Friday, November 18, 2011

11/14/11 Boss Bang

I caught Boss. Saddled up, headed to the arena. Southern winds were howling around the arena, typical of fall transition into winter here, as the cold fronts blow in and the coastal winds fight the fronts.

He walked around quietly, and we even trotted a bit. Then, pretty much without cause, he stopped. I felt him tighten up and get stiff. I asked him to walk forward, and I got about four steps before he halted again. I hopped off, flexed him left & right, and hand walked him a little.

Mounted and hopped off repeatedly from the center of the arena , and found that away from the mounting block, he stands pretty quiet for hopping on. Finally, I hopped on and stayed there.

I asked for walk forward. Got one step, halt. Asked again, one step, halt. Asked a third time, no walk forward. I kicked him rather hard, got one more step, halt. Frustrated, I hopped off, and decided the winds must've been too much for him to handle. I took the bridle off, put the halter on,
Boss shuddered and took a step towards me, resting his head on my arm...

Gunfire, from CRNG's way. I took Boss back to the trailer to unsaddle.
More gunfire from CRNG's way. I shouted, "HEY! Look before you shoot!"

Thanks Boss, for getting me off your back before the guns actually went off.

Well after dusk, another rifle shot went off, farther from home. I turned it in as after-hours illegal hunting to the game warden, and then the county sheriff. I don't know who's doing all the shooting, but I'm not impressed. Neither is Boss.

11-13-11 The Results

While we waited in between tests, Harley took a sharp "turn on the forehand", just as the rainstorms came. A young lady watching the show darted under a tree, "ooh, it's cold and wet!" I responded, "Yeah yeah yeah.. She says to the girl ON her horse in a White shirt! Nobody told me this was a wet tee-shirt contest!" The observers all laughed, and the rains eased up some.

After the tests, we got lots of applause, which is out of the ordinary for dressage shows around here. Folks clap for their son or daughter, friends for each other. I don't live near any of the shows I attend, so most folks don't even know me where we ride. The barn owner cheered for us after each ride, praising Harley's calm behavior, and "my great riding". I glowed walking back to the trailer. A young lady praised us as we passed her, "You rode great today! Good job!"

After about an hour, I wandered into the show office to find our scores. I jumped up & down, and danced like Snoopy back to the trailer.

Those scores qualify us for series Championships! Two shows, two judges, two scores over 60%.

Later on, the show manager walked over to the trailer with the ribbons.

Second place for Test A
First place for Test B
Adult Amateur Intro Division Champions

I think we floated on the trailer ride home. :)

11-13-11 Intro B, All Heart Horse Farm

Intro Test B, Marilyn Kulifay, Judge
All Heart Horse Farm, Manvel, TX

1. Enter working trot rising. At X halt through medium walk. Saulte
6 = fairly straight, shoulders Right after X

2. Track left working trot rising
7 = fairly smooth

3. Circle right 20M at E
6 = lovely energy, circle to be a little rounder

4. Between K & A Medium walk
7 = smooth

5. F-E Free walk
7 = lovely stretch, needs a little more march

6. E-H Medium walk
6 = nice length of stride, needs activity

7. Between H&C Working trot rising

8.Circle left 20M at B
6 = nice energy, needs consistent bend in body

9. X halt salute
6 = overshot centerline a little

Rider comments
Gaits = 7
Impulsion = 7
Submission = 7 (*2)
Rider's Position = 7
Rider's Effectiveness of Aids = 6
Geometry and accuracy = 6

Attractive pair! Make sure circles are very round & centerline is very straight. Nice job!

11-13-11 Intro A, All Heart Horse Farm

Intro Test A, Marilyn Kulifay, Judge
Sienna Stables, Missouri City, TX

1. Enter working trot rising. Between X & C, medium walk
6 = drifting left. shoulder left at little @ *can't read*

2. Track right working trot rising
7 = smooth turn prompt at M

3. Circle right 20M at A
7= lovely energy

4. KXM Change Rein
7 = slight bobbly but straight line

5. Circle left 20M at C
6 = lovely energy. circle needs to be rounder

6. Medium walk between C & H
7 = smooth

7. HXF Free walk
7 = shows some stretch, ask for more

8. F-A medium walk
6 = needs more march, Right at centerline

9. X halt salute
6 = fairly straight but right at centerline

Rider comments
Gaits = 7
Impulsion = 7
Submission = 6 (*2)
Rider's Position = 7
Rider's Effectiveness of Aids = 6
Geometry and accuracy = 6

Attractive pair! Make sure horse marches in walk - but shows lovely energy in trot. Make sure straightness on centerline.

Monday, November 14, 2011

11/13/11 AHHF Arrival

Harley, R, and I arrived at the show farm right on my schedule. 10:30 am, with 1:00 ride times. Plenty of time to walk the facility, get un-spooked, get my bearings on where I needed to be and when.

I put Harley's knotted halter on, and we went walking. I giggled as the barn horses were all startled by the new horse on the farm. We were the only trailered-in horse/rider at that point. Some activity in the show ring, and lots going on around the barns. A few folks were riding in the warm up area, some dressed to show, some not.

Harley gained all kinds of googly-eyes. "OOoohh.. He's pretty!", I heard from a handful of folks. I was convinced they were only speaking of his grey color. I beamed proud when he took the whole place in stride, with only a few snort-breaths. He didn't spook at the jumps, or the standards. He didn't seem bothered by the harsh winds, and didn't hardly notice when the other horses rode by.

One young girl and her mom, each on their own horses, were in the warm up area (not dressed to show), and the younger girl about looked like she wanted to jump off her horse as I hand-walked Harley by them on the rail. R reported he later heard mom tell the girl, "They're probably here for the show, just getting used to the place. I'm sure you'll be fine, nothing will happen." *giggle*

We dressed to ride, Harley in his black & white beauty (with purple polo wraps and his R.E.S. boots for the warmup). I took him to the warm up area, and longed him under gloomy skies and undirectional wind bursts. A few folks watched us from the warm up arena fence, and a few more lurked in the barns nearby. No wild reactions still from my baby superstar. He stayed quiet, calm, and unphased by everything. The farm had its fair share of bees, and while he swatted legs and tail at them, he still stayed quiet. A show worker told R, "The other trailer-in pair had a flat tire on the way here. They were supposed to ride at 8, but now we're putting them directly after lunch. You'll ride second after lunch instead of first."

The lunch break came, and I hopped on him in the show arena. Someone walked up , and told me, "The scribe is going to ride a few tests for the judge and then you'll go." I responded, "So if the scribe is riding, how many tests? And what about the other two riders that are also before me? What's going on?" She responded, "I don't know, I was just asked to give you the message. You'll have about fifteen minutes in here to ride, and then you need to stand outside and wait your turn."

HUH?! Tension was building just a bit. Instead of my perfect preparation, my timed arrival, perfectly timed warmup, now I was supposed to "put Harley on ice"?! I did the math in my head. With three other riders, even two tests a piece, that was going to be about another half hour to an hour. The clouds grew even darker, and it was obvious it was going to rain, I just didn't know when or how much.

As things in the arena picked up, and the judge arrived, I found the barn owner. "Uhm, what's going on? When am I riding now? Am I after all three of these folks? I timed Harley's warmup so we'd be ready for the judge. I don't mind a little wait, but I'd like to know what's going on so I can prepare him for his best, not standing in the rain getting cold waiting." She answered, "I don't know myself at this point. Let me go talk to the judge, and figure out what's going on." It started to sprinkle rain around the covered show arena, and there was nowhere to stand out of the rain.

R informed me.. "The scribe is riding someone else's horse to give the mare good show experience. The last two times the owner has tried to show her, the mare has bucked her rider off, hard." I glanced over, and found a BIG paint-colored mare, assuming "That can't be a crazy horse. I wonder where she hides it?" as the mare let out a big yawn, and stood quiet on a loose rein. Hmm...

The owner came back and informed me, "Okay. The judge was the one with the flat tire, not the other trailer-ins. The scribe and you are going to switch off. She'll ride one, you'll ride one, and repeat. So, you'll be in the ring in about 2 to 3 minutes, and you'll probably be done riding in about 20. How's that sound?"

Perfect ...

I hopped on Harley, and as the scribe finished her Test A, I rode Harley in. A little walk, a little trot. A volunteer offered to call my test for me, and I accepted. I rode by the judge, we exchanged bright smiles, and she blew the whistle.

As I rode down the long side towards R and "A", I realized I had a half-dozen folks watching from the short side. I glanced towards the barns, and realized another crowd was watching from the barns and warm up arena. Wow.. Harley has an audience. I smiled big at R, and said quietly, "Let's do this!"

Chest out, shoulders back, calves on Harley's side, I turned left sharp, straight up centerline, rising trot, judge, barn owner, fill in scribe all watching at my front, and a crowd behind us... It just felt like it was going to be a great test.

Recap up to 11/13 Show Day

Over the long weekend, I rode everybody. Friday brought all three horses under me. Romeo and I did some nice arena work - he tried being speedy at canter, but I quickly dug my seat into him, and he relaxed.

I found Boss's GO button - squeeze the calves. When I ride Harley and Mo, I ask for a transition, then try to leave them alone, adding seat and some inside leg to increase the gait forward. Boss would prefer I leave my legs resting on him, and squeeze him together in the ribs with both legs to increase gait. When I figured this out, he sped off in this fantastic trot forward, zippity dooo dah! The canter work was short again, but very nice. He's landing a bit toe-first in the trot up front, so we both coughed up a decent amount of dust in the ride.

Harley and I worked on all the gaits, and had a good ride, nothing spectacular. He felt a little stiff in the transitions. I worked on walk/halt transitions, and as they improved, he seemed to relax.

Saturday brought lots of sore muscles. Not my legs, as I expected (having ridden all three on Friday). No, Saturday brought sore chest muscles. As it turns out, the saddle fit change, has left me sitting very tall & upright, chest up / shoulders back, pretty much naturally. This means all those upper chest muscles that I'd learned to protect and curl up around my back are being restretched.

I grabbed Romeo, and noticed all three horses were eyes and ears up down the powerline clearing. They were anxiously looking towards the cow pasture (not the dirt road). Strange ... I rode Romeo down the road a ways, and down the clearing. Still didn't see anything, but with Romeo under me, Harley and Boss in plain view, all three horses seemed nervous and anxious. I took Romeo away from the house down the road a ways, and the farther away from home he got, the more relaxed he became. Very strange indeed.

Harley and I hit the arena, and I was convinced it'd be a short ride. My chest muscles were tight, it was a bit hard to breathe, and there was no way I was going to make it worse for Sunday. Then, as we came down long side past what would be "K", towards "E", I heard it.

POP .. .I jumped, and Harley's head, eyes, and ears all looked right down the clearing ...

Dang neighbors. There were two of them. One was driving the golf cart, the other stood up from the cart, and it looked like he shot into the air. "HEY! Look down from the shot, will ya?!" I screamed, pretty annoyed. He got back in the cart, and it started coming towards the arena. "Come on with it", I muttered under my breath. "Let's just see how this goes, you being too stupid to look past the shot, trying to kill me and my horse both." Just then, the cart swung a U-turn, either because one convinced the other it wasn't worth an argument, or because they could read my mind. The two and their cart disappeared, and I heard another POP in the direction of where they wandered off to.

Harley and I rode transition after transition, walk/halt/walk, trot/walk/trot, trot/halt. Each improved just a tad, and when they were at his best, I walked him out and quit.

Back at the house, while I was giving Harley a bath and a full grooming, POP. Gun went off again. I screamed even louder, "Do you people EVER think about what's behind the shot? *fourletterword fourletterword fourletterword*"

A tense afternoon, from shooting, to quick rides. Around dusk, Boss relaxed and quit looking in that direction. Harley and Romeo were too tired long before that, and were probably just hoping the hunters had given up for the day.

How I Handle the Pasture

Since it's come up again, here's what happened late last year. Simply put, every single time I read a blog about someone getting kicked, or nearly getting kicked, I shudder. Every time I see a video of "that adorable horse" running free in a small pasture lot, kicking up their heels, I catch my breath.

WHAT are you people thinking?!?!?!?!

I was kicked, it damaged my heart, I could have died. Heart Attack. 32 years old, healthy, take my vitamins, drink my milk, exercise at least 4 days a week riding, eat a balanced diet, and nearly died. Afterwards, it took months before I could take a deep breath without medication and NOT feel pain.

Use the Thinking Side of your Brain, readers. STOP Playing games in the pasture. Refuse to enter a pasture when the herd is bucking, kicking up, and running like wild children. Buy a longe whip, and USE the stupid thing. Snap it at your horses, I don't care how "cuddly and adorable" they are. DEMAND respect, and if you're not getting it, GET your brilliant mind OUT of the pasture.

Here's how we handle things at my house... When I was finally able to feed and blanket my own horses again (reality check - I couldn't do it myself for over a month... and when I did, it hurt, like hell!), I didn't do anything unhaltered. My guys all have their own pasture lots. At the time, there were two horses on the property - Harley and Romeo. I began demanding that Mo give me his two eyes, face front, and I did NOT walk behind him. I will probably NEVER walk behind him unless he's tied. Even then, I stand very close, hand on his butt, so he knows full well I'm there.

We also don't "play games" free in the pasture, or in the arena, and we never will again. Mo wanted desperately about two weeks ago to have a "gallop day" in the arena loose. Instead, I made him run like a madman ON the longe line. When I do longe, "whoa" for Romeo used to mean "come up to me". After about a month of hard work, he now stops and turns his neck and nose towards me, without stepping up. There is no invitation into my personal space. I walk up to him, and he's no longer allowed to come within 5' of me unless I have a halter in my hand loose in pasture. I don't approach from the back, and when I feed, I get two eyes, or I don't dump the grain. No games, no playing, and absolutely zero disrespect. I haven't needed a whip in my hand in the pasture, but I won't be bashful grabbing one either.

[[ Exception ... When I catch Boss, some of the time, I carry a dressage whip. NOT because he's goofy and playful when I catch him. It's because once he nose-dives into his halter, he likes to anxiously drag me to the trailer to be saddled. One or two light taps on the chest with the dressage whip, he usually settles behind me. The last three times I've caught him, he's followed along behind me, about 1.5' back. ]] Understand here, Boss is HUGE, and he likes to remind me he's huge.

ey are horses. One Thousand Pound, Kick you into next month, destroy your face, break ribs and hearts, bust an arm or a leg, HORSES. These are not oversized puppy dogs, I promise.

How do you handle the herd? How many horses, on what size lot? What do you do when they're kicking up running and playing?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Week's Worth

Here's some Highlights...

Boss got him some new feet last Sunday. I rode him a few days before his feet, and once since. I'm going to stay "Shhh" about his new feet for now, pending full success. So far, things seem good. He rode last night with a bit less effort on my part (because of cooler weather, spurs, new saddle fit, or new feet), but felt a bit tentative with each step. The longer we worked, the better things got. Around 25 minutes, he hit a brick wall, and was obviously very tired. Time to step it up in the trot, and try to get a few more minutes of true work next week.

Harley got new clothes! Sort of. Stirlingshire Saddle Fitters were at BRM on Monday. I travelled with Harley up to visit them and get his saddle worked on. Alene and Louise were delightful ladies, a pleasure to be around. They added considerable wool flocking to the front of the saddle (both sides), and added a more forward girth strap. The results? The saddle sits completely level on his back now, the girth can sit in that forward traditionally Western girth groove, and I am totally completely upright in my body now. I have found it's easier to post the trot gently, much easier to sit his canter. Harley seems happy as well. We have found it..
Drum roll please...
We found the free walk! Tuesday evening I saddled him, asked him to work fairly hard. I shortened up my reins early in the ride (skipping the longe warmup, cloudy skies shortened evening daylight even more). He collected, and I could feel his rear end lift behind me. I caught myself sitting totally up tall, shoulders back, sternum lifted, and posting very gently. When I asked for canter, I got nice transitions, and was able to sit completely in the saddle, barely moving. As we relaxed to walk, I loosened out the reins, and he followed with his entire front half of the body. Nose near the ground. Completely delightful. I now know that saddle fit was a limitation to the free walk. Who knows what else he wasn't happy about.
Last night, I should've longed him first. I didn't, the wind blew something about in the bushes. Harley spooked, and I was unable to stay with it. Splat. No serious injuries, though my helmet didn't stay atop my head like it's supposed to. Time to go helmet shopping,, *epic fail*

Saturday afternoon, rather than longe quietly and ride gently, Mo decided he was going to run. I know he wanted a "free gallop in the arena day", but given his kick history, I kept him on the longeline. He stayed there, at a near full out run, for about 25 minutes. A sweaty, frothy, heaving mess, Mo finally settled down and became rideable. Another 20 minutes of pushing and working him under saddle, and I believe every ounce of his outta shape body said, "Ouch, Mom. I give up."

I've been averaging two rides a day, leaving from work a little early some days to get those two rides in before dark. I'd like to work up to all three on my days off, and Thanksgiving week I will have a chance to try that out.

Show this coming Sunday... Things are really looking up for me and Harley now with his saddle fitting properly.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Harley came to me in the pasture last night, nickering. He lowered his head into the halter. Hmm.. I wonder if this is a good sign, or if he's secretly plotting to kill me in the arena. Saddled, and neck stretcher longed, I hopped on.

Amazing again. A bit less give at the trot, which frustrated me. I asked for plenty of canter and transitions after 9-12 strides, hoping to get the give in the trot. Serpentines and circles at trot, and he'd feel pretty good until I'd ask for a straight line and corner. Things fell apart in the corners, so I'd go back to changing direction a lot. After about 30 minutes paying attention, he seemed to be finally alert to the collection, and relaxed. I tried some halt/trot/halt work, and that's improving significantly. The canters were nice again, light contact, sitting securely. Free walk work still seems to elude Harley. He'll stretch out, and down just past neck level, then stop. Every time he's stretched farther, he gets heavy on the forehand, stumbles, and then doesn't want to try it again. Must be a trick to it we're not getting.

Boss was up second, and Romeo looked pretty happy about my choice. He antsed around again saddling up, but stood quietly for polo wraps up front. Odd child. Bridling was easier, as he lowered his head with one tug of my fingers at the poll. Smart ... Smart ... He tried walking off at the mounting block, and after two aggressive responses from me, I mounted ever so slowly, and he stood still. A good pat for praise, and he was off.

Warmup at the walk took about five minutes before he wasn't a giraffe anymore, and was giving to the pressure. Tug, release, Tug, release, walk on. Nice .... His trot was ... LAZY! Slow, unforgiving, and just flat. It felt slower than Harley, which annoyed me. Thinking to myself, "I know the canter wakes Harley's trot up. I wonder if all horses are like that?"

I squeezed for the canter left, and off he went. Boss lept up into his canter, and before I knew it, I was sitting his massive stride with all its knee-action happiness, and he was bent on the circle, collected. How thrilling! I rode two big center arena circles, then let out a heavy sigh to the trot. Love the AirBrakes! Boss still lurched about in the trot, and no matter how cooperative I tried to be, he seemed to be ignoring me.

Then I flashed back to my first instructor in SC. Susan would tell the intermediate students when the horses were lazy, "take your reins at the buckle, and whap him on both sides of the neck. back and forth. That oughta wake him up." And I tried it. Success! Boss immediately perked up into a better trot, and, while it's not tracking up, I don't think I'm physically ready to keep up with a tracking up trot on him. He started giving to the bit, and I felt his back lift under me. Similar work heading right. Lazy trot, beautiful canter, whap-whap on the neck, and a nice trot.

About 35 minutes total work. Finished up again with long&low stretchy trot, and a bit of working walk / free walk transitions. They were better than Tuesday, even. Things are improving slowly, and I'm pretty sure it's mostly me and not that much Boss.


I caught Harley, tacked him up. Boss was prancing the fenceline of his paddock, calling out. Harley and Mo paid him no mind. As we started our free longe in the arena, Boss became even more agitated. After about ten minutes, he realized what was going on, it was not in fact his turn to play, and Harley and I weren't leaving him behind. He stood at the paddock fence watching us, but quit fussing.

Harley free longed cute, with one crossfire canter right. He bucked himself out of it, and I laughed. "You're still a baby, aren't you?" I asked him. With a few more canter rights correct, and some really nice neck stretcher warmup longe work, I hopped aboard.

I don't know if he was showing off, or I've improved that much that quickly with Boss underneath me in two rides. But the ride on Harley was magical. His trot was floaty and forward, with nice bit connection and bend at the poll. I could feel his back lifting underneath me. The canter work? Fantastico! Correct leads, relaxed transitions both up and down. Most delightful, he was on light contact through the canter, and I was sitting. Not driving, not pushing, just sitting. A bit of inside leg to keep it together, but I was *sitting*. Through the transitions with a few strides sitting trot as well. Delightful! About 40 minutes of work, and under the warm sunny afternoon, he was huffin and puffin. Fuzzy coat, My dear... that must go here pretty dern soon.

Romeo was none impressed with my decision to ride him as well. He limped down the road a bit, avoiding the gravel at all expense, including running me into every tree limb he could find. Still unhappy with his new toes, I assume... so I kept it short, and put him away after about 15 minutes of walking. Next ride on Mo, I won't bother with the saddle, so I will waste less time if he's still foot sore.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

11-1-11 Relax the Muscles

Boss antsed around the trailer while I tried to saddle him. He pranced almost the whole way to the arena. In his halter, I worked on "poll pressure from my hand means head-down", and after the third push, he let out a heavy sigh. Curious if that was the training "sticking" in his head, I walked him forward and tried again. Poll, push, head-down. Almost instantly. I used this new lesson to get the bridle on - I'm not standing on a ladder to put his bridle on, no matter what he thinks.

Walked him over to the mounting block, and as I got on, he tried to walk off. I backed him up pretty hard, and held tight until I was secure. Just like Sunday, we played flex-position at the walk until Mr Giraffe became Boss again. A little leg yield at the walk, a few serpentines, and a couple of 10m circles, and I had his attention. Boss started to push into the bit, flex at the poll. Much faster than Sunday.

When I asked for the trot, I was worried just how hard I'd have to kick to get it. I prepared with a rock-solid half halt, and with a squeeze, then a kick, he was in the trot. Much of the same, flexing positioning and bending. I discovered a nice collected posting trot pretty quickly, though. Any time his head pops up to Mr Giraffe, I would examine my body, ears to toes, find the joint that wasn't bending with him, or the muscle groups I was holding on with, and the instant I relaxed or bent, he'd settle again.

Lots of trot, followed by a nice walk. I let the reins through my hands, and Boss reached for a long low free walk. Whatta dreamy free walk! Transition back to working walk wasn't so pretty, and now my new goal is to work through it slow enough that he isn't so Mr Giraffe.

More trot, and some canter. First canter was turning left on the circle, and I got the right lead. I had to kick pretty hard and position myself to an extreme to get it, so I figured I asked for the right lead. He stayed in it, then back to trot after about 8 strides. Second time I asked, I made sure outside leg was back, and I got the canter-left. Two big center of the arena circles, and back to a trot. The funniest part of his canter is feeling the inside front leg bend sharply at the knee, and hearing all four hooves hit the ground in the canter. ba-da-dump, ba-da-dump, ba-da-dump. It feels very UP in front, and that's just because I am not keeping him together in canter yet.

Relaxed into more trot work, and I ended with a new piece for Us as a team. The long & low trot. Starting out collected trot, I spread my hands about 2" total, and started to let the reins through my fingers. Boss immediately reached for it, and with the reins on the buckle (literally as long as they'd go), he still had tension on the reins at the long trot. Fantastic!

About 35 minutes total work, 30 minutes of it riding "work". He was sweaty and very relaxed when we ended, so that's a good time frame to stay with until he's a bit more fit. I didn't expect lots of canter work, nor did I expect him to hold up for an entire hour. He doesn't "relax" to a loose rein. If my body position is correct, the entire ride for him is "working session". It's just how he's trained, and something to adjust to.

Cookie stretches, nose to ribcage, I heard his neck pop quite a bit bending to the left. Time to start flexing his nose to my feet under saddle, see if I can't loosen that neck up a bit.