Thanksgiving break was rather stupendous. I was able to ride both horses for six, count 'em, six consecutive days. I was off work two hours early on Wednesday which is how I got the six days of riding instead of just five. I am going to admit it. I actually "horsed" myself out! I spent anywhere from 4 to 6 hours at the barn everyday for six days. That's a lot of barn time. Love you, sweet husband!
So when Monday morning rolled around and I headed off to work at 6:25 a.m., going to the barn after work seemed like the thing to do. But when the dense fog didn't lift, and my sockless toes didn't warm up, the barn visit seemed less and less like a good idea. As the 3:05 bell rang, I shooed my students out the door and started gathering my purse, my coat, my reading glasses, my phone ... oh, hey Mr. O about .... and what do you think we should do for ... and one more thing ... Four or five oh, waits turned into 3:40. Well, shoot!
I walked out to my car and realized that I really didn't want to go to the barn that day, hence all of the self-imposed delays. It was cold, I was cold, and I really did have a pressing errand that really did need doing. Really.
And so I drove home. I completed the pressing errand, for which hubby was grateful, and enjoyed a glass of wine and a few minutes of solitude on the sofa.
Tuesday dawned just as foggy and cold as Monday, but my interest in my daily barn visit was rekindled. I shooed my students out at 3:04 (!) and snuck out 6 whole minutes early. Once home, I quickly ditched the teacher clothes in favor of some of breeches and a warm sweatshirt and zipped out to the barn. Speedy got a quick Hello Bud! with some turn out, and Sydney got a walking ride around the neighborhood followed by some arena time.
It's amazing what a barn-free day can do to your enthusiasm!
Yesterday's post about dusty stalls and bedding
created some interesting discussion. I feel like I need a bit of a disclaimer here. The choices I make for my horses are MY choices for MY particular horses. You might disagree with MY choices and if you do, I urge you to follow YOUR choices and do what you think is best for YOUR horses. I frequently ignore the recommendations of others and stick to what I think/know is best for my situation. On the flip side, I also seek out advice from others and use it if it seems like a sound practice. So there you have it - my disclaimer: do what's best for your horse regardless what anyone else thinks
. Unless it's your vet. It's probably best to do what she
So with a bit of hesitation, I wanted to continue the stall care discussion by addressing the urine problem. As you know, my stalls are very open so ammonia is not a big deal. Even so, I don't want my horses sleeping in wet bedding. Unfortunately, Sydney prefers to pee indoors.
We scoop the wet bedding and toss it outside to dry, but he continues to pee indoors. The dirt outside is plenty soft enough to absorb the urine, but his habit persists. Speedy is currently peeing outside, but as soon as it rains and the outside gets muddy, he will also pee inside. Yuck! In the past I have used a few different products to combat the ammonia odor and wetness, but it's been quite a while. As with the pellet issue, I decide to do a little research.
As before, I visited Wikipedia to find out more about hydrated lime. You can read that article here
. [Val, of Memoirs of a Horse Girl
, will no doubt enjoy the scientific nature of the article.] The first part of the article describes its low toxicity and goes on to list the many ways hydrated lime is used, including as a food additive. Ah, good! I was feeling very encouraged. But then I read the last line of the article, Unprotected exposure can pose health risks and exposure should be limited. It can cause severe skin irritation and chemical burns/blindness/lung damage. Rats!
I went with the Sweet PDZ, available at Tractor Supply
As before, I felt a serious need to dig a bit further. A few Google clicks later and I stumbled on Equus Caballus: Cutting Edge Health and Nutrition for the Modern Horse
. The article sounds very scientific and even throws around a few scientists' names and references a few government agencies. In short, the author confirms that hydrated lime causes irritation and burns and should be used very cautiously. I am not interested in using a product that I must use cautiously. I want to toss it around willy-nilly which means I need a different product.
The article goes on to describe products "such as Sweet PDZ
, Stable Boy
, and Stall Dry
, [which] are composed of substances like diatomaceous earth, clay, and natural minerals, such as zeolites, that are non-toxic and won’t irritate your horse’s mucus membranes or respiratory system. These products, especially diatomaceous earth and clay, are considered highly moisture-absorbent, and the minerals trap ammonia within tiny channels in their structure, eliminating odors and noxious chemicals from the stall and the air. [...] Research has shown these products to be highly effective in ammonia and moisture absorption, and their all-natural content makes them an excellent alternative to hydrated lime."
In short, these products work, don't need to be used cautiously, and can be used in a willy-nilly fashion. My kind of stuff! Even better, these products can be safely dumped into our composting site!
RM has built a lovely barn that provides ample roof covering with two wind-blocking walls in the open air stalls, but they're not exactly typical. It feels funny to write a post about stall care since my stalls aren't very "traditional".
Speedy G's stall - Sydney in his stall across the aisle
Even with the lovely barn, we still have the problems that come with traditional stalls: dust, urine spots, and wasted feed. RM has done quite a bit outside of the stalls to combat the dust problem: all around the barn there is grass, and down the barn aisle we now have a lovely layer of decomposed granite.
Click photos for larger view.
The horse runs that are on the outside of the stalls have plenty of fresh air and dust isn't much of a problem. Winter rain and summer sprinklers take care of that. And even though our stalls are open on two ends and across the top, the inside dust can be a bit of a problem. The dust problem is exacerbated when the horses spend most of their time inside away from the summer sun and winter rain. To deal with the dust, all of us at the barn use wood shavings or pine pellets.
The pellets that are marketed as stall bedding cost several dollars more per bag than the pellets marketed as a fuel product for pellet stoves. Since I have used both and cannot find a performance difference between the two, I set out to do a little research on the differences between the two products.
My first stop was Wikipedia. I wanted to see how wood pellets are manufactured and is there a difference in how they are manufactured based on intended use. Apparently, all wood pellets, whether for fuel or bedding, are made the same way out of the same materials. Click here
to read more.
Although Wikipedia's article was rather encouraging, I dug a little deepr to see if I could find some kind of chemical or material difference between the fuel pellets and the bedding pellets. I stumbled on Marth
, a company that manufactures wood products. They produce wood pellets as bedding and
fuel. Here's what they have to say:
"Marth Wood Shavings makes valuable materials out of waste wood.
Some of these products are closer than you may think. [...] Fuel pellets made by Marth Wood Shavings are used to produce household heat and electricity. Bedding made by Marth Wood Shavings may even be lining the bottom of your pet’s cage."
"Refined in our pellet mill, Marth Pellet Bedding
is made using pressure to bind small absorbent particles of wood together. The resulting pellets are super absorbent and make it easy to separate out animal waste, which translates to lower replacement costs."
Pellets are made of 100% pure renewable and sustainable wood fiber. These super efficient wood pellets are made by compressing wood particles. The compression creates heat, releasing the wood’s natural lignin, which then bonds the particles into pellets."They're the same product!
Tractor Supply Company currently sells 40 pound bags of pine pellet bedding for $6.99. A 40 pound bag of fuel pellets are $4.99 - a two dollar difference! When buying twenty or thirty bags at a time, that can be a big savings! What do you use to bed your stalls?
One of these days I need to write a blog post about blogging. I try to write about things that are happening right now, but sometimes so much happens in a week that I have to wait to share the post for a few days, or even a week. This lesson, for example, happened the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
I know I've shared this about a billion times, but just in case you missed it, Sydney is very tense. His neck is tight which means his back isn't loose and swinging. Each time he gets a lesson, which is usually every other week, we work on teaching him to be freer in his neck, shoulders, and back. At our most recent lesson, JL had me try something new. New is probably not the right word. It's not as though she keeps trying new fangled tricks. I guess I should say she added a new element to what we've already been doing. And in truth, maybe she hasn't added anything at all. Maybe I am just gaining a deeper understanding of the tasks that she assigns.
But I digress. For this lesson she had me plant my inside hand on my thigh so that I would quit asking for a leg yield by pulling back with the inside rein. She doesn't call it a leg yield. She calls it moving sideways. As in, start moving him sideways as you come to the corner. We need more sideways here. And now ... sideways.
She finally made me understand that moving away from my inside leg has nothing to do with the inside rein. Understanding it, and demonstrating my understanding are two different things. So, in order to keep me from pulling his head around in my effort to go sideways, she had me plant my inside hand which made me utilize the inside leg and the outside rein.
We started with a pretty small circle which meant my inside rein was fairly short. I tapped Sydney's ribs with my inside leg and at nearly the same moment, performed a half halt with the outside rein. This was supposed to tell him, not forward, but move away from my leg. Coordinating the outside rein with the leg tap was difficult for me. Even so, little by little I started to feel the sideways motion.
JL feels that it is important to let a horse know when he has the right answer. With her coaching me from the ground, she would call out when we had gone sideways for a few steps, and then tell me when to stop asking for sideways so that Sydney had a break. And then we did it again. We repeated the motion over and over and then changed directions. Eventually we moved to the trot where we had to start the concept again as it was difficult to feel the sideways motion at the faster gate. And if I wasn't consistent with the outside rein, the sideways motion didn't happen. Instead, Sydney would just go forward. Once I could feel the motion again, we worked on sideways while doing figure eights.
By the end of the hour, I was astonished at how loose and soft Sydney was. He was making the turns without tossing his head and his neck looked as though it had grown at least a foot. He was grunting, sighing, and hurumping all at the same time. His ears were flopping like a puppy's and he kept taking deep, sighing breaths. It was the most incredible feeling.
On my walk home, I felt terrific about what we had accomplished, but I knew the real test would be whether I could accomplish this looseness on my own.
I did a walking ride the first day which was fairly successful. The next day we worked at the trot, and I was able to achieve some of the softness from before, but not to the same degree. On the third day, I nearly gave up. Nothing was working. Speedy was calling from the barn which served as a serious distraction. The neighbor was running a mower which served as a second distraction. The arena across the street, which was empty, turned out to be a third distraction. The whole thing was looking like nothing short of a disaster.
I took a deep breath and came back to the walk. I quit worrying about the sideways motion and just tried to bend Sydney's neck. I pulled him left. I pulled him right. I tracked left and bent him right for a counter bend and repeated the bend to the other direction. Before too long Sydney's neck began to feel softer and his neck began to lengthen.
Ultimately, I am proud to say that I was able to soften and lengthen Sydney's neck without the aid of my trainer. I was so proud of Sydney! Now I really know what inside leg to outside rein really means. Let's see if I can keep the feeling.
This is what I saw on Thursday morning ...
The first words out of my mouth ... ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!?!?!?!?!?
I took a deep breath. That was no way to start our national day of thanks. I thought about it. I decided I could live without riding Sydney for the next five days - the length of my Thanksgiving break. My farrier is coming on Thursday. It's not a big deal.
And then, just as quickly, I realized that there was no way
in heck I was giving up riding Sydney for the next WEEK! Endurance riders are well known for their resourcefulness. RM has even dubbed me the Barn McGyver. I looked around for a hammer. It's a good thing that I didn't spot one right away as I am completely unqualified to reshape a shoe and then nail it on.
My next thought was to wedge Sydney's size three foot into a size one Easyboot
. I actually dug out one of the boots and placed it against the bottom of his hoof even though I knew there was no way it was going to fit. I was right. This was clearly a Cinderella
moment and Sydney was definitely not
Cinderella. His big toes were looking a lot like those of the ugly step-sisters. The boots are
made of rubber and they do
stretch a little, but not a full size. Then I remembered that eons ago I had lent/given/sold/traded a pair of size two
boots to dear friend, Taz's Mom (shoe sizes don't correlate to boot sizes). Thanksgiving morning or no, I quickly dialed her number and got Hubs on the phone.
Since Taz's mom had a handful of turkey, I quickly explained to Hubs what I needed. He told me to sit tight and he'd call me right back. That man is a true problem solver and I have come to rely on him for many oddball requests. Even so, I wasn't too confident that he'd be able to navigate the TACK ROOM. I dejectedly finished grooming the Speedy pony who luckily had on all four of his
shoes. At least he
would get ridden daily. To my surprise, my cell gave a cheerful ring and Hubs gleefully reported that he was currently holding a size two Easyboot.Oh, glory, hallelujah, happy Thanksgiving!
I thanked him profusely and said I'd be by in a bit. Fortunately, Taz's Mom lives in the same neighborhood where I board both boys. I finished riding Speedy, popped him backed into his stall, and zipped over to retrieve what I hoped would save my Thanksgiving vacation.
Slightly crooked application, but the boots tend to shift slightly with use anyway. As you can see, the boot was a perfect fit! I have had MANY year's experience with Easyboots, but I know Sydney has not. On Thursday morning we did a walking ride to see how he would cope with the boot. I don't think he even noticed it was on.
I was particularly thrilled with how steady he stood as I put it on. For some horses, the tugging and twisting can cause a little concern the first time the boots are applied even though they do not cause any pain during the application. Most endurance horses are pros about the boots and stand quietly no matter how much tugging and wiggling occurs!
For Friday's ride, we went back to full work. We did lots of trotting which included many changes of direction and figure eights. The boots performed as expected, and Sydney's hoof wall remained intact.
As the makers of Easyboot are fond of saying, "Get an Easyboot, or get a sense of humor!"
To learn more about Easyboots and their application, check out this brochure from EasyCare Inc.
I don't think I got one of these last year. The Table of Contents
of the USDF Member Guide
lists this as Volume 1 so I suspect it's a new USDF publication. If I did get a different version of this last year, I never bothered to look at it. I wish I had! This thing is 104 pages of everything
you need to show.
Beginning with the Table of Contents
, there are five sections to the guide. The sections dealing with USDF Awards
are not very useful to me at this stage in my dressage career, but the rest is actually quite interesting.
- USDF Information and Membership Information: not to hard to understand. This section explains the various types of memberships and educational programs offered by USDF.
- USDF Awards: I am not eligible for any of these yet, and right now, I don't care about national recognition. I might never care, but I still like to educate myself. The one award that does appeal to me is the Rider Awards, and page twenty-two of the guide explains how to earn your Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals. That is definitely something worth working for.
- Dressage Tests: now we're talking! I have a page (here) with all of the USDF tests available for download, but the Member Guide has all of the tests, Introductory A through the FEI tests. And they're listed in order. What a handy reference.
- Glossary of Judging Terms: This may well be the most helpful part of the Member Guide. The terms begin with Abduct: to move a limb away from the horse's midline and finishes nine pages later with Working (Trot or Canter): A Pace in which the horse goes forward energetically but calmly, with a length of stride between that of the collected and medium paces. The degree of uphill balance required is less than in the collected pace. The Member Guide then goes on to list foreign terms and their translations. Losgelassenheit anyone? How about Schwung? Included in this section is also the Pyramid of Training and an explanation of each term on the pyramid.
- Arena Set-Up: These two pages have very clear illustrations of both a standard and short arena. The first picture shows the correct measurements for the distances between letters (5m for each quarter line, 6m to the first letters, and 12m between the rest of the letters on the standard arena). There's also an illustration that shows the diagonal measurements: 44.72m for the short arena and 63.25m for the standard arena. The last picture shows how to achieve a true right angle at the corners. I am going to be using this picture during my Thanksgiving break. I don't think my short arena has very square corners.
The Member Guide doesn't list a purchase price so I don't know if it is available to non-members, but it is almost worth joining USDF just to get the guide. Click the photos for captions and larger views.
The First Thanksgiving
Today is Thanksgiving Day, the day Americans have set aside to express their gratitude for the good received. For non-American readers, "in 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
" - History.com
I am thankful for so many things, and no doubt you've been making your own list this week. Here are some of the things for which I am grateful.
- I have a loving husband who recognizes my need to spend excessive time with my horses. Not only does he tolerate my billions of hours spent at the barn, he encourages it. For that, I am thankful.
- I have a stable, good paying job. My job affords me the time to spend with my horses while at the same time (more than adequately) funds my obsession. For that too, I am thankful.
- I am healthy and fit. I try to make good nutritional and exercise choices, but really, health is God given. For that, I am thankful.
- I have two healthy, personable, and hard working horses resting comfortably in their stalls this morning. For this, I am very thankful.
Have a wonderful day of thanks. Enjoy the time with your family, friends, and horses!
A Rare Speedy G Moment
Sydney Finally Feels Like Part of the Family
Wednesday is lesson night, again. I need to count how many time I've started a post with that sentence. The thing is that Wednesdays are now my favorite day of the week. I know that's odd. Who likes Wednesday? It's Hump day, it's mid-week, and there are still two to go. But knowing that I get a lesson after work on Wednesday rejuvenates me and gives me that little high that gets me through the last two days of the work week.
I am a teacher. That's what I get paid to do. And yet, I find that I enjoy the opportunity to be a student. My brain literally crackles during a lesson. And since I am usually the one giving directions, grading work, and checking on progress, I know exactly what it takes to be a good
student. To get the most out of your lesson, follow some of these tips from a teacher.
- Be on time. For my trainer that means you get more lesson time. She has other students before me and other students after. It's not fair to the other students if I ooze into their lesson time.
- On the other hand, don't be too early. The rider(s) before me are concentrating and need the trainer's full attention. My bored pony, who might be just standing at the fence, is a distraction for those who are working. Additionally, the trainer is busy and has a schedule. She might have chores planned for those 15 minutes before you arrive.
- This goes without saying, no cell phones.
- Dress comfortably, but neatly. Clothing that is bulky or flapping only distracts the eye and makes it more difficult for the trainer to evaluate your posture or arm position. There are dress codes for a reason.
- Bring your materials. This might mean horse boots, a well-adjusted bridle, a saddle pad that doesn't slip, or a whip. It shouldn't be your trainer's job to root around in her tack room for what you forgot.
- Do your homework. The trainer doesn't want to reteach the same lesson over and over. You might continue to work on the same concept week after week, but you should have practiced since the last lesson. You might still have problems, but with practice you should be able to explain to your trainer what problem that you're having so that she can help you get closer to mastery.
- Follow the trainer's directions. She probably has a plan and is laying a foundation for the next concept. If you don't understand the purpose of the task, ask for clarification. If you don't understand the objective, it is difficult to master it.
- Even when the task is hard, it is important to try. Don't complain, don't whine, don't fake it. Genuinely try to do what she is asking of you. If you simply don't get what the trainer is saying, ask, but ask a specific question. I don't get it doesn't help the teacher help you. Instead, ask in a way that shows what part you do understand. This will give her a place from which to start the explanation.
- Be respectful. This means coming with a good attitude and ready to get to work. If your lessons are genuinely about learning, leave the baggage at the door. Drop all of your problems at the gate, and be in the moment. You will feel refreshed when you are finished and those problems may seem smaller on the way out.
- End the lesson with a plan. Do you know what you accomplished? Do you know what you need to work on before you return? Have an idea of where you need to go before you come back. If you leave feeling confused, you'll just practice the same old mistakes when you're on your own. And again, if you didn't understand, ask. Ask what you need to work on. Listen for a specific task. Maybe it's simply opening your pelvis, bending your elbows, or slowing his pace. When you leave, you need to know what your homework is.
Everyone of these ten tips are things that I encourage my students to do every day. My honor roll students do them without thought. Learning is only partly about the teacher. Learning really comes from the student in spite
of the teacher. Good learners will learn no matter what. Good learners matched with good teachers can accomplish marvelous things.
What must be done?
Well, it's fall (just barely here in sunny CA), and the 2011 calendar is drawing to a close. That means memberships for 2012 need to be renewed. This has become an interesting topic, to me at least
, since I just discovered that there are way, way more than 50 GMOs
I have come to realize that not all dressage riders show. That is a strange concept to me, but everyone gets to do dressage for their own personal reasons. My way won't necessarily be their way. I've already blogged about the fact that I am somewhat (okay, kind of a lot) motivated by extrinsic rewards, an 8 on a score sheet, or a blue ribbon out of a class of one. I know that I wouldn't work so hard to improve my riding if there wasn't a place to demonstrate what we've learned. I need the tests to confirm what we get
as well as to determine what we don't yet get
If you're going show, you have to pay. Hence the membership renewal discussion. I am happy to report that my 2012 memberships to the USEF, USDF, and CDS have all been paid for. It wasn't as much as it sounds like since the California Dressage Society takes care of the payment to the United States Dressage Federation. I paid $55 to the USEF and $70 to CDS. Back when I was still competing in the endurance world, my memberships were nearly the same price: The American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) needed around $70 and Arabian Horse Association (AHA) needed another $50 - $60. The year that I maintained memberships in both disciplines was an expensive one. So for only $125, I am now ready for the 2012 show season.
Bring it on!
My mom found a new gizmo for me. Regular readers will know that I like gizmos ... a lot
. Gizmos are just those handy tools that make barn life run more smoothly. Over on the side there, scroll down a bit to see posts by topic, and you'll find a whole category devoted just to gizmos
I wrote about the new barn
not having electricity. We have battery powered lanterns, tap lights, flash lights, and even solar flash lights
, but it's still pretty dark once the sun sets. My mom read about my lack of lighting and decided that the solution was one of those headlamps. I was a bit skeptical. Really?!? Yes.
A headlamp? Yes.
How does it stay on your head? Very well, thank you.
Won't it slide down over my eyes? Nope
I tried it out on Thursday night and couldn't believe how totally cool, awesome, helpful, fabulous
that thing is! The model my mom picked out for me has two brightness levels and a third setting that emits a blueish/purplish light that doesn't interrupt your night vision. The box said it was useful for night time fly fishing as the light makes the line glow(?). Not really applicable at the barn, but hey, you never know! The lamp itself also ratchets so that the light can be aimed more forward, up, or down.
The thing that makes the headlamp so cool is that it is hands free
! I know I can be a bit slow at times, but this is ridiculous. How could I have not seen the benefits of this sooner? Hands free at the barn? Insert eye roll.
Of course that's a brilliant concept. Let's see, I was able to mix feed without the armpit flashlight grip. I was even able to carry both feed buckets at the same time
without the aforementioned armpit flashlight grip. I was finally able to wipe down my saddle, something I do religiously after every ride, without guessing where the dust had landed.
I don't know where my mom bought this headlamp so I can't provide the usual link and average price, but I am fairly certain they are widely available so I'll let you Google the thing yourself. And if the rest of you are using one of these, please feel free to let me know how much you like yours!
Thanks, Mom!Click on the photos for captions and larger views.