Izzy has lost one too many shoes. We are now going barefoot. I am not an extremist either way: I like the sturdiness of shoes, but the convenience of going barefoot is hard to beat. Izzy just can't/won't keep that right front shoe in place.
I kept Speedy shod all the way around for many years. For the last couple of years though, he kept coming up lame without any apparent reason. I took him to Alamo Pintado, a premier equestrian medical center on the Central Coast where he was diagnosed with a possible suspensory ligament issue in the hoof. He had months off, and came back sound. When repeated the lameness a year or so later, my vet felt that we needed to change his shoeing. When he came up lame again, my current farrier posited that he was simply whacking himself with his own feet. He suggested we go barefoot. Speedy's been sound ever since.
While Izzy is sound, he keeps yanking that front right shoe off. He's pulled it twice now in the past week. My farrier isn't complaining about it, but I am tired of replacing chewed-up bell boots that aren't working anyway.
When I saw the shoeless foot on Saturday morning, I said screw it and saddled him up anyway. Dude was sound as a dollar. I called my farrier and asked if we could just pull the shoes and try going barefoot. Farrier said that it's a cheap and easy thing to do and certainly worth trying.
If Izzy gets sore being barefoot, we'll just stick the shoes back on. Given how sound he's been for the past few rides, I am hopeful that we can go barefoot permanently. He's already shoeless in the back and has been for more than a year, so I think this might be the cheapest fix in history!
My Arabians have always been thin-skinned. They're picky about what touches their skin, and since a lot of materials will rub a hole right through their flesh, I respect their choosiness.
Endurance riders use a lot of synthetic materials out of necessity. Endurance horses sweat copious amounts, hour after hour. Tack gets wet when riders sponge their hot horses. Tack gets rained on when riders cover mile after mile of trail, heedless of the weather. Leather tack just can't stand up to that kind of abuse.
Even so, there were two pieces of tack that I used that had to be from natural fibers: my saddle pad and girth. For years, I found that mohair or fleece girths were the only things that wouldn't rub my horses raw, and natural wool pads kept my horses' backs cooler and pain free.
When I made the switch to dressage, I kept Speedy in a synthetic fleece girth which he still uses. I liked it so well that I purchased one for Sydney as well. It was in such good condition when Sydney left that I was able to use it on Izzy. While it fits him perfectly, I am having the same problem that endurance riders have: Izzy sweats an unbelievable amount which makes the girth really gross after only two or three rides.
I finally decided to see if my big brown horse is as sensitive as Speedy. I gave the Riding Warehouse a quick search and found the Ovation Airform Synthetic Chafless Dressage Girth. For $34.79 (I had a discount code but had to pay shipping), it was worth a gamble.
There isn't anything that I don't like about the girth, and more importantly, Izzy is going just fine in it. Ovation must use a basic pattern because the Airform has very similar billet keepers and roller buckles as the fleece girth - both of which I love. Both buckle ends have elastic, also a must-have for girthy horses.
The one thing about the girth that surprised me was how lightweight it is. I expected something a bit more substantial. Even so, it doesn't feel cheap or flimsy, and I like how it maintains its position. It doesn't slip or slide around, and when I unbuckle it, it seems to release a gentle grip.
Although it could have been a terrible idea, I actually used it for the first time at the Christian Schacht Clinic. If the girth was going to cause any trouble, it would have been under those conditions. But nope. Six rides later and Izzy is as comfortable in the Airform as he was in the fleece.
The best thing about the girth, and the primary reason that I selected it, is that it can be hosed off with no drying time. While I haven't needed to hose it off after every ride, it's been doused at least twice already and looks as good as new.
While Izzy might not care that his girth is no longer hard and crunchy, I like that it's clean and pliable. I swear; is there anything that I haven't replaced for this horse? Wait. Don't answer that; I don't need any ideas!
I knew it was of course. Whenever there's a glitch in our forward progress, I know it's most likely my fault. I wrote about the last glitch a few weeks ago and have since been working to resolve it. Christian Schacht, the clinician with whom I rode last weekend, gave me a few more tools to help me work on the problem, and they turned out to be magical.
For most of last week, I was either tired from the clinic, or working on something (it's a biggie) that took priority over riding. I didn't ride Izzy (or Speedy, for that matter) again until Friday afternoon. I wasn't worried that he was going to be a monster or anything, but I wondered if I could get the same quality of throughness that Christian had helped me achieve at the clinic.
Spoiler alert: I did. We did. It was awesome.
As soon as I got on, I started listing the 50 states in alphabetical order. I kept my eyes off of my horse and didn't think bout riding. Izzy tried to lurch into a trot, but I refused to follow him with my seat. He walked. And then he walked a lot more. When he a took a deep breath and exhaled, I knew I was on the right track.
The rides we've had since the clinic have been amazing. Some of the mental exercises that Christian gave me didn't work while riding by myself, so I changed them up or found some that worked better for me. Right now, the one that is working the best is counting.
I discovered that Izzy's tension had to be coming from me. While I ride, I focus on every single thing that he is doing wrong, and I try to correct all of it at once. I don't pay nearly as much attention to what I am doing wrong. By counting, I am not working on Izzy. I am only establishing a very consistent tempo. It also forces me to ride better.
When I am counting, I have to think about myself. Is my rhythm steady? Am I pugging my butt into the saddle on the sit moment of the rising trot? Am I holding the rhythm when he tries to speed up?
If I feel my attention start to wander, I change my counting pattern. Instead of counting to 20, I'll count to 16 and try to get back to 1 without missing a beat. Then I'll start over and count to 12, 18, and back to 20.
I count silently, and I don't work on anything else except maintaining a steady tempo. If Izzy throws his head up, I just keep my hands steady without asking for anything. As long as my riding rhythm is steady, he settles back down immediately.
I also hear Christian telling me to let my arms be soft. I can now feel when I am bracing. By maintaining the rhythm with my seat, I don't need to hold him back with my arms. It's much easier to be soft in your shoulders and arms when your seat and core are engaged.
I also keep my eyes in the middle of the circle. I don't look at what he's looking at, and I don't look for what might spook him. He's been a lot less looky when I am not looking around.
Christian also gave me some help with out canter work. I have difficulty getting Izzy ready for the canter. He knows this and so anticipates the departure. Quite often the cycle spirals out of control until I have to just stop and reboot. Christian's method for picking up the canter is a simple one: just canter.
I found that Izzy once again tried to anticipate the departure and quickened his tempo in response. Rather than allow it, I simply resisted his movement and held the tempo I wanted. When he was once again trotting nicely, I simply gave a little scoop with my seat and we were cantering. And it was fabulous!
The first time we cantered, I could feel that it was about to get a bit wild, but Christian once again saved me: Sit back, point your belly into the circle. As soon as I sat back and pointed my belly, Izzy rocked back and got softer. Once my position was better, I could milk the reins and help him keep his balance.
That clinic with Christian has definitely helped my riding. It wasn't so much about not thinking about riding, but more about not thinking about EVERYTHING while riding. I feel like Christian has helped me to soften my laser like intensity. Didn't Sally Swift advocate riding with "soft eyes?" I feel like I am now riding softer throughout my whole body, not just my mind's eye.
I can't wait to see where this all goes!
I think that I like clinics even more than showing. First of all, I get to ride for a lot longer which makes each dollar better spent. But aside from that, clinics are about learning so there aren't any feelings of competitiveness., at least not from me.
My best friend has been able to travel with me this summer which has made showing and doing clinics a lot more fun. She has even schlepped my big brown horse's crap around for lessons - and that can be about as fun as watching paint dry.
As we were preparing to load up to come home, Best Friend walked him over to the shade so he could cool off. I was tossing a few odds and ends into the trailer when I glanced up and saw them standing in silhouette. She was busy talking to Izzy and goofing around with him. I snapped this picture as she laughed, exclaiming that he is big enough to stand under.
Later that evening, my trainer posted this next photo on Facebook. It's a bit blurry, but I love the absolute quietness of the moment. To me, it is the epitome of what dressage should be, harmony between horse and rider. Since we're only walking in the photo, there's a good chance we were past the naming of the presidents and recalling the contents of my refrigerator.
Have a great weekend!
After my lesson with Dr. Christian Schacht, I had a chance to talk to him about it over a glass of wine. You know you've found an awesome clinician when he's willing to have a casual conversation about your ride, the day, and life in general.
I asked him how he knew that I needed to just think about something else while riding, and I was curious to know how often he'd used that strategy with other riders. To my surprise, he didn't know it would work, and he'd never done a lesson quite like that one before. In fact he offered a sort of apology because it wasn't really what you'd call a "dressage" lesson.
Typical lesson or not, I felt like it was the best lesson I'd ever had from him, and there have been many from which to choose. I rode with him again on Sunday, but that lesson turned out to be more like what you'd expect. While more traditional, he still incorporated exercises from the day before, and even threw in a few new ones.
#1 - What's in Your Refrigerator?
I explained this one yesterday, but in case you missed it, it works like this: think of the answers to questions that force your memory to recall information. For me, a simple Q and A wasn't sufficient as I frequently multi-task at work. So riding and answering a simple question wasn't enough.
Answering a two-step question proved to be much harder. Diving a number that left a remainder was so hard that it literally took me minutes to solve even the simplest problem. Think of 35 divided by 2 - nearly impossible for me. The more steps the problem took, the less I focused on my riding.
The refrigerator question was particularly challenging for me because I had to visualize each shelf to identify what was on it. I wasn't able to simply recall that there is juice and butter. My brain had to create a picture of the shelf. The more detailed the picture was, the less aware of riding I became.
#2 - Count to 20.
This isn't a novel strategy, but it worked wonders for me. Christian instructed me to count strides. To help, he counted aloud for me: 1, 2, 3 ,4 5 ... 10 ... 11 ... 12 ... 13 .... 14 ..... 15 ...... 16 ......... 17 .............. 18 ............... 19 .............................. 20 ... walk. Like magic, Izzy was walking when Christian said 20. I didn't do a single thing except follow his counting rhythm.
When I repeated the exercise and counted aloud, it didn't work. When I did it silently, I discovered that I could walk at any number as long as I started to slow my counting early enough. Christian also insisted that I count when my butt was in the saddle as opposed to when I rose. He also limited the count to 20. After twenty, the rhythm doesn't hold true.
#3 Bend and Go.
The third exercise was challenging enough that it felt as though my brain's wires were getting crossed. It forced me to go back and forth between left and right which always throws me off. By trying to to differentiate between left and right, I quit micromanaging my horse's stride.
The exercise was simply a series of changes of bend. It distracted me because of the confusing elements, but its real purpose is to supple the horse. I didn't worry about whether my horse was supple though as I was too busy counter bending, pointing my belly, and counting.
Simply begin by trotting a 20-meter circle tracking either left or right. Every three strides, change the bend and your rising diagonal, but turn your belly in the direction of the bend. For example, trot three strides tracking right, change your posting diagonal, change the bend to the left, and point your belly to the outside. Trot three strides, change your posting diagonal, change the bend, and point your belly to the inside.
It's a hypnotic exercise that requires a strong coordination of the aids, especially the use of the outside thigh. When the horse is counter bent, you will need to use the outside thigh to make the circle. After doing this exercise for a few minutes, Izzy got super adjustable and felt like putty in my hands.
This was a great clinic primarily because it restored my confidence. I had been having a sort of crisis of faith. I was constantly second guessing my ability level. I was quickly feeling like a completely incompetent rider who had no business bring along such a nice horse as Izzy.
Christian showed me that the problems were not my riding ability. In fact, the only time he corrected my position was to insist I sit taller and back in the canter, and that I lower my hands. Other than that, he felt my position and application of the aids was fine (at least for where we are right now).
Getting even that small amount of validation was huge. I don't need to be the best or even great. I just need to know that I am at least effective. And as we all know, getting a diagnosis eliminates a lot of the worry.
My diagnosis? Over thinking it. Prescription? Quit thinking about it so much.
I haven't ridden since Sunday (tired plus tons of life stuff to deal with), but I am looking forward to trying this all out on my own. Let me know if you try any of these exercises. I'd love to hear about it.
Best friend and I drove down to Moorpark this past weekend to ride in yet another Christian Schacht clinic. As usual, I walked away with a big hunk of WOW to try and digest at home.
Although we had a hiccup to start with, the clinic went super well. When I loaded Izzy to head to the clinic, I groaned in frustration when I saw his shoeless front foot. Best friend and I did a frantic search for the shoe, finally finding it buried in the dirt. I threw it in the trailer and called my trainer, who was also riding in the clinic. Within an hour, a farrier called me back and agreed to meet me at White Birch to tack it back on. Many thanks to Roger Bishop for saving the weekend.
Izzy did all of the traveling and over-nighting almost as well as Speedy. He loaded and unloaded like a champ, and stabled like a pro. He ended up sleeping in the show barn all alone, and while I doubt he was celebrating his solitary confinement, he handled it without a peep. He ate and drank well, and seemed much more confident about the whole experience.
My plan for the clinic was to figure out how to correctly ride this horse forward. I've been struggling with that. Christian does all of his lessons the same way: he asks you a few questions about your horse (how old is he? what's his breeding? and so on), and then he might ask you what you'd like to work on. It doesn't mean you'll get to work on what you want, but at least it's out there. After introductions, he simply sends you on your way.
I've ridden with him so many times now that I just ride the best I can and wait for him to start talking to me. For this lesson, I got a huge surprise. Christian's first words to me were to ask if I could recite the names of all the presidents. I laughed and said that I could name some of them but certainly not all of them. What the hell? was my first thought. What does that have to do with dressage?
As I trotted and cantered the circle at E/B, he asked me to just name the ones that I could. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I mean nothing. I teach US history for Pete's sake. And then all of a sudden I remembered George Washington and then slowly, a few others began popping into my head. After I got to Clinton, Christian started peppering me with basic math problems. What's 22 times 3? Double it. Multiply it by 6. Divide it by 4. And so on. I was still trotting and cantering.
As before, my answers were slow and quite often wrong. I felt like someone with a brain injury. I knew I knew the answers, I teach fifth grade after all, but I just couldn't get my brain to work the answers out. I felt like a drunk trying to tie my shoes.
Finally, Christian asked me to name what was in my refrigerator. I was so relieved. I had just gone shopping that morning so I knew I would get the answers right! And then I didn't. I couldn't think of anything that was in my refrigerator. "Lettuce!" I said. But then I realized that I hadn't bought lettuce. Holy hell. What was going on?!
After some more prodding and coaxing, I was able to come up with a few items that truly were in my refrigerator. It was then that Christian asked me how my horse was going. What horse? OH MY GOD! You mean the compliant school master I've been jogging around for the past 15 minutes?!?!?!?
Okay, school master might be an exaggeration, but not by much. Izzy had settled into a workmanlike trot that was rhythmic and forward. He hadn't squealed, bolted, bucked, or misbehaved. In fact, Christian had me ride Izzy on the buckle as he crackled a plastic cup and dropped a sheet of paper as we walked by. I had seen none of it.
So what had happened? Christian explained it like this: my seat is fine and my aids are correct. I just need to get out of my own head and let my horse do his thing. According to Christian, and I don't doubt him for a moment, I am ALWAYS wondering what Izzy is going to do wrong, or I am wondering what needs fixing. ALL OF THE TIME.
That's what's been holding me back. Christian got me riding my horse without thinking about riding my horse. As soon as I just let my body do the work, Izzy was able to do his job. Christian went on to explain that I am riding a horse who is extremely sensitive to my every thought. If I am worried about how we're doing, Izzy is worried. If I am wondering if he's going to race around, Izzy is wondering why we're going so fast.
So. My take away from Day 1 is to quit thinking so much about riding while I am riding. To help myself do that, I need to be thinking about something else - like what is in my refrigerator. Getting out of my own head seems to be a key to our success!
Tomorrow - a few exercises that really helped.
It was hot yesterday. My car read as high as 109℉, but it was probably only 102℉ officially. Although Izzy looked as perky as always, I was tired after this weekend's clinic, so I didn't even bother to put on breeches. I showed up to the barn in shorts, a tank top, and wildly inappropriate flip flops. A clinic write-up is coming, I swear, but for now, I need to go on a bit more about how awesome my new barn is.
Regino, or Reggie for short, lives at the ranch and serves as an all-around fix-it guy. He runs the tractor, fixes stuff that breaks (ahem ... Izzy!), and takes care of the landscaping. Basically, he's fabulous. I mentioned that the arena was getting a teensy bit uneven and would it be possible for it to get smoothed out some time over the next few weeks and viola! - the ranch owner passed my request on to Reggie, and before I knew it, it was done.
Yesterday, Reggie noticed that I had both boys out on the lawn letting them graze, so he asked if I wanted him to drag Izzy's turnout. I didn't even have to ask, he volunteered. Having a dedicated "staff" is amazing.
I puttered around on the two front lawns while Reggie smoothed out Izzy's holes; he had at least three. While Reggie was at it, he scraped down the dried-out manure piles and spread them as well.
Before he drove the tractor in, he laughed about first needing to pick up all of Izzy's toys. He said he likes to heap them up in a pyramid shape because he knows that Izzy enjoys dismantling the pile. Notice the newly built pyramid.
While Reggie was still smoothing things out, I put Izzy on the other side (it's crossed fenced), and fed him his beet pulp and Platinum. When Reggie drove the tractor out, I locked the outside gate and opened the dividing gate to let Izzy have both sides again. Reggie came over to watch.
Izzy left his beet pulp and immediately went to investigate Reggie's handiwork. He sniffed the newly leveled ground, came over to both of us to give his approval, and then made his way back to his dinner.
Reggie and I both laughed at Izzy and hoped the work had met my big brown horse's expectations. The way in which he checked it out left us no doubt what he was doing.
Sometimes, being in shorts and flip flops is as productive as being in breeches and boots - right place, right time.
Most equestrians, especially those who compete in events sanctioned by USEF, know that Saturday was International Helmet Awareness Day.
Not to be a Negative Nancy here, but I sometimes wonder if it's not a case of the minister preaching to the choir - Amen, brother, preach it!
Almost everyone I know already wears a helmet, some of them thanks to me. The people I know who don't wear helmets tend to be western riders. I live in cowboy country (believe it or not), and most of the folks in my area don't wear a helmet. That got me thinking. Maybe the helmet awareness groups need to tweak their campaign a little because it seems as though a large segment of riders aren't embracing the notion that helmets save lives - or at least prevent brain damage.
As I was walking through the office hallway the other day, I am a teacher, I noticed two new posters hanging side by side. They were big ones, like two feet by three feet at least. There was a big brain in the center of each with text filled thought bubbles scattered around the outside. The title for each poster was the same: Every Concussion Deserves a Discussion.
At school, we deal with a lot of kids who don't always make good decisions. They flip over stuff, jump off stuff, and try their best to prove they are indestructible no matter how often that we remind them they are not. The posters are to remind the staff that a bump on the head can be more serious than just a goose egg.
Maybe shouting from the rooftops that we should all wear helmets to protect ourselves from death and serious injury isn't the most effective campaign.
I am a pretty big NASCAR fan. We watch the race every weekend. My husband roots for Bakersfield native, Kevin Harvick, while I root for the #48, Jimmie Johnson. Along with most NASCAR fans, I am also a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. For those who don't follow the sport, Earnhardt took a few good hits over the course of a couple of weeks earlier in the season.
If you don't follow NASCAR, you probably don't know about the MANY safety features built into those cars. Much of those came as a result of Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s death while racing at Daytona in 2001. Drivers wear helmets and are locked into position with a HANS device - among many other safety features. Even with all of his safety gear, Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion that is severe enough that he voluntarily pulled himself from racing for the remainder of the season.
Dale started experiencing dizziness and other symptoms while driving and decided to see his doctor knowing that he was in all likelihood eliminating himself from championship contention. Not racing is a good way to lose your sponsors and even your spot on the team. Even NASCAR's most popular driver is at risk of losing his ride.
Dale has been very public about his condition which I think makes him an even better role model than before. If someone as blue collar and testosterone driven as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is willing to talk about the dangers and lasting effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), the helmet awareness people need to get HIM as a spokesman. That might get the attention of our non-helmet wearing friends.
Dale Jr. is the perfect guy to lead the drive toward embracing the concept that every concussion deserves a discussion. Maybe that would encourage more riders to wear helmets.
It's time consuming to bit up in the side reins every time I ride, but it seems as though it takes less time in the long run.
When I rode on Monday afternoon, Izzy was a little sassy and very forward, but rather than box him up, I let him go forward. That meant that all he wanted to do was canter. I went with it.
I found that I was needing to do pretty strong half halts, the kind that last for two strides or more. The kind where I get firm and think 1 ... 2 ... release ... 1 ... 2 ... release. When I ride him like this, Izzy will rock back on his hind end and carry himself - if he's listening and balanced.
While I was half halting away, I felt a flash of irritation and had this thought: Dang! Why I am needing such strong half halts? I suddenly realized that we were tracking right, the harder direction. All of a sudden, I was tickled with the quality of the canter. It was so improved that I had forgotten which was the harder direction!
It's so hard to see progress when it comes this slowly. As I was finishing up my ride, I was thinking about what to say to Dr. Christian Schacht at this weekend's clinic. When I rode with him in May, he had said that with a few months of good riding, this horse would make a lot of progress.
That thought bummed me out of course because I am not sure Izzy has had the "good" riding that Dr. Schacht was referring to. But then I remembered how hard it was to pick up a canter in May. Dr. Schacht kept asking for more inside bend and softness before getting the canter lead. We struggled with it. Now? It's not perfect of course, but I don't wonder if we'll get a canter departure. Instead, I'm working on picking up the correct lead where I ask for it.
While we are still at it, where I want it is a lot better than if we'll get it. Perspective is a beautiful thing.
If you've been following my rein saga over the past few days, you wouldn't be the only one. Apparently, the Riding Warehouse caught wind of it as well. Unless you never order anything online, you are already well aware of the awesomeness that is the Riding Warehouse.
I'll admit that I may be a bit biased as I carry around a proprietary air when it comes to this little corner of the horse world. I've been a customer of the Riding Warehouse since they operated out of a portable tent. Let's just say it's been so long that the internet had not yet been invented when they hung out their shingle.
And really, how can they be beat? Their shipping policy and rates are second to none. Since I live just two hours away, I get my packages the very next day, and if I shop wisely, I get that package shipped for free! And their customer service? No one comes even close. They make it right NO MATTER WHAT.
But you already know all this.
I order something from the Riding Warehouse at least once a month. I just ordered a new pair of rubber reins, bell boots, and a saddle pad. And then, because that didn't quite scratch my itch, I also ordered a new girth, but more on that in a day or two.
All of that means that I get frequent emails from the Riding Warehouse, so it was no surprise to see an email from them yesterday afternoon. When I opened the email, I was pleasantly surprised to read this:
Well now. Isn't that the coolest thing ever?! My favorite tack store will now be carrying my favorite reins. I like you well enough Bobby's Tack, but Micklem is still calling my name.