Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Breakup - Part 6

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

As I prepared to go to our first open dressage show, I asked Paula what it was like. Did people hang stall curtains like they did at Arabian shows? Did she think we could survive without a grooming stall? I wanted to save money and since I was her only student going to the show I wasn't going to be able to split the grooming stall or feed/tack stall with anyone. She laughed a little, saying that most people don't get extra stalls, since the show is only Saturday and Sunday. They just stacked the hay in the aisle and brought the tack back and forth from their car or trailer every day. So this would be the first big show that I'd been to where I had a stall for my horse but no grooming or tack stall. She said I could just groom him in the aisle, or in the crossties that she knew this barn had. It was weird, but it all worked out.

We warmed up the evening before classes classes started, and Kaswyn was tense but excited. Paula was coaching me and kept telling me that I really needed a bit more discipline with him. Her idea was that he was getting away with too much as far as inattentiveness and ignoring my half-halts. The truth was that I doubt I was giving a proper half-halt anyway, so how could I punish him for ignoring it? But more importantly Kaswyn was, at the time, very sensitive emotionally. This horse hated to be in trouble (still does) and when I would tap him with the whip he would get himself so upset that I'd have to struggle for a good 10 minutes to get him focused on working again. It's like he was thinking "Oh! There's whipping!??! Why, oh WHY does there have to be so much WHIPPING??!" The tests weren't long enough for me to be able to tap with the whip, or boot him with my heel, or even take a big hold of him and be able to recover and finish the test. He'd be so upset about being in trouble that the test would be blown.

Our first two tests were Training Level Test 1 (56.3%) and 3 (54.6%). The comments were mostly about getting him more supple both through his back and laterally through bending. I was still very ineffective with my aids and was basically just steering him around, trying not to upset him so we could make it through the test. Paula was convinced that if I would just give him one big half-halt and a smack on the rump with the whip when he blew off my half-halt that he'd come around and be obedient. I agreed to try it on the next test.

We rode into Training Level Test 2. It started badly when he rushed down the centerline and I asked for the halt. When he was slow coming to the halt, I did a big half-halt and took a firm hold of the reins. Kaswyn slammed on the brakes and took two steps backwards as I was trying to salute. Then when I asked him to trot on, he took off.

I spent the whole test trying to get his mind back in the game, while also trying to slow him down so we could at least make a feeble attempt at the movements. He was seriously tense, running through the movements, clearly upset that he was in trouble. It was awful, and our score of 48.4% reflected it. The judge wrote the following "This horse is very unhappy and confused. It is important to be patient and learn to balance horse from your legs -> supple and accept connection with softer contact. It's very important. This can be a very elegant horse!"

I handed the test to Paula. She didn't have much to say about the comments, but thought I did the right thing. I totally disagreed with her, and said that I wouldn't be doing that again. She wasn't very happy to hear that, and told me that she didn't think my scores would go up until Kaswyn could be more obedient and accepting of my half-halts. I agreed that he had more learning to do - we both did - but that the show ring was not the place to do it. He needed to learn the difference between being punished and being corrected which I knew we could make progress on at home. However, he was still five years old - just a baby as far as I was concerned.

During our warm-up for the next test, I could tell Kaswyn was trying to figure out what I was going to do. Was he in trouble? Was I going to grab his face again? Or worse? Was there to be whipping? I did my best just to reassure him that I was going to ride him as I had been doing at home, with lots of pats and praise. Thankfully, he relaxed, and I rode into Training Level Test 4 with a bit more confidence.

I thought we had a wonderful test. He was a bit tense in some areas, but once he figured out that I wasn't going to punish him we were able to work through it in our own way. Paula was mainly happy with the test, but continued to say that she thought we'd never get the brilliance and the obedience we needed if I was unwilling to correct him. I agreed to work on it at home, but for the moment I was thrilled. As we waited for my score, I wondered what the judge thought of the test. My plan of getting one qualifying score of 57% hadn't worked out yet.

To be continued...

Part 7

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


This post was going to be about how our Christmas was marred by rampant sickness. I was going to bitch about fevers, sinuses clogged with goo, and frequent unpleasant trips to the bathroom. Then I got to thinking, and I changed my tune. Here are some things that I'm grateful for.

The main focus of this blog is, of course, Kaswyn. Even though I do a fair amount of whining about his lameness, the cost, and frustration of everything, I'm lucky to have a horse at all. I'm also luckier beyond compare that Kaswyn is the horse I own. Quoting my trainer, he's such a noble creature, so giving, willing, smart, and big hearted. Replacing him will be impossible.

I'm so lucky to have found my perfect partner in Craig. Not that he's perfect himself, but he's perfect for me. I don't have to go through life alone or with someone who's just not right for me. I love my husband, and he loves me. We trust each other and work as a team. We're on the same page with finances, how to raise our kids, and after eight years we have finally learned how to have a fair fight. And this is something we both really appreciate.

We both have very loving and supporting families. Everyone is so generous, caring, and basically downright normal. Not a crackpot in the bunch. My sister doesn't really count as a loony, she's just, uh, easily distracted. But like everyone else her heart is in the right place. Even if it does take her an hour and a half to get ready to go anywhere. And she's always late. But always stylish and smiling.

Even though our house has ugly wallpaper that needs to be ripped down, and our kitchen has about as much counter space as our bathroom, I'm thankful we have a house at all. So many people don't have houses, or even apartments to live in. Not only are we not homeless, but our girls get to grow up in a pretty nice house in a good neighborhood. No mold, rats, leaky ceilings, or drive by shootings. An occasional mouse, maybe, but nothing dangerous.

Financially we're not as well off as many people. We don't buy whatever we want, we don't go on vacation, and we're on a strict budget for everything, including food. However, our girls always have food to eat and never go hungry. And we're not defaulting on our mortgage, or in bankruptcy, like so many people right now who got caught in the current real estate market. We're going to keep our house, and keep feeding our kids, so we're lucky.

We're blessed to have two perfect, wonderful, funny, beautiful little girls. By and large, we're a pretty healthy family, except the past five days when sickness descended upon our household with alarming ferocity. It's been pretty miserable, and right when I was feeling really sorry for myself for having such an illness plagued holiday, I read an email over Craig's shoulder about a certain little girl and the results of her recent liver biopsy. Thankfully the biopsy showed that the cancer had not returned, and she could still consider herself 5 years cancer free. I said to Craig that I would have gladly spent three days, a week, an month in bed with something that I knew I'd recover from if it meant that she wouldn't get cancer again. Craig said "Sorry honey, but I don't think it works that way."

Wouldn't it be great if it did?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Paging Dr. Macey

Last night I got a call from the alarm system at work. All of the incubators that house the fresh embryos and the tanks that hold the frozen embryos are hooked up to an alarm system that calls the lab personnel if the temperatures or gas levels are above or below normal. With the incubators it's an emergency situation because fluctuations in temperature or gas levels can kill the embryos quite rapidly. So when the incubators are in alarm it doesn't matter if it's 3:00 in the morning - someone has got to go in and investigate.

As far as the frozen storage tanks, they have never had a problem, but the alarms go off all the time. This is because the alarm lids are very touchy and if the power supply cord is not plugged in just right, or gets jiggled a bit, the alarm goes off. But it never goes off when we're all here. It always waits until we are all at home before going into alarm mode. A certain pain in the ass.

When the alarm went off last night we had already planned on being out that way because Lily had a doctor's appointment. We decided that I'd take Macey with me to the lab to go check on the tanks and Craig would take Lily a bit later (she was sleeping on the couch with a fever).

So Macey and I headed off to the lab. The lab is a sterile area so we have to wear special clothes, a surgical hat, mask, and shoe covers. The tanks are in a separate room from the incubators, so I figured it was okay for me to bring her in with me. I got her all dressed up, and she looked absolutely adorable.

She didn't want to take it all off, so she wore it in the doctor's office too. Someone asked who she was and she said "A doctor!" And if she wants to really be a doctor that's fine with me!

Monday, December 17, 2007

In hock

With all the Deleted Post drama I neglected to write that Kaswyn was very short on his left front when I rode on Thursday. Dr. B already had an appointment to see another horse at our barn yesterday, so we added Kaswyn to the list.

In a rare turn of events, Dr. B came to the barn hours early because of many cancellations in his schedule due to the weather. My trainer called me to tell me he'd be there early, so I finished my work as soon as I could and headed out to the barn. He had already examined Kaswyn by the time I had gotten there, and was preparing to ultrasound the other horse. While that horse was getting clipped and prepped for the procedure I was able to chat with Dr. B and my trainer about Kaswyn.

My thought going into this vet visit was to find out if this left front splint injury was ever going to heal. I wanted a straightforward answer from Dr. B as to whether he thought Kaswyn would ever heal or be sound on that leg or not. Because if it's a lost cause I'll stop trying to make it better and just retire Kaswyn. It's not what I want to do, but I'll do it if it's the best thing to do.

Dr. B's thought before he examined Kaswyn was that he wanted to confirm that we were seeing lameness associated with the old injury and not something new. He planned to nerve block up the leg in steps until Kaswyn went sound. However, lunging and flex tests showed no lameness in the front legs at all. In fact, Dr. B said that it was the best he'd ever seen my horse move in front.

The back end was another story. Kaswyn was definitely flexing positive for hock problems, with the left hind being just a little worse. This wasn't surprising, considering his age and discipline. One of the main causes of lameness in dressage horses is hock problems due to the fact that dressage horses are asked to put so much weight and stress on the hocks. And since he's been doing dressage for 12 years he's had a lot of stress put on those hocks. Dr. B said it's not terrible, and that Kaswyn isn't what he'd call lame, but he wasn't perfect. He didn't think there was any damage to the joints since this just started. He said I could get x-rays if I wanted, but that it wouldn't change his diagnosis or his suggested course of action, because he was pretty sure that we'd see very little change in the joints if we saw anything at all.

The conclusion was that the hock issue has probably been building for years, but that this last injury to the left front has made Kaswyn put more weight than usual behind. The concern now is that if Kaswyn's hocks hurt that he might put too much weight in front and either continue to injure the left front, or at the very least hinder it's healing.

Dr. B was actually thrilled that it was his hocks. "Hocks I can fix! That's easy!" I knew what his suggestion would be before he even said it - inject the hocks with hyaluronic acid and cortisone. The hyaluronic acid is basically what the joint fluid is, and the cortisone is to help heal any inflammation of the joint. Some dressage horses have their hocks injected two or three times a year just to keep them comfortable. There is a common thought that once you start injecting the hocks that you have to inject more and more often.

I asked Dr. B about this, and here is what he said -

Take horses A and B, both are clones of each other. Horse A is worked until he has a problem, and is injected. He has a week or two of light work and then goes back to work. Every now and then he has to be reinjected, but his time off is less and the joint is saved because the injection keeps it from degenerating. Horse B is not injected, and when it has lameness issues it needs months off to heal. Eventually the joint gets big as the horse lays down bone in response to the stress. Horse B eventually goes back to work but has to keep having long periods of time off when the joint becomes painful. Both horses will probably reach the same end potential, but the joints on horse B are big, ugly, and have more damage. His thought - better to inject.

Armed with this information, I asked Dr. B the big question - is the left front going to heal or is injecting the hocks a useless exercise? He smiled, looked at me and said "Well, he was totally sound on that leg today. So I'd have to say that the prognosis is very good for him to heal completely."

That sounded good to me. So we injected the hocks. The hocks have four joints in them, with the upper two being very movable joints (like your knee) and the lower two not being flexing joints but more like spaces between joints that move a little but mostly provide cushioning. The last time that Kaswyn had his hocks injected (my calendar said April 24 of 2006, just in case you're interested) he had all four joints done in both hocks. Dr. B said he only wanted to do the lowest two. He said the top two weren't causing him a problem so it wasn't necessary.

Kaswyn was doped up, scrubbed up, and Dr. B injected the left hind first. In both joints he first aspirated the needle to see how much fluid was in the joint. Both joints were dry and had no fluid. This is not very good, so it's no wonder that his joints were bothering him. After the aspiration he injected the hyaluronic acid and cortisone. The lower joint on the right hind was the only joint that had fluid in it. As I recall, all four of those joints had at least a bit of fluid in them the last time they were injected. So I see this as a good thing to have done, as it will heal his joints and prevent damage by providing fluid in those joints.

So now it's hand walk (oh how we LOVE to hand walk!) for two days, no turnout (which makes the hand walking SO MUCH more fun!), turnout and light ride on Thursday, and back to work on Friday. I'm sure this will help.

And what about that left front? Dr. B says call him if he goes lame on it again. Then we can block it for an accurate diagnosis. But he said "He's gotta be lame next time or that won't work!"

Makes sense to me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Breakup - Part 5

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

After writing Part 4 of this story, I went back in my old files and pulled out the tests from my first dressage schooling show. I was surprised to see that I had actually performed Training Level tests 3 and 4. Now it seems overly brave of me to have tried tests 3 and 4 instead of 1 and 2 at my first show. But that's exactly what I had done.

Sadly, I didn't write down my placing in the class, so I have no idea if I went home with a ribbon or not. What I will tell you is the judge was a very well respected judge in our area. She was, however, notoriously generous with her scoring, especially at schooling shows.

On Training Level test 3 we scored a 63.85%. We got all 6's and 7's, with the exception of the stretchy trot circle where we got a 4. Her comments were mostly more bend needed in most of the movements, with no change seen in the stretchy circle. Test 4 was a 63.20%, with one 4 (damn that stretchy trot circle!), one 5, the rest 6's and 7's. On this one she wanted more bend again, and at the bottom commented "Errors speak for themselves. Very obedient."

I was thrilled. I had been told that anything over 60% was great. Basically the scoring for dressage is as follows - each movement in the test gets an individual score from 0 to 10. The numbers are totaled and then divided by the total number possible to get the %. The scoring is listed below -

0 - not performed
1 - very bad
2 - bad
3 - fairly bad
4 - insufficient
5 - sufficient
6 - satisfactory
7 - fairly good
8 - good
9 - very good
10 - excellent

Although 0's are not common, you will occasionally see them one tests. 10's however, are extremely rare. Kaswyn has never gotten a 10, but I think he has gotten one 9. He's has many 8's, lots of 5's, 6's and 7's, some fours, and even some 3's, 2's, and 0's.

With the first show behind us, I decided to join the local dressage club and keep showing in the schooling shows. Our scores ranged from 52% to 60%, and it was always a learning experience. It seemed like Kaswyn was really enjoying it too. He loved getting in the trailer to go someplace, and always seemed excited when we got wherever we were going. He was always happy to work and never got sour or crabby. We were having a blast.

Then it was time for our first USDF recognized show. Again Paula thought it was too soon, and that we needed more training. I didn't agree, since we were only doing Training Level. That's what it was for, right? Training? Also, I had checked the Arabian Horse Association rules for Regional dressage qualifications and found out what I had to do to qualify for Regionals at an open show. I think at that time I needed two scores of 57% or better from two different judges at two different shows. Regionals were at the end of June, and luckily there were many open shows in our area in the spring and early summer, so I thought I could do it. Because what I really wanted to do was show my horse in dressage at Arabian Regionals. We had shown at Regionals for Hunter Pleasure, and we didn't make Top 5, although we did make one judge's card. Not bad for a home trained 5 year old horse ridden by an amateur nobody. However I really wanted that Top 5, and I thought dressage might be the discipline where we could pull that off.

So I entered our first Open show. I know Paula was more nervous than I was. On the contrary, I was excited. I felt that we had been making real progress. My plan was to go to two shows and get our qualifications over with. Big hopes, yes, but I had faith in Kaswyn that he had it in him to get those scores. Paula cautioned me that the judges at schooling shows tended to be much more generous with their scores so as to not discourage the riders, so I shouldn't expect as high of scores at the open show. With that in mind, we headed to our first open show.

To be continued...

Part 6

Friday, December 14, 2007

Clarifications and Conclusions

I think many people have the wrong idea when it comes to my deleted post. I did not delete the next installment of The Breakup. I had written a post about a completely different situation.

Besides being asked to remove someone from the Deleted Post, after thinking about this (quite a lot over the last few days) I've concluded that Deleted Post was not my story to tell. For example, if I had written about my crazy cousin who was addicted to crack and was sent to jail for stealing a car for drug money, that is not my story to tell. It's my crazy cousins. Now, if she had stolen my car, then it involves me, it's a life experience of mine, and therefore my story. My story with my point of view only, but still my story and okay for me to tell it.

Deleted Post had nothing to do with me. I was only involved in that I knew the people it was about. I told someone else's story, which amounts to nothing more than nasty gossip. My bad.

The Breakup, however, happened to me. I was certainly there. I know how I saw things as they happened. Because of that first-hand experience, I think it's okay for me to tell it to whoever I want. It's not gossip if you're talking about yourself.

Or is it? What you do all think?

By the way, thanks to everyone who emailed me for the next part of the story. Your kind words are certainly appreciated.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lessons learned

Last night I sat down and wrote a post about a situation involving people that I know. I got an email from one of those people asking not to be included in the post. I immediately deleted the post, giving my apologies.

I felt bad about this, so I called Craig and we talked about it. He said that I'm faced with the dilemma that many personal bloggers face - how much and what to reveal about your life. He said that he doesn't write posts that might get back to people and hurt them. He says he has plenty things like that to write about, but he wouldn't want to make someone feel bad.

He had a point. I started thinking about all the things that I've written about. My stories about Blair disappearing, how I pissed Blair off (in two different stories), and the latest story about my first dressage trainer, all involve people that I know. They also involve people who could be hurt by what I had to say. I mentioned this to Craig, and he said said "Well, you've already published them. You can't take the pee out of the pool, so to speak."

Another good point. It's too late now for those stories, but there is something I can do about not peeing in the pool in the future. I don't have any intention of hurting anyone. I just like to tell stories, as anyone who knows me can confirm.

Here is the thing. If I write about people I know and I post the stories here, then I risk the information getting back to them and having those people be hurt or pissed. However, I know that there are plenty of people out there who don't know me personally and also don't know anyone that I'm talking about. Does it matter that these people hear my stories? I don't think it does, but as we've seen I've been grossly incorrect before.

Here is my solution. No more public posts about people, since I'm not in the business of purposely hurting folks. However, if you send me an email to dressagemomstories at yahoo dot com I'll send you the end of The Breakup story. Include your blog address, cause I know who reads my blog and I want to make sure I know who you are before I send you the story. If you know me personally, or know any of the people involved in the story, don't even ask, cause I won't send it to you. Z, this means you!

So, to anyone that I've hurt, or upset, please accept my apologies. Sometimes I do dumb things. I try not to do them twice.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Breakup - Part 4

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I decided to enter my first dressage show four months after my first dressage lesson. My trainer Paula thought I was nuts. She said she would never even consider showing that soon after starting dressage, let alone recommend it to someone. But I assured her that I had spent many hours in the show ring, and I wasn't scared to give it a try. I thought that Kaswyn and I had made great progress and I was ready to see what a judge thought.

The barn holding the schooling show was 15 minutes away from my barn, making it really convenient. I loaded Kaswyn into my trailer and arrived at the show about an hour ahead of time. Being January in Cleveland it was very cold that day, and had been for weeks, so Kaswyn did not get a bath before this show. My Arabian show background told me that this was a cardinal sin, but I couldn't justify getting my horse wet in 25 degree weather. I was nervous about what people would think, even though his coat was light and I had done my best to clean him up and clip him before the show. I shouldn't have worried, however. Kaswyn was one of the cleanest horses there.

I tied Kaswyn to the trailer, tacked him up, and put his cooler on. I had gotten dressed at home, which simplified matters. Since it was a schooling show I didn't need to wear formal show attire, so I wore light tan breeches and a sweater with my tall boots. As I led Kaswyn into the barn I saw Paula in the aisle. She had already been to the show office and had picked up his bridle number. This was new for me. In Arabian shows the numbers are large and typically worn on the rider's back. In dressage the numbers are very small and hung on the browband of the horse just under the ear. She looked a the test, and then hung the number on the left side of his bridle. She then said "In this test you'll turn left at C after the salute. Just in case you completely blank out and can't remember which way you need to turn, you can look down for the number and turn that direction." Ah, very helpful! Then she held Kaswyn for me while I looked over my test to make sure I could remember it.

This was also something new for me. She told me that I should have my tests memorized, but it was okay if I wanted to have a reader for the test. She cautioned me that the reader could only read the test word for word as it is officially printed, and that I could receive no coaching or help from her during my test. Again, a difference in what I was used to. At Arabian shows the trainers can be seen giving instructions from the rail in every single class, sometimes rather loudly.

I warmed Kaswyn up, and he was pretty excited. Paula coached me, and I thought she seemed more nervous than I was. The gal at the gate called my number as the next rider, and I headed over to the show arena. The show barn was very large and had an indoor warmup attached to the competition arena. It was really convenient to be able to warm up inside and then just ride straight into the ring. Paula told me to wait until the previous rider had done her final salute before entering the ring. I was allowed to ride Kaswyn inside the arena as the other rider exited and the judge finished her comment for the previous test. When the judge rang the bell, I would have 60 seconds to come down the centerline and salute.

The rider in the ring saluted, and I asked Kaswyn to enter the arena. He was fine with going down the rail, but when we came to the far end of the arena he was really tense and afraid of the viewing area behind the glass wall. He could see people moving behind it and was really scared. Luckily he trusted me enough to get him somewhat close to the rail at that end. He was tense and it wasn't pretty, but at least he was attempting to be obedient.

The bell rang, and we went out of the show arena so that we could have a straight shot down the centerline. I saluted, and made my first mistake. I saluted with my whip hand. The judge commented on this, but fortunately it's not an offence that costs any points. We began our first centerline in a wiggly, unbalanced trot as I urged Kaswyn to approach the glassed-in viewing area head on. He was thankful to turn left away from the scary monsters behind the glass.

The rest of the test was a blur of Kaswyn rushing through the movements while I sat and steered him around. I was very ineffective with my aids and just let him run through the test. I have the whole thing on video, and when I watch it I laugh at myself for being such a passenger in the test. At the final salute I was glad it was over, but at the same time very pleased with myself. We had gone into the show ring, alone for the first time, and performed Training Level Test 1.

I opted not to show my two tests back to back, so I went into the warmup again for some more coaching. Training Level Test 2 went pretty much the same as Test 1, with the exception of Kaswyn being more relaxed about the viewing room. Oh, and at one point in Test 2 he decided that he'd try and exit the arena. Luckily I was able to stop him just in time to avoid being eliminated.

And then we were done. I took him back to the trailer, untacked him, and put on his cooler. Then it was back into the barn for both of us to await our scores.

To be continued...

Part 5

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Breakup - Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

I had my first riding lesson in six years; a dressage lesson. It didn't go as well as I'd hoped, and made me feel like a pretty inadequate rider. I needed to decide if I was going to take more lessons and change disciplines, or if I was going to stick with what I knew. After thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that I didn't enjoy feeling like a crappy rider. I also recognized that I should have instruction of some sort, and that Kaswyn really needed a change in direction or I'd risk some permanent training issues. Bottom line is I wanted to be a better rider, and learning of any kind would probably help me get there.

I called Paula and scheduled a regular lesson time. I could not afford to put my horse in training, so I planned on taking lessons to learn dressage and then between the lessons I'd train Kaswyn myself. I knew that this would take longer, but it was not only an issue of finances. It was also an issue of not wanting anyone to possibly screw up my horse. I had purchased a young, unbroken horse for a reason. I didn't want to inherit another trainer's bad habits or training problems. Kaswyn was still fresh, unspoiled, and loved to work. I wanted to keep it that way.

However I needn't have worried about Paula messing up my horse. She was a very strong believer in ultra classical dressage. She didn't think the horse should be pushed very hard at all, lest he begin to dislike the work. She didn't like to see very young horses at the upper levels, since the only way she thought they could arrive at that level so soon in life was through rigorous and overly aggressive training. Things like draw reins, martingales, and the bitting rig were heavily frowned upon by her.

After our lessons we usually ended up talking about training philosophies and methods, where I asked a lot of questions in an attempt to learn more than what was presented in the actual lesson. She suggested that I read some books, starting with The Complete Training of Horse and Rider by Alois Podhajsky. She said there although there were many dressage books out there she considered this book "the Bible" of classical dressage. I bought the book and had a hard time reading it at first, and wasn't able to read the more advanced chapters until our training had reached that level. The concepts it contained were difficult for me to follow, coming from such a different background. But it did help to clarify some of the terms that Paula was using that I found confusing.

My concept of Kaswyn having a "head set" was incorrect for dressage. The dressage horse is supposed to make contact with the bit, not back away from it as I had taught my horse. It should be a situation where the horse pushes adequately against the bit and the rider holds the reins, but neither is pulling, pushing, or holding up the other. The hand of the rider and the mouth of the horse should meet each other halfway, and the contact should be light but still exist with the reins having no slack in them. The head and neck of a dressage horse should not be set, but should be fluid and able to lengthen or shorten to extend or collect the stride. It should be very movable, bendable, and changeable; not only from front to back but also from side to side. Our head set was none of these things. This was perhaps the most difficult habit for Kaswyn and I to break.

Closely related to this was the concept of "going to the bit". Since the dressage horse should always seek the bit and therefore the contact with the rider's hand, the rider should be able to lengthen the reins and have the horse stretch it's neck out as it seeks contact with the bit. This is one of the reasons for the "stretchy circle" found in many dressage tests. The goal is for the rider to lengthen the reins to show that the horse properly goes to the bit and is not in a head set or static frame. Ideally the horse, on a rein that is slowly becoming more and more loose, would stretch it's neck fully out and down to the point of the nose being close to the ground. It also follows that if the rider were to shorten the reins that the horse, trained to have a light contact, would be able to raise the frame, neck, and front end into a more collected stride. This collection only is possible to execute correctly after years of proper training that have strengthened the horse's back and haunches to the point that the collection is done easily. You can fake it and just hold the horse up with draw reins, but that is very damaging to the horse and counter productive in the long run.

I began to see an improvement after a few lessons, and then suddenly I felt the light bulb go on in Kaswyn's head. He got it. He couldn't always do it, but he finally understood what I wanted. Go to the bit, make contact, but not too much contact. This started a wonderful upward climb in our ability to do this dressage thing. Our lessons were more and more helpful and we both started getting in the groove, and enjoying it.

