Thursday, December 08, 2011

New Year, New You

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the nice folks at Dressage Today to help them with a program they are running called "Dressage Today New Year, New You Challenge". If you get Dressage Today (and I don't know why you wouldn't if you ride dressage....) you've probably seen the ads in the latest issue. Here is the info I received from the content manager -

"The challenge sign-up page can be found at: http://www.equisearch.com/newyearnewyou. Starting on January 1, 2012, participants will receive a short daily email tip from experts on exercise, nutrition and mental health for horse and rider. The goal is to keep riders (from any discipline, any level) on track at the beginning of the new year, especially because winter can be such a hard time to stick with a program. We’ve got tips from Olympic riders, nutritionists, veterinarians, sport psychologists, bloggers (like you!) and everyone in between. "

It looks like Smart Pak is also sponsoring the program, which is great because I think they are an awesome company. :)

Anyhow, I contributed one of the tips for the challenge! Actually, I gave them five tips and they picked one, so I figure I'll sprinkle the "unused" tips around this here blog during January, just for fun.

I signed up for the challenge already. Did you?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Questions

I've got a few questions for you guys.

But first, I have to gush about how fantastic Phil was this evening! What a super star! Love him.

And I have to let you know that Kaswyn looks a little off. He looks uncomfortable in his left hind leg. I've been a bit lax about giving him his Polyglycan shot (big shame on me), so he was overdue for that. But I think it might be time to inject his hocks again. I know, he's not competing, but I want to make him comfortable. He's still active and doesn't need to go around hurting. Anyhow, I gave him his shot tonight (and I felt terrible because I couldn't see his vein very well through all that neck hair and I had to stab him FOUR times! Two needles later...sheesh...) and I'll see if he looks better. If not, then I'll have to vet out to inject those hocks.

So, for my questions -

#1) If you had a choice, for just ONE day, would you rather your horses' stall get cleaned, OR your horse get out of it's stall? You have to choose one or the other, and getting out could mean turnout, walking, lunging, whatever. This is a one day thing, like the barn says "On this Sunday you get one or the other". Which would you choose?

#2) It's been awhile since I've written one of my stories. You guys interested in that, or do most of you come for the horse content? I've got a doozy of a story swimming around in my head, and it's not horse related at all.

OH! One last thing. Dressage Today contacted me to write a very small thing for them. I'll post about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lesson night!

I had a great lesson on Phil with my trainer tonight. Full details in the videos, but I'll summarize so you know what's going on. This is basically two videos of the last ten minutes of the lesson.

The first half of the lesson my trainer felt that I wasn't giving Phil enough boundaries for connection. She said when I first got him I was being nice, of course, but now it seems like he is looking for a more defined set of parameters regarding connection and where his neck should be. I was giving a lot, but not insisting that he maintain the connection. I had to do some pretty big, firm half halts, which got a little ugly, but he quickly caught on and the connection improved. I was being very nice to him, but I wasn't doing him any favors by not working to fix the connection. I need to be firm, but fair, and fix it now. Cause if I don't fix it now, then when?

Going to the left is his better way, and he is so crooked to the right that it's like riding two different horses. The time has come to make Phil straight. My trainer had me bend his neck to the right, while going to the right, as if his head were a hand on a clock. 12:00 for straight ahead, and then bend in increments to 1:00, 2:00 or 3:00. At first all Phil did was dive to the inside of the circle, but you can see that after the work, and at the end of the lesson, he got much better about balancing and being able to stay out in the circle. The connection also improved because of this work. This is one more thing I need to fix now - straightness. His left side is stiff, preventing him from coming over and through his back. This is also not allowing the shoulders to move as freely as they should.

And wow, look at my right hand! ACK! It comes up and my whole right side just curls up when I'm trying to bend Phil and push him out on the circle. I need to fix that for sure. If my riding goes to hell that's not going to help anybody.

Part One of the lesson is here -

http://youtu.be/FXJ_bc9xR6E



Part Two is here -

http://youtu.be/Lk6eJqLGDoo



So this is our next set of homework - improved connection and suppling the left side for Phil, and gaining dominion over my right hand (and hopefully, my right side too). I'm going to try to have another lesson before the end of December, since my trainer goes to Florida for two months in January.

I'm having a blast with Phil. He's a good boy, and he's trying really hard to learn. I'm super lucky.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stretch and bang

Tonight I had a great ride on Phil. We seem to be really clicking the last few rides. After a week of trying to desensitize him to my hand movements I took a week off to let him relax. I didn't want to make every single ride stressful and full of fear for him (although I will return to the desensitizing). So this past week I have been toning my hand movements way down. But I'm still releasing with my inside rein, it's just very subtle. And he seems to be okay with it.

He's starting to be more consistent with his rhythm, and is more willing to go slow and not rush off so much. Our contact is also getting more consistent, but still needs work. One new thing I've added is trying to get him to stretch down.

You know what I'm talking about - that dreaded "stretchy circle" where you make your reins long and allow the horse to stretch it's head forward and downward. I feel like so many people try to gimmick their way into this movement, but there is only one real way to make it work every time in the test - you teach your horse to stretch into your hand and seek the contact.

It's been a struggle with Phil, for two reasons. First he was taught to back off of the bit, so no matter how long my reins were he wanted to "set" his head in a position and not move it. Once I showed him that I wanted him to make and maintain contact with my hand, every time I made my reins long he would go faster, causing me to shorten my reins and half-halt to slow him down. This was actually making it a little worse, because he would get scared when I took up on my reins and would then go even faster.

I had to think for a few rides about how to handle it, and here is what I came up with. I started him on a ten meter trot circle, and then let my reins out. Even though he wanted to speed up, he couldn't get much speed going in such a small circle. I continued to try and keep contact, keep him calm and slow, and encourage him to stretch down. Every time he even thought about stretching down I praised him a lot. After a few circles one direction I changed to the other direction, still keeping a small circle.

A few rides later and I'm able to make larger circles, and he's actually stretching down into the contact. We're not up to 20 meters...it's more like 12-15, but I think we are making progress. The biggest challenge, after actually getting the stretch, is going to be for me to be able take up on my reins without Phil getting scared of my hands moving around.

But we're working on it, and he's trying. And making progress. I can't ask for more.

And Kaswyn is just a peach. That horse is worth his weight in gold. He is still giving lessons and allowing me my rides too. Heart of gold, that one. I love him so.

Oh, and just as I was leaving the barn this evening I heard a huge banging. I ran down to the stalls just in time to see Phil's door go flying off the track. I heard wood splintering and saw his stall door hanging from one track. I ran to his stall and found him standing there, scared but okay. He was covered in sawdust so I'm guessing he rolled and got himself cast, panicked, and thrashed until he got his feet under himself, kicking his door off in the process.

I got the door open and moved him to the only empty stall in the barn. He seemed okay, no blood or big bumps anywhere. We'll see how he is tomorrow. But this better not be a habit cause I don't want him to get hurt. I'm just glad the door gave before his leg did!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Getting there

Phil has been getting a bit better about my hands moving. Tonight I realized something important - that he gets worse when I take a strong hold on him once he bolts. This makes it very difficult, because when he takes off my first instinct is to tighten the reins to slow him down. But then he gets more frantic, which makes me think that somehow he associates a strong hand and short reins with something bad happening.

So tonight I tried really hard to let go as much as possible. Even when he bolted, I tried to just momentarily take a firm half-halt, then let go. It was really hard for me to do that, because it didn't always work at first and my instinct was telling me to grab his face and slow him down. Eventually he calmed down, and by the end of the ride everyone had left the arena so I was able to do some serpentines which helped him to relax even more.

I think this issue finally arose because I had started to release my inside rein like my trainer had explained to me during our last lesson. He seemed okay at the trot, but when I started doing it at the canter he started having issues. Before this I think my hands were always low and quiet so it never was a problem. But really, I have to be able to move my hands around without him freaking out, so this is just something we'll have to work on. Tonight, once he relaxed during the serpentines, I kept my hands still and gave him a break so that we could end our ride on a nice, relaxed note.

He's getting better, and I can tell that he's trying. It makes me feel bad, putting him through this, but he'll never get better if we don't address this problem. I'll just go slowly, and eventually we'll get there. I'm actually getting something out of it too - I'm getting much more fluid in my contact and I'm forcing myself to let go and not hang on the reins. Even though this is difficult work for me, I know it's much harder for him.

