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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Come a little bit closer....

In a surprise move, Lance is now ten miles away instead of 50! Happy New Year to me! I should be able to get over to walk him every day while finishing up with Horton. Shoot, I might even be able to properly welcome the new year on him!

Rick had suggested we run over to Lincoln City this weekend so I could see Lance and Brian could play with his friend. When I called Lance's breeder yesterday to see if she and her daughter would be at the barn, she told me she hadn't gotten Lance out at all last week. He had been so fresh in his stall that she didn't think she could handle him; she was going to recruit her trainer, who was there yesterday giving lessons, to help her. She said if we came today he would at least get walked two days in a row; she has taken a second job and would not be able to get him out again the rest of the week. That was no good; that was no good at all. But what to do? There's no room at the inn here until Horton leaves. Still, it made sense to pick up Lance while we were there today instead of driving out again next Sunday, so last night, Rick and I put our heads together. Rick thought to call a client of his with a small boarding stable in the area, and she said she could make room for him short-term. I'm a happy girl!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Drunk with sunshine

What glorious weather we are having – such a nice break from dodging raindrops!

I rode Horton this afternoon. He was sticky and snotty for quite a long time, but I finally managed to get him past it and ended with some very nice canter work. He might have been protesting the flash attachment (I added it back to the bridle at Julie's suggestion), even though it was very loose – or he could have just been having one of those days. Interestingly, he pooped under saddle today....

Rick and Brian started stripping stalls while I rode, so when I was done with Horton they turned Ollie and Breezy out. Horse "TV" for Horton!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Don't do what comes naturally!

It was another dry winter day in the Willamette Valley, so of course I rode this morning! It was great to review the things Julie had Sylvia and me work on in our lessons before they flew from my middle-aged mind.

Some of what I have been doing with Horton is spot-on, like circling immediately when he braces or gets bratty. But I also have to remember to go right back to being calm and encouraging after a correction, giving him the chance to take the bit forward and down softly, so he can lift his back and swing in the walk and trot, and flatten out in the canter (he tends to brace and "climb"). This means pushing my hands forward (Jane Savoie's "short reins, long arms") while keeping my body upright and core strong. That latter point was a particular challenge for Sylvia, who has more history with Horton – including an involuntary dismount herself, and witnessing that of others. Interesting, isn't it, that when we are most insecure, our self-preservation instinct draws us into the most vulnerable position – collapsing our mid-section and leaning forward – while gripping the reins with unyielding contact?

Both of us needed reminding to keep our hands on either side of Horton's withers. As Julie noted, he is a workout for the rider's left leg because he tends to fall left. And while it is natural to try to "help" with the left hand, crossing the withers with the left hand actually has the opposite effect. I was thinking of that while riding this morning. "Crossing the centerline with my left hand means I need more leg – but I'm using my left leg as much as possible. Crossing the centerline with my left hand has the opposite effect – so what would have the desired effect? An opening hand?" BINGO! Horton moved over to the right immediately!

Another aid for keeping Horton on the rider's chosen track is "the eye in your bellybutton." Imagine that you have an eyeball in your bellybutton. Point that eye in the direction you want to go and the horse will follow!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

YeeHaw, Horton!

Horton is not usually a big "cavorter." But when I turned him loose in the arena before our lesson with Julie today, he played quite a bit. I captured just a bit of it –

– before tacking him up and lunging him. He was definitely improved over last week, although he did try a bit of 'tude here and there. Nothing a verbal reprimand and a small circle couldn't fix, though.

Our pulling truck is in the shop, so Rick hauled Horton and me to Newberg with his vet truck. He unhitched the trailer and took care of a patient while I rode, then came back and picked me up. Horton and the trailer, however, are spending the night at Suzi's to ensure that Horton is there at the appointed time tomorrow morning for Sylvia's lesson. I'll drive over in my car early enough to tack Horton up and lunge him first. Then Rick will pick us up as soon as he can after the lesson ends and bring us home.

