Saturday, March 16, 2019

Keeping it Western

While I've been very focused on my standard dressage, I didn't forget my western dressage.  Let's face it, Theo will probably always get better scores in western dressage where his chill is more appreciated.  He may be learning to be prancy pony but his natural state is still sound asleep.

I tried moving my stirrups back to the further back position to fix the part where I end up in chair seat in the canter when I ride in my western saddle.  It fixed me going into a chair seat but they were too far back and I ended up with a heating pad on my SI joint.  Ouch.  I didn't even know that was a thing humans had to worry about until mine decided to lock up.  So that was too much adjustment.  I measured and it was about a two inch change between the two positions.  I put my stirrups back in their forward spot and bumped the cantle of my saddle up a little less than an inch.

Seriously, every part of this saddle can be adjusted, the entire seat cover comes right off

This saddle is crazy adjustable.  I can adjust the stirrup position, the width at the fork, the spine clearance, and can even move the cantle forward and back.  Bumping it forward just under an inch got me out of the chair position and stopped the saddle from trying to suck me back by moving the lowest point forward.  When I took it for a canter, it was much easier to stay where I was supposed to be.  Still not as easy as my dressage saddle, but that's more a matter of practice.  By the end of my ride, I was cruising around with no trouble.

Good thing since I spent my new saddle money on fixing my truck.  Ugh.  That truck is lucky its so sexy.  I felt like such a cowgirl at the barn today when I climbed out of my big truck in my western boots and my Carhart jacket and dragged my western saddle out of the back.  I was even wearing Wrangler brand jeans.  

So my western saddle is home and tied to my saddle rack while I reshape it for it's new size.  The cantle is what provides stability to the back half of the tree so moving it shifted the shape of the tree slightly.  It needs to learn how to saddle again.  I'll leave it for about a week, then ride Theo in it a couple days in a row.  That should be enough to reset it and make it saddle shaped again.  Theo doesn't care either way, it's purely aesthetics.  The weight is spread out, off his spine, and behind his shoulders, he's a happy pony.  The new cantle position makes the back skirt look a bit longer and more western like.  This makes me happy.  If I'm going to ride western, I want to look the part!

With that in mind, I started shopping for my western show outfit.  Last year was purely experimental.  I didn't know what look I wanted.  I went with basics that felt familiar.  The result was totally acceptable, but I felt like I still looked like an English rider.

Piper breeches, Ariat paddock boots, Charles Own helmet, and my saddle blanket is on sideways.  Is it possible I'm an English rider?

This year, I'm going ranch pleasure.  I ordered my very own pair of chinks.

I'm excited.  It's the look without the fuss of full chaps.  And not so sensitive to any weight fluctuations I might have.  You think white breeches are unforgiving?  Try chaps.  Yikes.  I got workman style chinks since extra bling on the legs makes me crazy (I really don't have the leg position to support that) and I want minimal fringe.  I don't like fringe.  I don't know how I'll survive riding western when I don't like fringe.

I'm pairing my chinks with some taller, brown cowboy boots and jean breeches.  Should be super comfortable and familiar feeling for me.  I got some tops off to show in.  One is pink, one is light tan with purple flowers, and one is black with a white geometric pattern.  I also picked up a navy one with some little bitty white horse heads on it from Tractor Supply.  I already have my royal blue one.  Top it off with a brown helmet and I'll totally look like a western rider.

No, I'm not giving up my helmet.  Just no.  And the riders that not so quietly commented on me not respecting their traditions can bite me.  I make a living off my brain and I know just how devastating a concussion is.  Helmet is not optional.

I finally found some saddle blankets short enough for Theo.  One is purple, one is pink.  What can I say, I gotta be me and I want him to match my shirts.  I'm keeping my workmanlike tack, but I did see this bridle while I was on Buckaroo Leather and it totally seems like the perfect blend of workmanlike and, well, being me.

You know Theo needs a bridle with heart conchos on it.  And there's matching reins!  Split reins are very western but I'm constantly dropping one when I lead him.  I'm better with loop reins.

My first sanctioned show of the year will be a western dressage outing at an Arabian breed show.  They're hosting an open western dressage division and we really can't be too picky out here.  Two days of showing and only two hours away?  Yeah, we'll be there.  There are not a lot of western dressage shows, so Theo and I will be overnighting at an . .  .Arabian breed show.  Yeah, we're going to stick out a bit.

But we'll look like we do western, at least.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The horse you have today

I love this horse.

The human is pretty cute, too.

Hubby dropped by to meet me for dinner after my ride and got to meet post ride endorphin fueled Theo.

Trainer Z returned for our lesson on how to be big kid dressage riders.  She had a lesson on her own young horse recently and it reminded her of me and Theo.  Her young horse has changed dramatically since the last time she took him somewhere and sometimes she forgets what horse she has now.  That made her think of me and all the years I spent correcting.  Okay, great, you got it corrected.  Now ride the nice horse you made.  Get your hands in where they belong, he doesn't need you to ride wide anymore.  Keep him in balance, he's ready for it.  Just go for it.

It's totally accurate and I told her point blank that I feel like I'm still waiting for permission to ride him like a big boy dressage horse.  She said 'you have permission' and off we went.  Contact is easy, flexion is easy, now make his poll the highest point and keep him there.  He doesn't need to come out of it every two laps, he's totally happy to stay right there.  We started out with some basic movements to make sure he was right up in front of my leg.  She commented how good he looked in his body and I mentioned his massage.  Apparently it worked a treat because he was happily using the booty and did not protest his counter canter.

Once he was bombing around in front of my leg, we ran through the Second 1 test.  In the small arena.  Those movements come up fast when you have 20 less meters to work with!  But we knocked through it with no major issues, I sat the trot the whole time without trouble, and Trainer Z took notes on specific spots where we need to focus (straight halts, looking at you).  Having all new test patterns made Theo spicy since he knows when we're doing a test but he didn't know what to expect.  Those medium canters got a bit fiery.  We worked on my geometry (aim before the letter, not at it) and not letting go of the contact just because I'm thinking about getting somewhere in a pattern. 

Theo gave me some lovely moments were he really lifted up his front end.  Trainer Z hopped on for a minute to get a feel of what he's like.

My phone was being dumb, but hey, video!  At least a few seconds.

Two big takeaways from her ride on him.  First, that moment where I half halt, he comes up, and he gets light?  That's good, I want that, stay there as long I can.  He actually rides very light once he's in collection and it's quite lovely to ride.  He'll be able to hold on to it longer and longer as we go, but he's not overly light like I thought he was.  She was surprised he started offering it so quickly, but that's a good sign!  She also loved that when I gave him little taps with the whip to sharpen him up for a canter depart, he started to snap his hind legs.  That's the start of piaffe.  Well, okay then.

The second was that I'm asking for the canter wrong.  He thinks it's off the outside leg.  He needs to really understand that it's off the inside leg.  Kind of a scoop with my inside hip while letting him jump through the inside rein.  I thought he was cantering off the inside leg, but nope.  When she got on, he started swinging his haunches and she couldn't get the transition.  Once she got it, she threw me back on to coach me through it.  Ohhhhhhh.  That'll take awhile, but Theo was happy to play along.

Between the test riding, swapping riders, and general tom foolery, we worked for about 90 minutes.  Theo was a total trooper, I stuffed so many cookies in him.  The feedback I got is that Second 1 is an easy test for him and won't be any problem.  Good one to practice my stage fright since Theo certainly won't be stressing.  She asked if I was qualifying for regionals and I said yes, but at First.  I got such a weird look, but in adult ammy land, you need a totally ready Second level horse to be competitive at First.  And while Theo isn't fancy dancy or flouncey bouncey (her words), he's very correct and that will take us far.

I am 100% okay with this being his new trot, he's actually got shoulders!

I've got lots of homework to work on, but it's getting to be more than just 'go forward'.  I've done my homework, when I put my leg on I get a reaction.  Now I get to work on my geometry and remembering how to ride when I have to steer.  Because I can't always do both at the same time.

I need the large arena.  Is it spring yet?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pain management

I knew Theo was going to get sore with the stepped up work.  I'd discussed it with Trainer Z and started shopping around for a massage therapist to get him into a regular program.  Then I got sick and things got pushed off a bit.  I noticed some resistance to pushing into the contact that felt like he was avoiding connecting over the topline.  On Monday, he flat out put down and said 'nope' to a counter canter.  Red flags go off all over my brain.  Theo doesn't quit over stuff he knows unless it hurts.  Pony is hurting more than he's letting on.

I palpate his back almost daily, but he wasn't reacting to it.  If anything, he was leaning into it.  But he had tight, sore spots here and there.  I pushed hard, found a massage therapist, and due to a lucky scheduling coincidence got her out 24 hours after contact.
My poor pony.  He usually loves his massages, but he didn't enjoy this one so much.  Sure, there were some points where he sighed, yawned, and leaned into it.  But there were more points where he threw his head in protest.  He was sore in a bunch of different places.  All the places you would expect with collected work, but it had snuck up on us and I don't think even Theo realized how sore he was until his therapist sunk her fingers into some spots.  At one point he had his mouth open like he didn't know if he wanted to yawn or bite.

One and a half hours of hard work later, large swathes of his body were back to their natural, jello-like consistency.  Some spots, like right over his hips and the inside of his left hind will need more then one session.  I signed Theo up for weekly massages for the next four weeks so she has a fighting chance at getting through all of the accumulated tightness. 

Theo was walking better and had a lovely canter around his field afterward.  Considering the yawning and the big smooch he gave his massage therapist, he already feels better.

Weekly massages are just one thing that's going to happen.  I also signed Theo up to get his stifles done when the vet comes out for their spring vaccinations.  I've been hemming and hawing but he's got some compensation going on while he avoids that weaker right side.  Let's shoot up those stifles and see if that helps me straighten him up.  He'll also get that box of Adequan.  I wanted to time that right before the start of the show season.  Whelp, that time has arrived and pony is getting loaded up.  I want his joints as slippery as possible so he doesn't feel like he needs to compensate.  Compensating leads to whacky muscle problems.

His massage therapist didn't find anything wrong or unexpected, just a sore pony that's moving into collected work.  Once she's got him caught up, he'll go on a regular maintenance schedule.  And since she travels to dressage shows, we might even be able to book him some massages while he's competing!  That would be a huge benefit, he really does love his massages.  Even today when he was quite clearly in pain, there were plenty of sections where he looked like he was in heaven.

I dropped the ball a bit on this one.  I knew it was coming and should have been more proactive, but hindsight is what it is.  We'll just get him all tuned up and ready to prance in the sandbox.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Where's the data?

I've had a complete dearth of Equisense data.  No, I didn't lose it or let Theo step on it.  Turns out there's a safety feature where it shuts off when temps get too cold.  It protects the electronics.  This may be a rare occurrence in France, but in NH?  It was always off and I was usually too cold to take it into the office and plug it in to get it to work again.  So for the dead of winter, no data.

It was 40 yesterday so I went ahead and plugged the unit in so I could put it back in rotation.  It should be warm enough for it to stay on all week.

First, glad to see our symmetry, which had been really starting to concern me, bounce back.  We'd been on a slow but steady downward drift for a lot of rides in December.  For this ride, he popped right back to his 7.5 average.  That's a genuine relief.

Our elevation had been drifting down while our symmetry drifted down, but now it's popped back to usual, at least for the canter.  Slightly down in the trot, but he was also trying to see if he could suck behind the contact for half the ride.  Using the topline is hard, mom!  How about I arch my neck so I look pretty and drop my back while not allowing you to take any feel, does that work?


Our regularity scores were terrible, but I've found protest bucking in the canter will do that.  Theo was having an extreme case of the opinions.  By the end he was stretching into the contact again, but I could tell he'd had other riders for awhile.  He is so good at setting that false frame and making everyone think he's light and soft.  And then he props and threatens if you try to push through it.  Yesterday was a bit of a difficult ride and I explained to him that moving your legs super fast does not equal forward.  I ended up holding my outside rein and kicking until he realized sucking back off the aids wasn't actually going to make me go away.  He's such a smart little puke.  He's not afraid of my hand, he's just learned that if he curls back, I will put my hands forward and kick him.  He can fall on his shoulders when I do that, so yay for Theo.  Now I'm holding my hands no matter what and driving him forward.  He's not a fan.

Thank goodness I have a lesson on Friday.  Dropping behind the contact and behind my leg at the same time is not my favorite evasion.  Fiona was the master of dropping behind all aids and then taking off like a bat out of hell.  I'd like to not have that happen.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Out sick

I haven't had the flu in a long, long time.  I think I last got it in 2009?  At least that's the last time I remember being bundled up in a blanket with tissues and wishing for the sweet oblivion of death.

On Sunday I was sneezing a lot.  I'd body clipped my horse the day before, so okay, allergies flared up.  I have allergies year round so I stepped up my allergy meds but nothing happened.  What the heck?  I was dosing like it was the height of spring and I was still sneezing and going through a box of tissues.  It didn't register yet that something was different.  On Monday I worked from home since it was snowy.  I sneezed a lot and started to cough.  Hmm, maybe not allergies?

Body clipping, not for the faint of heart

On Tuesday I woke up with a real cough and decided to stay home so I wouldn't get my coworkers sick.  One of them has a brand new baby so that wouldn't be okay.  I took some Robitussin and messaged my boss to say I would be on and off due to cough syrup.  General policy, I don't do analytics while drugged.  I always regret it when I look back.  And then I conked out at my desk.  I seriously put my head down and fell asleep.  When I woke up, disoriented and with a crick in my neck, I was quite sure I was sick.  I took my temp and yup, low grade fever.  I was also nauseous which is fun.  I gave up on work, huddled on my couch with multiple blankets, and accepted my status.  Yuck.  I barely moved all through Wednesday.  Fever broke Thursday morning and I felt normal again on Friday, so I don't think it was a full blown flu but it was a virus and it was not friendly.  I continued to stay home on Saturday since I really didn't want to share whatever I'd had.

I finally left the house on Sunday after a whole week spent at home.  Cabin fever barely covers the state I was in.  I was so excited to get out that I went to the barn despite the fact that it was spitting snow/sleet/rain and some of the roads hadn't been treated yet.  I wanted to see my pony!

Pony was so happy to see me that he cantered up to his gate despite the neighbor running the snowblower behind me.  It was cute.  He stood at the bottom of his field, snorting and watching the snowblower.  Then he decided the cookie was worth it and jumped into a canter to book it up the field.  Got to me, stopped, threw his head all the way up, and let out this huge HONK at the snow flying through the air.  He let me put his halter on but he was quivering.  Thankfully years of ground work kept us safe as he pranced sideways to keep an eye on the neighbor.  Clearly a very dangerous demon.

Okay, I'll admit it, the long hair does make him look more like a Friesian

I spent almost an hour grooming him.  I'd thought he'd been ridden most of the time I was out but I found out both of his lessons didn't happen.  Ugh.  I curried and curried while he wiggled around.  I like to curry him loose in the aisle because he can point out exactly where there are itches.  I dressed him for lunging because he'd apparently had almost as long a break as me.  Loose side reins kept the sass monster focused and while he threw his head and jumped about a bit, he didn't haul me anywhere.  I worked him till he was blowing a bit and he'd lost the quivering, losing his mind look.  Then back up to the barn for his blanket and back into his field.

Tonight I can actually get on him and get him really over his back.  The break was a bit of a blessing in disguise since he'd acted like his back was tight when I rode him before I got sick.  He's using a lot more topline, it's not unexpected.  He looked quite loose and happy after he got the bucks out on the lunge.  A day or two in downtown and we should be ready to get back to work.

My spring shows are starting to open.  We've got feet of snow on the ground, but it appears that winter really is going to end.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Getting there

I managed to get something approaching media.  I propped up my phone on the arena wall and let it record for five minutes.  The end result is this rather boring but hopefully representative video clip.

I love being able to see what he looks like since I'm still wrapping my head around the idea that collected feels like this.  This was our third take and he was cooking in the sudden turn in temperature (first two takes the phone fell down).  It's not our best with him hanging out a bit behind my leg due to fatigue and heat, but it's a very good snapshot of what our work now looks like. 

My turn on the haunches didn't make it in frame, either.  I'll try again with an actual camera mount and see if I can make this work.  I've also found a remote control that will start the recording so I don't have to muck around with the phone to start a new clip.

Considering where we started, I'm very happy to see where we're at.