Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Trotting Tuesday and a Wednesday Walk-About

Charlie and I continued our bootcamp on Tuesday with some solid flatwork prior to his farrier appointment (partly I did this to ensure he wasn't an anxious mess like last time, although I was pretty sure he'd settled in enough for that to be a non-issue...he ended up being a perfect angel). Achilles was interested in what we were doing and actually walked into and stood in the ring with us the whole time; Charlie didn't care.

Lots of geese everywhere, a view from the ring
We started with side reins, then I got on and worked on a lot of walking and circles. In the end it was probably a 35 minute workout with 10 straight minutes of consistent trot work. To the left was awesome, and Charlie was stretching down into it in almost no time. To the right, though, he was definitely stiff and sore. I met with quite a bit of resistance, some whip-around toe biting, and pinned ears, but I pushed him through it and kept the circles bigger in that direction until he relaxed a bit, then switched it up with turns in the other direction again to loosen his muscles. I'll have to work on softening him up on that side and keep doing the carrot stretches before and after each ride. Hopefully that's all it is.

Because of the workout and farrier appointment yesterday, I decided it was best to focus on mental (rather than physical) conditioning today. So I took some advice from a good friend and took Charlie for a walk. We went straight out the back of the barn, through the woods, and into the back field, then continued down the side of the large field to the left of the property and back down the driveway toward home. Less than a mile, but a nice jaunt.

This will be really nice in the warm weather
Charlie was overall really good, and we even saw multiple deer and geese! He jumped sideways at the first deer, and snorted at the others, but was more curious than scared. Couldn't have cared less about the geese, which is good because they're everywhere. I kept his attention with periodic "whoas" and "back," and stretches for cookies.
There's a deer dead center, watching
He actually only had one episode: when I asked him for the third time to step over a few logs and he decided they needed to be jumped. It was an excited "I-need-to-release-energy" rear-squeal-spin-kick-rear move that ultimately looped one toe dangerously close to the lead rope, so I dropped it and said loudly "Enough!"...and Charlie stopped and looked at me. I picked up the leadrope, asked him to walk on and step over the logs, calmly this time, and then we continued on our way without further incident.

Tomorrow looks like it will be a deluge, it's already raining right now, so Charlie will most likely have the day off. I'm not sure if we'll tackle the walk-about again right away, mostly because I want to ride and help build Charlie's topline, but I think it was a good exercise and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it went.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Back to bootcamp

Saturday morning after the last snowstorm
This week marks the start of our return to bootcamp. With the ever-growing amount of daylight hours, it is finally bright enough and warm enough in the mornings that I can drive out to see Charlie before starting work (and the snow is almost gone!). We both need to get back in shape in order to enjoy the really nice warm weather once it rolls around. I have big plans of doing lots of trails, jumps, and fun rides this summer, and today was a great start toward getting us both back in that routine. 

I can work with this!
Although I had planned to start working Charlie today in side reins and not actually do any riding, he was so darn cute and calm when I went out to get him that I said screw it. If he's got a brain today, we're doing something fun! So I hopped on bareback with his rope halter. We did nothing but walk on a loose rein - well, no rein actually - as I felt trotting would have hurt his back (and my butt!), but it allowed us to refresh our neck reining skills and practice seat and leg aides.

Perfect start to the day
After about ten minutes I got off and the rest of the lesson was on the ground: walk on, whoa, back, all of it done while walking in a figure eight pattern to loosen and strengthen the muscles in Charlie's back and neck. Throughout it all I kept minimal, if any, contact with the lead rope, mainly leaving it looped over his neck. Charlie was content to follow wherever I went, stopping when I stopped and only moving forward on a kiss, which is exactly what I wanted. In tune! When I asked him to whoa and stand, he did (yay for remembering last week's lesson!).

Along with the walking, I did a lot of this ground tying reinforcement today and was able to get much farther away from Charlie than I had during our last session, and for extended periods of time. We will keep working on this a little bit each day, because I want any horse I'm working with to know that if I request him to "stand", particularly if the lead rope is dropped straight down, he must stay wherever he is until I release him. 

Sometimes being good calls for some comic relief
I have found that it is beneficial to leave the rope hanging during this training as long as your horse is past the point of flinging himself away from pressure (see our previous lessons here) and he's already mastered standing still with you holding the rope. The main reason I like it is that if your horse does try to move with the leadrope dangling, he'll inevitably step on it and end up stopping himself. This reinforces that in order to avoid that pressure, he should not move his feet.
I'm looking forward to doing some more of this and hopefully integrating some longeing tomorrow. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy First Day of Spring

I'm convinced that this is winter's last hurrah and the real spring is right around the corner.

You do have to admit, it is kind of beautiful...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A taste of spring

The day before the first day of spring, and we can finally see the grass again! Charlie even got in a little grazing on our walk today without sinking in the mud.

Too bad this time tomorrow it will all be covered again in snow :( 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Long Lining during the Great Melt

On Tuesday I decided to try long lining again with Charlie since riding wasn't much of an option. The ring was an absolute mess, the wind was blustering (is that a word?), and Charlie was in lala land, but we could at least walk around, right? Plus I had to do something with my Irish Thoroughbred on St. Paddy's Day.

I really wish trotting would have been an option, because Charlie definitely had some extra energy that needed to be released. He's long lined many times, and does well typically, but this time I could only get about 4 minutes of attention at a time. A few times he mini reared when I asked him to turn (for some reason turning right was hard today), but I couldn't really make him work in the sloppy mess of the ring without fear of him falling. He then tried to cling to me and wouldn't move out, so I had to remind him I have personal space too.

Eventually we started making progress, but we really weren't getting anywhere significant and he really didn't like walking through all that mess (could I blame him?), so I switched to one line and lunged him instead, doing lots of inside turns on the circle and trying to focus his attention that way. That actually managed to cut through the BS, and he started listening, stopped resisting, lowered his head with an ear toward me and began licking his lips.

We ended with a good 10 minutes of "halt and stand" (ground tie) work. Charlie is an in-your-lap kind of horse, but he *should* know how to stand when I walk away (or at least he used to). Today took some refreshing. He kept trying to stay glued to my hip. Every he moved toward me before I asked him to, I'd walk back to him calmly, reposition him to his original position, and then repeat the "stand" command and walk away. It took a little longer than I wanted, but eventually he remembered the gig and I could make him stand and wait, then cluck him forward two steps toward me and then say "whoa" and he'd stop, waiting for the next go forward cue before coming further.

All in all it wasn't the most exciting lesson, but it was something. I'm hoping the crazy wind today will dry out the ring so I can ride again! All of this mental work is good, I'm sure, but Charlie and I both need some physical exercise.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Four more days....

I really wanted to do a nice trot workout today, but everything is still very wet and slushy. Too wet to even walk around the paddocks :( 

The outdoor
 Charlie came out to aid in my inspection of the outdoor and offer some kisses:
Whatcha doin mom?

Achilles soon joined us, vying for my attention. Sorry boys, no treats here, but you sure are cute!
Baby Face and The Beggar
Since the driveway and woods were clearly the only areas that promised anything resembling solid ground, I decided to warm up with Charlie doing our driveway routine, and then do a little exploring in the woods. 

Charlie was a little more anxious today than he has been. No surprise there; we saw at least two different herds of 4-6 deer in the first ten minutes. I really focused on keeping my hands and body relaxed but being as physically (and mentally!) confident as possible whenever he'd get quick or try to resist my leg or hands. I found that using a slightly driving seat and a giving rein to encourage forward movement in these instances really worked well, even though it might sound counterproductive for a quick horse. This made it so speeding up was no longer fun for Charlie, because it was now my idea rather than his, and he soon realized that whenever he tried to stop, he ended up doing more work (working walk). Once we had controlled energy, I started directing it using a series of walk-halt-walk transitions, with some backing up and a few series of serpentines. I needed to get Charlie more focused and nicely listening, especially to "whoa," if we were going in the woods. 

At one point, it was going well enough that I decided to try a small trot, but that brought Charlie right to the edge of what he could handle. I almost lost him mentally, but I held my leg constant and asked him to please trust me and hold it together for just a little bit (I swear I heard Guy McLean in my head: "It's ok, mate, I know you're uncomfortable, but you're doing so well! Can I just ask you for a tiny bit more? I know you can do it and I'm so proud...that'sa good boy!"). What do you know, after a dozen or so strides Charlie stopped tensing and resisting, and I so stopped asking and let him walk. Time for a (literal) change of scenery and mental stimulation: off to the woods!

I've never been on the trails back there, and you can't see them anyway with the snow, so we just followed the deer tracks around the small wooded area bordering the back of the property. It was fun. Charlie was a little anxious, but in an excited way and he held it together well, even when we reached the open field at the opposite end and encountered another herd of deer. I'm excited to try it back there again once the snow melts. Four more days until spring.....!

Friday, March 13, 2015

A taste of springtime

Wednesday was simply glorious! At 60 degrees it was the perfect riding weather. All I could do with Charlie was walk because the ring was completely flooded underneath with about 5 inches of snow on top. But, even still, I saddled up in my english tack and had a lovely hack on the buckle: all around the ring, down the central corridor and all around the far pasture, and up and down the entire length of the driveway. Knee deep snow banks, huge puddles, and rushing rivers of run-off were no problem for this brave man :)

I even managed to get in a small trot between some of the puddles in the driveway, although dry and solid ground was hard to find. Charlie was excellent. I was hoping to ride again yesterday, but what snow was left had turned super slick and sharp on any crusted edges, and I didn't think it was safe. 

Another piece of good news.....
It's starting!

Monday, March 9, 2015

A great weekend...and a ride!

This weekend was full of fun stuff with my friend, Emily. On Friday, we spent all day at the Horse World Expo in Harrisburg, and, although it is nothing like Equine Affaire, it was still really fun to wander around the booths and listen to some presenters, including my favorite, Guy McLean :) Plus Jan was there, the trainer I worked with back in PA, so it was nice to catch up with him.

Oh, Guy, how I love thee
Saturday was a day of wine tasting and shopping at local tack stores. One of the consignment stores was having a French saddle event, and I unexpectedly discovered the coolest saddle ever: a WISair Dutton RZ saddle (Wise Equestrian).

I have never sat in anything so comfortable and that put me in such a good position; it just felt perfect (and I've sat in plenty of saddles across a wide range of price levels). The cutout in the seat, although meant to promote cooling and airflow along the horse's back, was the ideal solution to my chronically sore tailbone. Plus it has an adjustable gullet and nice wither clearance, which only make it even better for a horse like Charlie.

In the saddle market, this one is actually a very reasonable $2600 (base). However, it will unfortunately be some time before I could even think about affording something like it. The worst part, as I learned after coming home and doing some research, is that they are no longer being produced because Dutton has partnered with Antares instead! Gah! I guess I'll just have to add it to the wish list and hope that when I am ready to buy, I can find one used.

Em and I enjoying some wine with some Lafayette alums on Saturday night
On Sunday Emily and I took a nice morning hike at Oregon Ridge Park. I quickly realized it was going to turn out to be a gorgeous day, and Emily had to get to her barn for spring shots anyway, so as soon as we were done I booked it back ride my horse! At a beautiful 40+ degrees, how could I not go riding?!

Charlie and I didn't do more than walk, with lots of bending and a little bit of trotting. After all, we are both really out of shape and the deep wet snow wasn't great footing-wise, but we did it!

Charlie was reluctant to move forward at first, biting at my legs when I asked him to reach out and resisting by hollowing his back with his head in the air. Once he realized I wouldn't stop asking, though, he gave up and I was able to get him to stretch a bit. We've got a lot of ground to make up after both having the winter off, but I know he knows what he's supposed to do, and it is encouraging to have had such a positive first ride back (behavior-wise) without really lunging or anything beforehand. 

After we were done, I hand walked Charlie down all the way to the end of the driveway to cool him out and test whether the "driveway demons" were still there in his mind. (If you remember, he wasn't too keen about leaving the barn when I had tried this before.) This time went really well, especially since we had to go through some pretty big, deep puddles. It was really good experience for him, reminding him that water is not something to be afraid of. Overall, a really good day!

Look at us, waaaay down here
Checking out the puddles
I would have ridden again today, but I'm super sore, so I'm sure Charlie is too. Plus, today was Dentist Day. Hopefully we can try again later in the week!

Always amazes me how they just stand for this

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Another snowy day

It feels like Mother Nature is trying to pull us into spring, but Old Man Winter is really giving her a run from her money and doesn't want to give up his throne. Who can blame him? He's had a damn successful season! Anyway, all we seem to be getting lately are marginally warmer temperatures that allow the spring-like showers to pour, but none of the sunshine we need to dry everything out. Today we're getting dumped with more snow after a night of pouring rain, which means lots of mucky heavy slush.

It is really pretty, despite the muckiness

Two days ago I had to dig out the main barn door with a metal shovel ice-pick-style because it was frozen solid in several inches of ice. This whole freeze/thaw thing isn't working out so well when any melting snow has nowhere left to go and then freezes solid again at night! It's no real use shoveling it either; it just melts and oozes back the next day.

That's a good 3-4" deep puddle of slush

They say we'll have another 5-8" of snow by 7:00 tonight, and I believe them. It's still really coming down and has been since around 6am. Luckily I already work from home, and Dan decided to join me rather than brave the nasty roads.

My friends out west are talking about their horses shedding out (what?!), but here we still seem to be firmly encased in winter. Hopefully the warmer "sheddier" days are just around the corner! In the meantime, Charlie seems to enjoy seeing me for our regular grooming and blanket changing sessions, and of course a few Winnie's Cookies, one of his favorite treats. :)

Good boys get cookies, right? And I'm being good!
In other news, this weekend I'm visiting my good friend Emily, and we're going to the World Horse Expo in Harrisburg. We might have missed the Maryland one this year, but I can't think of a better way to beat the winter blues than to have a horsey getaway weekend with a great friend :)