Did anyone else catch this article on Horse and Hound this week? It was pretty interesting while also confirming what we all know about horses. They create bridges that connect people from all walks of life.
You can read a bit more about the Compton Cowboys here and then check out the Compton Junior Posse. None of us needs to be told how horses can change lives; we already tell that story. In fact, we get to see it happening every day in our own barns and back yards. That's just what horses do.
I am glad to see it happening somewhere so unlikely.
The other day on Facebook, I read these three articles from Horse Listening: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. They're worth the read, especially if you're a lower level rider like myself.
If I got it right, the first article describes making contact with a horse's mouth through the bit and reins. The second part explains how when the horse lifts and rounds his back, he is on the bit. In the third part, she talks about that amazing feeling of lightness that can happen when the horse is truly on the aids and collected. While these ideas are relevant all the time, the articles took on special importance this week as I continue to focus more and more on my sitting trot.
As I work on my sitting trot, I'm realizing how much more control a rider can have by sitting. The opposite is also true. A crappy sitting trot can wreak havoc on a horse's way of going, especially a horse as ... sensitive as Izzy.
On Monday, I knew Izzy was going to be a handful. He came into the arena and immediately had diarrhea. This is NOT normal. In fact, he rarely poops in the arena at all, and his stool is never loose. Even so, there he was, staring fixedly at something that I couldn't see. I gave a deep sigh, patted his neck, and told him it would be alright. Spoiler alert - it was!
Since my last lesson, I've been forcing myself to stay conscious of what my seat is doing. That means not allowing myself to "perch." When I perch, I squeeze my legs like a clothespin and my seat bones lose contact with my saddle. The instant I feel myself perching, I relax my legs. I also sit back and tuck my pelvis.
One way that I can tell I am really on my seat bones is that my lady parts feel squished. TMI, I realize, but with the whole sit like a queen, and move like a whore thing, it seems very apropos.
I know I am rambling. What I really wanted to say was how excited I was by Monday's ride. Izzy was tense and worried by what-I-don't-know, but by using my seat and legs (rather than going straight to my hands) to really engage his hind end, there was no drama. I just kept pushing that inside hind farther and deeper until he had no choice but to lift his back and create lightness in the rein.
And in the end, we had a few moments of really good collection. It was so good that we cantered a figure eight on the right lead with no change of lead! Small stuff I know, but every positive moment is a step in the right direction.
I was really tempted to put some Equiderma on Izzy's healing sheath skin, but I stuck to the prescribed Swat. I don't think it's 100% healed, but it looks good. Knowing what it looked like the first time we treated the sarcoid, this time it looks as though we might have actually gotten it.
The first time we treated the sarcoid on Izzy's sheath, we treated it with Xxterra Bloodroot Paste which caused the body to have an autoimmune response. Essentially, we tricked the body into attacking the sarcoid. It was gross and took the better part of six weeks. It also didn't work.
This time, we used Cryotherapy to freeze it off. It's been less than three weeks, and right now, all I see is pink healthy skin. I am assuming that the skin will darken over time. Here's what it looked like this weekend.
The site feels clean and smooth, and he's completely un-reactive when I touch it. Well, as un-reactive as a gelding can be when you go messing with their junk. We still have the one up higher on his sheath to deal with, but we won't touch that one until we're sure this one stays gone.
Having two horses means I get to learn twice as much as the average owner. I don't think my brain could cope with three horses and their problems ...
As much as I tried to talk myself out of it, I rode with the dressage legal bit on Sunday. With Speedy having that gash on his foot, I was able to ride Izzy nearly every day last week. Even though one or two of our rides didn't go so well, I felt that his energy level was normal enough that I should try the legal bit again.
It was a hard sell though. As much as I say I want to get him working in the bit, doing it is tough. I don't want to use it after a challenging ride - I don't want him to have any excuses to be naughtier, and I find myself making excuses after a good ride. If he's going well, why would I want to mess it up by putting him in a bit that he doesn't understand?
Suck it up buttercup was what I finally told myself. I switched out the bits knowing that I really need to stick to my once a week plan. If you're new here, there's a lot of history in that decision. About a year ago, Izzy began to flat out refuse to take his eggbutt lozenge snaffle. It began to be a knock down, drag out fight to bridle him. And once bridled, he was nearly out of control.
I began searching for a bit that would work, even trying out a double bridle before I finally figured out it was the tongue pressure he was fighting. Once I got him in a bit with tongue relief (a ported correction bit), I had no more issues with bridling him. While he isn't going great in the legal bit (yet!), at least he takes it readily each time I try it.
