Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lamenting the cold

Yesterday both ponies were supposed to get their feet done - Kaswyn a reset of his shoes and Albert to get his shoes pulled and go barefoot for the winter. However it was really cold - like 10 degrees with the wind chill, so I decided I'd better not go out there and stand in the cold for two hours. Instead I asked Susan to go and hold the horses for the farrier at 10:00 am. She wasn't working, so she said it would be no problem.

I called Susan at 9:00 to double check, and it's a good thing I did. Her truck is in the shop, so she has her little car, which does not have four wheel drive. And that little car was stuck in her driveway, which is hard to get in and out of even with the 4x4. She was shoveling and trying to get out, but she said it was pretty buried and not really on the driveway anymore. It was doubtful that she'd be able to shift it on her own, and was waiting for the plow guy to come and get her out. So I had to call the farrier and reschedule for Thursday. It's supposed to be 37 degrees on Thursday - heat wave! - so I should be able to handle it.

There was no riding Tuesday, and there will be no riding today. It's warmer, but with the wind chill it's 18 degrees. Not something I want to be breathing. I really hate not riding. I can feel myself getting out of shape! And when I get out of shape it's really hard to push myself to ride harder and get back into it. Especially in the winter. I'm lazy at heart, and I like it when things are easy. Getting my riding stamina back is HARD!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Time off

The Thursday before Christmas week, I was at work as usual. I was just finishing up in the lab for the day when I noticed that I couldn't breathe very well. This happens when my asthma kicks in, so I left the lab and took a couple of puffs from my inhaler. I waited for the medicine to work, but it didn't seem to really do anything. I was very cold outside, and the cold is one thing that sets my asthma off when I'm out. However I hadn't been outside or cold in hours, so that wasn't the problem.

I sat quietly at my desk for 20 minutes or so. My breathing was getting worse, so I decided to go over to the next building and see my doctor. I was hoping for a breathing treatment that would solve this problem.

When I arrived at the front desk and told them I was having trouble breathing the receptionist took my social security number and told me to wait while she hurried into the back. Within one minute there were two nurses there to take me to a room. They got a doctor to see me in under five minutes. It was amazing. I wouldn't have gotten nearly as quick of service if I had gone to the emergency room.

They took my oxygen saturation level and it was low. They also had me do a breathing test to determine what my capacity was before and after the breathing treatment. Then I got my breathing treatment, then repeated the test. My lungs were much better but the doctor was concerned about why I had had the attack in the first place.

I didn't really have an explanation. I hadn't been exposed to anything that usually triggers an attack. I hadn't done anything that usually gives me an attack either. So the doctor put me on steroids twice a day, plus told me to take my asthma med Singulair once a day (which I don't take all the time because it's super expensive!) and my inhaler every four hours.

So I went home and everything was fine, until four hours after the breathing treatment. Then my lungs locked up in an alarming manner. It was like that for the next few days - I could tell when four hours was up because I started having problems breathing. My inhaler has a side effect of making me shaky, so I had to call off of work on Friday which is something that I never do.

Something else I had to do was not go out to the barn. We were having a cold snap in the weather and the cold sets my asthma off in a big way. So I didn't ride for a week.

Not riding for a week was the worst part of my asthma attack.

The last rides I had on both Kaswyn and Albert were really good. Well, Albert was pretty good. I'm still struggling at the canter with him. He is fine and light at the trot, but he still bears down on the bit at the canter. I try half-halts, which work for a stride or two, but then he jams back onto the bit again. We're both getting kind of frustrated, but I will say that there has been an improvement since our last lesson.

I took my trainer's instruction and had started to ask Kaswyn for some more collected work. It's not super collection - it's like second level collection. And he feels great. No funny steps or resistance. He gets a little fatigued, and that is when we stop. Anyway, that's where we were when I had to stop riding for a week.

But fortunately Kaswyn felt great when I rode him after that time off. I was so glad that he was still on track. He's looking really good too, putting muscle on his haunches and over his back. He still has a way to go but I can see him changing and it's all good.

I was going to ride today, but it's 20 degrees outside, and when I went out briefly this morning my lungs completely locked up. I think it would be wise not to risk another bad episode with my breathing so there will be no riding for me. It's supposed to warm up to 37 degrees on Thursday, so I'll give it a try then.

I'm glad I'm not showing in 2010, because I get the feeling that I won't be able to do as much riding as I'd like this winter.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Macey had a Fit Free Day yesterday, and got her 5th marble. After some whispered deliberations with Lily, Macey decided to get Slurpees as her reward. Everyone benefited from her fabulous day. We are so proud of her.

Macey for the win!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Losing Her Marbles - Part 2

Part 1

So just when we got Lily straightened out, Macey started having issues in school. This began when Macey got a new teacher. Well, technically it was an old teacher who had been on medical leave when we enrolled Macey in Pre-Kindergarten. Apparently the temporary teacher had let Macey do whatever she wanted to do in class, had let her be the "line leader" when it was time for lunch or time to go outside, and hadn't disciplined Macey at all. When the "real" teacher came back and started to reinstate the rules, and Macey didn't get whatever she wanted, things started to fall apart.

Macey can be very very cute and charming. I think this is part of the reason why she always got her way with the temporary teacher. Macey is very affectionate, loving, and knows how to turn that on in order to get her way. But a disappointed Macey is sight to behold. She throws fits. And they are impressive.

We started getting notes home about Macey. Macey wouldn't lie down at nap time, and continued to scream so none of the other kids could sleep. Macey didn't like the chair that was available to sit in at lunch time, so she stood on the carpet, stomped her feet, and cried. Macey was not happy that another child got a turn on the tricycle when they were outside, so she kicked wood chips at the teacher and screamed. Macey disrupted story time by crawling on the carpet and crying like a kitty.

Yeah. Nice.

Craig and I have said from the beginning that our kids will NOT be brats. We HATE it. So we were prepared for the school to go all out to stop this. The only problem is that the school has rules that they are unwilling to bend on.

Our idea - If Macey won't lie down at naptime, pick her up and put her on her cot.
Their response - We can only physically move children if they are in danger of being injured.

Our idea - If Macey has a fit, put her in time out.
Their response - We can't remove a child from the learning area.

Our idea - If Macey acts out during outside time, make her stay inside next time.
Their response - We cannot take things away from children as punishment.

Our idea - If Macey disrupts story time, tell her to go into another learning area of the classroom.
Their response - Macey refused to leave the carpet, and we can't pick her up and put her someplace else.

I'm sure these rules are a result of our society's love of litigation, but if Macey had no consequences for her actions then nothing was going to improve. We spoke at length with her teacher, who said that she loves Macey (in fact, despite her actions, Macey is her favorite) but recognizes that by not addressing this behavior we are not doing Macey any favors. She really wished she could have done some of the things we suggested, but that she would get fired. We appreciated this, and knew that we'd have to come up with another plan.

Fortunately, Lily's Kindergarten class gave us a great idea. In Lily's class, if you do something good, like following directions or being nice to others, you get a marble. When you get five marbles, you get to pick a toy from the toy box. The children will never lose marbles, but to get five and then be allowed to pick a 25 cent toy out of a box is like winning the lottery for them.

We modified the idea, and here is the system we came up with. Craig and I would institute a marble system at home by getting daily reports on her behavior. Macey's day would be described as one of the following -

A Fit Free Day - No fits all day long! - Macey gets one marble.
An Okay Day - Some fits, but at least 50% Fit Free - Macey doesn't get a marble, but she doesn't lose one either.
A Fit Full Day - Fits all day! - Macey loses one marble.

When Macey gets five marbles in her Marble Jar, she will get to pick one reward from a list. Things like -

She gets to bring a stuffed animal to school to sleep with at naptime for one day.
We'll get Slurpees after school (bonus for Mama too!)
She can have an extra dessert.
The girls have a Movie Night (complete with the lights off, popcorn, and soda) and Macey picks the movie.

We explained this to both Macey and her teacher. The first week went pretty well and Macey made it up to three marbles. Then she hit a snag. But it was an interesting change in her behavior. The teacher said that Macey wasn't having fits, but was now being aggressive to her classmates. She was shoving them, hitting them, scratching them. We counted these days as A Fit Full Day and Macey lost two marbles.

At this point I was beside myself. We had stopped the fits, but in a last ditch effort to show her displeasure she was now being violent. Really not what we wanted to accomplish. Not only that but her poor teacher had to deal with this kid, as well as the rest of the class, when there should be learning going on. In fact when Macey would act up the other students would say "She's doing it again!" I spoke with the school director and asked if we could have the teacher call us right when Macey was having a fit. Because then one of us would talk to her and we'd get to the bottom of this.

We told Macey that her teacher was going to call us if she had another fit or was mean to her classmates. I picked up my phone later that day and I had a voicemail from her teacher, saying that Macey would not wash her hands before lunch as she was told. I immediately called the school and was put on the phone with her teacher.

The great thing was, her teacher said that as soon as Macey heard that she was leaving me a voicemail she straightened up immediately. The teacher said "You should have seen her face. She didn't think I was really going to do it. When she heard me leaving that message she stopped her fit and said she'd go wash her hands."

Then I had them put Macey on the phone. I told her I was very upset that her teacher had to call me, and I didn't want to get any more phone calls from the school about her behavior. She said "Yes, I know Mama. I will be better, I promise."

She kept that promise. Since then we have had two Fit Free Days in a row. Macey has four marbles. If she holds it together all day today she will get marble #5, and will get to pick her reward from the list.

We're all rooting for her.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Losing Her Marbles -Part 1

The school year is winding down for our girls. I'm glad we get a little break now for Christmas, because we've had a bit of a rocky start.

This year Lily started Kindergarten and it's been a bit of a change for her. At first Lily seemed to make the transition with no problems. However, little issues started cropping up. We got a note home from her teacher that Lily was chasing boys at recess, and was trying to hug and kiss them. We spoke with Lily, telling her that she should not be kissing boys at school, and she promised to stop doing that. However, the notes continued to come from school.

Lily was still kissing boys. Lily shoved another student out of the way so she could get in line in front of them. Lily was disrespectful and defiant to the playground monitors. And so on. After each note we spoke with Lily and for the second note and all the ones after she was punished. I also was speaking to the teacher once or twice a week. This was not normal behavior for my sweet little girl. Something was going on, but I didn't know what. The talks and the punishments just were not working.

Then, one Friday, we got the worst note yet. It said "Lily's behavior was so bad today that I don't have time to write it all down." Immediately upon reading the note I called the school, and spoke to her teacher. She said that she had asked Lily to stand up and go do something. Lily grossed her arms, continued to sit, and said "I'm tired! I'm NOT getting up!" She then made what the teacher called a "very mean face". The teacher also explained to me that her aide was out sick, and she was dealing with two other unruly children. She couldn't deal with all three of them, plus the rest of the class, and it made for a very difficult day. I apologized, and was embarrassed. I told her we would do whatever we could to fix this problem.

That night I had some time to think, and it occurred to me that Lily was no longer getting her nap. She wasn't in "day care" anymore where the majority of her time was free play. She had school work most of the day, and there was no more nap time. She did get "quiet time" where she could put her head on her desk for 20 minutes or so, but no more lying down on her cot with her blanket for a few hours. Could my little girl be fatigued and grumpy at school? To test the theory, we moved the girl's bedtime from 9:00 to 8:00. I was afraid that she'd complain that she wasn't tired, and would just fool around in bed instead of sleeping. However she must have been tired because she only fussed for a few minutes and then she was out.

The transformation was immediate. No more bad notes came home from school, and when I called the teacher the next week she said that Lily's attitude had been wonderful. That extra hour of sleep had done it.

To simplify things we decided to put Macey to bed at 8:00 too. She is still getting naps in Pre-Kindergarten and I was worried that she would not go to sleep, or that she'd start waking up at 4 am. Luckily neither one of those things happened and she now sleeps as long as Lily does, plus she gets her nap.

As soon as we had Lily straightened out, Macey began having problems at school. Lily was a pretty easy fix, but Macey has proven to be a much harder nut to crack.

To be continued...

Part 2

Monday, December 14, 2009

The State of my Training - Albert

My previous post was about how Kaswyn's rehab and training is coming along. Since then I've had a lesson with my trainer, and she thinks that he looks very good. She disagrees with my thought that I've never been able to get him engaged behind. She thinks that he never would have been able to do Prix St. Georges if he was never engaged. Maybe it's just been so long - five years! - since my horse has been strong and sound that I've forgotten what he feels like when he's going well.

My trainer also said that Kaswyn looks much more sure footed then before. He used to look very tentative and cautious about where be put his feet, especially going to the left. But now he looks very decisive and strong. She said that it's good to make him push into a big trot and canter, but I should start to introduce some collected strides. Not a lot, but maybe just start with a circle, or half of a circle. She wants to make sure that I also build the sitting and carrying muscles while I'm building the pushing ones.

Before I had my Kaswyn lesson I had an Albert lesson. That little horse is giving me the blues. Here is what is going on.

Since Sport Horse Nationals I've been introducing more difficult movements to him. We've been schooling half-pass at both the trot and the canter, as well as trying the flying change. The problem with Albert is that any time he gets nervous or something gets hard for him he pulls very hard with his neck and runs forward. Then if I can get him calmed down and slow again he begins to bear down on the bit very hard, even if we move to an easier movement. Once he is bearing down, he stays there.

So I tried loosening the neck. That was like trying to bend a steel girder. So then I thought if I could get him light and off the bit he'd relax his neck and I'd have something to work with. I tried half-halts. I tried transitions. Nothing worked. No matter what I did he still had a ton of bricks in his mouth. My arms couldn't take it!

When my trainer saw what was going on, she said that it's not actually in his neck, but in his back. She said that what he's doing is not coming through his back, and he's stopping the motion right behind the saddle. Here I thought that this horse was the one who was coming through his back! Turns out that's not the case. She said he's stopping his back and where I'm feeling it is in my hand.

So she asked to get on Albert. Now this is a quirky little horse, and he doesn't like my trainer all that much. She's never, ever been mean or abusive to him, but she's got his number and he really objects to that. So when she got on him he immediately went to his defence mechanism, which is his neck - exactly what she wanted him to do.

He threw his head in the air, neck inverted, and slammed on the brakes. All my trainer did was hold the reins steady, and ask him to go forward into her hand. He did not want to. But she did not change her request, and eventually he put his head down and walked into the contact. They repeated this dance a few more times at the walk, and then again at the trot and canter.

Then she said "Okay, get on him now. He feels great."

She said I need to have a "waiting hand", which means that I should just take contact, ask him to go forward into that contact, and not move my hands to either to bend the neck sideways or to give the contact at all. The only time I could give the contact is when he put his head down and walked into the contact with a loose neck.

Well Albert did not like this plan very much. He tried the same things with me, but to a lesser degree because he was finally figuring out that he wasn't going to be able to get away with being a bully with his neck anymore. It was tough for him, but he finally submitted and he felt just wonderful. Very light, loose in the neck, and nice soft back. There were moments in each gait where he'd slam on the brakes and jam himself into the bit, or just plain bear down on the bit, and then my trainer would say "Bump him forward, don't give your contact away!" and eventually he'd put his head down and go forward.

My Friday lesson ended on a very high note, so I was excited to get back on Albert on Sunday. However things did not go as well. Again the little horse decided to bear down on the bit and nothing I did, even the things that I was taught and able to do on Friday would work. I tried, and tried, but he would only stay light for a stride or two before jamming his face down onto the bit again.

It was a frustrating ride for both of us, and I wished that I could call my trainer and say "Please come over and fix us like you did on Friday!" This was not an option. Finally I decided that we had both had enough, and went to the walk. Then, and only then, was I able to get him to be light in the bit and soft in his back. I guess this is better than nothing.

It's very hard for me when I have goals in my mind and I just can't make it happen. I know that every ride is not going to be perfect, and it's all about trial and error and learning. I posted to my Facebook page that I was frustrated, and a good friend commented that "It's about the journey." And then my trainer commented "It's not instant soup!"

They are, or course, correct. Dressage is a journey where the destination is always on the horizon.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The state of my training - Kaswyn

It's been awhile since I've written something about how my training is going. So if that stuff bores you, there's nothing to see here. Move along.

Lets start with Kaswyn. I had been riding him bareback and it gave me a great feel for if his back is up and soft or hollow and tense. So I decided to ride him in my saddle with a gel pad. I'm still afraid to hurt his back again so I thought the gel pad would give a little extra cushioning. We had a nice ride, and it was very informative for me. I realized that I usually don't ride my horse over and through his back. I think he has a tendency to get his back tense and work that way, and somehow he's been able to get as far as he has.

What I noticed with my new found ability to feel his back is that regardless of what is going on with Kaswyn's front end - meaning that even if he is on the bit and soft in the neck - that he will keep his back tight and still be able work. I can get him to collect but what I've been lacking with him is engagement of those back legs. I went back and looked at our old tests and there it is, from many judges, in many movements and at the bottom of the tests - "needs better engagement of the hindquarters". Riding him that first time in the saddle and gel pad I had an epiphany - my horse does not push with his hind legs through his back.

If you do dressage you hear some basic things over and over. "Ride your horse from the back to the front." is a big one. Finally, after doing dressage with my horse for 13 years, I understand what that means and how to do it. My horse, because I was learning dressage at the same time I was trying to teach it to him, was trained incorrectly. I gave him bad habits and never developed the things that he needed to develop. One of those major things is pushing power, and the ability to push the energy with his hind legs through a soft swinging back. That's what I mean by being "through his back".

So I've started to retrain Kaswyn. We don't do anything fancy. I put him in a first level frame and make him push for every stride. Suddenly I can feel when he falls out behind, or lets his back get tight, or drops his back. That's when I half halt and push him, thinking about getting energy from the back end. It's very hard on both of us, and I only do 15 minutes three times a week. It's such a different way of riding him that neither one of us are used to it.

I can thank Albert for some of this enlightenment. That little horse is very correct. He is naturally through his back and will engage his hindquarters without a problem. So riding him has given me a feel for what it's supposed to be like. This I can thank my trainer for. I rode Albert when he was just starting dressage, but then my trainer took over and put some solid basics on him. This has been such a boon for me, as it makes him much easier to ride, and it give me the feeling of what correct is supposed to feel like. Now that I know, I want Kaswyn to feel that way. And with hard work I think we can get there.

Because I've been riding Kaswyn for 16 years, I just got used to how he feels, even when that feeling was not correct. But I think I have a handle on it now. What I really need are some lessons to make sure I'm on the right track, but between my schedule and my trainer's schedule I haven't been able to make that happen. Unfortunately for me (but not for her!) she is leaving for Florida for two months, so I'll be on my own. I hope I can get some lessons in before she goes!

I hope I'm doing the right thing, and will be fixing my horse instead of messing him up again. It took me 13 years to identify this problem - a problem that I caused. I don't have another 13 years to fix more foul-ups, so I'd better do this right!

Friday, December 04, 2009


So my husband sent this to me and it's really funny. In a twsited sort of way. It does have two somewhat naughty words in it. You have been warned.


Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr