To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

When a door closes, try a window


Or open the closed door. That's how doors work.

Stella and I have been schooling at home in the cooler mornings or evenings. The weather has been hot and dry, so the arena is really dusty, preventing us doing anything more with the Pivo (watering the arena is not an option with our low-output well), but I believe we're making progress. She started objecting to the hackamore (I think the noseband was the issue) and chews on the soft Duo bit, so I switched her back to the double-jointed snaffle I originally bought for her. Her fussiness with this bit has gotten much better with better riding on my part; funny how that always works. 😏 I was being rather loosey-goosey trying to cater to a baby horse instead of riding her like a dressage horse, forgetting that dressage IS training which is what I'm doing with this green bean! So now I'm riding with inside leg to outside rein and she is starting to explore connection; I've added leg yields and shoulder-fore to our repertoire, too. Like I said; progress.

I talked to Rick's secretary about hauling over to use their round pen to start canter work, but it is temporarily home to a friend's wild BLM filly. I've been dreaming of hauling Stella to the beach and Perrydale Trails to ride this summer, but haven't had any luck finding some calm companions. Several of my friends no longer ride so my options are limited.

Yesterday started out cool and cloudy, perfect for a ride at Perrydale Trails. I had nothing else preventing me from going, so I started texting and emailing to see if anyone I knew could go. No luck. But in my communication with the facility owner, she offered to ride awhile with me today if I couldn't find anyone else; she wasn't available yesterday.

With that plan in place, I rode Stella at home as usual yesterday morning, and then moved on to work on trailer-loading. After all, our truck and trailer have been parked on the driveway since Rick put Oliver down, so we had easy access.

Stella is a slow loader; I've always been able to get her on eventually, but never know how long it will take. I think I just out-wait her and she finally gives in, because she doesn't act scared or clueless, and if I have a support person on the ground she loads right up. This is NOT how my horses load and would be a real problem in a must-load-NOW situation, so it was high time to fix that.

After trying once with the usual response (front feet in at most, then backing out), I pondered my options. I tried using the groundwork methods Lisa taught us; no go. Stella probably thought I'd given up when I led her back to the barn, but I selected a long whip with a short lash (propped against the open trailer door in the photo above) and we went back to the trailer. With the ability to walk in the trailer ahead of her and reach back and touch her on the butt, Stella's loading reluctance was quickly erased. We loaded and unloaded several times; by the end the presence of the whip was enough to convince her that I was no longer going to play the waiting game. Smart girl.

This morning we hauled over to Perrydale Trails and went on Stella's first trail ride! She wasn't as brave as she was in-hand last year, but was really very good. Rebecca takes photos of all her guests, but since she was riding with us (on her quiet, young Quarter Horse), she wasn't able to do that this time. So at the end of our ride I took a few photos of Stella near the trailer to prove we were there. 😉
See the skeleton sitting in a chair by the tree?

Oh, and she loaded right up to go home without even needing to SEE the whip!

Update on Lance: he has been fine since that scary seizure, and his blood work shows he doesn't have Cushings. It did show that his metabolic syndrome wasn't as well controlled by his medication as one would hope, so we've increased it some. After their fence-jumping escape, he and Stella are back to turn-out in separate pastures, and Lance is getting some needed exercise running around and hollering when he loses sight of her.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Misadventures in horse-keeping

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to turn-out last week. I had opened Stella's paddock to the lower pasture and haltered Lance to lead him out to the middle pasture, but decided to give him some fly relief first. I sprayed repellent on a tissue in the tackroom, then started wiping his face where he stood in the aisleway. He lifted his head a bit – and then went into what I can only describe as a seizure. He kind of sat backwards and crashed to the floor, lurched up and forward onto his knees, tried to get up and crashed on his side, thrashed a bit, lurched up and forward again . . . and then stood there. I was terrified, both for him and for me, thinking he was going to die right there in front of me and also fully aware that getting pinned against the concrete floor or a wall by my 1200 lb. horse would be a Very. Bad. Thing. I carefully guided him outside, watching him like a hawk. He tried to snatch a bite of weeds like normal, so I turned him loose in the pasture. I kept an eye on him throughout the afternoon and never saw anything amiss; other than some scrapes on all four fetlocks and over one eye plus a bloody nose he seemed fine (and has been ever since). Of course I told Rick about it when he got home. He said he's seen one other metabolic horse do that, did some testing, and found out the horse had developed Cushings on top of metabolic syndrome. So he drew blood on Lance and has sent it in; we're waiting on results and I'm not riding him at all in the meantime.

They were turned out in their respective pastures again Friday afternoon when I happened to see an unusual amount of activity (I was still keeping a closer-than-usual eye on Lance). I stepped out on the deck to see what they were reacting to, and saw this:
"Is that a pterodactyl? I think it's a pterodactyl!"

On Sunday evening, we decided it was time to try turning Lance and Stella out together. We led them to the upper pasture, and after a momentary "yahoo," they settled down to eat. Lance showed no animosity towards Stella like he has in the arena; it seemed that without Oliver in the mix, everything was fine.

After an hour or so, I decided I'd better check on them. When I stepped outside, I could hear hooves on gravel. I hollered at Rick and ran down the driveway, grabbing the halters on my way. I could see that the horses weren't in the pasture but could no longer hear them on the gravel, so I headed SW, calling both their names, and Rick headed NW. As I neared a neighbor's, they confirmed they'd seen the horses, and directed me to the field next to them. After a short game of "catch me if you can," good boy Lance came to me, and we led him home with Stella following. Neither of them had a scratch and the fence is intact, so apparently they both jumped it! That's very uncharacteristic of Lance if not Stella, and a shame since that's the one pasture that still has some decent forage. Sigh; it's always something when you own horses!

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Finally, a show report – and more

Sorry for the long delay in posting. Life keeps marching on and you gotta keep up, which doesn't always leave enough time to recap what is now in the rearview mirror. After awhile, you can't even see what you wanted to recap in the rearview mirror, it's so far away – so before we get to that point, I need to post!

The Oregon Morgan Classic was, over all, an excellent outing for Stella. She experienced SO many new things, and handled all of them without losing her mind or trying to vacate the premises. She did veer away from lots of scary things in the warm-up and show arenas – small doorways from inside to the outdoors, horses in 'pajamas,' unfurling carpets, the hammering of stall drape installations, show carts parked with shafts to the sky, people on an elevated platform (the judge's stand), and a very alarming horse that moved in strange ways making strange sounds (a saddlebred being lunged in full tail-set harness with noise-makers on his feet) who exploded into bucking when asked to canter. And even though they weren't pretty, we made it through our two walk-trot tests – in an arena set up in the center of the stabling barn, surrounded by people, horses, dogs and equipment moving into stabling and prepping for the show! 😬

Stella, still not a fan of the bit, fought it through most of the two tests, and I'm sure I was riding with much  more contact than I use at home in an effort to keep her with me in the midst of all the 'new' and 'scary.' You can see the show photographer's proofs of Intro A here and Intro B here; after viewing those you'll probably be as surprised as I was that we broke 60% in both tests. We even 'won' a nifty neck medallion and an engraved glass since we were the only entry in Intro A!

We could not have done it without Kate!

As I stated going into this show, I knew we weren't ready to be showing even walk/trot, but I'm still glad we did. I was SO PROUD of how brave Stella was, and having that experience "in the bank" is worth the price of admission. I think she is ready to go to Perrydale Trails again, this time under saddle, with the right companions; same with the beach. In the meantime, we keep schooling at home so that someday we will be ready for a dressage show. It sure would help to have some expert instruction, but the only one I know and trust is dealing with serious health problems that have her homebound.

Enter technology. Before the show, Anna Blake did a post on "Homeschooling Your Horsemanship." Towards the end she mentioned a "Pivo." Curious, I looked it up. Then I read reviews and watched some videos. I was so impressed that I ordered one the very next day! My thought was that this little gadget would allow me to be my own "eyes on the ground," and maybe I could even send videos to my favorite trainer and pay her for her feedback. My Pivo Pod Silver arrived the day after our show, and I tried it out a few days later, riding Stella in her Duo bit so I could compare [show] apples to [schooling-at-home] apples. I ended up with a 25-minute video that was too long to upload to YouTube, but the Pivo worked slick. Here is a short snippet saved from the long one; it shows some trotting and an entertaining little spook. 😆

Then another blogger I follow mentioned using it in what sounded like a real-time lesson. I left a comment asking about that and Jen responded that with the app Pivo Meet, that is indeed possible. (Jen even said I could test out a live session with her before trying it with an instructor, which was so nice of her!) In the meantime, I took another test video, this time with the Pivo on a post at the side of the arena and Stella in her hackamore. Pivo lost me when I rode by it on the post, so using the bucket in the middle of the arena like I did the first time will be the way to go.

Now I need to download the app, set up a time, and test it with Jen. (But first I have to get through this week when I am working my usual part-time job and covering for Rick's vacationing secretary all my other days.)

Stella has been giving me some interesting behaviors lately; still trying to figure out what's behind them. I will try to do another post about those soon. In the meantime, our 'herd' is down to two, Lance and Stella.

Yesterday Rick finally put Oliver out of his misery. I haven't been turning the boys out recently because Ollie was hobbling so bad. Good-night, Smart Chocolate.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Que sera, sera

Whatever will be (at the show tomorrow), will be!

Preparation for Stella's and my first show together was disrupted last week when my uncle died and I made whirlwind arrangements to fly to Juneau, Alaska to join family for his graveside service (lots of photos from the trip here). I was able to ride Tuesday morning before I left and Friday when I returned, so took the zen approach that a couple days off would be good for the girl's mind and body.

Actually, I rode twice on Friday (keep in mind that all my rides are short and Stella never breaks a sweat)! The test-ride WintecLite from SmartPak arrived a day early so was here and waiting when I got home. Eager to see if it was a winner, I saddled up with it Friday morning and went for a ride. It didn't feel particularly comfortable, and the seat was too big; I had to keep hitching myself forward. When I got off, I measured it and my own two Wintecs – it was at least a half-inch longer, even though it was labeled as a 17.5"; very strange. So I decided to ride again that afternoon in Lance's saddle. I wanted to test my first impression that she objected to it, and see if I felt secure enough in it for a potentially 'dynamic' ride.

The verdict? Stella exhibited none of the little behaviors I had interpreted as objections, and when she startled at something scary in the woods I didn't feel the least bit insecure. I decided, barring any experiences to the contrary before the show, that I'd use it instead of the ancient navy saddle, and return the test-ride. I have shortened my stirrup leathers one hole, which feels just a titch short, but better that than too long, as I tend to pull up my left leg and either lose my left stirrup or get my foot too far forward in it.

To keep the focus on the saddles and Stella's reactions to them, I rode with the hackamore Friday. On Sunday, I switched to the DUO bit, since we have to show in a bit. Too bad, that; she is MUCH happier in the hackamore. So I spent Sunday's, Monday's, and today's rides trying to finesse things to reduce the amount of fussiness and distraction the bit is causing, focusing on using my body, breath, voice (will have to be careful with that in the show ring) and legs to do most of the communicating. We may not get very high marks for "acceptance of the bit" and "elastic contact", but I feel like I'm riding more effectively than I ever have.
Wet Stella; I managed to get in a ride during the one dry spell Sunday!

Stella was actually quite spooky during today's ride. The wind was blowing the trees around, and something (someone? Lance?) banged loudly in the barn. But the biggest reactions were one quick, short scoot and one giant squat; she has not once freaked out under saddle as she occasionally did during ground work. Lisa has commented that Stella likes having me on her back; maybe she does. 😊

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with her mane tomorrow. Part of it depends on when we arrive and how much time I have to prepare; I'd rather use the time we have to ease her concerns and help her relax rather than 'fix her hair.' I'm not a fan of many long-mane treatments except a really tidy running braid along the crest, but those seem to pull when a horse stretches its neck, irritating the horse and loosening the braid. I've had an idea for rolling her mane under and back along her crest and securing it somehow, so did a 'quick and dirty' experiment with that today. It started out looking okay, but had mostly disintegrated by the end of our ride.

offside just for fun
I think it could work, but the morning of our first show is probably not the time to perfect it. So I've reviewed some online tutorials and will do a running braid at the showgrounds if I have time before our first class.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to give the girl her first shampoo and finish loading the trailer.

Oh, my friend Kate is going with me tomorrow. You know you have a good friend when she's willing to show up at your house at 4:30 a.m. to be your horse show support!

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Hold onto your hats helmets...'s going to be a wild ride just documenting the last week, not to mention what's coming!

So after I wrote my last post, I got to thinking (thinking; always thinking). There is no rule against showing in an ancient, battered saddle; people who see us before we go into the ring would surely raise their eyebrows but the judge will likely have her attention on other things while we're in the ring. Check one showing obstacle off the list to address before the entry deadline of June 1st(!).

A second obstacle was Stella's teeth. When I sent Suzan a photo of the damaged Nathe bit weeks ago, she stated that Stella is teething and to switch to a bitless bridle for most of her rides in order to avoid causing 'issues.' Rick did a quick manual check and confirmed she needed a dental – sometime ("the cobbler's children have no shoes"). I didn't want to ride her in a bit as I would need to in a show without that dental, so I finally asked him Monday if he could do it. Bless his heart, he did – even though it was HOT and he and I had moved over four tons of hay that day.

She has big wolf teeth, but he didn't want to give her the additional anesthesia needed to remove them. So he did the necessary floating and said we'd wait and see if the wolf teeth give her any trouble.

While the anesthesia was wearing off, I decided to take advantage of modern pharmacology and clip her bridle path and fetlocks for the very first time. Then I sprayed Show Sheen in her tail, trimmed the end and brushed it out. That felt like removing a couple obstacles. (Lance got some spa treatment, too.)
Tidy fetlocks!

But the big question/obstacle remained. Not "Are we ready?" I have no illusions about Stella being ready to show; she's not. She's still a hot, reactive mare that's greener-than-Intro Level-grass. No, my concern is that the whole experience could overface her rather than give her positive exposure, and I didn't want to risk that. So on my way to work Tuesday (June 1st), I called the person who knows her best second to me: Lisa.

Lisa had already expressed enthusiasm for my entering the show when we rode at the fairgrounds, and she reiterated how impressed she was with how well Stella did there. She thought I should go for it, with the caveat that I would know if she wasn't ready, and could scratch.

Ha; Lisa apparently doesn't know me as well as she knows Stella! I know people do that, but the thought of paying all the (non-refundable) fees, going through all the prep work, and getting up at o'dark thirty to get to the grounds in time to tack up, lead Stella around for a lengthy looky-loo, and warm up before entering the ring shortly after 8:00 a.m. only to decide "Nope; not a good idea!" was anathema. BUT. If my main purpose for entering this show is to give Stella more life experience, why not go? Even if I end up scratching our Intro tests, she would get new experiences in spades. Besides, it is fun to go hang out with other breed enthusiasts. At a regular dressage show she would be something of an oddity; at a Morgan show, she would be enthused over.

So I scrambled after work on Tuesday in order to get our entry form filled out and postmarked in time. We're going to the Oregon Morgan Classic two weeks from today!

But wait; there's more!

Since I would be slightly self-conscious showing up at OMC with the old navy Wintec, I have been investigating saddle options online. Having another grippy synthetic saddle has a lot of appeal when you're an 'old lady' riding a fresh filly, so I looked at newer used and brand new Wintec saddles. SmartPak has test ride saddles with free shipping both ways, and this morning I realized that if I ordered one today, I would have the saddle in time to try it before the show – and could show in it if Stella and I like it! So I ordered this.

Then I went to the barn to ride. I swapped out the damaged Nathe for the double-jointed snaffle; she has worn it while being ponied but I don't think I've ridden with it. Better see how she goes in it, right?

The only positive to this is that she got foamy – on one side.

Ugh. Stella was NOT happy. Lots of mouthing and gaping and tongue contortions; she was so busy fussing with the bit that she couldn't really listen to me. Remembering how well she went in the Nathe at the fairgrounds, I promptly ordered another when I got back to the house (actually, I ordered this, which Suzan says is identical).

So in for a penny, in for a pound whole pile of cash. 😆 Now if I can just find someone willing to come along as a groom of sorts, since I will be showing out of my trailer....