Monday, September 29, 2014

A Wasted Weekend


No, I wasn't wasted all weekend...though I would have preferred spending the weekend that way than to having this stupid head cold.

About halfway through the work day on Friday I started feeling a little funky and thinking 'uh-oh...' So I stopped at CVS on the way home to grab some Cold-Eeze (which I swear by). I wasn't feeling too bad by the time I got to the barn on Friday so I decided to ride. I probably wouldn't have pushed it and ridden if I hadn't given Maggie Thursday off, which I did out of pure laziness (and a little fatigue from giving blood earlier in the day...at least that's the excuse I'm using.) 

I wasn't planning on riding her that intensely either, but the jumps in the ring were just so enticing that I ended up popping her over a couple of them including a 2'6" vertical which is the largest I've done with her in a while. She was really good, and dare I say I actually did pretty good myself too!  I felt like I saw the distances (even if they weren't good distances), didn't jump ahead too badly, and did decent releases without any chicken arms. One of my friends that I was riding with even snapped a few pics:

Lower leg slipping back, need more weight in my heel here methinks.
We were starting to lose the daylight hence the motion blur, but you get the impression.

So Saturday I was basically dead to the world and didn't make it to the barn. My friends and fellow boarders at our little co-op barn were nice enough to take care of Maggie for me so I didn't have to come by. I'm sure Maggie reveled in her unexpected day off.

Sunday I felt a bit better but still crappy. I was supposed to volunteer as a fence judge for the Groton House Fall Classic, but I ended up backing out that morning. I felt really bad about it; I had been looking forward to it too, but I think it was a good decision on my part. It was 86 degrees on Sunday and I would have been pretty miserable sitting in the heat for 4 or 5 hours. I had to pry myself out of the house anyway as it was to go take care of the mini and goat at my parent's house plus take care of Maggie. If I had been feeling better I'm sure I would have thought it was a glorious weekend, but the heat on Sunday was really killing me as I was doing chores. Thermoregulation isn't usually anyone's friend when one is sick. I considered lunging Maggie, but she wasn't looking too thrilled about the heat either, plus a couple other boarders were heading out to the ring as I was getting there and I didn't want to cramp their style.

So that's how I spent what was probably the last real summery weekend :( and how Maggie got the whole weekend off. I'm sure she's not complaining, but heck, I am. I hate feeling unproductive and like I wasted a beautiful weekend.

Today my head still feels funny and I had a really hard time focusing at work. I still didn't feel like riding or spinning around in circles at the end of a lunge line was a great idea for me, so I free lunged Maggie. I can't let her get away with 3 days off in a row after all. I will not at all be a happy camper if my head still feels like its spinning tomorrow.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Trot, Canter, Repeat.

That's mostly what I've been doing since our lesson last Friday. And you know what? It's helping. Imagine that!

I don't have any cantering pictures, so here are some fuzzy fall ears:

When we first tried doing these successive transitions, Maggie was a kind of slow on the uptake. She's used to me asking her to keep cantering around a full circle, so asking her to come back so soon after picking up the canter was pretty foreign. Our instructor told us to aim for 3 strides canter, 3 strides trot, 3 strides canter, etc. Knowing that at first it would be way more than 3 strides of each (and it was). Now having practiced this a few times this week, Maggie has been much more responsive to both the upward and downward transitions.

The upward transition is really improving in particular - I had been having some trouble getting her to pick up the correct lead, especially tracking right, but she's getting it almost every time now. I'm also noticing that the canter itself is getting lighter and less rushed. Such an awesome feeling. The downward transition is coming along as well, though slower. I still have a tendency to hunch and pull back which I need to get over. I've got to keep sitting tall and quiet with my seat.

What's really cool is that her stamina for holding the canter should improve with this work. I was trying to build her up before by just cantering her around on a 20 meter circle, trying to get her to soften, but to keep holding it. But by working these transitions it's going to help her build her hind end muscles up, which in turn is going to help her hold her canter longer. Light bulb moment! Seems like an obvious solution now that I see it. I suppose everything is obvious in retrospect.

Wednesday in particular Maggie was a little bit more resistant than she had been earlier in the week; particularly when I was trying to straighten her on the circle to the left. I'm guessing she might be getting a little sore/ fatigued. I imagine she's working some muscles that hadn't gotten much use before. I'll probably take it easy with her Thursday and Friday. Maybe some lunge work.

I'm hoping to do some more jumping this weekend - probably Saturday. Sunday I'll be volunteering as a fence judge for the Groton House Farm Fall Classic. I had originally wanted to do this with Maggie, but decided it wouldn't be a good idea to push her after her surgery, so what better way to still participate than to volunteer?

One more thing I want to mention: last weekend I did a little jumping with Maggie and set up this cool little bounce grid:

Horse canter bounce grid gymnastic with ground poles and small jumps

It was really fun - I think Maggie enjoyed it as much as me - and it's geared towards getting the horse to use those butt muscles. It's a ground pole --> tiny (like not even 18") vertical --> ground pole --> cross rail --> ground rail. After going over it a few times with the cross rail I pumped it up to a 2' vertical. I got to make use of my newly acquired jumps and poles too :) I can't wait to set it up again this weekend. Give it a whirl and let me know how it goes!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Back to Lessons

My last dressage lesson on Maggie was on July 18th - exactly two months and a day ago. I used my checkbook register to look that date up. And I started her back in work after her stall rest exactly three weeks ago. So why was I surprised when she absolutely lost her shit at the very beginning of the lesson this evening? It's not like she hadn't been lunged the day before and been completely relaxed...or worked every day this week since Monday...good grief. Maggie decided that warming up today meant booking it around the dressage arena at a canter while bucking, squealing, and spooking at all the things. So that was delightful. And it meant that the first 15 or so minutes of our lesson were what my instructor politely referred to as "Brain Exercises" i.e. trotting in 10 meter circles with her head bent to the inside until she decided to pay attention to me. I really don't like those sorts of practices - the ones that seem to only use force to get the horse's attention - but geez, sometimes it seems like there's no other way. It's not like I didn't try to ask her nicely to settle down first.

[Image: The Idea of Order, Morgan Schmidt]
Eventually she did mostly calm down, so off to work we went. And now begins the struggle of trying to remember what we worked on. This is why I'm hoping writing things down will help.

First thing was working on straightness again. Straightness while on a circle seems like an absolutely ridiculous concept, but I'm beginning to get the hang of it. Maggie's right side is her weaker side, so we have more trouble with straightness while we are tracking left. While tracking left I need to remember to give with my left rein so that when I keep contact with the right rein, she has room to balance her neck and shoulder. I also need to use my inside left during the rise of the posting to push her left hind under herself.

I think that's how it went.

Tracking right we don't need nearly as much work on straightness. In fact, she's quite willing to counter bend in that direction. After starting in a trot, we slowed to a walk and did some leg yielding in and out on a circle in both directions. My instructor watched Maggie's hind feet pretty intently, because apparently she does funny things like stepping behind or next to her outside leg instead of bringing it in front of the outside or just straight ahead. Honestly, I got a little lost here, but the moral of the story is that Maggie doesn't know what to do with her feet. More lateral work is needed. I kind of figured this since even just when I ask her to push over when she's tied or something, sometimes she steps on herself. Boy am I glad she's not shod.

On to a little canter work next. In the last lesson we had, we worked on getting her to use her hind end more and balancing. Especially in the transition down to the trot. I need to raise by hands, sit up super straight, and slow my seat while still driving her with my legs. Helpful exercises included trotting a 10 meter circle to the right with good straightness or counter flexion and then picking up a canter to the left. Instructor wants me to work on LOTS of upward and downward transitions between trot and canter. Another good exercise we did was reinback into trot. Maggie got the idea of that fairly quickly and was getting some good impulsion. Need to stay straight while backing up though.

So except for the "warm up" it was a good lesson. Felt good to have some instruction again for sure. I'm hoping to get at least one more lesson in before we do Pipestave again on October 12th. Due to her epic performance there in July, I entered us in the Modified Beginner Novice division this time, which has a BN dressage test instead of an intro test, but all the jumps stay at 2'3"

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Girl Can Never Have Too Many...Jump Standards?

That's how the saying goes, right? I'm pretty sure.

Last weekend a friend of mine was perusing one of the many horses/ tack/ various things (all of which I want) for sale Facebook groups and called the following ad to my attention:


All the jumps that are currently in our barn's little ring are either ones I made myself or ones that were left over from some previous boarder and are now in a slightly decrepit, but still mostly functional, state. So I figured what the heck, and I messaged the girl selling these standards. She got back to me saying someone had already claimed them though, so oh well, I tried. No loss.

Monday morning though she messaged me again and said that the sale fell through and wanted to know if I was still interested. Sure I was, so off Dan and I went after work to pick them up. I offered $40. Sold! We stuffed them in the back of my truck and off we went. Bonus: we were close by to one of our favorite restaurants so then off we went for a nice date. I may have promised him that we would stay in that night since we had a busy weekend, but I think a nice dinner out was a good consolation :)


I unloaded them the next day after work and yeah, they could use a wash and another coat of paint, but I think I got a darn good deal! For the amount of money I would have spent on that many jump cups, 4x4s, and landscape timbers (not to mention the time I would spend building) what I got is pretty stinking good! I'm psyched to put them to use later this week!

