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