Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tucker, this is your pilot speaking....

I had a two hour marathon lesson this afternoon.  No, Alicia is not a slave-driver. . . it really took me two hours to get it together.  I'm incredibly sore right now, but I'm feeling very satisfied with the ride overall, despite the fact that it included some really dreadful moments.

Here's a diagram of the course:


We started off jumping fences numbered 1 and 3 above, which were green and white verticals set at around 2'6," starting off on the right lead jumping fence 3, landing and turning left, then cantering all the way down the long side of the ring and then down over fence 1, landing and turning right.  First two times were good, went up to 3' and they were still working out well, but then on my third time to fence 3, I lost my rhythm in the corner and then we accelerated all the way to it and it ended up a little tight.  Not terrible, but not exactly right.  Then we fixed it and fence 1 off the left lead was good, I sat through my turn and compressed his canter but kept a good rhythm, and he found the jump right out of stride.

Then we did the full course.  Fence 1 off the left lead, then the outside line (2a and 2b) in 3 strides, which was a 3' burgundy & blue vertical to a 3' red white and blue oxer.  Around the end of the ring to fence 3, turning left, jumping fence 4 on the diagonal, which was another 3' vertical gate, landing right, then long approach to the brick wall oxer on the outside.  The first two times through I think the course went okay, but the outside line was pretty tight both times because we jumped in really nicely, which meant he landed with more canter than we needed, and I tipped my upper body at him and shoved my hands in my lap whilst standing in my stirrups trying to fit it in (totally and completely ineffective, why do I do these things to myself? why?), so he never really collected and it was more like 2 and a half. 

Then things started going a little downhill.  We were doing just the outside line, and Alicia told me to get a quiet, collected canter and then just soften for three strides, instead of landing too big and then having to fight to fit in three strides.  So, we got a really quiet canter and a nice soft quiet distance in.  And then I did nothing (another shining example of my unerring judgment).  And then I realized at stride three (hopelessly too late to do anything besides grab mane and mutter $&%@!) that we were miles away from the oxer.  Any other horse I know wouldn't have left the ground.  Any such horse would have been well within his rights to politely decline to perform acrobatic feats on my behalf.  Not Tucker, who is clearly blinded by love.  That saint of a horse just sat down, pushed off as hard as he could from behind, cleared the tops of the standards, and landed gracefully on the other side. 

About midway through this monumental effort I felt that horrible moment that most jumping riders have felt at some point or another when no part of me was touching any part of him.  My hands were still on the reins, my feet were still in the stirrups. . . so I couldn't be that far away.  "Tucker, this is your pilot speaking, requesting permission to land. . . ."  Somehow despite the fact that I know I landed like a ton of bricks, he just loped around the corner with that "well, gee, she sure made that difficult but oh well" attitude that makes me love him so much.  Big pats, thank you Tucker, sorry about that, you're a Good Boy. . . . 

I struggled with that outside line for the next hour.  No exaggeration.  There was a lot of this:  Canter around the corner with a good rhythm, get straight to the fence, Tucker starts slowing down, I do nothing except wonder why we are slowing down, and then crawl up his neck for a really ugly chip.  I think he was slowing down because he thought that's what I wanted, or thought that's what he needed to do.  But you'd think that if that wasn't what I wanted, I'd do something to clue him in like, oh I don't know, close my leg? Instead, I circled out of the line about ten times after eating the vertical, seeking to avoid a repeat of the above-described permission-to-land circumstances.  Then I'd try to fix it, by overriding, coming at it way too strong, and then getting down the line in two-and-a-half. 

The good news:  my horse is really listening and super adjustable!  The bad news:  when I start riding badly I'm about as subtle as a sledgehammer and tend to communicate messages like "GO!  GO NOW!  RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!" instead of "Okay Tucker, we need to move up a little here."   *Sigh.*  I'm a work in progress.

