Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Phil's Progress - The Building

I have been working on Phil on many different ways. I had a great lesson where my trainer warmed me up and then said "Okay, do you have anything specific you want to work on?" Yes, I sure did, and it wasn't a specific movement. I pointed at Phil's butt and said "Did you notice how his butt isn't round right here, and here?" and she said, "That's one of the first things I noticed." Then I said "Well, that's what I want to work on!",  knowing that if his butt is not shaped properly we must not be doing something right. 

Here is a photo of the butt, taken on August 29, 2014. You can see how it's got a bump at the top, and on either side of the bump where the red arrows are there aren't muscles where there should be. 

So how do I fix this? Body building, said my trainer! Lots of 10 meter circles at the trot and canter. Making him go to the outside rein in the circles, and not falling in. The hardest thing to accomplish was getting him to stay on the bit! At that point, in late summer, we were still struggling with connection. Luckily, the body building process helped both of us with the connection issues. 

At first, Phil didn't want anything to do with the circles. He was resistant, and would almost toss his head every time I turned him with the left rein. He wasn't all that please with me using the right rein either. For the first few weeks we were both frustrated, but I refused to stop. There was a lesson to be learned here. 

Then, about three weeks in, he finally just accepted that I'm going to have to turn his head, and he doesn't have to have a temper tantrum every time. It was a major turning point in Phil's training. Writing this almost four months later, I can absolutely say that was when we both started to really get down to business. I use the rein, and he's okay with it. What a concept! 

We continued with the body building until our next lesson, which I'll post video of. My trainer said that he looked like a totally different horse, in a good way! 

The next step: Getting Loose

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


For the past four winters, Kaswyn has dropped weight. To help keep weight on him I have been putting him on alfalfa cubes just in the winter. He loses a little but always gains it back in the spring. 

This year, that didn’t happen. I kind of attributed it to the fact that he was in pain. I even asked Dr. B about it and he didn’t seem very concerned. On the contrary, he was happy that Kaswyn wasn't super heavy because that would be worse for his leg problems. 

Still, Kaswyn was looking pretty skinny. So much so that the barn owner was concerned enough to approach me about having him tested for something. She said he seems absolutely STARVING all the time, and is eating as much grain and hay as the big horses in the barn. Of course this is concerning, and we started thinking about what the cause could possibly be. 

Well, it turns out that Kaswyn and Phil were switched last fall to one of the low sugar, low starch grains that many people use. Kaswyn has been on this grain before and did really poorly on it. This happened many years ago, and after trying everything (even their fat supplement, which we ended up giving him more of than the actual grain), I switched him back to Purina. He put weight back on and started looking great again. 

Now I know a lot of people think that horses should be eating the low sugar, low starch grains, but Kaswyn just doesn’t do well on them. I’m not saying they are bad, because Phil looks and feels fantastic. It’s just something about Kaswyn’s metabolism that doesn't work well with the grain. 

So now he’s back on Purina Strategy and Equine Senior. Hopefully we can get some weight on him before it starts to get cold again. I’m getting a little concerned about this coming winter. All the horses, especially Kaswyn, are already blowing out their summer coats. Usually I don’t notice the summer coat shedding all that much, but this year it’s like it’s all coming out at once, really fast. What do these horses know about winter that we don't? It doesn't bode well, I’m thinking. If we have another winter like last one, I’ll need to find somebody to blame. 

Long live summer! 

Saturday, August 23, 2014


I’ve been working really hard with Phil to get him to relax with me riding with a dressage whip. It’s very difficult because I know he’s scared, and I don’t want to cause him undue stress. However I really feel like this is something that he has got to accept eventually. As my trainer has told me before, “If you’re not going to do it now, then when? In a year? Two years?” So it’s got to be now, because sometimes I feel like I need just a little tap on the haunches to help me out now and then with leg yields. 

Last week we had a pretty bad day so I decided that we’d stay on the 20 meter circle and work on shortening and lengthening his stride. I figured that could help him concentrate and give him less distractions as we worked. I found out that, at some point along the way, he got very confused as to what the aide for “canter” was. 

Turns out that he got the impression that if I used my “driving seat” across the diagonal at the trot, I meant “lengthen the stride”. But “driving seat” at the trot anywhere else meant “canter” regardless of if my outside leg was there or not. Of course, this is a problem. 

We’ve spent the last few sessions sorting this out. He was making errors, and he knew that he was wrong, and I had the whip, so he got himself all upset that he was going to get a punishment instead of a correction. This was exhausting for both of us. I took walk breaks and gave him a chances to settle down and think, but at times he just completely came off the rails and would bolt wildly when he realized that I really meant “lengthen” and he accidentally cantered. I never even so much as tapped him with the whip, but the combination of me holding the whip and him being confused and making errors was very difficult for him. 

As of our last ride he has gotten the idea that “seat and outside leg back” meant canter, and “seat plus light leg at the girth” meant lengthen the stride at the trot. However our canter transitions are quite bad. He LEAPS forward with his head in the air, as if to say “I’M DOING IT DON”T HIT ME”. He doesn't always get it right, bit he's really trying. I know that eventually he’ll get over this, but I’ve had him for three years now. I was hoping that he’d trust me by now. It’s just taking much longer than I thought. To give him credit, he is much, much better when I use just the short jumping bat. We just need more time I guess. 

I am trying to set up a lesson for next week. Maybe I can get a little video too! We’ll see. Of course I’m excited! 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kaswyn, Master of The Unexpected

Kaswyn’s not doing so well right now.

He started out a few months ago feeling a bit off. Since he was on "light duty" I decided just to take is easy on him and mostly walk and maybe trot a little. He’s been getting steadily worse since then, despite some time off and a course of bute. He started slightly head bobbing at the walk, and definitely head bobbing at the trot. I suspected his hocks needed injecting plus a resurgence of the left front foot issue that has plagued us for many years. 

Dr. B came out to take a look at him. To my surprise he started his exam at Kaswyn's knees. He palpated his knees, finding fluid there. Then he felt his back legs and found thickening of both suspensory ligaments. The flexion tests were pretty positive for lameness, 2 out of 5 for all legs involved. Surprisingly he was Churchill negative (which is usually indicative of hock pain). 

After the x-rays and a long discussion with Dr. B, what it comes down to is this: Kaswyn has chronic arthritis in both front knees and chronic desmitis in both hind suspensories. He is now in total retirement, no riding even at the walk for now. According to Dr. B it's nothing that I've done in the past year or so. It's just old age, and possibly a genetic predisposition to have these conditions. 

We have begun a course of bute, which we will reduce slowly until we find a dose that is the lowest amount of bute that keeps him sound at the walk. From there we will replace some of the bute with aspirin, or Previcox, or both, until we have a combination of meds that is as low a dose of bute as possible and still keep Kaswyn comfortable. Kaswyn is also on isoxsuprine, and Equithrive. I tried to take him off of the Equithrive and put him on another supplement, but he got worse, so we're back to the Equithrive. After five days I could already see from the look in his eyes that he feels better. We have a lot of fiddling to do with his meds, but we'll get there. 

I am quite sad about this whole thing. I really thought I still had years of hacking him around, or even trail riding. I'm not sure if we'll be able to do that anymore. But I owe that horse everything. He taught me so much, was there for me through all my fumbling to learn dressage, and always tried his little heart out. He has always been an extraordinarily smart, selfless partner. The very least I can do is keep him comfortable and happy for as long as possible. 

Just before Dr. B left I said "Knees and suspensories. I certainly didn't expect that." Dr. B said "Neither did I. He just had to be different." 

That's Kaswyn. Never boring. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Things sure have changed

I've had this blog for many years, and over those years I've often gotten this question:

How do you do it all? Family, work and riding?

The fact is, right now, I’m not getting everything done that I want to. One of those things is this blog.

When my girls were younger, it was easier. They went where we went, did what we did, and went to bed early. Now they are older and have their own interests. What used to be an afternoon of picking the girls up at daycare, eating dinner, and going to bed, is now a mad rush to leave work, pick them up, get homework done, dinner eaten, and then a dash out to get them to their activities, then showers and bed.

Something had to suffer, and it was writing my blog. I used to be able to shoot off a quick blog post at night, but by the end of the day now I’m too tired to write. So instead of writing I try and spend some time with Craig before I need to get in bed myself.

Other things have suffered a lot too. Like my house. First, my tack is cleaner than my house. For a while I was driving myself mad trying to keep the house clean. I’d stress about all the toys on the floor, and the state of the girl’s rooms. I’d look outside at all the weeds and overgrown bushes and fret about it.

It’s taken me some time, but I've finally just given in to the fact that these things don’t really matter. My girls are 9 and 10 years old right now. In a few short years their toys will be replaced with phones and computers. They won’t want to be at home, with their mom and dad. They’ll want to be out with friends.

So I've been trying very hard not to let the mess bother me. Sure, sometimes I go on a manic cleaning binge, but for the most part if I can walk a path through the room I’m ok.

I've been trying to spend some more time with the girls. I know I don’t do that as much as I’d like to, since I have a full-time job that also requires me to work one or two weekends a month. But we try and play games together. I know that being a stay-at-home mom is not an easy job, but when summer rolls around and I know that a bunch of moms on my street have their kids all summer, I get jealous. They go to the pool all day, or to the lake, or where ever. I know that it’s not all fun and games, and that there’d be times that I’d want to tear my hair out, but I’ll never have that.

Yes, I’m still riding, just not 5 or 6 days a week like I used to. Now it’s 3 or 4, which is really ok. I need to spend this time with my kids now, because I’ll never get this time with them back.

I do have updates on Phil and Kaswyn. I'll get those posted when I can! 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Not much, how bout you? The one about Phil.

Phil is fantastic.  

When I hurt my neck for work I took 3 months off from work and riding.  Phil got worked during that time, but I couldn't afford for him to be ridden as much as I would have if I'd been riding.  I was completely thankful for the help but I wanted to ride! 

As soon as I went back to work, I went back to riding.  Sadly, right around this time the owner of our barn passed away, and I had to move barns. That really throws Phil for a loop and our first few rides were a bit rough while he got used to the place. Then the arctic freeze hit Ohio and much of the Midwest/East Coast, so I had lots of days where I just couldn't ride.  I know lots of people did, and that there is a huge debate on how cold it can be and still be ok to work your horse.  

Here is the problem when it gets cold.  It's not him I'm worried about, it's me.  Since I have cold induced asthma, riding and exercising when it's that cold sends me into quite an alarming asthma attack.  I've been on a horse before and have had to stop because I was gasping for breath.  Not really fun, let me tell you.  So I've set a rule for myself that if it's less than 25 degrees outside I won't ride. Chances are at that temperature it's warm enough in the barn that I can still ride.  So far this rule has served me well.  

Because of this long stretch of really cold weather I wasn't even going out to the barn.  Just being out in that extreme cold makes my lungs seize up.  It's quite uncomfortable.  Therefore, I missed a whole lot of riding since the beginning of the year.  I was able to ride random days here and there, but our training was disturbingly uneven. 

This past week we had a warm up in the weather, so I decided it was time to get things done.  Phil had finally settled into the new barn, and had gotten used to all the noises that the barn and arena make.  So I decided it was time.  I was finally going to teach Phil that he could accept contact. 

For a long time I rode him with very little leg because he would shoot forward when I used my leg.  He also didn't like it when I took contact.  I spent most of my time trying to fix the front end with my hands and some with my seat, but really what I needed was for Phil to go to my hand and make contact when I put my leg on. Easier said than done with a horse that is over sensitive to the leg and avoids contact with the bit! 

Tuesday's ride was difficult for both of us. I decided a while ago that above the bit was not acceptable, but I tried very hard not to fuss with his his face too much.  Instead I just put my leg on and drove him to my accepting hand (at least I tried my best to). Well, Phil thought this was a terrible idea. It was a rough ride for both of us. Thursday was better, but Phil still was resistant to actually making that contact. Yet he was a tad bit lazy off of my leg. 

Friday, I put the spurs on. Phil is surprisingly accepting of the spurs, and we actually had a great ride. I forced myself to not fuss with his face, and relied on my leg and seat to drive him into my hand. I'm not saying it was a perfect ride because we both made our mistakes.  But Phil was finally going to my hand off of my seat, and I was finally leaving his face alone.  

Plus the leg yield to the left is getting much better.  We get four to five really good steps before he loses the rhythm and his haunches fall behind.  The leg yield to the right still needs work.  He is resistant to go to the right at first so it starts off a bit rough. He can do it, but it's not very good.  Yet!

He gets the idea of shoulder in very well. However I feel like he's a little too bunched up when we try it.  I'd like it more if he would take some bigger steps during the shoulder in.  

The canter work is coming along really well.  I need to remember to actually sit my butt down in the saddle and relax my legs.  It's hard because his canter can be quite big and I still have memories of him taking off with me, so my body reacts with a gripping leg without me thinking about it.  I have to constantly remind myself to relax my legs, use my seat, and make my core work for me. We've been doing shallow serpentines at the canter (or a shallow loop if you want to call it that, where we go from the corner across the diagonal to X then back to the corner on the same side). His balance is quite good, and I can tell when we come across the diagonal he is waiting for me to tell him what to do. Sometimes we do the turn at X and continue the canter the same direction. Sometimes we canter to X, come to the trot, pick up the other lead and continue across the diagonal.  Sometimes we continue across the diagonal and keep the lead and counter canter a lap or two.  And sometimes I ask for a little haunches in across the diagonal at the canter.  Little beginnings of canter half-pass. I can feel him trying to love the haunches over.  We are certainly not there yet, but he gets the idea. 

Phil has improved so much since I got him.  He really wants to be in the program (as long as the program doesn't include whipping). He tries really hard and is super smart.  Now we just need some consistency and we may actually be ready for some shows this year! I know I said that last year but I didn't feel ready. I think I may never feel ready, so I just need to go and do it. 

I'll keep you posted if we enter any shows. I'm excited about my little grey horse!  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Not much, how bout you? The one about Kaswyn

Kaswyn, the wonder Arab. 

He's been feeling surprisingly good lately. And I almost fell off him a week ago. 

I've been following my typical routine of riding him bareback and in a halter. We have just been trotting around a bit, and he's really felt decent for such an old fart.  He's no stranger to the mounting block. However, he's been getting very excited about every ride.  While I understand his enthusiasm, it's imperative that he stand still at the mounting block.  

Somehow, one evening, he decided that trotting off while I was 25% on his back would be a good thing.  

It was one of those "Oh no, oh NO, I'm going to fall off OH SHIT HORSE STOP!!!!

I said WHOA! I hollered his name. I swore a few times.  He did not stop.  I grabbed mane. I used my lead rope as leverage and steered him towards the wall.  That was the thing that stopped him.  I was able to shimmy my butt onto his back and avoid hitting the dirt and making the walk of shame back to my loose horse (LOOSE HORSE!! LOOSE HORSE!!). Even though I saved that particular situation, something had to be done. 

Time to be tough about the mounting protocol! Now when I get on him, I make him face the wall. I tell him to WHOA and pull the lead rope to make him know I mean business.  So far the's been pretty good.  

The problem is that Kaswyn has a sense of humor.  He's the funniest horse that he knows.  He thinks it's funny to pretend to bite me.  He thinks it's hilarious to grab my coat in his teeth and yank me around. He thinks it's the funniest thing ever to grab the halter in his teeth when I'm trying to put the halter on him. 

Don't get me wrong, I love his shenanigans. When he's feeling good, he goofs around.  When the goofing around stops, then I know he's hurting somewhere, somehow.  

So I hope Mr. K keeps up with the silliness, because right now that old boy is feeling GREAT.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Not much, how bout you? The one about me.

Actually, quite a lot has been going on.  

Let's start with an update on me.  Just because it's the most boring. 

I took three months off to recover from neck problems due to work. It was really hard because of a few factors. 

First, I like to get things done.  I'm not one to just sit around. But that's what I had to do for three months. People may think "Three months OFF? That sounds AWESOME!" but for people like me (obsessive and hyper vigilant) it's a very difficult thing to get your head around.  It's even harder to actually DO it.  

Secondly, the guilt.  Oh my, the guilt. Guilt about not being able to work and help my team mates at my job (whom I know were put under excessive stress due to my absence). Guilt about not being able to help out with my family (because to heal I needed to rest completely). Guilt about not riding my horses.  

I did get my trainer's assistant to ride Phil, which was really really great. But it still made me feel bad. I couldn't help tack up. I couldn't help put him away. Or clean tack. I needed to do nothing if I ever wanted to heal my neck. Which I did to the best of my ability.  

Lastly the pain. Let me tell you, labor pains were easier to deal with than this neck thing. Shooting pains down my arm, nonstop aching pain in my neck and shoulders, back spasms, oh and I was super grumpy. So there was that.  For three months.  Imagine how pleasant I was to be around. NOT VERY.  

I'm now back to work, and back to riding.  It's been going well, but not wonderful. I don't think my neck will ever be the same. There isn't much I can do about it.  Surgery will solve the immediate problems in my neck, but due to my job I will be likely to have further problems because of any surgery I choose to have.  I was fortunate that the physical therapy was successful in reducing my pain and allowing me to return to work.  

Will my neck ever be the same?  Nope. I have some days where I have pain after work. Then I just have to deal with it. I do neck stretches and exercises daily. It helps, but I will never have the same robust neck that I used to.  Riding helps a lot, actually, because dressage does a great job of aligning your spine/neck in the proper position.  But there are some days that, after work, I'm in too much pain to ride.  

And this winter. Don't even get me started. Trying to ride in Ohio this winter has been completely a waste of time and effort.  Because of my asthma I can't ride if it's colder than 25 degrees outside. Unless I don't care about breathing, which I do very much. So I feel like this winter has been mostly a waste as far as training goes. It's sucky, but it is what it is.  

Next up, what's Kaswyn doing? 

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr