Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tacking Up (upping the tack?)

Sadly our cute little schooling show was canceled due to smoke from wildfires. Something about physical hazards...lung damage, I dunno.
I wasn't too sad though. For one thing The Boy and I leave tomorrow for a week in LA and the extra time to get the house in order was welcome. But the bigger reason - and the one really worth staying home for was that I pulled the trigger and bought P2 her very own jump saddle. And after a (small) snafu with Dover, the saddle was delayed and didn't end up getting here until Saturday morning anyway.  Bad if I was intending on using it at the show - but GREAT for a suddenly free day to play with a new toy (grin).

I didn't want to say anything until I knew that it would work out, but the Pessoa A/O XCH AMS. Because that's more initials than an Arabain halter horse, I'll save you the google and decode. Basically it's just pessoa's mid range A/O saddle with their adjustable gullet system and the flocked panels instead of foam.
The AMS the also has the added benefit of a few different panel styles, so I was able to order a deeper gusset (off the rack) for Prairie as well as a long and forward flap for myself... Hard to beat that many options for us difficult to fit gals.
Initially I was. A little worried. Although the saddle seemed to fit really well on its own, anything more than a thin pad caused some bridging. I usually like to ridemwithnsome squishy half pad just for comfort but I opted to girth up with just a basic pad which actually see,Ed to suck the (synthetic tree) to Prairie's back nicely.
I started with some fuzzies on the stirrup leathers to prevent rubs but they were so damn bulky I ditched them as soon as I thought I'd be keeping the saddle.
Prairie. Felt. Awesome.
Super light. Super lovely and more forward than we have been. I think some of it is that this saddle really puts my lower leg on her a big more aggressively and she seems to respond well to that....
Since our three Prix Caprielli jumps were still up we started figure eighting over them at the trot then canter.
You could probably see the grin on my face a mile away because while our school on fridaynwas great, this ride was INSANE. Balanced, no rushing, no scooting after fences. Lead changes. The whole shebang. It was the type of ride that makes me so sad I'm leaving for a week. I just want to loop over those jumps forever.
But this is about the saddle. It's no CWD, but I'm impressed with the leather and it's oiling up really nicely. Full review to come after I log a few more hours in it. But so far I feel good about the purchase...
Fresh out of the box with out the box

And after half a tin of lederbalsam..

Prairie was not exactly sure what all the fuss was about. In fact she looked decidedly less excited about it all than I did...

Prix Caprilli

So unless the winds have changed and are now filling the show grounds with smoke from the wildfires, Prairie and I are en route to our fun schooling show.  I just got the test/actual explaination of this weird Prix Caprilli class in the mail and I thought I'd share it.  After schooling the pattern on Friday, I'm a huge fan and I think it would be way too much fun to see this concept extended through the levels... 3'3" oxer... shoulder in, medium trot, halt, 2'9" skinny... It could sorta be like eventing... except the highlight reel.  10 minutes to should your dressage, XC and Stadium all in one go. 

I vote yes. 

Anyway, for you curious souls, here's a copy of the Training Level "Pre Cap" that we're attempting today:

The Arena Layout.  Standard Dressage court with three jumps...
Start of the test. 
Basically your regular score sheet...
Can't wait to give you guys a full report!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Short Cuts Not Allowed

Anyone remember playing Oregon Trail in computer class?  (or the larger role playing version with a giant poster on the wall of your 4th grade Social Studies class?)  Well, you always had a few options to take a short cut through "DEATH VALLEY" (or something equally ominous sounding) or trek your tired, hungry, cholera infect butt around the "long, safe, route." 

Being the impatient creature I am I always took the short cut and I was nearly always ambushed by angry Indians.  (sigh)

Having not evolved much past my 4th grade self, I find that I make my decisions similarly. 

Yesterday I went out to the barn after work and having gotten there 30 minutes later than I intended, I was anxious just to tack up and get on.  So I skipped any groundwork/join-up stuff and just got ready to ride.  I told myself I'd do some leading exercises before I actually got on, but I didn't both grabbing a lunge line or long whip so when I got to the ring (where a semi-private lesson was underway) I gave a halfhearted attempt to start-stop-start-stop the mare and just hippity-hopped on. 

As soon as I swung my leg over I knew exactly what kind of ride it was going to be - A tweedley one. 

Damn it.

I had noticed that little sparkle in her eye tacking up, the overly alert ears as we walked to the ring, and the "I don't even see you" swinging head, muzzle smack as she looked around at all the ruckus that was going on. 

If ever there were a time to stop, slow down and focus the mare on me, that was probably it, but choosing the DEATH VALLEY shortcut, I just wanted to ride. :)

Truth we told we had an okay ride.  But compared to the two previous sessions with light, forward, calm energy this one was tense, a bit rushed and much, much scootier..(it's a word.  I made it so).  We still schooled everything we wanted to, but Prairie had her eyeball on everything but the arena - The donkey roaming around, worker-bees staining some siding, a toddler picking up gravel and hurtling it across the drive (wtf?? leash your kids...), dogs, horses grazing, cars pulling in... you name it, it was way more interesting than our ride. 

I got frustrated, and then I got stiff, and you can guess how it went from there. 

I think what frustrated me most is that I *saw* the tweedle, but being on "human time" instead of "horse time," I stuck to my schedule and agenda instead of working with the horse that showed up that day. 

Darn it.  Those damn short cuts just never. ever ever. work. (have I learned nothing from 4th grade Social Studies)

So, this morning I got to the barn with enough time to do some liberty join-up stuff and even though Prairie was calm and tuned in from the get go I didn't want to take any chances.

She didn't evade me once.  She came to me instantly (I think she's figured out that is the fastest way to food), and trotted, circled, and yielded her way around the ring.  Like a star.  Then I tacked her up quickly and hit the ring to school some baby jumps (for our cool baby jump dressage test thing) and our First Level test. 

She. Was. A. Stud. 

A few bobbles here and there, but (again) when I put my leg on (like, really on) she was right there with me.  Calm to the base of all the jumps and remarkably balanced afterwards.  Some of our best (most relaxed) jumping I think. 

Funny how after a week of jumping our dressage gets better, and after a week of dressage, our jumping gets better.  That's probably another pattern I should make a note of.

Anyway.  It was a great ride.  Especially given that we've had two weeks since we jumped, and it was the first cold, drizzly morning since June.  Mare stayed soft, and focused. 

Go Team. 

Feeling great about tomorrow...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Summer Camp Sojurn: Wrap Up

Our final day at Summer Camp was a fabulous one.  The relaxation of being someplace for a few days already made all of our work that much easier and gave us some opportunities to dig a little deeper with our goal of "relating socially."

Sometimes when I hear myself regurgitating Summer Camp lessons I can hear myself sounding a little "woo-woo,"  But having gone through it, I know that it's less about buzzwords and crystals, and more about just figuring out how to behave (consistently) in a way that makes sense to our horses and allows them to learn well.

I don't want to get into the Parelli debate on here, but I recognize that Parelli himself was a pretty impressive horseman, and I think his theories make quite a bit of sense.  Of course, I also think that some of the cult-ish followers have absolutely no clue what they are doing, or why they are doing it.  There is nothing magic about a carrot stick.  Nor is there anything magic about Buck's flags.  Nor does chasing your horse with said flags make them "join up."  Having an impeccable feel of when to increase or decrease pressure is what gets your horse tuned in.  Good observation skills, good timing, and control of your energy is more important than what implement you use to assist you.  Cowboy Man uses a lunge whip to make his presence and energy bigger.  I use the same (because I have one), but I'm sure you could use a cone, or a rake, or a ribbon or whatever works for you....  (tangent)

Anyway,  my point being that I have a hard time describing what we do there and aptly conveying how simple, easy and effective it is.  Back to Sunday - we repeated all the stuff we had been working on, standing, snacking, leading, yielding to "social" pressure, etc.