We ended on a positive note, finally managing a decent outside line after oh, say, at least two dozen tries, and then the rest of the course was really good, even the long approach to the brick wall oxer.  We did have to jump the brick wall twice before we ended.  The first time I got a little impatient and leaned at him.  The last time, I just sat up nice and tall, opened my right rein for two strides to tell him to stay straight, and then it was a perfect distance and I held my position and landed with a nice balanced canter around the end of the ring.

In spite of all my bad riding (and believe me, I really want to come down hard on myself on this one), I ended the lesson feeling pretty good as I took Tucker for a walk down the driveway.  A year ago, if we had a few bad fences in a row like that, Tucker would start getting really worried and completely flustered and we'd likely have to simplify the exercise to cantering over a pole on the ground in order to make any sort of progress. Today, I screwed him up six-ways-to-Sunday and he couldn't have cared less. Never got worried, never got upset, just kept thinking it through and trying to figure out what I was asking. (Bless his heart, because I haven't a clue what I was asking.)  So that's major progress.  And for the most part, although I was definitely getting into a deep mental rut because I was getting so frustrated with myself (I mean get it together already lady would you?), I didn't have the terrified panicky feeling that I've felt in the past.  So, while I still have some more mental coaching to do with myself, there's some progress there too.

All in all, I am very lucky to have a horse as tolerant and athletic as Tucker, and believe me I take none of it for granted.  Tolerance:  for days like this when it takes me an hour to keep making the same mistakes before finally fixing them.  Athleticism:  for the moments when I make his job truly difficult and somehow he gets it done anyway.  I left him this evening with sore-no-more on his back and legs, standing wraps on all fours, and lots of extra treats for being such a good guy. 

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Room with a View

Since we're once again snowed in, I thought now would be a perfect time to share some photos of Montel settled in with the boys at Paper Road.  Below are pictures of the view outside my kitchen window as I type this.  I love my apartment!






Let's face it, I've developed a bit of a crush on the man in black at this point (don't tell Tucker, though it's happened before and he knows he's still got me wrapped around his finger).  I just adore this big handsome guy with his boyish charm and his polite gentlemanly manner.  I can't help dropping in to say goodnight to him when I get home from work, or sometimes stopping in to give him a mint before I head off in the morning.  Maybe it's because I've always loved the Sound of Music, and something about him just reminds me of Captain Von Trap.  He is a Berlin Brandenburger, after all.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blessings

Tucker & I had a great jumping lesson yesterday.  Everything just clicked, and we easily jumped around a 3' course without any issues.  Just before we started jumping, Alicia told me "less is more."  And she was right.  All I really have to do is think about my position, especially where my hands are -- I need to elevate my hand, keep a relatively short rein, and keep my elbows bent and following.  As long as I keep myself in the right place and count the rhythm, Tucker basically takes care of the rest.  And when I land from the fence, I need to get myself back to that same position, regain my seat, bring my shoulders back, and elevate my hand.  Otherwise, if I stand in the stirrups and plant my hands on his neck (yeah, I know that's bad riding but for some reason my body persists in this ludicrous habit), Tucker gets on his forehand, leans against my hand, and then it's a struggle to get myself back in position while he's dragging me through the turn.  But if I put myself back in the correct position before the turn, Tucker keeps the same balanced canter and the tug of war never occurs.

I had a much longer post planned about this lesson, but some of my blog reading this week has made another topic seem far more important.  Some of my favorite bloggers, Eye on the Horse and Sweet Horse's Breath, were dealt some very difficult horse news this past week.  In addition, one of the boarders at my barn recently had to say goodbye to her horse Vince, who's made a couple of appearances on the blog.  I was going to post a little memorial about him but decided maybe it's not my place since he wasn't my horse.  I'm not sure, if I were in her shoes, whether I'd want that or not. 

Which got me thinking:  I could be in her shoes at any moment, and someday, I will be.  These big beautiful creatures are both incredibly strong and impossibly fragile.  The good ones, the ones that really steal our hearts, will do anything for us.  They love us regardless of our flaws, no matter how many mistakes we make.  They love us even though we're always running late, we sometimes show up right at dinner time, and we never get dolled up to see them.  If we disappear for days on end or even weeks, they love us even more when we show up.  They help us out of jams, sometimes performing feats nothing short of miracles, over and over again, and they never question or complain. 