I'm thinking about taking him to a dressage schooling show in January. I'm kinda excited about it. We need some lessons between now and then, but I think we can pull it off. I'm excited. :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Skeletons

Today I unearthed an issue from Phil's past that I had an inkling of, but didn't fully understand. More than once when I had been riding him he had taken off in fear. It was mostly when there was a lot going on, and I figured he was a little overstimulated and having a difficult time concentrating. Now I'm certain that it's a past trauma that is rearing it's ugly head.

During our ride today, there was nothing going on at the barn. He was the only horse in the arena, and it was pretty quiet. But he took off on me twice in a panic. The second time I realized what was going on. He had gotten a little quick at the canter, and I needed to take up on my reins. Both times he bolted it was because I raised my hands up, specifically my right hand. And when he took off, he wasn't bucking or spooking - he was running in fear, haunches tucked under and head high in the air, trying to get away from me.

When I finally got him stopped, I tested my theory. I simply raised my right hand up and forward and slightly out, towards the side of his head. He about jumped out of his skin trying to avoid the blow that he was sure was coming.

Someone has hit this horse in the head, with their right hand, while on his back. Maybe only once, maybe a lot, but I'm certain that he has been punished harshly by someones right hand in the direction of his head.

This makes me unbelievably sad.

Phil has done nothing but try with me. I can't believe that he's ever done anything to warrant such punishment. It makes me sad, and angry.

But that doesn't matter now. I can't change the past, but I can try and convince Phil that he can trust me not to bash him in the side of the head. I know there are going to be times when I'm riding and I'll need to adjust my reins or move my right hand. I can't have him bolting in fear every time this happens. We need to work on this.

The last ten minutes of our ride consisted of me moving my right hand up and out, him freaking out, and me patting him and telling him it would be okay. We started at the walk, in small circles, so I could control the bolting.

Let me just say at this point, that I've been bucked off of two horses who have bolted on me. Both wanted to dump me, and pulled some nasty moves to achieve this. I have a bit of fear about horses who bolt, but with Phil today I was sure that he wasn't trying to throw me in the dirt. He was just scared.

Anyhow, after some time at the walk with me raising my hand and him not reacting, I was able to move out to a 20 meter walk circle and have him be wary, but okay. Then we went to the trot. This was much harder on him, and me, but we were eventually able to get to the point where I could move my hand and he didn't bolt. I won't say that he was relaxed, but at least he wasn't reacting as much.

So now I'll be spending at least part of every ride waving my hands around. I know it will look silly, but this is something that I have to include in our training. I can't expect Phil to give me his best if he's afraid of getting punished in such an unjust manner. Time to build a lasting, trusting bond with this horse.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Anger Management

This is a long post, and kinda preachy. You have been warned.

There is no anger in dressage.

This is the most important lesson that I've learned in the past year. Before I moved to my current barn, I was at a barn where I rode alone for three years. Where before it was just me and the horses, now I'm exposed to different people, disciplines, and attitudes towards training. It's made me realize more than ever that there is just no room for anger when you are doing dressage training.

I'm not saying I have never been angry at a horse while mounted. I have, because I'm not perfect. What I am saying is that it's one of the most unproductive things you can do while mounted on an animal that you are trying to train.

With a few exceptions, horses are pretty willing to please. Sure, mostly their agenda is "Let me outside!" and "Feed me!", but most horses allow themselves to be trained. Not all of them give 100%, but if a 1200 lb plus animal did NOT want to be ridden, it wouldn't be.

So, let me give an example to help me prove my point. Your horse spooks. This makes you mad, because you think A) he just did it to piss you off, B) he should know better, or C) it wasn't anything to spook at, cause he's seen that hose a thousand times. Whatever sets you off, you yank on his mouth to stop him, bang his sides with your spurs and whip his butt a few times to let him know you are pissed.

First - fear should never be punished. Spooking is innate in horses. Sure, some are spookier that others, but they are just listening to their instincts. A horse's best defense is it's feet. It doesn't have sharp claws or teeth. It has legs. So it runs to protect itself. Anyway, to punish a horse for spooking is just justifying that it should be scared. But that's another soapbox...

Second, your whip and spurs ARE NOT WEAPONS. They are AIDS. You don't spank your horse with your whip. Your whip is to reinforce your leg (and occasionally, the seat) when you aren't getting the response that you want. If your horse won't go forward when asked, by all means use the whip, and even your spurs. But make sure to ask with your leg first. Be firm, but fair. But never punish with them. That is not what they are for.

Third, did you think your horse wanted to make you mad? I guarantee he did not. In this case he was reacting because he got distracted. That happens to every horse from time to time, but if it happens all the time with your horse, then maybe it's not his fault, but yours. Have you ever established trust with him? Why should be believe that he wont get eaten by the boogieman unless you prove it to him? Also, a horse can only do one thing at a time. A horse that is busy working has no time to spook. So, make him work, make him focus, make that a habit instead of spooking.

Also, remember that horses are not machines. Like you, they get fatigued. They have faults. They will always find the easiest way of doing anything, if you let them. If they stumble, swap leads behind, or lose the hind end in the canter, maybe it's time for a walk break. If they do it a lot, or start some weird behavior (like taking off or bucking for no reason) maybe they are trying to tell you "That saddle bothers my back!" or "My hocks hurt!". It's your responsibility to check these things out, and not just punish them.

You know how hard it is for you to ride perfectly - to hold your core tight, use your seat, keep your hands steady, sit straight, etc. You can do everything great for a few minutes, but then you get a little tired and the correct form goes out the window. You get crooked, lean forward, not engage your seat, anything just to keep going. We do all these things to make it easier, but we don't stop and take a break. It's NOT easy to ride perfectly for long periods of time. It's JUST AS HARD for your horse to be perfect. They get tired, but rather than just stop, they continue doing what they are asked, and they compensate in order to get the job done. Don't you owe it to your horse to be more patient? Cause you're not perfect. Dressage is hard for BOTH of you. Remember that the next time you get really mad at your horse.

You can't create something beautiful using anger. Dressage is meant to be beautiful. Do your horse a favor and take the anger out of your head before you put your helmet on.

Friday, October 28, 2011

It's a wrap

Phil doesn't care for leg wraps. I understand the fact that he's not used to them because he never had to wear them before. However, now that he's a dressage horse he needs to wear them. And he does, every time I work him. Trying to get the back wraps on him is a challenge, because he doesn't want to stand still, or put weight on the leg I'm wrapping. Sometimes he waves the leg in the air a little (okay, sometimes a LOT). He tolerates them but he's not happy about it.

ME NO LIKEY!!!



(but he's still really cute even when he's being bad).

You'll notice that's a YouTube video. I finally created an account for horsey videos - DressageMomBlog. Right now I only have two videos posted - this one and the one of my first lesson with Phil (which you can find here). I'll post more in the upcoming months.

Also, an update on Kaswyn. He has been giving lessons to little kids and he's been doing great! He stands like a trooper while they groom him and he's really good when they ride him too. The problem is that his dance card has been a little full and I haven't gotten a chance to ride him in a week! I am often there for his lessons so I know how he's being used, and I approve. He's certainly not overly taxed, because some of the kids just walk. He doesn't give lessons every day, and each lesson is only about 20 minutes. My only concern is that he's not being asked to get on the bit, and I'm a little worried that he'll get sore or stiff. So I'm hoping to be able to hop on him and get him really round and stretching about once a week, but I don't want him to work more than three days in a row. I'm not super concerned, it's just something I want to keep an eye on.

Somebody asked me today if I was going to a show next weekend. Not yet... but soon. I watched the footage of Phil's first lesson and compared it to how he felt tonight (which was FANTASTIC) and he's come such a long way. I'm thinking January. Sure, I could do Intro, but he can canter so I think I'll try Training. Maybe. We'll see.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fight for your seat

In my last lesson with Phil, my trainer said many times that I needed to make sure I was not leaning forward (as I have a tendency to do). She said I should think of keeping my shoulders over my hips instead of in front of them, and I noticed a big difference in the effectiveness of my seat when I did this. The reason for this, for me personally, is that when I lean forward a little bit I put less weight down on my seat-bones, therefore less weight in my seat. It's harder to use your seat if you don't have your weight settled there.

My rides since my lesson have been a constant battle for me. Phil is just starting to establish a steady contact, which is good, but at times he makes a really firm contact. I know he's just trying to figure out what contact I want, and what is comfortable for him, so he's experimenting with different levels of contact. But that firm contact can sometimes pull me forward, causing me to have less weight in my seat. Sometimes he takes me by surprise and will take a big step and push hard into my hand and pull my butt right out of the saddle.

I was getting a little frustrated that I couldn't stay solidly put in the saddle. On the way home one night I got to thinking about something I had heard years ago - in of all places, karate class.

I took karate for a period of time in grad school (my ex is a black belt...) and I remember once we went to his home dojo to train. We took a class from his sensei (who was really badass in my opinion). He had us doing some stretching and balancing exercises, and I remember the class trying to stand on one foot for something. People would lose their balance and just put the other foot down. So the sensei said something like this - "Don't just give up! Fight for your balance! I don't care what it looks like... wave your arms around, do whatever you can, just fight for it. Eventually it will get easier to recover once you lose your balance."

I thought about what he said, and so I tried to apply it to my riding. It was HARD! It's so much easier to ride incorrectly, leaning forward, not using my core, and letting my seat come up. But this wasn't as good for Phil. He really needs the support of my seat, so I started to fight for my seat. I really sat back, and forced myself to keep my weight down in the saddle. I didn't care how many times I lost my balance, or if I got pitched forward, I just kept fighting for it, and trying to do it right.

The difference was obvious. With a strong seat at the trot, when Phil would make the strong contact into my hand I was able to push him more forward and into a bigger trot, which allowed him to drive more from behind and, after a few strides, lighten the contact on his own. At the canter it made the difference between Phil having a quick, short, choppy canter and having a slow, rolling canter that was free and rhythmic. He is less likely to take the strong contact at the canter for some reason, but he does tend to get quick, especially going to the right. Fighting for my seat is helping me balance him at the canter because I'm able to slow him down with my seat instead of my hands, which is always better.

So, every time I ride I'm now fighting for my seat. And every time I drive home, I can tell I'm doing it right because my abs are sore!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Spammers got me

Today I had over 50 spam comments on my blog posts. They were on new posts, old posts, and every post in between. They launched a massive attack and some posts got hit more than once. It's annoying.

So I enabled the word verification option for comments. Sorry to have to do that, but I personally don't need to increase my penis size.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A lesson today!

I don't have much time - gee, so what else is new? - but I wanted to give a quick rundown of my lesson with Phil today. There is no video, even though I had someone there who could have easily gotten some footage! I had my camera and everything, I just forgot to ask. Weak!

Overall Phil is much steadier in his contact and is also much more solid in his canter. No more careening around the ring and scaring me half to death that he's going to wipe out. That's progress!

Things to work on -

1) Phil is starting to really come into my hand and seek the contact, but occasionally he does it in a very firm way, almost rudely. I wasn't sure how to handle this, because I want him to establish contact but I don't want him bearing down so much. My trainer had me actually push him into my hand harder, then half halt and release when he responded. This made him lighter, and practicing this is the first step to teaching him what self carriage is all about. Releasing here is the important part - if you never let go, your horse can't carry itself!

2) Going to the left, especially at the canter, I'm getting locked in my right arm, high in the right shoulder, and off of my right seat bone, which is allowing Phil to avoid loading the right hind. As a result he is twisting body a little, and lowering the left ear. To fix this I need to counter-bend him a little, and think about sitting on my right seat bone to help him load the right hind leg.

3) At the canter it's time to start pushing him into a bigger canter (like the beginnings of an lengthened canter), and then half halt and bring him back to a working canter. This will develop his gaits within the gaits and strengthen his body. It will also get him more attuned to my seat, which he is really starting to listen to very well.

4) Since I now have a decent connection I can start playing around with teaching him about inside leg to outside rein. To do this I need to start releasing with the inside rein when Phil has a "good moment". Meaning he's got nice contact, nice tempo, and is listening. My trainer says I really need to be there with my outside aids when I do this, especially the outside rein. We did some of this tonight and towards the end I was able to push him a bit with my inside leg too.

All of this is very exciting. In just a few short weeks this horse has made some major improvements. My trainer was really impressed tonight with his potential for reaching with his shoulder and driving with his back end. I think he has a lot more to offer in the movement department. I just need to work on realizing that potential fully.

I'm really stoked and already thinking about winter schooling shows. This could be a very fun year.

Oh, and I'll get video on the next lesson (if I remember). For those of you who couldn't see the last video - I'll try and get it up on YouTube. I guess some of your browsers don't like the blogger video player. I'll see what I can do!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Barn fun

So my lesson was cancelled for Thursday (booo!)

But it was rescheduled for tomorrow! (yaaay!)

In the meantime, I took the girls to the barn to "help" with with turning both horses out and cleaning their stalls.

The result?

They were both shoveling the bedding around. It's sawdust, so it's a little finer than shavings, but it's clean bedding. I told them they could move it around but not spread it all over the place. I filled my wheelbarrow up with clean bedding and went to bed the stalls. When I came back, here is what I saw...



Macey, totally buried in sawdust, complete with a healthy portion in her hair. Then...



Lily, the instigator, clean (for the moment). The second my back was turned, as I put the wheelbarrow away, it was Lily's turn to get buried by Macey, so...



UGH. Showers for everyone when we got home. They had sawdust EVERYWHERE, even in their girl parts. Two days later and I'm still brushing shavings out of their hair.



Note to self. Next time make sure to clearly define what "playing in the sawdust pile" really means.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

What time?

I swear I don't know where my time goes. I've been running around like a crazy person lately! Right now I'm typing this on my phone while Lily is in her karate class. I'm grabbing the time when I can get it!

Having less time right now (because of work) is kinda cruddy. The good thing is that I have been able to find the time to ride both horses. Kaswyn is still doing really well. He seems content and happy most days, and likes to work. He still has bad days, but they don't break my heart anymore.

I've had some breakthroughs with Phil in the trust department. Last Monday a huge thunderstorm started during our ride. The rain was pounding on the roof and the back door of the arena was open. When we went by the door and the rain was sheeting off of the end of the barn, Phil didn't want to go anywhere near it. I was firm, but kind, and insisted that he walk up the the doorway and look at the water. Finally he went and took a look, blowing and snorting the whole time.

Then I praised him and we went back to work. He was scared, but took a chance that the water wasn't going to hurt him, and went by the door without spooking. He trusted me, didn't get eaten, and got lots of praise from me. Since then our rides have been really good. He's letting me regulate his speed, listening a bit to my seat, and has been able to concentrate. It's been great.

I have a lesson tomorrow. I can't wait!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The new horse - the first video

I know you're waiting for info about the new horse. I'm still super busy, but here is what I can give you right now.

He's a grey, six year old purebred Arabian gelding, and his barn name is Phil. He was a hunter pleasure horse for his previous trainers, and he's been shown a few times so he's broke. But as far as dressage goes he's pretty green. We are working on establishing connection and getting him to work slowly and calmly. He's a spicy little tomato, and has no problem going forward with energy. The issue with that is he gets too quick, loses the rhythm, and starts to rush. But he's a really good boy and wants to do what I'm asking. He's just trying to figure this all out.

This video is of my lesson last week with my trainer. This is at the end of our lesson, so we have already worked out some of the issues - like the fact that I had been leaning forward too much and not using my seat enough. Those are just bad habits that I picked up from not having consistent enough lessons. I hope to change that.

What you'll hear is my trainer schooling me through the last five minutes. She really hates to hear her voice on video (like we all do), but I thought it was really good to hear her instructions and to see what effect they had on me and Phil. So she might not be happy with it, but in the name of education I left her voice in. Sorry! :)

video

As you can see we have rhythm and connection issues to work out, but those will come rather quickly, I imagine, since Phil is very willing and smart. I hope to be able to get video every month or so. This will help me see our progress.

I'm very excited about Phil. But I haven't forgotten about Kaswyn. I've been riding him about every other day, and he gets turned out with his buddy Mikey - and now sometimes with Phil. I ride him bareback and work on my seat and body position, and he's been as happy as can be. I think we both are relieved that I've taken the pressure off of both of us, and since we don't have to be perfect anymore we can just enjoy each other. He's still not quite even in his stride, but I don't think he hurts. We hack around, occasionally doing fun movements, and just spend time together.

For the first time in six years, I'm really happy about Kaswyn. The apprehension is gone, and the ominous "Will he be lame today?" question is not the first one that I ask myself. Instead, it's "Should he get three treats, or four?" Truthfully it's usually more like five.

Yeah, it's good.

Monday, September 19, 2011

It's Official

As of this afternoon, I now own TWO horses.

That's right, I just got the papers in the mail for the horse that I was trying to buy. And he's awesome. Not as awesome as Kaswyn (cause I don't know if any horse will ever be THAT fantastic) but he's great.

Yes, I'll write out the details, but right now I'm really slammed at work and pressed for time at home.

I'm very pleased. Two horses. I said I'd never have two horses. And now I do. Am I nuts?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kaswyn says...

There are burrs in the pasture. Did you know?



Here is a close up of the train wreck that was his forelock.



I've pulled burrs out of his forelock at least six times already. At this rate he won't have a forelock left by the time the snow hits the ground and the burrs are all gone. Ah well, at least he's enjoying himself outside.

No update yet on the other situation. I'm really hoping to have more info in the next five days or so. *sigh*

And the answer is..

The fish were stinkier than the cauliflower.

Tomorrow, something funny. At least, it was funny to me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lets try this

In an effort to entertain you while I wait for information, lets play "What Smells Worse?"

A) Rotten cauliflower from the back of the fridge

OR

B) Two dead goldfish in a jar

I've smelled both today, so I can answer with authority.

Cheers!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kaswyn's fun day

I'm still waiting! Argh!

Anyhow, I just thought I'd post an update on Kaswyn. Right now nobody is leasing him, he's not up for any programs, and nobody is using him for lessons, except Macey. She has taken one lesson on him so far and will be coming out to the barn with me on Sundays to have a lesson. Since she is six the lessons will be short, and only at the walk right now, but she is all for it. The barn manager, who is also a trainer, will be teaching her. I tried to teach her but frankly the other gal is much better at teaching kids since she's done it for years. And Macey listens to her much better than she listens to me!

As far as Kaswyn's health goes, he's just fine. He's been missing a shoe for almost two weeks so he can only be ridden at the walk. He still gets turned out every day with his buddy Mikey, which of course he loves. And he is still such a stinker. Here is why.

Yesterday I decided to go up to the paddock where Kaswyn lost his shoe to try and find it for the blacksmith who is coming on Thursday. I decided to take him up there with me and let him graze while I looked. There was a big puddle of water right in front of the entire gate area, and we both had to jump through it to get into the paddock. I figured he would not want to jump over the puddle again, so I didn't latch the gate cause I would have had to stand in the puddle to do so.

Well.

I let Kaswyn loose, and started looking for the shoe. Thirty seconds later he headed for the gate, jumped over the puddle, blew through the gate and out of the paddock. He stopped just outside the gate and started to graze. Huh. I figured if he was going to just stand there and eat the nicer grass outside the paddock then fine, I'd keep looking. But noooo, he couldn't do that. About two minutes later he whipped his head in the air, screamed out, and ran full speed back to the barn.

What a booger! Of course I was in the paddock that was the farthest from the barn, so it took me a few minutes to catch up with him. By then one of the gals from the barn saw him and was trying to catch him. She was saying "Are you ok? What happened?"

Yes, I'm okay, and what happened is I was being dumb by not latching the gate.

When Kaswyn gets loose, you can't chase him. He just runs like a total fool and makes a huge game of it. So I just walked calmly behind him and waited for him to stop and eat. Once he figured out that I wasn't going to chase him and holler "WHOA!" at him, he stopped and I caught him easily.

I'll be very happy to have that other shoe on and be able to ride him again. Even at twenty he still knows how to push my buttons. At least he has a good time doing it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

More so...

I'm still waiting. I can't say anything for sure yet.

Of course I could post all the gory details but I said I wasn't going to get all caught up in the drama of "This is going to work out, yay!" and then two days later "No, this won't work! Argh!".

Stuff is happening. There will be an end to this story. One way or other this horse will have a new owner.

When it's official, I'll post it. All of it.

Friday, September 02, 2011

So...

An offer has been made on the horse. No papers have changed hands yet, however.

Stay tuned...

Monday, August 22, 2011

...

So.

Things have changed. AGAIN. And I'm going to stop trying to figure out what's going to happen. I'm not going to give details, but suffice it to say that I might not know until the end of the month if I will own this horse or not.

I have a specific set of parameters that I'm working with, and certain things that must happen in order for it to work out. Believe me, I want it to work out and I've done everything I could do (and have been willing to do) to make it happen. Now I have to just relax and let things be.

If it's meant to be, I will own this horse. If it's not meant to be, I won't. I believe everything happens for a reason and if it works out now, then great. If not, then I can at least say that I did everything I could and it just didn't happen. Sure, I'll be VERY VERY sad if it doesn't work out. I could really see myself having a fantastic partnership with this horse, and I think he has the talent, heart, and brain to go all the way. Yup, I'm talking FEI material. If this doesn't happen I'll always be sad about what could have been. But I'll get over it. Eventually.

I will update you on the situation when one of two things happen - either I have his signed registration papers, or someone else does. Only then will I know for sure what the outcome is.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Up again? Sheesh!

Okay, you all are probably thinking that I'm jerking you around. But seriously, this thing might actually work after all.

The last 24 hours has been totally NUTS. I'm waiting for a phone call today that could finalize the details that make this all come together.

Of course, it could all completely fall apart again, which would mean another "boo-hoo this sucks!" post from me. If that happens I apologize in advance for being whiny fool.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Farther down...

Despite my best efforts it's looking like I'll have to back out on buying this new horse. Realistically I don't have enough time for the self-care option, even though right now I think I could make it work. No other option has panned out, from inexpensive retirement barns, possible therapy programs, and "work off your board" barns. I can't rely on someone to lease Kaswyn because they could back out at any time and leave me in a financial bind. Self care, while it's certainly cheaper, still isn't as inexpensive as I'd like and leaves me with too little time for anything else.

I just don't have the time, energy, or money it takes to have two horses and still keep my family happy and healthy. I'm very sad.

THIS SUCKS.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Down, down down

Unfortunately my great situation for Kaswyn didn't work out today. A few other avenues that I explored today also didn't pan out.

I'm trying really hard not to get discouraged here.

On the plus side, the new horse vetted very well yesterday. Flex tests were negative for lameness. The x-rays showed two minor issues but nothing that should cause lameness now or in the long term. I want to make an offer on this horse but I'm hesitant until I can get a plan that works.

Right now I could do a partial self-care on both horses where Kaswyn is. It would take a lot of work on my part, but I guess I'll just need to suck it up if that's what I want to do. I'd have to clean their stalls twice a week, buy and deliver my own hay and grain. I guess it's workable. I have a place that will sell me about 100 bales right now, but that will only last me about 3 months for both horses. Then I will need to get creative.

Maybe I just suck it up, buy the horse and do the partial self-care until I can come up with an easier and more affordable plan. I know I won't be able to do it long term - I'll get too burned out.

And I thought this would be easy? HA!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Do the pieces fit?

Tomorrow my trainer and I will take the possible new horse to be vet checked.

If he passes, on Friday I will be visiting a farm for a potentially great situation for Kaswyn.

If both things work out, I will have to move both horses - to different barns. Not the perfect setup as I had imagined it, but it feels like these scenarios are presenting themselves for a reason.

It's like the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. There is still a lot that needs to happen to make this work, but right now it's looking very promising that I will be able to purchase this new horse and have it NOT be a financial strain.

Here's hoping!! Send good vibes my way, huh?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I think that outfit might be wearing HER

So, today was "dress like a cowgirl" day at camp. Macey dressed herself.



If you can't tell, she is wearing a pink shirt, with a denim vest and skirt, pink striped knee socks (with purple roses on them), and paddock boots. It's... um, interesting.

After seeing what Macey was wearing, Lily opted not to dress up. Can you blame her?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Whoa. Not so fast...

Well, I might not be buying a new horse after all.

I'm certainly not completely ruling it out, but it's not looking really feasible right now. It all comes down to money.

Yes, I had a plan to have my friend lease Kaswyn, and that would have been great. But my friend looked at her finances and said she didn't think she could really pull it off. Which made me think - what would I do if I were leasing Kaswyn to anyone, and they had to end the lease? And then what if I couldn't get another person to lease him? I can't afford both horses, and I can't knowingly put my family in a bad financial situation by owning two horses. Basically two luxury items.

I'm still thinking about ways I can make this work, but nothing has been workable so far. I'm not giving up just yet, but I'm not hopeful.


Saturday, August 06, 2011

Letting it go

So I still get weepy when I think that I'll never ride Kaswyn down the centerline again at the upper levels, but now that I've finally made a decision that I'm not going to try to get him back to where he was I'm much better. In fact, I'm considering buying that young horse. Seriously considering it.

Here is the thing - I like to show. I've been showing other people's horses for the past few years while Kaswyn has been off, and it's nice and all but it comes with certain issues. I can't always do what I want to do with a horse that is not mine. And since my horse will never be fit for me to show again, I really would like to have another horse. A horse that I can train how I want to, ride when I want to, and show how and when I want.

The idea is tearing me up though. I can't just dump Kaswyn, but I can't afford to board two horses. I want Kaswyn to be where I can see him - maybe not every day but at least a few times a week. I have thought through several options, and I think what is going to work out right now is to lease Kaswyn out for someone to lightly ride him 3 times a week. That will keep him fit and moving and will offset some of the cost of having two horses. And I'll still be able to see him every time I come to the barn, and I will probably be able to ride him also.

I've leased out Kaswyn before when I've had financial problems, and it wasn't always the best thing for him, and hasn't always ended well. But right now my friend is considering leasing him so she can get more experience riding. She's what I'd call and advanced beginner and really just needs miles in the saddle. This might sound bad, but she doesn't know enough to do anything to screw him up. Just walk trot and canter, and try to get him on the bit. Easy for him, and practice for her. And Kaswyn stays at the barn where I can see him, and watch her ride him, so I know what is going on.

I do feel terrible, like I'm cheating on Kaswyn. I wasn't looking for another horse. Not even considering it. But this horse came to the barn, for sale, and I thought he was neat so I got a chance to ride him. And then I thought he was something special. Smart, willing, eager to please, and really nice gaits. He's a six year old purebred Arabian gelding who has shown three times in the Arabian Hunter Pleasure ring, where he won some classes. But he's not going to be a National contender and his owners have too many horses so he has to go.

For a dressage horse he's very nice though, and I thought he had potential. So I had my trainer come and give me a lesson on him to get her opinion. Not only did she say "You're not crazy for liking this horse.", she said "This horse reminds me of Kaswyn as a six year old." And after she mentioned it, I could see the similarities. Long neck, sweet face, tall and narrow, smart and willing. But then she said "This horse has better gaits than your horse."

The price is right, and my blacksmith also thinks he's nice and that I should buy him. So I have an appointment for a pre-purchase exam on August 18th. I'll make my final decision based on what my vet says, but I really do like this horse.

Today my friend come out and rode Kaswyn, and I rode the young horse. I watched Kaswyn go and he really did look good. And for a little bit I was scared that I was making the wrong decision. That maybe I shouldn't buy this new horse, and that I should stick with Kaswyn and try to make it work. But I tried for SIX YEARS to make that work, and he's 20 years-old now. Sure he looked good. All she was doing was getting him on the bit to walk, trot and canter him. That doesn't mean he can go do a fourth level test, today or any day in the future.

So, I think it is time to let the dream go, but hold onto the horse. Eventually I will retire him completely and let him live out his life in a pasture someplace. He's not there yet, but I need to stop trying to push him into something that I want, and that he will do if I ask, but something that is beyond his physical ability. That's setting us both up for failure.

He has already given me things that some people only dream about - three National Championships, three Reserve National Championships, multiple Regional titles, and the chance to ride at the FEI dressage levels. I think I'm making the best decision for him, and for me. I still doubt myself, and at times I feel really terrible about the whole thing.

I think I'm doing the right thing, but I'm still scared that I'm not. I guess the only way I'll know for sure is if it turns out ok or if it goes horribly wrong. I'll letcha know.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Heart made of lead



I had a very sad revelation yesterday.

I rode Kaswyn and we worked on our usual stuff of the moment - straightness, some circles, and then I fooled around a little bit with some flying changes just for fun.

Then I rode this new horse, a six year old purebred Arabian gelding (who I have really become quite smitten with... more on that later) and I realized that this young horse has a lot of go. I had to take my spurs off and didn't have a whip, and this young guy was still flying. He doesn't get the half halt yet, but we're working on it. He had plenty of go left in him 45 minutes later, even after a lunge before I rode him.

Kaswyn used to have a lot of go. Yesterday I had to push him a lot to keep him going.

Kaswyn used to be like this young horse. Now he's not.

I know he loves to see me, and he probably likes to be ridden, but I'm not sure he really enjoys the work anymore. I didn't really see it until I had something to compare it to. Now I can't ignore it, even though I want to.

For all my insistence that "I'm not going to retire him!" and "He doesn't want to retire!" and "I WILL NOT RETIRE HIM." I'm starting to think that it's time. What do you think?

I'm just devastated.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Do you strap one on?

This email from Lyndsey White (co-founder riders4helmets - http://www.riders4helmets.com/) just came through on the horse bloggers email list.

"A special video presentation by US Olympian Courtney King Dye who suffered a traumatic brain injury in March 2010 opened the 2nd Riders4Helmets Helmet Safety Symposium on July 23rd. The video was posted just 48 hrs ago and has already been viewed nearly 7000 times. To view the video please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awJDYBhBPzk. To view reports of the symposium visit www.riders4helmets.com. ALL video presentations from the symposium will shortly be posted on theriders4helmets youtube channel at www.youtube.com/riders4helmets. PLEASE can you help to get this video of Courtney circulated, it may just save some lives if people make the choice to wear a helmet."

I didn't used to, but years ago I decided that I would always wear a helmet when I ride. If you don't wear a helmet, check out the video. I hope it changes your mind.

Every ride, every time.

Crooked to the left, crooked to the right

Sometimes it's just really hard to make any progress.

It seems like it's always something. Either Kaswyn is having an issue or I am. Recently it has been me. Two weeks ago I got really sick and spent three solid days in bed. Then a few days ago I had a really severe asthma attack and had to stay indoors and away from dust and mold for three days while my meds reduced the inflammation in my lungs. It's frustrating.

Kaswyn has been doing pretty well despite my absences. Our big issue right now is with straightness. I know that can be an issue for any horse, but I think his shoulder problem is so tied to his tendency to be crooked that we really need to fix it. It's just hard because when he is straight he feels crooked to me.

So I really have to ride with someone around to tell me if he's straight. I try riding off the rail and concentrate on keeping him straight between my legs, but he can get profoundly crooked in one stride and some times I just don't feel it. We don't have mirrors (oh, how I wish we had mirrors!) so without someone there to tell me "his haunches are off to the right" I can really miss his crookedness.

And he's such a wiggly worm that if I try and straighten him he often over-corrects and swings his butt way far the other way. Then I try to correct that and before you know it we're fishtailing down the arena.

The good news is that the area on his pastern from the surgery seems almost completely normal. He has a slight bump there, but it's not super sensitive like it was before. I can brush it and rub it and he doesn't seem to mind most of the time. Occasionally, if he hasn't been out of his stall yet that day, he'll be a little reactive to me touching it, but nothing like before. So that makes me feel better.

His attitude seems really good right now too. He's grabbing his halter and being cheeky when I groom him or walk him, and is very ready to work. He doesn't have as much energy as I'd like, but it's been really hot and humid so maybe that's playing a part. We don't work that long, so maybe I need to start increasing the length of our workouts to bump up his stamina. I don't want to work him harder and make him sore though, so I'll be careful. He's starting to get some nice muscling along his back. Overall he looks pretty good for twenty years old!

I am getting to ride other horses too, which is always fun. I'm not riding Lee anymore (which sucks cause he was so much fun - he is still for sale though) but I get rides every now and then on other horses that are coming in for conditioning or sale. Every new horse I sit on only helps to improve my riding, and I'm all for that.

I'm hoping to get a lesson on Kaswyn with my trainer when her summer show schedule winds down a little. I'd love to hear what she thinks of how he's going right now. Hopefully it will be good news!



Friday, July 22, 2011

Cute boy

So it's not news that's it's been hot around most of the country recently, and our neck of the woods was no exception. For the past two days I didn't ride Kaswyn because, well, he's no spring chicken anymore and I figured we could wait until it got less obnoxious heat-wise. No sense in pushing it and making him feel icky.

I still went out to visit him, walk him, and give him a cool shower. Today when I was hand walking him I decided to reach over and scratch his itchy spot on his withers while we walked. Kaswyn had other ideas.

The second he figured out what I was doing he planted his feet and nickered at me in the most adorable way possible, and then proceeded to make that "I'm in heaven" face he gets when I scratch that spot. For a second I thought that maybe he just nickered at another horse or something, so I scratched him for a few minutes and then we walked some more. Then I went to scratch him and he did it again - stop, nicker, and make faces.

SO ADORABLE.

I know, it's probably just me, but I was just so touched that my horse was talking to me, and not just when he saw me coming towards his stall (which could always mean food, so having a nicker or whinny handy is always helpful). It's like he wanted to say thanks for scratching me there, cause you know I love it.

Well, thank YOU buddy. You deserve all those scratches, and more.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hesitant

So I haven't done an update on Kaswyn in awhile, mostly because I'm afraid to put this down in print, or even utter the words.

He's been sound.

I've been working really hard, but very slowly with the biomechanics stuff, and had been riding him in a bareback pad for a few months. This was because I just wasn't getting the feel of when he was straight or crooked, or when he threw his shoulder or haunches this way or that way when I was riding in a saddle. So I went to the bareback pad and really concentrated on his body and how it was moving.

Our rides consisted of lots of walk work to begin with. Slow walking steps, as in - he'd take a step and then there was a pause before he put the next foot down. This pause caused both of us to slow down and really pay attention to what was happening. With that slow tempo it was easy for me to feel a shift in his body if he was going to get crooked, and then I could correct it before he stepped.

In that slow walk, we made squares, and when turning the corner I'd ask him to bring the inside shoulder over to the inside, and move the haunches to the outside while keeping his body straight to make the square corner. Not that he's going to do that when we make a round turn in dressage though. It's all about control, and what I needed to learn and then teach him to do was slow down and move his body when and how I wanted it to go, instead of flinging himself all over the place and overreacting to my leg or seat. Kaswyn's very sensitive and wiggly, and he can get crooked in a half a stride. It can be maddening!

Also in the slow work I concentrated on having him lift his back into each stride. This is hard work, even at a slow walk, but he needed to lift into each stride and not hollow his back. This required a lot of leg but a light seat, and more than once I got a piaffe out of him because he was just not getting it. The few piaffe steps accomplished what I needed, because he lifted his back, so then I would tell him to walk and then try and keep the back up there. It doesn't sound like hard work, but it really is.

When I had that going pretty well, I added the trot. The hardest thing was convincing him that he could actually trot off from that slow, lifted back walk, and lift into a straight trot without needing to contract his back or get crooked. Now, it was a slow trot, not collected, but slow, and he needed to do all the same things at the slow trot that I had asked him at the walk. Control the body, slow the thinking, keep the back up. Even harder work than the walk. It was very low impact on his legs and joints because I wasn't asking for collection, but lots of work for his back.

Incidentally, his back has not been sore at all, and I can tell from our shoulder stretches that his left shoulder is much looser than it was before I started all of this. Oh, and I'm not just coming up with this stuff on my own, although I wish I had been smart enough to think of it. The biomechanics lady has been my guide through the whole thing, plus the chiropractor who identified some physical issues in Kaswyn. Without them I could never have done this.

When I thoguht the trot was ok (but not perfect yet, I knew that) I moved on to the canter, which was even harder than the trot. I've been working a few weeks of this on my own and I really need a session with my biomechanical lady. I hope that happens tomorrow.

Anyhow, last week I put the saddle back on him and after we did our walk and trot work I asked him for a normal working trot. He hesitated, and hung back a bit, being unsure if that is what I really wanted. But then he went on and did it. And it felt pretty good. I asked two trainers who happened to be there that day what they thought. They both said he was even strided, but was throwing his haunches right.

Well, damn. It's not perfect yet, but I know it's getting better. We'll keep working on it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Flip Camera winner!

The winner of the Purina Flip camera (chosen by random drawing) is OnTheBit! Please send me your mailing address at dressagemomblog@yahoo.com so I can ship you your camera! I hope you have lots of fun with it.

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. Now I have a whole list of blogs to check out!

Updates on Kaswyn will be coming...when I get the time to sit down and write! Summer is always crazy!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Win a Flip camera from Purina

Purina is running a program called "60 Day Challenge" where they say "Try Purina® feed for 60 days and you'll see the difference in your animals or we'll buy back the feed. " They'll send you feed coupons and there is a place on the web site for you to upload photos and share your story about how Purina feed has made a difference in your horse (or other animal, the program is open to the many species of animals that they manufacture food for).

Purina has sent me a Flip video camera and a coupon for a free bag of feed to give away to my readers.



Here is how to enter my contest -

1) Add a comment to this post.

2) In the comment, give the name and address of a horse blog that you like. It can be your favorite, or a new one that you've discovered, just so it's a horse blog.

3) It's okay to list the same blog as somebody else, but I'd like the comments section to be full of new blogs for people to read. Oh, and don't name this blog - I already know about this one. ;)

4) When the contest period ends I'll randomly select one commenter to receive the free video camera and feed coupons!

5) Contest will end at midnight on July 13. That's two weeks to comment.

Even if you don't want to comment, you should sign up for the challenge anyway. Purina will send you coupons for feed - all you have to do is sign up. Even if you board your horse I'm sure you can work out an arrangement to have the value of the coupons taken off of your board bill. I know that I've been able to do that. Or, give the coupons away to someone who has their horses at home. We all know someone like that. Or donate your coupons to a local shelter or rescue. Either way, it's money off of feed and everyone can use that!

So go find a horse blog, comment, sign up for the challenge, and maybe you can win a Flip camera courtesy of Purina!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back in the saddle

It's strange to take a week off from riding, but I did it.

Not because something was wrong, but because our whole family went on vacation to Turks and Caicos (small islands in the Caribbean) to a Beaches resort for a week to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary. It was a fantastic time! All inclusive (yes, booze too), plenty of sun and sand, and lots of activities for the kids.

Back home now, and I'm heading out to the barn today. I hope my rides don't make me sore! Ack!

Can't wait to see Kaswyn!. I'll most likely get the cold shoulder since I left him for a week. I hope carrots will get me some forgiveness.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

ShowSheen Contest Winners!

I got pictures of some very dirty horses for the ShowSheen contest! Each of the winners will get a free bottle of the new ShowSheen! (Click here to see a quick video of the new ShowSheen).

And the winners are -

Mary Coleman
Valerie Conforti
Jennifer Crowe
Lisa McClarren Sintic
Lexi Passaro

Please email your mailing addresses to dressagemomblog@yahoo.com so I can get your prizes to you. Thanks for playing!

And a big thanks to Absorbine for supplying the prizes!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Topics of interest, in three parts. Part 3.

One more day to send me your dirty horse picture to win a can of the new ShowSheen ! Go here for details.

Part 3 - The road before us, as I see it now.

Craig has talked to me before about my horse, obviously. But last time I had a big ol' crisis he gave it a lot of thought and has this epiphany. This time, be must have known my breakdown was coming, because he approached it not with anger or frustration, but with compassion and understanding.

He sat down with me on the couch where I was moping and weeping and said "I know you're hurting, and I'm really sorry that Kaswyn isn't back where you want him to be. But try and think of it this way. I'm 42, and most days something on me hurts. You're 42 and I know you hurt every day. Kaswyn is middle aged, just like we are. I'll bet he hurts every day too, but you don't know that it's from his leg or his injury or whatever. He might just hurt from being old, like we are.

"Our aches and pains don't keep us from doing the things we want to do. You hurt, and you ride. He wants to be ridden, so on the days you think he hurts, just walk him around and put him away. On his good days, do whatever you want. Hurting doesn't mean it's over."

Of course, I cried some more, but less from thinking about my horse but more from the warm fuzzies I got from Craig. I composed myself, went out to the barn, and made sure I paid attention to Kaswyn's non-verbal signals.

He whinnied to me three times as I was getting his halter, and played the "I'm going to grab the halter in my mouth so you can't get it on!" game. Took me three tries to get it on his face. That's always a good sign. When he hurts he just stands there like a statue when I halter him. I'm the only one he plays that halter game with, by the way. Stinker.

When I groomed him he was trying to bite the crossties, grabbing my shirt, whacking me with his tail. Again, all good signs. When he hurts he's really rather stoic and quiet. So I tacked him up and rode him. I did about ten minutes of the biomechanical workout stuff, but then since he was feeling good I did some easy upper level stuff that he likes. One line of leg yield at the trot, each way. One line each direction of trot and canter half passes. And one line of flying changes, every third stride (every one was prompt, clean, and through).

Then we took a walk around the property outside. I untacked him, did his stretching exercises, and gave him one gram of bute (plus a few pony cookies). Then he had the next day off. The day after that I went to ride him he was also feeling good so we repeated the whole thing.

Last night I had another session with the biomechanical lady. She said that he's the most sound that she's ever seen him, and that his back is really starting to muscle up and he's getting his topline back. This is all good news to me. I'm not going to ride him in a training ride today, but I want to take him on another walk around the property and give him an easy day. We'll go bareback in a halter and just enjoy each other.

So the plan is this. Observe his mood, and ride accordingly. If he gives me the green light, ride him, do some training, have a little fun at the end (without overly taxing him), stretch him, love him, give him one gram of bute, and put him away. Then give him the next day off, no bute, but turnout time with his buddy. This plan might eventually get us back into real training, but if not I think I might be okay with that. If he feels bad, walk him, groom him, stretch him, love him, and put him away. Tomorrow might be a better day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Topics of interest, in three parts. Part 2.

First - send me your dirty horse pictures to win a can of the new ShowSheen ! Go here for details. Contest ends June 18.

Now, Part 2. The emotions of last week's dressage show.

I went to a dressage show this past weekend. I've been to lots of dressage shows, mostly with Kaswyn, but I have gone to other shows without my horse and have ridden other horses. For a variety of reasons, this last show was different.

Kaswyn has been "not quite right" for six years now. I've done just about everything I could to return him to work. I did actually show him in 2009, at this exact show, but I only rode one test and scratched the other two because he wasn't right. He scored a 62% (I think) at Fourth Level Test 3, but I knew he didn't feel right.

We've been doing biomechanical and chiropractic therapy on him, and for a few weeks he seemed to improve. Then he went right back to being off. He was taking a short stride on that left front again, and I could tell by the way he acted that he was in pain before we even started. I can tell by the way he greets me, how he acts when I put his halter on, how is is when I groom him. He's usually very social and mouthy with me, and it drives me nuts sometimes but when he does that I know he's feeling good. When he's quiet and withdrawn, I worry. He'd been like that for two weeks prior to the show.

I was signed up to show Lee at the show. His trainer showed him on Friday, so I would get two rides on Saturday. I love showing Lee, cause he's fantastic. But I showed Kaswyn a lot at this show, and at different shows at this particular facility. The horse I love to show the most is Kaswyn. And he was not quite right. Again.

I cried on the way to the show. Naturally I saw a lot of people at the show that I knew. Almost all of them said "Hi! Is your boy here?" or "Hey, how is Kaswyn?" or something like that. They just wanted to know how he's doing, but each time it was like a little stab in the chest.

"No, Kaswyn's not here. He's still not quite right. So what tests are you showing?"

"Kaswyn's not in full work right now, we're struggling with an injury... How were your rides?"

"Kaswyn's okay... wow I hope it doesn't rain, look at those dark clouds..."

I held it together until a gal from my barn was asking about Kaswyn. She doesn't know the whole absurd history of his lameness issues, and wanted to know did I ever show him, was I going to show him, did I think he was going to get better, stuff like that. She's just getting into dressage, so she's interested. I started to try and explain what our current treatments are and I blurted out "I just don't know if he's ever going to get better..." and then I burst into tears.

I had to walk away and compose myself. Why did this have to be so hard? I really needed to focus on the job at hand - showing Lee. But that was getting very difficult. I was distracted by my horse and all of his issues.

When I got on Lee, I started thinking "I have to do well. I need to get good scores so that he can be sold and get a good home. I want to prove to myself that I don't NEED to show Kaswyn to be happy."

Well.

I didn't make any HUGE mistakes or anything, but I certainly didn't ride as well as I could have. Lee was great, but I wasn't on my game. I usually don't ride for "big scores" or ribbons. I ride for improvement. Riding with something to prove is not the way to go. I got a 65% and a 63%, so not terrible, but he broke from the canter to the trot in both tests. I should have felt it coming, or been more prepared, or something. But I wasn't. Shame on me. There were other things too that I didn't like. I could have ridden better but I didn't.

I cried the whole way home. Then, that night after I put the girls to bed I cried some more.

The next day I didn't want to go to the barn. Craig knew something was up, and I told him I was feeling pretty down. He asked if it was about my horse, and I started to cry - again! Then we had a conversation that, like last time my husband and I had a serious talk about my horse, has completely changed my way of thinking about Kaswyn.

Part 3 - The road before us, as I see it now

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Topics of interest, in three parts. Part 1.

I have three things to talk about. I'll start with the easy one - some things that I have learned from Lee.

During my last lesson on Lee with my trainer, she pointed out that I was riding crooked. That I was up off of my right seatbone, my right shoulder was up and forward, and that I was raising my right hand.

Since then I'm been concentrating on trying to fix this issue. I found that I'm much better at the trot - it's the canter that gets me twisted and not centered. I had to finally get a mental picture in my head of what I wanted to try and accomplish.

Lee is stiff side is to the right, which means he is less apt to bend around my right leg, and he is more likely to blow off my right leg if it's not doing it's job. When he was going to the right, on the right lead, I need to make sure my right leg is down and steady and that my right seatbone and leg are there to help drive him forward on the inside and keep his right hind active. To work on this I just kept thinking "your right seat bone and inside leg are the gas pedal, keep them down so you can use them to keep his impulsion". With some practice this seemed to work very well.

To the left is Lee's hollow side, which means that he wants to curl around my left leg and shove his right shoulder out to the right. This direction I need to make sure my right seatbone and leg are there to control the shoulder and create a barrier for him. If I'm up off my right seatbone and my right leg is not effective, that causes me to work too hard and my right hand comes up. Then I've totally lost control of his entire right side. To fix this, I had to keep repeating to myself "Right seat and leg need to be there to give him someplace to go, be there for him, provide support, and then use that support to keep him from drifting right". This also seems to have worked quite well.

I've also talked before about how I've had to make sure I follow Lee's head/mouth with my hands to keep a constant contact. He's such a big mover, especially at the canter, that if I keep my hands static the reins will go slack-tight-slack-tight and he gets upset about coming against my hand. I really have to let my hands go forward and back, keeping my elbows loose and flexible and the contact the same. This makes him so much happier and keeps the contact much more consistent.

The last few times I've ridden Kaswyn I started to use this following technique. I never realized just how static my hands were on my own horse until I started to let them follow the motion of the horse. This is such a huge piece of the puzzle that I really didn't totally understand until reading an article in Dressage Today. Courtney King-Dye wrote a sidebar about it in a recent issue (April 2011).

I'll try and get a link to the article, since of course I can't find that particular issue anymore so I can't even quote the parts that I'm referring to. It's a great article and I think everyone should read it. Actually, if you don't get Dressage Today you really should subscribe. It's got fantastic information for all dressage riders.

Part 2 - The emotions of last weekend's dressage show

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

ShowSheen for you, too!

The good folks at Absorbine want you to try ShowSheen 2.0 too! So, they have agreed to give free bottles to five lucky Dressage Mom readers. Here is all you have to do -

Send me a picture of your horse at it's dirtiest. Caked with mud, dust, poop, whatever. Rinse those babies off and then let them roll in the dirt! Turn them out in that muddy paddock! Do whatever you have to do, but get them nice and dirty and get a picture. The top five dirtiest horse pictures will get a free bottle of the new ShowSheen! (Click here to see a quick video of the new ShowSheen)

You can post the pictures to my Facebook page - http://www.facebook.com/DressageMom (send a friend request if you're not a friend already) or you can email them to me at dressagemomblog@yahoo.com if you don't have a Facebook account (but you should get one, cause you could be missing out on some good stuff).

Contest ends June 18th. So, go get down and dirty!

More giveaways coming - stay tuned!

Monday, June 06, 2011

ShowSheen 2.0

Absorbine contacted me and asked me if I'd like to try some of their new products. Of course I said "Sure!", cause I love Absorbine stuff.

The first thing I tried is the new ShowSheen.



First of all, the sprayer is not a pump, but a continuous mist. It will spray at any angle, even upside-down, and doesn't make any noise when you push the button on top to spray it. It smells a little different, but it's not unpleasant. I used it on Kaswyn's tail, which I keep braided up. I hadn't taken his tail down in probably two months and it was pretty tangled. The new ShowSheen was still great at helping to brush out the tangles.

One thing I did notice is that it's not as slippery feeling as the old formula, but it still gives a great shine. When I was doing Arabian shows as a kid I remember using ShowSheen on halter horses in the morning, and then having them be slippery under the saddle for their performance classes later that day. While I didn't saddle Kaswyn after I sprayed him, I imagine that he would have been less slippery - but still shiny!

One thing that I still need to "test" is how well the new formula works for tail rubbing. I don't know why, but the old formula was great to stop horses from rubbing their tails. If we saw a horse whose tail had the "bed head" look at the top, we'd saturate the top of the tail (all the way through the hair to the dock) with ShowSheen and then rub it in well and brush it. That would stop the tail rubbing. These were horses who had clean tails, and didn't need to be wormed or anything. I tend to see it with my horse in the summer when he's getting rinsed a lot after being ridden. I don't know if the water is drying his tail skin out and the ShowSheen is soothing the dryness and irritation. I just know that it works.

So I love the new ShowSheen. I would recommend it!

Next up - Natural Spray Hooflex!



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Let me 'splain

So, I'm done with my little temper tantrum. Sorry about that.

Yeah, it's not that big a deal that people say I should retire Kaswyn and buy Lee. I shouldn't be such an over-reactive snot about it. I was just really frustrated about Kaswyn, and I was feeling sorry for myself. Believe me, I wish I could buy Lee too. He's great, and he works well for me. I just can't afford it. That makes me sad.

So I just got overwhelmed and was feeling bad. I'm less drama queen about it now.

It helps that I have a bit of hope right now. I asked for help with the biomechanics from a gal at the barn who rode for two years with the Masso/Bio lady. This gal, T, rode Kaswyn yesterday and he was much more even when she got him straight. And he seemed very willing to do it. So hopefully she can continue to help me with him.

Masso/Bio lady had a bit of a setback - she fell from a horse, broke her leg, and had to have surgery. She hasn't been out in weeks but is coming out tomorrow to help me. I really hope I can get this whole thing sometime soon. The problem ia Kaswyn isn't straight but he's been crooked so long that it feels normal to me. If I can't feel it, I can't fix it. And right now I can't feel it!

Anyhow, sorry about the tantrum. I'll try and control my snotty self!

Monday, May 23, 2011

In the ribs

Dr. Chiro came out last Thursday and gave Kaswyn another adjustment. He said that Kaswyn's left shoulder was less tight than it had been before, so the stretching has been helping him. When I told the doc that Kaswyn was still not quite even at the trot, he checked his shoulders, neck, and chest for sore sports. He found some soreness in Kaswyn's chest, right between his font legs and over on the left side.

Dr. Chrio said Kaswyn could have a rib out of place, which could be pressing on the underside of the shoulder blade and causing pain. He stood on the left side, facing Kaswyn's left shoulder, got very close to him, lifted his left leg, and wrapped his arms under the leg so he had his forearms against the left side of his chest under his leg.

When he did this, Kaswyn picked up his head and wrinkled his nose, and Dr. Chrio said "He's sore here. Now, here comes what I call the "bad Heimlich maneuver..", and with that he lifted up with a jerk to put the rib back in place.

Kaswyn made a noise I had never heard him make before. It was a combination of a grunt and a squeak, and he leaped backwards and threw his head in the air. I said "Oh my God, what was THAT?" and Dr. Chrio said "Yeah, that was painful. He really hurts there. I haven't seen a horse react that strongly to that adjustment in a long time. Usually they don't do anything except grunt a little. But that was huge. He hurts there, for sure."

Since then I've been continuing with the light riding or lunging, then stretching. Yesterday Kaswyn was certainly off when I rode him, so I only rode long enough to warm the muscles up for the stretching. My barn friends were there and I did a right shoulder stretch on Kaswyn and he threw his head up. The one gal said "Oh wow, he didn't like that. Look at his ears." Sure enough, he had his ears halfway pinned and his nose wrinkled. I tried massaging his shoulder and chest, but nothing I did seemed to work. He still had that painful look on his face.

I took him into the arena, seeing if he wanted to roll, which he usually does after he works. But he didn't want to roll. I walked him for a little bit but he still had the owie face, nose wrinkled, ears half pinned. I didn't know what else to do but put him back in his stall and give him bute.

Today he'll go outside. I'm not sure what I did yesterday that was any different than the stretching that I had been doing. I'm hoping that I just stretched something a bit farther than usual. I can't see that little me could move my horse's shoulder enough to tear something or really hurt it. I'm not that big, or that strong! So here's hoping he'll be better when I head out there tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Unhappy

Kaswyn is still not sound. He's not lame but he's still taking a short stride on the left front. I can tell that when I do the left shoulder stretches that he's sore, and it's painful.

I have Dr. Chiro coming back out on Thursday. I know that he's only had one treatment and I've only been doing the stretching and exercises for two weeks, but frankly I'm frustrated and impatient. I've done every treatment that the vets and other equine professionals have suggested. I have faithfully followed all instructions on drugs, supplements, rehab, wound care, and work schedules.

I know people mean well, but I really don't want to hear how I should retire him. There is no reason for me to retire this horse yet. If he had an "end of the line" diagnosis I would retire him immediately. If he had bad ringbone, or degenerate hocks, or scarred and ruined suspensory ligaments, then sure, I'd retire him. But no vet so far has been able to find anything but a little arthritis in his left rear fetlock (that he's had for ten years) and spots on his navicular bone, which he can't feel now due to the neurectomy. Nothing that should be keeping this horse in pain. So I'm not giving up yet. Stop telling me to. I WON'T.

I can't afford to buy Lee. Rather, I can't afford to keep two horses. So no, Lee can't be my next horse. Yes, it would be fun to buy and own him. But I can't. And even if I did I would not stop trying to heal my Kaswyn.

So, I'm sending a plea to the horse healing gods out there. For 14 years Kaswyn was sound, and I was lucky. For the past five and a half he's had issues. I've done my time, paid my vet bills. Please let this saga be over. Help me find a way to heal my horse.

I'm not giving up.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Butterflies

Many people get butterflies when they are about to compete in a show. I don't get nervous, but I get the "really excited" kind of butterflies. Today I wasn't at a show but I got really excited.

The instructions from Dr. Chiro were that I was to warm Kaswyn up before I started the stretching exercises. So I lunged Kaswyn instead of riding him so that I could see him move. He was totally sound and even at the trot going to the left. He looked as good as he did after those neuroma injections last year. The canter looked a little weird, so I stopped him from doing that. He was just a tiny bit uneven at the trot to the right. I didn't even canter him right.
After the lunging I did the stretching. First was neck stretches, where I take a treat and stand at his side and get him to stretch his neck around his body as far as he can towards his tail. Well, he has full range of motion back in his neck. His nose was almost at his stifle, he was folding his neck so much. Loved it!

Next I did the leg stretch where I pull each front leg out straight forward, then onto the shoulder exercises. I'm not totally sure that I'm doing these properly, but I know that each side feels different. I tried to watch the shoulder blade as I lifted the leg up, and I think he's still tighter on the left. But it's hard for me to see when I'm jammed up against his shoulder.

I know we have just started this different kind of rehab and treatment, and that we have a long way to go. But when I saw my horse trot strong, sound, and even on the end of a lunge line, knowing that he was completely drug free, I got show butterflies. The excited kind. And it was GOOD.

~Also, Happy Mother's Day to all you horsie moms out there. And human moms too. :)
 
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr