I ordered two new girths last week, one for each horse. Like I mentioned in that blog post, girths are like underwear; you just don't know for sure that you'll like them until you wear 'em. Or in this case, until my horses wear them. I have to say, I am quite pleased with both of them.
I bought Izzy the Collegiate Shaped Memory Foam Dressage Girth, and I wasn't disappointed. It worked as well or better than I was hoping. I can't say that he noticed much of a difference, but I felt a lot better about using it. I like the construction. All of the stitching is neat and even, and the edges are smooth without any stray strings or roughness. I gave the memory foam a solid poke, and was pleased to see the hole fill in immediately.
As I was hoping, this girth is a bit wider than the Ovation that I had been using, but it isn't too wide. Some of the dressage girths simply look too wide for my tastes. Neither of my horses has a particularly wide heart girth, so I just wanted something slightly wider that would still give Izzy room at the elbow. I really like the shape of this girth as it is slightly contoured without getting too narrow. But like I said, Izzy wasn't complaining about his Ovation, I just thought I could find something that was a little more comfortable.
I've used the girth a number of times over the past week, and no weird sores or irritations have popped up. When I take the girth off, his sweat pattern is clean and even. I've hosed the girth off to see how quickly it will dry, and that is the one thing I wish I could change. The Ovation girth doesn't absorb any water, so it is dry immediately. With the memory foam on the Collegiate, it does absorb water like a sponge, so if I wash it in the winter time, it might not dry all the way before its next use. I can live with that though.
I bought Speedy the same girth he's been going in for several years, except it's a newer model. The Ovation Coolmax Shaped Dressage Equalizer Girth is perfect for him and checks off all the boxes. I knew I would like it as the old one was working just fine.
One of the things I most like about this girth is that the elastic at the buckles extends all the way from end to end. It is stitched down after the keepers, but this girth allows for some expansion when Speedy takes deep breaths.
When I went to buckle this girth for the first time, it took me a minute to figure out why it was tight on the fifth hole. Speedy goes on the sixth hole in his old girth. I realized that over time, the elastic on his old girth had slowly stretched out. I am good with that. If he needs more room, I love that the girth will give just that little bit.
With Speedy's wooly winter coat already growing in combined with the fluffy edges of the girth, it's hard to see that he has enough elbow room. This girth is slightly less contoured than Izzy's, but Speedy has plenty of clearance. While Izzy doesn't seem to care about most things, Speedy is quick to let me know that he doesn't like something. He's the epitome of a snowflake. I tightened this girth up just like I did the older version, and he worked in it over the course of a week with zero complaints.
Not long ago I purchased new reins. Last week, it was two new girths. My next purchase is that brow band I've been hankering for. I have some extra cash coming my way. Once it's here ...
I am going to be totally honest here. Up until a few weeks ago, I wondered at how a horse could lose the rhythm. Most of the time when that word is used, I suspect most people (like me) mean tempo. Until just recently, I had never felt a loss of rhythm on Speedy. On Izzy, yes. When he gets tense in the canter he feels as though he loses the lead behind which is a major loss of rhythm. That should actually be termed scrambling for footing.
At Third Level, the horse is asked for more collection than ever before. There's a 10-meter canter circle and canter half pass. We're also schooling some of the canter work at Fourth Level, especially the 5-6 strides of very collected canter between quarterlines (test 1) and the partial pirouette at canter (test 2). All of a sudden, I felt what was meant by a loss of rhythm.
When we canter right lead, and I ask for a very collected canter, Speedy feels almost lame. It feels as though he is stuttering in the canter and about to drop to trot. At our last lesson, I asked Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, what we could do about it.
She explained that Speedy has less range of motion in his right hind leg. Over the years, he has successfully cheated by carrying that hind leg, his weaker one, slightly to the inside. As a result, that leg doesn't step as far underneath him. In the collected canter, the horse has to sit more deeply with that hind leg reaching even farther underneath his belly. Since Speedy doesn't use that inside right hind as well, the rhythm of the collected canter feels off.
Chemaine gave me several exercises to help him begin to increase his range of motion. First, we're doing a lot more stretchy trot to the right wherein I ask him to leg yield out on the circle. I am doing the same thing at the canter. Another exercise is to canter a square with canter to walk transitions in the corners to insist that Speedy step over BIG with his inside right hind. Now that I am aware of the problem, I am constantly insisting that he step deeper through corners and that he carry his haunches correctly and not to the inside.
With a show coming in less than two weeks though, I am being careful about not making him sore. Just because I want him to bend over and "touch his toes," it doesn't mean he can do it in one day.
There is always something to fix, isn't there?
Sorry for Friday's radio silence. We were one of the many victims of the recent power outages. I am not sure how wide spread the news was, but it was all Californians were talking about last week. PG&E, Pacific Gas and Electric, and SCE, Southern California Edison, provide all of our state's electricity. You don't get to choose which one you'd prefer. They each have their service areas, and you get what you get.
A year or so ago, some of PG&E's electrical hardware was struck by heavy winds which caused a massive wildfire that completely leveled the town of Paradise. In a state that lives in perpetual drought, we don't need any help starting wildfires. So this year, in an effort to prevent another catastrophe, PG&E and SCE both cut power to more than a million homes last week because of high winds. Our house was just one of more than 800,000 homes affected.
I am not going to say we were grateful to PG&E, it was kind of a pain in the butt (we were forced to toss quite a bit from our refrigerator), but we get it. A friend of mine who lives in southern California had to evacuate her family over the weekend when a wildfire threatened their home. They had a reason to complain. We didn't
We coped with the inconvenience for a day and a half, and we cheered when the lights came back on. Oh, and my favorite topic of discussion, the apocalypse, got discussed a lot. Sometimes, I think life would be a lot simpler if all we had to worry about was finding food and fending off whatever apocalyptical disease/creature that mankind has let loose. Jobs, credit cards, and health insurance be damned.
With Californians making up a full 12% of the USA's population, we have just a shade under 40 million people, the rest of the world either sees the state as a crown jewel or a perpetual hot mess. For those that are undecided, I thought I'd share a few facts with you to show you that California is a state like ... well, like none other.
Much to the consternation of California's conservative Central Valley, our state is overwhelmingly Democratic. Kevin McCarthy (R), our US Representative to Congress, has served as House Majority leader but is currently the House Minority Leader. He's from Bakersfield.
California is the third largest state after Alaska and Texas. With a length of 770 miles and a width of 250 miles, crossing the state means climbing over one mountain range, zipping across the central valley only to cross a second mountain range. It's at least a 6 hour drive. Top to bottom is going to take you a very long day. The most I've done at one time is Chico to San Diego, 596 miles.
California has the highest point in the contiguous US and the lowest point in all of North America. And surprisingly, those two points are less than 85 miles from each other.
While California is only the third largest state by area, by population we have the rest of you beat. At 39,747,267 people we have 10,000,000 more people than Texas - the second highest populated state, and a whopping 18,000,000 more than Florida - the third highest populated state. By density, we're only ranked 11th which means more people will fit, but we're good for now, thank you.
I recently wrote a post about needing to reevaluate my horses' feed. I wrote that each horse gets 2-3 flakes of grass or alfalfa daily. There was some shock that I fed my horses so "little." As it turns out, a flake in California is not the same as a flake in other parts of the country. There was also some real concern about how horses live in California.
The truth is, we have every single type of living arrangement you can picture: box stalls, dry paddocks, sandy pastures, and grass pasture - irrigated or dry. In more densely populated areas like Los Angeles, you'll see a combination of box stalls and dry paddocks. In more rural areas, of which we have plenty, you'll see grass pastures, both green and brown. My boys live in large, sandy paddocks. They're big enough to run and play in, but not big enough to flat out gallop.
One advantage to having our horses in generally dry living arrangements is that hooves in California tend to look neat and tidy. You rarely see a horse with crumbly feet. Wet pastures, which much of the rest of the country has, provide lots of grass, but they can also be hard on feet. Another thing we don't see a lot of are weird, creepy bugs and flies. Sure we have fly season, but they don't torment the horses to the point that they have to live indoors.
To help you all visualize a California hay bale, here are what our bales look like. Both the grass and alfalfa bales weigh well over a hundred pounds each. I cannot pick up an alfalfa bale. To load one in my trailer for a show, I've been known to slide one onto a large piece of cardboard so that I could drag it to my trailer. Then I use every ounce of strength to stand it up on one end and shove it into the horse compartment where it travels against the inside wall of the trailer.
So there you have it. California. In many ways, she truly is a hot mess, but on the other hand, it's one of the most beautiful places you'll ever see. Food's not bad either.
If you ever want to come for a visit, just send me a message. We'll make you feel right at home.
Some things are fun to buy. They give you a lot of satisfaction. They look great. They add to "the look." Girths are not one of those things. At least not in my book. Girths are like underwear; you have to have them, but they're pretty utilitarian and for the most part, go unseen.
Unlike say, a new pair of boots. I have a pair of river boots that I LOVE, but I am hankering for a new pair. Something like this pair of Dublin's in a size 7.5 would do nicely, thanks. These are definitely not like underwear. You know what else is not anything like underwear? The Haas Diva with Lambswool. I drool over this brush every time I am on Riding Warehouse's site. It will be mine before next season's summer shows start. Speedy really needs this.
But alas, we do need underwear and girths. Both of my boys' girths have seen better days. They're looking a little rough around the edges and the keepers on Speedy's girth are falling apart.
I've tried Speedy in a few different girths, and he has made it quite clear that he prefers fleece. Fortunately, he's not too much of a diva so synthetic fleece works just as well as real wool. His current girth is actually holding up quite well. It's just the keepers that are giving out.
When I started looking for a replacement, nothing jumped out at me as a must have, especially when I looked at price. Speedy's must haves are pretty basic. He needs a 20" length in fleece. We both like elastic at both ends, and roller buckles are a must. He doesn't care about ergonomics; his saddle sits just fine with a squishy fleece girth. I sort of liked the LeMieux, but it doesn't come in a 20", and it was a bit pricey.
Then I saw the Ovation Coolmax Shaped Dressage Equalizer Girth, the updated version of what I already have. It's slightly contoured and has roller buckles. I've always liked the elastic from buckle to buckle because it allows the girth to expand and move as Speedy works. It's fleece, it comes in the smaller 20" size, and it's under 50 bucks. Basically, it's perfect.
The Ovation arrived and was exactly what I was expecting. I haven't used it yet, but I may do a follow up review if anything in particular stands out.
As I looked at girths for Izzy, I found the exact girth that I am currently using, also an Ovation. At $37.95, the Ovation Airform is a bit of a steal, but I've always wondered if it feels a bit like wearing a narrow belt. Izzy has never protested the girth, and he's not at all girthy, but I've wondered if something wider might be more comfortable. Something like the Collegiate Shaped Memory Foam Dressage Girth.
This girth checks off all the boxes that I need in a girth for Izzy: roller buckles, elastic at both ends, and it's made from a material that I can hose off each day. It was slightly more expensive than the Ovation, but I am hoping the width will prove to be more comfortable. In person, it looks great, and the memory foam feels super comfortable, but since I am not the one wearing it, who knows?
When I ride this afternoon, weather permitting - in case you haven't heard, California is having some issues with wind and power, I'll try it out on him to see what he thinks.
I hate it when I buy new underwear and don't like the fit because you can't exactly return it. Girths are the same way. You never know if one is going to really work until you ride in it, and if your horse says it's not comfortable, you're left shoving it in a drawer as you find a better fit.
The USDF Region 7 Championships were held recently at LA Equestrian Center. The CDS Championship show is held in conjunction with that show. We didn't go this year, but I followed along a bit on social media. I am never really one to be "in the know," but I do like to check in now and then.
I did catch one bit that I found interesting, and the reason it was so interesting was because it was "a thing."
I am not opposed to double bridles at all. You all know that I put Izzy in a double for a few days to see if it would help me get control. I got control all right, but he wasn't ready for that much communication, so I searched for a bit that gave me some brakes without so much hardware. No, it's not the use of the double bridle, it's the widespread use of the double that I find interesting.
Speedy and I made it to four shows this summer showing Third Level. I paid close attention to what bridle riders were using at Third Level and above. Third Level is when riders are permitted to use a double bridle. I don't recall seeing a single other rider using a snaffle. I was the only one.
When we were preparing to make the move to Third Level, I asked my trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, if I needed to move to a double bridle. I figured since everyone else uses one, I would probably need one as well. Her answer was a solid no. She didn't think we needed one ... yet.
As we moved through the season at Third Level, I've given the idea of the double bridle a lot of thought. Third Level is not that much harder than Second Level, so why the instantaneous need for a second bit? My reason to switching to a double would be to get control of a hot, forward horse. Or maybe one that is getting overly strong in the bridle at the medium and extended gaits. If that were true, you would expect to see a healthy mix of snaffles and doubles at Third and above. That doesn't seem to be true though.
I think that the main reason riders make the switch is that the double serves as a rite of passage. Third Level is no longer part of the lower levels. It's a big step towards the upper levels, the FEI, the Big Dogs, the Big Time. It's a Big Deal to move out of Second Level, and riders want to celebrate that success.
At least, that's how it looks from here.
If you made the switch to a double bridle at Third, why did you feel it was necessary? I would really like to know.
We may need to move to a double bridle eventually, but I am going to hope not. Instead, I am going to work towards riding a Grand Prix test in a snaffle. Speedy's a hard worker, and he likes his job. He enjoys the challenges I present to him, and he tries his heart out for me. So far, the snaffle is working well.
Besides, snaffle bridles are a lot cheaper than a double. If nothing else, staying in a snaffle is a cost saver.
No matter how many years pass in writing this blog, I am still astounded by the many AHA! and D'oh! moments that I still experience. Dressage is far from boring, that's for sure.
Most of you know where Speedy and I started. He was my back up endurance horse who became my only endurance horse. And then, after more than 16 years of endurance racing, I started looking for an "easier" sport. I landed in a dressage court; Speedy made the move with me. Here we are 9 years later showing at Third Level and schooling a bit of Fourth.
Just about the moment that I start to feel like I have a handle on where we are, whether that was at Training Level or Second, a ginormous AHA if I'm lucky, but more likely a D'oh, will come flying out of left field and gobsmack me in the back of the head.
Not that I am complaining. I don't mind looking foolish if the result is that I walk away with a clearer understanding of a concept. That's what this sport is about - developing an understanding about what it takes to get a horse from here to there.
So what was it that dazzled me this time? The shoulders. How to move them and what happens to the hind end when the shoulders get out of the way. Lateral movements are not Speedy's jam. He's much happier powering forward like in a medium trot. He loves those things and is happy to do them all day long. Also centerline. He loves motoring up centerline. He practically swaggers as he does it. Move laterally? Thanks, no thanks. It's a weak area for sure.
While schooling the half pass recently, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, reminded me to open the outside rein so that the haunches could step over. I nodded like I knew what she meant. I didn't. How could opening the outside rein influence the haunches?
But I kept those words in mind, and I started opening the outside rein. And that's when I got gobsmacked. It wasn't really about moving the haunches, it was more about moving the shoulders. Oy veh!
Once I figured that out, I started to play around with the idea. Shoulder in left happens with a firm half halting outside rein because you're bringing the shoulder in off the rail. To achieve haunches in, bring both reins back to the rail, opening the outside rein, but bring the inside rein with it. Seriously. It's like riding a bike. It's just about steering. Our shoulder in has improved a thousand fold with this idea. So has our haunches in. And so has our half pass.
Gobsmacking. AHA. D'oh. Whatever it takes, deal me in. We have a show in three weeks. I need all of the epiphanies I can get!
Big Brown Horse is once again turning brown. By late summer he was looking suspiciously like a buckskin. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but he just didn't look like his normal, dark brown self.
Izzy looks pretty good as a buckskin, although he loses all of his shine. Even so, I've never bought or sold a horse because of his color. Well that's not exactly true. When I bought Speedy I was looking for a gray, but you don't have to search very hard to find a gray Arabian.
Like it does each September, Izzy's nearly black coat popped out almost overnight.
I think it's fascinating how quickly he loses his faded coat color. It literally changes every single day during the end of September through the beginning of October.
By the next day, he was an even darker shade of brown, almost black in fact.
By early November he'll be seal brown with dapples. But of course by mid-winter, he'll be back to his lighter coat color. Just for comparison, here's that August photo again.
I've never had a horse whose coat changed that dramatically from season to season. There should be a prize for this. Can we at least get a ribbon?
I wish we could just settle on one feed program and stick with it. I eat the same breakfast and lunch virtually every day. Why can't my boys get on board? Because they can't, that's why. With changes in the weather, their fitness, and about a million other things, it becomes necessary to reevaluate with some frequency.
After our vet visit last week, I dragged out my scale and started re-weighing stuff. Speedy's low carb senior feed comes in at 1.5 pounds a can, the same as the last check. He gets 4 cans a day, two in the morning and two at night. This week, I also put him back on a quarter cup of Horse Guard's Flaxen Flow, a flaxseed oil, as we move into the cooler months. He's also now getting a daily 2 ounce scoop of Horse Guard's Vitamin mix. And of course he gets as much alfalfa as he'll eat, usually two hefty flakes a day.
I changed Izzy's feed scoop a few months back and hadn't actually weighed how much beet pulp it holds. I was just guessing. When I put his loaded scoop on the scale, it came in at just over a pound, but only barely. That didn't seem like enough now that we're trying to put weight back on. I reloaded the scoop and was much happier with what the scale showed - 1.75 pounds.
As my vet directed, I am putting him back on rice bran, a feed that he's done quite well with in the past. That adds another 1.5 pounds of calorie dense feed.
On top of that, he's also getting a quarter cup of flaxseed oil as well as a scoop of the same vitamins that Speedy's getting. His daily ration now includes 1 flake of alfalfa, 3 flakes of grass hay, 1.75 pounds of beet pulp, 1.5 pounds of rice bran, ¼ cup of flaxseed oil, and a scoop of vitamins. The boy is eating better than I do.
Fortunately, both horses liked the vitamins and scarfed them right down. They come in a really interesting bag that has a sort of velcro closure. Pretty smart packaging. Even with the closure, I worried about the bag tipping over though, so I'm storing it in a bucket for now.
So what does feeding my two horses now look like?
All of that feed now adds up to quite a complicated list. Here's what it boils down to:
I am not sure what else I could possibly add. Scratch that. There's plenty more I could toss in; I just don't want to! I think this menu is sufficient. We'll see how they do as we move into winter.
Someday, I hope to board at a barn that has a permanent dressage arena. Someplace where someone else takes care of it. Wouldn't that be wonderful? And expensive. So scratch that. I'll keep my water jugs and schlepp around my own meter tape.
Since building my own dressage court this summer, I've remeasured and changed it several times looking for the best way to eliminate 10 meters. After three months, I've finally found the set of measurements that offers me the most accurate riding space possible. And here it is:
After much trial and error, I finally realized that I need my corners to be accurate. So many of the mid-level movements begin and end in those corners. The place to chop off your length is not there. Instead, I realized that shrinking the distance between each of the rest of the letters would actually help me be more precise once we're showing in a full length court. That's where I took out my length; 2.5 meters from each section.
With F, M. H, and K set at 6-meters, I now feel like I am able to use my corners so much more effectively. Now that I am not trying to start my half pass while I am still in the corner, Speedy is able to get his butt through the corner before I start asking.
Riding 10-meter circles at each letter doesn't require 12-meters between one letter and the next. My diagonal work is shorter, but it would be no matter where R, B, and P are placed. After riding in my court measured out the way it is now, I am convinced that taking out 2.5 meters between each long side letter is the perfect solution.
Hey, maybe this is what we needed to improve our scores! We'll find out this month.
Spoiler alert, nobody was injured, sick, or dying. For once. Speedy, I am looking at you, buddy!
Nope, this was just a regular, maintenance visit. My boys see Dr. Tolley at Bakersfield Large Animal Hospital each spring for vaccinations, dentals, fecal counts, and so on. In the fall, they go back for their Rhino/Flu vaccines to satisfy USEF's requirement that horses be vaccinated within the past six months to be eligible to show.
Dr. Tolley is heavily invested in my horses' success. He fully embraces the idea that he is a member of my team and that his role is essential to our success. So, even though the appointment was simply for vaccinations, my boys got a head to tail examination.
We started with the scale. I love, love, LOVE being able to weigh my horses. While frequent visual inspections are useful, monitoring weight gain or loss in a more scientific manner produces more reliable data. In the spring, Speedy topped out at 1,005 pounds. Last week, he came in at 986 pounds. Dr. Tolley felt the difference could be attributed to water weight. He gave Speedy a body condition score of 5.
Izzy got the same examination. Dr. Tolley checked his mouth, temperature, heart rate and so one. We talked about his itchy mane and tail, what kind of work we're doing, and his general attitude of late. I explained that the boys now live side by side which means they play incessantly and chew the crap out of each other.
Just last week, I had asked the ranch owner if we could increase Izzy's alfalfa ration a bit. He was starting to look a bit thin. He gets fed grass hay with a small hunk of alfalfa just because he likes it. Too much actually. When he was on straight alfalfa his energy level was through the roof. Now that the boys live next to each other, he's burning more calories.
When Izzy got on the scale, he was 1,310 pounds, 40 pounds lighter than in the spring. His body condition score was a 4. I am not okay with a 4. For an endurance horse, that would be about right. For my dressage pony, no. Dr. Tolley agreed. So, after a bit of a discussion, he wants Izzy back on the flaxseed oil and rice bran.
When I used up the last bag of Flaxen Flow a few weeks ago, I decided not to reorder it as I had used it in the hope that it would keep his coat from changing so much in the summer sun. Apparently, it was doing more for his weight than I realized. On top of that, Dr. Tolley suggested I bring back the rice bran as an added fat source. He also wants both horses back on a daily vitamin and mineral product.
So much for keeping it simple. Over the past six months, I've phased out pretty much everything except hay, beet pulp, and Speedy's low carb senior feed. I wanted to see if the daily buckets of stuff were having any kind of effect. I guess I have my answer.
I didn't need to research the flax seed oil. Horse Guard's Flaxen Flow is well priced, and super easy to dispense. Izzy's been eating it for the past 6 to 8 months without any issue, so I reordered that from Riding Warehouse. I gave up the Platinum Performance around the time that Speedy was diagnosed with Cushing's Disease. I just couldn't afford that and the Pergoglide.
Since I like the Flaxen Flow so well, I decided to go with another Horse Guard product, the Equine Vitamin-Mineral Supplement. It's reasonably priced and contains appropriate quantities of vitamin E and selenium, Dr. Tolley's two main concerns. If you're into the science of how much vitamin E and selenium horses need, there is a good article here by Kentucky Equine Research.
To finish off my visit, Kathryn ran fecal counts to check for worms. As usual both boys came back negative. We have some really cool weather on the way, enough to maybe kill off our flies. Both boys will get a dewormer then to get anything the fecal count missed. Since I have two tubes sitting on my desk, my next stop will be to the feed store for the rice bran.
Just when I thought things were getting simplified, we're back to multiple buckets and bags of stuff. Ah, well ... horses. What are you gonna do?