Sunday, February 19, 2012

6 - Improving the canter - more video!

I got to ride AGAIN this weekend.  Two weekends in a row, in the winter; I'm feeling quite spoiled!  But, not for long, my husband goes hunting next weekend, so my horses will get fed, and that's about it.

This trip was amazingly different.  You wouldn't think it was the same horse, in more ways than one.  First of all, she had much more energy.  Perhaps during our last visit, she was too cold to move.  My horses often seem to feel frisky when the weather first warms up, but I would hardly call 35 degrees a warm up!  I lunged her for longer, for two reasons, one, to get rid or some energy, and two, to get her muscles working on the hideous canter.  She was unbalanced, even on the lunge line, but, after 5 minutes of trot-canter transitions (working on the verbal cues, to make things easier when I'm on board), she began to at least develop a decent rhythm at the canter.  She was also starting to depart better when I kissed at her, so, progress on both accounts, so we stopped.

We tacked up, western saddle with an english bridle and a snaffle, just like last time.  When I got on, I carried a crop this time, just in case my legs weren't enough to keep her collected.  My legs aren't as strong as  they use to be.  This became blatantly apparent when, after my ride last weekend, I was sore ALL WEEK LONG!  This week, there was no western jog in sight.  She was moving.  I did a ton of bending, some shoulder ins, lateral trots along the diagonal.  She was very responsive, and it was FUN!  She didn't look much like a pleasure horse, but, these exercises are good for her; we can work on stretching out and relaxing, later.

I finally braved a canter, reluctant to come down from the high I was on, from her spectacular trot, but, knowing it needed the work.  I warned the other girl that was riding, that, even though she was doing fine at the trot, things might get a little crazy.  I got ready to canter.  I sat the trot.  I was going left, so I shifted her haunches in (to the left), put my right leg on, and kissed.  She took a few speedy trot strides, and departed...into a decent canter!  I did just one circle and broke her down into a trot before things could fall apart.  She did soooo much better!

Last week, I had gotten into 2 point so that I could stay off her back, let her move forward, and let her find her balance without interfering with her.  She is still green, and hadn't been ridden in about 5 months.  It was a trick I had picked up from a Polish Dressage trainer when I was a teenager.  He did it with his young and green horses.  Getting off their back was supposed to be easier on their back, and was supposed to help them stay balanced.  This week, I sat the canter, and asked her to collect by holding her face while pushing with my legs, bending her on the corners, and guiding with my seat and legs every bit of the way.  It worked for her.

It didn't all go without a hitch.  A horse came in the arena, Dottie fell in love at first sight, and after he left, she spent the next 20 minutes whinnying, while I did walk-trot transitions, and bending exercises to distract her.  When I cantered her to the right, there was no one in the ring, and I expected things to go well, like they did to the left.  But, she was right back where she was last week, counter-bent, uncollected, and racing around the arena.  When we crossed the middle of the ring, she gave a couple BIG bucks.  She was unhappy with things, just as I was.  I was thankful to have saddled her Western, because I remember my thighs bumping against the pommels, and I wondered if I would have stayed on, had I saddled english.  I got her working back on the rail, right away, at the trot, and, although slightly nervous for a repeat performance (I have 3 little boys at home who need a fully functional mommy),  and asked for another canter.  I kept used my legs and hands to push/pull her together, and ta-da, a nice canter!  I cantered her immediately after her bucking instance, for training purposes, I didn't want her to get away with that type of behavior.  Heaven forbid, this become a habit.  But, I didn't want to canter her again, until their was someone near by...just in case.

As soon as I saw someone, I asked if she would video me at the canter.  A witness, and, if she bucked again, we'd get it on film!
I'm sorry no bucks, and it's not the embarrassing performance from last week, that would have been more entertaining.  But, here is the second ride/canter of 2012.  We're getting somewhere!

After much thought about last week's, versus this week's rides, I gave a good friend a call.  She had worked with the Polish Dressage Trainer, back when I picked up my 2 point-don't interfere- trick.  Was I using it appropriately?  We discussed Dottie, her canter, the potential need for a chiropractor, and her condition.  She wondered if I stuck with it, and were able to ride her 4-5 days consecutively, would her balance improve?  It's hard to say.  Maybe, but, with such a dramatic difference between rides, I concluded that Dottie simply needed my guidance.  Even in pasture, she doesn't look as balanced as her pasture mate.  And, since I don't get to ride every day, I don't have the option to just wait and see if she would figure it out.  I couldn't ignore such a dramatic improvement.  Once she is consistent, we could work backwards, with a goal of little interference, while she does a balanced canter!

Monday, February 13, 2012

5 - First ride off the farm, and first youtube video!

