seat. I repeated this over and over as I rode, trying to stay back, but still keep a light seat to encourage Milo to lift, trying to stay centered on my seat bones, entire core engaged, and not allow Milo to tuck in corners as he has so learned from work at home in the small arena. Things werent going horribly, but they werent going fantastic either. He wasnt happy about working in the rain, and I wasnt happy about the less than stress free warm up situation. I was up second draw for the pattern, and watched as Melissa worked Grace in the pen. She looked good, and I envied her lead changes. I had worked Milo on counter canter circles to regular canter circles in an effort to tire him on his leads. I didnt school lead changes as there was no room, but hoped the counter canter schooling would pay off. Milo had become a bit rushy in the warm up pen but when they allowed us ten minutes to work in the show pen, he had come back to me. I was optimistic. 

I knew the pattern and picked it for a reason. It was pattern number eight from the NRHA, which included not only two rollbacks and four spins each direction, but lead changes. I could have taken the easy route and chose a simpler pattern, but the purpose of today was schooling. I already believed we wouldnt knock any socks off, but I really wanted to get Milo into the showpen again, as we hadnt been out since early September. I wanted those elements in the pattern because they were ones we needed to school on, in a large arena we dont have at home. 

We walked into the center of the pen and I paused to collect ourselves before beginning our left spins. He had schooled so well on spins before the class, and at home too. All I had needed lately was to sit deep on the inside seat bone and hold the shoulder with the outside rein. I sat on my left seat bone, but not before raising my outside rein. We didnt turnaround as nicely as I knew we could, coming off center and not keeping the inside hock planted. I heard clucking and looked up to see Sarah clucking to me, so I started clucking, then realized I didnt know how many turnarounds we had just completed. Did we only do two when I stopped? Thinking I needed two more I recenterd him on pattern to do two more. When I stopped I knew I was over my four spins, but couldnt do anything about it now. Oh well, four more to the right, and I cued out of sequence again. We stopped the spins and I sat for a moment, a little disappointed. I still had a pattern to finish however, and I asked for the lope departure to the right. Watching the videos later, he doesnt look as terrible as I thought he felt. He rushed from my seat, ducked the corners, and twice coming through center wanted to dive out the other direction. When we rounded the third circle I tried to straighten him out and change my legs and seat for a lead change, which didnt happen. No matter, I would bring him to the trot and get a simple change. Suddenly my horse didnt seem to know how to come down from the lope to the trot. Strides went by on the counter canter and he still wasnt coming down to the trot. I needed to get him to slow down so I made him completely stop. There goes the pattern, I thought then made him lope off on the right lead. 

The circles again felt rushed and off center, but he wasnt ducking away from me this time. I thought I could redeem myself with the next lead change. I really tried to set him up for it with a change in my hips and legs, but again he loped off on the counter lead, and again did not come to the trot when I asked. So I halted him again and loped off. At this point I glanced to the judges as I came around the corner to prepare for the rollback, and quietly apologized feeling like I was wasting their time. As we started the rundown, my horse increased speed without me. In an effort to keep him with me and stay round, I loped him a few strides longer then stopped. No slide, but some hip down at least. I turned him for the rollback and he loped out of his tracks, literally, making a U-shaped turn. Not the good scoring rollbacks I watch on YouTube, but I also havent been schooling him on rollbacks so I accepted the effort. 

Around the corner again for the next rollback and once again, he rushed away from me. Again, I was disappointed with our stop, but the lope off was decent. Rushing on the final rundown and running crooked I was just happy this stupid pattern was going to be over with. We stopped, hard, definitely no slide. I jolted in the saddle as his front feet planted and his head came up. I backed and barely got myself to look back at the judges. The gentleman was the same who last judged me in September, I hoped he recognized my horse and remembered that we can turn in a decent run. 

I walked my horse out, shaking my head at some of Sarah's students watching in the stands. That was the worst run I had ever done, I felt like my horse was completely blowing me off. I rode him right out into the outside warm up pen, still raining, and loped him off. I was not going to be one of those people who got pissed at their horse after a run and worked them into the ground in the arena. But I wanted to get a few decent lope circles in, and mostly, lope to trot transitions. I got about a circle and a half at the lope and I heard Sarah call my name out in the rain. I tried to look for her but was on the back of the circle now. At center, I hoped to bring him to a trot, which again he did not do for me. Half a circle later and I finally got him down into an ugly transition, then stopped in front of Sarah. 

She asked if I knew what happened in the pen. "I'm sure I did something wrong," I concluded, knowing anything that goes wrong is probably my fault, acknowledging that made me sink down into the saddle. I couldnt tell her what I thought I did wrong as I felt my horse was simply flipping me off. I was hearing her voice in my head the entire time, I was telling my body to sit back in the saddle, but apparently the message wasnt being received. Sarah said that I wasnt riding my horse, that I was perched forward just as I had been in warm up. Without him feeling my seat, he rushed away not knowing where I was at. And for the lead changes, she noted that there too he had no idea where I went and simply kept loping. "You've got a pleasure horse and you're putting him into the reining pen. Cut him some slack, he cant go fast." Fast?? That was not my concern. I never once asked for speed, I just wanted my horse with me, not rushing away from me. But it got me thinking, why am I doing this? Is it pointless to ask a pleasure horse to rein? Maybe I am running in circles here and kidding myself. Is that really what Sarah thinks? Why am I even showing, I thought later as I untacked him and put his cooler on. This was definitely not fun in any way. The weather, the warm up pen, the pattern and the crowd. 

Boyfriend and my friend found me in Sarah's aisleway. I was still upset, they thought I was mad at Milo. I had sort of let that go. I was just frustrated with the whole situation. Boyfriend reminded me that everyone has bad days. He boiled it down to bad luck from Friday the 13th the day before, now catching up with me. He also suggested that the number I assigned was bad, it being the same number Milo and I had at his first horse show, where he acted terribly (but it was also his first show ever so I cut him some slack). Boyfriend is really superstitious, however.  Bad weeks is what it has been feeling like lately. One good ride in the last two weeks sure isnt making me feel really good about where Milo and I are at lately. I love my Milo, but maybe we arent doing the right thing. I just felt sad for the rest of the day. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Little Mare that Did

"I think you should ride Ellie Mae today," Sarah said after I finished my Pop Tarts and 7Up. Ellie Mae? What about Wesley? That mare had just sorely bugged me earlier as I cleaned her stall and I gave her a glare as I walked past her stall a few more times. I didnt want to ride her!

When I was cleaning the stall she is super pushy about being in the stall while I clean it. I want her out in the paddock and then when I'm cleaning the paddock she can come into the stall. Twice she thought she was sneaky and bolted into the stall, only for me to shoo her back out and her to fly out into the paddock, snorting and upset. Then I thought I could be sneaky and grab a pile right outside of the stall (there is no wall dividing the stall from the paddock) while keeping her outside still. Normally when I clean the paddock I close the stall door so she can go into the stall. While thinking I could get this really close poop pile with her still in the paddock, she did just the opposite and jumped right into the stall. I tried to get back ahead of her so she wouldnt exit and although the wheelbarrow was blocking most of the stall doorway, my coming towards her made her leap out of the small opening and right into the narrow aisleway. Of course she trotted down to the end stalls and horses, and Max reached over the stall door and very stud-like grabbed ahold of her blanket. Two more horses had their heads over the stalls and all were nosing and ready to squeal. I didnt want to walk into that very narrow aisleway for two reasons: 1. all of the horses and the chance of getting between them all and kicked or bitten (or striked if it led to that), and 2. Putting pressure on Ellie Mae might make her jump up the small incline to the opening that held straw, hay, bedding, and tools. If she got up there, she could not only hurt herself on the pallets and objects, but could also sneak under the tent of the shelter and escape onto the property.

I quickly turned down the idea of simply hand guiding her back into her stall. She already didnt want to listen to me and she could very easily get past the wheelbarrow (which was now partially blocking the aisleway) and escape out the aisle. So I blocked the aisle with the wheelbarrow as best I could and retrieved a halter just outside the stalls. Ellie Mae had now turned around and looked to be contemplating jumping up into the hay storage (and possibly escaping), or getting more squealy with the boys now positioned behind her. I quietly brought the halter up to her and for a split second I thought she was going to shy away. But I fitted the halter on her and threw her back into her stall, sending her back out into the paddock and exiling her out there for the last couple of scoops I needed to take.

When all was said and done I walked past Sarah with a heavy wheelbarrow and grumbled a question on if she was known for escaping. Sarah without a doubt said, "oh yes". I thought about how much I didnt like that mare while I emptied the load and finished cleaning, glaring each time I passed her stall and her still snorting self.

So, this was the mare I was supposed to take my lesson on now, to try and communicate with and learn something from? Ugh. I haltered her up (quietly) and brought her into the cross ties. Nothing eventful happened as I groomed and tacked her, except for some pinned mare-ears at the saddle reminding me that mares have never been my friend.

I climbed aboard and we walked - at a brisk pace. I knew from watching others ride her that she can be quick and somewhat short-strided, but I didnt know how much she seemed to resent the bit. If I lifted on the reins she simply lifted with her head and hollowed away from it. She was so robust around the waist I felt I was sitting on a couch. Even though her saddle size is the same as Milo, she felt almost pony-like in comparison. But we walked around and she jigged a little, Sarah told me to torso rotate back and forth and to start developing an awareness of my femur.

This last weekend was a yoga session and Peggy day out at Sarah's farm (one that I was not able to attend thanks to work), and one of the concepts that everyone learned from the weekend lessons was a better definition of what our core is, and an awareness of our femurs. Firstly, the core, as Sarah told me from the yoga instructor, was the entire part of our bodies, minus the extremities. I had remembered reading this idea on Melissa's blog just a day prior, and had already been thinking about it. But Sarah added onto that an awareness of the spot between our shoulder blades. She said that for our core to be engaged we needed not only our abdominal region, but that upper location on our back as well. She said, "make your shoulder blades smile" with the idea being to engage that location, but not shove our shoulders back and hollow out the back as is typically occurred in equitation. It coincides with the idea to lift at the sternum, but to be aware of the spot between the shoulder blades for engagement as well.

I thought about this as I continued to walk and trot on Ellie Mae. I was encouraged by Sarah to respond to her evasions by more leg and engagement of my core. This moved us into the acknowledgement of my femurs as well. Sarah wanted me to be aware of them and to let them loosen up. She had me do this by "jiggling" my legs lightly with the concentration at the femur not the lower leg. The idea was to loosen the leg from the hip joint then below. As she described to be later after the lesson, you can have total freedom of the lower leg to cue or move, even if the femur is locked. So just moving the lower leg does not mean that the femur and hip is relaxed. I needed a stronger awareness of the upper part of my leg and it's attachment. I got a better idea of this in the lope.

Ellie Mae was difficult and resistant to a lot of the same kind of work I have been doing on Milo and Wesley. Instead of a willingness to work, like with Milo, she fought the work accepting it as too hard and simply evading from my requests. Most of what we were working on was engaging her abdominal muscles and working over her back while still traveling forward, or more specifically, a shoulder fore or hip in on an arc. When I asked for the simple arc on a circle with my leg back at C, instead of bringing the hip in she just wanted to lope off. I hand it to her though that her lope was not quick or terrible, but it really was not the right answer. Sarah told me she believed a lot of the training she had had done previously was not fun for Ellie Mae, which really made her resent a lot of things. Furthermore, when Ellie Mae thought she did something right (such as lope off when I asked her to bring her hip in) it was very difficult for her to come back down to a trot and quit loping. She got something in her head that she was supposed to do (and was easier than what I was really asking for) and was hell bent on doing just that.

When I did get her back to a trot and repeatedly she loped off from the hip in request, Sarah had be change it up and work on a shoulder fore. As you might remember when she has had me work on this with Milo, the shoulder fore is asking the hip to go out (slightly) while the shoulder stays on the straight line and body remains slightly arced. This too was hard for Ellie Mae, but after a few tries we finally were getting a few willing steps.

The from the shoulder fore (which you might recognize sounds a lot like a lope departure), I could half halt and smooch into the lope, which we did. At the lope, Ellie Mae was quick and hollow, and as I result I started to brace against her and lock my hips and femurs, which resulted in a driving seat. Sarah called me out on it, and encouraged me to engage my entire core and really let my legs jiggle as we loped. It was hard for me as her body was so round and her stride so different. But eventually I was able to relax my outside leg, it was the left one that was still holding on for support. A few more lope circles later and more concentration, and I was finally able to let go of that leg. We loped in tandem together and I couldnt help but say, "Ohhhh..." as it finally was making sense. Ellie Mae found a perfect rhythm and relaxed as I had. Sarah even commented that the quality of the movement I was getting out of the mare was exceptional.

We were able to repeat the work the other direction, and I couldnt help but enjoy what this little mare had to offer. Opinionated as she was, sneaky as she is, she taught me something. And I couldnt wait but to rush out to Milo and try it with him.

Ellie Mae

Monday, January 9, 2012

Waiting on Milo to Dry

The rain pattered on the roof as Milo and I stood in the barn aisle way, waiting for him to dry from our workout.

Milo loves to have his head rubbed with a dry large cloth.

Milo is a superb cuddler. 

Milo and his stall

Oh sweet Milo.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Conformation Critique - on Milo

I've always laughed and joked on how downhill Milo is. He sticks (last time he was sticked was three years ago, so take it with a grain of salt) at around 15.3 1/2 at the wither and just barely over 16 at the hip. This would reasonably be considered downhill, right?

The FuglyBlog posted about conformation in Toplines Can be Deceiving!, and how functionally a horse operates, at downhill, uphill, or level, irregardless on what the conformation looks like (ie, higher or lower withers). The post compared two seemingly very different horses; one appearing obviously uphill and one downhill. Upon some closer examination, however, the Fugly authors determined that the uphill horse actually functionally works downhill, and the visually downhill horse actually functions level or almost uphill. They used the ever famous and scientific method of drawing lines on a photo in paint. I had to try this for myself on Milo, just to see what happened.

Just as noted in the Fugly post, Milo's hocks sit slightly higher then his knees, which is not alarming, but continuing up it appears that Milo's stifle is strikingly higher then his elbow. We all know Milo has a steep (huge) rear end, and from the point of the femur to the base of the neck at (roughly) the C6 vertebrae, he is actually uphill. Interesting considering his wither sits lower than the the top of the hip.

Now, considering the opposite angles of the stifle to elbow and femur to neck, I might be inclined to think that they sort of "level him out". My estimation is that Milo would neither move as an uphill horse or as a downhill one, but more neutral or "level". I dont think that he feels like he moves up or downhill (but I could also be very used to the way he moves). Thoughts?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Looking at it the Wrong Way

Tuesday was the second time I rode in the new arena. I longed Milo before getting on again, and was pleased to see he was far more respectful and fluid then the first time. He wasnt coming over his back but wasnt as concerned with his surroundings as before, and he was listening and not giving me attitude, so I was pleased with this day's longing.

When I mounted up I kept a few things in mind while we ambled around at the walk and trot in straight lines and in circles. I remembered Sarah telling me in my last lesson as she rode him how incredibly sensitive Milo is - leg, hand, and seat. Further, how you could ride him with just two fingers he was that sensitive. I knew that Sarah was right, but at the time did not want to admit it as I was having to use whole hands to feel like I had any control.

But today was different. In the last week I was really getting back in tune with my body, could remain light and responsive in my seat, and was finally getting that lope I knew we had in there. My first ride in the new arena was ... interesting. Not terrible, but the lope work was a hot mess and I was incredibly awakened by how small the arena is. I should say smaller, but at 100x60 it still allows room to work in. Nonetheless, I was upset with myself after driving home with how much rein I had used in that ride. I knew I was reaching for the reins before my leg and today I was determined to do the opposite.

The walk and trot work was beautiful. I continued to remind myself that seat comes first, leg comes second, and the hand comes last. I found myself breaking sequence from time to time and when I did was when Milo hollowed out and got quick. The proof was in the pudding: when I used my seat before leg or hand, Milo was calm, responsive, and elevated. I was riding with just the tips of my first two fingers and thumbs.

Then I discovered something incredible as we trotted along. I could control all direction from just my seat. I knew this before, but had never truly been testing it. Where I had the most fun was changing the size of my circles with just the steadier pressure of my inside seat bone for a tighter circle, and softer for a larger one, while still maintaining the same speed and fluidity. This totally made sense - I was just keeping the inside hock to the ground longer, just as when we are spinning and I hold the hock down (btw, the spins were incredible tonight!). I logged it in my brain to remember this strategy when loping to try and control the lope direction with seat before leg or hand.

No matter how much I thought of it however, when the time came to lope and Milo rushed, my hand came first. He dropped away from it and rushed more. I tried to lift my seat but I only seemed to fall forward onto my pubic bone. However, the times I did lift my seat he did round up and slow down a touch. It was frustrating, but in hindsight now I still should have been giving him much more rein and only using it as a last resort. He has the sensitivity, why cant I get it at the lope?

I noticed another interesting thing at the lope as well. As I would try and cut the arena in half and lope a circle on the half, when it was time to turn in on the center of the arena, Milo would speed up and drop away, jutting his nose into the air in anticipation for a bump from the rein. Even when I gave no such response he still anticipated it. It made me wonder if a lot of the problems at the lope is simply anticipation of discipline. I tested this theory and when directing him to the center fought every urge to hang on the outside rein. Milo flicked an ear back to me, waiting for the bump. When it never came, he chugged along and on the next turn to the center he waited again, but loped along fine. This spoke loudly to me how completely sensitive my horse is and how much I simply have not been soft and listening.

As I drove home, I had another thought; maybe I have been approaching this smaller arena in the wrong way. Instead of thinking of it like an arena, one where I could say perform an entire reining pattern, maybe I need to look at it as simply a training area. I know that you could call an arena just that, but I think I need to approach this new arena without the notion of the "center" at X, and see maybe the whole perimeter as the circle. To look at this training area as a place to work on specific maneuvers, or better yet, concepts. Rather then try and ride the "long side" I shouldnt see that as my only opportunity for straight lines. Does anyone get where Im going with this? I think I could be much more productive with considering the arena as not an arena with two long sides and two ends. I think I might get more accomplished that way and see it as a lot less "small".

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Aerial View of the New Place

Looking at this photo reminds me of a comment that Cedar View Paint Horses made on my post about our property. He commented on the "dense forest" we have around here. And judging by this aerial, he's right. I tend to forget about all of the trees we have here in Western Washington until someone brings it up, or I go elsewhere.

Here is the aerial view of the new place, because it helps put the photos and descriptions I've given it into perspective.

As you can see, Milo is in what actually is the "main (or lower as the topography claims) barn", I'm guessing because it is the original. The other barn (upper)  is newer, and I initially reserved an open stall up there for him. But after giving it some thought, I changed my mind and decided on the main barn. As the disclosure on the photo says, I didnt like the way the water ran in the upper barn creating a pool of mud right outside the stall. I really dont like mud. The paddock Milo is in in the main barn runs away from the stall so in theory the muckiest location would be at the end of the paddock. We will see how the winter fairs for this theory, however.

It's a quaint place, not like the 40+ barn we were at before, but you know, I like it. Nice and quiet and so far (and hopefully) drama free. I actually have met very few people at the new place so far. It seems after talking with the BO that my "ride times" are usually earlier then the other boarders. Which doesnt bother me a bit.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year - Big Changes!

Ive been absent - I'm sorry. I planned to get you all up to date and had a blog post typed out and all. It explained the decision behind why I moved Milo to a new barn on New Years Day. Thats right - we've moved! I sat on that post for two days, not quite feeling right about it. While I felt that you guys needed to know why I decided to move, I had felt that I had already said my piece about my feelings on it in person, and it just didnt feel necessary to vent it out on here as well. In short, there were just a number of things that simply wasnt working out at the old place anymore, it was just time to go.

Where we at, Milo?

Making new friends that where.

Milo is now only 8 miles from my house - compare that the forty minute drive I was making before! The initial board cost is just a touch higher (although the pasture board at the old place before my work was still more than it is here), but in the gasoline alone I should still come out of the month a little richer.

Milo has his own stall and paddock...

One of the larger paddocks too, I might add - with a stump! I think Milo might enjoy the stump. :P

And a large pasture for turnout in the daytime.

The only arena is a lit 100x60 covered arena, and an outdoor 60 foot roundpen as well. There are also tons of trails (Seabeck is great for the trails, tons right outside my driveway as well!).

I couldnt get his ears up! This was just after a longe. 
Looking to the arena from the barn...and my truck lol.

Milo in the crossties:

I think we will get along here very well. :-) Milo seems happy as a clam as well, although I do wonder if he misses his dear Chica. But the mud marks on his neck and legs shows he has been taking his usual naps. Thats a sign of comfort!