Thursday, March 31, 2011

03/30/11 Splish Splash

Just thinking about the day recap makes me grin. Harley's such a baby. Some things, he is brave and curious, and even devious. Other things, he'll come right out of his skin if he could, or hide under a rock shaking.

I grabbed Harley, dressed him in the surcingle, and took all my longing toys to the arena. Started out free longing, and at a few moments, he took off like a complete banshee running through the circle. What the heck?! Then, as I saw a shadow, I figured it out. There were some huge buzzard birds on the high power pole near the arena, and they were flying off of the pole. The noise of their wings, along with the shadow overhead, skeered the beejeebies outta baby Harley. baby baby... you need to realize birds are over your head, not on the ground. They won't eat you - you're too big, and you don't taste fruity enough.

I added his neck stretcher, and left it at the same length. Quickly, Harley showed me he learned something last two sessions with it, and worked 80% of the time with them loose. I stopped him after a bit, and shortened it maybe an inch total (no more than 2"). I sent him back out on the circle, and he argued with it a little before finding the answer again.

With all the longe work done, I was a little bit proud of all the good he'd done, and how he'd gotten over the birds, mostly. The neck stretcher work was amazing, and I can see he's building up strength without losing forward energy - that's delightful.

I got brave. I took the bit off, and switched back to the lead rope from the longeline. We walked over to my pond. It's down a little, so there was a good spot for me to stand, where I could stay dry, and send Harley forward into it at varying depths. I sent him forward towards the pond. Harley put one hoof just on the edge, and blew his nose towards the water. Some splashed up on his face. I braced for what I only thought would be a war of sending forward, and refusing to let him avoid the muddy murky water.

Harley very delightfully took one, two, three, four steps up into the pond. He walked all the way through gingerly. When he got to the other side, he let out this HUGE heavy sigh, and picked up a trot until reaching the pond again. Splish splash, Harley trudged through the pond again. On probably the fourth trip through, he was in the water up to his knees, and stopped, in the pond all four feet. He paused just long enough to paw at the water, probably twice before I shoo'd him on forward. Water went EVERYWHERE!

We changed direction, and again I kind of braced for an argument. He very happily went right back in the water, splish splash, and I again had to correct him for pawing at it. Water splashing all over the place, Harley soaked wet on his legs, with splashes on his back, belly, and head!

An entertaining 45 minutes of "work". Well, maybe that water activity was a reward, might have to ask my horse!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Controversy

I'm going to ruffle feathers, and that's okay. I've been thinking about it for months now, and conversed with a few fellow horse people. I see opinions on both sides of the fence. Previous to the accident, it didn't really affect me, so I didn't speak up. Now, however, I find I could be a participant, and think it's a good time to talk about it.

Throughout my recovery, I've wanted to ride a hekuva lot more than I am. It sucks feeding, mucking, grooming, saddling, longing, just to be too weak and tired some days to ride. One solution? I could have kept Romeo around, medicated him (i.e. mild sedation), and ridden anyways. I could have done the same for Harley, and still could be, just to "take the edge off". He's a baby, so why expect him to babysit me, when it's really my job to be the calm teacher he needs? Finally, I could have drugged myself - doped up on pain killers or mild muscle relaxers to take my discomfort away.

However, I've chosen none of these options. I've decided to send Romeo off for some personalized work with a stronger rider. As for Harley, it's been an uphill battle of "easy does it". I have to suck it up and take a deep breath, and longe more, ride less. This means lots of days, if I had hoped to ride, and he takes a longer time to longe and relax, I end up not riding. I don't make the decision to ride unless he's quiet, relaxed, and obedient. I also haven't been going any faster than I feel comfortable, and if I get nervous, I ride through it a little and then slow back down. Yes, it's slowed my big dreams of going to show this year. It's painful and stirs some intense jealousy to see show pictures from the schooling events I'm missing.

And why? There's too much at stake. What if a deer or a hog leap out of the tree line, and Harley isn't sober enough to react? What if he stumbles over a ground pole, and can't pick himself up, and we both tumble to the ground? What if Romeo had stayed home and couldn't have protected me from a dangerous situation, and been uncoordinated enough to shift his weight and "catch me"? Yeah, it's slowing the actual goals of riding progress. Neither of my horses, nor myself, will be back to the show ring this year.

As you may have seen my 2011 goals, I'll be delighted if we get to travel at all this year, even just to *see* the "boogers" at another barn. Heck, right now, I'll be happy just to get back in the dressage saddle I love so much. But my safety, and that of my horses, comes first. I don't need to risk another fall, and I don't need to risk another serious accident. One is enough...

3/27&28/11 Harley's Progress

On the 27th, Harley and I had a nice longe session together. I introduced him to a new longing device aimed at developing some topline. So far, we've learned side reins aren't the answer, and the modified elbow pull was a complete disaster. I purchased a neck stretcher, and after a loose warmup, I figured it was time to test it out.

And? Success! Harley almost immediately relaxed at the walk, pulling his cute little nose in, and was tracking up and over at the walk. Lots of toosh action there! I clucked him up into the trot, and while it's not perfect, he was at least heading in the right direction, neck down, nose out. It's a start. Heading left, he was a bit ugly at it, but knowing that's his bad direction, I just let him go a while longer. At trot right, it was nearly fantastic, neck down, nose in, that traditional "long & low" we all hope for at Training Level. Beautiful! The canter work wasn't quite as fantastic in either direction, but at least he looked more like a horse and less like a giraffe.

I've committed to leave it kind of loose for a while, and when he can go a ways loose on the stretcher, then I'll shorten it up and start asking for some more intense work. Throughout this, though, I was happy to see his trot didn't shorten stride or get lazy. He was still quite forward and proud of himself about it.

Total work 3/27 - about 40 minutes.

On the 28th, Jen came over, and as she walked to the arena, Harley put on quite the show (translation: baby bucks heading canter left after I gave the longe line a solid tug. See, Harley thought he could gallop off like a nut, and I tugged to ease him down to a respectable canter. He didn't think that was funny, and put on a great buck display). I've started to realize that after a few of these, he's spending the first 5-10 longe minutes getting the baby booger off, taking off like a crazy baby, and if I restrict that, he's bucking, looking for another place to get that energy out. Baby Baby Baby...

Since he seemed to settle down, but still resembled an ugly giraffe, I bitted him and put the neck stretcher on again, this time only a few minutes each way walk and trot.

I hopped on (from the ground), and we got down to business. As I picked up the trot, it turns out Harley's new found forward trot is a little more than I was ready for mentally. I was fiddling with the Myler combo bit too much, and Harley expressed his genuine disapproval of my fiddling, leaning on it, mouthing it, and fussing back at me. I gave in, and switched him back to his "baby bit", the french link loose ring he's been longing in. He relaxed, which in turn calmed me.

At the trot, I was trying to post, in stirrups that my feet can't quite reach again, being out of shape. Jen suggested to me, "Why don't you try to sit it, maybe that will help both of you?" I giggled at the general thought, not knowing if my hips would relax into it worth a darn. I surprised myself - apparently I did learn something last year in that "sit the trot on Ransom" 2010 goal. I settled into a sitting trot, and noticed Harley didn't really change stride, but seemed to relax a little bit more. On a nearly loose rein, we were trotting the circle, with a general bit of guidance from me. Knowing we needed success in the other direction sitting trot, I told Harley, "Alright, dear. I know you've been working quite a long time now, and you're pooped. This last bit is for me, not for you. Time to train the Momma again." He obliged, and trotted around happily while I found my hips and balance the other direction.

Total work 3/28, a bit over an hour. He worked hard, but was cooperative all but those first few minutes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

3/24/11 The Trot

I gathered Harley and got him dressed after another busy PT. Looks like there's one more week there yet to go. I have some decisions to make concerning PT - do I think I'm good enough to call it "done", or are there things I still need to improve worth making another dr appointment and asking for another four weeks? I haven't decided. While I am a LOT stronger than I was, there are still a handful of things around the house that are difficult to do on my own. Things to consider ...

Harley first longed out with the bit in mouth, longed from the halter (nothing attached to the bit). He hopped playfully over the poles, but with a few wrong leads heading left. Grr..

Then I tried something different to encourage head down, nose in, use the rear end better. I have a fairly long old rope with clips on the end, and it looks much like Julie Goodnight's Elbow Pull bitting system. Well,,, It sort of works. Harley responded correctly at the walk, but failed again at the trot. I think he was "correct" for a stride or two going right, but that was it. Otherwise, he just lifted his head higher and found the wrong release. Grr! So, it's back to the drawing board, er, tack store catalogs, to figure out what else might work. I need to show him that "good" is head down, nose in. I don't expect him to hold it for hours, but I noticed last night he's getting muscles on the lower side of his neck, not on top. This needs improving. On the longe, his forward is FANTASTIC. He'll over stride at the walk, and he is tracking up nicely at the trot. His canter varies depending how early in the workout it is, as it starts out speedy and short, but he eases into a pretty graceful canter after a little while. However, the quicker gaits are all done with his neck up, nose out. Blech!

I changed his bit from longing french link to the Myler Combo, and walked him over to the mounting steps. Success! In less than two minutes, he was at the steps, and I was aboard. I then mentally prepared for what might come next. When I add leg to ask him to move on, will he burst away from the block, just stand there, or walk away quietly. Again, Success! Harley took about two gentle steps from the steps on a little leg pressure, and hesitated, as if to make sure I was really ready to move. I added leg, and he continued.

With a little walk, turn, and halt, he was responsive and paying attention. I got brave, and squeezed and clucked. Harley hopped up into his trot, and again hesitated, making sure he really did have the right answer. I trotted about a circle and a half, each direction, and found his trot to walk transition isn't the greatest. Ugh. If I sit deep, shift weight back, he drags his feet moving to walk. If I shift my weight forward a little and tip my pelvis behind me, he stops pretty quickly. Hmm.. I wonder where he learned that little habit, and how I might fix it.

So back to the walk we went, where I repeated walk/halt over and over and over, shifting my weight back, closing my knees, and then adding bit pressure. I decided to stop when I had about four in a row that were improved. Finished out the work with a little side to side flexion, and when I added pressure to both sides of the bit (closed both hands on the reins), he figeted a little before lowering his head, to which I immediately released all rein contact. It's not a miracle, but it's a start.

This means we're up to good solid walking work, and a little trotting under saddle again. It felt good. He isn't poking around like he was last year, so the longing work is helping. I do, however, need to set up some poles, cones, and solo rail razors around the arena, and begin work to improve his turns, moving him around things and over obstacles. It'll give us both something to think about, making the rides longer each time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

3/22/11 Harley - More than a Baby

I had been to work. I had endured Physical Therapy. I'm still not back to 100% strength, failing at a few pieces, so the weights were all increased, and a few of the body drills made more difficult. After almost two hours of holding the couch down watching TV, absorbing any kind of strength I could from a snack and my water jug, I stumbled outside.

Harley didn't budge as I approached him with his halter. A serious improvement. When I reached up to tie the halter, he lowered his head, licking and chewing. A great start. At the trailer, he stood almost perfectly still for leg wrapping and saddling. I thought I had everything I needed. Saddle, wrapped legs, longe line, side reins, longing bit/bridle, helmet, gloves (riding Myler bit left at the barn). When I realized what I'd forgotten, it was already too late, and I wasn't ambitious enough to walk back to the house.

At the arena, I longed him on the line (no side reins), just to see what sorta baby I had for the day. He was phenominal. He trotted out over the poles, the three in a row, and a single on each side of it. He almost looked proud of himself, only knocking one pole off the rail razor once. I cantered him over the two singles, but wide out around the three in a row. He quickly figured out where his feet needed to be, and behaved accordingly. Over one pole, he switched leads incorrectly, but after a quick correction, was back on the correct (left) lead. His halts, and waiting patiently were amazing as well. He'd stand there, and not even try to walk off if I moved.

So I got brave. I added the longing bit (french link aurigan loose ring), and the side reins barely touching as he was relaxed. We went to an open part of the arena, and I sent him out. Within moments, he was quietly mouthing the bit, looking for his release at the walk. Once he found it, Harley stayed in that quiet, forward, relaxed walk, head nice & relaxed low. At the trot, he stayed mostly relaxed, and at the canter, he at least lowered his head a bit, lower than he goes without the side reins. I shortened them just a little, and sent him back out at the trot. He popped his head up, and found the wrong release - head up in the sky, nose out. Only for brief moments was he long, low, and attempting collection. Yuck. I didn't even try the canter, knowing I need to reevaluate how I attach the side reins to the saddle, and rethink how I show him to accept light contact on the bit.

R arrived, and I asked that he get back into the trailer and bring me the riding Myler bit. He came with it in hand, I changed Harley's headgear, and hopped aboard. Other than a few antsy-pants moments of refusing to stand still, we enjoyed about ten minutes of relaxed walk. An engine somewhere nearby backfired loud as it shut off, and I waited for Harley to spook. Not even a flicked ear. Excellent! I rode him around the poles, over the singles, and in between the set of three (straight line). I found him wiggly rather than linear, and so I aimed for 5-7 steps straight line by focusing waaaay far out of the arena on a tree or fence post. With some success, I went back to direction changes and halts. Harley kept his head long and low, but I know that his little nose was poked out.

After dismounting, which is still the most painful activity, R asked if we'd done any mounting from the steps. No, no success there. So, I put Harley back in his halter, and R walked him up to the steps while I stood at the bottom. I climbed the steps, fiddled with the saddle, put weight in one stirrup, and after three tries, I was able to get my body into the saddle, sit about ten seconds, and slide back out onto the steps. Fantastic! Previously, Harley was terrified of the mounting steps. Now, with repeated exposure, he'll walk up to them, stand up close, and almost patiently let me climb aboard. It'll take a few more times to make sure he knows it's not a dangerous place to be.

About an hour's total time in the arena, including tack changes, and little water breaks for me. Harley has come so far, and so have I. I felt confident enough to get him through his antsy pantsy wiggle halts, and was able to focus on something other than dreaded "I'm going to fall" fear. Needless to say, the cookie bucket was depleted after we got back to the barn, and untacking looked much like tacking, with very little wiggling.

Way to go Baby Harley! You're growing up!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Turtle Of the Week Award

Hrmm.. I'm all about good news, or at least I should be. Bad news causes stress, which is bad for my heart, and my mind.

Here's the good news - I'm getting stronger. Physical Therapy continues to challenge me, increasing repetitions, and increasing weights on the machines. I've learned how to do a lot of stretches, resistance band work, and the use of a lot of different core weight machines. It's pretty neat to see where I'm strong, and I push hard where I'm still weak.

Here's the iffy news - I'm still not at full strength. The cardiologist told me the mitral valve, probably damaged from the kick, is still not 100% functional. Of all the heart valves to muck up, I picked a good one, as the mitral valve is not a "have to have to function". From the 24hr monitor test, he identified a few arrythmias, all of which I felt. They were identifed as "normal enough", and I've been sent on my way.

I'm back to work, slowly building up my hours to a full work week. I've got two or three weeks of PT left, and so I continue to work hard there. Some days, the act of just getting through the day exhausts me. The task I thought simple, taking Romeo to Hoof Camp, kicked my butt, and I'm still recovering from it. I wake up some days, completely convinced I can do anything I want to. Seven or eight hours later of working at full speed, I have to lay down and nap, or I can't hardly hold my head up.

I'm working off of frustration. I want to longe less, ride more. I'm learning that, with Harley, I need to do both. I am setting goals, one little step at a time - Longe him myself for a full week. Longe him a week, and saddle him myself each time. Then longing saddled, followed by a ride or two at walk. We're moving at a snail's crawl pace. I've frequently awarded myself the "Turtle of the Week" award, moving entirely slower than I ever have, and trying to be cheerful about it.

My search for a babysitter gelding continues. I've sent out a few emails seeking something, and gotten zero responses as of yet. So it's also a lesson on patience. I suspect Romeo's Hoof Camp will return to me a quiet trail buddy once again.

I've set some 2011 goals, with my mind and body knowing they will take hard work. At the same time, it's frustrating. I had big hopes for a brief show season with Harley, and some good solid work on Romeo. Now, as you can see, I'm going to be delighted if I can even school around at one or two shows. I won't even set hoof in a dressage test ring this year, and that saddens me.

Hug your horses, and ride hard. Don't let little habits go, correct them at once. And if the babies you ride give you a wild ride, hold on tight, and enjoy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Romeo's Hoof Camp

Romeo and I visited Dr. Sam Thursday 3-17. He gave him a good look over on the outside, longed him a little at the trot, and commented he had a good, steady gait. He checked him out on the inside from the backside, and said all that seemed good. A full blood CBC panel and chemistry were run, again all normal.

Romeo is , err , normal. That all being known, he still has his absolutely grumpy, uncooperative, disrespectful moments. I asked around, made a phone call, and Romeo was delivered Saturday to Pony Hoof Camp (Because "boot camp" sounds silly for a barefoot horse).

Trainer H has lots of experience, and I think she will be the perfect fit for Romeo's mental rehab. Jen and I delivered him up there Saturday, where he got to meet a few of his new herd buddies through a fence. He's got lots of mental stimulation there, with a donkey, a jack, a gelding who was a stud for a long while, and pond-adventure fishermen in boats. Romeo wasn't real sure what to make of the humans floating in the water, throwing things into the water. =) Funny to watch for sure.

If I get any Romeo updates, I'll post them here. Suffice to say for now, he'll be getting a serious attitude adjustment, and with any luck, he'll be back to his quiet obedient self in a month.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mid March Update

I'm reading, dangling around out here. To the few who have sent comments, and kept in touch, thank you. Yeah, I've been a crappy blogger. There isn't much to say when you're sitting around doing nothing.

So here's the update on the boys..
Romeo has had some light longing sessions, a few more complicated and long when he decided he'd rather gallop off like a nutjob than cooperate. I've hopped on his back a small handful of times, walk/trot only. His stop is good, but he has been figety on his halts. He doesn't want to stand still, he wants to continually figet around. A couple weeks ago, after a 20 minute longe, and a 15 minute ride, he refused to stand still. I managed to stand him still for a 15-count, and I dismounted. I took the bridle off, put on his halter, and walked across the short side to the gate. Unlatching the gate, he laid down behind me. Didn't roll, just laid down. What the?! I stood him back up, backed him up, scolded, and continued towards the house. Then, in the crossties, he stood rock solid for unsaddling and polo wrap removal. I approached him with the water hose, hosed legs up front, and as the water reached his neck, he set back on the ties, and broke one of the tie posts (a 4x4 post, 2' in the ground) at the ground level. Busted it! I got after him again, and continued to hose his neck until he quit arguing with me.

Neither of those things being like him, combined with that awful kick, we're visiting Dr. Sam at CVC tomorrow afternoon. If Dr. Sam finds something, I'll update and treat appropriately. If he finds nothing, Mr Romeo is going off for an attitude adjustment. I can't have that much reckless disrespect at the house, and I'm nowhere near strong enough to deal with him myself. We'll see what happens.

Harley Harley.. my baby sweet Harley. Jen has been longing him about three times a week, with me picking up those responsibilities a few times. He started out a goofy baby, and is making great progress. He is slowly getting better at his leads at canter, and has a very nice working trot. I have been on his back, um, three times now lately? Walking mostly, with a touch of trot, no more than a circle at a time. I've made a bit change for him, introducing him to the Myler 3-ring combination bit. I had a great chat with Dale Myler late last year, and he explained in detail why this is a good move from halter, to bit, to regular working snaffle. I'll be blogging his progress as we move forward, and look forward to reviewing the bit.

I am moderately looking around for a solid mount to lease/borrow for a few months. Romeo isn't trustworthy, and Harley is looking to me for trust (not for me to trust him). I revisited Ransom and considered him again, but he is very stiff, still very sore, and the time off (along with being off supplements and not moving around in a large lot), and it just didn't feel fair to put him back into work. Another horse offered to me would hardly put weight on a back leg that had an old bowed tendon. Owch... That's out of the question, too. But, I'm looking, just not having much success.

There's the update on the boys. I will work to blog a "me" update here soon, too. Things are getting better, just very slowly.