Despite the fact that I had a beautiful horse trailer sitting in the driveway, it was hard to imagine actually loading my horse onto it, and me, pulling it somewhere!  It wasn't easy, though.

After the ordeal of hitching the trailer to the truck, I proceeded to get everything ready for Dottie to load.  I went to open all the back doors, and I couldn't even get the ramp down.  One of the latches was frozen shut!  I beat on the latch for about 20 minutes before finally getting it open.  Then, there was ice on the rubber loading ramp, so I had to salt THAT.  I tied a rope in the trailer, so I could hook her up easy once she walked in, and I finally went to get Dottie.

She immediately put a foot on the ramp, then another.  Then, we waited.  and waited.  I rewarded her efforts with a handful of grain, but, it seemed she was content to stay right where she was.  So, I encouraged her to step forward, and she backed off.  We played this game for about 20 minutes.  I decided that if I kept doing the same thing, she would probably keep doing the same thing, so, I tried a new approach.  I did a little 'ground work' and had her move across the ramp, like I had seen some clinician do in a demo, a long time ago.  She moved across the ramp, this time, stepping her hind legs on for the first time, so, I felt this was progress.  After moving her back and forth across the ramp a few times, I thought we would try to load again.  No luck.  And, she was getting annoyed with me.  The feelings were mutual.  I tried backing her, and walking her forward a few dozen times.  No luck.  Of course, my husband was on child duty, so he was of no help.  I'm not sure what he could have done, given that his only horse experience is feeding and cleaning stalls.  But, he could have helped hold a butt rope, while standing out of the way.

I have had a lot of luck with a butt rope, in the past.  Basically, this is a lunge line, hooked to the side of the trailer, draped behind the horse's buttocks, and held by someone who stands clear of all danger.  That way, the horse can kick at the rope, and no harm is done.  The rope simply provides a steady pressure, and the horse is usually more concerned about moving away from the rope that is pushing in an unfamiliar manner, than the trailer.  I had trained and shown my vet's horse, during my last year of 4-H, and I had to do this every time I loaded her.  She would have nothing to do with the trailer, but, once the butt rope was behind her, she hopped on.  Finally, there was a time where I simply got the rope out, and she hopped on, without ever using it.  I could practically see her thinking..."OK, I guess if you are going to use THAT thing, I might as well get on."  By the end of the show season, she was willingly hopping on the trailer without any funny business.

But, this was a new problem, for me, trying to load by myself, with a horse that didn't want to load.  I decided to try the butt rope, all by myself.  I hooked it to the side of the trailer, gently slid it over her back, got back into leading position, then gave the rope a slight flip so that it went behind her buttocks, and I applied ever so slight, pressure.  A step forward!  I gathered up the rope as she slowly stepped towards the trailer, and kept it taut.  Then, she walked right in!  Hallelujah!  I snapped her in, shut the divider, closed the doors, put up the ramp, and headed out.  Whew, 45 minutes of fussing around, and I pulled out the butt rope, and she hopped right in.

Looking around, wondering WHERE AM I ?!
I drove the 1/4 mile to the neighbor's (I would walk, but the roads are 45 MPH and busy), pulled in, unloaded, lunged in their gorgeous outdoor arena.  Twenty-five degrees out, and the footing was perfect.  I wasn't sure how she would behave, and I was unsure if she was completely sound (recent cut and swelling), so I didn't have my heart set on riding; we were there for the experience.  But, she was only a little nervous, and sound, so, no excuses!  I saddled her western, for the added security, and put on my helmet.

Before I got on, I tried to snap a photo...she was loose, walking beside me.
Not quality photography, but you can still tell she is cute, right?
English bridle, western saddle.  Identity crisis.
After just a couple times around the ring, she was quiet.  LAZY in fact!  Next time I go, I'll need spurs or a crop!

I had a bystander do a quick video with my phone.  She was trotting more collected prior to taping, but, after getting the video ready, she must have thought she was done.  But, not bad!  Oh, this is my first EVER youtube video!

Her canter, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.  Uncollected.  Uncoordinated.  Fast.  Ugly.  So, I didn't tape that, I didn't want to embarrass ourselves.  In fact, the bystanders who had admired her at the trot, jokingly asked if they should get the barrels out.  Ugh.  I know she (like me), is out of shape, because we haven't ridden since fall, but, it's still pretty bad.  Maybe I'll tape it just so I can admire how far we've come, a few months from now.  I'm thinking positive.

