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

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

One-month anniversary

I realized this morning while exercising Stella that it was a month ago today that I brought her home. Thirty days; some horses make a lot of progress in 30 days' training. Stella? Not so much. She is still wary and flighty, not much more trusting than when she arrived. She is smart, but oh, so sensitive. I like those qualities and her energy; she is going to make an AWESOME dancing partner . . . some day . . . I think.

A lot of trainers would take a "desensitizing" approach with Stella; doing things like sacking her out. But I've come to believe that such treatment doesn't desensitize a horse, it overwhelms their senses until they shut out and shut down – or completely freak out and hurt themselves. I don't want a 'shut down' horse and I certainly don't want an injured basket case; I want a relationship in which she can trust that I am her 'safe place.' Then we can make progress, instead of just working on the same basics of catching, haltering, grooming, tacking, and lunging, all with the same reactivity she came with. Reactivity that would make more sense in an abused horse, not an unhandled one.... Hmmm; makes me think I should go spend some time with the owners of Lance's sire. They regularly gentle and train mustangs rounded up by the BLM; I'm sure I could learn some things.

Anyway, this week I'm managing to exercise ONE horse a day, shooting for the driest period in which to do it – and by 'driest' I mean when it's sprinkling instead of pouring. 😕 Yesterday was Lance's turn and yes, we got wet again.

He is still eating slowly and acting more compromised than usual. I'm wondering if he has ongoing internal problems from the hay that irritated his mouth so. Rick said he's seen four other horses suffering from hay like this, and one of them had ulcers in his throat....

Back to Stella; she is shedding furiously:

I can hardly wait to see her 'naked' so I can keep a better eye on her condition and development; if I devoted myself to grooming several hours a day I could probably have her down to her 'summer undies' by the end of the week! This is definitely the time of year to avoid wearing lip balm to the barn....

Here is a video of her walking on the lunge line this morning, nice and relaxed, with good overstride:

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Still quackin'

Since my last post we took a four day trip to WA for a high school basketball tournament. (We also put down a deposit on a puppy en route home; you can read all about that on my Boulderneigh blog.) It was dusk, raining and windy when we got home Sunday; even though the horses needed exercise I declined to brave the elements. I did curry and brush a very dirty, hairy, highly-charged filly, though; the friends who did chores said she was good for them so it must have been the wild weather.

That night's forecast predicted a lull early Monday before the monsoon beset us again, and sure enough, when I got up it was calm. So I scurried down to exercise Stella before going to work. Dodging rain + horse time + glorious morning sky = happy camper!
Since then, it has been doing mostly this:

Ugh! The constant rain is looking like it is going to take a break this afternoon, though, so hopefully I can get both horses exercised today. Lance and I can play 'pony express' and ride down the road to get the mail; Stella will have to splash-splash in the arena. Good thing she doesn't mind doing that in the least!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Oregon ducks

Now that we are 'enjoying' normal weather for this time of year, I keep an eye on the sky (and my weather app) and work horses when I can. This morning was dry with intermittent showers forecast for the rest of the day, so I headed to the barn.

I decided to work Stella first. It had been a few days since I have had the saddle on her and yesterday she got a nice long turn-out for exercise, so I decided to lunge her with tack. Oh my goodness; you'd have thought she had never seen a saddle pad and saddle before – or that she had had night terrors about them since the last time I used them on her! Even slower and quieter work than usual finally got her saddled and bridled, but not without moments of panic. Did it have to do with prepping her in her paddock instead of her stall? 🤷‍♀️

Lunging went well enough, even though she was still more skittish than usual. I let her motor around in both directions at her own speed for awhile, and then decided to work on making her walk so she wouldn't end up really winded and sweaty. By reeling her in while telling her to walk whenever she sped up, then letting her out as long as she maintained a walk, she caught on quickly. Even though I can't use side reins yet to help her use herself better, I think she is starting to use the muscles on the underside of her neck less and stretching more over her topline, showing some future potential.

By the time I was done lunging Stella, I was thoroughly chilled by the biting wind and headed back to the house. I figured I could get Lance out for a ride during one of the breaks between showers.

The breaks weren't as regular or as long as I expected. By mid-afternoon, I thought I saw the clouds lightening some so headed back to the barn while it was still showering in order to have Lance saddled and ready to go once the rain stopped. When it hadn't stopped by the time we were ready, I figured a few raindrops wouldn't make us melt (love my synthetic Wintec saddle!) and mounted up. My plan was to walk in the arena for 10 minutes and then go down the land and back and we did just that – in varying amounts of rain the whole time. 🙄

Lance was a (extremely low energy) trooper, and he got his needed exercise. But I need Alanna to teach me how to take better selfies!

Monday, January 20, 2020

All dressed up with nowhere to go (yet)

After trying on the smallest bridle I had* as well as Dinah's old bridle offered by Kate, it was clear that my pretty cinder-ella needed the equivalent of her own 'ballroom footwear."

I looked on eBay for cob-sized bridles, and although I've been able to find great deals there before, I struck out. So last week I stopped by the local chain farm store to see what they had, but there were no cob sizes in their limited English stock. I picked up the other things I needed, then checked out the bargain bins and rack. Lo and behold, there were two dressage bridles . . . but both were full-sized. One, however, was smaller than the other, and had narrow straps and a pretty silver-accented browband that would look lovely on my girl. The price? An unbelievable $19.95! I confirmed that I could return it if it didn't fit, and took it home to Stella. Eureka!!!

Here she is modeling her new 'ballroom finery,' including a new bit that I found at the same chain farm store but in a different town where they have a bigger selection of tack. The cavesson could use another hole punched in it for optimum fit, but it's fine for now.

We continue daily interaction and I work with her in some way very nearly daily. She is still very wary of lots of things – quick movements, unexpected sounds (like a sneeze), anything lifted up to or over her head. But slowly, surely, she is engaging with me more, bit by tiny bit.
After being turned out in the arena today, she played 'hard to get'

Last night I planned to exercise Lance after lunging Stella, but something was wrong. I had given him his wetted alfalfa pellets with supplements and meds but he was having trouble eating it, and looked dull. So I led him up to the house for  Rick to examine. Under his tongue Lance had wads of grass seedheads – and very red, inflamed mucous membranes. Poor guy; he was in PAIN! Rick manually cleaned out the junk, rinsed Lance's mouth with water, gave him an injection of dexamethasone – and ordered me to stop feeding "that %*%#$&* hay" to the horses. That  "%*%#$&* hay" is the last two tons we bought after the load Brian and I got. Rick didn't like the looks of it from the git-go, calling it cheatgrass, even though our farrier was sure it was bentgrass (showed me the seedheads to prove it)  and the horses have been eating it just fine. Oliver has also been showing signs that his mouth is bothering him, so he probably needs the same intervention. I haven't seen any indications that Stella has problems, maybe because she carefully picks at her hay instead of diving in and chowing down like the geldings. At $200/ton the hay wasn't cheap, but we were beggars and therefore not choosers; I'm not sure what we're going to do with the offending hay and if we'll have enough to get through until this summer without it.
Good thing we have a bitless option for times like these!

*I would have tried Breezy's bridle on Stella, but I couldn't find it anywhere . . . until this morning. I had brought it up to the house to clean and list on eBay, along with her halters. Breezy's bridle is brown so I would have eventually wanted a black bridle to show in anyway, but I decided to clean up Breezy's fancy Western show halter and try it on Miss Stella. I think it's worth keeping!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Gutted and going on

We just came through a very difficult weekend. It was clear that Jackson's decline was becoming incapacitating, and that the hardest decision was at hand. While I finished exercising both horses yesterday afternoon, my husband and son dug a grave; when I came up from the barn, I sat down on the floor with my dear dog, ever the "hand-holder," and said a heartbreaking good-bye.

Before and since, Stella has helped distract me. On Sunday, I saddled her and led her around for awhile, then turned her loose in the arena to play as she chose (except for rolling; I didn't give her the option of choosing that). On our warm-up walk, we stopped by Rick's vet truck and he dewormed her with ivermectin; now, with the addition of daily dewormer to her rations, she can get the benefit of all her feed.

Love her straight legs but that right hip almost always looks dropped. 🤔
In the arena she let loose, running and bucking. The last time I shared photos of her frolicking a reader wished for videos, so this time I have that, too:

When Stella finally consented to being caught, she was winded, hot and sweaty, so we walked around again to cool her out. In spite of basically being turned out her whole life, it's clear she's not really fit. That's why I ordered this book:

Almost three years ago I attended the author's classroom presentation and riding clinic (Lance and I were a demo pair) and was extremely impressed with her knowledge and methods. I think this book will help me develop Stella into a sound, strong, engaged partner.

This morning I worked at the office job and then ran errands. While at the farm store, I checked the clearance rack and found a dressage bridle for just under $20(!). Since it was returnable, I bought it home to try. Not only does it fit (I tried it on in 'pieces' – first just the cavesson, and then the headstall), it is very attractive on Stella's small head with its narrow pieces and sparkly silver-accented browband.

So this evening I occupied my hands and mind by treating the whole thing with some super-duper Leather Seal I bought at the FEI World Cup we attended right after the Jec Ballou workshop. Now I need to find a bit; the one I used for fitting is Kate's. She brought over a bridle and two bits of Dinah's for me to try on Stella; the bridle was too big and I don't think either bit is the best choice.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Born to be mild

My 'training journal' notebook arrived, but until I have time to transfer all my notes to paper, I'm going to keep posting daily progress here.

Yesterday Stella was very good for my farrier while he trimmed all four feet. They were overdue; he took at least a 1/2" off both back feet and improved her angles significantly (I should have taken a photo but didn't). Afterwards I turned her loose in the arena while I exercised Lance; all she did was walk around or stand, so he didn't mind her at all this time.

Today I saddled Stella, pulled up the girth with no fidgeting from her, and then led her to the arena and lunged her. Mind you, that's only the 4th time the saddle's been on her back, the 3rd time the girth was added, the 2nd time I've snugged up the girth, and the 1st time I've lunged her with a saddle. Her reaction? Nada. No bucking or running, no humping up; nothing. What a rock star!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Stella Sprat and her 'husband'

Yesterday I was able to ride my chunky mustang, and then turned Stella loose in the arena to get some exercise. She really enjoyed herself, running and bucking and even going over the cavaletti on her own volition, and made it clear that she wasn't ready to quit and be led back to her stall for quite some time. (In the end, though, she did her first recall outside her stall. 😍)

After her playtime, I saddled her and led her around the arena. Again, she was uneasy about the tightening girth, but once it was fastened she was good as gold.

The differences between my two horses are particularly striking when worked with in quick succession like that. Lance is a heavy horse for his height (1250# when he was physically fit and in regular training, likely heavier now) and Stella is a wasp-waisted lightweight for her height (which I think, after trying to measure her myself last night, might be a bit more than I was told). She is very sensitive and light on her feet; Lance has great inertia, whether standing still or moving. Lance is highly food-motivated; Stella is NOT. In fact, her indifferent attitude toward food has had me wondering how I'm going to get any weight (preferably muscle, not fat) on her if she won't finish her rations. She has been cleaning up her alfalfa and rice bran pellets eventually, but never eats all her hay – until yesterday. When I did evening chores last night, she met me at the stall door (she's usually out in her paddock) and her feeder was EMPTY! Since then, she's been eating all the hay I give her before the next feeding, and I'm hopeful that this is her new normal – even if the nursery rhyme no longer fits. 😉

Monday, January 6, 2020

Lots more baby steps

In addition to spending time just getting to know her, cleaning her stall and feeding her, Stella and I continue to take baby steps forward every day. I've ordered a 5"x7" notebook with her photo on it in which to document our journey, but until that comes, I will keep recording our daily progress here.

On January 2, I tied her in her stall and slipped a saddle pad on her back, and then carefully added my ancient, lightweight all-purpose Wintec saddle sans stirrups and girth.

She was great with being tied and accepting of having items placed carefully on her back; I couldn't have been more pleased. I decided that the next day's baby step would be to add a girth.

Total Saddle Fit makes an awesome Shoulder Relief girth that Lance appreciates, and with Stella's well laid-back shoulder, I knew it would help ensure her comfort, too. The company only has one sale a year which happened to occur right after I looked at Stella the first time, so I had to act 'impulsively' to get the discount. I made my best guess on size and figured I could exchange it if it was the wrong size, or return it if she didn't end up becoming mine. When I opened the package on January 3 to try it on her, the paperwork stated that all returns and exchanges had to be made within 30 days of receipt, and the 3rd was exactly 30 days from when I received it! I took it to the tack room and found that it was very close to the same length as a straight girth I have, so I used the straight girth to check sizing (Stella was too muddy and sweaty from playing in the pasture to try on "new clothes").

Stella wasn't at all sure about the feeling of the girth around her middle, so I didn't fasten it snugly. But the size I ordered should work by the time she is ready for a rider. In the meantime, I think it will hold the saddle in place well enough for her to get used to tack while doing groundwork; yay!

On January 4, I started recall training. I have been putting a horse cookie in her feeder along with her alfalfa and rice bran pellets every day to see if she would develop a taste for them, and they have disappeared. Now that I had something she might consider a reward, I cued her by thumping my chest with my fist (an audible and visual cue), then extending my fist and 'nodding' it (visual cue and curiosity-provoker). At first I stood close enough that she only had to stretch out her nose a little bit to gently touch my extended fist. When she did I said "X" and opened my hand to reveal a horse cookie for her, which she took as gently as a whisper. I took a step away and repeated the process; she caught on right away. She's bright, just like her name!

Saturday night it turned rainy and windy and that continued through Sunday and most of today. So on Sunday we stayed under cover and had a nice, long grooming session. The wind rattling the barn seemed to rattle her, so I tied Stella up to keep her from moving nervously in and out of her stall. Once tied she relaxed and seemed to enjoy my ministrations; I went over her from head to tail.

By the time I got home from work and picking up Brian this afternoon, the rain had stopped so I headed out to exercise both my horses. First I lunged Lance, and then Stella. She had been introduced to the concept by her breeder but still wasn't confident about what we were doing. But as I said, she's bright and made excellent progress!

Between the weather and other things demanding my attention, I haven't had the opportunity to get astride my mustang, and I need to keep my riding muscles in shape. Maybe we can dodge the raindrops tomorrow....