Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lovely Ride

Tucker and I had a lovely ride this evening in the outdoor ring, in the hackamore again.  The sun had already dipped behind the trees but it was still warm and we still had enough light to enjoy being outside.  The footing was just right because it rained pretty hard last night but the ring had plenty of time to drain today.  Kathleen and Griffin joined us, and Tucker's always happier with friends.

We worked on getting a forward trot right from the start, which I had to work for but I got.  We worked on straightness down the long sides, down the quarter line, and all the way across the diagonals of the ring, and then we did some circles spiraling inward and outward and worked on holding the bend while moving away from my inside leg or inward off my outside leg.  Not surprisingly, the hardest thing for him to do in that exercise is tracking left, moving inward off my right leg, because it requires him to balance off his right hind and keep his haunches to the inside.  We also did a couple of haunches-in in each direction, and they were so good that I didn't ask for more than a few steps each time.  Progress!

We also worked on a lot of trot-walk transitions.  They started off embarrassingly disorganized and weak, but I just kept doing them, and tried to be as consistent as possible in my aids.  That seems to be the ticket: repetition and consistency.  It's like I just keep asking the same question the same way and he finally gives me the right answer.  They still weren't perfect, but they improved quite a bit.  Perfection is probably too lofty a goal for the moment.  Improvement is great.

Once I got two trot-walk transitions that I liked, I went right up into my right lead canter.  On the plus side, the walk-canter transitions (which I've been working on a lot lately) were excellent tonight.  He stayed round through his back, and pushed off from behind instead of inverting and pulling himself into the canter.  I still struggled a little with getting the canter both forward and balanced.  It's much easier to balance on a smaller canter, but then he's not really working as hard from behind.  What I struggle with is sending him forward and keeping it balanced, rather than forward and strung out and on his forehand.  We had moments that were better, mostly on a circle, but down the long sides of the ring he has a tendency to get strung out when I send him forward, which doesn't accomplish the goal of hind end engagement.  So, the canter is still a work in progress.

After my ride I had a good long grooming session with him.  I've been working hard on keeping his coat shiny this summer, in several ways.  He's getting SmartShine, which I've been really impressed with.  I've tried giving him oil, and used to have him on Grand Complete, but neither of these had the same results that I'm seeing with SmartShine.  I also spray him about every other day with Shapley's M-T-G, and then put some serious elbow-grease into rubbing that in with a clean towel.  M-T-G is one of my very favorite grooming tools.  It's great for keeping his coat conditioned and free of dry flakey skin, and works really well at clearing up scurf or grunge or fungus or whatever you like to call it.  It has even made his tail thicker!  Of course, nothing keeps a coat shiny and healthy like lots and lots of currying.  I have several different curry combs that I use depending on the length of his coat and how much he is shedding, and try to curry both before and after I ride, for as long as possible. 

I tried one more time tonight to get a decent photo of him.  In case you were wondering, I was actually trying to take a nice picture of him during the photo shoot in my last post.  Massive fail.  Tonight, I kept the flash off, switched to sepia (who knew the camera phone was so fancy?), and somehow he actually managed to strike a pretty cute pose or two.

A little less llama-like, right?

Tucker and Griffin

Making friends

Monday, September 27, 2010

How Not to Photograph a Horse, Part 2

For Part 1 of this series, please go here

Part 2 of this lecture series focuses on more advanced techniques in How Not to Photograph a Horse.  If the instructions below are followed carefully, you too can convince your friends and relatives that you own a llama with magical powers.

Step 1:  Leave your expensive new digital camera at home.  A photo series is much better when taken with one's camera phone.  Especially when one can't remember which button takes the picture.

I call this one "Still Life: Scar, Spur Rub, and Proof that SmartShine Really is a Good Supplement."

Step 2:  As a refresher from Lecture #1, be sure no one is around to help.  Instead, put the horse on cross-ties.  That tends to make the horse stand in peculiar ways and hold his head at odd angles, which makes for brilliant photo ops.

Tucker walks into a bar.  Bartender asks, "Why the long face?"

Step 3:  Make sure it's a bright, sunny day, and that your horse is backlit by the sun, but in a dark aisle where it will be tough to make out any details of his image.

"Don't go into the light Tucker...."

Step 4:  For best results, be sure the flourescent lights are on overhead.

This one's got kind of a romantic glow to it, no?

Step 5:  Try turning the flash on. 
"Take me to your leader"

Step 6:  This one's tricky.  It requires pointing the camera at your horse, in a metaphysical sense.  Not aiming for him specifically, but rather, generally. 

Didn't I do a nice job wrapping that day?

Once you've mastered the steps above, you're ready for advanced techniques in How Not to Photograph a Horse.  If you can put all the above steps together, you're headed for true photographic greatness.  Eventually, you'll be able to impress all of your friends with photos of your new llama, who has magical powers -- including lazer beams that shoot out of his eyeballs.

Magical Drama Llama

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Little Nostalgia

My grandfather asked me last weekend to go through his computer and see if I still want "those horse pictures" that were on there.  I couldn't remember what they were, so I checked it out and found these little gems:

These were taken September 2005, so Tucker was 3 years old and had only been jumping for a couple of weeks.  If you can call this "jumping," considering his hind legs and front legs are all on the ground on either side of the jump.  I love the babies in the background, coming over to see what's going on in our makeshift ring.

It's also worth noting, by the way, that he appears to be actually planning to canter, or possibly trot, away from this jump.  The first few times we jumped, he apparently thought he had to "stick the landing" like a gymnast, and would land at a halt.  Ta-da!  I did it!  I jumped!  It took some convincing to explain that he actually had to keep going.  I think he was just so proud of himself that he forgot about anything else.

I don't care that we look slightly absurd in these photos, they make me so happy.  What great memories.  That summer was when I started getting glimpses of what Tucker would be like as a grown up, even though he was still gangly and goofy and had a 5-minute attention span.  We still weren't doing much, and I was still painting with a pretty broad brush, but little things were starting to come together.  He was starting to bend (sort of, sometimes), sometimes balanced himself for a few steps, and was finally figuring out the difference between the right lead and the wrong lead (for months, he was convinced that "canter" was the right answer, and just couldn't understand why I was being so picky about a silly little detail like which lead he was on).  But even then, I was getting glimpses of genius -- I knew he was a Wunderkind.

I was still in law school at the time, and I would drive an hour from Newark out to Hunterdon County every Sunday, and as soon as I pulled off the exit for his farm I'd start getting butterflies, and by the time I could see the fencing of his field I could barely sit still I was so excited to see him.  He'd spot my car coming down the road and come galloping across his field, whinnying away, and be waiting by his gate by the time I got to the top of the driveway.  I'd go in the barn and get his halter, and then walk around back to find him standing at the gate as tall as he could make himself, chest pressed against the gate, big curvy ears pointed straight forward, big brown eyes fixed on me, mirroring the same feeling I had felt in the car a moment before.  Then we'd play, and I'd ride, and he'd make me laugh, and I'd forget about the paper I had to write, the exam I had to study for, the Supreme Court case I didn't understand, the resumes I had to send out, the bills I couldn't pay, and the boy who didn't love me back, for just a few hours.  It was a few hours of pure bliss. 

And so began the Wunderkind's lifelong career of saving my life, a few hours at a time.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

So Damn Lucky

That's what we are.  Do you know that?  Horse people are the luckiest people on Earth.  We have virtually no free time.  Every coat we own has hay and dirt on it somewhere, and vaguely smells like damp earth.  Our cars are always a mess.  Many of us can't put together an outfit that doesn't involve breeches and tall boots.  We are all usually broke, or about to go on a spending spree at the local tack shop that will leave us broke.    But we are so damn lucky.

Through our horses, we get to be stronger, faster, braver, and more agile than most people can even imagine.  We get to fly.  On a regular basis, we get to meet new challenges head on, we get to feel an adrenaline rush and push through it and do something great, something we were previously too scared to do.  We get to feel how making a tiny adjustment (a shoulder an inch farther back, more weight in one stirrup, a little more give in one elbow) can influence the entire way of traveling of a 1200 pound animal.  Maybe even most importantly, we get to forge these complex, deeply personal, spiritual, life-changing relationships with the horses in our lives.  They are our companions, our children, the loves of our lives, our teammates, our partners, our teachers, our best friends. 

I was trying to explain these concepts to some family members on Sunday morning.  My grandmother seemed genuinely curious about why I do this.  I couldn't quite articulate how I feel about my horse, but I tried.  I wondered out loud what non-horse people do to replicate the way I feel about riding, and my horse.  How does someone without a horse get to experience anything like the feeling I get when I jump something big?  When do they find themselves in a situation where they have to work through their fear or anxiety and accomplish something, and how can they live without that regular feeling of elation, satisfaction and pure joy that we get from a really great ride?  And most of all, how would I even know that my life is on the right track without seeing how happy my horse is?  How would I know that I'm a good person without seeing how much my horse loves me?  These sentiments were, generally, met with blank stares, and then some vague musings about other people "playing sports too" and most people having these types of feelings for "other humans" (and, by the way Marissa, you're not getting any younger, are you ever going to get a new boyfriend?).

Despite my inability to explain it, it was all perfectly clear for me on Sunday afternoon.  I got to the farm and had the whole place to myself, it was so quiet and peaceful.  My horse was in one of his really expressive, affectionate moods when I went in his stall to say hi.  I groomed him and he kept turning around and grooming me back with his muzzle.  Then I had a bunch of things to organize before my lesson and he was just hanging his head out of his stall and watching what I was doing, following the sound of my voice and watching the doorways when I came back in.

We had a great lesson in the hackamore.  We worked hard on the flat.  I had a really tough time getting him going forward at the trot.  There were times when I had to outright kick him with my spur to get any reaction at all.  Eventually though he did start getting his act together and the canter was good.  We worked on going forward and holding him straight.  Seems like in the hackamore, since he couldn't evade by locking his jaw or leaning, he was more prone to bulging through his outside shoulder.  We corrected it though, and got him going straight and forward. 

When we started jumping, we worked on carrying that straightness and forward rhythm over to the jumps.  Since he was a little on the quiet side, I really had to work on sending him forward out of the turn to the jump.  We started with a tiny little jump on a left lead circle, and Alicia pointed out the spot in the circle where he was slowing down so I worked on closing my leg and sending him forward there, and paying close attention to the canter rhythm by counting.  Since the jump was about 10" high, I could just concentrate on the pace and keep sending him forward without thinking about the jump itself.  I was able to really feel the difference between coming forward all the way to the jump and letting him slow as we rounded the turn to the fence.  Same distance, but one coming forward and one slowing, and the jump felt way better coming forward.  Then we picked another little jump off a right lead canter circle and did the same exercise. 

Then we worked with two single jumps on the diagonal, a vertical off the left lead and an oxer off the right lead.  Started out at about 2'6" and 2'9", and just repeated a figure-eight pattern over them.  We worked on the same thing, coming forward all the way to the jump, keeping my leg closed, and keeping my hands up and following.  I loved jumping in the hackamore.  He was landing so softly and jumping really round.  Then Alicia put both fences up to 3'3".  I have to say I was kind of intimidated by the oxer, but we did each fence twice and he felt so amazing!  I kept my hands elevated (it felt like they were all the way up in front of my face but of course they weren't) and kept following with my arms. I realized I was tempted to take more contact on the way to the jump and had to force myself not to touch him.  He was right on it every time when I just left him alone and kept going forward.  And he was so incredibly light.  The hackamore is amazing!

The last time we jumped the oxer he jumped it so well...  he was soft, and round, and made a big effort but since he was so relaxed and forward, I didn't get jumped loose and was able to hold my position in the air.  It literally felt like flying.  Such an incredible feeling.  I'm not sure if I've ever ridden a horse that jumps as well as he does.  I think he had fun too.  He walked back to the barn with an extra little spring in his step and he kept licking his lips.  Then when I turned him out for the night, he paused for a minute and just pressed his nose into me and closed his eyes before he walked away. 

I've been turning these moments over in my head for the past couple of days and every time I do, they make me so happy.  The grooming, the flat work, that light as air feeling in my hand on the way to the jump, the mid-air, defying gravity, flying feeling, and that sweet moment in the dark when I turned him out.  And that, my friends, is why we are so damn lucky.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Such a great ride this evening!

Don't you love those rides where your horse is just feeling fabulous and responsive, and totally willing to try his hardest for you?  There is no better feeling in the world.  It makes me feel invigorated.  Like I could solve any problem.  Like I've got super powers.  Like I'm leading some kind of charmed life. 

Then I get in my truck and the "Check Engine" light goes on.  Sigh.  And just like that I come grinding back down to reality... but still, I'll take the super powers feeling for as long as it lasts.

Tucker started out loose and relaxed, and reaching down for the bit.  I had to press him forward with my leg pretty consistently tonight, but he wasn't ignoring my leg, just needed support, reinforced with a little spur now and then, throughout the ride.  I was asking for more forward, more hind engagement, more use of his right hind, so I guess that makes sense.  I have made it my pet project to get his hind end stronger.  I think it's the piece that's missing from the lead change.

So after we walked a while to warm up, we did our five minutes of stretching at the trot, and I made him get going forward.  Then I gradually started collecting him by making my circles smaller, shortening my reins as I went, until he was in a good medium trot, all the while continuing to send him forward into my hand so that he stayed engaged behind.  Throughout the trot I added in lots of transitions -- extended trot, collected trot, walk-trot, trot-walk.  He was very responsive, though I had to ask several times for the trot-walk transition until he did it without letting his hind end fall out from under him.  What I've started doing is closing my leg through the downward transition, and as soon as I feel him lose his engagement, I send him back up to the trot and start again.  That seems to be working, eventually he seems to understand what I want and stays engaged through the downward transition.  I think it's just easier to do it the wrong way, and he's being a little lazy about it, but once he realizes I'm going to insist on a little more, he sucks it up and does it right. 

I let him walk a minute and catch his breath after the warm up.  I've decided to add in more breaks than usual right now because I'm asking for more from him.  I know he's working hard and I don't want him to get too tired to do it correctly or start to resent the work, since he seems to be enjoying it now.  When he's going forward and light in my hand and using his back, he gets this soft relaxed look in his eye, his ears are forward and floppy, and he does that happy breathing/snorting rhythmic noise that I've always heard is a sign of relaxation when working (do you know what sound I'm talking about?  does it have a name?). 

Anyway, after we walked a minute, we went back to the trot work and I worked on some lateral movements and lots of changes of direction.  I'm trying to do more haunches-in to the left and more shoulder-in to the right, because his right hind is his weakest point.  He understands what to do when you ask for a shoulder-in or a haunches-in but what I struggle with is keeping the forward momentum (he says that's really hard!) within the movement.  So tonight I tried to mix in forward trot circles, some lengthening, and worked on asking for a haunches-in or a shoulder-in while posting, which seemed to help.  I even played around a little with extensions in my sitting trot (which, as it turns out, is really hard.  You dressage ladies make it look so easy.)  It still wasn't perfect, but closer.  So we took another walk break. 

Then I worked on his canter, and really concentrated on sitting up tall, wrapping my legs around him, and using my seat to send him forward and keep his hind end engaged (I was channelling my inner DQ!).  I got some really, really nice moments from him where he was light as a feather, elevated up front, sitting down and had this great, forward, big but very balanced canter.  It felt incredible.  I have been working on lots of transitions between trot and canter lately (again, working on strengthening the hind end), but tonight I just wanted to keep a consistently forward rhythm and work on keeping the bigger canter balanced.  I could tell he was working really hard because a few times he tried to break back to a trot (though never actually broke his gait because I was ready with my leg), but again he felt very relaxed even though he was putting in a big effort.

After the canter work, I wanted to do just a little more work on the haunches-in tracking left.  I started off at the walk and tried to stay relaxed through my arm while keeping the contact.  He protests a little when he's actually doing it right by flipping his head or just coming above the contact.  I was trying to just ignore that, not resist it, go with the head flipping so as not to break the contact and keep my arms relaxed so as not give him something to brace against.  That seemed to work, I got a few really correct steps where he was soft and holding an inside bend and really reaching under and across with his right hind.

I was so happy I gave him tons of pats and told him how good he was over and over (he was delirious with joy -- he lives for being told how good he is).  I think I seriously underestimate how well that works with him from a training perspective.  When he was a baby I gave him tons of praise whenever he did anything right, or even something close to what I was asking.  I've gotten out of the habit of the over-praising and I think I need to bring it back.  Once I fussed over him a little for doing the haunches in correctly, he did it twice more at the walk without any protest, and then I picked up my trot and he did another one all the way down the longside, the best he's ever done it.  He held the bend, stayed soft and round, used his hind end well, and kept going forward.  I know that's physically difficult for him, so I was really happy that he offered it.

 Of course, we ended on that note.  I always like to reward him by ending for the day when he does something just right like that.  And now, for the best part:

Do you know what that is?  That's a foamy right side of his mouth!  That almost never happens!  (Only a horse person could get this excited about spit.)  The left side usually looks like he's been hitting a can of Reddi-Whip, but the right side almost never gets foamy.  I think this is a sign that he's accepting both reins more equally, and hopefully that my contact is more even.  It might also have something to do with using the hackamore alternately with his bit.  I'm hoping that will teach him not to grab the left side of the bit (since there's nothing to grab), and hopefully help even things out.  Anyway, right side foam is a sign of progress, and I'll take it!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ah, the old "Champagne Taste, Beer Pocketbook" thing...

Have you ever noticed that your actual available funds seem to be inversely proportionate to the cost of the items on your wish list? 

I'm supposed to be saving money right now.  I'm on a pretty tight budget, due to some recent non-horse related big expenses (necessary evils, so to speak), so I can't spend money on anything that isn't an absolute necessity for Tucker.  But, there are so many things I want.....

Right now, what I am coveting is a custom wool cooler for the winter.  Sure, he has a fleece cooler and a cheapo wool cooler that we won when he was champion at a winter show series, but I want a really nice, heavy duty, warm cooler in my very own chosen colors.  Maybe a Triple Crown, maybe a Blue Ribbon, maybe one from the Clothes Horse.  There are also a bunch of Integrity dress sheets on ebay, but for that kind of money, I'm pretty sure I want to pick the colors out myself.  Pretty much everything Tucker owns is navy, gray, or hunter green, so it would probably be some combination of those colors.  I love the way he looks in gray, especially with his seal colored winter coat.  I'm thinking maybe a gray wool cooler, with a navy trim, and white and hunter green double piping.  Wouldn't that be sharp?  Or maybe a custom plaid, like a navy herringbone, with navy trim, hunter green and gray double piping.  Gorgeous.  Then sometimes, I like to think out of the box, and go for something that will just look lovely with Tucker's coloring.  Say, for example, a brown houndstooth, with light blue and tan double piping, or maybe even just light blue braiding, and dark brown trim.  He would look even handsomer than usual....

And then there's the other item I lust after every winter.  Custom full chaps.  I know they're out of fashion, I know no one wears them anymore, but I'm officially a dinosaur now (hit 30 on Monday) so I'm allowed to be out of fashion right?  (Note, I do have a pair of full chaps, but I had them made for me in high school, so they're not exactly a custom fit anymore!)  I've done my homework, and have determined that Ladysmith Chaps are my favorites.  I think I'd get chocolate colored smooth-side-out chaps with baby blue and cream double piping, with pale blue fancy stitching and a monogram on the back.  No fringe, just understated and pretty.  Or maybe I'd go with Tucker's colors and get light gray, with navy and hunter green piping and dark gray trim and yoke, with a monogram inset on the front hip.  Or who knows?  Maybe I'd go totally daring and make the stripe and yoke a gray or navy faux snakeskin or crocodile?  The possibilities are endless.  As the website says, if I can dream it, she can find it. 

I guess this is my way of being a girl?  I don't get excited about shoes, or dresses, or purses, or jewelry.  I have a couple of nice things that I like because they feel like "me," but I've never walked past a shop window and drooled over a pair of stillettos like I've seen almost all of my friends do at some point.  But give me a wide array of wool swatches or a stack of pretty leather colors and I'm dazzled. 

Sadly, neither of these items are even close to in the budget, at least for the next few months.  But thank you my dear readers, for indulging me on this one.  I realize these are far from real problems, and I should just be happy I have two healthy happy horses and forget spending money on these silly luxuries, but I can't help my coveting...  Tell me, what items are on your wish list right now (whether in budget or not -- let's have a little fun).  It's good to have goals right, even if they're just shopping goals?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Horse Show yesterday, and a Breakthrough today

Tucker and I went to a schooling show yesterday.  I'd say my performance, overall, was a bit mediocre.  Tucker was fantastic.  And once again, proved to me that he is, without question, the most trustworthy horse I've ever known.  We also had a breakthrough today using a hackamore.  Tucker loved going bitless!

I try not to blame a bad round on outside factors, but I have to say there were a couple of things I didn't like about the horse show that I thought impacted our performance, which is why I won't tell you where we were (I swore I'd never disparage anyone on the blog).  I wasn't crazy about the course, and Tucker wasn't crazy about the footing.  Alicia got on and schooled him first.  He was good, the lines were riding quietly for him, but he was balancing well.  He was jumping really oddly though, sort of jumping up really high -- almost like he was picking up all four feet at once -- and then instead of kicking out behind, he was sort of tucking his hind legs underneath him.  When I was on him, it felt like he was jumping straight up in the air instead of rounding his back over and across the jump.  I've seen/felt him jump like this once before at another show, and both have this super fancy, high tech footing with felt pieces in it that he seems extremely uncomfortable in.  It seems like it gets a little deep and he gets stuck, or maybe it's just too soft and it gives way as he's pushing off to jump, or maybe it's so springy that he pushes off harder than he needs to and ends up jumping straight up.  Whatever it is, he doesn't seem to care for this high tech new age stuff.  What can I say?  He's a simple guy.  Give him some good old fashioned river sand mixed with stone dust and he's happy. 

All of my trips had good and bad moments.  For the first trip, the first jump was a straw bale with three split rails over top of it, on the diagonal, off the right lead, toward home.  I crawled to it.  Ugh.  I even thought to myself as I picked up my canter "go forward," but for some reason I always feel like I'm going so much faster than I am until I get in front of the jump and realize I don't have enough pace. Since I crawled, of course we had no choice but to feebly add, and Tucker rolled the top rail.  I landed and sent him forward though, and then the next line, which was four strides on the outside going away from the in gate, off the left lead, was perfect.  This was the only line where I had more than two or three strides between the rail and the first jump. I softened my arm and kept my leg going past the gate so he wouldn't get stuck, the distance was right out of stride, and the four worked out nicely.  He landed right, and got his right-to left change.  That was the best line in this trip.  The next line was my least favorite part of the course.  It was a six-stride on the diagonal going toward home off the left lead.  It was set so that to find the straight line, you had to stay on the rail past the corner, and then turn with only about 2 1/2 strides off the rail to the first jump.  In this trip, I didn't stay out long enough, so we ended up having to add, and then I had to move up for six, but he did it just fine, and landed right.  The next line was a five on the outside off the right lead, going away from home.  There are shade trees along the rail here, and a stallion barn to the left of the ring.  One of the stallions called out as we were coming around the corner, so Tucker looked out and fell to the inside, which changed the distance coming in.  So we jumped in a little big, and then he bowed out to the right because of the shadows on the ground, which made for a very unsmooth feeling.  The last jump was a single oxer on the diagonal, which was set up three strides from the top of the ring on a shallow turn, so you had to turn off the rail pretty much at the center line to get to it, square the turn, and canter two strides to the jump.  So awkward, just not what you want to see in a hunter round.  It wasn't the prettiest, but we got it done okay.  He landed left, which was good. 

Second trip, I got a much better rhythm and we found the first jump right out of stride, which was a single vertical on the diagonal off the left lead, going straight toward the in gate.  He landed right, and then it was the outside five away from home.  I tried to stay out in the corner longer, but he still fell to the inside and then bowed in around those creepy shadows again.  It was almost a carbon copy of how we jumped the line in the first trip.  In other words... I don't always learn from my mistakes.  Then it was the crazy short approach oxer off the center line.  This time was a smoother turn, but the distance was a little long.  He landed right and then played ever so slightly (little head shake, little hop) through the lead change, but at least we did it.  I had to remind myself not to get stiff and relax, but I did, and then he relaxed again right away.  The next line was the four stride outside line off the left lead, which worked out perfectly again.  This time he landed left, and then it was the dreaded six stride diagonal.  This time I stayed out longer, but I still just couldn't make it work.  I swear they were set up on the half-stride purposely to mess with me.  So we added again and had to move up for the six, but at least he jumped out very softly, and landed right. 

Third trip was the same as the first.  Got a much better rhythm to the first jump and it was a very nice jump, but Tucker over jumped it and jumped me loose a little (I think probably since that one jumped up and bit him in the first class).  We landed and settled though, and then the four stride worked out again.  I still couldn't get the approach to the six.  It either looked impossibly long or tight.  We went with tight.  He bowed out to the left a little this time and then I felt like we jumped the last jump left to right, instead of straight on.  Pretty sure that's not how it's supposed to go.  This time, to the five stride outside line, I made sure to bend him right so he wouldn't fall in, but I needed to make him keep coming forward.  I lost my rhythm around the corner, and then had to move up two strides out, so we jumped in really big.  We landed and I thought for a second he was thinking four strides, but I tried to make him wait, and it ended up being 4 and a quarter.  When I tell you I put this horse's toes at the base of the jump, I do not exaggerate.  I actually thought he was going to tear the whole thing down. Then I thought he was going to stop, and I actually said to myself, "it's okay, he can't jump it from here, it's not his fault he has to stop, totally understandable."  But he was just pausing a second to think it through.  Hmm... let's see... yep, I can do this, just gimme a sec here, there we go, up and over.   He didn't even touch it.  I couldn't believe it.  Number one, what heart he has, for once again totally making up for a bad ride and getting us to the other side when almost any other horse would have said, "Forget you lady, you're nuts.  Try again."  He truly is the most honest and willing horse I've ever ridden.  And number two, that is some kind of talent.  Three feet really is nothing for him.  He jumped an oxer from a dead standstill.  Alicia said it didn't even look bad.  He's amazing.  I landed from the jump and gave him a big grateful pat for being so good to me.  The next fence was the short turn to the center line oxer.  I had to make a circle.  I know it's poor form, but I just had to get myself together and make the last fence halfway decent after what I had just done to him.  The turn actually ended up being just fine, and the jump was good. 

Today, I was getting on for a light, stretching hack.  Since I wasn't going to be doing much, I wanted to put him in a hackamore to see how that went.  I used one like this, which is a pretty basic one.  He was fantastic!  Stretching, bending, soft through his whole body, listening to my leg, rounding through his back.  Unbelievable.  It was the softest I've ever felt him bend to the left.  Which proves to me that the stiffness I feel when asking for a left bend has more to do with a clenched left jaw (he's got chronic TMJ) and much less to do with weakness or stiffness elsewhere in his body.  I still think we need to work on stregthening his hind end, but maybe a hackamore is a good way to accomplish that.  Since he was being so good, I figured I'd see if his lead changes were any better in the hackamore.  They were!  He stayed soft, and round, sat down on his hind end, got light up front and did them in each direction, back-to-front.  They were a bit more "dressage-like" than "hunter-like" (a little more flair than one might like to see in the corner of a hunter round).  For now, however, I will certainly take that.  I'm more than happy if he's going to sit down and use his hind end and give me a little more front end action at the moment.  That can become smoother with time.  The beauty of the hackamore was that he did his changes without getting stiff and pulling, because he had no bit to pull on.  I'm going to jump him in it next weekend.  I think it might be a really valuable training tool for us.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I think we're ready for full disclosure...

So a while ago I said that there was some stuff going on with Tucker and I wasn't sure if it was a physical or training issue, and I wasn't quite sure how much to share about it on the blog at the time.  The issues I had been having were a lot of resistance on the flat, more than usual trouble with the lead changes, and then I had a horse show where he landed bucking when we took a slightly long distance to a big oxer (which is really out of character for him, especially in the summer, when he's had a chance to lunge, and I haven't done something completely idiotic to him).  I know my horse pretty well by now, and he just wasn't feeling like himself.  He was completely sound, but he'd start out a little stiff and shuffly behind, which isn't really normal for him.  The resistance was bothering me the most.  This is a horse that loves his job, and tries really hard for me just about all the time, and now he was protesting simple flatwork.  What gives?

So, I started doing my usual lay-person's evaluations on him.  No heat or unusual swelling in any of his legs or feet.  Muscle development and weight hasn't changed.  Coat is shiny.  Eyes are clear and bright, gums look good.  Can he bend his neck for treats on both sides?  Hmm... not so much to the left.  Churchill tests on his hocks... not much of a reaction there, lifted his leg a little, but maybe he thought I wanted to pick his feet.  (To do this one at home:  Apply pressure to the top of the splint bone on the inside just below the hock.  If the horse lifts his leg high and to the side, like a dog aiming at a fire hydrant, he's usually got hock pain.  Of course, be careful where you stand to avoid being kicked.)  Run my fingers along his back... Whoa, Nelly.  Tucker flinched hard and sank down about 3 inches.  Okay, so we're definitely back sore. 

So, I had Dr. L out to do some chiropractic and acupuncture work on him.  Tucker gets regular chiro, but he's never had acupuncture, and I've heard that can really help with back soreness.  Tucker has been treated for chiro by Dr. L before when we were stabled at another farm, and he adores her.  I am pretty sure he'd follow her off a cliff if she promised to keep touching him.  She did quite a few chiropractic adjustments on his neck and shoulders, and lots of stretches.  Tucker of course was a star pupil, learned exactly what he was supposed to do with the stretches immediately.  (Of course, to get him to do them for me, I better be armed with a substantial amount of treats.  Tucker's no dummy.  He's got me trained well right?)   Then we got to the acupuncture, and I swear my horse went into some kind of blissful trance.  It was pretty great to see.  He was in heaven.  I took him for a long walk when we were done, and then a very light hack the next evening.

The difference was clear immediately.  First of all, no more flinching when I ran my fingers along his spine.  And then to ride, he was moving forward, and happy to be working, and was voluntarily reaching his nose to the ground while we warmed up at the trot, which is usually something I really have to work to get him to do.  Definitely feeling better.  Shortly thereafter, we had a fantastic horse show

Possible causes of the back soreness?  Could just be his conformation.  He's a bit roach-backed in the lumbar area, and he's a little straight through his stifle, so I've always suspected he might have back trouble at some point.  He also worked really hard at HITS just before all this started, so he could have just had regular muscle soreness like any athlete after exertion.  Also, since I was showing all week I was riding in just a fleece saddle pad, without my Thinline.  I don't know if that made a difference, but just in case, I've since bought another Thinline to use for showing too [Note that I wanted this one, but it's not in the budget at the moment.  Maybe some other time].  He also traveled longer than usual in the trailer, which can sometimes cause back soreness with all the shifting of weight back and forth and balancing (think standing up on the Subway for 2 1/2 hours). 

The trick now will be to keep an eye on him and be sure that it doesn't come back.  Sometimes, though not always, back soreness can be a sign of issues elsewhere, such as the stifles or hocks; and if the back soreness returned, that would be an indication of other problems.  It would be very unusual for a horse Tucker's age to have arthritis issues, but you never know.  As long as the back pain doesn't return soon (it's been almost a month with no issues yet), I think we're fine.  He'll have his yearly physical in the fall anyway, just to be sure.  To make sure that he continues to feel comfortable through his back, I've decided to have Dr. L treat him once a month.  Next visit is September 20th!

Now that the discomfort has been resolved, I've turned my focus toward stregthening exercises for his hind end, in the hopes that will solidify his lead changes.  More on that later....

Friday, September 3, 2010

May I have the envelope please....

Well, well, well.  It looks like Tucker and I are the very honored recipients of the Intrepid Riders Faction Award.  Rachel at Dapple of My Eye has bestowed this very impressive award upon us.  Here are all the nice things she has to say about us (made me blush!):

Marissa worked her tail off in Law School to be able to FINALLY own horses of her own. And now she owns two of the finest equines around. She has raised Tucker (and is in the raising process with Julie) and has been through so many of the same trials and tribulations with him as I am currently going through with Granite. It is so inspiring to know that if you preservere these magnificent animals will be worth all of your effort, ten-fold. Tucker is knocking them dead in the big leagues now, thanks to the unwavering dedication of his mom, and they both continually provide inspiration to those of us who would like to follow in their footsteps (ahem... Granite and his Mom). So keep leading the way for us Marissa and Tucker!

I told Tucker about the award last night and he had this whole big long speech prepared, about the miles he's walked to get to where he is, the struggles he's overcome to reach the top, thanking the little people, thanking God, thanking the cast, the crew, the fans.  It seemed a bit over the top to me so I'll spare you all that.  He got a little carried away.  You can't imagine how tough it is to round up a blanket of roses at 8pm on a Thursday night.  Sheesh.

I do want to say, however, that it makes me so happy to hear that my ultimate message is coming through in this blog:  that it's all totally worth it.  Rachel is doing a wonderful job taking care of her young horse, which is no easy feat.  It requires a lot of patience, time, energy, thought, and financial sacrifice!  But, at the end of the day, it will all be worth it.  While I often question many things about my life, I wholeheartedly believe that much to be true. 

And now...  on to the award itself.

INTREPID RIDERS FACTION ~We strive to go where others only dare to go with our horse loves. . . healing, being respectful of the horse, riding, playing, camping, jumping, swimming and traveling down the trails of life. . . with the horse in our Hearts. Overcoming many obstacles, and sometimes weather, to ride!

This Award is dedicated to those Horse Lovers and Riders that inspire others to go deeper in ability, knowledge and understanding of the Equine(s) they have been entrusted to.  The good of the horse is the ultimate goal apart from pressures to achieve ribbons and fit into lesson schedules.

~ Some of these riders are fearless, when it comes to weather conditions and the forecasting of them. . . being with their horses fills these folks' soul and takes the cares out of daily routines.

~ They are unconditionally loving to the horse and may have rescued it from known ailment or living condition.

~ Others have researched and purchased/acquired their horse, to find a difficulty in temperament or a physical burden within the animal. Yet, being dedicated, they have persevered to proudly be in partnership with their horse, lovingly striving for deeper awareness between them.

~ Some horse lovers may have been riding for years and suddenly, had an accident that takes them away from the great joy and freedom they have, being aboard such a magnificent animal. They have allowed the healing horse to rise in their hearts once again, and beckon them back!

~ Fear is not my normal response to things. . . just a desire to achieve higher understanding of what may lay ahead of me with my mare or gelding, that truly is a gift to my heart and soul. I always seek out knowledgeable and caring individuals to assist me, in any quest I may look into.

~ I am taking with me the good I have learned from caring individuals that have shown great single minded LOVE to the horse, and am leaving the dust of the bad behind me, not allowing it to fetter my supreme desire to be all I can be as a rider to my mare or gelding, and also, to allow him or her to be the Equine athlete he or she truly is!

There are not many rules with this award. . . .  JUST :

1)  That you give it to only one person

2)  Link back to this post, so they may have an understanding to it's true nature.

3)  You may use any or all of the written descriptions, with the award picture.

And now, onto the award-giving.  This was a difficult choice for me.  I've met so many amazing women through blogging that it was tough to pick just one.  But then I realized that there's a blogger who I've been thinking about lately, someone who has been faced with considerable adversity in her personal life and her equine world as of late.  She has been through no small amount of trials and tribulations over the past year or so that I've been following her blog and has met each of these moments with poise, intelligence, compassion, and a sense of humor that has taught me never to take a sip of anything while reading her posts.  Her connection to the horses in her life is awe-inspiring.  She is one of those rare horse people that really, truly listens to what the horse is trying to say.  She takes the time to fully understand each horse and his or her personality, quirks, likes, dislikes, and needs; whether its a Shetland pony with an affinity for Edvard Greig, or a spunky older mare who doesn't know the meaning of a stroll.  In turn, the horses understand and respect her, and let her into their wonderful little worlds.  Though I don't know her personally except through her blog, I am confident in saying she is a wonderful friend, wife, and mother, as evidenced by the story of how her friends and family surprised her with the purchase of a new horse.  You need look no farther than her most recent post to understand the kind of horseperson that she is.  Her posts remind me to see each horse as an individual, listen to what they are trying to tell me, and above all else, keep my sense of humor about me at all times.  I give this most deserved award to my friend Jane, at The Literary Horse.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Julie, aka Moondance, my beautiful little girl

Photos courtesy of Golden's friend Ashley, one of my new favorite people!

I can't tell you how happy it makes me to see how pretty she is turning out to be.  For a while I was wishing someone had bought her as a yearling, then I was feeling like a horrible owner/mother for not seeing her for almost a year (actually, tomorrow is one full year since she arrived in FL).  But seeing these pictures, I have nothing to worry about.  She looks beautiful, her weight is good, she's clean and well cared for, she seems relaxed and happy, and she's out with a big group of friends all the time, just as I'd keep her myself if the right situation presented itself locally.  Her diet is nutritious, her routine is just right, her farm is absolutely beautiful, and she looks like she is reaping the benefits.  Even better, through the amazing social networks we have available online these days, I now have a friend-of-a-friend looking out for her, who so kindly trimmed her mane up for me last weekend because she was getting awfully hot under her flowing locks.  I am so happy to have made this connection.  I trust Celia and Larry implicitly, they are wonderful horse people, but now I can get regular facebook updates from one of the people looking out for my little darling!

I'm starting to feel awfully lucky that no one snatched her up as a yearling.  She may end up being quite the contender in the hunter ring in a few years!  I must say though, that these pictures make me miss her terribly.  I am definitely going to go see her for a weekend over the winter.  I want to kiss that pretty little nose very badly!

She may need to just settle down with all this growing though.... sheesh.