Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Horse Goodies

The holidays have left me with a few new horse-related possessions. These two are my favorite, proving that it really doesn't take much to keep a horse girl happy! I love fancy gifts as much as the next person, but I will use these constantly for a very long time. It makes me happy to receive gifts like that - I feel like I can fully appreciate them. In fact, all of my horse-related gifts were functional, and I'm thrilled with all of them.

First, the Ultimate Hoof Pick. This is a beast of a hoof pick. It's practically a power tool.

It takes everything good about something like an Oster hoof pick - nice handle design, angled head, pointy - and leaves everything bad, which is mostly the thin metal that has a weird curve in it that leaves you with no leverage whatsoever. I will be surprised if this thing ever dies.

The tip is like a wide flathead screwdriver, so my only complaint is that I have to turn it a little sideways to get all the way down in the clefts on either side of the frog. I think its other values more than make up for that, though. Absolutely excellent for levering huge clods of mud out of the foot! And I imagine it would be very nice for big honking draft feet, though I don't have a horse with big honking draft feet so don't quote me.

Then there's this - Effax LederCombi, or leather cleaner. It's a liquid with a light, pleasant smell. I used it to clean my whole saddle yesterday (aren't you proud of me?) and really liked it. I put some on a wrung-out damp sponge and went to town.

It seems to clean really well. My saddle had a few jockeys (little black spots of greasy-dirt mix...look closely, you probably have some on your tack!) and it did a good job of removing them without too much scrubbing, but it doesn't feel harsh at all. It actually left my saddle with a really nice soft shine. My saddle was grippy but not tacky, clean but not stripped.

For reference, I've previously used Leather Therapy (ugh ugh ugh, sticky and filmy and residue-y and YUCK), Murphy's Oil Soap (slightly lathery, left a nice finish on the leather, but lots of scrub-work to clean any dirt), and plain glycerin saddle soap (same story). I will be sticking with this for awhile, methinks!

In addition to the Effax, people on the Chronicle forums seem to really like MOSS, Tattersall, and Supple for leather cleaners. In general, if a ton of people on COTH agree, I believe them! Maybe next year I will ask for another brand to try.

As far as conditioners go, I use neatsfoot oil to darken and Passier Lederbalsam to soften and condition. I don't need to condition every time because our climate isn't terribly dry for most of the year, so my leather tends to hold its moisture pretty well. According to COTH, a lot of people love a conditioner called Akene - perhaps I'll pick that up when my Passier runs out. I've had it for a year and a half now and it's still almost 1/4 full. I'm not sure if that speaks for the longevity of the conditioner or the infrequency of my tack cleaning...

Anyway, my mom finds it hilarious that I probably would have been satisfied with just the hoof pick. Never mind all the other stuff - that is one freakin' nice hoof pick!

I also had a really nice ride last night. I've been lining out my schedule and goals for the year, and I have my full January conditioning/training schedule printed out and stuck on the tack room wall. (Don't worry - I'm not getting off easy, I have workouts for myself too!)

We went for a quick hack up the road and back. It's a really nice mild hill, levels out, a bigger hill, and then it goes gradually down for a long ways. The uphills felt nice. Pandora walked on a loose rein and it felt like she had good push. Nothing extraordinary, but measured and strong. She was a little sticky on the downhill, so I will be looking for that to improve with conditioning. We also had one little scoot-leap forward when the neighbors fired up their four-wheeler, but thankfully it was fairly controlled. She came back easily and walked on a loose rein the rest of the way.

Then I rode for about an hour in the arena. I've been trying new things lately, namely allowing a lot more variation in where her head and neck are. More specifically, I'm letting her stretch all the way down at the trot at certain times. I'm not entirely sure where it's going, but I think it's going somewhere useful. We seem to be able to get a proper bend easier when she's stretching down, for example, so I did some big looping figure-8s while she was long and low. It's hard to control a smooth bend but I felt like we made some progress. Later in the ride I tended to ride with her neck at normal carriage, ask her to stretch down for a circle, then return to regular carriage again.

It seemed constructive and Pandora does seem to like the chance to stretch.

On a side note, I am FINALLY signed up for dressage lessons! I'll take two in a row, Wednesday the 6th and then the 13th. After that I will go to every other week. The farm is only about a 10 minute drive from our boarding barn, which is also great.

Have I mentioned how excited I am? I am very excited. We can finally get some quality instruction and make some much-needed dressage progress.

I love the end of the year. It's so productive for me! :-)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Horses, + Goal Beginnings

The longer I have horses, the more I begin to notice patterns. Yearly cycles, I guess.

As January draws near, instead of making small resolutions I'll never keep, I start itching to plan out my year for riding and training. Last year in January was when I began systematically logging my rides on Pandora and mapped out a weekly training schedule as well as monthly goals. I haven't sat down to sketch those things out for this year yet, but I will do that this week.

I've been tossing goals around in my head, and I keep running up against something I kind of struggle with. It's a nice problem to have, but still.

I always have a hard time balancing my goals with each horse.

Pandora and McKinna are both very talented and fun to work with. McKinna has been my partner in misadventuring for a few years now - from cows and gaming in OHSET to a last-minute substitution for eventing camp this past summer, she's always been up for whatever I throw at her. And it's not just that she's willing - she's good at it. I took her to the eventing camp with about a week's warning, and it had been a full year since she schooled XC. (The full report is here and here, with lots of pictures, if you missed it!)

She was so much fun that week. Not perfect. A little rushy in stadium, sometimes a little unfocused on XC. But she ate up all the XC fences way more than the year before, also a product of the improvement in my riding. Our instructor had us working off a 3ft bank the first day and McKinna casually sent herself down the drop without a second glance, and we'd never schooled real drops.

You get the idea. She's just a blast, and so willing, and such a cute jumper.

But dressage is more difficult on her, and galloping would be too. She's also somewhere in her mid to late teens. I don't know if that means much, but it means something. I know horses compete into their 20s, but not every horse does. Am I wasting some of her good competing years by not actively riding her? Would I be putting the soundness of her joints in danger by introducing the additional pounding of consistent jump schooling and galloping?

Pandora is younger and generally more shaped for galloping. Not that that means much, at my level. She's level-headed and in general a fantastic horse for a learning kid like me to figure stuff out on. Not perfect, but so far I can muddle through our problems without too much suffering. I'm impressed every day by how cheerful and friendly she is - even more than McKinna, who can get act grumpy sometimes in the winter. She's bay, which is a hell of a lot easier to keep clean! In a year of schooling we've come a long way, especially given all the out-of-whack body issues we had to deal with.

So it's just hard to find time for both of them. The priority goes to Pandora, obviously, since McKinna is my mom's horse. These are just the kinds of things I worry about - I don't want to waste any talent! And I also have a huge loyalty to McKinna, who was my primary mount for a year or so and who has always been there for me when I need a partner for my next intrepid adventure. I just have to tell myself to chill out a little bit, I think. I doubt either of them particularly cares if they explore the extent of their abilities.

I guess I just needed to get that out there a little bit. Like I said, it's certainly not a bad problem to have, and I'm not trying to complain (too much). Just thinking, uh, out loud. In text?

Finally, here's a bit of brainstorming about goals I'd like to take care of this year.

I picked up Practical Eventing, by Sally O'Connor, while I was in Portland. It's a fantastic book. I'm not all the way through with it, but it lays out systematic training systems from a green horse through Preliminary three-days. It also has detailed conditioning schedules for each level.

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to do a similar map for our year, to include the usual monthly goals but also a really broken-down schedule to follow. I always think it's easier if I can look at the calendar and it tells me what I'm supposed to do today, so that might help me keep rolling. My ultimate goal is to master Novice and perhaps begin to school Training by the end of the year. I'd like to compete Novice at Inavale's June HT, but that's more a function of my summer finances than anything!

To get there, I want to take REGULAR dressage lessons, 2 - 4 a month for several months if possible. I've been talking about needing a sustained push to bring us to the next level, and that's what I'll do.

I need to school fences at home more regularly, so I'll make it a goal to do that at least three times a month. Once a week would be better, but I'll settle for an achievable goal and make it more ambitious later if I can.

Pandora has been having some rushing problems on XC lately, but it's not just fence-related. I've talked about this before - she seems very anxious, even when just cantering without jumping any fences, so I've decided the solution is to take her XC schooling a couple times on my own. We haven't had much of that, because every time we're on XC it's in a lesson format. Which is good, but I think we may have fried her little brain a bit. My goal is to take her schooling to at least two different places (probably Make Your Mark and Inavale) to calmly and quietly trot and canter over all kinds of fences until she relaxes. Knowing Pandora as I do, I really think this will solve the majority of our rushing issues and allow her to feel confident about XC.

I want to pass my C2 rating this summer. At this level, most fences are 3'. Your position is expected to be rock-solid at all times, and you should be developing an independent seat (that is, able to influence your horse independently of what he/she is doing); your courses should be very rhythmical and coordinated. You do a little longeing, and all horse management knowledge deepens as usual. I'm not at the C2 level right now, but I think getting there in six months is very achievable for me.

How about goals for myself? I've started taking rider fitness more seriously, ever since I rode in that clinic and was so exhausted from the morning ride that I couldn't hold things together on XC. (I'd also been sick that whole week, but still.) I started running twice a week this term, but next term I'd like to bump that up to working out 3 and then maybe 4 times per week - not necessarily running, but something. I have easy access to the rec center, which is nice. I also have a couple yoga and pilates workout videos, which for me is awesomely convenient.

And, finally, I want to clean my darn tack more often! I have established the habit of cleaning my bit in Pandora's water bucket after every ride, and this summer I was actually wiping down all my tack with a damp rag after I rode (until it got so freaking cold I didn't want to deal with the water). I'm going to bring a sponge out and get back in that habit. And also make it a point to bring everything home at least once a month for a more thorough cleaning.

So there's some outlines. I have other, more specific goals in mind, but this is what's on my mind for now.

Tell me what your goals are! I love hearing about goals.

Monday, December 21, 2009

If I Knew Then...

Sometimes I engage myself in a mostly useless thought experiment.

If I knew back then - when I first got Bailey - what I know now, what would I do differently?

The list is long.

I would do these (different) things as soon as possible, in roughly this order:

Find a barn with year-round, daily pasture turnout for him.
Feed him as much NICE hay as he will eat, plus maybe some alfalfa pellets.
Pull his racing shoes and find a quality, patient farrier.
Have a chiropractor out. Several times.
Start him immediately on a course of ulcer medication. (Gee, do you think my incredibly girthy, grumpy, nipping, hard-keeping ex-racehorse who wouldn't eat enough hay may have had ulcers?)
THEN add small amounts of grain if necessary. Also a hoof supplement.
Spend a month or two on ground manners, in which he was sorely lacking.
Start with a french-link snaffle instead of a single-jointed one.
Start work in-hand, bridled, on relaxing the head down and walking calmly.
Once suitably controllable, start taking him for long walks out in the countryside.
THEN begin riding work. Quietly and calmly. After he gained a couple hundred pounds.
Trail ride. A lot.
Join Pony Club! ;)

There are some things I did right, too. We did not canter until more than six months after he came home with us-- and I am sure he needed that time to build strength. We focused a lot on relaxation in our rides and didn't worry about the head or forcing him to slow down: just lots and lots of ring figures and patience. He received quality dental care and we always gave him free-choice hay.

Eventually, we learned to deal with his behavioral issues. Punishment didn't work, nor did appeasement. What did work was a very big round pen and a simple rule: in the middle, we do what I want to do and you're nice. If you're not nice, you get a big whack on the butt with my whip and you have to run until I say you can come back.

This was something Bailey understood. It was a simple binary: be nice, or work your butt off. His choice. He liked having choices, that's for sure. He hated feeling trapped.

I say the thought experiment is almost pointless because, well, I can't go back. I did the best I could by him and learned a lot, just like we all do. It's interesting to think about how much easier things would have been if I knew what I know now, and how much happier he'd have been early on. (Most of the things on that list eventually happened except lots of trail riding and ulcer treatment.)

But it's not entirely pointless because it puts things in perspective. In another five years, I'll probably feel the same way. "I can't believe how ignorant I was...I wish I knew more back then..."

So it keeps me humble. It sure reminds me to keep learning! And I know that I can do a better job each day with the horse I have. I'm always searching for better, because good isn't good enough: does my saddle fit perfectly? Are the training strategies I'm using working well? Are there other ways to do this that will result in a happier horse or a softer response? Is my horse's diet perfect? Are there holes in our training?

If I could do it over with Bailey, I would. I wish I could have a chance to own him again, even now, though I know that can't happen. But none of that means I regret my lack of knowledge back then-- it just drives me to learn as much as I can so I can do the best for my horses. Another chance with Bailey would be wonderful, but I will have just as many chances with every future horse that comes into my life too.

If you could go "back" to an earlier time with your horses, would you change anything? What would you do differently, knowing what you know now?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Finally....A Ride

So, I rode on Monday night for the first time in about two weeks. About time, eh?

Pandora was, of course, very good. Definitely a bit lacking in the suppleness department, but that is always one of our biggest challenges. This is one of the biggest things I'm hoping to get out of dressage lessons: what can I be doing during my daily rides to help her develop more suppleness? Of course I do lots of bending and looping figures at all gaits, but it just doesn't feel like it's enough. The idea is that a few regular dressage lessons will kick us off this plateau we've been stuck on and get us improving again.

Our canter work is still on the verge of becoming good. She can canter without dragging me out of the saddle, which is nice. She can do smaller circles and not lean on my outside rein. We're starting to work on very very shallow serpentines down the long side: come off the wall maybe a couple meters by E or B, then back to the wall again. Hard but good for her.

I've started practicing trot-canter transitions on a straight line lately, which I suspect will be extremely useful for jumping. Oh, I never wrote about the jumping session I had a few weeks ago!

Basically, I set up an X on the 1/4 line and we schooled over it. For whatever reason - I did not have my head on straight apparently - we jumped to the left first. Now, the left is the lead that Pandora does not land on when jumping. I mean, she will, but not very often and not on a straight line. I almost always have to school the lead change, which as I learned in the Brian Sabo clinic, should be a walk transition then directly up to a canter.

Anyway, we jumped it to the left and of course she got the wrong lead. So I schooled the walk-canter and came again. (We were trotting the fence.) And again. And again. And again...

I tried to stay very patient and consistent in my ride. Even weight in both stirrups, even weight in the reins, I tried my best to get a smooth bend around the corner, and NOT lean for the lead but just cue lightly with my outside leg. Again. And again. And again.

Finally, FINALLY, she got it. I praised like she'd just invented the wheel and let her walk for awhile, trying to think about what she did. (Of course my mom had stopped taking video at this point, because I'd had to school it so many times. But, fear not! I got it again on video the next time I got the lead, and I need to watch it to figure out visually what was going on.)

It felt very different from when she took off and landed on the wrong lead. Almost like she shifted her haunches to the left. But what I suspect actually happened: she didn't shift her haunches to the right. You guys know that we have a consistent, big problem with left bend because she always swings her haunches out. So here is yet another aspect of that! I haven't jumped much since I figured out the left-bend thing, so now I know why she rarely lands on the left lead--she isn't traveling straight in the first place.

So we came again, and it only took maybe 1/3 the reps for us to get the correct lead again. Same feeling: I tried to stay very straight and aligned but keep a strong right leg to remind her not to swing those haunches out. It didn't work the first couple times, but then I felt that weird 'different' jump again and we landed on the left lead. I called it a day with that.

Lots to work on! I suspect this problem will be fixed much more easily by correct dressage work than by jumping schooling, but I will do my best to attack it from all angles.

Speaking of jumping lessons, regular Pony Club lessons start up again next month! I'm actually quite excited. I think I needed the break from Pony Club riding because I put so much work into preparing for my rating, but now I'm ready to start taking some regular jumping lessons again. It will really help Pandora get fitter, too - there's nothing like regular jumping to kick up her fitness levels. I need to do my part and jump more frequently at home, too.

We've got a neat schedule worked out for lessons in PC too. Each month we have one mounted lesson with our regular instructor, one mounted lesson with one of our upper-level members, and two unmounted HM sessions. We also have one clinic with Karen O'Neal each month. I haven't been riding in those lately because she works your tail off (really, SERIOUSLY works), but once both of us are in top shape I will go to those again as well because she gives very very good lessons.

We've also got our Winter Camp coming up this weekend, which is always fun. All the girls get together, we play horse management games like Tornado in the Tack Room (a good way to familiarize everyone with rally kits and what items go where) and Pony Club Catchphrase, which helps develop horse vocabulary. We're also going to inventory our fences to decide what new kinds we want, as well as learn about bits and fence types from other members.

Then, next month, we have the ABC retreat. I am REALLY looking forward to it! I learned so much last year and I love the in-depth knowledge they give us. We also have our annual schooling show on the 24th which I will most likely ride in. Remember that show? It was the first time I ever did a real course with Pandora! I can't wait to have my parents take a video of our round and post the comparisons from last year to this year :-) We did the 2'3 classes last year and she was great. The show is late next month, so it may be pushing it to be comfortable schooling 3' by then - remember I haven't really jumped much since before school started - but we can definitely do the 2'9s, piece of cake.

Plus we will have another schooling show on Valentine's day! It's my goal to do a 3' class or two by then. Ooh, speaking of goals, it's about time for me to work out my goals for the year again....

Then we have Quiz Rally at the end of February (woohoo! I had a great time at Quiz last year) and who knows after that.

I'm excited to get back into this again. If you guys look at my blog post history, it's pretty obvious that fall term is always a really tough time for me, riding-wise. I'm adjusting back to being in school, it's starting to get all cold and dark and awful outside, and it's just hard to ride (and write!) regularly. Starting into winter term, that familiar goal-setting boost of January helps carry me through the last bit of winter. I actually clearly remember that January was when I first started seriously schooling Pandora last year, with goals and everything. Fall term is over and I'm ready to get going.

We've come very far in a year's time and I am looking forward to revving up our engines again. See you in a few days with a goal-post of epic proportions!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Barn Owners Hate Winter Too

Finals are DONE! I can't even begin to describe the sense of relief and freedom that washes over me after I am finally finished. It always takes a few hours to settle in. Immediately after my last final, I went to spend some time with a good friend. When we sat down, I was still bummed because I knew I messed up a few problems on the final; by the time we finished our tea, I was having a hard time wiping the grin off my face as I kept remembering-- I'm FREE!

Meanwhile, my wonderful mother wrote a guest post for you guys while cold was still on the mind. We headed out to the barn last night to visit the girls, who are comfortable and happy as usual. They've been going out every day (no mud when it's this cold!) and seem to be thriving. We managed to pull an entire cylindrical shell of bucket-shaped ice out of one of the water tubs last night, which was actually pretty cool. I broke it after we set it down safely outside, because I was holding a hammer and really what else are you supposed to do when faced with a giant ring of ice?

Anyway, here is my mom, musing about barn owners dealing with the cold.

As I write this it’s 11 degrees F outside. Brrr…. We made our way out to the barn Tuesday evening intending to ride. It was somewhere in the 20s with a promise of lows into the single digits. We didn’t even make it all the way out before we’d decided to just check on the girls and say hi! We got there to find them tucked into their stalls, with the doors out to their paddocks closed, happily munching on huge piles of hay. The barn owner had broken the ice in their buckets. Love our barn owner…

I decided to fish the floating ice out of the water buckets just for good measure. Our horses are in a smaller barn a few yards from the main barn/arena and right now there’s just one other horse in there, a cute paint mare named Summer. I went in and fished ice out of her bucket too. As I tried to shut her stall door when I was done I noticed it wouldn’t close because there was a piece of plastic water pipe hanging down in the way. I moved it out of the way and shut the door, but realized the pipe was full of ice and had broken.

There was a note on the board in the main barn saying the water was off, but the horses had been watered and they’d fix the problem tomorrow. Bummer… Got me to thinking – including this one, we’ve boarded at four barns since owning horses. Every single one has had pipes break in the winter – every single one. Wait, I take that back – at the last one the pipes didn’t break, but they were frozen and they had to haul water from the house.

So each barn owner we’ve known has had to spend the coldest part of the winter hauling water to horses a couple of times a day, not to mention dealing with the broken pipes. Not my idea of a good time, so I’ve been trying to figure out what I would do differently if I had my own barn. Is there really anything you CAN do? Barns here are not heated so is there a way to keep pipes warm enough? And on a related note, does anyone use heated water buckets? I’ve often wondered about those. I guess you’d need an electrical outlet strategically placed in each stall. Seems like a bit of a hazard to me, but maybe not…

What do you guys or your barn owners do?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why I Hate Winter

Have I ever mentioned that I hate winter?

I really didn't hate winter until we got horses. I have a warm house to come home to. The buildings at school are heated. I would grumble when walking to and fro, but really, it wasn't that bad.

But when you're spending a couple hours out in the cold....

I know. I am a complete and total wimp about cold. It's been in the 20s, but at least we don't get feet and feet of snow or icy rain. My dad is still wearing shorts every day, but he is probably the exception.

I have tall, insulated, winter boots. I love them dearly and if I had the money I would buy a pair for everyone I know. Why? Because my toes are NEVER cold anymore. It's the best thing ever. Add that, a pair of winter breeches (like sweatpants on the inside!), and a coat (or three...), and I can handle the cold.

But I still don't like it. It's dark before I even get out to the barn. There's blankets to constantly be taking on and off, I never feel like moving, you get all sweaty once you start riding and you have to shed layers but then you get chilled when you finish. The horses don't seem to mind - Pandora's got her trace clip, she stays toasty under her blankets and plenty cool when she gets worked.

Speaking of working - she hasn't been worked much at all over the past few weeks.

I have one final tomorrow and one Thursday. The end of this term, unfortunately, has kind of devolved into an unhappy mess of studying and stressing and studying some more. It really shouldn't be THAT bad, but I am a little bit obsessive about my grades. I came to the conclusion last night that it really doesn't matter if I get a B in Organic Chemistry (which is the worst-case scenario, pretty much), but it's still very, very hard for me to relax about it. My motivation has taken a steep nosedive since the weekend, but I always feel like I should be studying more.

I also don't have all of the material 100% mastered, and that's frustrating.

So, I've essentially given up on trying to ride for the past few weeks. It won't make much difference if she has five days off a week or four, which is what things are coming down to. It's been really hard for me to accept this - noticing any parallels between my academics and my riding? - but I know Pandora doesn't care at all. She gets to spend her days eating and hanging out in a field with her buddies, which doesn't sound too bad to me.

I'm going out tonight - ideally to ride, but I might just longe. I only have so much energy, and as soon as I'm back home, it's more last-minute review to ease my mind about my OChem exam tomorrow.

On the bright side, there is light at the end of the tunnel: we can return to your regularly-scheduled programming at the end of this week. After I'm done with my finals, everything should start running smoothly again. I plan to spend a week or two getting back into riding frequently, then FINALLY take some dressage lessons. If it ever warms up outside.

I hope everyone is doing well and staying warm!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dead Week

I am still around, of course. It is dead week here at the University, which means next week is finals week, which means I have a lot of studying to do if I want to get my As in Organic Chemistry and Biochem/Genetics!

I apologize for my lack of writing. Pandora has been getting less attention too, though I'm sure she's not complaining about her life. It consists of eating breakfast, being turned out to nibble on pasture and roll in mud, and then being brought back in for the evening to eat some more.

I did have a very interesting ride last week. I dragged out a couple standards and hopped over a fence a few times, and got some insights about how our flatwork ties into our jumping, the progress we've made, and what things we need to continue working on.

You can expect a full post on that sometime in the next week or so, but I'm not making any promises! Unfortunately my first loyalties lie with my academics. In about a week and a half, I will be a much less stressed-out person.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is doing well!
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