Paula had talked about some schooling shows in the area, so I decided that I'd like to go to one. I told her that I wanted to go to one in January, four months after my first lesson with her. She was horrified, convinced that it was too soon and that it would end in disaster. Kaswyn and I had shown a lot before, so I wasn't afraid of going in the ring with him. Besides, how bad could it be?

To be continued...

Part 4

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The day I turned into a pansy

Last Friday when Craig mom came into town we asked her what she wanted for dinner. She always says pizza, because she lives alone and doesn't generally order a whole pizza for herself. The plan was for Craig to order it and pick it up on his way home. However, he left work late and called to tell me that I could order and pick up the pizza or I'd have to make the girls wait and we'd stick with the original plan.

Our girls are great eaters. They'll eat any kind of vegetable (except Lily won't eat squash or zucchini), potatoes, meats, you name it. And pizza of course they love. They usually are in the kitchen asking for dinner before it's finished. So I thought it might just be easier for me to get the pizza instead of waiting and trying to fend off the little savages until Craig got home.

Craig's mom was already there to stay with the girls, so I could go solo and make it a fast trip. I ordered the pizza, waited 15 minutes, and then went to the laundry room to get my shoes on and grab my purse. We've been keeping the door to the laundry room closed because it's off of the garage and it helps to keep the draft out of the rest of the house. So I opened the door and stepped into the room in my stocking feet and, before I could turn on the light, something ran over my foot.

I screamed and turned on the light in time to see a little pink tail disappearing amongst the shoes. A mouse. Ugh. We've had mice in the house before and I just hate it. I hate their little poops and the fact that we have to kill them to get rid of them. The cat is not doing his job, if you ask me. Isn't he supposed to be killing them, or at least scaring them away?

Anyhow, right after I screamed Craig called my cell phone. I picked it up, still amped up from the original fright of having something run over my foot in the dark, and he immediately asked "What's wrong?"

"There's a mouse in here!"


"The laundry roo..AGHHH!"

I screamed again as the tiny mouse ran towards me. Now, I am not afraid of mice. On the contrary, I think they are super cute and if this little guy were to agree to poop outside and not chew on my stuff I'd let him stick around awhile. In fact I used to have a mouse as a pet. I called him Byron and he had no toes. It was the weirdest mouse you ever saw, since he just had little nubs for feet. But he still could hold food in his nubs and eat, so it wasn't a problem. Also I've seen many mice running around in barns and it never bothered me. Yeah, sometimes they'd startle me but I wouldn't go running away screaming looking for a chair to get up on. Cause that's just stupid, they can't hurt me.

So I don't know why I screamed. It was a total wussy girlie scream, and was completely uncontrollable. This mouse was super small. It could have comfortably sat on a quarter and had room left on the sides. It was really cute too, all grey and fuzzy with big black eyes. It saw me and ran, scared to death now that I was shrieking at it. I started to laugh at myself, and I was still talking to Craig, so he got a running commentary of what the mouse was doing with screams interspersed. Also at some point Craig's mom came in to find out what was going on, and when I said "A mouse!" she shut the door so it couldn't get out into the rest of the house. Smart lady.

I told Craig that I was going to catch it, and he said "How are you going to catch a mouse?". I grabbed a paper grocery bag. I opened it up and put it on it's side where I thought the mouse might run next. He'd been running between our shoes and behind the washer, so I put it just past the shoes and them chased him out of the shoes. And the good little mousie ran into the bag.

Quickly I turned the bag upright and folded the top over. I told Craig "I caught him!"

He said "Okay, I'll take care of it when I get home."

"You mean you'll kill it?"

"Well, you can't let it go outside. It will just get back in the house."

"What if I let it go down the street in the woods next to the creek?"

"If that's what you want to do, that's fine."

"It's cold you think it will be okay?"

"It's a mouse. It will be fine. Just hurry up and do it before it chews a hole in the bag."

I ran out to my car and hurried down the street. I pulled over by the woods and opened the bag. The poor little guy was all huddled in the corner, clearly confused. I turned the bag on it's side in the grass and he hopped out and away from me. I got back in my car and headed to the pizza place, feeling conflicted about not killing the mouse but letting him go outside where he might freeze.

I thought about it all the way to the pizza place, and went to grab my purse. Which was in the laundry room. In my haste to set mousie fee I had left without my purse. I sat for a few minutes, thinking of how I could get money without my purse. No solutions came to me. I still had my cell phone, so I called Craig and asked him how far away he was. Turns out he was pretty close, so he met me there (to get two coupons from me) and paid for the pizza.

I don't know what happened to me. This little tiny mouse turned me into a wussy girl, screaming uncontrollably. And I was too wrapped up in it to remember what I needed to do in the first place - pick up a pizza. I'm embarrassed.

I had to call Cheryl and tell her all about it. She laughed, also surprised that I had screamed like that. She told me a similar story involving her dogs and a rat, which made me laugh. Then she said to me "I always say that I'm never as funny as when I'm doing something stupid." I said that was a perfect way to describe how I was feeling, and we both had a good laugh at my expense. Then I told her to please share the story, especially to those who know me, since this was such a break in character for me. She agreed and was still laughing when we hung up.

Aren't friends great?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Breakup - Part 2

Part 1

My first dressage lesson was thoroughly confusing. Paula, the trainer, used a lot of terms that I was unfamiliar with, which was really scary considering I had been riding for fourteen years. Also the concepts that she was trying to get across to me didn't make sense. I felt really incapable. I also felt like Kaswyn was thinking "Huh?" about everything I was asking him to do. Or, more accurately, what I was attempting to ask of him but was probably confusing him.

You see, the way I had been taught to train a horse was totally different than what Paula was telling me to do. Blair taught me what I now think of as "The Arabian Way" to train horses. It probably spills over into other breeds, and might not even be the way Arabian trainers do it anymore. But here is what I was taught...

The goal was to get the horse to have a head set. In other words, the horse should hold it's head steady in a certain position, especially in hunter or western. This would be accomplished by taking the reins, moving the bit back and forth until the horse put it's head down, then releasing the reins. With the release the horse should keep it's head in the desired position without rein contact, which would only need to be made again if the horse moved it's head out of position. This is especially true with western, where the reins are draped and loose hanging from the bit, only to become tight if the rider "bumps" the bit to remind the horse to get the proper head set again.

The head set was created by lunging the horse in a surcingle with side reins (or long lining), or what we used to call the "bitting rig". The goal was to adjust the side reins so that the horse's head was in the proper position. As you lunge the horse, he gets the idea that when he pulls on the bit he is just pulling against himself, and when he has the reins loose it's more comfortable. Thus when you get on the horse and ask for the headset he responds by backing off the bit to find that comfortable spot where the reins are loose. This can backfire with a hard mouthed or bullish horse, who will just lean on the reins for support and not really care about the pulling in his mouth. Fixing this problem takes tact in the saddle rather than more work in the bitting rig.

This concept of little or no contact between the horse's mouth and the bit only really applies to hunter and western. The english horses have a much higher headset and require much more contact. I remember that Blair's english show gloves would only last a few shows before she rubbed a hole in them somewhere. Also when I rode Bo (such a sweet horse, and greatly missed) I remember my arms aching from holding his head up in position.

Now, I have no idea if this was the proper way to train a horse. This was how I was taught by Blair, and she and her students had won many Regional Championships and Top 5 awards, so I could only assume that it was effective and correct for the classes and the breed. So this is how I broke and trained Kaswyn. The last Arabian show that we went to before my first dressage lesson got us a few blue ribbons and the Hunter Pleasure Championship, so it was clearly working. However, it was NOT what was needed for dressage.

What Paula wanted me to do was have bit to rein to hand contact with Kaswyn. He had been trained NOT to have contact, and when I made contact he would just curl the neck more and try to loosen the reins. As he had been taught. She kept saying that she wanted Kaswyn "on the bit" and "going to the bit". She also wanted me to "half halt". I had no idea what these things were. It was a humbling and frustrating 45 minutes.

At the end of the lesson Paula said that there were so many problems between my horse and I that she didn't even know where to start. She thought a good place, however, might be getting a dressage saddle. She said I could work in my hunt seat saddle, but it would be harder for me to get the proper positioning that way (I talk about my saddle issues starting in this post
here). I didn't plan another lesson right away, but decided to think about it. And I had a lot to think about - a completely new direction for my horse and I, a new saddle, and lots of lessons. Plus a new trainer. Was I ready for that yet?

To be continued...

Part 3

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Not as upset as she is, but still sad

The patient that I wrote about here tested negative for pregnancy.


She does have frozen embryos, so I guess we'll be thawing some of the little snowflakes soon. But it still bums me out that this last time didn't work.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Glamour Shots

I just got the photos back from our session with the photographer. I think Kaswyn looks awesome.

I don't think I have a favorite. I love them all.

The photographer is a friend of mine who leased Kaswyn for a time. She's super talented. She used to do weddings and portraits but now she's persuing horse photography full time. She's got some nice photos on her website.

Now I just have to buy frames and convince Craig to let me put them up in the house!
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr