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

Friday, February 24, 2012

We're both rusty

I handed my camera to Brian yesterday while I rode Larry so he could shoot some video footage. None of the videos really turned out (operator error), but I saw enough to be unhappy with my posture. This is why regular instruction, or at the very least mirrors or a knowledgeable person on the ground are so valuable. Our perceptions can be so very different from reality! Granted, Larry's 2x4 body is a bit more challenging to balance upon than Russell's was (it would be easier if I were built like a 2x4 as well!), but that's no excuse. Part of the problem is that I've lost some of my core strength.

So when I rode this morning, I focused on bringing my shoulders back and down; stretching my neck and spine tall and straight by imagining a string from heaven attached to the top of my head; keeping my legs long and quiet and my heels down. I am also looking ahead to the end of March when Julie is in Oregon to housesit for her parents. Russell and I attended a couple clinics with her back in 2010 which were very beneficial, and in another four weeks Larry should be conditioned enough for more intensive work.

Every time I ride Larry it feels like he remembers more. At first he acted clueless about things I know he has been schooled in at some point, like reinbacks, leg yield and lateral work. His gaits are slooowly gaining some consistency. I just wish I could see some gain in his body condition score! Sometimes I call him "Larry the dairy cow" because of his prominent tailhead and hip bones....

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Looking for the perfect bit

I didn't get to work Larry yesterday, but I did make a flying trip to a Portland tack shop while Brian was in science class yesterday afternoon. I was hoping to find the perfect bit, but unfortunately, didn't. I did buy one, but I suspect I will be returning it.

When I tried Larry out I used Russell's bridle, which was outfitted with a bit we both loved; I think it was this bit in Aurigan. It was on semi-permanent loan from a friend, but between trying Larry and getting Larry, she asked for its return for her own use. If you clicked on that link, you will see that I was spoiled - and can't afford to buy my own Cadillac (or should I say Mercedes-Benz?)!

Since bringing Larry home I've been working him in the bridle I used on my Swedish warmblood mare, which is outfitted with a 5" stainless steel full-cheek simple snaffle. While I prefer a double-jointed snaffle that lays flatter across the tongue, she needed the stability of this bit - proving the point again that "one style does not fit all." Larry doesn't seem to mind the bit, but it looks a tad narrow on him to me. I would also like a thicker, milder mouthpiece to encourage him to take more contact.

Last week I ordered a Korsteel bit online. It, too, is a stainless steel simple snaffle, but has a curved mouthpiece to eliminate much of the nutcracker action. Unfortunately, the mouthpiece is not as thick as I would like.

The bit I bought yesterday is a German silver French link snaffle. I would have preferred an oval link to the French link, but the shop didn't have one in German silver. I thought it might do, but the more I look at it, the less I like the way it would lay in the mouth.

Since I can't return either bit if I put them in Larry's mouth, I've been eyeing them critically and fretting about what to do. Then this morning, while rustling around in the little cabinet in our tack room, I came across a bit I forgot I had:
It's a 5 1/2" Herm Sprenger loose ring, with a nice, fat mouthpiece in Aurigan or German silver. I decided to outfit Russell's bridle (sans flash noseband) with it and try it out on Larry today.

I can't say that I noticed any difference in Larry's acceptance of this bit, and as usual, he didn't generate any foam. I prefer eggbutt bits to eliminate the possibility of pinching, and would still like to try him in a fat, double-jointed snaffle with an oval link. So I will return the two I just purchased and keep looking, but am satisfied with the wider, thicker HS bit in the meantime.

What did make a noticeable difference in our ride today was carrying my dressage whip for the first time. He accepted it calmly and responded to it appropriately, and it greatly improved his lateral work and maintaining a canter. Given his body type and parentage, I really expected him to be on the energetic side, but he is actually rather lazy, requiring constant encouragement to stay moving either on the lunge line or under saddle. I didn't ride hard or long, but it was productive, and generated the first sweat I've seen on him - just a little down the front of his neck and chest and around his girth.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Friday, February 17, 2012

Living dangerously

Heh. As if getting on a trained horse in an enclosed arena and riding around at a walk after lunging is dangerous. I'm either getting old or wise.

The dangerous part is that Brian went to work with Rick today, so I am home alone (with a lot to do; what am I doing here? Oh yeah; documenting!). The forecast showers hadn't moved in yet, so I decided to tack up Larry and lunge him in my saddle. Since he is so slight, I used my CorrecTOR to improve my saddle's fit for him (even used my CorrecTOR saddle pad). I have both because years ago Russell and I were sponsored by Len Brown, the inventor of the CorrecTor and the founder of the Ortho-Flex saddle company. Russell was my "prince and the pea" horse and he didn't like the CorrecTOR, but it is an excellent saddle fitting system for many horses and Rick has distributed quite a few to clients for Len.

Anyway, after lunging him as usual (during which I managed to capture some good shots - like all four off the ground in the third and fourth!)
you know I had to get on and ride him around. :-) My legs belong around a horse! Larry was very good, other than not knowing that my horses are expected to stand by the arena fence for mounting, so that I don't have to torque the saddle tree by putting weight in a stirrup.

Now I'd better get to work on inside stuff....

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tracking up

In spite of the weather, so far I've managed to find time every day to lunge Larry. I had hoped to get on him last night after chores, but then I ended 'home alone' because of Russell's colic (Brian was in bed so couldn't have called for help). Larry hasn't given me any reason to feel insecure, but accidents can happen with any horse.

Today I attempted to capture some shots of Larry's lovely trot:
He doesn't always look this good, of course, but there are lots of promising moments!

Russell and Reckless

Last night, I got a call on my cell phone that gripped my heart with icy fingers. It was Russell's new mom, not sure whether she should call me or Rick first. Russell was colicking, in obvious discomfort with a heart rate of 70 bpm. Rick headed out to see what he could do, and I prayed.

Rick got home three hours later bearing good news, and Tami called this morning to say that Russell is still doing well, eating and drinking and comfortable. She told me again how wonderful he is, and repeated what her evening chore girl had said: "He's such a nice horse; he can't get sick!" I'm so glad to be posting about a happy outcome!

Then I saw this little film clip on a dressage blog I follow. Like the narrator says, Reckless' story deserves to be told, so I'm doing what I can to that end. Grab a tissue; here's to great horses!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Going to work

Larry looks less gaunt already. He doesn't seem buffaloed by Sam anymore and is drinking and eating better. He is a personable fellow, and was quite tidy in his space last night, using a small portion of his paddock for elimination and keeping his stall clean and dry.

This morning I got an old bridle that was my Swedish warmblood mare's fitted to Larry (he doesn't like flash attachments, and Russell's bridle has one), tacked him up with lunging surcingle and loose side reins, and took him out for a short lunging session. He is not as well trained on the lunge line as I'm used to, but I'm already seeing progress there, too. I took some photos of him at the walk; one of these days I'll have to get help to try and capture his trot for you; it is lovely.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thirsty Larry!

(Why yes, this IS the "Larry channel" now. Why do you ask?)

This morning after chores I took Larry to the arena for a little exercise. Rick needed to see him move on the lunge line to finish the pre-purchase evaluation; there was no place to lunge him where we picked him up yesterday. Even though I am only leasing Larry, it is good to make sure we don't have any known problems going in.

Anyway, after a few rounds Larry stopped - I thought to check out the shiny puddles. Then I realized he was drinking from them!

I had noticed this morning that Sammy (the "old man" from a recent post) was making snake-eyes at Larry whenever Larry went out into his paddock. They are in adjoining stalls and paddocks and share a stock tank, so I'm guessing that Sammy hasn't let "the new guy" drink. Poor Larry; we gave him a private water tub for now. Sammy has been at the bottom of the pecking order for awhile; I guess he saw a chance to elevate his status and jumped on it!

As you can see, Larry-boy is in poor condition (although he looks a bit worse for his "dry" night here). I won't be doing much under saddle until he builds up some protective back muscle and fat, which will let me enjoy watching his nice, big gaits from the end of the lunge line. I had my eye on a schooling show in March, but I think that would be pushing it. Better to take our time.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Meet Larry

We worked out a satisfactory lease with his owner, and brought Larry home this evening. Larry is an eight-year-old Danish WB/Arabian cross, and has competed through First Level dressage. But it's been awhile since he's had any regular work, and it shows.

So we have our work cut out for us, but I'm looking forward to the challenge of getting him in shape and bringing him back up to - and beyond - his previous level of training. We'll start with lunging in side reins to start building up his topline and belly muscles, and go from there. I plan to take him to some schooling shows this season, and hopefully on some horse-camping trips as well!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Still looking

I won't be picking up the possible lease on Sunday; we still haven't ironed out all the wrinkles in the lease agreement. Not that the owner is unreasonable; she has accepted the vast majority of our suggested changes. But my husband is an equine veterinarian, which means he knows all the worst-case scenarios and so will never be completely comfortable with the risks of leasing a horse. And truth be told, I would rather have a horse of my own if possible.

Rick thinks I should have kept Russell, but he doesn't understand that walking and jogging around the arena and infrequent easy trail rides, all while worrying that Russell might "break" again, is not the relationship I want to have with a horse. (And Russell never cared to interact much with humans on the ground.)

Enter a new possibility. My friend Laura is the Craigslist queen, and she has had her eye on a horse she found advertised there. We were chatting on the phone today about our horse-shopping woes, when she said, "YOU should go look at this mare!" Then she forwarded me the Craigslist ad link, and the owner's phone numbers. The mare, a rescued OTTB, looks nice and sounds nicer. I've talked to the owner on the phone, and she's sending me more photos and a couple videos. If I still like what I see, I'm hoping to go see her on Sunday. I know better than to get my hopes up, but it's too late....

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Right on, Ralph!

"Riding horses is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole, and once it has done so, he will have to accept that his life will be radically changed."
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, February 4, 2012