Since my lesson with Chemaine Hurtado a few weeks ago, I've been really focusing on being as effective as possible with my seat while using less hands. With the legal bit, I did the same. Unless I absolutely had to slow him down, I tried to leave my hands alone. At first, Izzy's head was pretty high and his back was hollow, but as he figured out that I just wanted a steady rhythm, his head started to come down on its own.
While I never got a great connection at the trot, the canter work was pretty decent, and he begged to stretch down at the walk. I've learned that when he starts doing something correct at the walk, I start to see it in other gaits as well.
I was also relieved that the frantic chomping of the bit from the week before never showed up. I know he was more relaxed this week, but was it because the bit was more familiar, or was he simply in a better mood? Who knows?
One last thing ... one reason I balk at switching out my bit is that I have to do three things: 1) raise and lower my headstall; 2) take the bit off the headstall; and 3) switch out my reins. All of that takes more minutes than I like to "waste," so I did something about it. I hooked an extra set of reins to the legal bit which makes switching bits a whole lot faster.
Back to the regular bit this week, but I am sticking to my once a week plan!
Somewhere in the middle of the summer, Speedy developed a crack just above his heel. My vet vet suggested I treated it with a wrap and antibiotic ointment, and it went away. A week later, it came back. I talked to the vet about it again, and he decided it was a form of scratches or something irritated by heat, flies, and dirt. He next recommended that I treat it with Genta Spray, a topical spray with both a steroid and an antibiotic. Here's what it looked like in early September when it was already improved.
While I sprayed it daily with the Genta Spray, I went out on a limb and treated it with a second topical treatment, Equiderma Skin Lotion. I am not saying that stuff is what did the trick, but I've decided Equiderma is now one of my must have on hand bottles of goop.
The crack is almost gone. It's not nearly as deep as it was, and the skin has closed steadily from the top and bottom. While I don't know which treatment did the trick, I do know the Equiderma helped with two other skin issues: the cannon bone crud and a nasty gash Speedy got last week.
I have no media of Speedy's cannon bone crud, but if you've ever seen it, know that it's even funkier on white hair. I scrub it every day with a dry jelly scrubber, but to get it off completely, I have to draw blood. I used the Equiderma several days in a row, not following the directions at all - I just glopped it on and walked away. A few days (maybe a week?) later, I hosed him off and the crud was gone.
I have no photographic evidence, so you'll just have to take my word for it. The stuff really does work. As an added bonus, there was no burning of the skin or irritation at all. He just had clean smooth skin to show for it.
Last week, I came out to discover a huge hunk of dried mud hanging from Speedy's foot. I hosed it off only to discover it wasn't mud at all, just a hunk of flesh that he tried to tear away from just above his hoof. I cleaned it as best I could and put him back in his paddock hoping it would look better the following day.
Of course it didn't, so the second day I used a more thorough scrubbing technique. The wound looked pretty much like hamburger. I simply couldn't get the dirt out of the crevices. Speedy had somehow gouged into the flesh at the hairline of his hoof. While he was sound on it, it was definitely painful and swollen. Not knowing how else to get the encrusted dirt out, I doused it with my new best pal, Equiderma. (Mineral oil is the first ingredient.)
The next day, I was able to get nearly all of the dirt to wash away. Only then did I feel comfortable coating it with a nitrofurazone ointment and wrapping it. Obviously Equiderma isn't going to heal a laceration, but the mineral oil did soften the caked on mud enough that I could pick it off.
It's not a career ending injury, but it is annoying. I am sure he'll be good to ride later this week. I do wish he'd quit trying to mangle his back feet though.
If Facebook has tempted you to pick up a bottle of Equiderma, I'd say get it. For $24 (at the Riding Warehouse), it actually seems to do what it says it does. Has anyone else tried it?
I've been riding with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, for more than a couple of years. I am sure she's wondering what the heck is taking me so long, so I am grateful that she keeps coming back.
After my ride on Speedy, I was a bit frazzled mentally. Learning a boatload of stuff in 45 minutes will do that to you. Even so, I tacked up the big brown horse, ready for whatever he had to offer.
To the good, there was no jackassery which has been a theme for like ever. He still has his moments, but overall, the horse is definitely getting broker. He goes where I point him, and he's mostly willing to work.
To the bad, I just couldn't get the softness and relaxation that I can get by myself. It wasn't like there was a large crowd or anything, but he knew things were different.
To help me help him, Chemaine started suggesting a few suppling exercises, one of which worked really well. I know because I tried it again this week and was quite surprised at how effective it turned out to be, on one day anyway.
She had me leg yield across the diagonal, but rather than focus on keeping him relatively straight, she encouraged me to ask him for a lot of haunches. Like, get BIG steps, and it was okay if his haunches led. The point was to unlock his back a little and get his hind end freer. Izzy likes to kind of pogo stick his hind legs, especially in the canter.
After a bit, Chemaine finally asked if she could get on him. I never have a problem with her riding him. Yeah, I want to learn, but sometimes she just needs to get on him to see how he feels. It's always fun to see my horse ridden by someone else, but since he's such a tough nut, it only happens when Chemaine sees him.
She didn't feel the resistance that I feel. She didn't have trouble with the right bend. She did have a bit of trouble holding the right canter lead, but that was only because she was asking for counter canter on a circle. Mr. Smarty Pants kept throwing in flying changes (much to Chemaine's delight I might add).
I got back on him, and right away Chemaine saw my problem. Our connection needed a change. Chemaine insisted my half halts get quicker and bigger and that my release be faster and more giving. Timing is everything, isn't it?
When I rode him a few days later, I started off at the walk, and when he got spooky in the far corner, I gave a quick, firm correction, and then let go. it took about three good firm half halts, and all of a sudden, he was light in my hands and listening. We had a very relaxed ride, and I got off feeling quite successful.
I got back on on him yesterday afternoon, and I was back on the freight train. I leg yielded across the diagonal, and I tried the big half halts with big releases, but he simply refused to relax his back. After a full hour, I was finally able to get something sort of like relaxation, but neither one of us felt particularly successful.
I frequently question why I am still doing this. I don't have a ready answer. He's making progress; as slow as it is, even I can see it. I am just not sure I want to keep progressing this slowly. On the positive side, he's not a scary ride, and when he's relaxed, he's a lot of fun to ride.
For now, he can stay in my barn, but I sure wish he'd learn to enjoy relaxing.
Now that the summer show season is drawing to a close, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, can once again come to Bakersfield for our "casual clinics." This one though was a bit different from our past clinics. Most of the time she comes for both weekend days, but for this trip, she spent Saturday in Gilroy, 200 miles north of Bakersfield, and then came here Saturday night.
On Sunday, Chemaine drove to 4 barns and gave 13 lessons to 10 riders. Three of us have two horses each. And then, she drove two hours back home. I bet she slept in a little on Monday.
My plan for the lesson on Speedy was to run through each element of Second Level. While I've been schooling the movements on my own, I really needed to see how show worthy they were. As it turns out, we're quite ready for some of them but need some work on others.
The shoulder in was pretty good, except that I need more "shoulder" to the right. With no mirrors, it's been hard to tell if it is steep enough. In the video, you can see Speedy's shoulder in to the right. It's okay. We also worked on haunches in. Again, it's not fabulous, but we're getting it.
The two things that we had down pretty solidly were our turn on the haunches and the rein back. Chemaine had me tweak just a few things. In the turn on the haunches. She reminded me to keep a good walk rhythm even if the circle gets a little large. For the rein back, I need a firmer rein aid so that I get the diagonal pairs moving together instead of one foot at a time. As soon as I adjusted my aid, Speedy stepped back nicely.
By this point in the lesson, I was feeling pretty smug. The hard work Speedy and I have put in was showing, and we were looking pretty good. And then Chemaine asked to see out medium trot. I quickly explained that for our next show it was going to be what it was as I still can't sit that larger movement. Let's see it anyway came her reply.
For the next I-don't-know-how-long, Chemaine had me do it over and over without letting me off the hook. I can't say that I ever got it, but by the end, she had me convinced that at least my butt fat was still making some contact with the saddle. Considering that I had zero sitting trot in May, I feel like a "prodigy" in September.
We next schooled the medium canter (these are in First Level, so nothing new), the 10-meter circle (Speedy's little so they're not too hard), and the canter-walk-canter on the serpentine. We can do these, but we still need a lot of walk steps and some more practice being straight.
Chemaine had a great exercise to help with the simple change. Once the horse walks, immediately do a 10-meter walk circle in the new direction. This helps establish bend and gets the inside hind leg active. It was much easier to pick up the new lead, especially the right, after doing a 10-meter walk circle.
By the end of the lesson, I was mentally fried. I had forgotten how hard it is to move up a level. We've been at First Level for so long that the movements and "pace" were relatively easy. Second Level is much more challenging. The movements are a bit harder and they're strung together differently.
While I was untacking Speedy, I decided that for the first time ever, I might only do one test at our next show. Even though it's at the end of October, the scores will count for the 2018 season. It's so early in the season that it might as well be pre-season. Focusing on one test will help me do it better. I hope anyway.
And then I rode the big brown horse! More tomorrow ...
Some race to win. Others race to survive.
How could that blurb not suck you right in?!?! Many thanks to Cheryl for recommending this book to me. I haven't read anything this unique and heart pounding in a long time.
Because I liked Deerskin so much (a book I read over the summer), both Cheryl and Amanda recommended another title by Robin McKinley, The Hero and the Crown. They were right, it was also a great read. While it's not about horses, they do play an integral part to the story. And besides that, the horses are so well written about that they become characters just as important as the "hero."
The Scorpio Races is done very similarly. Again, the story isn't about the horses, but they are characters just as lifelike as Sean and Puck are. I did have a few issues with the story as I read, but they resolved themselves by the end. Even now, a week after finishing it, I still think about Puck and Sean and their horses and wonder what they're doing.
If you're looking for something well written that features our favorite equine friends, this book won't disappoint.
Apparently, some of you have a secret connection to some really awesome books. Please share more!
I've already mentioned how much I love to read. A few weeks ago, I shared my summer reading list with you, and I have yet another sensational book to add to it. I'll get to that one in a later post. While I don't spend my evenings poring over horse books, I do occasionally dig one out to reference for specific issues.
Last week, the $900 Facebook pony shared her collection of horse books. I scanned each book cover and was a bit surprised that I have not one of the titles she shared. Weird, huh? Just how many different horse books can there be?
So, here's what I keep at home (I have a mound of others at school, but they're mostly kids' fiction).
This first pile includes all of my vet books.The one in the top right hand corner first belonged to my stepmother before she handed it over to me in the mid-1980s. It was published in 1973. It's astonishing that I've owned it for at least 30 years.
The next stack contains all of my dressage books. The Practical Dressage Manual by Bengt Ljungquist is my favorite for being the most reader friendly, but The Complete Training of Horse and Rider is my sentimental favorite. If I remember correctly, it was a Christmas gift when I was 15. It was only just a handful of years ago that I even knew who Alois Podhajsky was. I've owned that book for more than 30 years as well.
Next comes my collection of memoirs and biographies. Two in the top row were written by endurance riders, one of whom I was very lucky to meet in person, the legendary Julie Suhr. Google her. You won't be disappointed. She rode in the 2016 Rose Parade at 91 years of age. The lady has kicked some serious butt in her lifetime.
This next pile is an assortment of random books, several of which get regular use. Not the endurance book, obviously, but back in the day, it was one of the few endurance books out there. I've written plenty of posts about the bit books and the rock star book, so you know those get read regularly.
And finally, there are my "I love horses" books. That pony book has also been with me for 30 years. I am pretty sure it came from a friend of my step mom's. My copy is an American edition publish in 1982, but it was first published in 1979 in Great Britain. The others are your run of the mill coffee table books, but I enjoy having them.
I would dig seeing what you have in your library, so if you do an equestrian book collection blog post, come back and let me know!
This is yet another post about Izzy's bits. And yes, I am still talking about trying to transition him to a dressage legal bit. It's not going very well.
However, putting him in a legal bit on Saturday revealed how much progress he has made in the last few months. Most of the time, I finish a ride and think, yeah ... still not there. We do have great rides though, and truly, our "bad" rides are now the wow that was pretty good rides of a year ago.
Lately, I've been getting some of the best connection we've ever had. Instead of dealing with jackassery, it's been about how solid can I keep the connection? How steady in the bridle can he be? How clean can that transition go?
I finally felt that we were at a place to try out the dressage legal bit again. If you haven't been following this saga, here are the two bits I am talking about. The one on the left is working great, but it's not show legal. The one on the right is.
After a couple of really nice rides in a row, I switched out the steady eddy bit for the legal one. For an hour and five minutes, I know because I time my rides, Izzy chomped and ground that bit to pieces. He simply could not focus or relax.
While that all sounds terrible, and believe me, it was quite frustrating, he told me a few things. First, he was much improved over the last time I tried it. For that trial, I had zero control and ultimately had to get off. He was a runaway freight train. This time, he was tense as holy hell, but I never lost control. That's a win. And progress.
The second thing he told me was that different is very scary. That means different needs to become familiar. Over the summer, Dale Myler, the creator of both bits, suggested I ride in the legal bit once a week to see where Izzy was in his training. Izzy was such a loose cannon though that I couldn't do it. Now that he's under control. I am going to have to force myself to use the bit weekly so that different becomes familiar.
Like I said - disappointing, but very interesting.