Not too shabby! Ok, maybe a little shabby...
So, I want to hear: have you ever bought any horse things off Facebook? What was your best find?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Back in the Saddle

I know, it's a very unique blog post title - but it's fitting! Last Friday you may recall that I took out Maggie's stitches which meant that not only could she come off of stall rest, but she could also go back to work! I used Saturday and Sunday just for lunging days. Saturday was super hot and humid and Sunday I was hanging out and grooming for a couple friends at a local hunter show (Side note: I must say, I really enjoy grooming and helping out at shows! Especially when it's just hanging with your friends all day.)

Monday I got on her in the Wintec (an all-purpose model, I use it for jumping and trail riding. I've actually always hated synthetic saddles because they just feel so bulky, but I wanted one for Maggie because of how much she likes to splash in water on trails.) I have no idea why I decided to put the Wintec on her...I felt like a sac of potatoes flopping around up there. I ride in my dressage saddle so frequently that it feels weird any time I use a different one. Despite me feeling a little wonky, Maggie was very, very good. Much less energetic that I expected. I was actually quite amazed how well behaved she was; no bucks or spooks at all!
Yay for riding! And for purple ear nets!
Tuesday I wised up and rode in the dressage saddle. Again, she was a really good girl and I felt like I had my dressage pony back. I still didn't ask for too much contact since I didn't want to overdo it, but she worked long and low pretty well. Simple circles and figure eights.

After two nice quiet rides the previous days, Wednesday was apparently when the monster-that-lives-in-the-shed-behind-the-ring-and-likes-to-eat-horses came back, because someone was a little more energetic and flighty that day, so I used the opportunity to work on slowing my posting down when she decided she wanted to speed up. Still needs work.

Thursday I gave her the night off and put her out in the grass paddock while I did chores. She's still not over the mini donkey and spent a decent amount of time staring and snorting at it from across the driveway. Ridiculous.

Friday evening my friend and I were treated with a lovely sunset while we were finishing up riding. Not too much to report; Maggie was a little more focused than Wednesday, but still not as much as I would have liked.
Hey, look! Halfway decent equitation!
Then earlier today I set up a little gymnastic with three trot poles to a cross rail, then I added a second cross rail, and eventually raised the last cross rail to a ~2'3" vertical. We really need to do more gymnastics because it really helps me to practice waiting for her to jump as opposed to throwing myself at the jump which I've always had a tendency to do. I was really impressed with how smoothly she handled the vertical when I put that up since I used the barrels on their sides as standards, which made them actually jump a little taller than the barrels themselves and she almost always hesitates at the barrels. She didn't think twice about the vertical though. Also, once we get to 2+ feet (I know, it's a terrifying height) is when I really start to anticipate taking off, but having the crossrail there in front I was able to wait for her to jump and I also found the right moment to put my leg on her for encouragement as well. That's another thing I've noticed that I need to work on: keeping my leg on before the jump.

There were also a couple hay bales left out in the ring with a vertical pole between them. We jumped that too, but since it had no related distance we had a few seriously sloppy jumps. And when the jumps get sloppy, I make some excellent faces.

First, let's take a look at this embarrassingly small and horribly unattractive jump:

Does anyone have a good fix for the chicken-wing arms?

Now let's zoom in on my lovely face in each frame:

Face of a champion. Right there.
You're welcome.

And that, friends, is our first week back under saddle. I'm hoping to schedule a dressage lesson for sometime next week.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

FREEDOM!!!

I was practically bouncing up and down in my seat on the train on the way home from work yesterday; all day I had been looking forward taking Maggie's stitches out and turning her out.

So after a quick stop at the local feed/tack store to pick up some bell boots to keep her from doing THIS:
Way to go overreaching. Good thing she's barefoot.
I sped to the barn, suture scissors and forceps in hand (just kidding - never run with scissors kids.)

I took the stitches out myself, like so:


And then turned her out in the arena expecting much frolicking and huge bucks of joy.

The Maggie Memoirs: FREEDOM!!! - The stitches come out and Maggie gets turned out again.
Ok, I didn't really expect her to turn into a Friesian. But a little rejoicing on her part would have been very fulfilling.
Goon. 

Well, I had to make her run around at least a little, if only for dramatic effect:

Wheeee!
I then brought her back to her stall and let her out into her run out paddock where she proceeded to explore it as if she'd never been there before. Double goon.

This morning, after getting my tuck's state inspection sticker (only 6 days after it expired...I mean, what?) I went to the barn to lunge her. We did about 20 minutes of mostly trotting with plenty of walk breaks. It's crazy hot and humid out today (because now that it's September it's finally starting to feel like summer...yeah...) and she was a trooper. She was quite slow, but very well behaved and willing. I hope to actually get on her tomorrow!