Speedy and I spent all summer busting our butts at First Level. We made it to six shows and several out of town lessons. And when I wasn't riding him, I was working with the big brown horse. We did zero trail riding this summer.
The week following our last show was wicked hot, so I didn't even bother trying to ride. Saturday was just as hot, so rather than even pretend that I was going to get any kind of schooling done, I asked my ranch owner if she and the neighbor wanted to hit the trail.
To my delight, both ladies were in! Speedy couldn't have been happier. He and Willi live together, so getting out at the same time was a real treat for both boys.
It wasn't like we did anything wildly difficult or long. In fact, we were only out a half an hour, but the horses seemed to really enjoy themselves. But even in that time frame, Speedy worked up a damp sweat, and he never sweats!
It was the first time that the three of us have gone out together, but I hope it won't be the last. Sometimes, it's nice to take a break from the intensity of schooling and showing. I know Speedy enjoyed getting out of the routine as much as I did.
It got really hot again this week. We had 28 days of triple digit high temperatures in July and at least 15 in June, so it's not like it hasn't been hot. It's just that it suddenly got hotter. We're driving to the Ventura area for lessons with Chemaine Hurtado today even though they're poised for record heat too. Knowing that today was going to be a long one, I opted to hop on Speedy bareback yesterday with just a halter.
As I was hunting for his riding halter, I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I'd ridden him bareback. It must have been at least six months. He's always such a good boy, but I wondered how good he'd be this time.
I shouldn't have even given it a second thought. As I hopped up, a big smile hit my face. I had forgotten how broad and sturdy his back is. I settled in and enjoyed the feeling of his muscles rippling around beneath my seat.
I also realized that my bareback seat could use some work. I thought about doing some trotting and cantering out in the nearby field, but doubted my security. It wasn't that long ago that I felt comfortable popping over small logs bareback.
Once I go back to work in the next week or so, I'll be forced to ride in the hot afternoons again. Those are perfect bareback days. I am sure I'll be popping over those logs in no time!
The thing about Izzy is that he truly can be a lovely horse. I also appreciate that he's fairly honest and consistent. It's not like he's an ass one day and brilliant the next. He's the same day after day. Once he learns something, he seems to get it.
Last year at this time, he didn't know how to canter with a rider on his back. If we got a canter, it was almost always accidental and on the incorrect lead. It was also rather wild and wooly. We can now get the correct lead, and he knows what I am asking for. The issue isn't getting a canter departure, it's getting a soft canter departure. There's a difference.
Last year at this time, we couldn't make a turn because he would crab or bolt sideways. He can turn now, and he definitely knows what I want, but now he won't turn softly.
He used to balk when he didn't want to work. So much so that I could whale on his sides with a full-on pony club kick, and he'd just pin his ears. The whip and spurs solved that. Now, he might think about it, but he goes forward.
Izzy is just not an easy horse. He's not submissive, and he doesn't appear to care if he pleases me or not. He wants to do what he wants to do and that's it. If it smacks of work, he's out. He's far more willing to play if he sees things as well, playful. Chew on the back of my t-shirt while I pick out his feet, dude's all over it. Dig a hole right next to me while I fill a previous hole, dude's the master. Trot a 20-meter circle without flinging his head wildly, not so much.
Yesterday, after a quick phone call to Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer of Symphony Dressage Stables, I tried a couple of things she suggested. First, I swapped out his bit for something a bit tougher, and then we hacked around the neighborhood until we got to the old golf course.
The bit is not legal for dressage of course, but I am hoping it will help solve a few problems. This particular model is a Myler that I bought for my endurance mare who loved to run through the bit. This bit uses kimberwick cheek pieces which work as either a direct action bit when the reins are attached to the top hook (loop) or as a leverage bit when the reins are attached to the bottom hook.
The mouth piece is a correctional ported barrel (MB41PB). Myler offers a few different versions of this mouthpiece, but they all serve the same purpose. Myler describes the function of this bit: ... allows the rider to isolate one side of the bit to lift a shoulder and also to reward the horse with a "comfort zone" when relaxed at the poll. A good bit for collection and stopping. Works well for spoiled horses, horses which run through the bit and those which drop a shoulder.
Yep. This is the right bit for now. Izzy does all of those things.
I've seen a lot of Myler demos, so I know how they like to introduce a horse to their bits. I let him just wear it for a few minutes and then I led him over to the grass and offered him a moment to lower his head and graze. When he seemed okay with the bit, I applied gentle pressure to each rein individually until he lowered his head. And that was his introduction.
Without making this too long, he definitely noticed he was in a different bit. He started out by bouncing his head, but I kept my hands low and fairly fixed against my saddle pad. Each time he giraffed his neck, he brought his head back down by himself. For the entire ride, I kept my hands super quiet and rode almost entirely with my seat and legs.
He got very tense and anxious in his regular spots, but the bit grabbing and head flinging were not an issue. When we got to the golf course, we walked for a few minutes and then picked up a lovely trot and rolled right into a happy and relaxed canter.
He was soft in my hands and willing to bend and turn. I am not sure the bit was the magic bullet, but the bit combined with some fun helped give me a pleasant ride. I know the good stuff is in there, I just need to convince Izzy that short, fun rides are much better than hour long rides that do nothing but torture us both.
Chemaine will be here both Saturday and Sunday, so I can't wait to hear what she thinks.
Well why not? We all know how awesome Speedy is. That dude just takes everything in stride. I had a pretty rough day yesterday at work and after an obnoxious ride on Izzy the day before, I was simply not in any kind of mood to deal with his sh ... enanigans again.
When Speedy saw me pull up, he barreled over to the gate and started whinnying his head off. His lameness has improved steadily each day, so I decided that lame or not, he would enjoy toting me around the ranch.
Even though Speedy hasn't been ridden in more than two weeks (thanks to my recent move to a new house and then his lameness), I felt totally comfortable throwing on a halter and nothing else. I didn't even bother to pick out his feet or dust off his coat. I simply walked up to the gate, grabbed him, sidled up next to a horse trailer, and hopped on.
Speedy was so thrilled to be doing something with me that he barely let my butt settle onto his broad back before he stepped off smartly down the road. The dude was on a mission. If he's still lame, it's not at the walk. My plan was to just walk around the ranch, but since he was so perky, I headed out the front gate and tooled around the neighborhood.
When we got to the old golf course, Speedy volunteered a little trot, and when I realized that he felt sound, I gave him the go ahead. We trotted over to the little copse of trees where there are some whoopsie doos.
We trotted up and down with me laughing like a hyena. Even though Speedy has zero jumping skills, I aimed him toward one of the railroad ties scattered around as borders. Without even a moment's hesitation, he popped over it like he was da man! And seriously, he is!
Remember, Speedy was bareback, in a halter, and he hadn't been out in over two weeks. He has zero jump training and neither do I. We nailed that cross tie! Repeatedly!
And lest you think we're a one hit wonder, we jumped both of them, several times! Oh my gosh - most fun I've had in a long time.
Every time I start to think that I should pass Speedy on to a green rider, he shows me how much fun it is to have a totally broke and dependable horse to ride. I get on Izzy and write sale ads every day. I get on Speedy and simply have fun.
Can anyone find a way to squish those two horses together to give me a wonder horse?
And sometimes they come flying off the bus in a shower of sparks and flames.
My first three rides after the most recent Christian Schacht clinic were AMAZING. And then we had a blow out. Whomp, whomp.
Izzy said nope to trotting forward and even bucked and bolted when I insisted. At first, I thought he might be sore, so I left the arena and hacked around the property. Not sore.
The next time I rode, I lunged him before I got on. His canter was unbalanced, but he was respectful. I got on, and the dude refused to go forward without flat out bolting and "broncing" his way across the ring. I swear to you that I told him right then and there that he was for sale. I was so over it.
I hopped off, threw him in the round pen for a few minutes and then tried again. He was even worse.
I almost bawled. When he launched into the air with all four legs each going a different direction, I jumped off, slipped his reins through his throat latch, and turned him loose. I then sat gaping in astonishment as he galloped the entire perimeter of the arena for close to ten minutes. He even changed directions several times. After the first few minutes, he opened up his stride and really let 'er rip.
When he finally came to a stop and stood in front of me, I got on for the third time. And what do you know? We were able to get to work.
The next day, I slipped his reins through his throat latch and sent him on his way before I even got on. He galloped around for another 6 - 7 minutes and then stood quietly. By this point I had realized that even though Izzy has a HUGE turnout, he is obviously not burning off enough energy during the day. While he has room to run around, he's not.
I didn't think two days of galloping was enough, so after he galloped, I got on but ditched the arena and headed out around the neighborhood. I wanted Izzy to have the chance to really move out without the pressure of "doing it right."
I think I've mentioned this before, but I have (almost) zero fear on a horse out in the open. They almost can't make me nervous if I have room to let them work it out. So when Izzy got really bouncy when we passed the cavorting pigs at the Haner Family Farm, I just sat deeper and laughed. Bounce away, big boy I told him. Let your freak flag fly. He did, but he eventually refocused and kept his brain with me.
By the time we got to the old golf course - it's now just thin grass surviving on gently rolling mounds, his brain was back in place. I've never schooled him in such a big open space before, but I was feeling like we needed it. We picked up a trot. We cruised up and over the mounds and made the circle bigger and then smaller and then bigger again. I asked for a right lead canter.
And there it was ... the most awesome ride ever!!!!!!!
We cantered all over that open field with ears pricked happily forward. He lengthened his stride but stayed pretty light in my hand. We floated over those little undulations taking in the rise and fall of the ground like it was nothing. He was balanced and adjustable. The bucking and bolting were gone, and in their place was a very happy pony.
I brought him back to trot and then changed direction. He cantered quite willing to the left and hungrily ate up the ground. At one end of the field is a line of railroad ties in a line. They're about ten inches high and perfect for our "jumping" ability which is none.
We walked over the railroad ties a few times, and then I sent him over them at a trot. He hopped over in the front, but trotted over with his hind legs. We went back a forth a few times just because we could.
From there, we headed home. Both of us felt so much better. He walked home with a bit of a swagger and a much longer stride. I realized that Izzy isn't going to be a super quiet horse for a long time. I am just going to have to learn how to manage his energy until he gets where I want him to be. It took Speedy almost 9 years to get there.
If all else fails, maybe we can do some cross country. Anyone got a jumping saddle I can borrow? (please say no!)
You might remember that last summer was all about getting Izzy off the property to be ridden. Without any nearby riding facilities or schooling shows, I opted to just hit the trail with my best friend and one of her tried and true geldings. We spent the summer trailering to different trail heads so that Izzy got used to unloading somewhere different, being ridden, and then standing tied to the trailer.
This summer, I've been able to repay the favor. In February, best friend bought a lovely mustang gelding; he's five. He was rounded up from the desert and broke to ride during one of those Mustang Makeover Challenges. He was sold as a riding horse, but something happened to the owner who wasn't able to keep him. He was then sent to a trainer who sells horses on consignment.
My best friend bought him and then spent the spring getting to know him and working on his ground manners. He wasn't obnoxious, just a little shy and spooky. Once she earned Rio's trust and respect, she introduced him to the trail by taking him for hand walks around the neighborhood. She also rode him in her pasture and in the neighbor's round pen. A few weeks ago she gave me a call and said they were ready to ride off the property.
I rode over to her place, it's just a ten minute ride, so that Speedy could join Rio and be a trail buddy. I don't think Rio needed the company. That little mustang marched right out into the world with a purpose. There were a few times that he looked around with some caution, but it was obvious that his mission in life is to take care of himself and his rider without exerting any extra energy. Spooking wastes calories.
We headed out on my regular neighborhood loop which mostly consists of a single paved lane through ranch properties. At the far end though, we trekked through my new barn's dirt roads and went down to the river and bushwacked it back onto the road. It's a fun section as you get to wind through trees and feel like you're in the back country.
When we got down to the river, best friend gave Rio the rein and let him nibble at the grasses growing along the water's edge. He gave the river a long look and then marched right in. No spooking, no snorting, no big deal.
The next time we rode, Rio was even more confident than the week before. He happily marched into the lead and confidently studied his surroundings. Nothing bothered him or gave him reason to be cautious. He thoroughly enjoyed himself.
I have to say that I was a bit envious. He is clearly a sensible guy that is going to take care of his rider with confidence. Best friend definitely picked a good one who is going to be a fantastic trail companion for her. I hope she "needs" me and Speedy again soon.
Maybe Rio can teach Izzy a few things about confidence!
A few weeks ago, SprinklerBandits [oops! I was just informed that it was actually Confessions of a Dressage Barbie who asked the question. Sorry about that, Leah!] asked how we answer when people ask if they can ride our horses. By "we," I mean readers of her blog. For the most part, I tend to always have at least one horse that is relatively safe for a beginner. Right now, that is Speedy G, but he wasn't always the bundle of joy that he is today.
I bought Speedy G as a three year old and pretty much wanted to sell him until he was about eight. I often hated riding him, and there was no way I'd force him on anyone else. Back then, Montoya was the "safe" one.
Over the years, Speedy has figured it out. And while he is still more than capable of pulling some wild and crazy moves, at 12 years old, he's become mostly reliable.
A week or so ago, I received an email from a young woman in town who was looking to get back into horses. She had had several years of lessons as a kid, but as she entered high school, other things took over, including college. Now that she is settled in her career, she's looking for a trainer who has lesson horses.
After exchanging a few emails, I invited her over to meet my boys and maybe do a grooming session. I am sure she was completely unprepared, but when I offered to let her hop up on Speedy, she responded with a hearty yes!
I talked to JL, the trainer down the street, and after talking to another neighbor, a lesson horse was procured. I invited my new friend out to meet JL and go for a second ride, this time around the neighborhood. Along the way, we stopped to see the lesson horse and meet his owner.
Speedy was an absolute saint the entire time. I borrowed the western saddle, and even though he'd never worn it before, he plodded along like a well broke cow pony.
The whole time we rode, I carried a secret little grin inside. I did that; I made Speedy into a well-schooled packer who willingly toted around a new rider without giving her any reason to be concerned. Watching Speedy, knowing what a jerk he was for so long, gave me hope. If I just stick it out long enough, Izzy will get there too.
And what of Izzy? This was the first time my two horses had been ridden together, so I wasn't sure how Izzy would behave. I needn't have worried. He hung back a few times, worrying about this or that, but overall, he was so good that I rode most of the way on the buckle.
I love that saying about only looking back to see how far you've come. These past few days did that for me. Well schooled horses are so expensive because they take years to get that way. Izzy only has one year under his belt. No wonder he's still so sassy. Good thing we have plenty of time!
Yesterday was supposed to be a turn out day for Izzy, but I really wanted to ride. I saddled up anyway and tooled around our neighborhood. Before doing that though, I braided Izzy's mane. It's a bit of a long story, and I promise to tell it in the next day or so.
Again, long story, but it was the first time I've ever ridden him with braids. The view was very different, and it was actually quite fun to ride around on such a fancy hunk of horse flesh. When we rode by the Haner Family Farm, they were having some kind of happy hour on the porch and gave us the equine version of a cat call. Instead of the quintessential whistle, we got lots of "ooh what a pretty horse!" Doesn't hurt my feelings.
I stopped to give them an eyeful as I waved. I always let their kids come up and pet whomever I am riding, so I thought they would appreciate the view. What do they say? Hate to see them go, but love to watch them walk away. Yeah. Izzy's some good eye candy.
