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

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Three in a row

Since my last post, I have made some tack adjustments for various reasons. After our trip to the fairgrounds I took a look at Stella's bit, and decided it was finished. There seems to be more damage, and I don't want to risk it hurting her. I've been riding her in the German hackamore at home anyway, so switched back to that. But she started shaking her head with irritation during our next ride. I suspected that Breezy's too-small browband was pinching her ear, so I switched the German hackamore over to a biothane bridle I picked up at a local farm store and that fixed the issue. As for the bit, Suzan thinks the double-jointed 'lozenge' snaffle I got for her will work fine for showing; she recommends the Nathe for long-lining but we haven't been doing that.

What won't work for showing is the ancient Wintec saddle I've been using on Stella. So I decided I'd better start riding her in the newer Wintec saddle I use on Lance; their measurements indicate they need the same size gullet, after all. But after two rides it was quite clear to me that she was not as happy or comfortable with the 'upgrade;' I switched back and she's been fine.

Actually, she's been more than fine. The last three rides I've had on her have been consistently excellent. She has walked without jigging, accepted my aids, and the circles of our figure eights have been round. It's like she's graduated from kindergarten! I don't want to mess with success to shoehorn her into show-appropriate tack, so I think that pretty much settles the question of next month's show. That's okay; there will be more shows later in the year, and we will be more ready. In the meantime, we'll enjoy other adventures! Today, our driveway; this summer, hopefully Perrydale Trails and the beach. (We haven't gone to the fairgrounds again because Lisa's truck broke down.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Steps towards decision-making

Compared to a lot of people, I came to showing horses relatively late. It was not part of my childhood or teens; I had barely dipped my toe into any kind of equine competition before I turned 30. But after I became a student of dressage, I figured out that showing could be an effective evaluation tool. So I would set goals for training and showing, then work to achieve them, rather than using competitions as a showcase for what my horse and I had already mastered. And that approach mostly worked for me, as I forged ahead through the levels year after year, earning a fair number of ribbons and USDF All-Breed awards along the way.

So once I got the idea of showing Stella next month at the Oregon Morgan Classic, I turned my attention to what would need to happen for that to be possible. I'm not interested in getting hurt, making Stella look bad by overfacing her, or embarrassing myself, so mucho progress would have to be make in the next four weeks. And I'd have to be confident enough in our progress by June 1 to enter.

Step 1: Much more exposure to life outside our arena. I started by riding Stella out of our arena and up and down the driveway, and texted Lisa about meeting up at the county fairgrounds. That meet-up happened this morning. I got there first, so tacked up Stella and led her around the grounds, the warm-up arena, and the big indoor arena.

By the time Lisa arrived with three horses and two friends, we were ready to mount up and give it a whirl. Fortunately, there wasn't much whirling! Stella was very nervous and tense about the new environment and the other horses' activities, but didn't lose her mind. Lisa snapped one photo and got a couple of short video clips, one of just Stella and the other showing two of the other three horses.
The buckskin in the foreground is Lance's half-sister; the bay loping around the perimeter is Lance's sire. The third horse was a young, green mustang prone to bolting; fortunately, he didn't do that today. The photo isn't great, but I do like my good leg position. I am very conscious of the need to have a secure seat on my little firecracker! (You might also notice that I'm riding her in a bit for a 'bit' more security.) Oh, and Stella was actually ridden enough to sweat a little!

Step 2? First I think there needs to be a whole lot more of Step 1. Lisa offered to meet us at the fairgrounds once a week leading up to the show, so we'll take her up on that. She's also going to the beach to ride tomorrow, but it doesn't sound like the right group for us to join. (Refer to above regarding lack of desire to get hurt or overface Stella.) In spite of Lisa's enthusiasm about my idea of showing Stella next month, today made me think it'll be too much, too soon. But I'll give us the two weeks until entries are due to decide.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Don't faint!

Two posts in two days! What has gotten into me? Well, Stella and I had a 'first' today, and I decided to just document it.

I wanted to get a 'state of the union' on Stella's canter under direction before thinking about adding a third gait to our under-saddle repertoire. She canters at liberty just fine, but turns into a whirling dervish on the lunge line. I don't think I've lunged her since beginning lessons with Lisa last August, so wondered if things had changed.

Well, no; no, they haven't. My girl is still a whirling dervish on the lunge line. But I know her much better now than the last time I lunged her, so I kept quietly working with her until she walked on command in both directions. By that time she was sweaty and winded, so I got on to walk her around and cool her out. I left the arena gate open, and after a bit I directed her out of the arena and up the driveway – our first solo foray out of the 'sandbox.' We walked up the driveway to our entry gate, then did the circle up by the house before walking back down to the arena. She was very up-headed and alert but that was it, so she gets an "A"!

Afterwards I hosed her off and let her out into the lower pasture to roll and graze. Then I led the boys to the upper pasture, where itchy Lance also rolled, leaving lots of hair in the grass. (Oliver has a very hard time laying down.)

I might need my head examined, but I'm actually contemplating showing Stella this summer. The Oregon Morgan Classic has dressage classes, including USDF Intro Tests A and B. Entries close on June 1, so I will keep working with Stella until then and decide at the last minute.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Black Swan and the Velveteen Rabbit

I know; it's been a month and a half! It's not for lack of blog fodder that I've been silent here; more that I'm doing a lot with my horses (Stella, mostly) to help keep me sane and centered but not finding time for some other things, like blogging. There has been lots of family drama and resulting stress, but when I am working horses (or in agility class with my pup) I can put that out of mind completely and focus on something else.

Not that life with horses is stress-free. It has been a rough spring for Lance. I mentioned his breathing problems in my last post, and that has continued to various degrees. His weight is good but his energy is low, and he's rubbing out his mane, tail, and hair on various parts of his itchy hide. The other day when I was riding my poor, mangy-looking mustang, The Velveteen Rabbit came to mind; Lance is as much loved, and threadbare, as that character. In complete contrast, Stella is my lovely black swan, even though I never can quite capture her elegance, IMO. I keep trying, though!

Then there's Oliver, the kinda crazy quarter horse Rick and Brian have shared since the loss of Rick's cutting horse and Brian's pony. His front legs are shot, and it has been plain to Brian and me for months that he is miserable. Rick finally came to the same conclusion after taking the time to examine him more closely, but is still procrastinating on putting him down. It is sad, but Ollie's had 20 more years of life than he would have had with his breeder, and 21 more years than it appeared he'd have when he almost died of sepsis as a foal.

Back to happier things. Awhile back I wrote on my farm blog, "I feel like I'm now reaping the results of the long, slow work of relationship-building with my beautiful Morgan mare Stella. I am now riding her regularly at walk and trot, which just thrills me, and there is much promise of greatness to come." That's right; we've added a gait to our under-saddle repertoire! After my last post, Lisa came out to assist us in taking the next step by ponying us at the walk and trot. Stella did pretty well (I've ponied her at the trot lots of times), but she was just squirrelly enough that I didn't feel comfortable proceeding at home alone. Lisa and I had talked about hauling our young horses to a facility with a round pen, where we could both work our skittish mounts in a more controlled environment, so on March 30 we did just that. And with one excellent session under her girth, it's been onward and forward at home!

First solo trot work; what a good girl!
As I was untacking her in mid-April, I noticed something on the mouthpiece of Stella's Nathe bit. On closer examination, it is clear she had caused significant damage:

Alarmed, especially since we hadn't had this bit all that long, I texted Suzan. She told me to switch to a bitless bridle immediately, because Stella was teething and working her in a bit while teething can cause all kinds of problems. Okay then. At some point Rick is going to do a dental on her, but in the meantime I cobbled together this so we could keep working:

I purchased the 'hackamore' part (noseband/chin strap/metal wheel) on eBay from Germany years ago for Lance, to use when he got little pinpoint sores in his mouth. I had it on the bridle I bought for my Swedish Warmblood mare La Prix, but that was way too big on Stella. So I took the headstall and reins off the cob bridle we got with Brian's pony Breezy. The browband is too tight and the reins are a bit short, so I should do some more cobbling and trade out La Prix's headband and reins for those parts of the cob bridle, but it's working for now.

Oh, another interesting tidbit in the tack department. I've been riding Stella in an ancient Wintec saddle but eventually plan to switch to the newer Wintec saddle I use on Lance, with the appropriate gullet. To that end I bought a Wintec gullet gauge. Incredibly, my little black swan of a Morgan and my big red goober of a mustang both require an XL gullet! That seemed so unlikely that I had a friend come over and help me measure again; she got the same results. So strange, because there is no question that Lance is far broader than Stella, but hey, I don't have to buy a different gullet!

Stella is still a reactive girl, but when she spooks at something under saddle, she doesn't lose her mind. She may jump once, but then goes right back to what we were doing; what a blessing. So far we're staying in the arena, but on a warm day when she's really mellow (that's happened once, okay?), I plan to stretch her horizons. I've been sitting (carefully) the trot because she got anxious the first time I tried posting, but last night I tried again and she was fine with it. I'm really impressed with how she's responding to my leg, seat, and voice, too. I've been wanting video to document where we are now; on Mothers Day my son gave me the gift of some time to do that (this is pre-posting):
I think we've come a long way, baby. 😊

P.S. Ugh; you can clearly see the Lance-hoof-shaped scar tissue on the back of my right thigh in the video. Oh well, no 'body' is perfect....