Last Thursday, Rick injected Horton's hip again, focusing that time on the S/I joints (the first injections focused more on the lumbar/sacral joints). To best evaluate any changes this might make in Horton's gaits and/or behavior, it was decided I should continue riding him for at least two weeks following the injection. The other benefit in waiting to take Horton to Sylvia's barn is that I will be able to ride him there the first time or two for Sylvia. If he went home tomorrow, I wouldn't be able to do that. So the plan now is to take Horton "home" on January 6, and possibly pick up Lance that day as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy to have made it there and back

I pulled out this morning in a driving rain mixed with wet flakes of snow after Rick rolled my truck down the hill to start it. The batteries (two; it's a diesel) were dead, so I knew that after my lesson with Julie I would be dependent on a jump start or Rick showing up with two new batteries. (It was the latter, so Merry Christmas to me, I guess!) Unfortunately, the truck needs some other work, so it may not be available next week for the next two lessons. Hopefully Rick will be free to haul us there with his big vet truck, which is supposed to be out of the shop by then. We're playing musical chairs with vehicles these days.

Anyway, Horton and I didn't blow away or melt, and I quickly forgot the weather once I was in the saddle and focused on making improvements under Julie's direction. Horton was a good boy in spite of limited schooling this week and the new environment today. We worked on keeping him soft and long through his neck and relaxed through his back, circling whenever he braced and lifted his head. Julie noted that he didn't want to load his left hind leg as much as his right, which fits with what Rick saw when he ultrasounded Horton's pelvis. We ended with some really good stretch work at the trot.

I'm looking forward building on today's work next week, and watching Sylvia have a good ride on Horton, too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bah humbug!

Okay, now the weather is seriously messing with my plans. If the forecast for snow continuing through Wednesday and Thursday is correct, I won't be hauling Horton down the hill for our first lesson this week. :-/

My son thinks the snow is GREAT.

Horton think my son is SCARY.

I think the timing of all this STINKS!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wait-a-minute weather

The weather forecast this week is rather abysmal for outdoor riding, but there's always a chance for a break in the weather to coincide with a break in my schedule – and when they occur I know I have to act!

This morning while I did chores it was raining, but by the time I finished a pale winter sun was peeking through the clouds. I threw the lunging surcingle and bridle on Horton and hurried to the Land of Many Lakes, otherwise known as our puddle-filled little outdoor sand arena, to exercise the boy. Before long the clouds closed up and soon Horton was adorned (quite festively, I might add) with teeny little snowballs with a name that auto-spell-check won't let me type – which changed to cold raindrops. By the time I finished with our short lungeing session, we were both quite wet.

Today's notes:
1) No poop.
2) No evasive movement during back lift rump tucks.
3) No mysterious "goosing" incidents.

The clinician I've used for Russell and Larry is in town for the holidays, so I'm setting up three dates with her – two for Horton and me, one for Horton and his owner. After the last ride, I plan to haul Horton back to Sylvia's barn. Then I'll be off to Lincoln City to pick up my Lancelot!

May both Sylvia and I be blessed with long, happy, safe and sound relationships with our respective dancing partners. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Same song, second Sunday

Today it is RAW outside for NW Oregon – cold, wet, windy. Yesterday there were snowflakes among the raindrops! But it was a "must exercise Horton" day since he got Friday and Saturday off, so I lunged him in surcingle and sidereins.

I should have ridden him Friday; it was mostly dry that day and would have followed on the heels of a good ride on Thursday. But after reading something cryptic about Connecticut on someone's blog, I turned to the news, which left me stunned and stumbling through my indoor to-do list while watching updates on TV.

Anyway, back to today. I wondered if Horton might be a little stiff or sore, because I'm pretty sure he got cast in his stall Friday night. Rick heard banging in the barn in the wee hours and went down to check it out. He didn't find anything amiss then, but the next morning while picking stalls I noticed packed bedding right next to one of Horton's stall walls, vertical scrapes on the upper half of that wall – and boards loosened at the end. And normally neat Horton had wet bedding across the top of his back (although no scrapes or swellings). But he moved out fine and worked normally for me . . . to the left. When I asked for canter to the right, he acted once again like something goosed or bit him, tucking his tail and rump, kicking out with his right hind, and bucking as is to rid himself of something. Once he stumbled badly in the hind end doing this and I thought he was going to fall, but he caught himself. Eventually he worked out of whatever it is that bothered him, but I'd sure like to know what it is!

Back in his stall, I tickled his tummy and got a good back lift. But when I asked him to tuck his rump, he did it while stepping sideways to avoid more of the same. He also pooped once while I was getting him ready today. Filing it all away as part of the puzzle....

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Today's haul

Tummy and rump tickles still effective. Because I had limited time, I just got on and rode this morning. Horton was a little sticky trotting left, never getting consistently soft and forward, so I didn't ask for canter. Reinbacks are definitely straighter. And Horton gave me another piece of the puzzle. Actually he gave it to me yesterday as well, but confirmed it today.

Horton is a pooper. I think he has pooped every single time I have worked with him, sometimes two or three times – while I'm grooming or tacking him up, while I'm leading him out to the arena, while I'm working him on the lunge line or under saddle. Yesterday he didn't poop once while I was around. I thought maybe it was a fluke; maybe he had pooped just before I started grooming him. But he didn't poop again today, so this is definitely something the hunter-gatherer in me noted. I think it indicates that he's not stressing as much over – what? anticipated discomfort? At any rate, I think it's positive.

Off to Lincoln City to walk Lance!

Monday, December 10, 2012


That's what I am; always hunting for clues and gathering information on Horton, trying to figure out what makes him tick/tock/balk. Each bit of data adds to the picture, even if it isn't readily apparent how.

Today's pieces of Horton's puzzle:

1) I tried the "butt tickle" (see yesterday's comments) for the first time since his injections. He tucked his rump, lifted his back – and DIDN'T sashay side to side to avoid a repeat tickle! Tummy tickles were still effective, too.

2) He was very mellow – almost lazy – on the lunge line. He might have worn himself out good yesterday. Or . . . maybe he's sore from using his muscles differently now that he's not falling to the left. Or both.

3) Everything was normal when he was tracking left on the lunge line. But going right at the canter, he repeated a weird little behavior from yesterday. All of a sudden he would clamp his tail and tuck his rump – looking for all the world like someone just goosed him, and he was not at all happy about it! Yesterday he bucked sometimes when this happened; today he just looked on the verge of bucking. I checked his tail both yesterday and today to make sure nothing was caught in it; nada.

4) He continues to carry himself ever straighter on the circle under saddle, and shoulder-in on the circle and down the long side of the arena seemed easier for him than in the past.

5) I contemplated not cantering him to the right under saddle because of #3, but things progressed well and I ended up getting nice canter work both directions. He did pick up the counter canter the first time I asked for the right lead, though – and wasn't inclined to come back to the trot.

6) Oh, and he's backing straighter now, too!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On my feet, not my seat

Twas a horse-filled day, but my riding muscles went unused. I got plenty of exercise, though!

It started with Horton this morning. As usual, I started with lunging to make sure he was both obedient and forward. I don't know if it was the brisk, windy weather, the barn cat racing across the arena, Horton feeling his oats or not feeling his hip, but after a working nicely awhile he spooked, exploded, then raced around on the end of the lunge line.

That wasn't the end of it, either. He stayed on the muscle, occasionally clamping his tail, tucking his butt, then bucking again. I decided that keeping my feet on the ground was the sensible thing to do! At the very end, he did settle down for a cool-out walk.
One interesting development worth noting. After tacking up Horton today, on a whim I tickled his tummy to see what he'd do. Larry would arch his back like a cat when I did this, the most reaction I've ever gotten out of any horse. But Horton has never lifted his back in response to tummy tickles – until today. I checked again after I untacked him, and he responded modestly again. I can't help but wonder if this new responsiveness is a result of the injections....

Next, I headed toward the coast to exercise Lance. I took my saddle and bridle just in case, but when I found myself at his barn all alone, again I decided that staying grounded was the prudent choice. So I put on his leather halter – no stud chain – and spent 40 minutes hand-walking him while working on R.E.S.P.E.C.T. I made it clear that he had to stop when I stopped, walk when I walked, back up when I backed up, and keep his mouth off the lead rope – and me. He's a smart boy, and a quick study.

Finally, we went caroling with a group from our church this evening. One of Rick's clients brought a team of Shires and a wagon to carry most of the carolers and we wound our way through the neighborhood near our church. I left the straw bales for those who needed them and used my legs, voice and camera. It was very enjoyable!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

No fluke

Yesterday was not a fluke. I rode Horton again this morning, and not only did he stay off my inside leg tracking left, he did much less falling out tracking right than yesterday. I think his reinbacks are straighter, too. Hip-hip, hurray!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Free teleseminar!

I am on Jane Savoie's email list and enjoy the "Motivation by Moshi" nuggets of wisdom she sends out regularly. Last week she advertised a free teleseminar (via phone or web), so I signed up for it. I've been thinking about what I can do with Lance at the walk when I bring him home, and figured Ms. Savoie would have some helpful tips.

The teleseminar was yesterday at noon. I dialed in while driving back from working with Lance, and for the next hour and a half got a fantastic refresher course on training fundamentals! I took notes as best I could while driving and running errands, and hope to find time to listen to it again (and complete my notes!) while it is still available on the web (through Friday, here). Nothing earth-shattering or revolutionary, just good, solid fundamentals communicated clearly and logically – which is really all any of us need!

Encouraged and inspired, I utilized what I heard while riding Horton this morning. I'm sure my increased awareness of my own position helped, but there was more. First of all, there was only one brief moment of resistance when I picked up the reins. Then, after I had been warming up at the trot for awhile, I realized he wasn't falling in when tracking left – at all! That was a first, and my entire left side was thankful for the break.

The other day Rick mentioned that he'd talked to a colleague there at the conference who has done a lot of pelvic injections. That vet said to give it 10 days to two weeks before expecting to see improvement. I'm wondering if, at eight days out, we're starting to get some of that improvement!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My beautiful brat

Yes, I'm talking about YOU, Lancelot!
 I drove over to Lincoln City this morning to walk Lance. His breeder and I were shooting for four days of walking in a row with a mind to try turning him loose in the indoor arena at the end of it. But last night I fretted to Rick on the phone (he's in Anaheim attending the American Association of Equine Practitioners convention) about the risk of re-injury, and he agreed that it would be better to err on the side of caution. Still, I hadn't ruled out the possibility of letting him loose to roll at the end of his walk....

Being the mellow boy he usually is, I planned on doing most of Lance's walk under saddle. So I brushed him off and proceeded to tack him up. Talk about trying to "hit" a moving target! Buckling the flash attachment was particularly challenging. Lance is a very busy, mouthy kid, and he did NOT want me limiting his options!
If I can get him to stop eating the reins...
...he makes a beautiful subject!
Being a sensible person, I headed into the arena to hand-walk Lance for a bit before mounting. He proceeded to explode into airs above the ground nine different times, leaping, bucking, kicking out behind, rearing, and assorted combinations of all of the above. Part of it was pent-up energy, but I do believe he was throwing tantrums over being cinched and buckled from the git-go. I managed to hang onto the reins and stay out of harm's way, and eventually he settled down and just walked. Well, I shouldn't say he just walked; once the hissy-fits ended, the mouthiness increased. I finally got on in self-defense (and to preserve my reins) – and then could hardly get the lazy thing to move at all! But you can be sure all thoughts of turning him loose for awhile were long gone....

I'm going to try to make it out to walk him again next Sunday and Tuesday. Val will hopefully be able to walk him this Wednesday and Friday, but then she will be unavailable until the following Wednesday. I don't want Lance to self-combust in his stall – or hurt her next week.

Next up, my fantastic, free refresher on fundamentals!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pincushion update

After a temporary disruption in his training schedule due to Thanksgiving, followed by the injections, Horton is back to work. As directed by Rick, I lunged Horton lightly Wednesday, the day after he was injected. I didn't have a chance to do anything with him Thursday; Friday I lunged him again and then rode a bit. When tracking left, I could not get him off my inside leg and he was very resistant to going round and forward. I didn't get after him, since Rick said he could still be sore. But he also said that by today, any residual soreness should be gone and I could ride him with full expectations.

Fortunately, today dawned dry so that I could ride. I lunged Horton first to get him thinking forward, then mounted. Again, he balked at going left and getting off my inside leg on a 20m circle, so we did shoulder-in down the long sides of the arena instead. He did the lateral work equally well both directions, which told me his difficulty wasn't so much a physical issue as a mental one. So I worked through it with lots of encouragement and persistence until his trot quality to the left more closely mirrored the nice connection and energy he gave me tracking right. Once it did, he started thinking about offering canter, instead of bracing whenever he thought I might ask for canter. But he waited until I finally did ask, picked it up nicely, and maintained it until I asked for the trot again. I was very pleased with him!

It looks like I should be able to find a dry window during which to work him tomorrow before another soaker moves in Monday night and Tuesday. I look forward to building on today's good work.