And in return, we take the best care of them that we can.  We dote on them, keep their favorite treats on hand, groom the itchy spots a little longer, and kiss their soft noses.  We get them the best farriers, vets, chiropractors, accupuncturists, massage therapists, and all the best products that money can buy.  We keep them perfectly outfitted and buy anything we think might improve the quality of their lives even slightly.  We'll always manage to figure out a way to pay for something if we think they need it.  In short, we show them we love them every way we know how.

But sometimes, all the love in the world isn't enough.  Sometimes, taking the best care of them that we can means that we have to let go of them.  They are athletes, and like any sport, there's always a risk of injury.  So in order to do what we love, and let them do the jobs that they enjoy so much, we have to take that risk.  The best thing we can do is just be thankful for every day, every ride, every great lesson, and every special memory.  And most of all, be thankful to be a part of this very special partnership.

I don't mean to suggest that we don't appreciate our horses.  No one I know takes her precious equine friend for granted.  But in light of the fact that some of my friends have some incredibly difficult times ahead, I just thought it would be good for us all to remember how very lucky we are to have these amazing animals in our lives.  I've read more than once that our pets are one of life's biggest blessings, but it's one of life's biggest tragedies that we are destined to outlive them.  I hope that my friends who are going through such tragedy right now can find some of the blessings amongst the heartache.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's a filly!

I could watch this little baby bounce around all day long.  She was born in the middle of the night last night and she is just too cute for words.

See http://www.cyberfoaling.com/webcams/norsire02/ for live streaming video of adorableness on four legs.  Apparently there will be more mares and foals to come!  I'll keep you posted.

And thank you all for your comments on yesterday's post!  I am so proud of my boy I could just explode. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rock Star

That's 4'6" folks.  And for the record, those are 5' standards he's clearing in the first shot.  All I can say is... Wow.  Just, wow.  My horse is a rock star.


And just for kicks, compare these with one of Tucker's father, Keizer (my old friend, and one of my favorite horses of all time), at the stallion inspection in Holland:


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Flat lesson

I had a great flat lesson tonight.  I've been having trouble keeping him straight so I wanted a flat lesson to work on that.  Man did I work my little tail off...

I got on a little before Alicia came into the ring and worked on walking in straight lines.  I'd ask him to stay between both hands and legs straight down the quarter line for half the long side, then ask him to leg yield just 3-4 steps, alternating left-to-right and right-to-left.  I tried to do the leg yields toward the mirrors so I could be sure that his haunches and shoulders stayed in line. 

Then we started off the lesson walking big circles.  To really get the correct bend and have him reach under himself with the inside hind, I had to ask him to bend through his middle with my inside leg at the girth, keep him straight on the outside rein so he didn't just bulge through his shoulder, keep my outside leg back and on his side to keep his haunches from swinging out, and open my inside hand. 

We moved on to the trot, and worked a lot on the same bending and reaching under through the inside hind, as well as getting him to soften into a steady contact on my outside rein, bringing my outside rein open and back.  Lots of transitioning from sitting trot to rising trot, while maintaining the same forward rhythm and active engagement, which required tons of work with my seat and leg.  Alicia told me to think about using my whole leg, not just my calf or my spur, both for the bend and to keep him between both hands and legs down the long sides -- which really helped -- but man am I sore right now!  By the time we were done with the trot work though, I had a really great trot:  light and forward, soft and bending, elevated in front and engaged behind. 

The canter was tough but it did steadily improve.  We started off the left.  My trouble with his left lead canter all stems from my right hand.  It's another chicken-or-the-egg scenario.  As to various bad habits that we've developed, I constantly find myself wondering whether Tucker started it or I did.  Probably me, maybe a little of both, but I always wonder. Tucker doesn't really like to accept the contact on the right rein, so he resists it.  As I'm trying to hold the right rein, and not let him pull it out of my hand, I end up burying my right hand against his neck, with the old "piano hands" and my elbow ends up sticking out instead of resting at my side.  Of course, this creates a very resistant feel on the right side, which Tucker doesn't want to give to, and then since he's braced and stiff on the right I end up trying to soften left, which is exactly what he wants because he'd much rather take the left rein than the right. 