We enjoyed our ride, and I was tickled pink that she was sensible.  In fact, she had just come into heat, and was still sensible.  Good girl!  I was worried about loading up to leave.  I didn't mess around, and at first balk, I flipped the rope behind her, and, without hesitation, or my having to apply any pressure, she walked right in.  When I unloaded her, she calmly walked out, as if she had done this a hundred times.  All this sensibility is getting my hopes up, that I might actually put out a decent performance at our first show.  Well, decent performance if it is a walk trot class!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

4 - To Bute or not to Bute

It figures.  Sometimes it seems that nothing goes as planned.  But, I try to believe that everything happens for a reason, and just try to be OK with the fact that I might never know what that reason might be.

I was hoping to trailer my horse to the neighbor's indoor arena this past weekend.  Before that adventure, I needed to get more hay.  Since the horse trailer was the nearest thing in the driveway, we decided to use it to pick up the hay.  It was the first trip out with the trailer, so, it wasn't quite ready to go.  We put on the license in the blowing snow, my husband trimmed the branches of the tree that would have hit the trailer as we pulled it out, he greased the ball and hitch, and hooked it up.  My husband doesn't know much about horses, but he has a lot more experience pulling things than I do.  So, I stayed with the kids and occasionally came out to check on his progress.  Finally, after an hour's preparation, my husband started to pull out, and, I can't believe it...a flat tire.

I knew the tires were original to the trailer, and that meant they were 7 years old...older than what is considered safe; my dad is a tire engineer and I recently had a lesson on tire safety.  I had learned that they should be replaced after no more than 6 years.  Even though a horse trailer probably won't have much tread wear, the rubber becomes degraded by the changes from the sun, heat, cold, and moisture.  I had planned on replacing them.  I was glad the flat happened on the driveway, and not on the road.

My husband borrowed a neighbor's trailer, so we got some hay.  But now I (or my husband!) has to learn how to change a tire on a trailer.  I tried calling AAA.  They don't do horse trailers.

I figured I had better get my horse groomed up, in case I got everything road worthy.  They were mud balls, so this could take some time.  I brought them in from pasture, and Dottie looked like she wasn't moving quite right.  The pasture was super muddy, so I hoped she was just awkward in the mud, and I wasn't overly concerned as I brought her in.  I grabbed a brush, and, I didn't even need to get to her legs to notice that her back right leg was swollen.  UGH.

Of course my first aid kit was in the barn, and so my Bute paste was frozen.  Double Ugh.  I gave her a bunch of hay, and took the Bute inside.  After a few hours, I boiled some water in a tea pot, and took my thawed Bute back to the barn, and gave her a dose.  Then, I added the hot water to a bucket of cold water, and started to get the mud off to see what injury was hiding.  Dottie wanted nothing to do with this, and I told her she was ungrateful for the warm sponge bath.  She was tied, with a quick release knot, of course, in the corner, with just enough room to reach her hay.  I kept at the sponge bath, ever vigilant of the potential that she might try to kick me away, depending on how much pain she was experiencing.  She was normally well mannered and stands to be brushed and for the farrier.  But, she rarely gets bathed and could use some more work in that department.  She was uncomfortable, and occasionally pulled her leg up under her.  She was swollen enough that she couldn't even flex her fetlock completely.  I ran the water down her leg and gently rubbed away the mud.  Her hind end moved back and forth, with her head stationary.  Had I spent more time grooming, bathing, and fussing with her, perhaps we wouldn't be doing a training session on standing, while treating an injury.  She finally realized that I wasn't going to give up, and ate her hay quietly while I cleaned her up enough to discover a couple inch long gash on the inside, front, of her hock.  The swelling all the way down at her fetlock was a result of this injury further up the leg.  I dressed it, and untied her.

I hoped that giving her Bute was the right thing to do.  I had always heard that you don't want the horse to be TOO comfortable, because then they might over do it, and injure themselves more.  But, I was hoping the Bute's anti-inflammatory effects might bring down the swelling, and I figured this was most important.

Ironically, I got the QH Journal in the mail the next day, and just this morning, I read an article saying that recent studies have debunked the thought that letting a horse experience some pain will help them to take it easy.  In fact, it said that pain caused stress, and that stress causes the release of hormones that inhibit healing.  There were other negative side effects of pain, such as diarrhea, ulcers, and more.  It tuns out that horses weren't more likely to cause further injury when given pain relievers, anyway.  So, it turns out that it was a good choice to Bute my horse.  The swelling is going down, and, the wound is healing up.  Who knows how she hurt herself.  I would guess a kick from her pasture buddy, but it is hard to imagine my little half blind, bottom of the pecking order, much smaller mare, inflicting a blow that would hurt big 'ole Dottie.

Between the flat tire, and the lame horse, I obviously wasn't meant to ride that day.  I just hope that all these inconveniences kept me from something much worse, and that my horse heals up without any long term concerns!

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