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 1, 2020

A 'recipe' worth keeping!

More 'firsts' to report, right after I show you the constellation of white hairs scattered across Stella's flank. I think they are fitting on a horse named after heavenly bodies! 
Andromeda's/Stella's 'stars'

Last week I got an email from Dressage Today with links to some Dressage Today Extra content, including one billed as "A Formula for Starting Youngsters." I clicked on the link and read the article titled "Recipe for a Riding Horse." I really liked what Bob Orton had to say, and mulled over implementing it with Stella. In the six months I've had her, we've made only a fraction of the progress Bob's program makes in three months, largely due to my 'feeling my way in the dark.' So I decided to implement Mr. Orton's recipe as best I can from where we are now forward, starting with his longeing schedule.

Since Stella already knows how to longe (although her willingness to canter on the longe has backslidden) and accepts saddle, bridle and bit, it was time to add longing reins. I hadn't heard of Vienna reins before, but their mechanics are clearly superior to the side reins I have so I immediately looked on eBay to find some. There were very few options and the price point for something I may only use for a little while was steep. I looked around our tack room to see if I could jury rig something but came up empty. So I fell back on side reins as better than nothing, and we got to work with something new added last Friday.
I used a halter in case things went sideways with side reins (she was fine)

I also used my regular saddle on her to see how it fit with her girth (👍🏻)
Stella worked up quite a sweat in our short session, which I attribute as much to brain-work as to the hot noonday sun. I decided to add a second new thing to her world – a water hose! Yes, Stella got her first shower – and handled it surprisingly well. 😁

We interrupt this training content for a necessary part of owning horses: HAY. Our local hay guy has been holding some first cutting orchardgrass for us, but needed it out of his barn in order to bring in alfalfa. So we got a load late Friday afternoon, another load Saturday night, and two more loads Sunday, almost filling our barn. (There's just enough room for a couple tons of second or third cutting orchardgrass for the Shetland sheep.) It's a good feeling to have a full barn! And while these small squares were wonderfully easy to handle after the 100+pound buggers Brian and I got late last fall, getting in hay always sets off my allergies, and I struggled through the rest of Sunday and all of Monday with a headache, itchy eyes, running nose, and general malaise. 
Another interruption of the topic at hand. That Oliver. He is absolutely besotted with Stella, and I don't mean in a herdbound way. He has always acted 'proud cut' around mares; Rick says it's because in some geldings the adrenal gland kicks up its production of testosterone. Well, his testosterone is RAGING. We do our best to keep him farther away from Stella than he was in the two photos below, and he is getting thin because of fretting over her.

Yesterday we got back to following the 'recipe.' The few-days break also helped me brainstorm a homegrown version of Vienna reins. I found a contraption in the tack room, the origins and purpose of which are lost to memory. But it works perfectly; there's an adjustable 'neck loop' of wide black webbing, and attached to that with a generous ring is an adjustable white elastic strap with a clip on the end to attach to the girth. Add the side reins clipped to the ring at the chest, run through the bit rings and back to the saddle, and voila – Vienna reins!

I attached the longe line to the inside bit ring like Mr. Orton does as well. When we were done, the sides of Stella's tongue were irritated which I felt bad about. Today I'm going to attach the longe line via my usual method, which is to run the longe line through the near bit ring, over the poll, and attach it to the far bit ring to equalize bit pressure; we'll see if that works better.

But other than the tongue irritation, I am very pleased with how things are going! Whether it's specifically from following this program or simply following a program, Stella seems more focused (because I am???) and is making rapid progress. The lack of a helper to transition to under-saddle work is still going to be a hindrance, but the foundation laid before that is going to be much more solid, and her physical development is going to be enhanced with the sliding side reins.