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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ironing out the wrinkles

Bentley got a week off while we went to Spokane to see my dad, but I was back out yesterday to see him. It was a beautiful day; I stopped to take this photo on my way to his home:
I thought it would be nice to groom his itchy, hairy self outside in the sunshine, so I tied Bentley to a post in his paddock. But when I headed into the barn to get the rubber curry and brush he tried to exit stage left, and seemed offended to find himself unable to rejoin his buddies in the pasture. I got the tools and started grooming even though he was being a bit of a dingbat, but that ended when he got aggravated and let fly with both barrels in my general direction. I took the naughty boy in the stall to finish prepping, and we had an uneventful lunging session followed by under saddle cool-out.

This afternoon when I got there, I called Bentley over to the fence for a treat. His owner came out and we chatted for quite awhile, so by the time I was ready to prep, the chore girl was serving supper. Bentley wanted to come into his stall to eat but didn't want to be caught. He'd come to me for a treat, but wouldn't let me halter him. Skipping any work today crossed my mind very briefly, but after yesterday's attitude, I decided today's battle of the wills was one I must win.

Bentley in the neighboring paddock; cute lower lip
I ended up shutting his pasture mates in their stalls, because Bentley thought maybe he could just go in and eat their dinners instead of dealing with me to get his; ha. Nope; the only way to get dinner was to cooperate with me, which he eventually agreed to. I tied him where he could reach his concentrates and started currying down one side. But when I went to the other side, I got pinned ears and other threatening body language. Uh, NO; not acceptable. I moved him away from his dinner, tied him much shorter, and showed him a dressage whip – never used it on him, just showed it to him and laid it on the floor – and he straightened right up.

By that point I'd burned a lot of daylight, so I just rode him around the arena at the walk for a bit, brushed him off, and left him to his supper so I could go home and fix ours. It will be interesting to see if the Bentley the Brat shows up again on Sunday, or if I've convinced him that that persona isn't going to work with me.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

♫ Getting to know you... ♫

I visited Bentley Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, making progress in our relationship with each visit, as well as in his refresher training and fitness.

Having never really seen him move, I decided to put Bentley on the lunge line Sunday. He tore around, striking out with his front feet, kicking up with his back feet, generally shaped like a "U" – not surprising given his up-headed, short-coupled build. It didn't take long for him to work up a sweat, which we cooled off and dried out with a walk under saddle.

To encourage stretching over the topline, lifting the back, and using belly muscles instead of under-neck muscles, I took my side reins with me on Tuesday. I added them after lunging Bentley without them first, and he immediately reacted with some alarm. So I loosened them as much as was safe (didn't want him to get an extravagant front leg over one) until he settled down before taking up some slack. What a difference they made in his way of going; I saw the glimmer of a dressage horse in there! I took some photos and saved only the most flattering ones without and with side reins, so they don't give you an honest view of how inverted he tends to move without them. Oh – and he rarely walks without side reins....

I love that he's licking in this photo!

When I arrived on Wednesday, he came into his stall and watched me in the barn for a bit (I had to change), then went cantering off into the pasture. It was starting to rain so I told him I wasn't going to chase him around the pasture; he had to come to me – and he did. There's nothing like a willing partner to make you feel good. 😊   I followed the same routine of lunging first without, then with, side reins, and he did very well. It is clearly more tiring for him to work in a proper frame than in a "U" shape, and he struggles more going right than going left. When I mounted for our cool-out walk,  I even asked for a wee bit of trot for the first time. There won't be much of that, though, until he develops more of the muscle strength the newly reinforced way of going requires. Still, I was feeling pretty great about his progress when I left yesterday!

The arena footing is sand, and gets very dusty when we do anything other than walk. There is a sprinkler system but I haven't had a chance to ask the owner if it works and can be utilized. He was there briefly only on Sunday – and interestingly enough asked if Bentley had "bucked or anything" – a strange question from someone who told me Bentley has never bucked!

Oh – and I have learned that Bentley cribs. I've only seen him do it in one spot, only after he's worked, and his front teeth aren't worn, so I don't think he's a dedicated cribber, but it was still disappointing to see. Maybe it's supposed to keep me from getting too attached to him. 😉

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Another day, another date

Since Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday are generally my most flexible days, I headed up to visit Bentley again today. His paddock gate was the only one of the three open to the pasture, but he came in and stood at the stall door, watching me put down my helmet, gather up the grooming supplies, and  come in to see him. No hint of avoidance; I was pleased.

I groomed him and put the saddle on, but when I produced the bridle he wasn't thrilled to see it. So I led him around the arena with halter and lead rope for a bit; when I presented the bridle again he was fine with it. I mounted and rode at the walk for 30 minutes, asking him questions about bend, moving laterally off either leg, halting, stretching. Mostly I'm interested in being able to get and maintain a conversation through the reins; going faster than a walk before that becomes more reliable seems ill-advised, IMO.

Walking around the arena will soon get boring, though, and won't do much to improve his fitness. I took a photo today to document the fat deposits on either side of his tail so I can look back and hopefully see progress.

On Sunday when I have more time, I'm going to try lunging him, both to increase activity and to get some idea of this guy's gaits.

After we were done and Bentley was turned back out, I took some photos of him in the sunshine. He came my direction to get a drink, so I stepped through the gate and asked him to come to me one last time. He did!

In Lance "news," my mustang man got a good grooming this morning, and this evening Rick built and installed a new timer system for the hay steamer. Until now, I've had to set a timer on my iPhone when I started the steamer, then go down an hour later to unplug the steamer, then wait at least 20 minutes for the hay to cool so I could feed. Since there isn't enough time in the morning for that process, I have to do it twice in the afternoon/evening; once for their supper hay, and again for their next morning's breakfast hay. Not only is that a lot of running back and forth to the barn (hey, I feed my FitBit!), it also limits our afternoon/evening freedom.

With this new timer set-up, the steamer shuts itself off. Woot!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Out of left field

When last I posted here, I was quietly contemplating acquiring a weanling Morgan filly, and had talked to my friend about starting her Percheron mare. Rick was dragging his feet about Door #2 (he doesn't even know about Door #1; no point in poking the dragon when I have my own reservations) when he came home Friday and told me he may have found a horse for me to ride. What???

He had gone out to a former client's place on an emergency. After taking care of the patient, Rick got to chatting with the owner, the widower of Rick's former client. Her favorite horse has been mostly idle for the last three years, and the husband really wanted to see him used by someone. Rick suggested me. Neither one of us knew exactly what the husband had in mind, but figured it was worth checking out.

We set a date, and today I drove over to meet Bentley, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding. It felt like a cross between a blind date and stepping out on my (mustang) man. Poor Lance really wants to DO something, but right now he's still lame and on stall rest – and my riding muscles are idle. When you get sidelined at my age (closer to 60 than 50), it's much harder to get back in the game and there's a greater risk of injury, so staying in the saddle is essential to being able to stay in the saddle. Anyway....

Our introduction took awhile. When the owner went to catch Bentley, he said he'd rather stay out in the rain, thankyouverymuch. Bringing in his two retired companions and bribing with grain didn't work. The owner had told Rick that Bentley prefers women, so armed with a pocketful of treats, experience, and the combined wisdom of Anna Blake and Terry Golson, I headed out into the rain – away from Bentley. I smoothed the gravel with my toe; I talked to him. Pretty soon he came over to check me out and eat some cookies.

When I showed him the halter, he said "No, thanks," and walked away. I got more treats and meandered around the pasture until he came up to me again. When I moved away, he followed me, and eventually said he was okay with being haltered and led inside.

I wasn't sure we'd align our spines today, but after grooming him thoroughly and checking out the fit of his two saddles, I decided to tack him up, take him into the indoor arena, and see what happened. By that point the owner had had to leave, so it was just me (with a helmet and iPhone) and Bentley with the rain drumming on the arena roof; I didn't want to be foolish. After leading him around awhile I decided to ask him how he felt about me on the mounting block; there was some reticence but we worked through that and were able to continue our walk with me astride.

When I led him back to his stall, he nickered quietly both times I came out the tack room after putting stuff away, so I think I made a decent first impression. ;-)

Right now Bentley's owner is just looking for someone to come over and ride on a regular basis. Since Bentley was his late wife's favorite horse, I don't know that the man is wanting to part with him. I told him I could try for three days a week, and he seemed happy with that. After three years off, Bentley is fat, out of condition and out of practice as a dancing partner; it will take months to turn that around. I could ride him more often if he were here since I wouldn't have an hour+ round trip; maybe moving him here will be an option in the future. All I know for now is that I will be more stepping out on more dates.

Friday, March 9, 2018

White flag, or war horse?

So, that mild intermittent lameness Lance was exhibiting? It blew up to a persistent hobble this Tuesday. We had gone for a mosey on Sunday. Monday both Lance and Ollie were acting frisky in their stalls/paddocks, so I decided a romp in the arena was in order. It was too late in the day for good light, so all I got was this,
but they ran and bucked and rolled and had a jolly good time.

Tuesday I went down to ride, and Lance was off again on that right front – more so than ever before. Wednesday morning Brian came up from doing chores and commented that Lance was lame; if the teenager notices, you know it must be obvious! So that night, Rick set about diagnosing the problem.

First he blocked the foot, then the fetlock, with no improvement. (Interesting that Lance had noticeable digital pulses in both front feet, although he wasn't tender to hoof testers.) So he got out the ultrasound machine 

and found a torn suspensory at the medial head. REALLY? How does a horse doing such low-stress exercise DO that? (And no, it didn't happen during turnout the day before.)

Rick treated the injury that night with shockwave (poor Lance was even more lame the next morning, which he says sometimes happens); now we wait two weeks to see how it looks then.

I feel that I'm being told – loudly and repeatedly with both Lance and Russell before him – to just GIVE UP, to wave the white flag and stop riding. But mama didn't raise a quitter (and even though my mom is afraid of horses, she knows how much I love them, how I live to train and ride, and supports me fully). So a thought that I've had for several months was brought forth, dusted off, and proposed. My dear friend Debbie has been saving her pennies to get Baby Girl, her Percheron mare, started by someone.
I wasn't sure I had the time to commit to a month or two of training so haven't offered, but now I have. Debbie is excited about the possibility, and would even be willing (nay, eager) to swap out Ollie*. That way her recently retired Thoroughbred mare would have company at her house, and we wouldn't have increased chores or boarding expenses at our house. This morning I talked to Rick about it; now the ball is in his court and I must be patient while he ponders.

*Okay; that's not quite accurate. I actually talked to Debbie about putting the little cutie pictured below at her house, not Oliver, but that's all I'm going to say about that for now!