Thursday, November 23, 2017

The western saddle blues

AKA I do not know what I'm doing.

Theo's new western saddle showed up and man oh man, it's pretty.  Even the hubby stopped to comment on how attractive it is when it came out of the box.

The walnut color really suits him and the round skirt is better for his teeny weenie back.  So attractive?  Check!  And those stirrups are up short enough for me, so the fenders will, in fact, fit.  Which is a huge relief since I was thinking I would need custom cut fenders.  I did run them up as short as they would go and they were actually too short.  I'm three holes from the top.  Yay?  I'm calling that a yay.

Side note, if you're changing the length of the stirrup on a Circle Y saddle, the outside bit slides up to reveal the part that goes in the holes.  This took me fifteen minutes and some googling to figure out.  My previous western saddle had a buckle.  I flipped the stirrup over and saw no buckle, just a leather covered metal thing that went all the way around.  Took some fiddling to figure out that I slide it up and out of the way.  Then adjust to the hole I want and slide it back down till it kind of clicks into place.  Spiffy, but confusing if you've never seen it before.

Don't even get me started on my struggles with the cinch.  More cinch lessons are coming.

Fit?  Hell if I know.  You'd think I'd have a clue, but nope.  I took a lot of pictures and I'll set a second opinion on Sunday.  Initial feelings without the pad were 'yay, it has the right angle on his shoulders!'.

It's actually pretty similar to the angle on his jump saddle.

That also shows how freaking huge this saddle is compared to what I'm used to.  My second thought (after omg this thing weighs a ton) was 'oh, no, his withers'.

I can get exactly one finger in there.  It's definitely too low.  Enough room side to side and back, but at the highest point, it's definitely too close.  But the pad I was borrowing is a cut back, I decided to try that out.

Huh, look at that.  It's a standard 3/4" pad and I could fit my whole hand under there even when I was in the saddle.  So apparently not that big of a deal. 

View from the back:

Flex tree, so when I sit down it sits down.  Spine clearance even when I'm in the saddle, ran my fingers under the back to check.  Really can't figure out how to check for bridging with a saddle this heavy.  My attempts really pissed mi papi off since I had to wedge my fingers up under there like I was hunting for buried treasure.  I'll have to get it checked by some people that actually know what they're doing.  I'm so lost.

I took it for a spin and Theo didn't buck me off or tell me to go pound sand, so that's a good sign.  Fingers went over his shoulders without being crushed, so the wide seems to be the right call even if it requires the use of a cut back pad.

We toddled around enough for me to try it in all three gaits.  I feel very balanced in the trot, potentially in the back seat a bit at the canter.  That may be me fighting the wider twist that I'm not used to yet.  I've got ten days to see what's fit, what's saddle, and what's me.  I thought it was comfy and was very happy to have stirrups that fit me.  We did some work on his turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, and reinback so we can start working on the idea that randomly offering things to avoid the steps he doesn't like isn't a good option.  I had no spurs and no real plan, so we only worked for about 20 minutes, toddled a bit outside, and called it a day.  It's a holiday after all.

So it fits better than the medium, but not sure if it actually fits well enough to keep.  I've got my friend that knows western saddles available on Sunday and it sounds like I might have a western dressage clinic next weekend.  That will give me some experienced eyes to check and see if this is a winner.

I hope so, it's very pretty.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Little aches and pains

Poor Theo.  All he wanted was to be a bum in a pasture that terrorizes beginners into never asking him to do anything hard.  Instead, he got me.

He was sore after the Vitor Silva clinic, but that wasn't a surprise.  That was a lot of lateral and his booty was feeling it.  Then we had the Mary Wanless clinic less than a week later.  That was three days of carrying himself correctly and displaying forward.  He was a little stiff and sore afterward.  We had two rides working on stretching him out and he felt better.

Friday night I had an amazing ride.  There was a lot of activity in the ring, the wind was blowing, and pony came to play.  He warmed up, hit the bit, and worked hard for about 40 minutes including a five minute canter to help him rebuild his endurance.  Good gravy he was nice.  I was broken hearted that the ring was too crazy for video, but that commotion was what made the ride so nice.  I was using other horses as motivation so I could sit quiet and he just motored along under his own power.

On Saturday?  Sore again.  He worked out of it nicely, but he definitely had the look of a horse that had over done it and had some lactic acid to manage.  While grooming him I pinpointed where he seemed to be having the most trouble.  Thighs and hips, both sides, and a little behind the withers.  Basically his quads were sore like he'd hit the stair machine too hard.  Well, yeah, stretching under his midline and lifting himself would do that.  I had the customary 'omg he's blown out his stifles' reaction, but it's on both sides and he responded well to liniment and massage.  No inflammation, no actual lameness, just moving like a horse that might have been showing off for the pretty QH mare the night before and was feeling it.

So he got some banamine, a massage, and a stretchy ride.  It's actually the first time I've given Theo any medication since the abscess wars and even then he didn't get much because the lameness was intermittent and we were trying to track it.  Crazy, right?  I'm used to performance horses needing a bit of help. 

On Sunday he got a long hand walk on the trails.  High winds and dropping temps had all of the herd up on their toes.  Since I wanted him to chill and mentally take a break, I made it a mutual walk instead of getting on him.  If he spooks while I'm in the saddle, I react.  If he spooks while I'm on the ground, I stare at him and call him an idiot.  Sure enough, he spun twice.  Both times I called him an idiot and ignored it.  He's very polite (with a chain over his nose) and I can hold him with one hand even when he's on high alert.  He had a very nice stroll through the woods, power walking along and seemingly amused by my wheezing.  Pony walks fast.

After his walk on hills and uneven terrain, he got a thorough massage with liniment, some more banamine, and back out into his field.  Today he gets new shoes and I'll try to visit him for some lunge line work.  I have an offsite meeting so I have no idea when I'll get free.  Worst case scenario, he has an appointment with Trainer A in the morning.

It's not unexpected that he'll have sore days as he steps up into this next level of work.  Those new muscles are being developed and shuffling is no longer ever acceptable.  Walk/canter/walk is now just part of his day, not something I do twice and reward.  I expect him to jump up into his transitions.  But at the same time, I have to respect the fact that this is hard and that sometimes, he's going to be sore.  I take an Advil the day after a hard work out, he can have the same.