So we worked a lot on getting me to lift my right hand and bend my elbow, so my elbows are softly following but I have a consistent feel on his mouth and he has nothing to brace against (no buried right hand).  Interestingly, when we started cantering a cavaletti, which was set in the middle of the ring on the center line, the first three circles he'd dive to the inside (left) to try to avoid the contact on the right side.  So I had to really work at pushing him out with my left leg, carrying my right hand, and feeling the right rein -- a little open and back toward my hip.  I have to remember when he falls in to the left to correct it with my left leg, not my left hand.  By the end of the left lead canter he was accepting my outside right rein, so then I just had to keep the canter forward and connected with my seat, keep him bending around my inside left leg, and keep my right leg back in the turns to keep his haunches from swinging out.  (Oh, is that all?)

Since it was such a good canter, I was able to keep the forward and the softness through the downward transition and he really reached through with his hind end into the walk.  We've been working on that downward transition for months, so I was really happy that he did it right.  I think he's finally understanding what we want.  He couldn't seem to figure it out at first.  He was walking when we asked, so what was the problem?  Now he understands that he has to walk and keep coming forward from behind, not balance against my hand or fall forward through the transition.

Then we moved on to the right lead canter.  Big thing here is that I actually have to push my left shoulder forward in order to follow him around the turns.  Since I always want to be taking the left rein, that necessarily brings my left shoulder back.  So even though my hips turn toward the inside to follow him, my upper body is actually twisting and I end up resisting him not just through my shoulder but also the small of my back.  But when I forced myself to push my left shoulder forward, all of a sudden he was softly accepting both reins, not hanging on the left rein or trying to bulge through his left shoulder, and holding the right bend without over-bending.  So... in other words... once I finally was sitting straight... he started going correctly.  Amazing:  (1) how simple this solution is; and (2) how incredibly awkward and unnatural the "correct" position feels. 

The right lead downward transition was tougher but after several attempts we finally got a good one.  It's funny, tracking right we actually got two good downward transitions but he only trotted for a step and then stepped right back up to his canter.  Doesn't seem to fully understand that when I'm sending him forward into the downward transition, I don't mean "keep cantering."  I think that might mean that my contact is less consistent to the right.  I might be letting go of the contact at the last minute instead of keeping a feel of his mouth.  I'll have to pay close attention to this during my next ride.

So, overall, a very technical ride but an excellent lesson.  I love a good solid flatwork session.  Always makes me feel so productive. 

Update on the stitches:  I took them out yesterday and it looks great.  Should heal really nicely and hopefully won't leave much of a scar.  Man was he glad to get those out -- they were definitely starting to itch!

Coming soon:  Pictures of Tucker free jumping... I promise, you will be amazed.  I'm beyond impressed with him.  My horse is a rock star, plain and simple.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cyberfoaling

I know it's the weekend and no one checks the blogs but I have to post this in case anyone is in need of something to do tonight....  One of my facebook friends has a breeding farm called Norsire Farm and she has her foal-cam online!  Looks like the mare, Rumors, is getting ready to have her baby tonight....  What do you think, Cupid for a boy?  Valentina for a girl?  I'm not into Valentine's Day but I am into foals so I love the idea of a Valentine foal.

I think the whole idea of a foaling web cam is so cool. When Tucker's baby sister was born, I spent the whole night running back and forth between my house and the barn, and missed her actual birth by about two minutes. When Julie was born, I got slightly more high tech. I spent several nights on an air mattress in the tack room watching a baby monitor.  I have to say, it would have been so much better if I had a web cam and could have watched from the comfort of home until she looked like she was making some progress.  Watching this sure does make me miss those first few weeks with Julie though.  The anticipation was fun, but the first few days of watching her teeter around on her spider legs and those sweet little moments between mare and foal were just unforgettable.

So if anyone wants to join in the fun (I'm addicted to watching this mare and I've never even met her!) the video is here:  http://www.cyberfoaling.com/norsire2.htm 
I tried to embed the video but it wouldn't work. Anyway, check her out if you're up with nothing to do tonight (like myself)!

Rodie's All Natural Horse Treats

Maybe you have to know Kathleen to see the humor in this, but because it made me laugh so hard, I am repeating verbatim Kathleen's "recipe."  It's exactly what I would expect a recipe from Kathleen to look like.  It's not exactly. . . precise.  So here you go:
Mix in a big *ss bowl (with your hands):
  • Lots of oats (whole Quaker oats, not the quick cooking kind)
  • Some flour
  • Lots of molasses
  • A little brown sugar
  • 5-6 pureed apples
  • 1 can of all natural cherry pie filling
  • Water
Mix all the ingredients as if you are making a bran mash… add water until the consistency is like oatmeal (slightly sloppy oatmeal)

Grease a cookie sheet and make round balls out of this slop and bake at 425 until golden brown but not burnt on the bottom… approx 20 minutes.I have also made this recipe with crushed peppermints instead of the cherry, and it was very good!
My favorite on that list are "some flour" and "water."  I also love how horse people cook:  "as if you are making a bran mash."  Good luck with this one guys.  Having never attempted to bake anything myself, I'm not sure if I could guess how much of anything is needed.  Maybe I'll invite myself over to Kathleen's house to watch her make them sometime. 

In other news. . . . Frankenstein's stitches are coming out today!  The wound looks great, as you can see, and hopefully he won't have too much of an ugly scar.  I think you can tell just from a picture of his eye that he's feeling much better about himself than he did right after it happened.  Thanks to Alicia and Franklin (who works at Whitmere) taking such good care of it for the past two weeks, it has healed really well and he hasn't rubbed it.  He still doesn't seem crazy about letting us touch it, but I think he's just being dramatic.  Thankfully, once the stitches are out, he can go back to his normal turnout routine.  He's been a little, um, fresh lately.  Though I can't say that I blame him.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

World Peace is imminent....

Check it out!  Lilly and Sterling, napping peacefully side by side -- and it didn't end with hissing or swatting or anyone cowering under furniture!



I feel confident that if these two can work out their differences, world peace is the next step.  Perhaps I should volunteer them to be U.N. embassadors?

Big day around these parts:  (1) Homer (my turtle) has come out of hibernation today and I awoke to find him out of the water in his basking spot, so I changed his water, got the filter up and running, and plugged in the heat lamp.  I'll see if I can get some shots of him, but he's pretty camera-shy.  (2) Montel moved into my backyard yesterday!  He's officially a retiree now and so far seems to be settling in just fine (not to mention, was pretty happy to hear that I'll be stopping in to give him treats after work every night).  I'm so happy my good friend has moved in!  Such a wonderful horse, and a true gentleman.  I'll have to get some pictures of him in the fields once he's been introduced the herd here at home.

Snow day today, so no Tucker news to report, but thankfully Alicia made it to the farm and is going to get him out to stretch his legs a little.  Hope anyone else that's snowed in today as well is staying warm and dry inside! 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Frankenstein

You all had me chuckling with the Scarface thing. . . because I've been calling him Frankenstein.  I thought it wasn't very nice and certainly not in line with the pity party routine to be making fun of him. . . but since you guys started it. . .  Frankenstein actually fits pretty well.  Big guy, really sweet, tragically misunderstood.  That about sums him up.

I had such a nice surprise waiting for me when I got to the farm tonight!  Kathleen and her sons baked Tucker homemade treats!  (Kathleen owns Rodie, who was the obvious winner of this round of halter tag.  I was told that just prior to the "incident," Tucker was dragging Rodie across the field by his halter.  I can't, therefore, in good conscience, place all of the blame on Rodie.  I've seen how they play, and Rodie definitely gives Tucker plenty of fair warnings when he's had enough.  Something tells me Tucker had it coming, even though I do feel bad for him.)  Regardless of who's to blame though, we'll take the treats!  I gave Tucker one and he got that glazed over far away look in his eye, and then the lip-smacking tongue-lolling molar-sucking fest began.  Really cute.  He just stood there in a daze for a few minutes, licking his lips and perfectly content.  And then once he had sucked every ounce of flavor from his last molar, turned to me with his sweetest puppy dog face to beg for more.  I told Kathleen she has to give me the recipe.  I'll be sure to post it once I do.

The stitches are looking really good. don't you think?  You can see in the front view that there's a little bit of swelling near the corner of his eye, but it seems to be healing very well.  Still a little tender though.  I tried to pick a few little flecks of hay that were stuck to the triple antibiotic and he winced a little. . . poor baby.  I braided his forelock over to the left tonight so it would stay out of the way.  I'm a little concerned that once the tenderness goes away he may start rubbing it, but hopefully the triple antibiotic will keep it from getting too itchy.

I took him for a light hack around the indoor and he actually seemed pretty happy to be working.  His ears were up and he was forward but relaxed and thankfully not too wild despite having almost a week off and restricted turnout all week.  Once he loosened up, I did have to put him in a loose frame because he started over-reaching so badly.  That used to be a huge problem.  It's much better now because his balance is better and I think his shoeing is better, but sometimes when he's a little fresh the back end starts overpowering the front end.  Anyway, it was still a lovely hack.  He got a little bold at the canter so I practiced relaxing and softening to get him to slow down instead of trying to slow him down by taking more a feel of his mouth.

Before I left I made him up a little mini bran mash, as the finale to his little pity party.  (I also wanted him to eat the end of his dinner which must have had the bute in it, but don't tell him.)  Doesn't he look so happy about his late night snack?  I love watching him eat bran mash.  How could you possibly resist that face?


Thursday, February 4, 2010

By special request from Tucker...

(Insert apology about not writing anything for a month here.  Mea culpa.)

Well, it seems Tucker has sustained yet another injury to the head.  This time it was the result of a rather violent game of halter tag.  I kept telling him it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye but you know how boys are, they never take you seriously about stuff like that. 

Whitmere, of course, sprung into action at the first sight of blood.  One of our boarders (who had witnessed Halter Wars 2010) called Alicia (who was on her way back from a horse show), Alicia called me right away, and I pointed the truck in the direction of the farm.  When we saw it, we were relieved to see that it wasn't that gruesome, but definitely needed stitches.  So, the vet came out, stitched him up, and left him with some bute and SMZs. 

This brings the total count of stitches he's had on his face up to thirty.  He previously walked under a low-hanging tree branch, and well, you can imagine.  In his defense, he was growing pretty rapidly at the time and might have fit under the tree branch the week before....

So here's the carnage after the vet visit and nine stitches later (I figured the "before" pics might be a little too gory for some of our younger readers).  The bright patch is furazone, which apparently glows in a camera flash:


And here's Day # 3, with triple antibiotic:


The reason this post comes by special request from Tucker is that due to that whole employment thing (which Tucker does understand is what keeps him living in the lifestyle to which he's accustomed) I haven't been able to throw him a pity party that reaches quite the level of extravagance and excess he's been hoping for.  He asked me about his worldwide fan base, and whether they had been informed of his precarious circumstances and near escape from the jaws of death.*  He feels that you all ought to know just how dire the situation is, and in lieu of sending flowers asks that you donate carrots to the mouth of your local equine. 

So if you all would, please, join in the pity party, he'd be rather appreciative.

_______________________________
*Editor's Note:  Tucker is actually feeling just fine, appears to be feeling no pain whatsoever thanks to the fact that he's had more bute this week than he's had in his whole life, and we expect him to make a full recovery.  But don't tell him I told you.  He wants you guys to feel really bad for him and worry yourselves sick over his chances of survival.