Have you seen this braid before?!?!
I keep Speedy's mane long and natural because he's an Arabian, and I just can't turn him into a legitimate show horse. Speedy needs his long locks like Samson did.
However, Speedy doesn't have a Rapunzel owner. My braiding skills aren't all that fabulous, so when I do braid him, he gets a nicely done French braid. It looks quite nice for about 30 minutes, but then ever so slowly, the braid slides out. This isn't too big of a probem if my tests are close together, but if they're more than an hour apart, I usually have to rebraid. And if it is a two-day show, I definitely have to rebraid on Sunday.
Speedy's mane is long and silky, so I think it will be perfect for this type of braid. It does get a bit thicker in the middle, but if it will hold, I won't care if one braid is bigger than the next. I'll let you know what it looks like!
This is only marginally equine related as it is an attempt to explain why I won't be writing about Speedy and my efforts at schooling the turn on the haunches or the collected canter. I am simply too tired.
I love having dogs, really I do, but nothing will snap you fully awake faster than the sound of barfing. Especially when it's coming from 90 pounds of black lab who is notorious for NOT making it outside.
A late night canine-yak wouldn't have been so bad except that we had our home alarm system reinstalled last night. No, I am not going there, but you can see how this story could have been so much worse. The reason the system is not usually armed at night is just for barfing emergencies. We've been down that path many times.
No, what made the night so long was that the installation took more than seven hours, twice what was planned. In fact, the technician didn't leave our house until nearly 8:00 p.m. By the time he left, I was dead on my feet. I had cooked dinner while he was here, but we had to let it sit on the stove until he finally left. Once the dishes were done, it was way past my normal bedtime. Hey, don't judge; I get up at 4:30 a.m.
So at 1:30 a.m. when Tobi started yakking, I was ripped out of a very sound sleep. But like I said, nothing gets you fully awake faster than that particular sound. There's even a meme floating around on Facebook that shares the sentiment. Fortunately, most of the floors in our new house are hardwood or tile, but that doesn't make it any more pleasant to clean up.
As I shuffled both dogs outside, I reached for the paper towels and Bye-Bye Odor. "Clean up on aisle 4!" happens so frequently at my house that we keep supplies close at hand. After my first trip to the trash can, it took three, I heard a very unwelcome CHIRP come from the alarm system's control panel.
After the next trip to the trash can, my husband was furiously pushing buttons trying to mute the chirp. His faculties were not quite as sharp as mine though so all that was achieved was freezing the screen. The sound of barfing doesn't usually get him out of bed as quickly as it does me.
Once the clean up was completed, I looked at the alarm's screen and simply pushed the home button. The chirping stopped. All four of us, including the barfer, made our way back to bed. I of course lay there tensely waiting for either another round of dog yakking or further squawks from the alarm system. Neither came, but when 4:30 a.m. rolled around, I didn't get up nearly as quickly as I had three hours before.
It is mornings like these when I wish I was a coffee drinker ...
I didn't get a lot done over the weekend, but it was nice to get back in the saddle. Of course, this week is going to be a little hit or miss as I have after work appointments two out of the five afternoons.
Over the weekend, I finally got to get back on Izzy and do some more work in the double bridle, but this time, I had to do it alone without a trainer in my ear. I don't know why the double intimidated me so much. On Izzy, it fees like the most natural thing. It is so much easier to have a conversation with him. It's almost like I ditched an old, staticky cell phone for one that has a better "connection."
He's still the same horse, that hasn't changed. But now, instead of arguing for 15 minutes about why spooking isn't the way to go, the discussion lasts for 15 seconds, and we move on.
We're still struggling with maintaining a steady tempo, but with the double, the variations in his speed are much smaller. We don't fluctuate between mach 10 and sucking back. Now, we go forward, and I remind him to slow down with a half halt, and he can hear me.