I wish I got half as many massages as he gets . . . .

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Let there be media!

My lack of video has been bugging me badly.  Tonight I had an empty ring and no real plans for the ride other than to get Theo stretching after his post-clinic break.  This seemed a good opportunity to experiment with getting some video. 

Ever wonder what it's like to look between those super fuzzy ears and have all of that mane flopping around as you canter down to a fence?  Wonder no more!

I looked so ridiculous.  I was riding him with my left hand while filming with my right hand.  I was watching the phone more than my path, thank goodness my horse is a good boy and will steer with minimal help.  I was also in my dressage tack, but when it's a 2' fence, it doesn't really matter.  Jumping just perks him up.

You have to love a horse that will let you get away with stuff like this.  Canter down to a fence with minimal contact and a completely distracted rider?  Sure, whatevs.  Just another day at work for Theo.

For those that are curious what he looks like from the ground, I was able to get a little bit of video by propping up my phone on the arena wall.

He's a little tight in the topline after his two days off and jumping encourages him to brace still, but it is a decent look at how he's changed.  And a glimpse of our simple changes that are really starting to come along.

Now that I know this works, I'll have to add more videos.  I think keeping records is important. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Definition of insanity

I keep doing the same thing, expecting a different result.  I'm insane.  In this case I'm saddle shopping and I keep thinking it's going to go smoothly.  HA.

After my struggles with Smartpak and coming to the realization that my hard to fit horse needed more models to pick from, I branched out and started looking at other dealers of western saddles.  I stumbled onto  Since I'm specifically looking at Circle Y saddles, they're an obvious pick since they have hundreds of saddles.  And a ten day demo program!

They also have an option to email back and forth with a non-brand specific saddle person to help you pick out a saddle.  Their reviews are excellent and I found their expert to be very responsive.

This beauty is ordered and on it's way to me.

We're going to try a wide and see if that works for mi papi's shoulders.  He's a tricky fit with his beastly shoulders and high withers, so fingers crossed.  If it doesn't?  Back into the mail and we send out the gaited version that may better suit his short back, giganto shoulders, and high withers.  The nice part is that they have all of these models in stock and ready to go.  The expert thinks this saddle with a cut back pad has a good chance of working for him.  I think it's pretty, that's all I've got for a contribution.

Since it looks like my transmission survived the incident and I only need the cooler replaced, I still get to buy pretty things.  I really need a source of motivation now that the snow is starting to fly.  Buying tack = motivation, right?

And I get to buy a matching bridle!  And colorful saddle pads!  And a breast collar!  I don't need a breast collar but come on, if I'm going to dress him up, I might as well go all the way.  My outfit is still a complete mystery to me.  Helmet, obviously, but the rest?  I dunno.  There's a lot of spandex and rhinestones out there and I'm . . . not as svelte as I used to be.  Hm.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Cuz your man is back in town

Aside from all of the drama with my truck and going by my lonesome to a rather high end clinic, I had one important take away:

My horse is the freaking bomb and he is back, baby!

Seriously, he's back and it's wonderful.  He was a model citizen for his visit.  He may have tried to escape every time someone tried to feed him/water him/clean his stall, but that's expected when he's suddenly thrown in a stall for three days.  He was a little ticked off about the whole imprisonment part of the trip.  So much hand walking and hand grazing to keep him from tearing the tent stall down.  He would sit with his muzzle between the bars, trying to convince people to come rescue him.

But he stood when told, only had little spooks in a rather spooky indoor with an audience and a heated observation room over his head.  He stood in grooming stalls, completely ignored a stranger climbing up on a mounting block to rearrange me, and napped whenever appropriate.  Young horses pinging off the walls, warmbloods losing their minds in the cold and needing to be lunged, and then there was mi papi.  Snoring.  He cuddled anyone that came into reach and built up his own fan club.

I worked on me almost exclusively because Theo was already in good shape.  He likes to pop his shoulders, but I already knew that.  It's something we've already been working on.  He went about his business and I worried about my quarreling seat bones and wandering chin.  Mary had absolutely nothing negative to say about him and said she was impressed to see a horse of his type showing such nice energy.  Then she pet his neck and said 'she must be terribly cruel'.  Theo says yes.

I was complimented that I didn't have to kick him and that it looked easy and flowing.  He did some lovely strike offs from walk to canter and showed off his starter turn on the haunches.  He looked, acted, and moved like a confirmed First level horse that's schooling Second with some confidence.  He stayed on the contact and, for one glorious moment, we had an actual honest to goodness connection with him seeking and me feeling like I could push my hands instead of pulling while trotting around with his back lifted. 

It lasted about 90 seconds, but it was fucking amazing.

Of course I have zero media, but I could see him in the mirrors and I heard from the other riders.  Theo was calm, correct, and downright zen.  Two people thought I was a trainer.  No, not in a long time, but thank you for the compliment.  He only kicked out once and that was on Sunday when he was tired from using new muscles.  But oh, what a stretch he gave me at the end of that ride.  Muzzle to the floor, back flexing, flicking along in the trot like it was nothing. 

I'll admit to a bit of vindication when Theo was such a super star when he was, far and away, the cheapest horse in attendance.  His fuzzy legs, fuzzy ears, and pony style forelock looked very out of place, but once he was going, no one questioned him.

I guess I'll keep him.  At least for another week.

Mary Wanless Clinic: Day 3

Sunday morning was an early start.  I needed to get to the barn so I could try to arrange for an earlier ride time and get my truck towed to the shop.  I cleared all of my stuff out of the truck and loaded it into my trailer.  Then I got mi papi out for his morning hand walk so they could clean his stall in peace.  Apparently he was trying to escape when they came to clean his stall. 

I'm out handwalking and spot a big flat bed pull into the driveway of the house the barn owner lives in.  Whoops, wrong driveway, but a common mistake.  I see the driver looking around and I put my hand up.  I meant to signal I was on my way over.  He took it as 'hey, come over here'.  There's no route for a truck to come over.  It's their outdoor ring, a wide path for horses and wheelbarrows, and then their beautiful barn.  The driver took the wide path without batting an eyelash.  He barely had inches between his truck, the barn, and the railing of the outdoor.  One of the barn managers was standing there, staring in horror. 

At this point, I was so overwrought that it barely registered.  Of course the tow truck is driving through the middle of the very fancy barn where I will never be invited back.  I pointed out where my truck was and he hustled right off to load it up.

I'm standing out there watching my truck get loaded on a flat bed when I get told that no one will trade ride times with me.  I was the last ride of the day and my emergency pick up didn't want to wait until 5:30pm to pick me up because he still had to haul me home and he gets up insanely early on Monday mornings.  How could I ask him to lose sleep on top of driving down to pick me up as a favor?  I gave up, told him to pick me up after lunch, told the organizers I wouldn't be riding, and hid in the observation room while crying.  Because really, talk about a waste of a clinic.  And it's not a cheap clinic.

One of the organizers found me, freaked out, and tried to make it better.  They offered for Theo to stay an extra night.  Which really didn't help because my ride works on Mondays and that would mean Theo spending another day in a stall.  What if I had a shipper move him on Monday?  I don't know any shippers and I'd have to do it all on the phone from a distance which is terrifying.  Okay, maybe a friend could pick him up on Monday and I could just leave my trailer with them until my truck was repaired?  They're not used to working with people that aren't independently wealthy, I guess.  Yes, I have to go home and go to work in the morning, it's important.  And even if Theo stayed the night, I still need a ride home.

She eventually got someone to trade ride times with me and while it was still going to be late for my ride, it wasn't bad.  I had my trailer completely packed and the plan was for Theo to carry his tack to the trailer after his ride so we could leave right away.

After that kind of a morning, I zoned on the couch and tried to convince myself not to get a migraine.  It mostly worked and I was able to mount up in a generally acceptable frame of mind.  I'm glad I was able to get that last ride in since we were really trying to dial in the combination of keeping my zipper and chin over the middle with both seat bones sharing the back.  Because once I have both of those things?  I'm not collapsing to the left.  It's a correction I can manage on my own.  It's very hard right now, both of my hips were screaming after my ride, but it's a missing piece that's plugging in.  Canter left my right seat bone was off doing it's own thing.  I have to kind of aim it at his left shoulder to keep me in the center.  Then I drop my right shoulder a bit to keep my zipper and chin over his spine and pop, I'm in the middle.  Our canter felt much more organized without me ping ponging around up there.  I felt more plugged in, which was lovely when he decided to spook at a falling broom in the corner.  Theo relaxed and gave me more of his back once I was settled in.

We also started working on how to inflate the right side of Theo's back so that he's more even.  While keeping my seat bones close to his spine, I have to draw more of his barrel to the right.  Like there's a suction cup on the inside of my thigh and I can kind of pull him over with my leg.  It's tricky, I don't have it, but it's a concept for me to play with over the winter.

And then I bolted out of the arena, threw my horse on the trailer, and got hauled home.

I just got the message that my truck blew it's transmission cooler.  $1,600.  Then they can drive it and see if the transmission is okay.  Plus $400 for the tow, but at least that's reimbursable through my insurance.  All I can do is cross my fingers and hope that the actual transmission is okay and we don't have to pay for a new one.

On the bright side, Theo is home and safe.  The trailer is safe and at the barn.  The truck is in the hands of a shop that I trust to not screw me over.  I'm at work, at my desk, safe and sound.  I have lots of sore muscles and some new concepts to work on.  So it certainly wasn't the worst possible weekend.  I didn't end up on the side of the road with a dead truck or anything.  It also wasn't the best weekend.  I did feel like I missed out because I didn't get to watch as many rides, I didn't get to go out to dinner with everyone, and generally was stressed out.

Going to a clinic like this by myself was challenging.  Everyone else had an entourage to take pictures, carry things, be supportive.  I was totally on my own and that seemed to weird people out.  I got a lot of compliments on my nice horse, my riding skill, etc., but I was definitely the odd one.  Also the poor one that had a backyard horse.  Not an easy weekend, even without the truck problems.  I'll have to think long and hard about whether or not I'll try to go next year.  While the progress is great, it's expensive and being completely on my own took a lot of the fun out of it.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mary Wanless Clinic: Day 2

Trailering isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Saturday morning I got a lesson on how quickly complete freedom can become complete panic.

I headed out of my hotel this morning thinking about managing mi papi and life in a stall.  I was worried about him overheating since I blanketed him so aggressively (a Baker blanket and a medium weight turn out with a neck rug). 

By my second stop sign, I was only thinking about how I would get him home.  My transmission wasn't acting right and slipped twice when I was at stop signs.  My 'service engine soon' light came on.  What the hell?

I completed the twenty minute drive to the farm and called the hubby.  I also texted Trainer A and told her to alert her dad as he was the only person I knew that could haul a goose neck.  If my transmission is slipping, I'm not going to try to haul my most precious cargo.  It was scary enough trying to get around without the trailer.

Fun fact, Trainer A's dad runs a GMC repair shop.  I own a GMC truck.  A couple of texts and I was told to check my transmission fluid.  Yup, it's low.  I located an auto parts store and headed out after the lunch lecture (and a long hand walk/hand graze for my horse that's convinced he's in jail).  At the auto parts store, it occurs to me that I can get my error codes printed.  This is what I get.

That's freaking terrifying.  I went back to the farm with two quarts of transmission fluid and a funnel.  I added a quart, but something was bothering me. The hubby is good at truck maintenance.  Why was my fluid low?  I climbed under the truck and saw this.

Mother fucker piece of shit.  I've got a leak.  And guess what I learned when I sent the picture to Trainer A's dad?  Transmission fluid is highly combustible.  Like diesel levels of combustible.  So not only did I run the risk of my transmission acting up, there was the chance of it igniting on a hot engine.

I called in the rescue crew and arranged for being picked up.  Fortunately I'm only 1.5 hours away from home.  A tow truck was arranged for my truck and another truck arranged to bring my trailer and my precious cargo home.

Oh, right, I'm at a clinic with my horse.  As my hubby said multiple times, I need to get something out of this weekend.  And my session with Mary yielded the usual plethora of observations.

I need to weight my seat bones 50/50.  That's much harder to do when my horse isn't 50/50.  Theo tends to have his right side more stretched out, extended, and not tight.  I need to make his right side as high and tight as his left side.  I shouldn't feel like my right side is just falling off the right side of his back.  If it is, I need to make his right side tighter and higher to support my seat bones as I pull them in to his center.  He likes to bait me, lure me to be less effective.  Also, my seat bones don't like to share.  When my left seat bone comes in to his spine, my right seat bone gets shoved off.  It's like managing temperamental twins.  Share already, damn it!

We refined my feel for a narrowed pelvis.  It's not a minor task and will take me awhile.  I'm taking notes to bring back to Trainer A.  Theo likes to turn like a semi and jack knife at his withers.  He doesn't like it when I straighten him out and tell him to turn like a bus.  As much as he doesn't like it, it's been very good for getting him even behind.  I'm also being told that I've started to drop behind and I need to advance my collar bone.  That's going to be interesting since Trainer A has been yelling at me for leaning forward.

So I trotted around, trying to keep my seat bones together, keep his back as a wide, even shelf, and turn him like a bus.  This will all be important because when I asked him to leg yield to get him off my leg, I immediately felt myself fall off the side of the saddle.  Ah ha!  We may have a clue on where my leg yield troubles start.

And then I limped my poor truck to the hotel, parked myself at the bar, and poured out my sorrows to a very patient lady.

Stay tuned to hear the final installment of As The Transmission (Doesn't) Turns.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mary Wanless Clinic: Day 1

Despite my worries, I arrived at my clinic all of fifteen minutes behind schedule and with a full seven hours of sleep.  The hubby was done with his distillery showcase a little earlier than planned and I was able to get my own packing done before heading to bed.  By 8:45am, Theo and I hit the road.

I'm kind of glad I was running a bit late.  This was my first foray into Massachusetts with the trailer and the jaunt down 95 is no joke.  Especially not where there's construction and I had a bare few inches between my trailer and the concrete barricades.  YIKES.  The term Massholes is very appropriate for the drivers and Theo had a few less than ideal moments in his ride when I had to hit the brakes to avoid idiots whipping across three lanes of traffic (in a construction zone) to make their exit.  I'm so glad I did my trailer training in New Hampshire.  The interstates in Massachusetts are terrifying in a passenger car.  With a horse trailer?  I totally ordered a margarita at my hotel.

The clinic is a bit bigger this year.  More auditors, more people trailering in.  The parking is a bit nuts and I got some good practice backing in with the trailer.  I didn't manage to get into my assigned spot, but the lady I blocked in is also here until Sunday so it's all set.  We know each other, it's fine.  At least I turned around without help. 

The cold weather and high winds put a little extra pep into Theo's step.  He's in a tent stall this year and he spent about an hour figuring out that he wasn't going to die.  I'm glad I packed his turn out since he's not actually in a barn and it's down to 16* tonight with a wind chill.  His beautiful new Baker blanket is under his medium weight turn out with a neck rug.  Not that he minds, he has a beautiful young mare as his neighbor (he moved his hay to that side of his stall) and all the food he can stuff in his face.

For my ride, Mary remembered him once I said he was half Canadian.  She commented that he was much better at going forward than she remembered and complimented me on my insistence on him being correct.  He was also a very good doobie in the contact, keeping his neck long and his moments of resistance to a minimum.  I was genuinely proud to unleash his new trot in that fancy indoor ring, showing his progress.  Unfortunately, this means that all eyes were on the rider.  Clearly the horse was fine.

I came in with the goal of addressing my collapsed left side.  I've been riding like that for so long that I think I'm straight.  I'm not, so that means I don't know where the center is.  We started out with a check of my current status and I got another compliment for hanging on to what she'd asked me to do two years ago and sends her compliments to Trainer A for helping me hang on to the right things.  Woohoo, not having to start over!

When we started to address my asymmetry, my weight on my seat bones popped right to the front.  I tend to weight my right seat bone, but I'll ping pong around from side to side when turning.  That's incorrect, of course.  So she flagged me over and apologized because things were about to get crude.  I need to stay balanced and symmetrical over his spine.  Okay, yes, that makes sense.  The human pelvis tends to be rather wide and because of it's structure, kind of flops on either side.  I need to tighten up my pelvis, almost make it more narrow so it can stay tight and balanced over his spine.

I need to pull my asshole up into my buttcrack.

Yeah, that's a direct quote.  Followed by a discussion on whether a zipper, sutures, or super glue would be the best visual for me to think about tightening up my pelvis.  Theo voted for super glue.  No, seriously, she suggested super glue and he turned his head around and touched her arm.  So I'm . . . supergluing my butt cheeks together to keep from letting my asshole drop down and my pelvis get wide.

It's a strange, funny way of describing positive tension in the rider.  I'm taking control of my pelvis and putting my seat bones in the right place so they don't ping pong around and keep me off balance.  But suggesting that I should superglue my butt cheeks together is much funnier.

Tomorrow we'll start addressing the fact that I don't know where center is anymore with my upper body.  I can tell when I'm ping ponging in the seat and correct it.  I can't tell if I'm straight or not, and that's a problem.  I can't correct if I don't know where center is.  Mary said she has a plan, that she knows how to show me where center is, so I'm confident that I'll have new descriptors and exercises after tomorrow to take home.

Tonight I'm chilling in my hotel room, thawing out with the thermostat turned way up and recharging for tomorrow's adventure.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The art of procrastination

I travel with my horse a lot.  It's something I do.  Clinics, camps, shows, I'm totally comfortable packing up and heading out with my equine partner.

Keeping that in mind, it is a damn wonder I get anywhere with appropriate gear.  I am the queen of procrastination and this time I might have taken it a bit too far.  I leave tomorrow morning for a three day clinic with a big name clinician at a very fancy barn.

 Said fancy barn with the infamous Dorkzilla

Have I packed?  Not a damn thing.  When I left for work this morning, my truck and trailer weren't even facing the right way.  I hope the hubby has got them turned around.  I'm supposed to be there at 10am, so I need to leave the barn around 8:30am.  So far this is all pretty standard.  I pack up the night before, show up, throw the horse on the trailer, and go on my merry way.

Two things have derailed me.  One, Mother Nature is off her meds and the temps are plunging tonight.  We're getting down to 15* this weekend.  This necessitates some extra packing to keep mi papi warm, even if he's in a stall all weekend.  I had a mad scramble last night busting out the full winter gear, including his square cooler to go with the fleece dress sheet I was planning on packing.

Two, I apparently have plans tonight.  A couple months ago I agreed to go to a distillery showcase for the hubby's birthday.  There will be lots of fancy food and spirits and we'll be out until about 11pm.  I need to leave the barn at 8:30am.  I have not packed.  At least I'm the designated driver so I won't be hungover while trying to load Theo into his trailer.

If you're doing the math and coming up with the same numbers as me, you can see where I'm starting to regret some of my life decisions.

 And judging by my artwork, this is an ongoing situation.  I'm a very slow learner.  I am expecting to get up around 6am, throw everything horse related that I own onto my trailer, and sort it out once I'm there.  At least I don't ride until 4pm so if I'm running a bit late, I'll just miss lunch lecture stuff.  I really don't want to miss anything, but it's better than having the 9am ride time.  Though I'll be wishing for that ride time on Sunday when it's time to ship home.

Fingers are crossed I get there on time with a saddle, a girth, a bridle, AND a helmet.  Anything more than that is a nice bonus.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Saddle shopping hell, trip 3

I do NOT know why I thought shopping for a western saddle would be easier than my dressage or jump saddles.  At least my horse is shaped like a dressage horse and isn't freaky looking at a jump show.  When I took Theo to his Vitor clinic, it was at a working cow ranch.  Everyone thought Theo was gigantic.  Everyone.  That should have been an indicator to me that he's not the typical western disciplines type.

He doesn't exactly look like a QH or a Paint.

Still cute.

It seemed simpler since there was just the two options:  semi or QH bars.  And clearly, with those withers, he needs a semi-QH bars tree.  Clearly.  Easy peasy.

So my saddle showed up and I, with great excitement, tacked my poor dressage horse up.  And realized I still can't tie a cinch to save my life.  Fortunately someone that knows western tack was there to help me check fit and help me get my tack on safely.  With her help, I was able to get things cinched up and hop on for a few minutes.  I'd already ridden him in a lesson, so it was strictly a test ride.  No need for a bridle.  We jogged and loped around with just a lead rope to let me steer.

The saddle fit me well and fit his back well, but was too tight on his shoulders.  I put my fingers under the front edge of the saddle and got a rather painful squeeze.  Damn it.  Such a pretty saddle, but no dice for the magnificence that is mi papi.  Back it goes to Smartpak.

I'm going to order up this saddle's very close sibling that comes in a round skirt since the saddle looks big on Theo's short back.  I'm also going to try a wide to see if we can give his shoulders some room without dropping the pommel right on his withers.  If that doesn't work, I have to start branching out.  There's a gaited version of the tree with extra room in the shoulders . . .

I hate saddle shopping.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Product Review: Haas brushes

Background:  I like pretty things.  A lot.  But with brushes, I usually just use whatever is in my bag and don't think about it too hard.  I've had a random collection of nylon and unknown bristles in plastic handles for most of my career.  The horses are clean and shiny, no harm, no foul.  Why would I drop a bunch of money on a fancy set of brushes?  Because I own a yak and my brushes are mostly patting the surface.  I need something more effective to get down to the skin or I get this 'dead zone' in his winter coat that isn't groomed and becomes a mass of dead skin and oil.

I stared at the Haas brushes for a year.  Literally a year.  Reviews kept saying they really got into the coat.  I finally pulled the trigger and have been using them for a month.

The Product:  Haas brushes are made in Germany from a company that is very old (est 1919) and well respected.  They're definitely more expensive than your standard nylon bristle brushes.  They use natural materials for the bristles and most have a nice leather strap on the back to keep your hand in place.  They also have fancy German names like Cavaliere and Diva Exklusiv.

I did not go buy the whole 'Black Pack' set of brushes.  I couldn't convince myself to buy in that much.  But I did use sample lists of brushes to piece my set together.  I went through Smarkpak and bought  the Der Gute curry comb, Schimmel stiff brush, Cavaliere body brush, and Diamond Gloss finishing brush.

 Curry comb:  This thing is magic.  When I picked it up for the first time I went 'ugh, it feels cheap, it's hard plastic, why did I buy this?'.  And then I used it and watched the dirt and scurf and dandruff fly.   I don't know why this thing works as well as it does, but it cuts through mi papi's ridiculous coat and gets right down to the skin.  I usually buy softer, rubber curry combs.  This thing puts them all to shame for brute dirt removal.  Theo tolerated it on his belly better than I thought he would, so it's clearly not rough or offensive, just effective.  This thing is only $6 and is worth every penny and then some.  Even if you think the rest of the set is overpriced and dumb, give the curry a try for thick coats that get dirty.  It's also perfect for cleaning off brushes as you work.

Schimmel brush:  I like this one a lot.  I don't usually keep really stiff brushes around, too many horses get offended, but this one is a keeper.  It's coconut fiber and no joke stiff, but Theo hasn't killed me yet even when I do the girth area, so it's not over the top (unlike the Mustang that actually has some wire in it, I'm pretty sure that is too much for any clipped pony).  It's fantastic on knees and hocks that are coated in dried mud/manure/I do NOT want to know.  It's another product that really cuts through the coat and gets the dirt up from near the skin.  I keep the curry in my left hand to clean this brush as I go because it's great cutting through Theo's winter coat and getting up the dead skin.  I scrape it with the curry and watch the flakes of icky fall to the mats.  This is the other brush I would flat out recommend.  Between this and the curry, I'm seeing a real difference in how clean I can keep my shaggy yak.  I mean horse.
Cavaliere brush:  I was very confused on body brushes for awhile with Haas.  I eventually figured out that the Lippizaner and the Cavaliere were the same brush, but the Cavaliere was smaller and easier for small hands to handle.  That works for me!  I like this brush, it's a nice body brush and does a good job of getting the finer debris off of my horse that is left by the stiff brush.  It's also the one that goes on his face and he approves of it for use on delicate areas that still need a decent scrub (mud around the eyes most of the time).  It's not stunning like the first two, it's just very effective.  If you already have an effective, well loved body brush, don't bother.  If you need a replacement?  Go for it.  It's nice, dense, should last a long time, and puts on a nice shine.

Diamond Gloss brush:  This is so the wrong time of year to test this brush.  I did give it a good work out after his last clip job to see it in action.  It's so dense that it feels stiff and not like a finishing brush.  It does put one heck of a shine on your horse.  I don't bust this one out much since it's November and my horse is actually a yak, but when I tested it, it got the job done.  Worth the purchase?  If you're show ring bound, yeah, I'd toss this one in the show bag to give me that extra hit of shine before I head in.  I find I stop with the body brush most days at home, but I suspect the finishing brush will be getting more use in the summer.  It really needs your horse to be most of the way clean before you start to get the effect.  It's so dense it just jams up with dirt, but if you've done your work with the other brushes?  Mirror like finish is possible.

Overall?  I'm happy with my investment.  I'm seeing a real difference in the amount of gunk hidden under his coat and I'm having an easier time keeping him looking reasonable in this very rough time of year.  I'm looking forward to putting these brushes through their paces next summer when I can really shine him up for the competition ring.

At least the curry and the Schimmel brushes should be added to brush collections.  Those things are magic for those that own yaks.

Tales of a klutz

Because seriously, this is ridiculous.

I'm sitting at my desk in my nice wool skirt and ballet flats, looking nice and professional, icing a swollen spot on the front of my ankle I got from tripping out of my horse trailer while at my clinic.  I slammed that tendon that goes down the front/inside of your ankle right into the metal edge of the door to the tack area.  I was wearing clogs, not boots, so nothing but chicken socks to cushion the blow.  Applying ice to get the swelling down.

Also note the rubs on the back of my ankle.  Apparently my Dublin river boots are PISSED that they were ignored for six months and decided to punish me for the neglect by rubbing me raw after being perfect for two years.  WTF, boots.  The other ankle is worse.

But the long hem at least hides the bruise I got when Theo spooked and I whacked my knee against the barn door.  It did give me a bit of a limp.

That one is on heat therapy now, trying to convince the muscles to settle down.  And it's in the ugly green puke colored stage.

This is a day to day thing now that I'm back in the saddle 4 to 5 days a week.  I've got my groove back, my motivation is up, my horse doesn't want to kill me, and it doesn't hurt my face to go outside.  I'm getting my ride time in!

And limping into the office every dang morning due to various injuries that are only tangentially related to riding.  My coworkers are starting to ask questions.

Why so klutzy, mom?

Monday, November 6, 2017

A different approach

I get nervous when I'm riding with people that have a big presence.  Most of the people in my area know Vitor Silva.  He does a lot of demos up and down the east coast with his Lusitanos.  Like this one:

There's marketing to be concerned with, a brand image, etc.  And egos get big.  Trainer A enjoyed her ride with Vitor, but I still get nervous.  Will he help or will he just blow smoke up my ass so that I have a good time and ride with him again (aka spend more money)?

First, I made my horse presentable.  This meant shearing my yak yet again and learning a lot about how to keep clippers happy.  I can't keep buying new clippers and brand new A5s from Oster shouldn't be acting up!  My horse is a freak of nature.  But the new barn handyman gave me an assist with tuning up my clippers (including a lesson in the different kinds of phillips head screwdrivers) and we got through the project.

The magnificent tail was trimmed, the tack was scrubbed, and the trailer was hooked up.  I went with my chicken socks.  Bold, let's people know that despite my classical, conservative attire, I'm also fun.  Plain, brown vest, blue check shirt, grey full seat breeches.  Theo went in the silver clincher browband and a white saddle pad.  I wanted to keep things understated, having never met the clinician or visited the facility.

I got there early enough to watch two people ahead of me.  Theo was calling a bit in the trailer, so they offered me a spot on the high line.  I stared, then said nope, he's never been on a high line and I think that will go badly.  He's already in stud mode, I could totally see him rearing and flipping over when he realized he was tied and couldn't go anywhere.  Also, it was raining.  So they let me use a stall to keep him happy with a hay bag while I observed.

Vitor loves to use laterals to get a horse straight.  The first rider I watched was a working equitation rider.  Lots of leg yields off of the wall to center line in each direction, getting the horse stretched out and supple.  Then it was leg yield off the wall, half passe back.  Then canter, turn on center line, leg yield to the wall.  It all built up to her horse doing it's first flying change.  The rider was as startled as anyone when she realized what all of her previous work had been leading up to.  All of a sudden, a clean change on command.  It was eye opening for her.

Then he had a lesson with a nervous older lady and he turned it way down, working on position and just being able to communicate with her horse.  I went and tacked up my beast, feeling much better.  He never yelled or barked and everything he said made sense.

Stall time calmed Theo down a lot and he walked into the indoor like a civilized beast.  The high lines in the corners perplexed us both (and Vitor), but our absolute training on standing while I mount held and mi papi didn't embarrass me by spinning away in terror with me hanging off the side of the saddle.  A couple of walking passes and he settled right down.  Almost like he's done a few clinics in his life.

I told Vitor he was 13, gelded late, a former school horse, and currently going at about First level.  We're having major trouble with leg yield right and canter left, which seem to be related and I suspect come down to strength issues as he was recently informed that he had to submit to the bit.  Now he has to canter in balance and it's hard.  Vitor nodded and pulled Theo in so that he could take a feel.  This meant taking my whip and my reins so he could feel where Theo is currently.  I did warn him Theo has a strike in him, since he had a whip in hand and was quite close to those front hooves.  Theo was a gentleman and didn't threaten Vitor at all, which I took note of.  Theo is usually quick to make an impression on a stranger, but Vitor didn't trigger Theo's FU button, even when he had the reins and was making mi papi use his hind end correctly.

I will say it was freaking weird to sit in the saddle while Theo was put through his paces from the ground.  I kept wanting to participate, but nope, supposed to just sit there.  Might have to book some lessons on in hand work . . . 

Knowledge gained, Vitor sent us off to warm up at the walk.  Leg yield off the wall, leg yield to the wall, shoulder fore, counter shoulder fore.  Fortunately I've had enough feel beaten into my thick skull that I picked up the moments where Theo was straightening up quickly, so it became a game of Vitor showing me how to make Theo straight and me managing his parts as needed.  We trotted and did a LOT of lateral work, mostly leg yield.  He wanted Theo supple and soft.  He really, really focused on Theo having a long, relaxed neck and giving me his back.  Give him the rein so he has somewhere to go, set him up to succeed.  Don't encourage a short neck, a horse like him loves a short neck because he will drop his back.  The contact is light, encouraging him to step up into the bit.

We did leg yields for I swear 30 minutes, mostly at the trot.  Off the wall, off centerline, neat 10m turns at the end that required a change of bend.  When he laid on my left rein, I was instructed to use right leg, right rein as though doing a leg yield and force him off of that right shoulder.  He was to be symmetrical and light in the contact.   Lo and behold, it worked.

At the end of my lesson, I stepped him into the canter from the walk and it was no big thing.  Still a smidge more reluctant left than right, but it was balanced and chill and lovely.  Vitor said he saw no problem with the left lead and I wanted to cheer.  It's not really busted, he's not broken, he's just learning a new way of going.  Vitor encouraged me to come visit him at his farm to keep going with this progression.  Theo has the challenge of being started too late, but he's a good looking boy and he's a good worker.  He also offered to give me a lunge line lesson.  Whee!

I really enjoyed my clinic.  No yelling, no chasing, no fussing.  Yes, I was told to get him more forward and we worked hard on transitions.  I did tap him with the whip as needed with instructions to praise him, complement him when he did it right.  Theo is a proud horse that needs to succeed.  Despite getting after him to go forward, his approach had Theo more chill at the end of the ride than the start and that was nice to feel.  Theo was chewing and foaming away by the end of the ride, which was something Vitor was actively working toward.  Our homework is to do lots of laterals and when he is laying on his shoulder, think leg yield to get him straight again.  Keep his neck as long as possible while keeping him on a contact.

If you get a chance to ride with Vitor, I say do it.  He's approachable, happy to answer questions, positive, and classical.  He wants a happy, supple horse regardless of your background, tack, or level of experience.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Impulse control issues

The hubby forwarded a link to a clinic in the area to me, thinking I'd like to go audit.  First off, that's so sweet.  Second off, how the hell did he find out about a dressage clinic when I hadn't seen it?  Is he a closet dressage fan now?  Is he stalking trainers?  I have questions about this.

I followed the link and saw a name I recognize.  Vitor Silva is pretty local, has a gorgeous Lusitano farm, and does a lot of demos.  Trainer A has ridden with him a couple of times and likes him.  He's a softer touch, more interested in a cooperative, supple horse.  He's not a competition focused trainer.  He works with baroque horses, so smaller strides than the warmbloods and short backed.  He specializes in lateral work and in hand work.  Well, gee, that sounds like someone I would enjoy as a clinician.  I went to check for audit price and saw that there were a few last minute spots available.

A quick couple of messages and we have a one hour private on Sunday afternoon.  Yay?  Impulse control issues.  I haz them.

The view after our early morning lesson and road hack, 68* today!

But I'm excited!  This will be a very different view and it's a great time for it.  Theo has broken through the wall of 'neck braced or death!', but the connection isn't consistent yet and we have a lot of suppleness work to do.  Yes, he can flex in both directions now which is a huge achievement, but today's lesson with Trainer A really highlighted how much more we have to do.

My left lead canter is a bit broken.  I know, it has been for awhile, but while it's getting better it's also becoming more noticeable as we up the difficulty again.  He now does not canter and turn left unless I let him shove his nose out and use the underside of his neck.  Keeping him on a contact and balanced on both sides is forcing him to use his topline and build up all new muscles.  Papi is not a fan of building up new muscles.  I refuse to go back to a heavy connection, so the battle is on.  He would really rather not give to the left and thinks that my left leg is purely decorative.

We did side passe, 10m circles, and leg yield today to unlock the rib cage and shoulder where he doesn't want to stretch through.  It's quite a juggling act to keep all of his evasions in check. Throw a shoulder, go haunches first, invert, suck back.  He's a smart, creative horse.  But it's getting better.  We had a couple of leg yields that were actually upright, not him laying on his shoulder and crossing as quickly as possible to get it over with.  And I'm getting a much bigger, stretcher trot these days!

Theo will always be an evasive horse because he's damn smart and if I don't know the difference, he'll do it the easy way.  But we've completely turned the corner in terms of his submission to the aids.  I put my leg on, he reacts.  I close my fingers, he reacts.  It's not consistent or always honest, but it's there.  Now we can move on to submission to the bend.

Tomorrow I clean tack and pack the trailer.  Oh, and try to make my November horse look somewhat fit to be seen in public.  Sunday I haul out and let a completely different voice check my work and (hopefully) give me some guidance on how best to keep progressing with making him more light and supple.

Maybe I'm not ready to give up on my plan to move up to Second after all.  And maybe Theo isn't so adverse to the idea.  Maybe we need to just keep doing things at our own pace and in our own way.  Because right now?  He's a fun, neat horse to ride.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Still alive

And nothing dramatic going on in my life!  I went home to Minnesota for my scheduled visit, went for some nice walks, and helped out while my mom recovers from a knee replacement surgery.  The only downside to this vacation was a complete lack of papi.

Minneopa State Park

Now I'm home and preparing for my next road trip.  This one will feature mi papi time!  We're heading to our Mary Wanless clinic on the 10th.  Oh, the joys of having my own trailer.  I was able to just sign up and not worry about arranging for a ride.  We'll have three days of torture.  This time I'm staying at a local hotel rather than driving back and forth.  I'm going in with the goal of getting a strategy and or image to deal with my collapsing left side.  This also means I need to get my trailer cleaned and packed this weekend.  I might have been dumb and bought a ticket to a distillery showcase on the evening of the 9th.  Hungover dressage clinic?  Sure, that'll be fine.

I'm still working on that super basic idea of not letting my hobby start to suck.  We've been doing jumping lessons, both me and his leaser.  Papi is a fan.  It's sad that he's still got an 11' stride, but that's just how papi does and I'm used to it.  He likes to touch the ground as many times as possible between jumps.  He'll do a grid at 12', but a line?  He wants that extra thinking time, kthx.  But he looks really good and is learning to not brace his neck between fences.

We still have zero selfie skills

I'm also fitting him for his western saddle.  After watching obsessive amounts of video on western dressage, we're going for it.  One of our local shows (30 min away) is doing recognized western dressage next year and bringing in a clinician over the winter.  Woohoo!  I think the emphasis on obedience rather than huge gaits will suit him.  Jog and lope are still hard work, but the fact he wants to take his time about it is a benefit rather than a problem.  I still have to get him well up in front of my leg, but his little strides won't be such a problem.  He's definitely a semi-QH bars boy and it appears I need a 15.5" seat.  And a 32" cinch.  And probably custom cut fenders for my stubby little legs.

Big saddle that looks very tiny on my boy, still weighs a ton lifting it over my head

I do have a bitch about the saddle shopping process.  I researched, put saddles on him, and picked out my saddle.  The Circle Y Performance Monarch with Flex2.  If I'm going to get a saddle, I'm going to get a nice dang saddle.  I like the Flex2 concept and the cutaway skirt.  It shouldn't put me into a massive chair seat, either.  It was made with western dressage in mind.  But used western saddles in New England are kind of sparse.  No one sells this dang saddle used!  Which is usually a good sign, people seem to keep them and love them.  So I decided to just bite the bullet and ordered up my test ride through SmartPak, along with some Baker blankets for Theo's trip.

So pretty, not sure what's up with the strings

Wouldn't you know it, my favorite company that never ever lets me down is dropping the ball hard.  My blankets were scheduled to ship yesterday.  Nothing.  My saddle that was in stock when I went to bed last night and is scheduled to ship tomorrow in my confirmation?  Suddenly out of stock and may not be available until the end of the month.  I've got different 'back in stock' dates on different pages.  I called customer service in a bit of a snit because I need to make sure I can ride as much as possible in those five days.  I can't be playing 'guess when the saddle is going to show' for a month.  And I need those blankets!

I've been assured the blankets are going out today or tomorrow.  Surely, they're going out, don't worry, you'll have them in plenty of time.  I've been hearing  a lot of horror stories recently about SmartPak shipping and it's not giving me confidence.  I'm supposed to hear from the Test Ride person when she gets back tomorrow so I can find out when this dang saddle is supposed to show.  I can get the saddle right from Circle Y for the same price, but I'm hesitating.  I'm discovering that western saddles are an absolute do not ride in it if you want to return it, so I don't want to change companies.  I want to know I can try it out and still return the dang thing.

My mom's kitten

It's just shocking after years of stellar service to have them drop the ball so hard.  My last order was slow, but I thought it was a one off.  Ugh.

I guess I'll have to wait until after our clinic to try out the new gear.  No one wants to wait for shiny new tack to show up.  It's the worst.  I'll distract myself by doing a fall clean up this weekend.  I need shiny clean tack for the clinic and people are starting to talk about the condition of my locker.  There may be a dead body back there.

Not the most welcoming sight outside of the barn.  Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The lost adventures

I did a lot of blog worthy things while I was gone, now that I look back.

This time it's about my attempt at bushwhacking on my dressage horse.  My big, not so delicate dressage horse.

Trainer A has been working on expanding our network of trails by exploring and mapping out little loops and connections that haven't been maintained.  Most of what she's found have been human oriented little paths over typical New Hampshire terrain (steep with random boulders and stone walls).  Please note that she does most of this bushwhacking with a cute little German riding pony or her favorite appy pony.  Her usual companion is the newly hired barn manager who also rides a little appy pony.  Not a lot of height or weight going on there.

Typical New Hampshire terrain

Since our main hill for working the booty got closed thanks to rude ATVs trashing everything, I've been looking for new hills.  Trainer A took us out to check out a new loop she found that took us out by the lake and it had some nice hills to climb.

I'll point out that everyone I went out with was on a short, stock bred horse.  One pony, two QHs.  And then there's Theo, a solid hand or more taller and the only one in four shoes.  To check out a newly discovered trail.  Yeah, you can see where this is going.  I was picking pine needles out of my teeth, cobwebs off of my face, and I was covered in scratches from branches that everyone else just ducked under.

At one point I used the 'downtown' command to get Theo's head under a branch so he could pass it to me and I could get underneath safely.  I'm going to start a movement for dressage training the trail horse.  Aside from the height and width issue, Theo's skill set made him a comfortable, easy ride on rough terrain.

More New Hampshire terrain

The trail was a nice combination of challenging and scenic.  There were some steep hills, but dressage pony showed the rest how to sit on the butt and ease down without falling on the face.  It was exactly the kind of trail I want to go out on to work on his brain, his booty, and our trail skills.  We've been working hard on things like carefully stepping around and over fallen trees. I decided that I should go out and conquer the trail on my own.

Remember the bit where the trail was for humans, rough, ungroomed, and explored by ponies?  Ungroomed and pony sized quickly turns into unrecognizable when you're on a big horse that's convinced the last of the gnats are going to kill him.  I got to the top of the steep hill, went to find the descent, and realized it wasn't there.  No path anywhere.  I turned around and there wasn't a clear path behind me, either.  When the heck did I lose the path?  I could have sworn I was on it when I started up the hill!  I started to weave my way down, looking for my trail.  I'd managed to go from rough trail to all out bushwhacking.  I eventually had to get off and lead my horse because it was too difficult to manage him on the steep hill, avoid branches, and find my way back.  By the time I got to the bottom, I had no idea where the path was.

Seriously, why does anyone live in this state?  The camera isn't tilted, that's the angle of the hill we're on.

I was genuinely lost in the woods for about ten very scary minutes.  I couldn't find the path, wasn't sure which direction I was facing, and Theo sure doesn't have Fi's sense of direction.  Sure, if I picked a straight line and walked I'd get to the road eventually, but you can't do a straight line in NH.  Stone wall blocking me from the main trail, gully blocking me from heading straight to the road.  Holy crap, I was actually lost.  If I had to call the barn for a search party, I would never live it down.

We wandered and fought our way through the trees until I happened to spot a serious of snapped branches.  Trainer A's calling card when on the trails!  She always snaps the little branches that hit you in the face.  I wiggled my way through the woods and followed the snapped branches back to civilization (aka the main trail).

Theo stood for me to mount, but was seriously questioning my leadership after that.  It took about ten minutes for him to chill and just walk home like a gentleman.  And my poor saddle, pine needles and foliage and little scratches from ducking under branches with me on foot.  Much scrubbing and apologizing to the leather.  Clearly I need a western saddle for my bushwhacking adventures and should NOT go out in my calf skin jumping saddle.  My poor, precious baby.

We need to mark that loop before I attempt it again.  We need to mark all of these new loops before I try them on my own.  I'm going to order a bunch of blazes and we can go out (with the PONIES) and get the trails marked before the leaves fall and completely hide any path.  There's a reason real cowboys like short, sturdy QHs.  Hulking draft crosses don't really do bushwhacking well.