Since Izzy has been such a jerk the last few days, I decided to use the trail ride as an opportunity to work on relaxation and softening to the outside rein at the walk. Overall, he did pretty well. He was tense as all get out - he's not a fan of being ridden alone, but he kept it together.
On the backstretch, the stretch of road that leads back to the barn, he got so tense that his stride was literally six inches long, if that. It's extremely frustrating, but I've yet to find a successful way to encourage him to relax his back and step forward other than persistence. He was in such a tight ball, that my rein was actually slack as he got rounder and rounder. It was almost a piaffe.
Once we passed the barn, his stride did get longer, but then he tried to rush forward. On the far side of the neighbor's property, there's a dirt road adjacent to a former private "golf course" (three-hole course?). I used that field many times with Sydney. When Izzy got really bunched up and was refusing to go forward, I put him to work in the field. Each time we circled past the way home, he shoved (or tried to) his shoulders out and threw a temper tantrum.
We worked that area for a good 20 minutes, both directions, until he quit fussing and actually trotted in a circle without trying to rear or bolt. Little stinker. So while my plan was to just take it easy, Izzy ended up getting a workout after all. By the end though, we walked home with me having won the discussion.
Did you know it has finally started raining here in drought ridden California? Of course, I've probably just jinxed us. In any case, it actually rained three days in a row this week. It hasn't done that in at least 4 years. No. I am not kidding.
The rain has made it a wee bit difficult to ride, but I managed to saddle up this past week anyway. On Thursday, it looked pretty threatening, but I decided to chance it. While the arena was probably okay to ride in, I decided it wasn't worth tearing up my footing, so Izzy and I hit the neighborhood loop.
Chemaine has urged me to start treating him like a grown up which means a lot less babying and a lot more insisting that he man up. He doesn't get to rubber neck, and he now has some responsibility for keeping his stuff together. With that in mind, I decided to ride the loop backwards. What?! Crazy, I know.
We headed out of the driveway like we always do, but instead of turning right, I turned left and headed immediately past Laurel's barking dogs. I kick BUTT on the trail. I have zero fear or anxiety about goosing a reluctant horse to move it down the trail. In fact, the naughtier he got, the bigger my smile was. I LOVE that surge of adrenaline that rips through their bodies as they're thinking about exploding. Oh my freaking hell! How can that possibly be fun? If he felt like that in the arena, I'd be looking for the quickest place to dismount.
But trail work is my strength. I figured if Izzy had that much energy, he could just piaffe/passage his way around the loop. We didn't of course, but that's how I rode him. His stride was about six inches long, but it had to be at least two feet high.
I kept two things in mind: straightness and a feeling of being light in the bridle. If he grabbed at the bit, tried to lean on me, or tried to carry his head higher than mine, I sponged the reins until he let go and carried his own head. Sometimes he had too much arch in his neck, but I preferred that to being a giraffe with an even hollower back. I wasn't asking him to carry himself in a frame, and in fact I would have been delighted with a long, level neck, but his head had to be at least lower than mine.
Since wildly swinging haunches are a problem at the canter, particularly to the right, I insisted that he keep them right behind his shoulders. Because he wanted to race through the ride and I wasn't letting him run off in the front end, he kept fishtailing his hind. Each time it popped out to the side, I used my leg or the whip to put it back in place, effectively asking him to push forward with his hind end.
After the first few minutes, he really did settle down enough to listen. There was still a lot of jigging and looking for something to spook at, but he did listen. It was also cool and blustery as a storm was moving in, so I think he did an excellent job. I chose to ride a new direction on such a questionable day because I need him to know how to trust me once we finally make it to a show. He'll need to deal with the distractions and still focus on me.
By the time we made it back to the barn, he was finally relaxed with a level top line. I always make sure he knows what a good boy he is for achieving that level of relaxation, so I gave him lots of pats and praise, but I didn't put him away. Instead, I decided he needed to do a bit more work.
Once we're at a show, he'll have to do a test after what will probably be a tense warm up. So that's what I did. We only trot a 15-meter circle, but I focused on lots of half halts and mini transitions within the gait. Since the arena was still questionable, I actually worked in a small area of the driveway between my car, horse trailer, and the barn.
We started out to the right, the direction he struggles with. I couldn't have been more pleased with him. He didn't round up and float or anything, but he got pretty steady in the bridle which wasn't easy to do in such a funky space. I had to avoid the grassy patch as he sank in a couple of times so that's where I really half halted and turned my circle into a square.
I also had to make sure I got a good half halt as we approached my car which is off to the left. And of course, the opening in the fence is very much like the opening at A which is a natural invitation to leave!
I kept the trot pretty slow and simply asked him to bend. I had to use the whip a few times on his outside shoulder, but he knew I meant business, so he gave it up pretty easily. We worked both directions until he was very relaxed and genuinely pushing from behind.
How could I not be happy? We rode the neighborhood loop in a new direction on a blustery day and then schooled in an awkward area that didn't have a fence. And through it all, Izzy really kept it together (mostly). I am counting this as a big step forward!
I work really hard to avoid afternoon appointments, but lately, they've been hunting me down. I rode Izzy on Monday afternoon, but then I've meetings on Tuesday and Thursday that kept me away. The farrier was out, so I was eager to get there on Wednesday to check out how Izzy and Speedy's feet looked.
I have to be the luckiest gray horse owner alive. Not only does my nearly white horse keep himself impeccably clean, but he has the hardiest white feet I have ever seen. I couldn't even tell that they'd been trimmed. Speedy rarely has chips or flares of any kind. For this go round, I think my farrier shortened and buffed them a bit to make them look pretty, but I bet he spent all of ten minutes and not a second more. There simply wasn't much to do.
Speedy's feet are so lovely that I didn't even hesitate to take him on a hack around the neighborhood on freshly trimmed feet. He is never sore after a trim and doesn't care whether we choose the dirt shoulder or just mosey right down the middle of the road.
As I was photographing his toes, I looked up at his left eye and was shocked to see that he had clearly gotten in a brawl with someone. I hope the other guy looked worse than he does!
I usually notice stuff like this much more quickly, but when I haltered him, I was focused on his feet and didn't even look at his face. It's hard to tell in the photo, but it looks like he scraped his lower lid. It's all dried up, and it wasn't particularly sensitive to touch. It's just swollen and unsightly.
Before I saw his eye, I had planned on doing a regular schooling ride, but after I saw it, I ditched that plan. I've had some eye issues myself over the past year and know how irritating it can be to try and focus (mentally) when you can't see well. Given our limited light anyway, I was happy to just swipe a brush over his back and throw on my riding halter.
I didn't even change out of my muck boots to ride. We were both bootless as a matter of fact. And I know I've shared this a million times already, but Speedy has the world's most awesome bareback space upon which to lounge. His back is so wide and flat that even a non-rider would have trouble falling off.
We did our regular neighborhood loop which included a stop at the apple tree for a few late fall apples. If there were apple trees in a dressage court, Speedy's leg yield would earn a 10 every time. It's amazing how well he moves sideways when it comes to sidling up next to a treat!
We also passed by the Haner's farm. The turkeys were gobbling and the goats were making all kinds of noises. Speedy gave them an interested glance, but he knows his job by now and didn't do much other than flag his tail in salute and blow a bit.
We stopped for some obligatory grazing; Speedy expects it. He knows that trail rides are about relaxing and enjoying our time together. As we continued on past the corner of our property line, we spotted Izzy in Laurel's turn out. When I called to him, he trotted about three steps towards us, but then he froze. He's still too nervous to use the length of the turn out alone. We continued on while he whirled and galloped back toward the barn. Silly boy!
When we finished up, I gave Speedy's eye another check. It looked the same. I am not worried about it as it was just a slight scrape. We're going to the cabin this weekend, so I won't be able to ride until Sunday at the earliest. I am sure it will be all healed up by then. I can't speak to the other guy's condition though. Hopefully Speedy gave as good as he got.
Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday.