Halloween ... an equestrian's every day normal!
In honor of this hallowed day, I'd like to share some of Izzy's riding terrors. I don't see them, of course, but obviously he does. I introduce you to the Corner of Death. It helps to read it with a creepy echo bouncing around and maybe some weird screams and cackling.
There are three things that make this corner such a bogey-man. The first is that jump standard with a single red panel. What? You can't see it glaring at you? Does this help?
Not gonna lie; that thing has nearly gotten me killed at least 56 times. Equally as vicious are the weird creepy things lurking by the neighbor's gate. It's the gate back there in the trees that you can't see. I should point out that it's a SILENT gate.
Since we can't actually see the gate from the arena, I hiked over to it for the photo. Imagine my surprise when nothing happened while I took the picture. It just sat there quietly behind its wall doing and saying NOTHING.
Set back across the road, just to the right of the Corner of Death sits a metal carport that is clearly a refuge for the crazed and demented. Every once in a great while, like maybe twice over the past 14 months, when the wind was really howling, so maybe it was actually something else ... that carport has made a creak or groan. Izzy's not taking any chances. He gives it the hairy eyeball every single day. When the looneys make their move, he knows he'll be ready.
Halloween ... an equestrian's every day normal!
I can't remember who I was talking to about this, maybe it was here, but today's "bad" rides are six months ago's "good" rides. Not like that's a ringing endorsement of my big brown horse's progress, but it's still progress.
When I pulled into the barn on Saturday, Ranch Owner and L were just heading out for a hack around the neighborhood. The mare who lives with Archie was fine with the separation until Archie left the property. They leave now and then, but she always acts like it's the first time.
I groomed and saddled Izzy who paid her no mind until he saw her. She was gazing fiercely in the direction that Archie had gone, crying for him to return. Izzy immediately felt that things were terribly wrong, and so he too began to stare fixedly. He, of course, had no idea what he was looking for, but he judged it to be important.
I let him look for a minute, but then we continued on up towards the arena. I did my regular stretches, I should write a post about that, and then hopped on. Izzy was tense, but he wasn't terrible.
I did our typical warm up with lots of bending, leg yields, and changes of direction. He was more or less settling in when all of a sudden he slammed on the brakes and tensed his body in terror. Ranch Owner and L had just come back onto the property.
I added leg and said go. He planted his feet and threw his head even higher. I asked for forward one more time and then popped him with the whip. When he refused, remember, these are two horses that he knows well and sees every day, I machine gunned him with the whip ... whack! whack! whack! whack!
The little booger refused to move his legs. I took that whip and added some muscle to it until his legs started to scramble backwards. That meant more whip. Eventually he hit the mounting block, scrambled awkwardly, and finally realized he had better do something to make the whipping stop.
Meanwhile, Archie and Willie plodded calmly towards us without batting an eye. L gave a quiet "sorry" while I kept whacking Izzy to go forward. I shook my head in total exasperation. What. The. Hell. Just really.
Of course, his brain was long gone by this time, but I insisted we persevere through the rest of the ride. As I mentioned before, while this was not a good ride by today's standards, I would have been thrilled with it six months ago. He was full of tension and wound tightly, but he still worked.
Eventually, Ranch Owner and L came walking by on foot. Izzy caught sight of them exactly as we approached the Corner of Death. He launched up and forward and for a moment, I was pretty sure I was going to be hitting the dirt. I somehow managed to get my butt back in the saddle, and when we landed, he got a very sharp jerk on the reins.
I booted him back into the canter and worked that corner until he rounded it somewhat decently. I brought him back down to a trot and asked him for a stretchy trot. All at once, I felt a big portion of the tension drain from his body, not all of it, but enough. He gave me a pretty decent stretch, so I let him walk and called it a day.
It wasn't my favorite ride of the month, but once again, I walked away with the win. Izzy might one day be an "easy" horse to ride, but I doubt it. He's just full of piss and vinegar. Some days I wish for an easier horse to ride, and then I remember I have Speedy G.
If Izzy's my spicy, Speedy's my sweet.
When my chiropractor, CC, was here on Sunday, he confirmed something that Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has also been saying. Izzy has plenty of go; more leg is not the solution. CC described him as having a Big Motor.
CC went on to explain that with a horse like Izzy, you're kind of compelled to ride front to back. He forces you to constantly slow him down with the reins as you ask him to lighten up. It's a problem for sure.
In a lot of ways, having a huge engine is awesome. It doesn't take anything but the merest whisper of a thought to get forward from the big brown horse. On the other hand, it means that he's always trying to get his front end out of the way before it gets run over by his hind end.
I had a really interesting ride last night. It was hot (oh, my God, still?!?!), so my plan was to do some walk/trot in the legal bit. Things started out fine until Izzy remembered that he's terrified of the corner by the road. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've schooled that corner. A billion at least.
With the legal bit, I don't have near the stopping power that I do with my ported bit, so when he wants to run through the bridle, he can. When he flung his head up and pretended he was a giraffe being run down by a pride of lionesses, I gave him as sharp a reminder as I could without any leverage as back up. Which is to say I yanked on him about as noticeably as a tick on a rhino.
We then spent a solid 15 minutes working on vertical and lateral flexion. And darn it if that horse didn't finally soften up his poll and let me move it around. We circled and paced in front of that scary section until he would let me flex and counter flex him without him attempting to flee the scene.
The way I saw it, I had a huge win last night. Getting any kind of submission in that legal bit has been a slow process. I got it last night though. I hate to jinx anything, but I think we've summited yet another mountain. I don't know how many are in the range, but this horse is making progress in leaps and bounds.
I know a brilliant horse is in there somewhere, big butt and all!
In early September, I had the sarcoid on Izzy's sheath removed via cryotherapy. That was the second attempt at removing it. For those who asked for an update, here it is.
It seems like the sarcoid is gone for good this time. The skin is smooth and soft and to my surprise, it looks like some of the pink skin is regaining its black color. Dr. Tolley explained that cryotherapy does much the same thing as a freeze brand. The pigment is destroyed, leaving all future hair (or in this case, skin) white. He also explained that if the freezing went deep enough, the skin might produce new pigment cells ... or something like that. Either way, some of the skin is definitely returning to its black color.
Speaking of looking better ...
At the end of September, Speedy sliced open his coronary band and separated the hoof wall from the coronary band. It looked pretty bad, but has healed remarkably fast.
My farrier was out yesterday for a regular trim. He ended up cutting a small arc out of the bottom of the hoof wall. This will serve to relieve the pressure that the new hoof is causing on the old. The amount of hoof he notched out is about the same as would be seen through normal wear on a barefoot horse. You would never know that just a few weeks back Speedy's coronary band was a hot mess. I can't believe how much hoof he has grown in just the past week!
When it rains, it pours, but I think it's also said that good things come in threes. That seems to be the case as yellow dog is also back to her normal, pain-in-the-patootie self. Two weeks ago, yellow dog required an after-hours emergency visit to the vet for what turned out to be an overdose of palm fronds. After taking it easy for a few days and getting to eat better than we do, she perked right up. She's back to terrorizing Tobias and wreaking havoc on the yard.
I'll be glad if these are the last of the surgeries/injuries/illnesses for at least a month or two. My wallet can't handle much more!
Izzy is proving to be pretty high maintenance. Annual hock injections, regular chiropractic visits, sarcoid removals ... Speedy's the one doing all the winning, but Izzy gets all the feel goods. Whatever it takes, right?!
The first few years I had Speedy, he needed adjustments all the time, but not any more. It's been a year and a half since his last visit with the chiropractor; he just doesn't seem to need it. When I had Izzy adjusted in May, he was moderately sore; it had been ten months since his last adjustment. Three months later, he was so sore that CC couldn't work him out of all of it. I had his hocks injected (again).
It's been three months since that last adjustment, so I decided to call CC before Izzy could start complaining. He had a few sore spots, but nothing that CC couldn't work out in a few minutes. He had his regular poll thing, and his rib heads were definitely starting to get sore, but other than a few tweaks here and there, the visit was mostly about prevention.
I am hoping that with quarterly chiropractor visits, I can keep Izzy from needing annual hock injections. It stands to reason that if I can keep him from being body sore, he might use himself more correctly which will be easier on his hocks.
CC doesn't think that regular adjustments will prevent Izzy's hocks from getting sore, but it certainly can't make them worse. My vet thinks that the big brown horse is just hard on himself. Until Izzy toughens up, CC and I will be seeing a lot more of each other.
I have learned to appreciate and savor whatever good rides the big brown horse gives me as they don't happen every day. Except lately, they do.
Since my last lesson with Chemaine Hurtado in September, my rides on Izzy have just gotten better and better. One of the things she wanted me to work on was bigger half halts with a quicker release. While I am not suddenly an expert rider, I'd like to think that I have implemented her suggestions.
I know my riding is improving because I can now feel when I start to restrict Izzy. He'll get tense and tighten up his topline and suddenly, I am riding him defensively without giving him the opportunity to stretch down. By recognizing that, I can now give him a firm half halt that says slow the heck down and rebalance yourself followed immediately by a gigantic release that says I trust you not to run off.
The weird thing is that it actually works. Sometimes I have to do it ten times in a row, but by the eleventh time, he's starting to rebalance himself. And if I am methodical about it, I can begin to use just my seat without my hands, and he still gets the message.
Another element that I've managed to add to my riding acumen is this sense of pushing and lifting Izzy up into my hand. I am not sure when this feeling started, but I found myself doing it a month or so ago. Rather than pulling back to get him to soften or let go of the rein, I've developed this need to push him up into my hand. The picture I have in my head is pushing my seat closer to my hands.
I know that my work on my sitting trot is where most of the changes are coming from. I find that I have much more influence over his movement when I sit. And when I remember to lift and tuck my pelvis while also sitting up and lengthening my spine, I get some pretty fancy movement from the big brown horse.
The new saddle is definitely playing a part in this recent spate of good rides, too. Not only does it put me in a better position, but I am finding that I am actually using the knee rolls. I don't think I even felt them in my Custom. In the canter the other day, I felt myself resting against them as I thought about lifting Izzy's withers up with my seat.
And the legal bit? I am still using it once a week. Over the weekend, I had a great ride on Izzy WITH the bit. I even forgot we were using it. He's definitely easier to control with the ported bit with the chain for leverage, but he's definitely figuring out the legal bit.
Our rides now consist of riding movements rather than just trying to get him broke. I am focusing on most of the First Level movements, excluding the trot and canter lengthenings. The connection just isn't true enough for those yet. Other than that, he can hold the counter canter without difficulty, and the leg yields are better than Speedy's.
I am actually having fun and looking forward to the next day's ride. That was not a challenge, Universe!
While it felt like a routine show season, Speedy and I ended up with some very gratifying successes. Early on, we won the Adult Amateur High Score at two different CDS shows. In August, we took home First Level Reserve Champion at the CDS Central Regional Adult Amateur Competition. This weekend, my CDS chapter, Tehachapi Mountain Chapter, awarded us First Level Adult Amateur Reserve for the season.
Each October, Tehachapi Mountain Chapter holds an awards and appreciation banquet at Oak Tree Country Club, about an hour's drive from Bakersfield. The list of attendees is usually quite large given that Bear Valley Springs is a community of fewer than 23,000 people. It is astonishing that such a small town can generate so much interest in dressage!
I mentioned a few times over the summer that winning the adult amateur show average was a goal of mine. While we didn't win first place, I was quite honored and proud to accept First Level Reserve.
In my opinion, just entering at A at all is a huge accomplishment. Doing it with a decent score is like winning at the Olympics. Just think how many riders can't even get their horses show ready. I know because I am one of them, too. I've been working with Izzy for more than two years, and he's still not ready to enter a real show. So knowing how hard it is to make it to show after show all season, winning reserve feels like a grand achievement to me.
One of TMC's regular volunteers custom made the reserve awards; first place received trophies. Tracy designed the awards specifically to suit each rider. I am delighted with my helmet bag!
Tracy even selected a special print to line the inside of the bag. She told me that mine was selected to complement Speedy's black leather RAAC halter.
During dinner, my husband and I sat next to the junior First Level Champion. While I competed with him all summer, it was the first time we had a chance to chat. He's quite a talented rider, and as I found out, a well rounded young man. We've already decided that next year at Second Level there's going to be some butt kicking. No doubt it will once again be him doing the kicking. I am glad he's still a junior!
Not long ago, I wrote about my prematurely aging Custom Revolution. Frankly, I am a bit disappointed that such an expensive saddle could wear out so quickly. I bought the saddle used about 6 years ago, but it was in like new condition. I've kept it covered, cleaned, and well conditioned. Even so, it has started to fall apart. The seat has a split, the pommel's leather is cracking, and the stitching on both knee rolls is nearly gone.
The local Trilogy rep suggested I get a seat saver, which I did. She also said that the saddle had plenty of miles left in it and that I should keep using it. I agreed, but I also started looking around to get a feel for what I might like as a replacement.
As luck would have it, I was able to hop up on the ranch owner's horse who was sporting a newer Custom Revolution. Even though the seat size was a bit small at 17 inches, I was instantly impressed with the deep seat. It was certainly deeper than mine anyway.
That planted a seed that started growing, and before I knew it, I started getting messages from people selling saddles. The most intriguing email came on behalf of Leslie Webb, a well known trainer, competitor, and author.
Leslie lives in Bakersfield. Last spring, she decided to retire from showing and riding although she is still available for coaching, clinics, and lessons. This fall, she decided to clear out her barn and tack room which included nine County saddles.
I didn't know much about County saddles, but some quick research revealed that they're a workhorse of a saddle known for their ability to fit a wide variety of horses. I gave Leslie a call and within a week I had one of her saddles to try out over the weekend.
Given that my Custom still has plenty of wear left in it, I decided I would give the County a try but only for comparison's sake. It wasn't in my budget to buy a new saddle, but then I tossed it up on Izzy. The dang thing fit like it was made for him. It definitely fit better than my Custom which has always been a wee bit too wide for him.
Just in case it didn't fit as well as I thought, I decided to lunge Izzy before getting on. It was probably just coincidence, but his stride was suddenly longer than it usually is when I lunge. I climbed on and immediately grinned. I had no idea that I actually preferred a deeper seat.
I worked Izzy at all three gaits. Sitting the trot became nearly effortless, and the canter felt amazing. Interestingly, I was unable to do a rising trot. I simply couldn't get my legs underneath me. I was disappointed but secretly relieved that the saddle wasn't going to work.
I called Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, who suggested two things. The first was that I needed to stretch my hip flexors. The County was putting my pelvis in a better position, but I was probably drawing my leg up. Additionally, she suggested I get video of me riding and send it to her so she could see what was happening.
When I next rode in the saddle, I had best friend video, but before I got in the saddle, I did some whole body stretching. Amazingly, my leg draped better and I was able to post the trot. All of a sudden, I really wanted the saddle, but I forced myself to ride in it a third time before making a decision.
Of course I bought the saddle, a County Connection with a 17.5 inch seat and a medium tree. I've been riding Izzy in it all week, and I can't believe how much better I am riding. I am struggling less with my position because I feel more balanced in the saddled.
Last night, I was able to school Izzy through some naughty moments much more effectively. In fact, we tried changes of lead through the trot for the first time and nailed them.
It could just be coincidence of course, but I am going to believe that the saddle is magic.
I am pretty ready for October to be over as it has been a whopper of a month. We now have a sick yellow dog.
If you have dogs, you are familiar with the middle of the night leap from bed as you hear THAT SOUND. Unfortunately, Brienne of Tarth's tummy troubles are from the back end.
It all started Sunday evening when she had to take an evening poo, which is not part of her regular routine. Even more uncharacteristic was that it was pretty ploppy. Her appetite was good however, and she was drinking as usual.
When Monday rolled around, she was still eating and drinking, but the diarrhea was worsening. Tuesday morning, I woke up to a gazillion little piles of stinky poo all over the floor. By Tuesday afternoon, she was lethargic and refusing to drink, eat, or even get up.
My husband called me at the barn letting me know I had better come home. As soon as I saw her, I told my husband she needed to be seen. Her temperature was slightly elevated, her hind end was shaking, and she refused to stand or walk. Of course, it was about 5:45 pm when I got home which meant it was too late to get her into our regular vet.
We zipped her over to the emergency vet (on Easton for you local folks) and were quite pleased with how efficient and kind the staff there were. It probably didn't hurt that I was prepared with her vitals, health history, current medications/supplements, name of my regular vet, and a credit card.
Our initial suspicion was poisoning from gnawing on palm fronds (not segos). After a quick exam, the doctor ordered a round of blood tests that included a complete blood panel, a CBC with differential, an electrolyte profile, a check of her pancreatic function, a cortisol test, and a urinalysis. The doctor suspected Addison's Disease (failure of the adrenal gland to produce hormones).
We spent several tense hours in the waiting room while I googled Addison's Disease. I wanted to be prepared. Fortunately, Brienne's blood work came back completely normal, especially her electrolytes. The doctor shrugged her shoulders and agreed with our initial (hopeful) diagnosis of palm frond overload with hind end muscles sore from so much pooing.
We elected to give her subcutaneous fluids and a cocktail of pain drugs to help her sleep. The doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics in case it's something bacterial in her gut. She also recommended a bland diet of rice and chicken which I had already started that morning. She slept really well on Tuesday night and looked somewhat perkier last night.
The diarrhea seems to have stopped, but her appetite is still depressed and she's not really drinking as well as she should. It's a good thing she loves ice cubes. She's doing a lot of sleeping which is probably what she needs more than anything. She seems over the worse of it, but we're keeping a close eye on her.
Dogs and horses - they're both so fragile!
After recommissioning the crap bridle, I realized that my tack was looking pretty grungy. Speedy's easy on his stuff, but as I've written at least 4 bazillion times, Izzy is not. He's gross.
Last weekend, I dismantled Izzy's day to day bridle and dropped the bit into a bucket of water to soak. I scrubbed the crud off each piece of his bridle, and then wiped it dry. I set it aside and then gave Speedy's bridle an equally thorough cleaning.
Once both bridles were clean and dry, I gave each one a quick massage with some Higher Standards Leather Balm and then reattached my bits and reins. I hung both bridles neatly and took a moment to admire the look and feel of a clean bridle. Then I saddled up the big brown sweat machine and got the bridle dirty again.
And the funky, once-a-week bridle? After a day or two of looking at it, I couldn't stand it. It too got a thorough cleaning and conditioning.