My homework was to work on keeping the tempo steady, but Chemaine also gave me a tip regarding the canter. Instead of thinking, Okay we're getting ready to canter, GET READY, OKAY NOW SHOVE THAT HIP FORWARD, she had me just lift my inside seatbone without all of the other fanfare. All of that preparing and dramatizing only ensured that the transition to the new gait would be a wild launch forward.
So, I worked on getting him deep and soft in the trot and then just (tried) slid my inside seatbone forward. That horse is super sensitive. He flicked an ear back at me and then bounced around a bit, but after organizing his legs, he rolleded into a less wild canter. We tried a few more times until he got it just right. When we switched directions, he picked up the canter effortlessly.
I can't say it enough: this double bridle is proving to be the most valuable tool in my tackroom. I feel like we can now really start moving forward. And on that note, I think we can finally say that we're no longer an Introductory Level team. While we haven't shown there yet, I still feel good about calling us a Training Level team.
Yea for progress!
I've mentioned Reggie's daughter here already. Reggie's the live-in caretaker at the ranch, and Evelynn is his young daughter.
I could just kick myself for not getting some photos from this weekend, but I didn't, so you'll just have to believe me when I say that little girl has horses in her blood.
She's the best "natural" I've ever personally come across. She's so naturally talented that she's the kind you'd be resentful of if she wasn't so darned sweet.
When she visits her dad, she keeps an eye out for me and eagerly greets me in the tack room. After only a few afternoons spent hanging out with me, the girl knows the routine. She knows how many scoops of beet pulp and Platinum Performance each horse gets, and she knows which bucket belongs to each horse.
She knows where the brush bag goes and which brush each horse preferes. After only one or two lessons, she knows how to pick up Speedy's feet and clean them. She's now cleaning his feet on her own without waiting for me to stand by her. On Saturday, she proudly exclaimed, "Speedy's being such a good boy. He's lifting his feet all by himself!"
She then went on to explain how she can see him shift his weight to the other foot in preparation for her. She's in the fouth grade! I quickly explained that it's not him, but her good work in communicating what she wants from him.
But of course, we all know it is Speedy. The dude is just a saint. I've known for a while that he was going to be perfect for kids. He's kind and gentle with her, but he doesn't just behave because she has a nice smile. He makes her work for it. She has to ask just right before he'll do what she says, but when she squares her little shoulders, he snaps to and follows her commands.
While we waited for the backhoe to be finished on Saturday, we dragged out both horses' bridles and cleaned them. Evelyn didn't hesitate. I handed her a pair of reins and showed her how to wet the sponge, squirt on some leather cleaner, and then scrub off the grime. She worked at it diligently until they were cleaner than I would have gotten them.
I then gave her a can of lederbalsam and watched as she gently conditioned the reins and then Speedy's bridle. After a while, she gave a satisfied sigh and said how nice and soft they had become. I kid you not. That was the first time she's ever cleaned tack before. How did she know that the leather finally felt soft and pliable? She has the bug, no doubt about it.
When she didn't come out on Sunday, I was quite disappointed. She's already turned into a legitimate help. She hands me the right pair of spurs, grabs my whip, and even has my gloves ready for me. She delights in toting feed buckets and then carefully pouring the feed into the feeders.
If I am not careful, the girl is going to have both Izzy and Speedy eating out of the palm of her hand as she motors right past me up the dressage levels.
Actually, that would be just fine with me!
The ranch lost one of its old guys on Friday night. Gator was 27 and had lived a long and productive life. Even so, it's always sad to see them go.
Gator had been fighting a pretty nasty infection behind his eye, but the abcess had since drained and he should have been feeling better. The ranch owners had done everything possibe to make him more comfortable, including moving him to a grass pasture to entice his appetite. Even that didn't help.
On Friday afternoon, he laid down and seemed to say he'd had enough. The vet came out and euthanized him below one of the Sycamore trees. He was buried the next morning.
Each time we read about one of these noble animals moving on, we're always reminded of the horses we've each lost. Horses, and dogs too, are such soul companions that, even when they're not our own, their loss is still felt so accutely.
So today, I say goodbye to Gator and wish him a happy life as he crosses the rainbow bridge. I hope my own horses and dogs greeted him warmly and asked how I've been. While Gator will be missed here at the ranch, he has earned an eternity of warm sunshine and fields of green.
Five reasons why I haven't ridden this week ...
1) A clinic - riding two days with Chemaine, twice on Sunday, plus hosting the other riders and then having the clinician stay at my house kind of wore me out a bit. I figured my boys could use a day off. That was Monday.
2) A dental appointment happened on Tuesday, the day I was going to start riding.
3) A presciption needed to be refilled, and then a large floor lamp had to be picked up at Pier 1 Imports (love that place by the way). There went Wednesday.
4) Our weather turned really gray and dreary and somewhat drippy on Thursday. Instead of a ride, I hand grazed the boys on the lawn.
5) But the real reason I took a few days off is that I am finally, finally settling into a routine. That doesn't sound right, I know, but moving really rocked my little world. I dislike change to my routine, and moving so dramatically has really shaken my foundation.
We moved from a 1,200 square foot house into a house of more than 3,000 square feet. This house is just big. Navigating its maze of rooms alone keeps me mentally challenged. I also had to furnish the house (yet another delivery is coming tomorrow), and numerous repairs had to be made. After nearly two months, those things are still happening.
Most people would probably find my circumstances exciting. It's truly an amazing house, but for someone who thrives on repetition and routine, all of the upheaval has caused me a great deal of mental and pysical stress.
The lamp that I picked up the other day somehow helped to settle some of my anxiety. While it is beautiful to look at it, it's more than that. The placement of the lamp in my reading room was one of the last "big" things that was on my mental list of chores; the two chairs being delivered on Saturday will complete that list.
That little detail has helped me finally feel at home in this house. We all know that there is a difference between a house and a home. Somehow, that lamp just says home to me.
So on Thursday, when I swore that I was going to saddle up somebody, I didn't. All I could think about was rushing home to my now cozy home to cook dinner and relax, something I haven't been able to do for nearly two months.
As I sat on the sofa watching something mindless, my husband flipped on the switch to the new lamp. He knows how unsettled I've been feeling, but he also recognized the happiness that lamp has brought me. I hope I am feeling up to a ride this afternoon, but if not, I am okay with it. My boys will still be there tomorrow.
Enjoy your weekend!
Lytha, from A Horse Crazy American in Germany, recently snickered over the idea of Speedy not being a very forward thinking horse. That's how I described him in a post from a few days ago. You can see it here. Yeah, I know ... Speedy's not very speedy.
So in case you missed it before, here's how Speedy got his name ...
When I bought Speedy, I was many years into endurance riding and had completed numerous races. My number two horse was being downgraded to a family trail horse, so I needed a new back up horse for my mare.
I was looking specifically for a gray gelding. I spotted Speedy on Endurance.net and made arrangements to see him. He checked off most of my boxes, so I bought him. He was a very green-broke three year old.
We made arrangements to pick Speedy up the next day, so on our three-hour drive home, I tried out lots of names. His Arabian Horse Registery name is G Ima Starr FA, but I didn't want to call him Star. I looked at his parents' names and saw that his dam's name was G Im Fast, and her sire's name was Fast Ptrack. That got me thinking.
Speedy was to be my next endurance horse, but I didn't know how quick he'd be. Slow or fast, I thought it would be cute if he had a racing name. Even back then I was following NASCAR, so we tried out a few drivers' names: Dale, Jimmie, Gordon - but none of them quite worked.
Then I thought of Speed Racer. You might remember the cartoon; I loved it. There was this catchy little jingle that went something like Go, Speed Racer; Go, Speed Racer; Go, Speedy Racer ... Goooooo!
So Speed Racer started to get the nod, but then I remembered how much I liked to tell my students not to be such a Speedy Gonzales. If you're old enough, you might remember that cartoon, too. If you were a kid growing up in the 70s like me, you know all about Saturday morning cartoons.
And that was it. Speed Racer meets Speedy Gonzales. My gray pony had a name: Speedy G. As it turned out, Speedy never was very speedy. He poked along the endurance trail, but he took excellent care of both of us, never once getting us into trouble. As a dressage horse, he's not very forward thinking, but on the other hand, he's super reliable and fun to show.
I've already got a forward thinking horse in Izzy. I don't need two of them. I love Speedy just the way he is ... Not-so-Speedy!
I have so many good things to say about the last three weeks and our move to the double bridle that I don't even know where to begin.
First of all, if you are riding a difficult horse, get a trainer. I consider myself to be a pretty decent rider. I problem solve, and I work out a lot of the issues on my own, but sometimes, a professional can come up with a solution that you just might not think of on your own.
Chemaine's suggestion that I bring Speedy up to the arena as a companion for Izzy solved so much of Izzy's tension that he is a completley different horse. Her further suggestion that I try a different bit has given me the horse that I knew was in there. Having a bit with control has helped me regain my status as the top dog. I already had Izzy's attention on the ground, but I simply couldn't get it in the saddle. With the correction bit, and now the double, he is putty in my hands.
When I got on Izzy on Sunday, our little clinic was really starting to roll. Speedy was tied at the far end of the arena like usual, but the rider before me was loading up her horse to leave - right next to the arena, two other riders were just pulling in and parking, and a small group of people were milling around near the gate. My normally silent arena was bustling with energy.
I walked Izzy around, and he gave one or two pretty hard spooks, but I simply sat there and held my hands steady. Chemaine asked how quickly I felt I was able to get him back in line compared to using the correction bit. It was a great question, and one I am glad she thought to ask. What I realized was that with the double bridle, it took no upper body strength to get him back in order, and it didn't affect my balance at all.
In fact, he got super quiet and submissive almost immediately. It was as though he had checked to see if someone was in charge because he sure as hell didn't really want to be but was willing to do it if that was his only choice. Once he realized that I had things under control, he let out a deep sigh and let his ears flop happily.
For the rest of the ride, he was 100% committed to me - focused, relaxed, and very happy to be working. The only "naughty" thing he did was to play around with the weymouth, trying to grab the bit's shanks. The longer we worked though, the less he thought about it until it became a non-issue. But really, I'll take a playful horse over a tense one any day!
Chemaine started us off by having me focus on keeping Izzy soft without speeding up. Every stride I asked him to go deeper without speeding up. Unfortunately, the double didn't turn him into a Third Level horse. We still have plenty of work to do, but now he can hear me and concentrate.
With Speedy, the half halt means get soft because now we're going to GO. With Izzy, the half halt means slow down and get your balance. Over and over and over I asked him to slow down and rebalance, slow down and rebalance. Unlike Speedy, Izzy is a very forward thinking horse.
Before long, he was trotting along with a lovely tempo and the swingingiest back he has ever had. He was so different to ride that I had to ask Chemaine about how ligh in the bridle he was. He has been so heavy for so long that I wasn't sure if the lightness that I was feeling was a hesitancy to take the bit, or a horse that was truly light.
She had me think about it like this: Instead of thinking about it as contact, think about a connection. As soon as she said that, slot machine bells went off in my head. YES! A connection brings to mind an intimate conversation while contact sounds heavier.
With the double bridle, I felt that I was able to be far more relaxed through my arms, back, and core. With the snaffle, Izzy plowed through the bit so hard that I had to brace against him bracing against me. With the double, Izzy let go of the bit allowing me to have a quieter, softer conversation with him. So yeah, it does feel more like a connection than contact.
After some trot work, we moved onto the canter where the instructions were the same: half halt to slow down and rebalance. For right now, that's our job - learn how to maintain a steady tempo without rushing.
The thing that I kept remarking on during the entire lesson was Izzy's ears. They flopped around, or he kept them flicking back and forth at me without stop. It was as though he finally heard me up there. It was such a joy to see him so happy and relaxed in his work.
Since buying him two years ago, I've fluctuated between happiness and excitement with how he's doing to flat out disappointment and thoughts of selling him. But this breakthrough, this is a biggie. I finally feel like I am riding a dressage horse.
Our next clinic with Chemaine is in early January. I have a lot of homework, but I am feeling super confident that we are on an excellent path right now. Let me know if you'd like to ride with Chemaine, or if you'd like to just drop by and audit. She's worth the drive!
I really hesitated to even take a lesson on Speedy this weekend; he's so out of shape. When Chemaine comes though, I feel like I should get as much saddle time with her as possible. The problem was that Speedy had been out of work for at least six weeks. And really, he had only been back in full work for about a month before that. If you'll remember, he sustained a small tendon injury in the spring which put him out of work for several months. So in the last 6 - 8 months, the dude hasn't done a whole lot.
I explained the situation to Chemaine, mostly hoping she'd just take it easy on Speedy, but instead, she was able to devise a series of exercises to help him stretch his topline and still school the Second Level movements without overly stressing him.
She had me start out with a super deep neck stretch. I rode Speedy around with his nose dragging on the ground, but I could tell it felt really good. The point was to give his back and neck a good stretch before asking for any collection or lateral movements. Chemaine had me keep the tempo pretty slow at first so that Speedy wasn't running around completely on the forehand.
As he warmed up, she had me bring his poll up slowly. Before I knew it, Speedy's whole topline was much looser and he was able to take a longer stride. From there we worked on lengthening his stride and bringing it back, but we did it in short bursts. Chemaine had me think of stetching him down, feeling him soften, and then sending him forward for a few strides.
To bring him back, she had me half halt with both reins as I thought about lifting his withers with my seat. When I had him up again, I built energy by bringing my elbows back while still pushing him forward with my seat and legs. When he was ready to go, I gave a little with my arms and sent him forward.
The next exercise we tried was the beginning of the turn on the haunches from Second Level, Test 2. In the test, it is a half turn on the haunches (at the walk), but Chemaine encouraged us to try for a full turn since we were doing it on a slightly larger circle. To get the turn on the haunches, Chemaine insructed me to ride forward in a shoulder in. When I had Speedy's shoulders where I wanted them, she then had me bring his haunches in at the same time.
To make the turn, she encouraged me to open the outside rein and bring it back slightly to get him to sit on that hind leg. For now, our circle is bigger than it should be, but for the next few weeks she encouraged me to work on this exercise, focusing on a turn and not a pivot.
After working the turn on the haunches, we moved to the walk to canter transition. Let me tell you, that turn on the haunches is a beautiful exercise for setting up the walk to canter. Since Speedy was already thinking about bending his body, I put him in nearly the same postion for a turn on the haucnhes when I asked for the canter. It made the transition so much easier.
Speedy's not much of a forward thinking horse, so it can take a bunch of go-go-go-go to get his little motor revved up. Chemaine's techniqure for encouraging the go was to really think about launching forward in the canter with a longer stride and then slow him down and kind of bunch him up until he got soft. Once he felt soft, I sent him forward into a bigger stride. Like in the trot work, we did it in short bursts: canter GO GO GO, collect and soften ... and then again, GO GO GO. So for Speedy, the half halt means we're getting ready to boogie.
I was really tickled with Speedy. He's certainly a totally different ride from Izzy, exactly the opposite actually, but he's a lot of fun. Chemaine felt that we hadn't lost any of our training over the past few months. We're not ready to show at Second Level yet, but we're definitely putting some of the pieces together.
When Chemaine suggested that the double bridle might be the bitting solution that would work best for us right now, I'll admit that I felt more than a bit intimidated. I already have trouble with my rein length. You want to add even more reins with which to fumble? I also worried about how noisy my hands are and about hitting Izzy with the curb if he spooked or if I shortened my reins clumsily.
The majority of dressage riders never make it into the double, used at Third Level, so I thought I'd sure my initial experience with getting it put together and using it for the first time.
I knew Chemaine was coming for lessons over the weekend, so I waited for her help in putting it together. By the time we were through, we joked that assembling a double bridle would make an excellent barn party game, especially if done in teams!
With her daughter, Morgan, holding it aloft, she and I set to work adding what we needed to my existing bridle. She first ran the bradoon hanger up and over the crown piece but through the brown band to hold it in place.
We then attached the weymouth (curb) to the original bit hanging straps. Since two bits would now be in his mouth, Chemaine dropped the weymouth one hole from where the correction bit had been. She then attached the bradoon bit to its hanger. As we attached the different bits, Chemaine showed me how the bradoon hangs just above the weymouth so that they almost nest together, one atop the other. The bradoon's strap is also hung "outside" the weymouth's strap.
Chemaine attached my rubber reins to the bradoon as that is the bit that I am actually communicating with. We used a pair of laced reins for the weymouth. I am sure that more experienced riders can have matching reins, but it is really important for me to have two completely different reins so that I can easily see and feel which rein I am adjusting.
I mentioned this already, but in case you missed it, Izzy had reached the point where he absolutely refused to open his mouth for the snaffle. It had turned into a bit of a battle to get it in. After only a day or two with the correction bit, he was was once again slurping up the bit easily. Because of that, I wasn't too worried about him taking the double bits.
Chemaine had shown me a few weeks ago how she puts the double in, so when we were ready to bridle Izzy, she simply stepped back and let me do it. I appreciated her confidence in me. As she had shown me, I simply cradled both bits in my hand just like you would with a single bit. Izzy reached down and took them both in his mouth without a single complaint or even look of surprise. He didn't fuss with them or even act like anything was different.
Chemaine and I talked about why the snaffle had gotten to be so uncomfortable for him. She agreed that tongue pressure might have been the issue, but to her, it was more likely that it had to do with his ability to swallow. With a double jointed bit, the bit lays across the tongue. For some horses this makes it difficult for them to lift the bit away from the tongue to swallow. The correction bit has a lot of tongue relief, so with its higher port, Izzy had room to move his tongue around.
I wanted to make sure that Izzy's first ride with the double was a good one so I insisted that Chemaine ride him first. She started out at a walk with the curb rein draped and hanging. As Izzy stretched and loosened up, Chemaine slowly took the curb rein in her hand, but kept it pretty loopy. At this point, the curb rein is for its stopping power and not for collection.
Within a short time, Chemaine was able to take up the curb rein so that it was closer in length to the snaffle rein. She showed me how to keep the curb rein just a bit longer so that it only comes into play when he tries to charge or take control.
I am really glad that I have been riding him in the correction bit because it provided a good transition. I also kept my rein a little loopy with that bit as well because it was more about having stopping power than it was about being on the bit. When he would challenge me, I simply held my hand steady and let him hit the curb chain on his own. A few times testing it out always brought him back down to reason. The weymouth works in the same way (for right now).
As Chemaine rode, she simply showed Izzy how to be more quiet in the bridle. For every stride she encouraged him to reach and stretch down while maintaining a steady tempo. While she didn't actually use the word "shocked," I think she was. He was not the same horse she had ridden three weeks before. He wasn't anxious or worried and the tension he used to carry slowly melted away. The work that I put in over the past few weeks really showed. I wish that I had thought to change out that bit months ago.
After a little canter work, I got on him and grinned in delight; he was butter in my hands and under my seat. The double bridle is my new best friend. Later that evening, Chemaine joked about my "Third Level horse who's just working on his changes." Pretty funny, right?!