Thursday, August 29, 2013

Horse TRIAL report

First of all, thank you so much for all of the supportive, positive-vibe comments on the last post. They really cheered me up.

Secondly, video will be coming! I ordered all 3 phases from Ride On Video (their youtube station here) so I'll post those as soon as they are available.

Until then, I do have a smattering of photos.

And now, alas, the full report. Brace yourself: it's long.

Thursday - Travel & Pre-Dressage
Beautiful facility
Our journey to Santa Ynez went perfectly. No traffic, no issues, perfect weather. Hemie settled in to his temp stall like a champ. I had plenty of time to check in and get a lay of the land. We suited up for our "pre-dressage" ride, where you get to do your test in a competition arena for a judge to get her feedback and a fully graded test.

Settling right in.
Hemie got a longe and seemed 100% comfortable in his new surroundings. I hopped on for our warm up, and he was a bit tense. Horses everywhere, lots of excitement. He started acting up a bit (shoulder bulging, trying to run off to the side, not wanting to move forward), and we worked through it. Having a trainer there is key.

We headed over to the dressage court and Hemie settled into a nice rhythm for our circling. Given the warm up antics, I was proud of our performance for the judge. Hemie got a little stuck and behind the leg at times, but no tantrums and there were certainly sections of him really trying to be a good boy, stretching downward and moving freely.

The judge's recommendations for at-home training was mostly things we already do (running martingale, trainer rides). But she did offer 3 new things for us: 1) me sitting with my shoulders more back than normal. Apparently what I think is straight is still hunchy. 2) pulsing the reins with squeezes every stride to encourage connection to the bit. 3) sitting DEEP when he gets hippity-hoppity (easier said than done - my trainer normally advises standing in the irons to avoid getting dumped). I tried all 3 in a circle exercise in front of the judge and it seemed to help. I'll post our scores soon.

Friday - Dressage

My ride time was 1pm so I had plenty of time to take care of ponykins, watch some awesome riders, and then get ready to show. This time Laurie longed Hemie with some jerry-rigged side reins (note to self, bring side reins to next show). I hopped on and Hemie's warm up was improved from the day before, but still with some acting up which we dealt with quickly. Hubbykins surprised me by showing up to watch - a nice treat.

Note to self, do not walk away from horse after braiding for dressage.
Our test felt improved from the day before.  I could feel Hemie trying for a good deal of the test, and then we kinda lost it going 2nd direction (tracking right). He broke to canter during the trot circle and for our right canter he kept swapping leads and trying to do haunches in.

I thought our free walk was quite good, though we scored horribly. Its all relative. Overall I felt good about our performance - no jumping out of the arena plus some special moments of actual connection and stretching. Score sheet to come later, but our placing was 7th out of 8, with only 0.5 points separating me from #6 and #8.

Saturday - Cross Country
The day I was most concerned about. I had walked my course many times and visualized it over and over (and over and over and over). The big Es with Spirit loomed in the back of my mind, though I tried to squash it. I reminded myself that I've never gotten eliminated with Hemie before in cross country, and that I was allowed 3 refusals or run-outs before getting eliminated on the 4th (unless you get 3 at one jump, which Hemie's never done). My plan was to trot our first fence and then let him canter the rest of the course as that is his preferred gait. My plan was to hold on to the neck strap and really try to release the reins before the jumps and give him the opportunity to be an amazing XC machine. My plan was to count our strides out loud to remind me to be steady.

Early morning fog clouding the vineyards.
Hemie longed like a dream, stretching downwards and lifting his back. I hopped on and the warm up went wonderfully - a little excited but he settled down to work right away. He got a tad strong jumping but we asked him to stay light and steady and within a few minutes he was hopping from a rhythmical trot and canter like a champ.

My number was called over the loud speaker to head to the start box, and Hemie chose that moment to throw a tantrum. Up and sideways and backwards. Oh boy.

Laurie came over and grabbed my rein and marched me to the start box. I'm sure she was saying reassuring things to me but I couldn't hear her over my heart pounding.  She walked me around the box and into it. She held us for the 10 second countdown.

We trotted up to the first jump and I felt no hesitation from Hemie whatsoever.We cantered to our next jump and he needed a strong half-halt but then he chose to trot the jump. We cantered along to #3 and I finally remembered my plan (release the reins, count out loud). His hips swung wide but we made it over. I then forgot my plan for the rest of the ride.

Halfway from jump 4 to 5 we had an exit-stage-left moment out of nowhere. I circled him back around to our track and we made it over #5. Then I did a detour to add in the BN ditch, and another detour to add in a BN water. Hemie backed himself off all of the jumps and chose to trot.

Finally, a few jumps from home, I decided to ask him to canter the rest of the way and he was game to do so. As we cantered through the finish flags I felt the tears welling up. I was so proud of us. We made it. No refusals. No runouts. Only one moment of naughtiness but the rest of time he was great, and he ate up the jumps like a champ.

We were the only rider with time penalties so that bumped us to last place.

Our small group.

Sunday - Stadium Jumping
Our barn-mate Kelly riding George in Training Level.
Whew, we made it through the tense dressage days and the nerve-wracking cross country! I knew we were going to rock stadium as we've been to several shows this year including lots of hunter/jumper and derbies and have been doing great. I was feeling pumped - happy that we were on a trajectory to meet my 2013 goal of completing a horse trial without getting eliminated (with the bonus of getting a ribbon even if I came in dead last).

Hemie was an extra snuggle bug as I cleaned his stall, though I did flat-out tell him that there better be no nonsense in the warm-up or I was going to beat the crap out of him. Longing was a formality, though it was hot and a bit breezy and he got snorty. My friend Jess came to watch and graciously helped schlep my stuff down to the arena - she brought my show jacket, and I had her bring both my safety vests too, just in case. I hopped on and was feeling great.

Jess feeding ze pony
We got to the warm up arena. And Hemie freaked out. Bulgy and dodging to the side. I kept to my word and gave him a whapping. It did nothing. He continued to slide sideways, careening into trees and into poor children on ponies (remember, we're in the intro division). We are talking scary, dangerous. Thank goodness I had the neck strap on him because I swear it saved me from eating it.

Laurie rescued us by coming over to grab a rein and hand-walked us around the arena (mr. OTTB feels secure by being ponied). At this point I put on my jacket and both safety vests.

We tried to regroup in a corner but it wasn't working. At some point we gave up on flatwork and decided to try a jump or two to see if that settled him; after all, he loves jumping. It didn't work. He continued to be a nutcase.

Finally I had a breakthrough - a mini-victory in halting his slide out to the side. We almost fell over sideways, but we didn't, and he seemed to get some of his brain back. But it left again a minute later, and that's when Laurie said "that's it - you're done."

UGH. The worst feeling ever. I felt sick to my stomach when she said that. If riding a crazy horse that I was sure I was gonna fall off of in front of a huge crowd was bad, hearing you can't ride is worse. Feeling desperate I started rambling and asking questions while walking circles around Laurie. He's never been this bad before, could he have slept badly? Tack bothering him? Tired from the show days? Is he just scared? Naughty? Laurie doesn't play the what-could-it-be game and just said, point-blank, that I simply do not have the skills as a rider to handle a crazy ex-racehorse when they pull this kind of disobedience. "Don't feel bad about it, you just haven't been riding horses off the track for several decades, which is what is needed." 

I felt bad about it anyway. "But I was stern with him as soon as he started!"  "Yes, but you're timing is off. You have to release your reins with racehorses to get them to go forward - it takes practice and guts to do that."  Which makes sense. I was holding onto him for dear life, trying to pull him into submission and away from children on ponies. After a few minutes I mustered up the courage to ask Laurie if I could still try to take him into the show jumping round.

"Of course you're going down there to do the show jumping round."

Apparently the you're done meant done with the warm up. Relief flooded into me. Since I was last place after XC, I was first to do the show jumping round. They called us down. Laurie ponied us over, and Hemie felt calm and relaxed. It was time. I let all the stress melt away. I mentally left that freak out session in the warm up arena. I knew we could rock this.

We entered the arena, and he immediately started to freak out. Dodging to the side, backing up. At some point the judges rang the bell, and I knew I had 45 seconds to get our shit together and get between those start flags.

I pointed him at the flags, and he flew backwards. I whapped him, I turned him, I kicked him. Finally I halted him and petted his neck, and told him we were going to be okay. I turned him back towards the start flags and he tried to run out the arena. Grrr.

It must have taken us 44 seconds, but damn it we got between those start flags. Possibly sideways. He hopped over the first jump and I told him he was the best boy ever. I couldn't believe we had made it - we had started our round.

We headed towards jump #2. Another tantrum, bulging to the side. I tried turning him back to the approach, but he was having none of it. We ended up next to the jump, facing the wrong way. I scooched him over sideways so that we were in front of the jump, facing the wrong way. Then I U-turned him, at a walk, and walked him at/to the jump. He jumped over it, and I told him good boy! A cheer from the crowd. As we headed to jump #3 I could feel his brain click in. We were jumping. Jumping is fun.

We did the rest of our course without issue. I can't remember if we trotted or cantered, but I was talking to him the whole time and told him what a good boy he was. Each jump brought a wave of disbelief followed by relief followed by happiness.

I was tearing up by the time we made it to the out gate. Several riders and trainers said "good job" to us, and I believed them. We got through it. We got it done. A billion time penalties, but we left all the poles up.

I made him wait around for the ribbon ceremony, and he was antsy but obedient. The show organizers had placed us on a team (I hadn't signed up for one, since I figured our performance wasn't going to be competitive) and we got to bring home a reserve champion neck ribbon and a Daniel Steward CD.

Hemie was perfect the rest of the day, of course. I made it home then slept for about 500 hours straight.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In summary...

Our first official horse trials was definitely a trial. Some things went better than I had expected. Some things went worse. Way worse.

I'm too emotionally and physically exhausted to give the full rundown right now. In summary, it was ugly but we got  it done. We did not get eliminated and completed all 3 phases with a score. In fact we even brought home a brown ribbon for eighth (last) place. So technically we achieved my goal for the year. As to my goal for the event for both Hemie and I to have fun...well I keep going back and forth on whether I think it was achieved. And for a goal like that, if you have to think about the answer, then that means that answer is no.

On more uplifting news, check out Slow and Steady Wins the Race for a contest. Congrats to Amy for 100 followers!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Funny - the wheels from hell

This is a stock photo of my rolling saddle stand. I bought it used for $60 several months ago so I wouldn't have to install permanent saddle racks at Castle Rock. In typical Craigslist fashion, it was advertised as "good condition" but in actuality the wheels were flat.

I decided to fix the flat wheels so that I could take it to the show. How hard can it be to fix a leak in a little tire?

I took the pins off the end and brought the wheels home. They're about 10" in diameter, so they are lightweight. I YouTube'd how to find leaks in tires (squirt with windex and look for bubbles) and found that both tires were completely riddled with leaks. Plus one had a leaking stem (the base of the air intake component).

Turns out Harbor Freight Tools was selling 10" diameter wheels with the same size/model number for only $6 each! So I picked 2 up, happy to be avoiding the messy business of leak repair kits and stem replacement kits. Win!

Haul-Master 30900 10" Pneumatic Tire
Beautiful new wheel.
In a wonderful moment of thinking ahead, I did a leak check on the new tires before putting them on the stand. Perfect condition. So I put the new wheels on.

But they wouldn't fit on the axle. After manhandling and muttering for 10 minutes I commandeered a fellow boarder's horse husband and he confirmed my suspicion: the new wheels' bearings were just ever so slightly wider than the old ones, resulting in not enough room for the axle to come through.


We brainstormed and he suggested that it would be faster and easier to get a new, longer axle rod then it would be to try and purchase other wheels since the model/size numbers did match (and were darn close, but not close enough, in size). Its just a metal rod with holes drilled on the ends for pins to secure the wheel on. He said any hardware store could cut me a new axle and drill the holes. So I took the axle home.

I took it to the local hardware store...they could not help me. No metal rods. The recommended another hardware store across town.

So I took it there. No luck. The 2nd hardware store recommended a 3rd.

So I went to the 3rd. Nope.

How many stores does it take to get a new axle?  I don't know. I gave up on #3.

I went to their tire section to see if there were any tires that *looked* thinner in width, and found some solid rubber tires (aha! never deal with leaks again!). They fit on the axle with room to spare.

What was going to be a quick afternoon project turned into a road trip hardware store adventure all over town and took way, waaaaay more time than I would have thought.

The end.

H-M 35459 10" x 2-1/2" Solid Rubber Tire
Even newer solid rubber wheel.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Barefoot Consult

Firstly, the fabulous Nicku of The Polka Dot Periodical is having a contest!  Head on over there to check it out!

Time for a feetsies hoovsies toesies update!
Before the trim.

After the trim.
Hemie has been barefoot since early January, so we're going on 8 months sans iron. Overall he's been doing quite well, except for one very minor mystery "offness" a few months back which may or may not have been hoof-soreness. In any case, I'm very happy with his hoof quality (and so was our vet!).

However, the more I'd been researching and learning about healthy barefoot hooves, and the more that I attempted to perform some very minor farriery myself, I developed some concerns about how my farrier was doing some things.

I watched the other local barefoot eventer do her "touch-up" again, and came away with fresh eyes for Hemie's hooves.  And I didn't like what I saw.  I took this gal's advice and decided to consult with a barefoot trimmer specialist.

After researching and emailing a few barefoot trimmers, I set up a consultation with Sabine of Tri County Hoofcare. She was professional yet approachable. She confirmed some of the ideas I had and also brought other considerations to light. I liked her so much that I decided to become her client.

Toes nicely rolled. Sorry for annoying shadows.

Monday night was Hemie's first official barefoot trim. Even though it had been just over 8 weeks (yes, eight) since his last trim, no sole needed to be removed. I'm very happy that the amount of riding/turnout we do is enough to naturally wear down the hoof at about the same rate that he grows it. However, his toe had gotten too long and pointy and needed a strong roll to bring back the breakover. We're scheduling our next trim for 6 weeks from now, but my goal is to try and maintain the roll so that Sabine doesn't have very much to do at our next visit! We'll see how it goes.

In addition to some of the great bloggers I follow, we're in good company in terms of being barefoot: check out this article about Ravel, Steffen Peters' 2012 Olympic dressage mount, who is also barefoot. Who knew?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Show Binder

This post was inspired by The Roany Pony's show binder post.

Only 4 days until the horse show! I'm dreaming about it at night and planning ahead during the day. I'm very excited - the happy kind, and the anxious kind, trading off.

It's been almost 2 years since I've competed in a full horse trials, and I believe that planning and organization can make shows go much smoother. So I've been spending some quality time with my show binder.

What's inside?
  1. Dressage test & arena layout.
  2. Omnibus listing (aka show premium).
  3. Copy of my entry form, stabling form, etc.
  4. Hotel info.
  5. Printed directions & map of general area.
  6. Packing checklists (yes, plural).
  7. Food planning list.
  8. Rules
  9. Judging terminology
  10. Horse and rider turnout photos and tips.
  11. Blank paper & pens.
  12. Emergency contact info & stall label.

Here's my packing checklist as of yesterday:

Lots of scribbles and notes as I check things off and pack tubs. Organized chaos.

The most important use of the show binder is to sit down each evening and create my day plan where I map out times and duration of everything from waking up in the morning to feeding, grooming, spectating, and finally mounting up. Shows are exciting but there's so many distractions - old friends and new ones, great riders on amazing horses, shopping, food - having a day plan keeps me on track.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ribbon Recycling

I love the idea of being craftsy. I love the idea of repurposing/reusing things in general.  

Most importantly, I love exposing my horse to looky-loo things that I expect he might oogle at the upcoming show: the flappy cross country flags at Shepherd Ranch. 

So, some red and white ribbons to the rescue.

Red on right, white on left, cute ears in the middle!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Funny

Seeing this at the grocery or pet store always makes me chuckle. 

And we think horse stuff is overpriced.

Maybe one day I'll leave a note... "Go to a feed store - they sell massive bags of shavings or entire bales of hay for much better value!"

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Saddleseat training for dressage?

Having grown up doing saddleseat and starting eventing as an adult, it is fascinating to compare various elements of training and showing.  In my opinion, there are a surprising number of components of both disciplines that could help enrich the other.

At a dressage lesson a few weeks ago, Laurie hopped on Hemie for a few minutes. Trainer rides are so helpful because you can watch your horse! When Hemie gets "stuck" and hippity-hoppity, his back legs do a prance in place and do not reach forward under himself (which is what we want).

Which brings me to chains. Chains are a very common training aid in saddleseat, and I wonder why we don't see them used in dressage.

Lightweight aluminum chains, found at any hardware store and fastened with a safe clip, are put around the pastern like a bracelet/anklet. Sometimes leather (like a rolled dog collar) is used instead of metal. Typically they'd be put on just the fronts, or on all 4 legs, in order to encourage larger movement/leg action.

Have you ever put boots on a horse's hind legs, and they step out exaggeratedly for a few steps because they are not used to the feeling? Basically that is the training aid. It helps the horse to be more aware of his feet.

Some would say that the chains or leather is uncomfortable to the horse, and that they are stepping higher to try and get away from the discomfort. Personally I think it depends on the type and application of the chains and/or leathers, and the horse's personal sensitivity levels.

Back to the lesson. The saddleseater in me was watching my horse pogo-stick around with his back legs while his front legs were moving out fine, and I distinctly thought that he needs to become more aware of his hind legs. While I wasn't about to go out and buy chains or leather, I realized I have something that might do the trick:

Yep, bell boots! I hadn't used them on Hemie in a long time (since he's barefoot) and back when I did use them they were only on his front feet. I decided to start strapping 'em on for our rides to (a) see if they helped Hemie become more aware of his hind legs, and (b) to get him used to them since I may want to use them for trailering and possibly our jumping rounds at the upcoming show, just as a measure of protection.

I've used them for several rides now, and so far so good! No hippity-hoppity, and I can feel him moving under himself more (and faster) than he did before! He walks out of the cross-ties with big stretchy steps of his hind legs, so I know he's aware of them. Saddleseat training inspired methodology FTW!

{thoughts, questions, disagreements welcome}

Monday, August 12, 2013

Solid Schooling

Saturday we went to the Meadows for a final XC schooling before our show in 2 weeks. Unfortunately, no photos or videos as it was a quick, efficient affair and I wasn't able to wrangle a friendographer. But let me tell you. We. Freaking. Rocked.

There weren't any stadium jumps set up, so we did a quick warm up and went straightaway over some logs. Hemie was very game but not silly at all. He was down to business.

We started over a teeny tiny little log, then Laurie directed us towards a larger log next to a shadowy pile of stuff. We've had run outs at that particular jump before, so I was a little nervous on the inside. But I just rode it forward and supportive, and he didn't think twice. We proceeded to hop over all the intro and BN jumps we could find. And (drumroll, please) we hopped some novice jumps too. =)

I felt confident throughout the schooling. Hemie did question a few things, but I was able to ride supportively and we had zero run outs or refusals. 3 special moments I'd like to share:

1. Downhill to a jump.
We galloped up a nice hill (gallop is a generous term - it was a forward canter but I still haven't really flown on Hemie yet) then we trotted downhill. We've been practicing hills at our facility, so Hemie is really learning how to hold himself up. There was a jump at the bottom that looked to be quite inviting, so we headed towards it. This would be our first jump off of a significant downhill slope. I could feel Hemie lock on to it. A few strides away I realized the jump was actually much bigger and wider than it had looked from the hill, but at that point were committed - and he flew over it like he'd been doing big jumps off of steep hills forever! My trainer about fainted and Tynan (also schooling with us) said that jump was at least Novice sized, but that off of a downhill like that it was possibly a Training level question. It says a lot that both Hemie and I felt ready take that one on.

2. Straight into the water.
Hemie's been good with water generally speaking, so this time (with our trainer's permission) we decided to trot right on in it (rather than walking in). It went perfectly. No hesitation whatsoever.

3. The Meadows Jump.
We did it. Our first time doing a jump with such tall sides and a top/header. No issues. =]

Photo from my former trainer, Taurie of Kings Corner

Separate note, check out a special post on Horse Junkies United by one of my favorite bloggers, Carley!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

EV 118

As I was going through my show binder the other day (post coming soon!) I realized my set of eventing rules dates to 2011. So I did some googling and found yearly updates which I printed, reviewed, and included in my show binder.

Which brings me to a story. A story from my very first derby competition.

Unlike many people, I'm not intimidated by paperwork. I deal with leases and contracts all day long, so reading and understanding large amounts of text doesn't phase me. So when my first instructor told me to read through the Eventing rulebook before my first competition (a little local derby), I did.

It was June 2010, before I started this blog, that Spirit and I participated in our first combined test at the Meadows of Moorpark. This outing was memorable for many reasons, not least being that I had a broken toe. Combined with boots that were used and ill-fitting, this made for a miserable time walking anywhere.

I remember that our dressage test felt pretty darn good. We didn't make any of the typical rookie mistakes (going off course, accidentally hopping outside of the arena), and I was proud of both Spirit and myself. When the score sheets were put out, I asked a friend to get mine when she went to get hers (to avoid walking on the broken toe), and I found it only mildly curious when she returned with only her test saying she couldn't find mine, even though we were in the same division.

Oh well, I'd just look at it later.

An hour or 2 later, after our jumping round (clear!) I finally dragged myself to the score board and picked up my dressage score sheet. And experienced my first eventing competition heartbreak. The score was bad. Much worse than I had thought it would be. I realized that even though my friend had gone off course twice, and had not felt good about her test overall, she still managed a better score than me. Ouch. Disappointing.

Feeling a bit depressed, I watched the other derby rounds go (at the higher, more exciting levels) with my trainer and friend. Afterwards I went through the sheet movement by movement and I thought the scoring looked fair. So eventually I realized that my low total score was due to an arithmetic error on their ticker-tape calculation. They forgot to add in one of my test movements, essentially giving me a zero instead of the 6 we had earned for the movement.  Aha! It's not that we did poorly - it was just a math error. Whew.

When I brought this to the attention of the show office, they said that there was nothing to be done as the 30 minute time-frame had expired. Excuse me?? Apparently I hadn't read the rules quite detailed enough to remember this gem.

Which brings me back to the Eventing rules. Specifically, to rule EV 118 "Inquiries, Protests and Appeals" in Chapter EV-1 General Rules for All Eventing Competitions.

As of our first show (and still effective today) you have only 30 minutes following the publishing of the results to bring up a mathematical or transcriptional issue.

That rule is changing. Effective December 1 this year (the official start of the 2014 show calendar), you have until 3:00 pm the day after the last day of the show! What a difference!  For all the 2014 rule changes, click here.

I still took home a ribbon from that first derby - white or pink, instead of the red or yellow I'd have gotten if they'd calculated my score correctly. But it doesn't matter: it was our first show and I was happy just to not get eliminated! More importantly, I came away with some vital lessons:

1. It is always better to be self-sufficient at shows. Period. 
Broken toe or no, I should have gone to get my score sheet myself. No one else will look for it as hard as you will (it had been stuck behind someone else's).

2. If it feels wrong, investigate immediately. 
No matter what other people say, if you know something isn't right, check it out personally right away. I knew the score wasn't right, but my trainer and friend didn't take my gut feelings seriously and I let emotions delay me.

3. Keep the rules handy. 
There's a reason they're in my show binder nowadays!

4. To finish is to win.
I'm borrowing this from endurance, but this experience first showed me that no matter the placings, finishing the competition and feeling good about my performance is truly what matters most to me. I honestly didn't care that my ribbon wasn't what it should/could have been - I was relieved and satisfied that the judge saw what I felt in that arena.

Friday, August 9, 2013

More hay it is

After 500% more rumination than was necessary, I finally decided to add more hay to Hemie's diet. He's getting 1 flake of alfalfa hay for lunch in addition to his AM and PM feedings of 1 flake oat + 1 flake alfalfa. For supps he's still on beet pulp, rice bran pellets, and CA Trace multi-mineral supplement.

The hay piles at the barn.
Thank you to everyone for commenting on the feed posts - you brought up excellent points and helped me reach a decision. It really is helpful to know what everyone else is feeding their horses. Hemie gets more hay and feed than the other horses in our little area of the boarding facility, so knowing that some of you guys are feeding 6+ flakes of hay a day helped me to commit to the extra flake.

And now for some randomness. Because it's Friday.

Yes, I make my gelding wear pink and sparkles.
I named the blog Eventing In Color after all. 

I'm starting to suspect Hemie's summer activity of hoof soaking is going on. Note the left side rope handle cut and tied to the side panel. Note the blue twine tying the right handle to the pipe. Note black twine near water spigot - appears to have tried (and failed) to hold water bucket previously. Note white twine off to the right which also appears to have tried (and failed) to hold water bucket. Silly pony. But I love that he does that - I think its healthy for his hooves!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Getting Ready

T-minus 17 days until the horse show. I'm feeling happy and excited. The obsessive part of me is really honing in. I'm already sorting my clothes and saddle pads and show gear that I keep in the garage (there's only so much space at the barn). I'm making lists about cleaning tack and clipping and packing, and even brainstorming paleo-esque show food.

As to riding and training, we're sticking with our 2 lessons a week but I may add an extra one if scheduling works out conveniently. We're doing a cross country schooling at The Meadows of Moorpark this Saturday as one more outing opportunity.

For practice rides my plan is to make every ride count. Hacking around is great, but there's no reason I can't throw in a solid work session too. Even when going bareback or on trail rides - leg yielding, square halting, and spending time on the bit are ways to make sure I'm putting every ride to use. And note to self: I need to stop using my voice during dressage practice rides! Those -2s are too pricey.

Something that Laurie said last week has really stuck with me. As I was running through our dressage test Laurie said "Come on and ride him - don't be shy!"

I realized that I've been treating dressage tests too much like a saddle seat pleasure class* rather than the riding exam it really is.  I need to be just as active, demanding a rider in the test as I am when in a lesson. I've been acting more like a passenger, trying to make our test smooth and incident-free. But the idea is to get the job done. Each test movement is a new opportunity, so instead of cruising through and focusing on geometry and my posture, I need to really focus on getting Hemie's hind end engaged and connecting through the bridle. I need to really ride the whole test. Every step.

been playing with

*For my non-saddle seat-informed riders, just like in other disciplines a saddleseat pleasure class judges the horse's performance (rather than rider, which would be equitation). However, the rider is expected to make it look like the horse is truly a pleasure to ride, typically achieved with a nice smile, calm and confident poise, and minimal use of whip or kicking.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Jumping Training Update

As seen in our last few videos, our jumping training is coming along. We haven't really upped the height of the jumps, but Hemie's form is improving well. He's also getting better in both the approaches and landings. No more squiggles, shoulder bulging, or hip swinging. At least, not regularly! Our current areas of focus have more to do with me than him

#1. Speed. Even though we're no longer having the up-and-down-bunny-hop issues, I'm holding him back to a short stride and slow pace. He doesn't seem to mind, but my trainer sure does! Its one of those things that I can't work on too much on my own, since I don't *feel* like we're going too slow. But we are working on it during lessons, and Hemie is game. Laurie will have us do combination lines, first going our slow speed and counting strides, then she'll ask us to get it in one less stride (sometimes even 2 less strides!).

#2. Releasing rein. We're working on my ability to loosen the rein several strides (like 4 or 5) before the jump, to see what Hemie chooses to do. About the same time is when I need to change from 2-point to a deeper seat by sitting down in the saddle and lift up my shoulders. If he starts charging, I need to take back the reins to ensure we have a steady, rhythmical approach. But ideally, he should stick his nose out and take me to the jump in an even rhythm. The loose rein allows him to place his body where he thinks it needs to be (slightly shortening or lengthening the stride to reach a good distance) and also allows him to determine his own take off point without getting hit in the mouth.

We're no longer trotting all jumps before doing them at a canter - we'll trot the first 2 but then be cantering the rest of the ride. We are making sure the jumps are "looky-loo" with decorations when possible. About once each ride Hemie will question a jump and make as if to dodge out, which is a good test of (a) my ability to quickly and calmly encourage him to jump and (b) my body position.

On a separate note I've confirmed Shepherd Ranch HT received my entry, and we'll be competing against a horse named "Tiny But Mighty."   How cute is that ?!

Friday, August 2, 2013

He's a *real* pleasure horse now!

Sometimes you have those special milestones or goals that you don't realize you had until you reach them.

Last night I was able to ride Hemie bareback, outside of an arena, all around the property. I am just tickled pink that we are finally able to do that, I've still got a goofy grin on my face from it.

I've decided that being able to ride bareback outside of the confines of an arena is my personal definition of a true pleasure horse. While the rider needs to have balance, the horse has a big job - he needs to understand that his speed, self-carriage, and overall awareness is different when the rider has no saddle. And he needs to know that he can't get spook-tastic - he needs to look out for his rider.

We've been working on bareback riding maybe once every month or so. Let's just say it did not come naturally to Hemie. But he's a trooper and I'm proud of of our progress.

I give us a gold star.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Horsey Nutrition

In late May/early June I started giving Hemie some probiotics to help put some flesh over his ribs.  I've gone through the whole bag (he got it ~5 days a week for about 7 weeks), and here's how he looks:

Some ribs still visible.

So, not super successful.  In terms of his overall physique, the fact that I can see some ribs is the only issue I have. He has good muscling (for our level) and minimal fat stores.

To use an objective measurement, I would rate Hemie as a 4.5 on the Body Condition Score. Darn close to the "ideal" of 5.

Download the Equine Body Condition Score poster here and here's a great article on the scoring system and various components to consider to evaluate your horse. 

This leads me to a few choices:
  1. Buy another bag of probiotics and give it more time to see improved results.
  2. Instead of probiotics, add more hay to his diet (as many readers suggested).
  3. Do nothing. Get over it.
Probiotics helped my first horse gain weight, but to be honest that was so long ago I can't remember how long it took before I started seeing results. So it's possible I just need to give it more time.

On the other hand, maybe I'm just being overly sensitive to the fact I can see ribs. Most other people at the barn don't think he looks too skinny. TBs are known to stay on the leaner side of the spectrum.

As for hay, I've got a few options if I go that route, and would love opinions!
  1. Pay my facility an additional $50/month for 1 extra flake served at lunch. I would likely chose alfalfa (he currently gets 1 flake alf + 1 flake oat, morning and night).
  2. Keep hay in my car or somehow try to store it at the ranch (pretty sure that's against facility policy) and feed him an extra dinner most nights a week. Would be cheaper but could get me in trouble. Better to ask forgiveness than permission? Ethically challenging to me.
  3. A magical idea I have invented (maybe) and would seriously like opinions on: buying a full bale of grass or grass-alfalfa mixed hay and leaving the whole bale in his stall for him to eat free-choice. I've never seen other people do this at any boarding facility I've been at. Not even sure if this would be allowed at the facility, though I could make a case for it. Thoughts?
Another quick note - Hemie has been on the California Trace mineral supplement for about a month, and so far so good. My goal for feeding it is to provide neurological support and help support healthy hooves (healthy everything, actually). I do think it is working. He is not tripping as much as he used to and is better able to really step under himself and cross his hind legs without hesitation or awkwardness. Of course I wonder how much of that is improved balance and self-carriage from training versus the supplement. His coat and hooves look good - more time is needed to really see if his hooves are growing out with a visible difference in quality.