 P2 was being great.  I worked her over a few obstacles (bridges, steps, logs) and did a lot of hand grazing while we watched other horses work in the arena.  Hand grazing is such a great opportunity to practice all our stuff because you don't have to "make a snack" there just is a snack, everywhere.  I was mindful to deliberating asked Prairie to raise her head and move her feet every few minutes so I didn't inadvertently get dragged around by a lawn mower...

Finally we went in and Cowboy Man had me work Prairie free for the initial join up session.  It took (no joke) like 20 seconds.  She galloped around the ring like a loon for 2 laps, then came right back to me like "what are we doing today? where are the snacks?"


So then I led her all around stopping for snacks and moving her at my whim.  After a few minutes of flawless work, I left to go tack Prairie up.  Cowboy Man had informed me that he would be removing one of my reins (crap). 

in fairness, he didn't remove it entirely, he just tied it up so I couldn't touch it.  Then he handed me my other rein (singular, solo, uno) and set me off.  at first I stuck to the rail of the ring and worked on my walk/halts with no rein contact.

Prairie was surprisingly responsive, so I started getting cocky and doodling around the ring.  Walking over poles, piles of sand, and around barrels.  Basically anything that tested my steering.  It was... better than I expected.  After working with Cowboy Man a bit on our starts and stops he turned his attention elsewhere and I started playing with some "lateral" work.  It wasn't super pretty but we got some good leg yields on the rail, shoulder fore and haunches in that really wasn't that much worse than when I have both reins and use them freely.  I made a mental note to perhaps drop one/both reins during our next dressage test.  can't hurt! (much).

After testing P2 to see how comfortable she was with me flipping my rein around her nose to switch sides, we wandered out of the ring and stomped around in the pasture for a bit.  When she was still licking and chewing 10 minutes later I slid off the beast, called it a success and we were done.

Here's a short clip I forgot to upload. but it's from the first day with P2.  This was the first join up session so Cowboy Man is working a little closer and a little slower, but you get the idea.  Basically he's looking for Prairie to be relaxed and readily following him, here you'll see her looking a little confused/leery.  You'll also see him wait for her to soften before she can shove her mouth full of carrots. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Back to Basics (again)

Coming off the weekend at Summer Camp, I feel like I've got a nice little jolt of momentum with Prairie.  We didn't tackle crazy stuff, or make gigantic strides, but we did improve on everything we did and it was a great change of perspective and approach for me.

I gave the mare Monday off since I always like to let them have a relaxing day after a show/field trip/etc, even if all she did was make new friends and eat snacks all weekend (by that rationale I shouldn't really ever work on Mondays either..)

But Tuesday.  Tuesday was back to work.  We have a show on Saturday, which I've nearly forgotten about and  it's a small one, but it's someplace new and in theory we do actually need to ride First Level Test 2... For the record the last time I specifically practiced lengthening P2's canter was probably our last dressage show in August.  Not exactly inspiring.

Expecting the worst I threw the Dressage tack on (including our happy KK D Ring) and headed for the ring.  I clipped on a lunge line and worked some of our leading exercises at a distance and Prairie was totally dialed in.  I even played around with some lateral yields on the ground and Prairie (although confused) picked it up pretty quickly.  We were "leg yielding" down the long side in no time.

I opted to stop pressing my luck on the ground so I hopped on and went to work.  Prair was suuuuuper relaxed.  I played with some shoulder-ins at the walk to see how loose we were then popped up into a trot.

Best. Trot. In Months.  (hands down).

Prairie was loose, swinging, and actually felt somewhat engaged in her hind end.  I shortened my reins, added some leg and asked her to step up a bit more.

She did.  And she stayed light in the hand and really, quite balanced.

Okaaaaaaaaay. I thought.  This is nice... especially for no "real" rides in a while....  (and I waited for the other shoe to drop).

When it didn't, I decided that since it felt like I had a real dressage horse, maybe I should ride like a real dressage-horse-rider.  So I wrapped my legs around her (more than I usually do) and worked on some teeny figure eights really emphasizing the bend.

Miraculously, when I offered lots of leg support, Prairie stayed soft, uphill and balanced on her circles.  our change of bend was just one little halfhalt on the outside rein, switch the legs and pressssssssss her into the new direction.. Magical.

Then, transitions.  Light, prompt, balanced.  (even some downward ones!).  Then some increase/decrease at the trot.  BAM.  Increase/Decrease at the canter? Double BAM.

She was 100% right with me.  Damn me for not having a camera to capture the magic. 

I let her stretch down, doodled a few more circled in a stretchy trot and then headed out to walk the property.

This morning, I decided since the barn was EMPTY (though I swear there are multiple trainers in theory working at this place..) I stole the indoor, made up some dishes of snack and took Prairie to do some liberty/join up work.

At first, she was totally blowing me off and just bulldozing for the buckets of snack.  But, I only had to chase her off a few times for her to realize that I was controller-of-the-smacks and she started to tune in a bit. 

Mind you, I hadn't really counted on the fact that I was attempting my little arena session just as horses were getting turned out for the day... which meant that there were plenty of distractions.

In point of fact, that made Prairie's focus on me all the more meaningful.

She joined up quickly and followed me from bowl to bowl, pausing to soften and wait for me to say "head down" before shoving her face full of goodies.  She was a little sticky on the "head up" request, but we sharpened it up.

Eventually we were able to yield haunches, leg yield, turn toward me, turn away and walk/trot/halt all at liberty and at about 6' of separation.

I got some really weird looks from our barn guys, but I just kept running and clucking and waving my arms like a lunatic.  (I think it's working)

Then I tacked up and went to "real work."  Again, Prairie was super soft and forward.  Even with a semi-truck unloading pallets of pellets (say that three times fast) just outside the arena fence.  I focused on my whole leg-wrapping thing again, and had P2 focus on staying light on the forehand.  Funny how to two seem to go hand in hand.

We worked FL2 all the way through once - and aside from some awkward moments in our leg yield, it was some of our better work.  The whole ride just felt like success, after success, after success.

Perfect way to start the morning.

As a final reward for being such a good and focused girl, I introduced Prairie to a new friend Sadie, and turned her out in a bigger, better paddock that she can share with the sweet old QH mare.  In theory P1 will join them in there for a mini herd of three when she arrives. 
P2 was on a mission to sniff every manure pile in that paddock...
I'm feeling better about the potential show on Saturday.  I only signed up for two rides.  The first is a "training level test" but isn't an official USEF test as it will also include three 2' jumps interspersed with the WTC work.  The second ride is plain 'ol FL2.

We also haven't jumped since our little hunter show... maybe we should revisit that a bit as well before we go blazing off into the mountains...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Summer Camp Sojurn: Day 2

Man, I can already tell that the weekend is blurring into one huge lesson, but I'm trying hard to remember the exercises (somewhat) in order.

S and I were the first to arrive on Saturday and had those nice early morning moments with our ponies.  big pats, pull blankies, feed grain, etc.  There's something just so calm about going to see your horse first thing.  Especially when you're away from home so they give you that nice "I know you! come give me love!" face.

love that face.

The herd was still in the dry lot they spend the night in, and it was interesting to see how the interactions over the paddock fences had settled over the evening.  P2's shaving tail was my only evidence that at some point she pulled herself away and went to snooze in her stall, but something tells me she was up chatting with new friends most of the night...

The morning started with more discussion of our progress and exercises from the previous day, but quickly worked into a repeat of our standing/eating exercise, and moved into a repeat of the liberty work and finally some leading exercises.

The first leading exercise is exactly how we always start out work at the Mountain Trail event... On a rail (or fence line) and standing at the end of the lead about 6' in front of your pony.  When you walk back, you open your hips, open your arm and "invite" your pony forward.  When you want to stop, you exhale deeply, stop your feet and stick your arms up in the air.  If the pony continues forward you shout and shake and make noise till they back off.

Again, it's reinforcing the idea that our horses can "rate" our movement without being mechanically pushed or pulled.

Most horses get this concept pretty quickly (like five minutes) assuming that us humans figure it out and hold them accountable (I always start accepting a closer and closer distance...)

Then you move to a position about 45 degrees out from their shoulder and continue the same moves.  Finally, you move to a perpendicular "normal" leading position, albeit a bit farther away.

The other kicker is that Cowboy Man has placed buckets of grain/carrots/whatever around the rail so that as you work your way around you can as for a whoa at a bucket, let the horses soften, then reward them with a snack, without reaching in your pocket and moving in to them.  Helps keep the mugging to a minimum.

Our afternoon exercise was to revisit the circuit around the property, this time under saddle.  Repeat the standing/eating exercise while we tacked up (tacking up is yummy!) then I headed out back with two other horses while S stayed on the ground with Josh since he was still pushing his limits with the groundwork stuff.

Prairie was offended that we left her new boyfriend behind, which immediately upped her anxiety level, but so long as we stayed right behind our friend Aspen, I was able to maintain a loose rein.  She felt like a powder keg, but since I wasn't having to tug on her face, I stayed on her.  Had she been antsy enough that I needed to keep checking a rein, I was under strict instructions to get off and repeat the leading exercises.

Instead I tried to keep one eye on Josh and what was going on, while I serpentined my way around with P2.

Josh was being put through what Cowboy Man calls "Monkey On a String."  I call it flying a kite-horse, and I absolutely abhor the feeling.  Of course it usually happens to me when I'm unloading my horse at a show, or some situation when I really just want to be quiet and inconspicuous, not get into a "schooling opportunity" on basic leading.

Cowboy Man likes Monkey-On-A-String.  He says it's a fabulous opportunity to reinforce your standing/leading exercises so long as you stay true to your objective and don't take a short cut.  Easier said than done, but it was fun to watch him work through it.  He kept Josh moving, and kept asking him to yield his hindquarters every time Josh moved without permission.  If Josh didn't comply, CM moved his feet and worked to keep himself in a position of leverage (Cowboy Man notes that MOAS is a time when you usually end up "needing" your line and not to be afraid to use it to keep your Monkey, well... on the string).  The priority being that you are constantly repositioning yourself and if not controlling "where" the monkey moves, at least you control when.  As your horse/monkey slows and stops, you slide back into leading exercises as you can.

Josh finally figured it out and relaxed, stopped bolting and had a nice walk around the property.

I finally made my way back to the barn, feeling like P2 was ready to trot or canter around the property, but not wanting to be in charge of that particular phase of exploration.  Since Cowboy was still busy with other horses I slid off, and gave the mare a break.  Before Cowboy Man hopped on her, I walked down to the arena for some relaxing ride time in a setting that she's comfortable in.

Since I walked her away from her buddies to get to the ring, she was snorty and annoyed when we got there.  Instead of hopping on right away we went back to our leading exercises and by the time we were down one longside, she was tuned in, relaxed and calm.  I hopped on and we hacked around the arena on a loose rein.  Slowly I started trotting in and out of the ring (returning to the ring when she got amped up) and expanded her circle of comfort (literally). 
Finally I handed over the reins and watch CM take her around the property keeping her calm, loose and attentive.

We finished the day by grabbing P1 and repeating her work around the property.  At lunch when Cowboy Man asked if there was "anything in particular we wanted to see demonstrated" I jokingly said "sure, let's jump P1 bridleless."  I assumed he caught my cynical tone, but he wrote it down on the board and after a few laps around the property, into the arena they went, he dropped his lead rope (but did use a tack rein around her neck) and started weaving over some cavaletti at the walk, trot and canter.  I'm so sad my phone ran out of memory, but I did grab a quick clip of the start of the session.

Look at the Pia go! She's so damn cute.  even if it is more of a ground pole than a "jump"  But she seemed to have fun!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Summer Camp Sojurn - Day One

This past weekend we loaded up P2 and S's mom's horse Josh (a big perch) and headed for a 3 day clinic at Summer Camp.  While I'm familiar with the goings on there, I was excited for the opportunity to haul in with P2 and attack some of the foundation elements I know we lack (which also gorging on great food and playing with P1 some too).

There were a few other clients participating with us which meant not only would I get to watch/learn/listen with Prairie, but also to see other issues and concerns addressed with a couple other ponies as well.  All in all, a great set up for a good weekend.

Friday we managed to hit the road by 1ish (courtesy of Josh opting to load in 20 minutes as opposed to his previous 2 hours..) and me stopping for snacks and gas. But, both the horses got on and hauled great getting us to Summer Camp by 4 pm with plenty of time to determine some goals watch the herd and play with P1.

Prairie was in full heat (courtesy of the show last week) and spent the entire trailer ride peeing everywhere, and falling in love with Josh.  She then proceeded to pee everywhere and make eyes at the entire herd which sent (newly loved then spurned) Josh into a protective, gelded craze trying to chase Prairie up her run and away from other suitors.

The Boy talks about how fantastically interesting it is to just sit and watch the herd interact - and I have to agree with him.  Especially with a few new players in the mix it only takes about 30 seconds of observation to realize that what photographs like a still life of horses grazing independently, is really a dynamic conversation with the lead mares pushing individuals off resources, evaluation position, geldings moving on mares, new comers hovering on the outskirts and one fat little pony weaving through it all. 

So fascinating. 

What impresses me with the herd is how effectively the top of the pecking order controls the bottom.  we watched as the #2 mare flicked an ear at a lowly gelding from 40 yards and he deflected his path choosing to head away from hay and water out to the open field. 

S caught the observation and while discussing it with Cowboy Man we realized that sort of impact and influence is exactly what we wanted to focus on.

In fact, it's a basis for so much of Cowboy Man's training.  Control the feet, then the nose, and do it all from a distance.  If Boss Lady Mare only has to shoot a glance to redirect a herd member, there's no reason I should need a chain, or a spur, or a harsh bit to correctly lead my horse on the ground, move them off my leg or apply brakes.  It works, but not absolutely and it results in a horse that isn't "with you." 

So, that led into the goals for the weekend:

For P2:
 - Respect my space on the ground
 - Respond to Poll Pressure (don't snap cross ties)
 - Tune in under saddle (no drama llama-ing or scooting)

A tall order, and by no means something to magically fix in a weekend, but all issues that we can begin our work towards changing.

For Joshy-Pants
 - Respect personal space on the ground
 - Stop bolting when being led

Also, ongoing issues that have emerged slowly and because they were never corrected or dealt with.  But now he's a full sized elephant with little regard for his humans.  He's not mean, or "naughty" per se, but anything with a butt that big dangerous in the wrong situation.  (or at the very least disconcerting to handle)

Our first exercise was to lead the beasts on a hand walk around the full property (on a newly mowed trail).  This was a wonderful demonstration of how little control I have of P2.  She nearly ripped my arm out of my socket, and had me sucked up to her shoulder the whole time.  The only "tool" I had for gaining her attention was whacking her on the butt with my lead rope which resulted in resetting her position for approximately 2 minutes before her mind wandered off to a bird, or a tree or a horse next door.  Josh was much the same, and at one point when Prairie spun up on a particularly tight portion of the trail I just dropped her line and let her go.  Josh has a similar moment and both S and I were left feeling like terrible horsewomen who don't deserve their creatures.

 But it was a great highlight of our weaknesses and how our ponies viewed us - which is to say that we are basically annoying flies that often pester them enough to do what we want, but ultimately have no importance in their decision making.  Not exactly the absolute obedience and deference that I'm looking for.

That moved us into our first ground exercise which involves asking the horse to stand (politely) and stay standing while controlling their movement from a distance (about 10 ft.).

The baby beginner version of this is to bring the horse into the open barn, stand them up against a wall (for support) and give them a snack to encourage staying put (I'm assured this isn't cheating).  Then, as the handler, you back away about 10 ft on a long line. 
Big Josh starting his snack and the standing exercise

The idea is the horse stands quite happily as long as there is food.  All the while you're talking in a nice soft voice, "good mare, very smart mare, what a good mare.  Such good standing, what a star, great mare..." broadcasting all sorts of relaxation and happiness. 

Eventually, the horse gets bored (usually when they run out of food) and starts exploring.  When they step out of an acceptable "box" (to start this is like a 10' by 10' space), as the handler you put them back.  But you aren't allowed to touch them, or put tension on the line.  So there's usually a loud "shhhhhhhttttk! ah ah, back back back" accompanied by big waving arms and a stomping foot.

If you're one of the herd members, you move off and yield to the noise/pressure from a happy healthy distance.

If you're P2, you look at me like "omg, crazy human, she must need a snack." and then continue on exploring. 

This is where Cowboy Man usually takes over and shows you how big, sharp and quick you can be and how well horses go "ohhh" and move away from the noise. 

Of course most horses don't just acquiesce and allow you to be the alpha herd member.  They evaluate their options and look for a method of escape. Usually either by backing into the depths of the barn, or trying to blow right past you (this is where the long line comes in).

Recapturing their attention usually involved a nose pull on the line, and then immediate release.  Sometimes they get "lunged" in a few circles until they tune in and get shooed back to their standing spot using noise, movement and no line pressure (again, from a distance). 

Prairie testing boundaries, and CM as close as he ever got

Prairie took about 2 repetitions of this before she realized that Cowboy Man was dominant and he had a say as to where she put her feet.  It only take ten minutes because it's a language that makes sense.  While the snack is a jump start to licking and chewing, P2 would oscillate from a slightly anxious "this is weird get me out" to a calm, licking and chewing sigh in no time at all.  Just as she would quickly figure out what mare in the herd dictated when and where she ate.

When I took back over and tried my hand at it I realized how quickly I wanted to a) step in and close the distance between me and P2 and b) tug on the line.  Both were corrected by Cowboy Man since the idea is to increase the distance you can control your horse and also, to avoid any mechanical control.  Even using the line as a way to get her attention made the exercise a mechanical one instead of a social one (damn). 

I knew I would have to focus in order to change my own instincts, but holy crap, so much harder than I thought. 

After about 30 minutes Prairie was so tuned in that a slight lean in her direction and a foot stomp would raise her head from her snack and have her waiting for social pressure to move.  No violence, no physical restriction, but a horse who was looking to me for where to go and when to do it.

The more advanced herd members at Summer Camp go through this exercise without a line or halter.  and they don't need the physical "gravity" of the wall either.  They can get "put" anywhere on the farm and stay there until Cowboy Man asks them to move off. 

Of course they test the boundaries and every once in a while there's a bolt, but he just runs them down, joins back up and returns them to their spot without fail. 

Building on that foundation I took Prairie out for another walk and managed to maintain about 6 feet of slack line between us the whole time.  She still looked and oogled things but she was not allowed to bulge in on me, pull on the line or treat me like an annoying fly.  It's a long ways to a soft, easy hunter round, but I could see the connection and I was loving the response...

We finished the evening by watching Cowboy Man work a few of the horses around the property (P1 being one of them) and it was fabulous to watch her cantering in and out of the trees over hills and through water.  When he was done with his exercises I hopped on (with a halter and lead rope) and ambled around the property admiring how loose and calm my fiery red mare was. 

Untacking (note P is tied, Bella on the left, is free)
S and I closed out the night by having a fabulous meal and fabulous wine while we digested the lessons of the day.  Even if that's all we did, there's so much value for me in changing my perspective and interrupting patterns that I don't even think about with my horses. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

On My Mind/Wrist

As though she hadn't already saved mu butt by braiding (not once, but twice!) at our show last weekend, Supermom surprised me at the end of the whole shebang with my very own horsey-name-bracelets. 

Even growing up I had never actually owned one.  I always thought my folks (or brother, or uncle or whoever) would see them at the tack store (or at a show) and think "oh! stocking stuffer!" or something, but alas no - and it was never something I splurged on for myself.

But now I've got a bracelet for each lovely mare and I get to stare at them all day long.  I've been mixing and matching them with different bangles and playing around with how I like wearing them best. 

Makes me feel 12 again.  (In a good way, not in the awkward, gangly, horrifically terrified of boys way).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Long, Low & Loose

Having cheated a little bit at the show with regards to my vets suggestion of "nothing that causes tension" this week I've been focused on keeping them mare moving freely and not instigating any fights or encouraging any anxiety or tension.

This meant that after a much deserved day off I tacked up for a light hack on Tuesday with every intention of just hacking out in a stretchy trot and doing my damnedest not to mess the mare up.

She was fabulous.  Loose, relaxed, happy.  S was teaching a lesson so we stuck to the "scary" end of the arena where Prairie was happily bopping around on a looped rein even with chickens screaming in the bushes and some lunatic running a chainsaw (on what sounded like sheet metal) a few driveways over. 

One thing that I've noticed is that Prairie has lost some of her cadence in the last couple months.

I can only assume that this is directly related to my rein usage and our general lack of balance, but she feels decidedly less uphill than she did and it's especially obvious when I don't carry her front half and let her determine her frame.  It's possible that I've adjusted to her movement somewhat, but I'm pretty sure we've lost some loft along the way.

No worries.  We'll get it back.  But first the mare must relax and step freely.

Another thing I've noticed is that all this time in hunt tack has left me with an incredibly wobbly lower leg when I drop my stirrups.  Not sure where all my stability went, but it's also gone (MISSING: Loft and Leg, please call me if you find it)

I can (also) only assume that my wiggly leg isn't helping our balance/loft/relaxation issues any. 

Anyway, noticing our lack of balance and my lack of supportive leg I dropped back to a walk and started with some figure eights of varying size, exaggerating our bend and trying to control the shape with only my leg.  I also started scooping Prairie either into shoulder in or haunches in on our circle to keep her mobile and relaxed and responsive.  She was great to the right, but a bit stiff to the left (albeit responsive).

Finally, when I felt like I had my legs working and my hand relaxed we bumped up into a trot and repeated the exercise, fluctuating from 10 meter to 25ish meter circles and often going from a larger circle to a smaller "snowman head" circle on the same figure eight.  I was encouraging Prairie to go as low as she could without falling on her nose and she was very eagerly seeking the contact.

When she did lose her balance she would pop up, invert then find the contact and follow it down again.  It seemed like a good order of operations.

When things were working well again I tossed in some leg yields which were sloppy at first, then pretty soft and straight.  Finally we cantered on a loose rein both directions but I didn't fuss with changes, simple or flying, so as not to ruin our lovely moments.

Prairie was soft, foamy and full of lots of snorts and sighs which seemed like a good first ride back.  I'm going to try to do as much of this as possible and rebuild our foundation with a lighter hand and better balance.

Something tells me it might take a while.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Octoberfest: Sunday

(Prairie's Game Face)
 The second day of the show was mercifully cooler (man I hate complaining about nice weather) which made everything just that much easier (namely eating and drinking... I stop eating when it's too hot).

P2 was relaxed and happy.  She really doesn't get too disrupted by hauling to new spots which is a nice change from my beasties growing up.

Anyway, once again Supermom trekked out to redo the braids and the day was lining up nicely.  S had two final rounds over fences to close out the Baby Green Division, and I had a course and a flat class for both my Long Stirrup Hunter and Long Stirrup Eq.  Pretty full day, but nothing drastically new.

Well, aside from a slightly adjusted pony-eating fence that was causing problems all morning in our ring.
the offending flowers and brick
Kids were falling off. Ponies were bolting, grown women were getting jumped out of the tack, it was a disaster.  And I couldn't quite tell what was so spooky.  It looked pretty darn similar to the rest of the jumps but whatever, flight animals are flight aniumals...

Prairie didn't even bat an eye at it, which was a neat touch.  She did perk up her ears but that was about as much attention as it got.

Actually, the whole first round was pretty decent and somehow S snagged a 2nd place with P2.  (probably because if was everyone's first go with the death-fence so we had the benefit of some refusals and uuuugly jumps).

Here's the video:

The second course was more of the same but since everyone else cleaned up their act over the scary fence, we pinned 4th.  Still strong, still strung out, but still bold!

S took a few minutes and schooled P2 for a little bit after her rides to try and back her off/calm her down a little.  It seemed to work and a big part of that (oddly) seemed to be switching to a bigger spur.  Prairie stepped up a bit more, but actually lightened in the bridle... so the plan was to spur me up for our classes and see if it made a difference.

Our warmup was.... mediocre.  Prairie was much lighter in the bridle and the flat work was fabulous, but her brain was just not functioning over fences.  We weren't getting our leads, we couldn't switch our leads and the mare was horrified whenever I tried to ask for a simple change - trotting was just NOT on her menu.

I tried to wait to ride my courses until the end of the division, so that I could go course, course, then straight into my flat classes... but no such luck.  I got impatient and wanted to be done with the jumping so we ended up just going and then sitting around for another 45 minutes waiting for our flat classes.

The Boy was sleeping, or finally bored or something so he missed the first half of both courses.  It's a little too bad since right now we start better than we finish.  And it was especially too bad for my Eq course because there was a kind of tricky roll back that we took absolutely perfectly.  It felt magical.  But the video doesn't start till the wheels started coming off and I had my hands in my lap and the mare is drama llamaing all over the place.  Such is life.

Not sparing my ego, here are the videos:

Finally, we finished with the Under Saddle.  I dropped my stirrups a hole (which S cautioned me about) and nearly forgot to remove the martingale but we pulled the offending tack and got in the ring.  Prairie was a perfectly mannered, very light and loose mare the whole time.  Transitions were easy and she was right with me on a loose rein.

No surprise, she won it.

The Eq class we had that canter bobble and I could feel her tiring, but as far as her performance, she was still calm, and forward and focused.  I guess we needed a yellow ribbon anyway (our first one!)

All in all a fabulous outing, lots of information and lots learned... For now its back home for lots of long and low and getting off the hand and getting rid of that damned Rein Lameness. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Octoberfest: Saturday

Brave little mare doesn't care about flowers anymore
 Saturday started out nicely.  We've been having an incredible August/September weather wise in the PNW, so we were greeted with sunny skies and the promise of upper 70's for the day.  The ponies slept well, Prairie has no concerns whatsoever about eating and drinking in new places and she seemed to enjoy the ridiculously deep bed of shavings in her portable over night.

Being new to Hunter Land, I was unfamiliar with the notion of hiring a braider and even less familiar with the notion of said braider scampering about in the dead of night braiding up horses from 10pm-5am.  Apparently you can make $100k following the shows around, but it sounds like a hell of a job..

Anyway, there was confusion all around and when I got to the barn bright and early I noticed that P2's locks were decidedly not braided (though everyone else from our barn was).  Confusing.  It's like the horse show equivalent of getting coal in your stocking... Apparently Santa didn't want to stop at P2's stall..

Cue panicked text to Supermom and her super-speedy-braiding-ability.  Thank god for skilled friends. :)

All dolled up P2 looked mighty professional and ready for her Big Debut.  I - was not dolled up, and was in a bit of a panic having heard the ring announcer call for our class like 10 times before we were even close to tacked up.

Had I understood how open cards work, I probably would have calmed down considerably, but as it stood I'm pretty sure I was just stressing everyone else out around me.  Including poor S who not only had to ride another mare in the division but also coach her kids in Ring 2 for their walk/trot/canter classes.

Once someone informed me that "open cards" mean that once they reset the jumps to a certain height they allow anyone in any class (at that height) to ride at any time.  So instead of having 9 rides in class #32, then 10 rides in class #33 and 4 rides in #34... a rider from #34 can go in, then a rider from #32, etc etc... so you end up with a two hour window for your ride time instead of hovering around waiting for your specific class to go.  Brilliant really.  Makes everything a bit more flexible, although it does mean classes don't get pinned until the whole group of classes gets closed...

Anyway, with regard to P2, she warmed up pretty well.  A little amped up but not awful.  S took her to an indoor ring with less traffic and tuned her up, then popped over a couple fences outside and headed in for her round.

Here's her first course with S in the irons. (I screwed up a setting so forgive the focus issues, I figured it out in time for Sunday...)

Things that are good:
 No refusals! In fact the mare didn't even look at the jumps (of course she had jumped most of them the day before..)
Some lead changes! sure, a few simple changes, but she swapped on her own after a few fences without throwing a fit.
No one died!  (or got injured)

Things that we can improve:
 Keeping the mare underneath herself
Backing her off the jumps a bit more so she's not throwing herself over
Getting off the forehand
Not ripping arms out...

All in all. Not bad.

Since I didn't understand the "open card" philosophy we had about an hour before the Under Saddle class so the mare got a break and I got dressed.  When I tacked her back up again she was calm and confident, willing to walk from the barn to the ring on a totally loose rein just looking around and absorbing everything. 

I only warmed up for a few minutes, popped a couple transitions up and down then sat and waiting for our class.  Practicing our good "showmanship" I followed S (on cute Poppy) into the ring at a strong trot and let our big leggy, floating mares show off for a moment while the rest of the class got in the gate.  I tried to stay off the contact and just bump Prairie with a half halt if she started rushing - which seemed to be all she needed.

Here's the video of the class (The Husband is already convinced that flat classes are potentially the most boring things ever.  "worse than dressage, even" in his own words.... lol)

 Literally the only under saddle classes I have ridden was in the IHSA, so not only has it been a while, but at that point I was usually less concerned with "being seen by the judge" and more occupied with trying to not get kicked, cut off, bitten, or trampled by any of the spooking/bolting/bucking/freaking out horses also in the ring.  Different objectives.  Mostly I stuck to the outside of the ring since the class wasn't crowded and I didn't have to circle.  I probably could have made better use of the ring/judge's field of vision, but I guess it didn't matter since she thought Prairie was the most huntery-huntress in the ring.

I was surprised to get first, but I guess after chatting with S a bit more afterward, it made sense.

After our class the mare got another break while we waited for all the ponies to go before they opened up the Short Stirrup/Long Stirrup card.

This time when I tacked Prairie up again she started giving me the stink eye.  Which I (correctly) interpreted to me "you can put all that crap on me again, but I'm not going to cooperate."

She didn't.

This time walking to the rings she was antsy, and sweaty and irritated at being asked to do something.  We warmed up quickly and without too much fuss, but Prairie was not interested.  She was dull to my hand and perfectly willing to leeeeeeaaaaan on whatever contact I gave her.  I tried to sharpen her up a bit but we weren't really getting anywhere and since it was hot and she was tired I opted not to get into a knockdown drag out fight over it.  Plus I was under strict instructions to "not pull on her right rein."  I'm pretty sure we already crossed that line but no need to make a bigger issue out of it.

So I just went in the ring.  We were tired of waiting and as soon as they opened up the card for our Long Stirrup, we were off to the races.  In theory we did great.  We jumped all the jumps, in order and without crashing through them, or the stupid carnival flags that served as the "fence" for the arena on one side.

Realistically I know that these are great accomplishments, especially for our first "real" show over fences (and first course with me up on her back).  But, we didn't exactly put in a great Hunter round.  Prairie wanted to rush after the fences, and that threw her off balance and that meant we couldn't get our flying changes and that meant I was hauling on her face and that meant we repeated the cycle after every fence (WHOOPS).  We did make our strides in the lines (barely), but our distances to about half the jumps were fairly awful.  When she did come back we broke to the trot (no leg!).  Ooof.  Not one for the record books, but we managed it ok... We rode our Eq course first (weird) where we had to jump the first fence in a line then swerve away from the second and serpentine our way to our next fence.  That confused P2 but gave me a chance to get her back (a little).  Also, S suggested I "sitting trot out of the ring" as an extra Eq bonus point.  I however took that literally and did not know you can DQ yourself if you don't walk out the gate.  They didn't DQ us, but I'm not sure if would have mattered.... :)
Not sure why I'm going left.  At least Prairie remembered to stay straight...

Here's the video:

S's first comment as we came out after our first round was "you'd have a lot easier time controlling her if you shortened your reins by about a foot."


Those damn reins. 

Always ruining my fun.

So, I shortened my reins, glanced at my Hunter course and went right back in.

It was... mostly the same.  Probably because I promptly slipped my reins right back to where there had been (grin).  I got frustrated and when the mare blew me off I slammed her down a couple times (more trot jumps) and we missed our stride in one of the lines (whoops!).  I felt like she started listening a bit more, but it did not paint a prettier picture for the judge and I'm certain my Eq looked rather ineffective.  Not helped by P2 freight training around.  Between my my reins still being too long and my reluctance to sit my butt in the saddle through the corners (which I *know* is something I need to do in order to get P2's butt back underneath her)  I got what I deserved out of P2.

More glorious video:

That ended our day in terms of classes so we hosed the beasts down, washed them off and gave them some dinner while we took advantage of the competitors' cookout and watched the mini prix in the big ring. 

Afterward (wine still in hand) we took all the beasts out for a walk and let them enjoy some delicious grass (something 44 days without rain has left them wanting back at home..)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Octoberfest Recap

Before I dive deep in rehashing all the thrills and spills of the weekend, I figure it's probably prudent to start at the proverbial "40,000ft" summary.

From 40,00ft - it was a great weekend.  All realistic goals were met.  The mare seemed to enjoy (most) of the experience, I enjoyed (most) of the experience and I'm pretty sure we came away from it positively.

Friday we arrived with time to school in the show rings.  This is one thing about Hunter Land that baffles me - my little Eventer brain just cannot comprehend how it's possible to pay $20 then go school in the big scary ring and jump over all the big scary jumps. 

Magical.  How anyone has a refusal during their actual round is beyond me.  (just for that I will probably have a refusal at my next outing..)

That being said I let S have the schooling ride and just as I was sitting there thinking "wow, she's so lovely to watch" and thanking other onlookers for their kind words regarding her movement and overall presence, S pulled up and informed me that she was "basically unrideable."

This is the tricky thing about this mare.  Even when she's explosive and bouncing off the walls, she still looks.... pretty damn good to someone on the ground.  Not perfect, but certainly not as difficult as she feels when you're in the irons.  I like it when I'm watching, I hate it when I'm riding.. This is also what's contributing to the "rein lameness."  When she's tense and holding, she still has a nice big swinging stride.  Sneaky....

Regardless, P2 calmed down pretty quick and didn't even bat an eye at any of the big spooky jumps in Hunter Ring #1 (though we didn't push our luck by heading to the jumper ring..)

Saturday Prairie had a her first round over fences and her Hunter U/S class in the Baby Green Division (2'6") as well as one course each for my Long Stirrup Hunter and Long Stirrup Eq divisions (both 2'3").

S piloted her around a decent course for Baby Green and since she had another entry in the division I rode Prairie for the Under Saddle class.  I think Prairie got 4th (out of 5?) over fences, but we won the flat class (WHEEE) with our barn mate taking second right behind us.  It was a great start to the day.

Then it was my turn to take her over fences.  I warmed her up briefly, but she was feeling pretty dang strong after the fences and I could tell I didn't "have her" right where I needed her.  But I could also tell that as her third tack-up of the day we weren't going to sharpen things up by schooling more and more and more...

I got two "successful" but not pretty rounds in and we pinned toward the bottom (or at the bottom) of the class in both.

Sunday, was another day which started with two Hunter rounds to close out the Baby Green division and left me with another course for both my LS divisions as well as my flat classes for Hunter U/S and Eq U/S.

I timed things a bit better so Prairie only had to be tacked up twice - which goes to show how rusty I am at this whole show-timing thing. Although I didn't really understand the whole "open card" thing but now it's making more sense and makes me much less nervous about missing my rides.

S improved on her Saturday ride and snagged a 2nd and 4th over fences (not last!!) which gave me hope for my remaining courses though I forgot that would mean I would need to ride like S in order to duplicate the effort.

I didn't, so we picked up another pink (Hunter) and white (Eq) for my efforts.

The flat classes were better (again) and saw another blue for our Hunter U/S but sadly Prairie somehow swapped her hinds during our left lead right as we cantered by the judge.  It felt like she kicked out at a fly or something weird, but I'm pretty sure that knocked us down to our 3rd place Eq finish. 

I don't think that highly of my Eq, but I did look around the ring during my class and between my ability to stay on the right diagonal, keep my leg on and sit the trot without bouncing out of the tack I'm pretty sure we would have pinned higher without the bobble in the canter. (even with my horrifically long reins)

All in all, we had great rides all weekend.  No stops, no meltdowns, no catastrophes.   Presumably if Prairie could lope around a course like she lopes around the ring for her flat classes, she'd be a pretty unbeatable Hunter.  But the devil's in those darn details, right?

Frankly I'm shocked that Prairie was as calm in her flat classes as she was.  No looks at the judge's booth, no eyeballing the other rings, jumps, horses, nothing.  She was good and focused so long as I didn't go shaking things up by jumping something.

Good mare.

I'll delve into our specific rides as I get the videos and pics back, but here's a few shots from the ever fantastic Supermom who not only managed to catch some great pics of us, but also woke up early and drove allllll the way to the show each day in order to put pretty braids in Prairie's hair.  She's a life saver.
S and P2 in Baby Greens
Winning our Long Stirrup HUS
More to come!!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Grand Supreme Champion

Couldn't have asked for more this weekend. Well, at least not from The Husband.... Prairie left a few things to be desired..

But seriously. Hauling to weird vet appointment early Friday, then scooting to the barn and home to prep for the show... And scooting to the show... And unloading tack trunks and hay and helping wash horses... And sewing buttons on my hunt coat... And walking the horse between (very) frustrating rounds.....
And filling a cooler with ice and wine for all us girls... And dutifully cheering us on and managing to video all the rides.

He wins.

(Prairie won some things too but I'll recap that later)

One of our friends captured this little snapshot of a caught glance during one of my Hunter U/S classes.... Love him.

(hate the hands though- shorten those freaking reins!!!!)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Not An Abscess.

Well. It's not an abscess. But it's also nothing too scary (yet).

I met up with my vet in a dark, empty parking lot of a city park (since we weren't allowed to haul in to the barn she was practicing at for the day) which gave the whole proceeding the sense of a not-so-subltle high school drug deal.

Prairie was a tad confused as to why she was finishing her breakfast alone, in a parking lot, with no friends but she was decently calm. Especially given the annual tree limbing that was going on 60 yards away...

We chatted a bit an the first order of business was hoof testers.

No sensitivities. Anywhere. (yay good feet! Boo not an easy answer)

We lunged P2 around, jogged out on pavement. Walked uphill, walked downhill.. Turned in circles, everything reinforcing the initial idea my vet had (from that YouTube video I sent her) which was Rein Lameness.

Rein Lameness.

A diagnosis that I am always a little skeptical of and I think is often misused but I liked the way it sounded a hell of a lot more than "blown suspensory."

It also goes hand in hand with what is hard for me and P2. She's learned how to go without ever really lifting through her shoulder. And while she's cheating like that she still looks nice and feels forward and free so no one (myself included) corrects her out of it.

The analogy that I really liked was the notion of women who carry their 40lb purse on one shoulder all the time then can't figure out why their tennis serve is suffering.

So. Prairie is carrying her proverbial purse on her right shoulder. Impacting her gait, but not (yet) actually causing any serious damage.

So we discussed options, how to interrupt the pattern and ultimately how to correct it. The looming implications of not fixing Prairie's purse shoulder is that eventually it'll blow her left suspensory.

No bueno.

The good news is doing anything that keeps her long, low and loose is good. Moving is good. Jumping is good. Working is good.

But hauling on her mouth is bad. Jamming her up is bad. Letting her suck back is bad.

Presumably all those things were bad before but they weren't directly causing problems.

The good news is that the new plan works well with our Hunter work. But we do need to slow down and not force ourselves through anything that causes scooting.

The great news is that we don't have to cancel any of our fun things. So we're at the show and P2 has settled in great an had a decently relaxed school over fences last night (after 4 days off). Good mare.

Keep you posted!!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Annnd Bitting Down

(While I haul P2 to a public park where we're meeting up with our vet, I'll leave you with a synopsis of our last couple rides before the damn leg started hurting on Tuesday..)

After our ride with the Corkscrew and the two bucks, I thought maybe I'd control some variables and switch back to a softer bit and see what happened.

Saturday's ride we had almost the exact same lesson plan with some small fences, an outside line and ending with a few small course like rounds.  Not being a perfect scientist - instead of returning to our full cheek that we've been jumping in, I tried the slightly thinner, double jointed loose ring with a copper lozenge.  I've had some flat rides in it and P2 seems to respect it a bit more, but she stays pretty soft-and-chewy with it.  We hadn't used it over fences (mostly because it's attached to a black bridle not a brown one and I'm lazy) so I switched it up and we went for it.

Prairie definitely wasn't as backed off the contact as she was in the corkscrew, but she also refrained from any weird bucking or other outbursts.  Our only freight train tendencies came as we jumped a single fence on the diagonal going home.  There's something about the big open diagonal pointed at the barn (and not a wall of trees) that incites the mare to scoot away from her landing.

What I enjoyed about this ride though, was the fact that a month ago one of those land-n-scoots could only have been solved with a halt (or a walk) usually using a fence line as a physical brake.  Now, we've modified what it takes to get back to normal.  Instead of having to hit the reset button to reestablish a balanced canter, Prairie is capable of re-balancing and bringing herself back to a cute little hunter stride without a total stop.

It still takes 8-10 strides of land-n-scoot - but what's new is that I can feel P2 trying to come back.  Eventually she makes it back and responds nicely to my half halts, so I'm thinking the residual scooting that I get is not an evasion, but still a balance/confidence issue.  She's already come such a long way, I really can't complain about not achieving perfection in that realm yet.

Here's a clip from the ride.  Notice how balanced the mare is in the line and how she fits a nice 5 strides in like she's supposed to!  I sit up a little to remind her to come back, but she's back herself off and finding her distances all on her own (grin).

Coming around to the single fence on the diagonal, you'll see her open up for the longer distance (that's ok) but then there's a bit of a land-n-scoot on the far side.  But, BUT, I don't have to slam her on her ass to recover.  By the short end of the arena she's balanced and tuned back in.  I think that's progress.
The mare was rewarded with a day off followed by a nice, easy, Labor Day flat hack.  Since the loose ring had been moved to a brown bridle, I grabbed our other Black bridle which had the KK dynamic D-ring on it to try for giggles.  I haven't touched this bit since our last Dressage Show where Prairie showed off her absolute best impression of either a freight train, or a field plow.  There was some debate as to which one she more closely resembled.

That was the final straw for switching bits, but after some nice light rides, I thought I'd see what would happen with the KK D again...

Prairie was... a gem.  I worked through some of our "bit response" exercises before mounting up (basically stimulating her lip with either my finger or the bit to get a lick/chew) and started with a nice long amble around the ring on the buckle.  I have been focusing on trying to steady the mare more with my legs and less with my hands, especially with regard to wanting to eyeball scary looking things.  I get conned into grabbing her face to contain her, but we're making progress.  Some is just from increased time together, and some is from Prairie figuring out that a death grip on her face isn't actually a positive form of support.  If you'll recall when I first brought the big mare home, letting her "out of her box" at all would result in lost balanced and rushing into a spook.... By extension if she was scared of something, if I didn't immediately take a strong contact Prairie interpreted that as "holy crap you probably want me to run away now."

We still have bits of that, and I'm curious to see what happens at the show this weekend (in an indoor), but she really is starting to get the same confidence/support from my leg without me grabbing her face.  (baby steps).

Anyway, our flat hack was lovely.  Soft, light shoulder in, soft light leg yields, a few lengthenings, then I played with transitions.  Lots of walk/canter/walk, and trot/canter/trot.  Then I worked on canter departs down the center line alternating what lead I was asking for trying to maintain as much straightness as possible.

When in doubt Prairie likes to take her right lead, so it took a few attempts to sharpen my left lead depart, but we got it.  By the end we were getting 4-5 departs from the walk per trip down the center line with a nice little rollback at the end.

After that I thought I'd revisit my "reinless" ride so I threw a knot in my reins looped a pink through the end and put my hands on my thighs.  We did a few more walk/canter/walks with mixed results.  The departs are lovely.  Dare I say better than when I've got my hands all mixed up in them, but the downward transitions leave something to be desired.  P2 gets confused and tips onto her forehand and then we rush around a bit before we drop back to the walk.  I worked through some sloppy ones before I cheated a little and gave her some rein support to hint that maybe she should sit down instead of plowing around and that seemed to sharpen things up again. 

I ended with some big figure eights with a simple change and called it good.  That seemed deserving of a walk through the pastures and some fun chasing the mini-donkey around.  (I'd buy P2 some toys, but nothing makes her happier than chasing that poor donkey...)

Hard not to feel great about an easy, relaxed ride like that.  What a fun mare.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


She's off.

The mare is off.

She's been off since Tuesday.

I was sort of hoping that things would magically resolve themselves if I just closed my eyes really tight, but so far that strategy hasn't worked.  (dammit)

Here's the rundown of recent events and mystery lameness:

Saturday we had a great ride (post pending) and I trimmed Prairie's front toes right after. I did take off more medial toe than I normally do but that means I swiped my rasp 18 times instead of 10. Still not a radical trim (I don't think).

Regardless, Prair got Sunday off and I had a *great* dressage school on Monday. Nothing weird or tense or injury inducing that I can recall.  There was one weird step when we were walking the property, but she didn't scoot, or scurry, or even really trip.  I just felt one weird step. 

Tuesday when I pulled the mare out- all looked well, but as soon as I started trotting I could feel a hitch in her step.I hopped off and rechecked her legs (since nothing screamed OUCH when I was grooming/tacking up).

No swelling. No heat. No sensitivity.

Hopped back on and did some figure eights...

Definitely her left front and more pronounced tracking right, but still not head bobbling lame (small blessings).

I (obviously) gave up on a lesson and hopped off to job her out on the hard gravel where her unevenness  was a bit more obvious.

Lacking any other inspiration, I cold hosed both fronts, shoved some bite down her face and called it a day.technically she spat some bute in my face, but ultimately I won that battle.

Yesterday I didn't want to jinx things so I didn't put my breeches on when I went to the barn. I lunged the mare briefly each direction and she looked sound. But then I jogged her on the gravel again and I thought I saw the slight favoring of her left fore.(stomach sink)

Curious how the less obvious lameness would feel compared to the day before I tacked up to see what I felt under saddle. Normally I wouldn't ride a horse that I suspected of being off, but she's still so new to me I felt like I could get a better sense if things were better/worse if I could feel the motion rather than just looking at it.  Her big trot makes it that much easier to feel something not quite right...

Turns out she was still off.

Still very off in fact. But still nothing obviously sensitive, bleeding or swollen.

I'm terrified that I did something with the trim, but if I took too much hoof off I would have expected Prairie to be sore on Monday... Which she wasn't... (Unless I screwed up her angles so much I strained a tendon???)

My vet is on this side of the world tomorrow so we'll have some diagnostics then, but it looks like we're missing our big hunter show (sad). Not brutally important - but I was really looking forward to all the fun trips we had planned for September. That's horses for you.

I've started mentally preparing for the worst. But still really (really) hoping for something stupid like a stone bruise.

Sad mare.

Here's a quick video of my (brief) ride yesterday to feel her out... Always good to have a baseline, right?

Also, went out this morning - and again, she looked sound on the lunge inside, but ouchy on the gravel outside.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Extreme Makeover: Tack Locker Edition

There's nothing I love more than an Extreme Makeover (if you couldn't tell about the post regarding my garage here.  Or the oh so lovely tack room at our old barn here.)

As I mentioned before, my tack locker at the barn is the barn-makeover equivalent of the middle aged mom out "on the plaza" with a crappy ass perm, bad glasses and baggy clothes with unidentifiable stains attributed to the 4 screaming children she's guiding around NYC while on Thanksgiving break where for some god forsaken reason they all woke up at 4am to get a good spot where they could stare easily at the back of Kathy Lee and Hoda's heads as they drink from giant margarita glasses at 6am on a Tuesday.

That woman will get picked for the instant makeover every time.  Every time.

My tack locker was sorta like that.  Broken bins that don't shut all the way, a total lack of shelves or racks.  An old saddle pad duct taped to the rack to soften the pressure on my saddle's panels, etc, etc. 

It was sad.  And it made me sad.  And I don't like anything horsey related to make me sad.  It was also incredibly frustrating whenever I had to dig out a different pair of brushing boots, or try to excavate a clean pad out from under the mess.

So, much like that plucky mom whisked away from the crowd who gets a quick dye job, a mediocre new dress and a hair cut that she has no possible way to maintain on her own - My little locker got the business end of a power drill and a new lease on life.

Behold the "before" (you've seen this mess before)

And the (gasp) after:

Dad helped install two shelves (one low, one high) that are both half the depth of the locker.  This makes shoving things up high easy, and leaves me room for tall things (like boots!) on the floor.  He also popped in a few shelves on the left side that take advantage of the 3" past the door frame and are perfect for all sorts of bottles and bags of treats.

I came in a few days later and knocked out the big, crappy saddle racks and installed two Easy Up racks from Schneider's.  I also popped in half of the Easy Up swinging pad rack which maybe has changed my life.  I threw four purple bridle hooks on the right side (and no, that still doesn't allow me to store all of P2's bridles at the barn) as well as a bandage rack hung sideways on the door. 

Right now my Upper Shelf has a bin with P2's show sheet, cooler and random jackets for me, along with my tub of tack cleaning supplies and spare treats (very important).

The shelves have all my first aid stuff, bathing stuff and treats-currently-being-used (extremely important).  I left a couple of old hooks in the wall for my spurs and boot pulls.

The new bridle hooks to the right have Prairie's fancy hunter bridle, her daily jumping bridle, and two dressage bridles (with different bits for different days).  The lower shelf houses my clippers, boot jack, and Prairie's boots, while an empty tub, my hoofjack and another bin full of miscellanea are tucked neatly below it.  Finally, my tall boots and grooming box sit on the floor in front of the shelf without fear of crap toppling down onto them. 

My door, which came with a few crappy over the door organizers is much less cluttered and now holds Prairie's nice leather halter (that she's not allowed to wear), my helmet, and all of her polos.  (her pillow wraps won't fit because her legs are the length of a adult giraffe.  Presumably once they are washed, they will go in the empty tub under the shelf.

Also, I still have so much room!  As Prairie's sheets migrate back to the barn for Fall, I definitely have space to store clean laundry and whatever else I decide that I absolutely must acquire (I'll think of something I'm sure)

Now, much like the makeover mom on morning television, my locker beams with pride and looks sharp, clean and ready for business.  It also makes me smile every time I swing the door open.

Unlike the makeover mom - my locker has already proven that well placed hooks and shelves are making it very easy to maintain the new look. 

Sometimes it's the little things in life :)

Of course.. With Pia's arrival comes another full size locker which begs the question - do I segregate stuff based on horse, or purpose?  I could give P1 a locker of her own and P2 a locker of her own, or I could dedicate one locker to "tack only" and use another for random products, sheets, blankets and wraps...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bitting Up

While I was visiting Miss Pia, S had a ride on Prairie and experimented with a new bit.   A decently thin, loose ring, jointed corkscrew.

It makes the Pony Club kid/Dressage lady in me scowl in disgust but it also made me a little bit curious as to whether or not it might interrupt freight train tendencies over fences.

S reported back a light, easy, very fantastic Hunter-esque ride.

So for my Friday morning lesson I gave it a go.  Prairie was admittedly - pretty well behaved (mostly) in it.  Once we warmed up a bit and played with some transitions I could tell that she was much more mindful of my seat and half halts than she usually likes to be.

And it was really satisfying (dare I say, fun?) to canter around on a nearly looped rein and not have to micromanage her front end.

Jumping away from home she was tidy, responsive and very balanced.  But even the death-bit couldn't erase all freight-train resemblance as we cantered a line going home.  Prairie wasn't totally running away, but she was ignoring my requests for a correct 6 strides, or any signals that I wanted to add a stride.

Finally, one time through (headed home) I almost got our sixth stride in when Prairie managed some sort of odd stride-not-a-stride-boingo-boingo-jump that caught me off guard, and as she caught herself on the far side I reeeaaaalllllly jabbed her in the mouth.

Usually I pride myself on my ability to easily slip my reins.  It's a skill I picked up when I was almost exclusively jumping green beans and was semi-used to them hurling themselves over things at odd distances in odd ways.  I've also been pretty good at it with Prairie since she can have a big 'ol jump and I'm never quite sure if she's going to jump the 2'6" vertical at 2'6" or 3' or 5'2".  It's a mystery.  I try to be prepared.

But this time I wasn't,  I think maybe I was 95% convinced she was adding that last stride and didn't totally read her correctly. Who knows.  All I know is I thought "oh shit.  Sorry mare" right before she landed, freaked, bucked, and bolted.

I probably would have tried to run away too.

I didn't really get after her since I was 99% sure that she got scared from the intense pain in her mouth, and she came back quietly.  I popped over the same fence again at an easy trot to make sure she didn't assume the jump bit her (nope, just a bad mom) and we moved on.

The rest of the ride was uneventful and we finished with some easy courses that were pretty decent.  After a ride where she waited to every fence and got all her leads I was just sitting back and letting her stretch in the canter on a loose rein about to drop to a walk when... BUCK.

Not big.  But a buck.

This horse has bucked a total of 3 times with me on her, and twice was during this ride.

The first one was clearly a response to the bit/jab, but the second? She was on the buckle, getting pats and nothing out of the ordinary (that I noticed) coincided with it.

I can't help but think the bit is a bit too strong and freaks her out, but that second buck has me wondering...

S asked if maybe it was a "wheee! I'm so good!" buck. But P2 doesn't seem like the type.  Maybe it was..  she didn't bolt or scoot after, just dropped into the walk and stayed loose.. but still weird.

I'm on high alert after the falling out behind earlier in the week (seems to be gone) weird high windpuffy things (also currently gone), and atypical bucks.

Something is up I think.  I keep hoping it's just the aches and pains of building muscle and fitness, since nothing seems to linger... but who knows....

I do know that we'll be back to our old bit for our next ride.  The Corkscrew might be a good tool for riding off property, but I don't want it to be our daily choice.  I also ordered a regular full cheek slow twist as an alternative show bit, and might start playing with some happy mouth bits for regular schooling to see how she does with a really friendly mouthpiece (but maybe with different action...).

We shall see.

here's a quick video of one of the rides through the line looping back to jump the fences individually after.  Not horrid but we have some work to do:

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