I hope you spend this Thanksgiving Day surrounded by friends and family doing something that you love.
Like all of you, I have much for which to be thankful. While I could list hundreds of things for which I am grateful (wine, the Riding Warehouse, chocolate, sunny days, etc.), I'd like to share just five on this day of Thanksgiving.
I wake up grateful each and every day to be married to such a generous and dependable man. I am also thankful for his sense of humor and tolerance. That he likes dogs is a plus! We've been together since I was 19 and he was 21, 27 years. How did two young kids know enough to pick the right partner for life? I don't know how I got so lucky, but I am grateful every day that I did.
While I might be marking off the years until retirement, I am still thankful to have job that pays me well and still allows me to have so much time to spend doing the things I really love. Its seems as though you usually get one or the other: good pay or time off. I am grateful to have both.
I am very thankful that a greater power led us to live in Bakersfield. While my husband is native to the city, we looked elsewhere as we were pursuing our first jobs. Settling in this city has afforded us opportunities that we wouldn't have had living somewhere else.
I am particularly appreciative to have my boys. Each one of them brings me joy in his own unique way. Speedy is irreplaceable; to lose him would be losing a member of my family. And while Izzy is not my easiest "child," I find myself growing more attached each day.
We don't have human kids (I am grateful for that), but our four-legged buddies fill the role nicely. When our first two canine friends crossed the Rainbow Bridge (McGwire at 11 and Kirby at 15), we spent a dogless year waiting for our next "kid" to find us. It was a long and quiet year. We missed the click of toenails on the floor, the jingle jangle of dog tags hitting the water bowl, and soft snores filling our bedroom. Each day these guys fill our home with love.
I hope you spend this Thanksgiving Day surrounded by friends and family doing something that you love.
The horse I pulled out on Sunday was definitely not the same horse I had put away on Saturday. Before I rode, the ranch owner and neighbor took a group lesson. A few of their friends and family members came over to watch. They also strolled around the property enjoying the nice weather.
This was too much for my big brown horse. His alarm bells started ringing. While he stood quietly as I tacked him up, he had some very wet and sloppy poops that told the tale. As we walked up to the arena, I could see the tension in his body.
We had decided that for Sunday, I would ride Izzy in the legal bit, especially since he had been so willing on Saturday. Although I cringed as I slipped the bit in his mouth, I knew it was the right choice. Just in case though, I brought my every day bridle with me.
From the moment we started, Izzy was coiled up like a spring. His top line was pulled tight, and he couldn't have stretched his neck down even if he had wanted too. These are the times that I have the most trouble riding him because he gets so behind the bit that I can't develop a connection. If I had leg, he just bounces higher and higher.
Fortunately, Chemaine had a solution. While she didn't call it natural horsemanship, that's really what we worked on. Since there was no way I was going to get any longitudinal flexion (from the nose over the poll down the neck and along the back down to the hocks), we worked on lateral flexion instead.
First at the walk and later at the trot and canter, Chemaine had me flex Izzy to the inside while also sending his haunches in. And when I say "flex," think carrot stretches but with an outside rein. It's a lot harder than you might think.
So here's how it worked: I flexed Izzy deeply to the inside while establishing the rhythm with the outside rein. I also sent his haunches in. The instant I flexed him, his brain said run faster because I am off balance.
As you can imagine, doing this exercise requires a good amount of coordination from the rider. I had to keep my weight to the inside seat bone while still pushing my outside leg back for the haunches in. I also had to maintain the flexion with the inside rein and also slow him down with the outside rein until I felt him soften to the inside. The instant that he gave, I gave. I allowed his haunches to travel straight, and I released the flexion.
Of course he resisted in the very next stride, but I simply repeated the flexion and haunches in every single time he tried to brace his neck. Things got a bit wild and wooly at the canter, but he eventually gave in.
What I liked most about this flexion work was that I was able to build some connection even though he wanted to be behind the bit. By flexing him, it put him on the outside rein. From there, I could start to get longitudinal flexion, which is what we did next.
Chemaine had me visualize the "horse" and bit from Disneyland's hearse. If there were a horse there, he would be on the bit. Keeping the bit in mind, Chemaine encouraged me to think about placing the bit wherever I wanted it to be. In this case, that meant down.
Once I had established a certain amount of lateral flexion with Izzy, I started lowering the bit. To do this, I asked for some inside flexion and then held the inside rein firmly while sponging the outside rein. As soon as Izzy's head dropped a little, I flexed him slightly to the outside, and held that rein firmly while sponging the new outside rein. Back and forth I flexed and held, flexed and held as he slowly started to drop his head.
Even though Izzy was a jerk on Sunday, I was really pleased with how much we were able to accomplish over the weekend. I don't know that he'll ever be a horse that doesn't carry some amount of tension, but we're both learning how to deal with it.
You can bet that I am going to be doing a lot more work with both of those exercises.
I am doing the happy dance today. Izzy was actually a normal horse for Saturday's ride with Chemaine Hurtado. There was no rearing, no bolting, no melt downs. This didn't happen overnight. He and I have been working our butts off. For years. Years! Saturday was the result of a lot of persistence.
Chemaine's daughter shot more than 30 minutes of video, and I could hardly find a moment where he put a foot out of place. Here's a short clip of what he looked like for most of the lesson.
Of course there is a ton to work on. This horse is far, far from being finished, but man, oh, man are we on the right track!
As we started the lesson, I told Chemaine that I felt we were ready to tackle our connection. Yes, that should always be what we work on, but for so long, it's been more about getting this horse to not bolt through my aids. At the end of the lesson, we actually had a long talk about that issue.
Many people have asked why I don't ride this horse more forward. The truth is, he just doesn't have the balance to do that. If I let him go faster, he has to run to keep from falling on his nose. He doesn't know how to sit and lengthen his stride. You would think that when he felt unbalanced, he would slow himself down, but his answer has always been to go faster. Convincing him that slower is a better choice has been hard, hard work. He's one of those who thinks his answer is always right, but finally, he seems to be rethinking things.
Essentially, the lesson went like this. Slow, slower, SLOWER ... stretch down. Repeat, repeat, repeat. As we worked, Chemaine decreed that our word for the day (week, month, year) is establish. It is my job to establish a rhythm in which Izzy is able to maintain his balance. She explained it like this.
So he just has to say, "This is my happy place right here. If I come back to this happy, relaxed place every time I lose my balance, then I am going to be okay."
Once he accepted the bit, Chemaine had me work on getting his body organized. To begin with, she instructed me to put more weight in my inside stirrup while thinking about pushing him toward the outside rein.
Every time his head popped up though, Chemaine instructed me to re-establish that safe, balanced rhythm. She described it like this.
So maybe a little bit slower and deeper again because he keeps asking, "Oh, can I come up now? Oh, can I come up now?" You have to convince him that no, that is not the right answer. Those are not the right questions to ask. When he starts to ask "the question" again, you need to re-establish that rhythm.
As he started to move into the outside rein, Chemaine encouraged me to ask for a longer and straighter stride by closing my outside leg a bit while thinking about his toes going under his nose. Let me say that again. Think about his toes going under his nose. Wow! That gave me a totally different feel for straightness! While we didn't get a lengthening, Izzy did straighten up and get a wee bit of a loftier stride.
For the canter work, we worked on the same ideas. The trot work has been harder for me to establish than the canter, so when we got to the canter, there was less tweaking. One thing in particular stood out though. Chemaine had me think about a full body half halt. That was something I was already doing in practice, but putting a name to it helped me visualize it better.
On half halting, both at the canter and trot, Chemaine had a few more interesting things to say.
I want him to shorten up to the point where he recognizes you. He's still thinking about everything else.
She felt like he actually forgets I am up there. She wanted me to keep half halting and shortening his stride until he acknowledged me in some way - licking his lips, cocking an ear ... something. Essentially it was all about this...
You need to re-establish his mental connection as much as the feeling in your hand.
Isn't that the truth? More tomorrow.
Of course we all pay our trainers, but I've been thinking about what I expect to get for that payment, and what I should get for my money.
Over the weekend, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was in Bakersfield for a two-day clinic. I've been riding with Chemaine for a number of years. Besides hauling to her barn for lessons during the summer, I've had her coach me at shows, I've twice been one of her demo riders at Horse Expo, and I've brought her here for nearly a dozen clinics. Clearly, we have a long standing relationship.
Not only is Chemaine always easy to work with, her style of teaching focuses more on what the rider is doing right as opposed to pointing out what she's doing wrong. This weekend, it seemed as though Chemaine's comments were more superlative than normal. Instead of being impressed, she was super impressed. She pointed out that my hands were especially quiet. And so on.
As we finished up Saturday's lesson (more on that tomorrow), she offered even more praise of my riding. I laughed and protested that any improvement was because of the new saddle. When she insisted that she really liked what she saw, I joked that she has to say that because I am paying her. We both laughed, but it really made me stop and think. What am I paying her for, if not for her opinion?
The truth is, I have a very difficult time accepting praise or compliments. That's the perfectionist in me. If I can't do something perfectly, I don't feel worthy of the praise. Stupid, I know. I have a much easier time accepting criticism; that I feel I deserve since I am not doing it perfectly. So when Chemaine offers praise, especially better than average praise, I am suspicious of its genuineness.
And yet, isn't that what I expect from my trainer, an honest critique of my riding? I have never seen Chemaine give gratuitous feedback to any client. Sure, she always tries to find something nice to say, but after a tough lesson or show, it's usually something along the lines of being a hard worker, sticking it out, having good moments, and so on.
After giving it some thought, I decided that what I expect from a trainer is this: lessons that focus on sound dressage principals, genuine feedback on my riding, someone who supports my riding goals and is willing to try to help me get there, and as a bonus, if we can be friends along the way, the student/teacher relationship is even better. Chemaine checks all my boxes for what I need in a trainer.
That seems like a lot to ask for $75. The reality is that for the price of the lesson, the sound dressage principals is about all I should get. I've ridden with a number of trainers over the years. Sometimes, I got sound teaching, but the positive feedback was missing. Other times, the trainer offered a supportive learning environment, but there wasn't enough "meat" to the lesson. I've even worked with trainers who were positive and had sound basics, but they just weren't able to help me achieve my goals.
So tell me, what do you all expect from a trainer, and realistically, what should we get?
Speedy's patience finally ran out on Tuesday. This whole not working until he has some hoof under him finally got to him. He kicked down his gate and busted out.
Speedy's desire to work or play with me can be a bit ... cloying at times. I love that he loves me, but honestly, did he need to tear down the barn?
Speedy gets at least 12 hours of turnout a day. At dinner time, this gate is chained open so that he can use the large sandy pasture at his will. At breakfast time, his gate gets locked so his neighbor gets daytime turn out. This system works great for me because I no longer have to worry about whether or not my horses are getting enough time out of their stalls.
For Speedy though, turnout isn't enough. Yes, the nighttime walking dissipates his energy, but it's the social interaction with me that he needs to be happy. He has a neighbor who he plays with, but the dude knows I am his person, and his feelings get hurt when he doesn't get enough of my time.
Speedy's been laid up for two months. During that time, I've spent a few minutes each day with him caring for the hoof, looking for any cuts or bumps, and checking his weight. At least one day a week, I bring him out for a groom and a graze on the lawn. In the last three or four weeks, I've also hopped up on him bareback and ridden around the property in a halter. It obviously hasn't been enough.
Even though Izzy hasn't been ridden in three days, I devoted Thursday afternoon to my gray pony. He practically purred. I scraped off as much of the crusted-on dirt as I could, and then led him up to the arena. I still don't have an all-clear to ride, but I wasn't worried about damaging anything with a walking ride.
Speedy was high as a kite, but he was thrilled to be working again. I did a bunch of leg yields, haunches in, and a bit of half pass - all at the walk. When we were finished, I hosed him off while he stood politely and quietly. Satisfaction simply oozed from him; all was once again right with his world.
I think he's ready to get back to work, even if it's just at a walk. I know he'll get the go ahead in a few weeks anyway, so if I start by working him at the walk now, he'll be just that much fitter and more supple once we start trotting.
And really? I've missed him just as much as he missed me. Maybe more so.
As I've mentioned about a billion times, Izzy is a challenging horse to ride. Many of you are amazing riders and would have no trouble with him, but sadly, I am merely average and not amazing. I am however, persistent.
As such, I keep on keeping on, mostly because he's teaching me so much. Just about the time I am ready to throw in the towel (like last week), he teaches me something new, and we move on. Let me explain.
My trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, rode in a clinic with Robert Dover last week. She posted several videos of the lesson (in a private group so I can't share), but one in particular really spoke to me. I didn't catch the context of the moment that Robert was schooling her through, but I think the gist of it was getting a better connection in order to achieve more forward and suppleness in his gaits.
Just the way Rocky was moving reminded me of what Izzy does when he's super tense. He gets way too round and sucks back. Then we get stuck: If I add leg, he bolts, but if my half halt is too strong, he rears. See above. It's a problem for sure.
At the beginning of the video, Rocky looks a little stuck himself. He keeps trying to break into a canter where his haunches are swinging back and forth. I know that feeling well. When Izzy does it, it means he's trying to go forward, but he doesn't think he has anywhere to go. Robert's response to Chemaine was this.
It's not from a lack of desire to please you. It's from a confusion of what it means when your lower leg goes near him. Does it mean you want him to react and like run off of it?
That's exactly what it feels like when I am riding Izzy. When he's that tense, putting my leg on feels like I am igniting a rocket.
Don't think you have to bring him so much back.
Hmmm ... that's when I really got to thinking because that's exactly what I do. I just keep half halting stronger and stronger until we're finally walking. My thinking is always about getting him to relax at the walk before going back to work.
As I watched Chemaine ride, Robert kept encouraging her to add more seat and leg instead of half halting. In fact, he had her think of getting a bigger stride.
Think more like, "You want me to extend?" and you say, "Resist the extension."
In the video, Robert was coaching her to think about an extension by adding leg and energy, but he didn't really want the extension. He wanted Rocky to lift his withers, drive with his hind end, and have more suspension in the trot.
As they crossed the diagonal on a right bend, he had Chemaine do a haunches in to really get the horse on the outside rein. When they came to the opposite long side, she changed the bend and allowed the haunches to fall in line. Through the corner, Robert urged her to push the horse forward. When Rocky broke into a sucked back canter again, he said this.
Contact, contact ... push him forward! Keep your reins. No matter what, keep your reins. Give him a kick forward if he doesn't go on the right rein. "Take my rein, pull on my rein!" He's got to want to go to the extension. I don't want to feel him back away. Less restricting in your hand until he pulls on your hand. Then you just resist the medium.
Without watching the video, I know this is hard to imagine, but Rocky was sucking back and not wanting to go forward. Robert was encouraging Chemaine to both maintain the steady contact while not restricting him. This is a problem I definitely have. Robert added one more thought in the video.
Give him a push that makes him go to the rein and then close it.
That last comment was like a light bulb coming on. I think that too often I push on the gas and pull on the brake at the same time. Robert's comment helped me see that I should be asking for forward, and once I get it, I can then ask for a half halt or simply resist too much forward.
Over the last few days, this is how I've been riding Izzy, and it's been working! Every stride, I push my hands forward as I ask for forward. I am hoping that Izzy starts to think that he has room to go forward. I've also been asking for tons of haunches in on the circle and across the diagonal. The benefit has been a looser back and a horse too busy to think about being spooky.
Chemaine will be here for a clinic on both Saturday and Sunday. If you live close by, we'd love to have you audit. She promised to bring us what she learned from Robert Dover. I am excited to hear what she has to say!
Eek! Guess what showed up at my house last night?!?!?!?
Before I show you, (if you haven't already figured it out, and how could you not since it's obviously a BOOT box) there's a cute story about how this delivery was made possible.
Every day when my husband brings in the mail, I ask, "Is there a check for a million dollars?" No matter how many times I ask, and I've asked it a lot, he either gives a simple nope or a more elaborate MAYBE, LOOK AT THIS! when it's some sort of scammer junk mail.
So ... the other day he brought in a pile of mail and dropped it in front of me. I immediately spotted a gray envelope that was not junk mail. I pulled it from the stack and noticed that my name and address were typed on the front, but there was no return address nor postage stamp.
Our mail carrier is well known for goofing up the mail, so I figured it was from a neighbor or our HOA. When I picked it up though, I became even more puzzled as it was thick and bulky. Something besides a piece of paper was in the envelope.
When I slit it open, my eyes just about popped out of my head. It was filled with cash! It wasn't a check for a million dollars, but it sure looked like it! My husband has a great sense of humor and thought it would be funny to cash a recent bonus check and hand it to me in cash. Dude's a keeper for sure!
He knows I've had a ton of First World Problems lately in the form of strange and random bills, so he handed me a stack of the bills and told me to do with them whatever I wanted. I wanted to go wild and buy all sorts of things, but I am so careful with money that I kept out a portion to pay for Speedy's vet visit last week, and then I put the rest away.
When Speedy's vet bill turned out to be much, much lower than anticipated (thank you, Dr. Tolley!), I decided to use the rest of what was unspent to buy myself some new boots! Our favorite tack store, the Riding Warehouse, had them listed for $219.95, but I had a 20% coupon, so I got them for a whole lot less!
I chose the wide model because I don't plan on riding in them. Instead, I bought them for work, and I'll need to tuck in my jeans. I have 30 minutes of yard duty every Tuesday morning from 7:20 - 7:50. It gets cold and damp out on the playground. I also teach P.E. every day, even in the winter. These will be perfect for tromping around on the wet asphalt and muddy field.
They're a tiny bit big in the footbed, so I am going to by some gel inserts, which I do for all of my boots anyway. I am stupidly excited about these boots. I've been wanting them for so long but just had trouble justifying buying one more thing.
Thanks, Mr. Sweaney!
Oh, and if you want that discount code, shoot me an email.
I've owned at least 10 horses over my lifetime, ridden more than that, and even leased another one or two. A few of them were difficult, but they ultimately became excellent riding horses who were very good at their jobs. My last two horses, Sydney the OTTB from New Zealand and Izzy the big brown horse, have been more challenging than any of the others.
Sydney just couldn't make it as a dressage horse, and it wasn't just me who thought so. Several trainers agreed. I gave him to someone who was good at rehoming difficult horses. About once a week, I suffer a crisis of confidence and consider selling Izzy, too. Without fail, he always comes back with a good effort though, and I get sucked back into believing that he and I can become dancing partners.
Last week, he and I had a terrible ride.
From the moment I got to the barn, I had to talk myself into riding. I was tired and not really feeling it, but I convinced myself that some saddle time was just what I needed.
Izzy always meets me at the gate, or at least starts walking toward me. Not that day. I had to go get him. Lately, I've been grooming him in his turnout without the need for a halter. He wants to be with me and enjoys the grooming. Not that day.
When he walked away, I grabbed my halter and brought him back and tied him to the fence. When he reached out to nip me, a game that he sometimes takes too far, I tried to pop him in the nose, but missed. He glared at me, took a moment to formulate a plan, and then sat back hard. When nothing gave, (I usually tie him with my Block Tie Ring), he sat back deeper and really put his back into it.
Eventually, when nothing broke, he jumped back forward and stood in place. I never yelled or reacted. I just stood there watching him. When he was done, I finished grooming him and walked him over to the tack room to saddle up, but I was even more reluctant to ride.
We walked up to the arena, and I got on like always. As we went through our normal warm up, I could feel him getting more and more tense. Gone was the fabulous horse I've been riding over the past month. After trying everything to get him to soften, or yield, or simply recognize that I was up there, I decided that a canter might work out some of the tension.
It did not. We cantered on the right lead, but when I asked for the left lead, he threw a fit. He. Absolutely. Would. Not. Canter. Left. I finally gave up. In the past, when he couldn't or wouldn't bend, my first assumption has been that he needs to see the chiropractor.
That thought frustrated me even more since CC was just here three weeks ago. I am willing to do a lot for my horses, and I do, but twice monthly visits by the chiropractor are just not in the budget. Basically, I threw in the towel, had a pity party, and decided I just don't have enough talent to ride this horse.
As it tends to, a greater power stepped in and kept me out of the saddle for three days. I had some social commitments to take care of and a work meeting cropped up, so before I knew it, it was Friday, which thanks to our nation's veterans, was a day off. I was able to to take Speedy to the vet and ride Izzy early in the afternoon.
Suddenly, my big brown horse was once again on my team. We had a delightful ride, and then followed it up with an even better ride the next day. What changed? Well, probably me for starters, but I also watched some video of Chemaine Hurtado riding last week with Robert Dover during a clinic. I messaged Chemaine and told her to bring Robert's tips with her this next weekend for our clinic. She agreed.
Until next week, I am backing away from the for sale ledge ...
This past Thursday, I posted an update, but as I was uploading some progress photos, I realized that in the most current photo, Speedy's hoof didn't look as good as it had just two weeks before. I called Dr. Tolley that day and scheduled an appointment for Friday morning.
I can't say enough about how much I appreciate the top notch care that Bakersfield Vet Hospital provides its clients. No matter what questions I have, or what problems I bring to the hospital, the entire staff jumps in to consult or help. While I was waiting for Dr. Tolley to finish with another client, Kathryn ran fecal tests in her lab while letting me hang out to watch and chat. It's like getting three or four for the price of one!
Dr. Tolley started his exam by using a stiff brush to knock away the dirt. It was clear that the wound had healed over, so he moved on to scrutinize the coronary band and hoof.
Using what looked like a Dremel tool, he next filed away excess growth from the Coronary band. He also opened up the damaged part of the hoof a little to remove what looked like dead tissue.
Although he probably should have used the clippers first, I know he pulled them out to really clean up the site to make sure he hadn't missed anything.
When the damaged area of hoof looked smoother, he tackled the bottom of the foot. Here's where it gets interesting. The coronary band is producing new hoof faster than the old hoof can grow down. Remember that the hoof wall became separated from the coronary band and is no longer connected at the top.
The coronary band is prolapsed, meaning it is bulging out. With nothing to pull it down, the new hoof wants to grow out and over the old hoof. Normally, the new hoof growth pushes the existing hoof down as it grows because they're connected. It reminds me of an adult tooth pushing on a baby tooth. Sometimes one or the other is not lined up correctly, and the adult tooth will grow at a crooked angle if it doesn't have enough room to drop into place.
To give the new hoof room to grow downward rather than outward, Dr. Tolley cut an arch into the portion of hoof directly beneath the damaged area so that the old hoof can sink down out of the way.
Over the next two weeks, Dr. Tolley wants me to use a rasp to file away any hoof within the red lines that touches the ground. Leaving a gap there encourages the old hoof to fall down as the new hoof pushes in from the top.
Dr. Tolley assured me that even though it looked hinkey last week, it was growing just fine. All he did was clean it up a little bit. In fact, he said that I can probably put Speedy back to work in two weeks. I am to send him a fresh picture before he gives the final go ahead.
By late November, there should be sufficient new hoof to provide enough support for riding. The only concern will be whether the old hoof is strong enough to resist breaking away. If it's not, we can put on an eggbar shoe to support it while more hoof grows.
While I want to ride, I don't want to mess around with expensive shoes when I can get the same result by waiting a few weeks longer. I should know more in a couple of weeks, but it all looks good for now!
It doesn't happen very often, but today, I am left with nothing to say which means I really have a lot to say but don't want to write about it. Instead of talking about my latest elephant in the room, I'll share a few photos.
I got a new iphone a few months back and can't believe how much better its camera is than was the crappy one on my last iphone. I particularly like the portrait mode, although it's hard to use with the horses.
To use the portrait mode, you have to be within 8 feet of the subject, they have to hold pretty still, and you need a contrasting background. I've had some luck though and managed to capture a couple of really interesting pictures. You've seen all of them already, but here a few of my favorites.
I have no skills as a photographer. My photos are all utilitarian and purposeful; there's no art to them. Even so, this iphone makes even me look like I've got some talent. If you've got any other tips for using the iphone 7 Plus's new camera, pass them along.
I had the camera for several months before I discovered the portrait mode. Who knows what else I'm missing?