Wednesday, September 26, 2012

So far bahind...

I'm so far behind it's not even funny. 

Work has completely imploded.  We went from 7 staff members down to 4 within one week.  It's been absolutely crazy!  Any free time I've had, which has not really been a lot, I've spent resting. 

I have notes about Phil for the last two weeks jotted down on my phone or in short, fast emails I've sent to myself at work.  I'll get it all updated when I get a chance.  Right now I'm working this weekend so I know time is going to be tight.  I still have footage from two lessons that I haven't even transferred off of my camera.  And I have another lesson on Friday and I know I'm bringing my camera. 

So I'll get stuff down as soon as I can.  Stay tuned.  Lots of good stuff coming. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Day 13

Day 13 was a ride on my own day. And unfortunately, Phil is often very bad to ride when he's had time off. And he stayed true to form and was kind of a jerk.

All I wanted to do was to do an easy ride where we worked on some of the stuff from our last lesson. Just a few headless snowmen, ten meter circles, and some beginning shoulder-ins. But instead it was a big fight just to get him to be steady on the bit at all. He was snarky, disagreeable, and overly sensitive. Once when I asked for the canter, he kicked out at my leg and bucked into the canter. I was shocked and hollered at him "NO!". He kinda freaked out about that and I had to spend a few minutes to get him to calm down again. I think he got the idea that kicking out and bucking at my leg was a bad idea.

Towards the end, my jaw was set, I was riding my ass off, and all I kept telling him was "Just do two trot circles in each direction that are good. JUST TWO. We both want to be done so COME ON, WORK WITH ME HERE!" He really pushed my patience, but I was able to hold it together.

Until I got him back in the barn and he would not get in the wash rack. I totally snapped. I was super pissed at him for being such a mule about the washrack, and I lost my temper. I'm not proud of it. but I hollered at him, jerked him backwards, and forced him to back into the wash rack. He had just pushed me past my point of tolerance. Usually I can keep my cool through most things, but my button? He pushed it.

I'm embarrassed about my actions, and of course in about 5 minutes I felt sorry for my behavior. But I'm not perfect, and I try my best. Sometimes it just is not good enough.

Day 14 was an actual lesson. I have video. It was pretty good, but difficult.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 11 & 12

I decided not to take my lesson on Day 11.

I thought it would be more fun to have my car break down as I was driving to work. This left me with no transportation to get me to the barn on that day at all. Of course this really bummed me out but there just wasn't anything I could do about it. I was able to get a loaner car later that evening, so I had transportation for Kaswyn's vet visit the next day.

Here's how the visit went. Kaswyn flex tested slightly positive on the left front. But that was all. Doc said he hadn't seen him this sound in years. But I said that I knew he was in pain, and Doc didn't dispute that.

We got x-rays of the foot, and compared the same shots with x-rays from 2010. This revealed four important findings.

#1 The navicular disease had progressed past the point of the neuorectomy, so that pain and swelling of that foot was now being felt by Kaswyn, causing him to favor that foot and not put as much weight on it.

#2 By using the computer measuring system on the x-rays, we were able to clearly see that the angle of Kaswyn's coffin bone had rotated 3 degrees down.

#3 His heels were narrower by 8 mm.

#4 The dish in his foot was more pronounced.

To rule out deep digital flexor tendon involvement, he ultrasounded the tendon. He said it was totally normal.

Doc thinks it went this way - the disease progressed, causing pain the the foot. Kaswyn began favoring the foot, which caused him to bear less weight on it. This caused decreased circulation, and resulted in the narrower heels, pronounced hoof dishing, and rotated coffin bone.

The solution? Better anti inflammatory management and slow change in shoeing. Kaswyn is now on Previcox, the canine pill form of Equioxx, which works just as well, is cheaper than the horse paste version, and is much easier on the stomach than bute. He is also on EquiThrive, a powdered neutraceutical that uses natural products that possess anti inflammatory powers.

Kaswyn is much better traveling to the right, so Doc said to work him to the right on his regular schedule for a week. Then work him a bit to the left and see how he is. If he's better, slowly introduce some left direction work. If he's still bad to the left, stop the left work and go back to the right work only for another week.

Overall the prognosis is good. If we can get him to start using that foot again we should be able to change the angle back and get the heels widened again.

Because of the vet visit I didn't have time to ride Phil. I guess that would have to wait for Thursday. I was going to have a lesson, but decided that since I hadn't ridden Phil in 3 days that I should ride on my own. My trainer couldn't fit me in anyway.

Tough few days, but we got through it.

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 9 & 10

Day 9 was a Sunday, and I had the whole arena to myself. It was delightful! We worked on 10 meter circles, Headless Snowman, and the "scary two point big strided canter on a long rein" exercise. I skipped the trot lengthenings, and to cool down we did the shoulder-in exercise at a walk. It was great because I could take my time and use the mirrors to see if I had his body positioned correctly. An easy and productive day.

Day 10 - a much deserved day off, for both of us! Because Day 11 is a lesson.

Now, a bit about Kaswyn...

He just hasn't been right, even with time off. He was also tripping more than usual, so I had my blacksmith change his shoeing to make him more comfortable and trip less. He rounded the toes off, and it seemed to help a lot with the stumbling. But it didn't fix the fact that Kaswyn looked uncomfortable on that left front again, even with with my custom pastern wrap and time off.

So on Wednesday he goes to have a visit with Doc G. I just want him to be comfortable, and Debbie says she's okay if she can't ride him anymore. Even though I think Kaswyn has some sort of injury again, I don't think Debbie had anything to do with this. I think it was Phil.

The barn manager told me about 6 weeks ago that she noticed that Phil was chasing Kaswyn around the pasture sometimes. This completely sounds like something that Phil would do, so immediately we found a new turnout buddy for Kaswyn - Merlin. This has worked out very well. I turned them both out together a number of times and kept a close watch on them. No chasing, no running. Good boy, Merlin.

Unfortunately I think the damage may have already been done. So now we'll see what we have to do to get Kaswyn pain free. I know that Phil probably just wanted to play, but when Kaswyn is out he just wants to eat and roll in the mud.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 7 & 8

After such a hard lesson on Day 6, I decided to lunge Phil on Day 7. It was a 15 minute, very easy lunge with no side reins. I know some people call this "junk lunging" and think that it should never be done, as it teaches the horse nothing if you don't use side-reins or long lines or something. While I agree that the horse (who already knows how to lunge and is broke to ride) doesn't really learn anything when you do this, I don't think it's a bad thing to have an easy day. So that's what we did.

Day 8 was another lesson. It ended up being a great lesson, and I have video!

We started out just asking for a nice trot. Phil was very good about it, so we went to schooling 10 meter circles down the long side. That's on the video. There were some times when he needed more leg, or a different positioning, but overall it was really good.

Then we did what my trainer calls the Headless Snowman, also on the video. She calls it that because it consists of two circles next to each other, one large, one small, kind of like the bottom two snowballs of a snowman. First we cantered a 20 meter circle to the left, then at the top of the circle, across the center line, we did a trot transition and immediately turned right onto a 10 meter trot circle. It's meant to help the horse be able to stay round, on the bit and relaxed while being able to make transition and change the bend. It's a lot to ask but it's a good exercise. And like my trainer says, if you don't teach this stuff now, when are you going to?

It was interesting. Going from the left canter to the right trot, Phil did a better down transition. But for the up transition back to canter he wanted to poke his neck out and know jump through. It was the opposite the other direction - the down transition wasn't very good, but the up transition to canter was great.

Then onto schooling the beginnings of shoulder-in, again on video. It felt really awkward, but it's just the beginning. I was able to make some progress, and Phil was getting the idea of positioning his body in a new and different way.

Next it was Phil's favorite thing. Trot lengthenings! Yes, they are on the video too. I'll be honest, the ones from this lesson weren't as great as the "That was a 9." lesson, but they were pretty good. I find it easier to feel him come through his back and regulate the tempo if I'm sitting the lengthenings, but my trainer wanted me to post. I think Phil likes it when it sit better too. I'm sure they will improve over the next month.

So here is the video!

Yes we have a long way to go but I like where we are going so far!

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 5 & 6

On Day 5 Phil saw the pony chiropractor, and on Day 6 we had a lesson. It was a pretty rough lesson compared to the last one that ended on such a high note.

We walked to warm up, and then went to the trot. Phil was being super fussy about going to the bit, and was not making a connection. He'd either suck back behind my leg, or leap forward and run. My trainer wanted him to come over his back, relax, and stretch into my hand. She had me put him on a long rein, go up into two point position, and ask him for a long canter stride. Her idea was that getting off of his back would allow him to relax the back and come up under the saddle, the long rein would encourage him to stretch down, and the longer stride would let him stretch his whole body in a big relaxing stride.

Well, Phil thought that wasn’t a great idea. At first he was a little okay with it, but after a few minutes he got a little freaked out by having me lean forward with my butt out of the saddle. I knew what his anxiety was all about. During his previous training, two point position at the canter, plus asking for a long stride forward meant "hand gallop", which also meant "If you're not FLYING around this arena, you're in trouble." And "in trouble" meant whipping and spurring, and that's when Phil would check out. So after a few times around the arena I had to stop him, because he reverted back into panic mode.

Once I got him walking , I explained to my trainer what the situation was, and why I had to stop him. We had a talk about how we were going to accomplish the goal of the exercise without freaking Phil out. Phil needed to learn that my lifting my seat off the saddle doesn't mean anything bad, and that I should be able to push him on a long rein at the canter without having him freak out. Once he can accept this he can come over his back and relax. This will be very helpful in the future when he’s fussy, or distracted at a show, or just tight and not really wanting to work.

So we did the same exercise, on a 20 meter circle, and worked at it just a little at a time. Phil was pretty upset, but we just kept at it in very calming way. I went to slowly raising and lowering my seat on and off of the saddle, and built up to a bigger canter, then back down. By the end of the lesson he was doing what we wanted - long rein, up in the back, and big relaxed stride.

I’m not saying it was easy, or pretty in any way. When we were done, there wasn't a spot in either one of us that wasn't soaked with sweat.

Although it was hard for us, it was a great lesson in many ways. My trainer and I were able to identify a problem, work through it, and reach the point where she wanted us to be. And in the end we got good work done.

There was no video from that lesson, but I'm working on the video and write up for the next lesson. It was great!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Day 4

Yesterday we had our first lesson at boot camp. In the three days before I had been working on getting Phil’s neck longer and lower, and getting him in front of my leg by letting him go and pushing him into my hand.

We started on the 20 meter circle, just working on the trot. My trainer said she liked his neck longer, but it needed to be rounder and not so straight. When I asked Phil for a rounder neck, he would fuss with the contact. So she had me push him but also slow him down my slowing my posting. She said he didn’t have a well established working trot – that he kept speeding up or slowing down, and was fussy in the contact. So there would be a lot of adjusting by me until he was able to be more consistent.

Around this time, Mr. K came to watch and visit with my trainer. He has a farm across the street, and has been in the dressage business for years. Although he presents a prickly exterior, he’s really a nice guy. He’s not overly expressive, but he knows his stuff.

My trainer asked me to keep him on the 20 meter circle and give him a 10 meter circle bend. In this way we could get the bend through the body like on a 10 meter circle but he would still feel like he had the freedom of a 20 meter circle. Then we did some serpentines, but four loops in stead of three, all the time working on bend and consistency of contact.

Then we went to the 10 meter circles down the long side. She had be fit four or five circles in instead of three, since Phil is so compact. She said that he was losing impulsion on the circle as we were approaching the wall again, so she had me put him in shoulder-fore for the last third or so of the circle. That really helped him to keep the shoulders in a bit and not feel like he had to immediately go straight when the wall was coming.

Next she asked for a slight lengthening. Not a medium, or extended, just a lengthening. We headed across the diagonal and I asked for just a little. Phil responded nicely, and gave me just a bit of lengthening. Then, of course, he knew what we were doing and got himself all excited. He started rushing so my trainer had me do trot-walk-trot transitions on a few 20 meter circles to get him to realize that he’s got to slow his thinking and listen.

Then we did another lengthening. It was more than the last one because Phil was into it. My trainer liked it, but again, we had to do a couple of 20 meter circle with trot-walk-trot transitions. Then my trainer said “Okay, one more, but I want you to own this one. Own that trot.”

So as I sent Phil across the diagonal, I asked for a big one. And he went ALL IN. He sat and pushed into my hand, all the way across the diagonal. I felt the lift of his back, glorious suspension, and a much longer stride without running. It was fabulous.

After the corner my trainer said “Ummm… walk, just walk. I don’t even know what to say.”

Mr. K, who hadn’t said a word, said “I know what you say. You say get off and you’re done.”

“Yes, I think you should be done. That was just amazing. It gave me goose bumps and my eyes are tearing up.” My trainer added.

I got all choked up and said “Isn’t this horse wonderful??!!”

My trainer said “Yes he is. That was so nice, I can’t even tell you. It was a better lengthening than many very nice horses in this area can do.”

Mr. K said “That was a 9. Easily any judge around here would give it a 9. Very nice.”

My trainer said “Yep, I’d give that a nine. He didn’t run, and he’s one of the few Arabs that I’ve seen that doesn’t get wide behind when they try to do that. Well done.”

Of course, I’m over the moon about it. We have another lesson on Thursday. I’ll try and get video.

And here’s the thing. While that was a SUPER lengthening, it’s not as big as he can go. Cause I’ve felt him go bigger, and it’s fantastic.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 1-3

Day 1 – Getting there

I was all set to go. Tack was in my car, help was coming to move hay, and a very nice friend was on her way to trailer Phil to my trainer’s barn. I’ve written before about how Phil has a trailer fear, and we’ve worked on it since I bought him. Before I got him he was used to riding in a slant load trailer with no ramp. All the shows I’ve taken him to have been in a slant load step-up trailer. Unfortunately, neither person who had hauled him before was available to help me. I found another volunteer, which was really nice of her and fantastic.

Unfortunately, her trailer was a straight load with a ramp.

Still, I thought we could make this work. With her and Debbie’s help, we started trying to get Phil in the trailer. He got on the ramp a few times, once with all four feet, but after an hour of trying he just wasn’t making any progress. Instead he was getting more agitated and nervous. We weren’t whipping him or being overly aggressive with him, but at that point we all decided we needed to try something different. So we did something that I really didn’t want to do, but that we all figured would work.

We put Kaswyn on the trailer first. Kaswyn had never been in this trailer, but he gets so excited to go anywhere he’ll usually jump right on any trailer. He got half-way on, then stopped for a second so I backed him off. Then I threw the lead line over his neck and said “Kaswyn! Get in the trailer!” He got right on.

Kaswyn kept still and chilled in the trailer, and kept nickering encouragement to Phil. After that it took about five minutes to get Phil on the trailer. It was great! The not so great part was having to take Kaswyn back off the trailer and leave him behind. I felt so bad, because Kaswyn loves going places SO much. It was a complete mind game on Kaswyn, and my friend even offered to take him there and back again, but it would have been really out of her way since she is literally around the corner from my trainer’s barn.

So sadly, Kaswyn went back to his stall. Then we started rolling, with me following directly behind the trailer. We only had ten minutes to drive to my trainer’s barn, and it was warm, so we left the upper doors on the back of the trailer open. Even before we pulled out of the driveway, I could see Phil. He completely bent his head around until he was looking right at me in my car. So I stuck my head out the window and yelled “You’re ok Phil! GOOD BOY!!”, then he turned back around.

This is how it went for the whole drive. He’d flick his ears back, then turn around and look at me, and I’d holler encouragement to him, so he’d turn back around. At one point we turned left at a stoplight and there was a restaurant on the corner. There was a man out there weedwhacking the landscaping, and I yelled “YOU’RE A GOOD BOY PHIL!! GOOD BOY!!” just as we passed him and the guy looked up at me like “What? Huh?” I didn’t even care. It was more important to me that my boy knew I was back there for him and that he wasn’t alone.

We got to my trainer’s barn and unloaded horse and tack without incident. I had to bring both my girls with me, so I set them up in the very nice lounge/observation room to watch movies and eat lunch while I rode Phil. Then I tacked that boy up and headed to the indoor arena.

The arena at my trainer’s barn is super nice. It’s longer than the one at the other barn, but the most important improvement was the footing. Oh, and the mirrors. It’s been so long since I was at a barn that had mirrors I had forgotten how helpful they can be.

First I hand walked Phil around the arena so that he could see everything and get used to the noises and smells in the arena. Then I hopped on and we walked some more, just casual and walking. Once we started to trot, I stayed down at the end that had the mirrors so I could assess the situation. I realized I wasn’t riding Phil properly at ALL.

The main thing was that I was holding him back too much. Our trot circles looked like he wasn’t going anywhere and he was totally behind my leg. I figured out that I had gotten too used to being cautious about riding him in the other barn’s arena. The footing, the hay wagon in the arena, people turning horses out and having to walk through the arena, people feeding and watering horses in the arena, all made me want to have an extreme amount of control at all times so that I could be sure that I could stop or turn or whatever I needed to do. I wasn’t really riding Phil. I was just sitting on him and steering around.

So I really started riding. I pushed him into a big trot. Not a fast trot, or a lengthened trot, but a bigger, more powerful, pushing trot. And it was good. He was so concentrated on working as hard as I asked him that there was minimal spooking or fooling around with his head. The contact was really pretty good, and from what I could see in the mirrors he was pushing nicely.

Then, since I was alone, it was quiet, and I had plenty of room, I added a basic exercise that my trainer likes. At the trot, we made three 10 – 15 meter circles evenly spaced down the long sides. It really helped him to bend and push around the circles. We did that both directions a few times, then we did the same thing at the canter after a walk break. Then a little counter canter, and one or two lengthened trots across the diagonal.

Phil was fantastic. No panicking, no taking off, no disobedience. Just really nice work.

And the girls were so good and didn’t pester me (or anyone else), that we stopped and got Slurpees on the way home. Everybody wins!

Days 2 & 3

Over the next two days it went pretty much the same way. I used the same pattern for each of our workouts, and Phil really brought it to the plate. He was fantastic. And he seems like he is settling in at the new barn really well. He’s been going out in a round pen that has some grass on one side, and isn’t causing any trouble so far. He seems happy, and I love that.

Tomorrow is our first lesson. The plan is to have three lessons a week for the whole month. I am SO excited!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

August Schooling show

Finally, I'm getting around to wrapping up this show!

The main thing that was making me nervous about this show was that we didn't have stalls, and our ride times were about four hours apart. That meant that Kaswyn or Phil had to stand tied to the side or stand inside the trailer for hours at a time. I wasn't terribly worried about Kaswyn, but truthfully I hadn't shown him out of the trailer for years and years, so I wasn't totally sure how he'd react. And Phil... well I know that Phil is not a fan of trailers, so I was really concerned about how he would handle the day.

But I figured it would all work out somehow, so off we went!

Debbie was first with Kaswyn in Intro C. For some reason she was super nervous, and Kaswyn was really feeling it. He was very tense and she was having a bit of a problem getting him to focus and calm down. I kept telling her "Your body is telling him that something is wrong, and that he needs to be on alert! You really have got to relax and calm down." She did her best, but the test wasn't pretty. Even with the tension, they ended up with a 61% and a second place.

Both Debbie and Kaswyn were better in the second test, but still there was tension and inattention on Kaswyn's part. 54.167% and a fourth place for that one.

It's so hard with Kaswyn. Yes, he's very trained, and he knows what he's doing. But he gets so overly excited and over stimulated at shows. And if you're not used to dealing with him when he's like that it can be very hard, and not very fun to ride. I'm not even sure I could have gotten a good ride out of him that day. He just gets all ADD and Tiggers out, and there's not much that can be done except steer him around and get through it.

I think things will be much better for the Championship show in October. We'll have stalls, we'll be there overnight, and I think that kind of situation really settles Kaswyn. He doesn't seem to get his show pants on right with the one-day shows.

Now, onto Phil. He was actually really good for me in his first test. It's very evident by looking at the video that I'm getting his neck too short. It's so hard when I'm mostly riding alone and I don't have mirrors, and I don't get regular lessons. However, looking at the positive I was able to adjust him during the test - meaning that I could ask for more or less trot or canter, and I got it. Of course there was some tension, and connection issues, but mostly I'm really pleased that he was adjustable. We scored a 66.875%, but were 5th, and last in the class. Still, I was happy.

The second test.... well I saw trouble coming before we even started. Phil doesn't like trailers when he has to get into them. He also doesn't like then when they drive by. The banging just sends him into a panic. Our trailer was parked in the field with all the other trailers, and every time a trailer would leave and drive past, Phil would get extremely upset. There wasn't much I could do about it, since trailers driving through pastures tend to make a lot of noise.

Right as I was riding around the ring for our second test, I saw two horses being loaded into a stock trailer. I KNEW that they'd be pulling out during my test. And driving right by the show ring. And there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. I think you can see where they started to pull out, and where Phil heard the banging. It went really downhill from there. It could have been a LOT worse, since he didn't completely check out, but it was kinda ugly. We ended up with a 62.5% and a 3rd out of four. The judge said that I was patient and supportive, but that the horse needed to be more harmonious with me. But she noted that the talent was there, and that the mistakes were costly. I agree. And the neck was too short again, but I had a lot to deal with in that test!

The photographer for the show,, managed to get this one nice picture of Phil before his test.

Photo credit

As for the trailer worries? Well it turned out just fine. We ended up rotating Phil and Kaswyn in and out of the trailer, while the other horse we brought with us stayed tied to one side of the trailer. She hung out under the awning and it all worked out just fine. Still, I'd rather have stalls. I think it's better for Kaswyn. Amazingly, I don't think Phil really cared, unless a trailer drove by.

Overall I'm really happy with the way Phil handled himself at the show. He stood in or tied to the trailer without getting into trouble, he let me adjust his stride and energy in the first test, and he didn't completely check out and bolt out of control in the second test when he was genuinely frightened. I think this is all progress. We are getting there, slowly but surely.

One thing I'm really excited for is that I'm taking Phil to my trainer's barn for boot camp in September. She will certainly fix my issues with getting his neck too short. And hopefully a few other things. I hope I can get some video to document our improvement!

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr