Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Flying changes and flying high

Over the weekend one of the other boarders had set up some ground poles along the centerline of the outdoor so I decided today I would use them to practice Charlie's flying changes. I like using the poles this way because horses naturally hop over them a little, it makes them focus on where their feet are, and it gives you a nice clean "1, 2, 3, NOW!" moment in the center of the ring over which to ask for the swap. You can easily see the point at which you'll need to switch your aids and you have plenty of time beforehand to prepare, balance and support. So after warming up, I cantered toward one of the poles, sat up and balanced, and when I asked for the change it was effortless. No kidding! For the first time, like, ever Charlie swapped cleanly on the first try!

When it happened I could practically hear the wheels turning in Charlie's head. He seemed very surprised as to how he miraculously got his feet all coordinated and going in the opposite directions than they were a second earlier, but I think he was proud of himself too. I definitely was. We tried a few more swaps but after that they were slightly less spectacular because Charlie was honed in on the "mini jump" and stopped listening so well to my balancing aids. Left to right was decent, right to left still involved lots of scrambling. We'll work on it.

Since he was so locked in on the ground pole, and because we were feeling so good together, I decided on a whim to canter Charlie right up to a little 2 foot vertical (side note: we haven't jumped in a couple of months and I was in a western saddle so 2' looks more like 3'). I sat up, gave a little leg and projected my best confident vibes. Wouldn't you know as soon as Charlie saw it he locked on that jump like a champ and took me right up to the base, up and over and straight! I couldn't have asked for anything more.

We did it a few more times then called it a day. So, yes, you could say that today was a winner :)

I is a good boy :)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Galloping Goose

Most of the horses Jan and I work with already belong to clients but right now we have a TBx mare of our own that we purchased to train and resell. What a cool horse! She doesn't act like a mare at all and has the bulk and brains to really do anything. Such a tempting prospect, I wish I had the money for her myself. Considering how good she is now after only 4 weeks under saddle, I can only imagine what she could be like with continued training. Anyway, I figured you guys might enjoy a peek at this pretty gal so here's her sale ad:

"Goose" is a beautiful 16.1hh thoroughbred cross with a great personality and tons of potential. Recently started under saddle, she has had 6 weeks of concentrated John Lyons training and rides both English and Western in a light snaffle. Super adjustable and very smart, this horse would make an excellent hunter, dressage or sporthorse prospect, although with her in-your-pocket personality she would make a nice pleasure horse as well.

Goose has impeccable ground manners, will lunge both open and on a line, and is as light and willing from the saddle as she is on the ground. Does not act mare-ish at all! W/T/C easily in both directions and has been started over crossrails. Goose has had trail exposure and will hack out either alone or with a buddy. Very easy keeper who seems to get along with every horse she meets. $3500 firm with contract.

Here's a video:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Can't help falling in love

Beautiful fall cobweb in the morning dew
Charlie's been doing really well and hasn't seemed sore at all lately. The weather has been absolutely perfect for riding too, so except for a couple of days where he had some random lymph node swelling under his jaw (vet thinks he ate something) we've been on a fairly regular schedule of 3-4 rides a week.

Strange swelling on both sides
Swollen lymph nodes = grooming day!
This week Charlie got a bit more of a break than I intended. Between farrier and vet appointments for him, several of my own appointments (a few of which were unplanned), and training clients' horses I somehow ran out of free time to ride my own :( I guess that's how it goes sometimes, but I apologize to anyone who was in close proximity to me this week because I wasn't exactly in the best mood as a result.

Looking spiffy
On Friday I swore I'd make sure to have time for Charlie but it was no different: riding the training horses ran long - you can't start a lesson with a young horse and not finish it - so I ended up with only about 10 minutes of free time before I had to leave the barn. And I was going away for the weekend. So I pulled Charlie out of his stall, threw on his halter, walked him over to the fence next to the barn and clambered aboard, deciding it was better to ride him bareback out to the paddock to turn him out than to not ride at all. It really wasn't much, but it was all I needed and I instantly felt better.

That was fun, mom
I started to realize something then: I'm finally starting to love Charlie. That might sound like a strange revelation, but although I certainly liked Charlie when I got him, I wasn't in love. Despite his handsomeness Charlie took his sweet time working his way into that deep part of my heart and we had a lot of iffy days. However, he really is a cool horse and continues to amaze me on a daily basis, especially in terms of the things he doesn't care a whit about: like carefully wading through all kinds of horse-eating construction junk in the barn aisle this week without batting an eye (we tore out all the floors and plumbing in the viewing room) or standing like a statue as I attempted one day to launch myself up onto his back in the paddock from a standstill (yeah, I'm waaay too short. It was a complete failure)...Little by little he's inched his way in.

I don't know if I'll ever feel with Charlie quite the same soulmate-type connection I felt from Day One with Gypsy (an amazing TB mare who I promise I will discuss on here at some point), but who knows. Charlie is certainly something special :)

Silly horse

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Outlander bridles

I've been enjoying watching Outlander, the Starz series based on my favorite books of all time by Diana Gabaldon, whose storyline is based for the most part in 16th century Scotland. Being a horse lover I'm always studying the equines on set, and I couldn't help but notice their wonderful costumes as well. Check out this bridle. Isn't it beautiful? I kind of want one.

Beautiful carved leather bridles on Outlander

Friday, September 12, 2014

Working it out

Over the past two weeks I've been easing back into riding with Charlie. If you remember, he'd been somewhat off and I was worried about saddle fit or him having played a little too rough outside with his friends, basically got myself all worked up that he's either hurt or that my saddle is broken, yada yada yada....

What? A growing, healing boy needs sustenance!
But I want to ride my horse, darn it, and all I can see every day is his neck and topline - which I worked so hard to start building up - wasting away even over just the last month (seriously, how can all that hard work disappear so fast???). So I said screw it. I want to ride. And you know what? It's actually been going ok. 

When I flex you can still see my muscles...
Looking back, Charlie started acting out right around when I was finally getting him to start using himself correctly. And then I gave up the basics in favor of doing some fun stuff. This makes me think 1) he didn't like how tired he got when I asked him to actually work, 2) he was sore from using his back and neck in new ways, and 3) I was too eager to do fun things like jump and gallop and neglected to continue to properly condition him because, well, it's boring to just trot trot trot....

So my new goal is to keep Charlie busy, changing it up each day so that both he and I don't get bored, but making sure to focus on some core strengthening too: open lunging, stretching(!), long lines with my new surcingle (thanks, Emily!), and of course some riding.

Long lines one day...
Fun round pen open lunging and playing with tarps another...
Yay! Finally a ride!
Loving the side reins right now!
Definitely going to be doing more of this.

This time my focus is on making everything quality. I'm going to really work to get Charlie long and low for extended periods, correcting him if he starts to hollow out. After all this is a barn, not a zoo; no giraffes allowed. Hopefully it will be something that starts to feel natural to Charlie and after awhile I won't have to work so hard at it. I've never had a horse this long-bodied before and difficult to package.

I think the side reins are going to be my new best friend. After just five minutes with them earlier this week, Charlie's back was lifting, his neck was softening, and we had some glorious slobber going on (only a horse person would be excited about that). Plus Charlie knows open lunging really well, so I can work him in the side reins in the round pen without a line.

He licked a lot of it off but we do have slobber! Success!
I do think there is something up with Charlie's right side, maybe a rib out of place, since he's still more sensitive than usual about being brushed over there, but since I don't have the money to have a chiro out right now I've decided to just try to work it out the best I can with stretching on the ground and from the saddle.

Luckily Charlie tolerates stretching and will let me do all kinds of pulling, pushing, prodding. And he loves carrot stretches. Anything for food. I think I could make him roll over like a dog if I really tried...
Aaaaaannd gotcha!
Sneaky carrot, hiding way down there.
Hopefully this renewed focus and determination will last so I can enjoy much more saddle time with a happy, comfortable horse :)
A rare sight: everyone at the barn together, enjoying a ride

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A trotting bike? Yes, please!

Ok, not really, but Trotify promises to at least make your bike sound like a trotting horse. I so would have wanted this as a kid (and maybe I kind of really want one now). I'm not sure which is more appealing: the fact that I could enjoy listening to the relaxing clipclop of a horse on cobbled roads while riding my bike, or that I just can't stop thinking of Month Python.

Cuteness overload

Simply irresistible adorableness

The only time I've ever felt tall
Holy adorable!!! Teko is my friend's very willing and incredibly smart 7 y/o pony who is currently for sale but no one had been on him in over a year (and prior to that I don't think he'd been ridden since being rough broke) so I volunteered to hack him around and brush off the dust. We had to borrow a saddle and didn't have a bridle that would fit (everything is at her daughter's house), but he was so good once he remembered the drill. One or two more sessions with some groundwork and he'll be ready for his next home. He'll definitely make some little girl incredibly happy. :)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cruising and Serpentines

Yes, I know I just went cruising, but in this case I'm talking about a different kind: The Maddy Method :P (you can read more here). This kind of "cruising" involves maintaining continuity in your horse's gaits without constant bugging from the rider. The result is a naturally balanced and calm horse. 

I loved this idea ever since Maddy introduced me to it and so I've been using some version of this exercise almost daily with Charlie and the other horses I ride. For those who aren't familiar, all you do is set your horse into a gait (walk, trot, canter, it doesn't matter) and once you get the pace you want you stop bugging. As my old coach used to say, "Sit chilly." Don't be a sack of potatoes but let the horse do his thing and don't get in his way. You don't even have to steer if you don't want to. If he starts getting slow, leg him up. If he starts snowballing and getting faster and faster, ask him to release his hindquarters and pivot on his forehand, effectively shutting down his engine (hind end), and send him out again at the pace you want. It's like a reset button, and it works great!

Although it's a particularly helpful exercise for the snowballers and speed demons, I've also noticed it helps horses who get nervous or throw their head up in the air. The reason, at least in my opinion, is because you give the horse a job to do (which they like) but you let them figure out the terms rather than "laying down the law" (which can sometimes overwhelm a young or sensitive horse). By leaving them alone when they are doing the right thing they are happy and you end up with a very soft and responsive horse. And they get a feel for what is "right." They ultimately teach themselves how to relax and go into this "zen" mode which is really awesome. 

I've added to this concept by incorporating lazy looping serpentines and circles to help horses, like Charlie, get more bendy and supple (it's hard when you're that big!) and it's working great. There is no definite pattern, but through doing this Charlie is much more loose and relaxed, and more responsive as he waits for my next cue. He rides with his head lower and neck looser than he used to, uses his back more, and he stays easily between my aids (leg and hand). Yesterday I tried walk-to-canter transitions for the first time in weeks and where they once were non-existent we were able to get it on the first try with minimal effort.  

I wish I had a video or photos of me working on this stuff but I rarely have anyone around to document. The best I can do is this clip Jan shot a couple of weeks ago showing some of Charlie's progress at the canter which is much more "zen" than it used to be. We even try a few flying changes but Charlie isn't so good at that yet. Now that his balance is better and he's cantering and counter cantering on cue, though, that's my next goal.